Photo of Preet Dhupar, CFO.
IKEA was founded by Ingvar Kamprad in 1943 and came to life as a mail order catalogue business in the forested town of Älmhult, Sweden. Today, it’s a global home furnishing brand that brings affordability, design and comfort to people all over the world.
At the forefront of transformation
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From her early years growing up with her family, Preet Dhupar had a keen sense of subverting conventional gender roles in the workplace. Studying finance through to a Masters level degree set her on the path to her current senior corporate finance role at IKEA.
Preet has had varied and diverse experience, with roles in finance across different industries and geographies. The common thread across all the organisations that Preet has worked in is that they were starting their journey in building their businesses in India. She has worked across sectors, including publishing, oil and gas, media and entertainment and now retail. Her longest serving roles have been with the BBC in India and London, also looking after its Singapore operations, and now with IKEA in India.
The BBC runs and operates different entities in India, viz. commercial, non-commercial as well as not-for-profit organisations. Preet stitched together a common Finance, Tax and Regulatory Affairs team that looked after each of these entities. This was the first time the BBC set up such a structure and Preet was internally nominated for the One BBC award.
Preet represented the BBC both as the CFO and a Business Head and Board Member. Many policy changes were driven by the industry at that time and she was party to an evolution, making content more accessible for downlinking of channels, easier remittances of funds to parent companies, common tax issues faced by the industry and the digitisation drive in media.
In India there has been great progress in senior female representation, however as is common across the world, as we get to the upper echelons of CFO and CEO level there are few women in these positions.
Preet has spent a career often being in the minority. She has experienced being the only woman in a conversation, be that within a business or public platform. She therefore became committed to advancing the topic of diversity and inclusion. She has truly championed putting this on the agenda within and outside her organisation and committed herself to levelling the playing field for future generations of women in India.
The importance of the pipeline in advancing women in the workplace is often discussed. In order to ensure the success of this important agenda at all her workplaces, Preet built a leadership pipeline of strong, independent and, most importantly, competent women from the finance, risk and legal functions. This tireless work has instilled the belief in Preet that wider change needs to come from our homes, families and society in order to eliminate gender bias everywhere, including the workplace.
Preet has been a mentor with the Leadership Excellence through Awareness and Practice (LEAP) programme at Beyond Diversity. Over the years she has been part of discussions on the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) aspect at various forums. Preet has been approached by large international organisations to speak to their women leaders on closing the gender gap at the leadership level.
Tackling the gender gap
IKEA decided from the start to focus first on ’gender’ as an aspect of D&I, knowing full well that D&I is a vast field that presents many opportunities. The ambition right from the start was to achieve a 50/50 gender balance across all levels. This journey for IKEA wasn’t an easy one and has only been successful due to the perseverance and commitment of the entire team.
With gender neutral policies in place, IKEA encouraged people from different backgrounds, and was even one of the first organisations to introduce extended paternal leave for men up to seven weeks. ‘Equal is Equal’ has been the mantra at IKEA, and the leadership team therefore supports equal policies for women and men. Another example is transportation, where IKEA not only conforms to the government guideline of providing services for women but extends the same policies towards both genders.
As CFO, for Preet, it has been important to provide that strategic partnership for the diversity agenda and not let it become purely a numbers game. Preet believes that women are at the forefront of leading change in India, challenging the norms in society not just on D&I but also the totality of human rights. As she explains, “I think it’s a great time to be a young woman in India. If India wants to be a strong economy, then we can’t ignore 50% of the population. We can play an important part in the transformation.”
Preet has been with IKEA for over seven years and has played a significant role in the entry of IKEA in India, with an investment portfolio of over US$1.4bn (INR10,500 crores), developing and implementing expansion plans and transforming the India business. She is part of the India leadership team, and as one of the board members of IKEA India, she is an integral stakeholder in all strategic and business decisions. Preet has been key to driving IKEA’s strategy in India and plays an important role in dialogues and conversations with the government on policy topics that impact retail business and investments in India, contributing to bringing positive change in the business environment.
Over the last two years, Preet has taken over additional responsibility for sustainability and her aim is to define IKEA India’s sustainability agenda for years to come. Preet believes that combining the CFO and sustainability roles gives IKEA India an additional advantage to ensure a solid foundation can be laid for the future.
IKEA India has been supporting communities with emergency support during COVID-19. The team secured additional funding for this purpose. IKEA has also supported skill building in India right from the start, and Preet has been influential in the recent tie up with Tata Strive towards skill building in the area of assembly and installation services. Just as IKEA believes that sustainability is not a luxury for the few, Preet believes that every person should have access to good ‘design’ for the home and the vision is to make interior design more accessible and affordable.
A model leader inside and out
Overall, Preet’s credentials and commitment cannot be overstated. She describes people as her most valued asset and she loves to contribute to building diverse, strong, free thinking, high performing teams who take pride in their work and enjoy what they do. Her varied roles have given her a depth of experience within different organisation, board and matrix structures.
Beyond her professional responsibilities, Preet has a long history of committing her time within the not-for-profit sector. She has experience in fund raising for Childline and PYDS (Purkal Youth Development Society). She has been on the advisory board for Enactus and the board for PYDS. At PYDS, in addition to her contribution in the board and as a fundraiser, she and her daughter have also volunteered in working with the students on different topics. Preet is currently evaluating options for the future in terms of being able to play an active role in the not-for-profit sector along with her current job. Her areas of interest are education, especially for young girls, as well as intervention and raising awareness of mental health issues amongst young people.