Pursuit of Happiness

Getting Her Priorities Right

Smita Jatia, vice chairperson of Westlife Foodworld, has donned many a hat—she is a wife, mother, grandmother, businesswoman, mentor and philosopher. While she feels there is no work-life balance for women, she believes it is important to set priorities and say no when necessary

Smita Jatia with her husband Amit Jatia

Her career was never by design, confesses Smita Jatia, vice chairperson of Westlife Foodworld, a fastfood restaurant holding company. “I believe in taking what life puts in front of me, and I seize the opportunity,” she says. Encouraged by her husband, she took charge of the marketing team of the company as a young mother of twin boys. Today, at a senior leadership position, mentorship takes up most of her time at work.

Jatia describes herself as a learner by nature. A subscriber to the Vedanta philosophy, which draws lessons from the Upanishads, she falls back on it for important life lessons “In Vedanta, you can never stop learning. It is an endless sea of knowledge,” she explains. 

Jatia strongly advocates empowering employees. She tells us about the time when her sons were young and the family would take off on a holiday for a month every year. “People would ask how we managed to take an entire month off. I would say, you have people in the organisation. So, if you are not able to do that, either you have the wrong people or you are not giving them the empowerment that they need,” she says. 

Having been in a mentorship role for some time now, Jatia is impressed by the energy of young professionals. “The new generation is smarter than us. They can multitask much better than us. I thought I was a queen at multitasking, but they do it at a different level,” she says. However, she feels, they face challenges too. “They want to achieve too much too soon. Rome was not built in a day. What goes up fast comes down that fast. You have seen that with a lot of these start-ups. I feel they want to achieve a lot very soon. Also, loyalty has become an outdated word, where they just want to keep jumping jobs for more money without any increase in skill. Then you get overqualified for a job and you do not know what to do,” she observes.

When off work, she likes to cook or travel with family. “When you are a mother, housewife and businesswoman, you do not have time for extra hobbies,” she quips. She wants to travel to Antarctica this year. “It is a bucket list thing, but let us see. When the body can take it, we might as well do these tough places. Later on, we may not be medically fit,” she says, matter-of-factly. 

Jatia has always been into some or the other form of fitness workouts. Starting with strength training, running and aerobics in younger days, she moved to yoga and continued it for around 10 years before recently taking up Pilates. “I thought I was a fit person, but when I started Pilates, my myth was broken. You discover muscles that you did not know existed in your body,” she laughs. 

Jatia proves that age is just a number with her age-defying looks, energy and enthusiasm. Her fitness level can be gauged from her trekking expeditions. “We had gone to Bhutan and made it to the Tiger monastery. Normally, people take four hours. My group made it in two hours,” she shares proudly. 

According to Jatia, every woman will agree that work-life balance is just a word and there is nothing called work-life balance. “The main responsibility of the home and children is on the mother, even if she is working. If you are a total workaholic, sometimes your family gets neglected. If you neglect yourself, there are repercussions. I feel it is just about prioritising and sometimes learning to say ‘no’. You cannot please the world. It is okay to sometimes say ‘no’,” she says. Something may get missed, but you can reprioritise always. That is where balance comes, she feels.

Jatia’s takeaways from her life learnings: focus and resilience. “Focus on the input, not the output. Answers do not come at the time you want them. So, learn to let go. And, if you are not resilient, you will never be a leader. Resilience is needed to go through the ups and downs of life,” she says.