I had the pleasure of interviewing Priyanka Mittal, Director KRBL Ltd. Ms. Priyanka Mittal is a full-time Director on the board of KRBL Limited. She is the International Division Head also handling investor relations, government relations and corporate affairs of KRBL. She is responsible for brand development of India Gate rice globally. Graduate of Harvard Business School’s OPM programme, an undergraduate of University of Southern California and on the Board of the University of Southern California Veterbi School of Engineering.

Priyanka has been Special Advisor to the ‘Women in Parliament’ — a European Parliament Initiative and presently is the Chairperson of the Agri Business and Food Processing Committee — PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and has been a member of several associations including YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization), CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India) and FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I come from a family with generations of businessmen. KRBL was started by my great-grandfather in 1889, and my father then narrowed down to a completely integrated and first-of-its-kind rice company. As a virtue of this, I was introduced to rice industry at a very tender age.

Growing up, the blurred visions about my future firmed up when my father decided to send me to USA for university, anchoring my dreams more firmly. After completing a short stint at a boutique investment management firm, I returned to join the company and started at the shop floor. This gave me a firm grounding on the workings of the mill and also the hopes and aspirations of the workers who form the bulk of our workforce.

I gradually moved my way to the top, accepting more responsibilities. As one moves from an operator to a manager to leader, the fundamental aspect of appreciating core human achievement remains the same, only the communication canvas becomes larger with each stage.

I was the first woman in the entire sector and a young one, hence creating initial buy in proved arduous. The industry is a typical male bastion.

I understood very quickly that change management will be a slow with buy-in only with my performance. Early results gave support of few, until the larger group acceded to the joint vision. Fearlessness, passion and relentless pursuit of truth became armors to conquer the rice world.

3) Why did you find your company?

KRBL is established by my great-great grandfather in 1889, who was extremely industrious.

I joined the company in 2001 after completing my graduation, where I had to work my way up to my current role as director of the company. Though challenging, the journey upwards gave me a good understanding of the entire business.

The journey of transitioning the company from commodity to branded has been an extremely fulfilling experience. Coming from an investment management background, I only learnt to “read” numbers mentally.

But KRBL instilled the heart with its euphoric vision on leaving an everlasting impression on Indian agriculture, positioning the best of India to the world and setting truly a global Indian food brand. These goals already had a platform with the fully integrated way KRBL operated.

We are constantly evolving and changing our products to offer the best to the ever changing preferences of the consumers. KRBL today is in the transition stage of being a rice company to a healthy food company. More than ever the consumer today knows the importance of healthy foods and makes a very conscious choice of choosing healthy. We have very recently launched India Gate Quinoa, India Gate Brown Rice, India Gate Chia Seeds, India Gate Flax Seeds and India Gate Sprouted Brown Rice to meet the requirements of today’s consumers.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

KRBL is India’s first integrated rice company with its presence in the entire value chain from seed development and multiplication, contract farming, production to marketing of products.

We have successfully established an ideal model for effective contract farming practices, where in farmers are hand-held through every step of the crop cycle. We have introduced a number of eco-friendly measures in the farm for soil conditioning and pest and disease management- this ensures that any adverse effects on the environment are minimized besides conserving the environment and local communities.

KRBL has adopted a number of sustainable business practices and I personally advocate for food security & sustainability, hunger & malnutrition issues, supply chain management, food storage and wastage.

In order to encourage sustainable farming, the company is continuously investing in Seed R&D and has a field team of agriculture specialists involved in helping farmer in every step through seminars, training and one-on-one coaching. KRBL, cultivates their own grains using sustainable farming practices in order to provide high-quality seeds and to ensure less resource consumption and maximum production.

KRBL has never shied away from making bold decisions which not only proved to be game changers for us but also lead and shaped the industry.

In the 1990s, Pusa Institute developed Pusa No. 1 as a variety of basmati which was entirely dismissed and earlier rejected by the entire industry. In fact, there was tremendous lobbying against it by the rest of the industry against this farmer friendly variety. KRBL was the only one to envision the potential of this variety and they went ahead and commercialized it in 1995, today it is one of the most accepted basmati rice varieties in the world.

Again in the early 2000’s, history repeated itself and KRBL commercialized another variety, Pusa 1121 in the domestic and international market, which swept the market and was a booming success and has put Indian Basmati on the global map. Pusa 1121 by far the most popular variety of basmati rice till date.

KRBL not only made both varieties popular amongst farmers by encouraging cultivation but it also popularised it amongst consumers, which opened new markets for India globally. KRBL battle of getting recognition for those varieties was like my own battle, alone, with conviction and determination to get its rightful recognition within industry, government and international levels.

I am a very strong believer in women leadership and constantly encourage women to take up key leadership positions in mainstream industries. Their emotional intelligence and compassion helps to create healthy workplace relationship and well-rounded workforce.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

It was my father, Mr. Anil Mittal, who recognized my passion and sheer efforts in doing my work, who gave me strength and constant encouragement. His support was instrumental in me becoming the leading lady of the organization and the industry. As a professional, I was blessed to have him as a mentor & boss because the opportunity that I got was tremendous. At a young age of 24, I was presenting to the President of Nigeria on achieving their path to rice self-sufficiency. Before I formed my own vision for KRBL, I was realizing his visions and it gave me an appetite to think bigger and aim for the best.

The journey is never easy as I continue to fight internal and external inhibitions on day-to-day basis. The path of success is never a straight line. The ups and downs of business, people and industry are always present. Sometimes you are taking external challenges head-on and sometimes you are managing and delivering internal expectations. Both are tough and it only makes me a stronger person and achieve my audacious goals. Once you hit the rock bottom the only way is up!

God has been a constant guide in all my successes and learnings from my failure. With time my faith in Him has become stronger and my purpose clearer on what legacy we want to leave behind. It’s never about the number of zeros in the bank, it’s about the impact you make with your work- motivating someone, a smile, belief- these are far more powerful tools. Profits are by-product of Purpose.

  1. How are you going to shake things up next?

Answer: The aim is to grow the revenues of KRBL to a billion US dollars in the next seven years, with an intention to strengthen the positioning of its core India Gate Brand and transition into a complete healthy food company by bringing in more new product offerings. Looking at buying start-ups and offering innovative healthy food products that lack sufficient finances, geographical reach or access to distribution networks, to which it could offer umbrella branding and access to its sales and distribution networks.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?

  1. Persistence– Persistence sums up my journey. Never feel defeated. The basmati industry was very commoditized when I entered. Branding was an impossible vision, almost scoffed at. But I was in no hurry. I chipped away at the challenges one day at a time not having a timeline or benchmark, much like the mountain man who endeavors to break a mountain with a hammer. Indeed there were times when it seemed like unsurmountable task, but I became more spiritual as I experienced challenges as how I came out of it.
  2. Focus– My focus was that of Arjuna who saw only the bird’s eye. I have not allowed to get myself distracted by what competition, investors are saying, partying, holidaying. I have relied only on my gut. My goal was to make it the most respectable brand in the world and to do it with dignity and ethics. In our industry, respect is a scarce commodity and buyers often mistreat their suppliers. I have also had my share of those experiences in the early days but that did not distract my focus.
  3. Being surrounded by positive people. My life’s work is my brand- India Gate which embodies all the qualities of an exceptional human being. It has been made possible by support of my distributors who are as close as my immediate family. I carefully selected each one as one would select pearls in a necklace taking my time to ensure that I could call them family. Without them success would be just a number, collaboration with them makes it worthwhile.
  4. What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?

On my birthday, my lovely assistant gifted me few books as I was going away for a much-deserved holiday. The 2 that really awe-stuck me were Richard Bach’s Johnathon Livingston Seagull and Illusions. I have since thanked her profusely for introducing me to Richard Bach as I have now read most of his works. But those two books as my birthday presents remain very special to my heart.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

My ultimate hero and aspirational model is Bill Gates. I hope to have the same impact with my foundation someday as he does with Gates Foundation. I have a photo of him on my bed side table next to Gita, as he is demonstration of every human’s purpose- to make mankind & world better.

Lot of people talk euphorically but he demonstrated valor and wisdom by walking away from Microsoft and donating all the wealth to charity. For promoters who build business, the sense of detachment is the most difficult because the brand becomes you and you become the brand. Also, power and wealth can be sometimes blinding. He is a constant reminder that there is a higher purpose.

I deeply look forward to meeting him some day.

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Originally published at medium.com