Updated: Apr 28, 2020
By Samina Barodawala
Contributory Author for Spark Igniting Minds
A woman's grit and determination know no bounds. Ms. Zia Mody is a living example of it. She’s an Indian corporate lawyer who made it happen against all odds. Today Zia’s name is on the top in corporate law, as she is a founding partner of AZB & Partners, India’s foremost law firm.
If we rewind her story, we come to know that she started from scratch after a successful stint, earning in billions in New York. After graduating from Elphinstone College, she studied law at Selwyn College at Cambridge, followed by master's at Harvard Law School in 1979. She passed the New York state bar exam with flying colors and qualified as an attorney in the state of New York. After that, she worked for five years at Baker and McKenzie in New York City, before she was called back to India by her mother.
To know about her background, we just need to know that she is none other than the famous Soli Sorabji’s daughter. Who doesn’t know him and the popularity and the name he earned in the field of law. She is the eldest of his four children, followed by three brothers.
Naturally, her inspiration to choose the field of law came from her father, who has been one of India’s most distinguished jurists and former Attorney General. He became an obvious role model, which led her to choose law.
Her test of starting from scratch came when she was called back to India after 10 years of being away. That time there was hardly any work and very few women were there in the courts. They just stood quietly and never spoke. Zia started her career in 1984 in Mumbai after a successful stint in New York. She was guided to work for free for the first year after coming back and that was the time she needed money. She had just got married to her childhood friend Jaydev Modi at the age of 28.
Zena Soli, Zia’s mother was firm about sending Zia abroad for higher education. Mrs. Soli’s outlook on life was that women should feel secure by earning an independent living. Mrs. Soli’s decision and father’s influence did pay off for Zia as she started getting work. There was no looking back after that, as she climbed the ladder of success and worked with GE, Tata group, Reliance, Aditya Birla Group, and Vedanta group.
Zia earned the title of being India’s foremost corporate attorney and has been recognized for her continuous work both in India and internationally. She also advises private equity houses including KKR Bain Capital and Warburg Pincus. Zia also has been ranked as the most powerful entrepreneur by Fortune India in 2018 and 2019.
Being married to an equally successful husband who is a business tycoon and chairman of Delta Corporation that shifted from real estate to textiles and gambling. He owns a majority of casino licenses in the state. A caring and doting father to his three daughters, he gave Zia a free rein as her work demanded grueling hard work and preparation that she couldn’t be home for dinner on many occasions. The early years were tough but happy and fulfilling, with a lot of help from her mother-in-law, Usha.
Jaydev has been her pillar of strength, understanding that litigation work wasn't a cakewalk. The period she spent as a counsel in High court was the most formative and influencing years of her career. It taught her to be tactical, well-prepared, and enabled her to anticipate the move of her opponents and fight a fair case.
The company has managed to remain on top by being unrelenting in their commitment to equality and refusing to compromise on the integrity of their opinions. It was the atmosphere at home around the dinner table when her father Soli took his calls, which sounded challenging and exciting for her. The key learning which we pass into our children plays a very big role in shaping their minds and future. The things Zia learned from him were hard work, honesty, and commitment to the law which placed her in good stead in the coming years. This was the rich legacy he left behind for his family and the country at large.
About the Author
Samina Barodwala is a freelancer and trainer in soft skills and personal development. Her outlook towards life is largely shaped by her extensive love for traveling. This positivism is what finds its voice in her paintings and writings.