Company director Priyanka Mittal says she sticks to the Asian tradition of allowing your elders to make key financial decisions on your behalf
Money & Me: 'I am a successful businesswoman but my father does all my investing'
Priyanka Mittal is the director of her family business, KRBL Limited, an Indian rice producer with a market cap of $2 billion. The successful businesswoman also holds a string of other positions, including head of the Foreign Trade and Policy Committee at the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the trade and industry body for the state of Rajasthan in India. And yet, she says she leaves all of her investments and financial planning to her father. Ms Mittal, 40, who is based in India but travels to the UAE regularly to visit the KRBL subsidiary here, initially worked at a boutique investment firm in the US after graduation. But she soon returned to India to join the family business; she started at the bottom, as the shift in charge on the shop floor, before working her way up to her current role.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?
We come from generations of businessmen. My great-great grandfather established KRBL in 1889. He was very industrious. I remember at the age of eight or nine my birthday gift from my grandfather was a ledger, a cash book. I remember him coming every evening and looking at my cashbook and seeing 10 cents for toffee and 5 cents for ice cream and he would make sure I understood debit and credit at an early age. We are not a spendthrift family. Prudence with money management was instilled as a core value. We were given chores and only on completion of the chores would we be given pocket money. Now God has been very kind and we have been blessed with tremendous wealth.
What was your first job?
I went to the US for my undergraduate studies, though I didn’t actually want to go to there. My father wanted to create a leader out of me and knew I would be truly independent when I was there. And as good Asian children, you follow you parents’ instructions. I would call my mother every day and exhaust my entire semester’s budget. At that time to call India from the US was expensive and my bill was about $1,200. So I had no money to buy groceries or lunches and dinners. I called my father and said I exhausted the budget and he said ‘what did you spend the money on?’ I said ‘well I spent it on talking to my mother’. He said ‘that’s too bad. Now you have to manage on your own. Go and get a job’. I was a bit surprised because I was homesick.
So what did you do?
I got a job at the School of Journalism, working for the dean. I was also a teacher’s assistant in the technology department in the School of Engineering. So I taught the introduction to computers, the introduction to computer programming. Between the two jobs I was able to make ends meet. I was paid the minimum wage, which if I remember correctly, was $6 an hour. I don’t think we could do more than 20 hours a week. My father did support me with tuition, so I just had to worry about the day to day.
How did joining the family business pan out at first?
Being the daughter netted no special treatment. In fact, the journey was harder because I had to prove myself at every step. But what it did was it grounded me. We are about 3,650 employees, of which the majority of them work at the plant. And then of course we have the head office. So the journey upward gave me a very good understanding of the entire business.
Are you a spender or a saver?
Definitely a saver. Even from a cultural perspective, India has always been a saver’s economy. Consumerism is a gift to India only in the last 10 or 15 years since when we have seen the big malls set up. And India traditionally has been a saver’s economy, so we were always taught if you get a rupee, you spend 50 per cent and you save 50 per cent. It is the Asian model.
Where do you save your money?
My dad invests my money for me. All of my money is in a trust and he is the controller of the trust. So he makes all of the money management decisions.
Do you plan for the future?
No I leave that to my father.
Why does your father make all of your financial decisions?
From an Asian context that’s how it is. You let the elders make the decisions. My job is with KRBL and my job is to further KRBL’s interests and the brand’s interests, and the money management I leave to my father, which is the conservative way that an Indian family does it. It is the Indian context.
What is your most cherished purchase?
When I got my first job and made some money I wanted to buy a gift for my father because he is such an important part of my identity. I wanted to buy a pen for him from the Mont Blanc store, but obviously I wasn’t making enough with my own wages to afford one. So I saved up for seven or eight months. At that time they weren’t that exorbitant. I think it was $150. I could have bought it earlier but there was a particular one I wanted that was slightly more expensive. He still has it on his table.
Do you have any financial regrets?
People would tell me to buy KRBL stock because it will go up. But I was focused on building the brand and business; had I bought stock I would have gained tremendously. But I didn’t and now the stock is at an all time high.
What luxuries are important to you?
I am not a big luxury consumer. I am not much into luxuries, but when I travel. I like to be in a good hotel, a good clean five star hotel. My minimum requirement is business class. I don’t really aspire to travel first class or any of that. I am not much of a shopper. Not because I am a miser. I don’t like window shopping.
How much do you have in your purse right now?
I have Dh140. I never have much cash. One time, one of my customers had come to India from South Africa. I was heading from the plant back to the hotel and I got a ticket. Now in India when you get a ticket you have to pay cash and I opened my wallet and there wasn’t any money, maybe $300 or $400 and I got a ticket for $1,500 so my customer took out his wallet and paid the ticket. He said he would send me a debit note for that.
What car do you drive?
In India I drive a BMW Five Series that’s provided by the company but I don’t drive it. I am fortunate to have a lovely driver. I find driving very stressful.
Do you use a credit card?
Yes of course. I have an American Express. My first credit card in the US was an AMEX, so I am a very loyal AMEX user.
What would you raid your savings account for?
I have not really thought about that one but if my family decided to not pursue a charitable cause and I firmly believed in it I would use my own money.
What causes do you support?
We have just tied up with an organisation called Akshaya Patra. It is the world’s largest school lunch programme in India and we are going to build a kitchen that will feed 25,000 children daily.