Business Personality – Upasna Kamineni
Upasna Kamineni, Dr Prathap C Reddy’s grand-daughter, is expecting an elephant as a birthday gift. She talks to Neha Bhatt about her privileged life, her fight with obesity, and why she is involved with different charities
She is an heiress to one of Asia’s largest medical empires, but Upasna Kamineni, the 22-year-old granddaughter of Dr Prathap C Reddy, founder-chairman, Apollo Hospitals, makes no fuss about her lineage. “Ever since I can remember, healthcare was discussed across the dining table at home. So this is in my blood. I started early, I was involved in various charities while still in school and I have a keen interest in wellness, especially that of children,” she says, perhaps explaining her recent appointment as vice president, Apollo Charities.
Despite the responsibility now entrusted to her, there is an air of quiet restraint around Kamineni that belies her age. She sits on a sofa across the room with a business-like air, which is why I am surprised to hear what she tells me next: “I was obese as a child and teenager, which made me under-confident. I struggled to lose weight. The only way I could make myself feel better at that time was to acquire material things,” she says candidly. So what was it like growing up in a privileged household? “I grew up in a large, extremely close-knit family, with 10 cousins and younger siblings. I don’t think I was spoilt, because I had everything I needed. I did want an elephant though,” she says.
You look at her and realise that she isn’t joking about that. The elephant, she says, is something “which I hope to get this month on my birthday”. It is likely to join the animal farm at her home in Hyderabad — that already houses two rescued “tonga” horses and six donkeys. Kamineni’s association with Blue Cross brought her close to the cause of these animals. She helped them find shelter, and now her family intends to open an eco park (complete with a night safari) in Hyderabad, spread over 112 acres.
At work, Kamineni is currently involved with an awareness-building campaign on cervical cancer. This follows her efforts with other Apollo initiatives such as SACH (Save a Child’s Heart) and SAHI (Society to Aid the Hearing Impaired). Another pet project, launched recently, is the health and lifestyle publication, B+ve. “Most of us have become part of the rat race, leading to various physical and psychological disorders. The magazine is an effort to throw light on these issues and suggest ways to fight them in our day-to-day life,” she explains. Next in line is Project Hydrate, to be backed by Apollo Pharmacy and headed by her mother Shobana. Launched under this will be a new product line. “Our motto behind Project Hydrate is to encourage people to drink a lot of water through the day. Our first product will be bottled water with the instruction, ‘Finish this bottle by the end of the day’. I also plan to launch a sunscreen lotion, just right for the Indian skin and climate,” adds Kameneni.
With a background in business studies, she seems to be raring to go. “Funnily enough though,” she says, “while studying business at an American university, I was drawn more towards the arts. I took credits in theatre and even dabbled in fashion.” In fact, her first professional attempt when she returned home to Hyderabad after graduating was to organise a gala fashion show. “I wasn’t sure yet where I wanted my career to go. But soon after that I realised this is not where I wanted to be.” It wasn’t as welcoming as the corriders at Apollo, perhaps.
Kamineni soon joined her mother and aunts at the Rs 1,450 crore healthcare empire. “The maternal side of my family is involved in healthcare since it is my maternal grandfather (Dr Reddy) who founded Apollo. Therefore, the thought of working in any other field did not occur to any of them (her mother and aunts),” she says. “We are all happy to join this profession. Even my cousins are involved in wellness in one way or the other,” she adds.
In and out of wards, Kamineni spends a large part of her day with children who are being treated at the Hyderabad hospital. “A number of children are from other countries so we don’t quite understand each other very well but I am learning sign language,” she says. With women patients she often swaps recipes, being herself an enthusiastic cook. She admits to not being a fan of Indian food though, because “it has too much masala”, but she recalls, quite fondly, the rich meat dishes cooked by her paternal grandmother, who belonged to a royal family.
Kamineni, however, is extremely cautious of what she eats, and spends an hour in the afternoon kickboxing at the hospital gym. “I fought obesity through my school and university years and I’m not done yet. To make myself feel better, I would drown my grief in shopping, till it hit me that I must make drastic lifestyle changes,” she says. Her confidence levels soared and she began to feel like a different person. Since then, Kamineni has been able to set herself up to challenging tasks. A young professional, she feels bold and she is certainly ready to take on the world.
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