IN 39 years Venky's has gone from a small family business to Asia's largest poultry group.

Its status today is a far cry from when Dr B.V Rao launched the business in 1971.

He started his working life as a poultry attendant on 40 acres of farmland in Hyderabad, tending to cattle and birds.

But he was put on the road to success by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Dr Earl Neil Moore, on behalf of USAID, gave Dr Rao the task of establishing a poultry farm in Osmania University, Hyderabad.

At first there was success, with 2,000 eggs produced a day, but in what was described as a 'rude awakening' the university let Dr Rao go.

He was left jobless and worked at a number of farms, growing increasingly disillusioned.

But, unbeknown to him, his wife Uttaradevi had invested some of their money in a seven-acre plot near Hyderabad, enabling him to set up his own poultry farm.

They ran it together and the firm quickly went from strength to strength, establishing a 70 per cent market share within a year, according to their official website.

The company has become known for embarking on new ventures, capitalising on technology and yielding high returns on investment.

Its portfolio today includes animal health products, pellet feeds, processed chicken products and solvent oil extraction, and SPF Eggs.

It now also manufactures nutritional health products for humans and is the preferred supplier to McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Dominos pizza in India.

It has a huge processing plant in Kamshet, between the commercial centres of Pune and Mumbai.

The Forbes business magazine of USA ranked Venky's as 67th among the 100 best global small companies in 2000.

The Economic Times of India, recently said Venky's had taken a 'silent route for its global foray'.

In recognition of his efforts Dr Rao, referred to as the father of modern poultry in India, was made Padmashree in 1990 - India's highest civilian award.

He died in 1996, but he still dominates the firm.

In the annual report he is described as 'beloved' and 'legendary' with the first page devoted to quotes outlining his philosophy.

The group is now run by his daughter Anuradha Desai, with the help of two brothers.

She is 47 years old and has been a director since 1998.

According to the annual report, Mrs Desai has been instrumental in the firm's growth.

She was the first woman to hold the post of President of the World Poultry Science Association in 1996.

She is quoted as saying: "Being among the wealthiest women in India doesn't bother me at all.

"On the other hand, it makes me feel responsible towards society and to the people who depend on our organisation — be it poultry farmers, shareholders or our employees."

She adds that it has been tough to live up to her father's 'great reputation', but 'pleasant to get the road smoothened by the immense goodwill he enjoyed'.

And there was extreme pressure on her when she took over.

News site Hindu Business Line reported that there were many doubters - both in and outside the company - that she could handle the responsibility.

It said: "But take over she did and with a panache and grace that few expected from the soft-spoken young woman who was rarely seen or heard of before she took over the mantle.

"Those who have watched her since her childhood and seen her as a not-quite-sure-of-herself young girl, will tell you that she has been replaced by a totally mature woman completely at ease with herself and her surroundings and in charge of everything that happens in the group.

"Not for Anuradha are the frills and trappings that corporate women in power sport, including clothes that make statements or orders that brook no argument.

"Instead, she adopts what she says is a leadership style that she easily and naturally slipped into."

On her style, she is quoted as telling Business Line: "You have to invest in building up relationships with people, give them the freedom to work towards goals and when you spend time with them and understand them, they are ready to put in their best for you, be it man or woman," she says.

"You can't hold a stick and frighten anybody into working for you.

"Instead, if you sit with them and work with them, you can be assured of results."

Rovers fans will now be hoping this approach brings results on the football field.