Besides tracking her software, construction and warehousing interests in Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai, Nishita Shah tells us how she finds her perfect work-life balance, stays fashion-forward and keeps it in the family. By Jackie Pinto
Nishita Shah Federbush, 34, worries that she may wake up in 20 years and realise she hasn’t really ‘‘achieved anything of significance in life.’’ Hardly probable for this vivacious young heiress, who has Thai decision makers on speed dial, balances marriage and motherhood and runs a business empire. She is also writing a book, raising funds for charity, fixing toddler playdates and bringing out designer capsule collections between jet-setting around the world and seeking new business opportunities.
The eldest of three siblings, Nishita is vice president and the engaging public face of the GP group – an Indian origin company headquartered in Bangkok with global interests ranging from shipping to commodities, aviation and pharmaceuticals. Her individual net worth was pegged at 380 million USD last year by Forbes Magazine.
We caught up with her while she was in Bangalore to connect with EKA, a software company where she holds a majority stake. Manav Garg, CEO of the company says that he has seen Nishita morph from a carefree teenager to an astute businesswoman eager to step out of her father’s shadow. “She is a total people person, and carries her heiress title very lightly. That’s what makes it so easy to relate to.”
Nishita, who is expanding GP interests in India, especially in new media, gaming and alternative energy, tells us, “We successfully IPO’d Mega Pharmaceuticals recently and I am focusing on the international expansion of MJets, our private aviation company.” An area, aviation entrepreneur Captain Gopinath feels, has tremendous scope. “Nishita’s entrepreneurial energy and vision is impressive. Plus, with her business genes, global education, exposure and cultural diversity, she may do well to focus on India, as the highest growth of general aviation is expected here,” he observes.
Meanwhile, the self-confessed fashion obsessive swaps her Christian Louboutins for sneakers (stashed in her oversized LV tote) and takes to the stairs, heading to EKA for a mango eating contest with the team between board and strategy meetings. “I get my workout in and save time — my Bangkok office is on the tenth floor with just one small elevator,” she winks.
Nishita’s book is “a celebration of 145 years of the GP Group’s growth and expansion” – an ancestral firm that her father, Kirit Shah, took public in 1993. “It’s a tale about two brothers from Gujarat who moved to Bombay, then Rangoon in the 1800s. They traded in rice between Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, the Middle East and Africa, till the Burmese coup in 1962 forced them to relocate to Bangkok. Their grandson, Chimanlal (my grandfather), adopted the name Shah, meaning ‘merchant’ in Gujarati, and was known as the Shah of Bangkok for his hospitality. My father joined the firm in 1975 at 22, and grew it from a tiny office with five people and a telex machine to the corporation it is today. His brainchild was our flagship Precious Shipping Ltd (PSL), a fleet of freighters – the first dry bulk shipping company on Thailand’s Stock Exchange. It helped us survive the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis and add real estate and construction ventures to our portfolio.”
The Shahs raison d’être as a family is largely about being globally connected and accessible. Nishita’s mother Anju, a Canadian citizen with roots in Africa, is known in Bangkok society for her elegant fashion sense and high profile charity fund raisers. She oversees their travel and hospitality division (Amari Atrium Hotel). Nishita and her siblings were educated in America. “I graduated from Boston University in business and finance. I launched a design label Nsha in 2008 for the young urban woman but my timing was off. It clashed with my wedding and multiple corporate commitments.”
Nishita took a sabbatical year off in 2006, moved to Los Angeles where she learned flying (her father’s dream), surfing and yoga. Now, she maintains her license and certification but admits that she “is now more passenger and less pilot”, focussing on growing MJets. “I love flying but it must be taken seriously, on a regular basis, at least one a week. I’m planning to resume it soon.”
Her wedding to Maxwell Federbush, a native-New Yorker and investment banker, in 2010 was a glitzy affair set in Istanbul. “Max and I virtually bumped into each other at a night club in New York. We started chatting and discovered we shared the same birthday,” she recalls.
Six months later, they were married at the Ciragan Palace Kempinsky Hotel – a former Ottoman palace resonating with the history of three empires and overlooking the majestic Bosphorus river. The East meets West theme and the three-day celebrations included a beach party and a cocktail dinner set in a specially-built secret garden. Guests received a personalised travel trunk with bespoke gifts, luxury spa products and hangover cures. Stages were created for myriad mini performances, acrobats performed suspended from hot air balloons floating over the water, the bridegroom made a grand entrance in a majestic boat dressed like an Indian prince, and chefs flew in from Thailand and India to add regional specialities to the extravagant menu.
Ensconced two floors above her parents, the Shah Federbush apartment reflects her penchant for design, art and fashion. Naturally, there are roomy walk-in closets and a room dedicated entirely to shoes. “I like to encourage upcoming Indian artists and I love the old masters. One of my favourites, and the first piece I bought myself, was a Hussain. We have two vibrant Bose Krishnamancharis from the same series in the dining room. One, a wedding gift from the artist, the other from my mother. When he was over for dinner, Bose laughed that it was the first time he had ever seen two pieces of the same series positioned so close together. I also like Jehangir Sabavala, Paresh Maity, Surya Moorty, Basant Perigod and Arvind Kolapkar.” Although lately, after Janav (her son) arrived, some art has made way for photo walls — framed pictures of friends and family.
■ The app Evernote. It’s brilliant and can capture everything in one place
■ Book summaries are great. I subscribe to a service that sends me one a week
■ Harvard Business Review sends me management tips daily
■ I also leave Post-It notes on the mirror. Efficient assistants and daily to-do lists
Mumbai-based couturiers Leon Vaz and Karan Berry of Karleo created eight of her wedding ensembles and bring out specific capsule collections for her during the year. “Nishita has a whole room dedicated to just her shoes — from Jimmy Choo to Sergio Rossi and Louboutin. All neatly catalogued and numbered. Plus, eclectic couture or high street from Armani to Alaia, Zara to H&M. Her style is bold and very on trend. We try and sync our travel schedules — Mumbai, Bangkok, New York or Paris. We create at least 12 bespoke evening gowns each year. Most recently, a rich gold sheath, a fitted floor length number with a jewelled collar for a formal state dinner, and a feathered dress in shades of blue for a resort wedding,” says Vaz.
Vacation spot: Maldives
Heroes: Oprah Winfrey, Tamara Mellon, Sara Blakely, Christiane Amanpour, Warren Buffet and Beyonce
Food and tipple: Pizza margerita and vodka martinis
Reading material: Crazy Rich Asian by Kevin Kwa
and Execution by Ram Charan
Gadgets: Blackberry. I have bought up all the handsets I could lay my hands on and have a healthy stash of them back home in case the company goes bust
Author: Gabrielle Garcia Marquez
Wheels: I prefer to be driven through Bangkok’s manic traffic so I can get work done, but if I drive myself, a red Mini Cooper
Paying it forward
As supporter and benefactor for the Queen Sirikit Center for Breast Cancer, the Shah ladies donated $160,000 towards education, research and construction costs of the centre. “My mother and I also give our time. And as ambassadors of the cause, we appear each year in a series of advertisements on behalf of the foundation.”
Pics: Nagesh Polali