“I believe in my religion, justice and honesty.”
Listed among India’s Top 10 Most Powerful Women by Forbes India magazine (2013), Zia Mody is an authority on corporate merger and acquisition laws, securities law, private equity and project finance. She is the founder and senior partner of the law firm AZB & Partners. Daughter of Indian jurist and former Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee, and an active member of the Baha’i Faith, Zia always wanted to be a lawyer. She remembers hearing her father talk law at the dinner table and that’s when she decided to become a lawyer herself.
Her office is lined with paintings, showing her deep interest in all things beautiful. Talking about faith and belief, Zia explains that even though she was born in a Zoroastrian family and the Navjot ceremony was performed as a child, “I chose to follow my mother’s religion and became a Baha’i at the age of 21. The Baha’i faith is a modern religion and one can only become Baha’i after turning 21.” But art has no religion and a huge painting of Krishna – Balram in shades of bright orange grace her cabin.
Listed by Forbes Asia as one of Asia’s 50 ‘power businesswomen’ (2012), Zia has been the recipient of many awards. She got the Outstanding Woman Business Leader of the Year Award at the India Business Leader Awards 2013, the 2013 Legal Icon of the Decade Award and the 2012 Best M & A Lawyer of the Year Award at the Legal Era Awards. She was voted Business Woman of the Year 2010 by The Economic Times. The Legal 500 Asia Pacific and Chambers Global have named her as a leading individual in their corporate M & A, private funds, private equity, litigation and infrastructure sections. Zia has been nominated as one of the world’s leading practitioners across several practice areas by Who’s Who Legal, being ranked in its M & A (2008-2014), private funds (2008-2014), commercial arbitration (2012-2014) and corporate governance (2012-2014) editions.
Not letting accolades define her, Zia says, “I am a Bombay girl! I lived in Napean Sea Road as a child, went to J.B. Petit School and graduated from Elphinstone College.”
And then she went off to the University of Cambridge to study law and got her degree in 1978. She enrolled as an advocate with the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa in 1978. From Cambridge, she went on to do her LL.M. from Harvard Law School and was admitted as a member of the New York State Bar by examination in 1980.
Zia then joined as a corporate associate at Baker & Mckenzie in New York. She worked there for five years before moving to India and establishing the Chambers of Zia Mody in 1984. And then began another journey. Women and law were an uncommon agenda, and Zia started her career as a junior barrister under Obed Chinoy at the Mumbai High Court. It was sheer hard work, but she thanks her mentors Norman Miller and Obed Chinoy for keeping her there.
Zia thoroughly enjoyed winning cases in the courtroom but she got frustrated with the time that it took for them to end. So she moved on to become a corporate lawyer. Bahram Vakil and Zia were family friends; they had worked together as well. “Bahram suggested that we work as partners and start a law firm. I jumped at the idea. We had met Ajay in Delhi on various occasions and we both felt it would be great to have him as a partner as well,” she talks about the journey of AZB & Partners! But entrepreneurship had its own challenges. India was changing; the economy had opened up. “But why would anyone come to Zia Mody instead of going to the most known firms like Crawford Bayley and Mulla & Mulla? We worked to keep updated, and convinced our clients of our commitment.” It’ been a decade long passage and what keeps the three partners together is that “all of us believe in quality. We have our share of discussions and debates but we know when and how to let go.”
Reminiscing about her childhood and younger days, she admits she was spoiled thoroughly by her father. Zia’s mother Zena made sure she participated in most extra-curricular activities and encouraged her to study abroad. Zia had been a champion rider and has learned kathak and bhartnatyam. She has also learnt to play the piano at the Royal School of Music. Not many know that she also enjoys knitting and embroidery.
At a very young age Zia fell in love with the boy next door – business tycoon Jaydev Mody. They went to the same college and he would often bunk lectures. Soon after she graduated Zia left for England for her law degree while Jaydev was in Mumbai. “He was the only son and he wanted to be in Mumbai to look after his mother. He lost his father when he was 17.”
International calls were expensive, so they kept in touch through latters and sometimes phone call. Zia smiles and says, “I would write more letters, he was lazy. Finally we got married.” The Modys have three daughters – Anjali, Aditi and Aarti. “I was blessed with a great mother-in-law. She looked after my children when I was away at work. In fact, she always encouraged me to work. She was a law graduate herself but she was a home maker.”
Would one believe that Zia is tech-resistant? She uses an old Nokia communicator, and laughs, “I am just too used to my Nokia and I have five more of the same model as backup.”
Sharing some more memorable moments and beliefs, Zia says, “Birthday celebrations are something I cherish even today. My parents were always there for me. When I graduated from Harvard, my parents came for the convocation and I could see the happiness in their eyes. After it we went to a book store and my father left my graduation certificate there, which he rushed, back to retrieve.”
On what keeps her going, “I am very passionate about my career and I still like to read more about law every day. When I am not at work I love spending time with my family. We make it a point to travel together. I have travelled to many places but what I like doing most is going to our holiday home in Goa. For me Goa is God’s Own Country.”
We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001. firstname.lastname@example.org