Born in 1920, Kamla was raised in a household of a leading surgeon in the city. She married an Indian civil service officer Khem Chaudhary, but their union ended after Khem’s murder.
Battling trauma and the depression that followed, Kamla finished her MA in Philosophy from Panjab University before eventually leaving for the United States.
She came back to India with a Ph.D. to work in a research division of a Textile company in Ahmedabad – established by Dr. Sarabhai.
The research spanned a decade and in order to keep Dr. Chowdhry from leaving Ahmedabad, Dr. Sarabhai talked of an upcoming institute of management – IIM Ahmedabad.
Dr. Kamla Chowdhry eventually played a key role in the establishment of IIMA. She managed it all from recruiting faculty and convening meetings to even selecting the furniture.
She was the ‘Coordinator of Programs’ from 1962-65, technically the de-facto director as Vikram Sarabhai, the founder, was rarely around for any matters.
After her stint as Coordinator of Programmes, she shifted her focus towards teaching and research work, laying out case studies of major Indian corporations like Unilever.
In March 1968, she became one of the first women to be appointed as visiting faculty at Harvard Business School, which otherwise was a bastion of male supremacy.
Nonetheless, she was denied the position of director.
The reasons for this denial lay in sexism prevalent in the halls of HBS that couldn’t see a competent woman.
In letters between HBS professors and doctoral students tied with IIMA that Professor Tumbe documents, doubts were cast on her abilities as a teacher and administrator. In hindsight, they reek of sexism. HBS at the time did not admit women into their MBA program.
Moreover, the anecdote of Dr. Kamla as a pioneer is masked by the fact of her being a mistress to Vikram Sarabhai, at least what most sources point towards.
HBS voted out Kamla from the directorial position after the chaos.
What’s surprising is, a man with no doctoral degree was appointed.
And that’s how IIM-A’s first director was appointed.
I hope you enjoyed reading this.
#100DaysofWomenRoleModels is a series created by LinkedIn writer Sukita Tapadia, about strong Indian women, right among us. Through her series, Sukita aims to highlight the stories of these role-model-worthy women and celebrate their lives.
(The views are personal, and these stories are based on secondary research.)