Power Couple

Falguni & Sanjay Nayar

Falguni, founder, Nykaa & Sanjay Nayar, CEO, KKR India, on striking the right balance between work and family

When we meet Falguni and Sanjay Nayar on a regular weekend, the couple is winding down from a very busy Sunday. They have just returned from a social outing but Falguni is already quite busy checking her emails, with Sanjay getting ready for his weekly game of tennis. Married since 1987, the couple speaks about the time when Mumbai girl Falguni and Delhiite Sanjay were classmates at premier management institute IIM Ahmedabad. Ask Falguni about her maiden surname and she answers with a smile, “It is Mehta — as Gujju as it can be.” In fact, at several points during our conversation, Sanjay affectionately calls her FM, a nickname that dates back to their time at business school. “It does not stand for finance minister,” he quips, before breaking into laughter. The Nayars’ sprawling apartment on Carmichael Road in tony south Mumbai is big on art and artefacts — clearly, more than a little time has been spent on doing up the place.

Both of them travel extensively as part of their work profiles and even vacations tend to be a lot more structured. “Actually, we are very busy over the weekends. There is a lot that we do,” says Falguni. Keeping us company, albeit briefly, is their daughter, Adwaita, who currently works with her mother. The fact that the couple has been married for a very long time is evident in the way they complete each other’s sentences. “We have been married for a while now and we understand each other quite well,” says Sanjay.

 Where did the two of you meet?

Falguni: We were classmates at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A).

Sanjay: We graduated with the batch of 1985.

What brought you together at IIM-A?

Falguni: We were a part of the same study group on campus. Ours was a batch that had just nine girls in a class of 150 students. We used to be up very early in the morning to study, which brought us together.

Sanjay: Yes, that is true. Not much has changed. I am still an early riser.

When did you get married? How did you maintain a work-life balance in the early years? 

Sanjay: We got married in May 1987. I joined Citi from campus and moved to London in 1993 and then to the US in 1997. In the early days at Citi, it was quite normal for us to keep long hours at work. It was very different when I moved to London, though: however tough our day had been, we would be done by 5:30 pm. In the US, where my office was on Wall Street, we would shut shop even earlier at 4:30 pm.

Falguni: I spent eight years with AF Ferguson straight from IIM-A. I joined Kotak Mahindra after that and was managing their offices in London and the US. Our twins — a girl and a boy — were born in 1990. They were very young at the height of our professional careers. The fact that their schools were walking distance from where we lived certainly made a big difference. They got to participate in a lot of outdoor activities, which was good.

Is there any difference in your approach to work?

Falguni: I think it is important to be committed to your work. That being said, we, as professionals, need to strike a right balance between work and family; it’s not that difficult. Work should be a priority and success at work requires a certain degree of commitment, and not just long working hours. At my enterprise, I am now my own boss. I have to inculcate high levels of discipline in my team and myself.

Sanjay: I agree. Having worked overseas for a while, I think Indians like the idea of putting in long working hours at work. But it’s true that it’s not easy to lead a team and she often spends weekends sending out mails as well. She has to deal with a different set of challenges now.

What was it like having your spouse work in the same business?

Sanjay: Oh, it was a big help. It boils down to something as simple as Falguni understanding why being at a certain dinner was so important. I must add here that heading the M&A team at Kotak was not an easy task; she had an extremely busy schedule even back then. In my case, moving to the private equity business has had its advantages. I can now plan my travel a lot better as compared to my stint in Citi.

Falguni: It does make a big difference, and for the better.

What do your children do? 

Falguni: My son works with Morgan Stanley in New York. My daughter, who works with me currently, has decided to pursue an MBA abroad.

Sanjay: She will join Harvard in the fall of 2015. The house will become quiet but we are used to it as the kids first moved out in 2008 to pursue their undergraduate courses in the US.

How different are the two of you?

Falguni: We are very different people. I am very optimistic as a person and Sanjay is a lot more cautious. He is more detail-oriented in everything he does. I think I am more strategic in that sense.

Sanjay: That is quite obvious as I have been asking her for a business plan for her venture for years and there is no sign of it yet. (laughs) But we differ in our attitudes to food as well. 

Falguni: Sanjay has always been very careful about what he eats and when. I am not as careful as him when it comes to food.

Sanjay: Falguni loves her chaat. I am quite content with dal-chawal and some chicken.

How often do you go for holidays?

Sanjay: We often go to Alibaug for the weekend — it’s not always planned though. But that’s more about spending a day or two there and not necessarily
a holiday.

Falguni: Both of us love to travel to new places. What we try and do is take about ten days off each August, which is the US summer. We go there quite often. There could be another four-day trip during December but, as Sanjay said, it is not always planned.

Which place did you last visit?

Falguni: The plan was to be in Kolkata during Durga puja since Sanjay was anyway going to be there and then travel to Bhutan. Finally, though, we never made it to Kolkata and went directly to Bhutan. It was really nice.

Sanjay: It is a beautiful place and I strongly recommend it to people who have not been there. It was our first visit there. We did the Tiger’s Nest trek, which took us six hours and was completely worth our time. 

How are you adjusting to the change in schedule of late?

Sanjay: Like I said, I am an early riser and I’m at work by 8:30 am every day. I also go to work every Saturday, although we have the day off. I spend most of my time reading — for which I never get time otherwise — apart from wrapping up some other routine work. Then, I have been playing tennis since college. Even now, I spend a lot of time working out.

Falguni: I am in the retail business and there is always work over weekends as well. 

Sanjay: What Falguni will not tell you is that she can watch anything that comes on TV. I cannot deal with so much of television.

Falguni: Yes, I do watch television, but not everything, as Sanjay claims.