Gayatri Ruia on the challenges of working with her husband Atul

Gayatri Ruia, director of Phoenix Mills, talks about the challenges of working with her husband Atul.

Gayatri Ruia, director of Phoenix Mills, tells ETPanache the challenges of working with her husband Atul.
By Rashmi Menon, Pictures: Bharat Chanda

I met Atul at St Xavier’s College in Class 11. It was very sweet. But if my daughter at 17 told me she had met a guy she wants to marry, I would be shocked. Times have changed — at that age, you think you know everything.

So I don't know how my parents tolerated the notion. We met at a young age and have been together since. We got married at 21, before we graduated. Coming into a Marwari family was not different. My family is also traditional. The one thing that binds most Indian communities is English.

I grew up speaking English, as did Atul. He doesn't know Marwari. I am a Maharashtrian Brahmin.

We had textile mills — Swastik in Chembur was one of them. Konkan Brahmins keep a stiff upper lip, but our communi ty i s rooted i n culture. My father, however, brought me up in a modern way. He wanted me to be a citizen of the world.

It was a lovely childhood at Peddar Road. When I was nine, I started a library and catering business. I was baking cakes and selling them when I was my daughter Sharanya's age.

My mom, a child psychologist, encouraged this entrepreneurial streak. Soon after marriage, I started working in our garment export company. Even 22 years ago, we had a fax machine.

Our division was high tech and was directly under my fatherin-law. It was great working with him. Atul started our mall business. Our formula is to constantly create spaces in the community that can delight people. Atul is an organised thinker. I would trust his business instincts over mine.

That's the 99 per cent, but the one per cent, that little craziness, comes from me and it helps. It’s the missing ingredient. At first, it wasn’t easy to work during the week and go back as husband and wife on weekends. It wasn’t harmonious, so we tried to do parallel things.

Then the projects coming were so exciting that there was no way I was going to stay out. I kept a foot in the door and then gatecrashed. I have learnt a lot from Atul without doing an MBA.
I am a trained interior designer and since our business is real estate development, it is put to good use. You need to have willingness to learn and come prepared for meetings.

The most important lesson for my daughters is that there are no shortcuts in life. Work hard, but you can’t make it without a great team. Don’t look at failure disproportionately. Keep the end goal in your vision. Atul and I are not avid collectors of art, but we enjoy visiting museums when we travel.

So, we realised the Art Guild House in Phoenix Market City at Kurla and figured that what we needed was a meaningful space that is enduring and respects our end users — the young thinking professional.

Our daughters are just 11 and nine, so time that's not spent at office is spent at home. Our social life is zilch. We may go back to it once Tarini and Sharanya grow up.

When we go travelling, we have a one item rule. All of us are allowed to buy one thing. During a recent trip to San Francisco, I didn't find anything I wanted. We were shocked at the quality of shopping there.

But Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore pip India. They are the hyper-mall kind of cities. Atul and I have common interests. Intellectually, there is a bond. Atul pushes himself a lot and is able to, but not everyone can do things at that rate. A little patience may help all of us around him.

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