Dehradun to Formula OneBy Hetal Mehta
It is a globally known fact today that motorsport is a male dominated sport. Take any form of motor racing, and the number of women active is just about a fraction of the number of men. The case with the top echelon of motorsport, Formula One is not any different. How many female F1 drivers have you heard of? For that matter, how many women do we hear of who are actively involved in the sport apart from public relations and press officers? It is hard to imagine then, that a lady of Indian origin holds the reins of a Formula One team. Not many of us would have imagined, nor Dehradun-born Monisha Kaltenborn that she would one day be the CEO of the Sauber F1 Team, the fourth-oldest F1 team on the grid.
The journey from Dehradun to becoming the CEO of the Sauber F1 team and holding 33.3 per cent equity stake in the team has been a long one for Monisha. She is considered to be one of the most hard working and prominent women in the world of F1 today.
In one of his recent interviews Peter Sauber, team principal of the Sauber F1 team said that Kaltenborn has been instrumental in the team’s survival following the decision of former partner BMW to pull out of F1 and that she has been doing outstanding work as the CEO.
Monisha aspired to be an astronaut as a kid. But at the age of eight, her family moved to Vienna, where her uncle was employed in the International Atomic Energy Agency. She did her schooling from a German-medium school rather than English, as her parents believed that it was very important for her to learn and understand the language properly and integrate herself into the Austrian society.
She secured her bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Vienna in 1995 and went on to get a master’s degree in International Business Law from the London School of Economics in 1996. Monisha got her first job in Stuttgart in Germany and also worked for the United Nations and a few law firms in Germany and Austria.
In 1998 she joined the Fritz Kaiser Group in Liechtenstein where Monisha’s responsibility was to run a legal department. Kaiser was also a shareholder in the Red Bull Sauber F1 team. Kaiser selling off his shares in the team saw Monisha move to Sauber Group’s legal department in Hinwil. While there she also managed contracts for drivers, sponsors and an engine deal.
She was a rare key person for big shots like F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and current FIA President Jean Todt as she had worked with the FIA, FOA and FOTA before she became Sauber’s CEO.
When Peter Sauber and Fritz Kaiser decided to split, Peter Sauber asked Monisha to join his team in 2000, and since then she has been working in Hinwil. She started as the head of legal affairs for the team, but in January 2010 went on to play the role of the CEO, becoming the first female to head a Formula One team as CEO.
When asked how she handles the immense work pressure Monisha said, “There’s obviously a lot of pressure in Formula One, mainly because the level of competition is extremely high. For myself, I don’t regard this as a problem because I’m used to handle pressure and I’m a calm person. That maybe is the Indian part in me.”
Although an Austrian citizen and married to a German, Monisha got married in typical Hindu tradition at the foothills of the Himalayas.
She currently resides 20 minutes away from the Sauber factory in Kusnacht, Switzerland with her husband Jens Kaltenborn, a lawyer, and her nine year-old son Nirek and six-year-old daughter Mandira. After she got married she barely visited India. It was in 2010 that she visited India during the Indian GP.
Talking about motorsport in India Monisha says “Motorsport in India is in the process of establishing itself on a high, professional level. This process takes some time. There are many young talents in India but it’s important that they get the opportunities and the right level of support. The fact that Formula One came to India for the first time last year is very important for Formula One and at the same time important for India. I was very impressed how well the event was organised and how much interest there was from the public and from the media.”
In her family life, Monisha organises her daily schedule so that she can spend maximum time with her children. Early mornings are exclusively for the kids and then it's work. Late afternoon is again spent with the kids and then back to work. During race weekends she makes sure to stay in touch with them as much as possible. She believes it is important to keep them involved in what she is doing so that her kids can understand why she is not at home most of the time.
Given her work profile, Monisha is part-time mom and part-time CEO, but is always a full-time boss for the Sauber F1 team and says that for her work precedes everything else.