A few seconds into my conversation with Chitra Shinde, the Vice PresidentOperations – DHL New Zealand, we both discover she’s just 4 years my senior in school (St. Joseph’s Convent high school Belagavi) and that we share a few common friends. She is the daughter of Kalavati and Jeevan Shivaji Bhosale of Khanapur, who is well known to many from the Department of Sports for Karnataka. She is the younger sister of Sanjay Bhosale. After all these years of staying away from India, she still perfectly recalls every road and college haunts in Belagavi. Chitra’s story is that of the “small town girl who made it big in the world”, with sheer focus on her career. Unpretentious, grounded, intelligent, frank, and humble is how I can describe her. But she is much more than the sum of the parts.
Chitra was born in Belagavi and studied at St. Joseph’s, Belagavi. She did her PU-II boards in science at RLS college. Her family moved back to Khanapur and she attended Maratha Mandal College of Arts -Khanapur. She finished her final year at RPD College Belagavi.
Those years were spent without much direction, she reminisces, all she wanted to do was a MastersDegree and get into teaching. A chance meeting with a friend led her to Karnatak University Dharwad for her MBA in 1994 which kind of determined the trajectory of her life. Armed with an MBA from the prestigious KIMS Dharwad, she reached Bombay (now Mumbai) and landed a job in Blue Dart at the call centre. Bombay taught her to navigate the city and soon she was working with DHL, one of the world leaders in express cargo (it clocked revenues of € 81 Billion in 2021).
The go-getter that she is, Chitra grabbed opportunities and when there were none, she created some. That’s how she worked in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia where she worked in IT before landing in New Zealand in 2004. The country offered her the best of both worlds, it was a great place to live and work. New Zealand was a multi-cultural nation even then and progressive when it came to women in leadership roles, why even the Prime Minister back then was Helen Clark.
Barring her small stint in Gati (2008 – 2013), she has spent 23 years with DHL. As GATI-KWE President, Chitra was a recipient of the Mahindra Logistics’ Lady Transport Personality – 2011. She was awarded ELSC “Face of the Year”- 2012 and ELSC CEO of the year – in 2013. The Gati role presented her with an opportunity to be closer to her ailing father at a time when her brother was also away in Australia. She joined DHL once again in Sydney, Australia. She is a recipient of the DPDHL CEO Award for Diversity and Inclusion in 2020
Chitra’s career graph may have taken her places, but one can see a conscious plan behind nurturing it. She has never shied from taking on leadership roles, a rarity in the male-dominated logistics industry. It helped that DHL encouraged and developed its people and never fussed about gender issues in picking women in top roles. But coming from Khanapur, studying in Belagavi and Dharwad, and working in the Asia Pacific nations is a long stretch indeed. She had to work hard to understand the culture, politics, sports, economics and religion of the nation she made her home. So to avoid that with her children, she has ensured they gained full exposure to the countries they lived and studied in, to assimilate better.
Chitra’s role in DHL is that of the head of Operations, which obviously is key to a logistics company. Her family was separated during the time, with her two boys in New Zealand while her husband and two daughters were in Australia. During the pandemic, the whole world came to rely heavily on logistics and cargo companies for essential supplies. It helped that DHL already had sister companies whose platforms could be leveraged to much use by the Express arm. DHL ramped up its facilities, flights, and infrastructure as it faced more growth in 2 yrs than the previous seven. “I focus on solutions rather than problems”, she says, adding that once you put systems and processes in place, it may take time initially but you benefit from it in the long run. Her current focus is on sustainability.
This Operations wiz has applied her business acumen in her personal life as well. Everyone has 24 hours, hence not wasting time is the key to getting more out of those hours, she says. Hence, meticulous planning of the week ahead including the menu, having a communications board at home to keep everyone well informed, and delegating work to others if someone else can do it are some ways in which she balances her busy life. Chitra’s daughters study in Australian Universities while her younger sons are still in school.
Chitra visits India frequently and has also brought her kids to Belagavi. Hers is an example of how focus and hard work can take you places. Where you come from does not limit what you can do and where you can go. She counts her extremely supportive husband as her anchor. Her life merits a memoir (which I hope happens soon), but till then, she is all game for some books on leadership lessons that she learned. I’m going to be the first one to grab a copy, for you find a few role models like Chitra around you!
Swatee Jog is the founder of Eeshanya Ventures and www.mavinstore.com.
She is also an entrepreneur, author, columnist, heritage enthusiast, poet, and soon-to-be billionaire. Reach her at [email protected]