Right now there is a huge leadership vacuumFor Vinita Bali, one of Indias popular business figures, leadership is about pursuit of excellence,which eventually helps achieve success. Bali, in-charge of Britannia, believes that besides otherthings leadership is foremost about ownership and accountability. In a freewheeling chatwith the Hindustan Times she reveals various facets of leadership.Is leadership ingrained or can it be nurtured?Its not just embedded in one to be a leader. Leadership is fairly multi-dimensional where its a question of ones own initiatives, the experiences and the context of those experiences. A part of it is contextual and a part of it is an innate desire to do something different and meaningful. For me leadership is about taking responsibility to change something for the better. It could be an ideology, a product, and a cause for the country or the environment. But yes, all leaders display great courage and responsibility. Do you think we have nurtured enough leaders after Independence? We certainly have leaders who have shown leadership skills in different and difficult circumstances. Leadership is not a flash in the pan, or about being opportunistic. It is about consistency. Its a marathon and not a sprint. If you look at some of the emerging industries such as software or biotechnology; all of which is less than 20-25 years old. If you look at the art, or even Hindi cinema; the way themes have changed are all brought about by people who have had enough of status quo. So, do we have enough leaders…? Right now there is a huge leadership vacuum. As a country we are continuing to struggle to emerge an effective democracy. We have to learn to prioritise on what is more important.
Also, in many ways it is tougher to be a leader because you got many more and multiple agendas tocater to. Over a period of time we are dealing with both greater complexity and ambiguity.Thus the leadership skills themselves have to be very different. It is not about looking up to a leader.We are learning to deal with how do you have conflicting agendas and yet make progress.You made an unconventional choice early in your career when you chose to work in markets suchas Nigeria and South Africa. What was the core reason behind this?In the 80s, it was quite unusual for somebody from India to go and work in the marketing. Nigeriawas an unconventional choice but to my mind it was an opportunity to go and really make adifference.The attraction was to walk into an unfamiliar territory and do something about it. That worked reallywell leading to a second opportunity in South Africa in 1994.Any particular lessons that you picked from making this choice?When you are thrown into an environment you are not familiar with, the learning ability increases.You become more adaptable and you learn how to establish credibility in a shorter span of time.Also, I have developed another hypothesis that its easier to bring about a change if you are anoutsider. So, if you look at it from a macro perspective the biggest change agent beforeIndependence was Mahatma Gandhi who more or less was an NRI. He did not have the baggage ofthe context and reality.What are your core leadership traits and has it evolved over years?I dont shy away from taking ownership and accountability. All leaders must have large amounts ofenergy and enthusiasm, especially when you are looking at creating a large change.Leaders pursue excellence that leads to success. Pursuit of excellence is inspirational and I see it insportsmen and in artists. I wish there was a greater pursuit of excellence in the corporate world.Who do you look up to?Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi are two leaders I admire. They stood for principles andemerged with no semblance of any deterrence after years of isolation.Then there are other source of inspirations including Steve Jobs and Richard Branson who createdand did things differently.Do you think leadership comes easy to a woman?Leadership is genderless. Either you have the qualities of a leader or you dont. Leadership istimeless
‘Leadership style has to be situational’Heading a workforce of 170,000 at a $38-billion hospitality chain is no easy job. Especially, if thechain operates more than a thousand hotels under the Radisson brand and almost the same numberof restaurants under TGI Friday’s besides travel service company Carlson Wagonlit Travels, itrequires not just deft leadership skills, but plain speaking as well, says Hubert Joly, president andCEO, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in an interview. Excerpts.What are the main attributes of a leader?First is the ability to set directions. Second is to build a high-performance team depending oncircumstances. Third is integrity — doing what is right and essential. And the fourth is producing ordelivering quality results.As a rank outsider to the hospitality industry, do you think the leadership skills required here aredifferent?Yes and no. Yes because if you look at various industries such as semi conductors or jet engines,the success factors are very different. For example, R&D would be a very long-term perspective injet engines and you may need to take a 30-year perspective. So each sector is unique. And nobecause the basic leadership attributes tend to always remain the same.Does your leadership style differ according to geography?Leadership style has to be situational. One has to deal with different cultures, which have somespecificity, though, I do believe that human values around the world are actually quite common.Talking of human values, do you think as far as leaders are concerned morals have changed overtime?The fundamental values of wisdom such as what is the meaning of life, why we are here and what isthe purpose of what we do, have been around for a long time. As companies or as individuals we gowrong only when we deviate from these values and the system. The recent crisis is an example ofthis, when greed becomes pervasive and there is loss of the sense of purpose.Tell us about your experience as a French guy running an American legacy firm?When I became the CEO of Carlson, it was the fourth time I was moving to the US — we have livedin California twice and in New York twice. Over the years I have tried to develop a sensitivity to someof the nuances that do not exist particularly in France. For example, in France there is heavyemphasis on theory whereas there is more pragmatism in the US.What about India?There is one thing that is very striking in India, which is the difficulty to say no. If you ask somebodyto do something it’s very difficult for them to say no.
As a leader, are you a consensus builder or a top-down guy?I use different styles. Sometimes my style is effective and sometimes it is not.How do you get rid of non-performers?The key element of leadership is the development of a high performance team. When you take upthe job of CEO of different companies, you always find great performers, medium performers andbottom performers. If you do not pay attention to this bottom, they drag everybody down. So I neverhesitate to remove the bottom performers in terms of their performance or attitudes. It isextraordinary how it uplifts the rest of the group. Now that you have removed the bottom quarter orthe bottom third there is a new bottom quarter and bottom third. So it’s a constant engineering of theteam. Today in Carlson’s global executive team, 70% of the members are new compared to fouryears ago.Name two non-business leaders you admireI have great admiration for Winston Churchill, I admire him for his creativity and leadership. In yourcountry Mahatma Gandhi was somebody extraordinary. As (US President Franklin Delano)Roosevelt said you must do things that you think you cannot do to become a leader. As leaders, weneed to do things we have not done before. ‘There is need for regulatory changes’Founded in 1935 as Bell Aircraft Corporation, Bell Helicopter has set the pace for the industry.Besides being the first to obtain certification for a commercial helicopter, Bell has delivered morethan 35,000 aircraft around the world. John L Garrison, president and CEO, Bell Helicopter talks toHow important is the Indian market for you?We are the leader with a 42% marketshare. There are 107 bell aircraft operating in India. I would bedisappointed if we don’t see double-digit type percentage growth in India.India’s airline market has grown fast, but helicopters have lagged behind. Why?There is need for a change in the regulatory environment. If you look at the emergency medicalservices in India, you have to take pre-clearance before take-off and that defeats the purpose of anemergency helicopter. We also need infrastructure, helipads, heliports.What is your strategy going to be in India?Jubilant Enpro has been our independent representative for 16 years. They have done a great joband we are very pleased with our partners in India. There are tremendous opportunities in tourismsector and emergency medical services. We will build our supplier base and are talking tocompanies
Price rise is an unavoidable scenario nowIn his post-budget interview, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee talks to NDTV chairman PrannoyRoy and chairman Business Standard Ltd TN Ninan about reforms, subsidies and compulsions ofcoalition politics. Edited excerpts: Prannoy Roy: Is this one of the most difficultpolitical times for you?This is a difficult time both politically and economically. Back in 2008, when I assumed theresponsibility of finance ministry after a quarter century, it was one of the most difficult year becauseof the international financial crisis.Roy: That time you had the Left, now you have the Trinamool?No, you know the alliance partner or the alliance supporter, net result is the same that I shall have tocarry conviction with themRoy: Which is easier to carry though, Left or Mamata?Its very difficult to make an assessment but anyway the net result is same. In a country of Indiassize you cannot go for general elections every year.Ninan: Looking at your numbers, it seems to me that youve actually left the job still to be finishedbecause youve shown reduction in the petroleum subsidy bill for next year and a sharp reduction ata time when oil prices have gone up, the implicit assumption or conclusion that one can draw thatyoure going to be raising petroleum product prices some time, is that a correct conclusion?No when I said you shall have to make the subsidies to 2% of the GDP and in the next three years itwill have to be brought down to 1.75% of the GDP, message is quite clear. There are two ways youcould do it, you could do it through legislative actions or you could do it through executive actions.Roy: No I think what Ninan is saying that Rs. 68,000 crore is the subsidy on petroleum this year, nextyear youve said Rs. 43,000 crore, so Rs. 25,000 crore less subsidy on petroleum. Does that meanthere will be a hike in diesel prices or petrol prices in coming months?Prime minister has clearly indicated these are the areas where executive actions are called for. Likepetrol is already deregulated. Petroleum has been deregulated in last June.Roy: So prices will go up?Ninan: Is that the intention that prices will go up?Yes, it seems because $90 was the assumption when I presented the budget last year, averageprices would be $115, today it has gone up to $120 or $123. I’m keeping a daily track on the Brentcrude prices
‘God is in the details, profit in niches’Being the eldest son of the industrialist Rahul Bajaj, Rajiv, 45, got the world’s fourth largest two-wheeler firm as part of his inheritance. But in 2001, barely a year after he unofficially took over thereins of the firm, he saw Bajaj Auto slip and lose its No. 1 position in India for thefirst-time in 45 years. Under his leadership, the company has transformed from one of the largestscooter manufacturers in the world to a potent motorcycle maker. Excerpts from an interview:How do you define a leader?A leader is the chief custodian of the brand-force of the organisation, the equivalent of what a doctoris to the immune system of a human being.What are a leader’s crucial traits?To understand how the market outside is evolving. To adapt the organisation to this evolution. Andto ensure that the entire organisation remains aligned and does not fall apart while adapting.As the head of the nearly Rs. 20,000 crore Bajaj Auto, how do you cultivate leaders?Thankfully, I dont have to. They shine through. When I observe one I merely empower them.Can leadership be learnt? How can a manager become a leader?Sure! An attitude of leadership can be cultivated by anyone by understanding the weakness in hisarea of work and then making improvements to overcome them. Leaders demonstrate leadershipthrough their performance.What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company?Its the same as any other. In team work, work is more important than team. In a family business,business is more important than family. Leadership is not a matter of aristocracy but one ofmeritocracy even in a family business.What is the role of a leader in uncertain times like today’s?It is as Al Ries defined: to find the future in current activities of the organisation. Not to defocus it toderisk it.Why has the role of business leaders come under cloud of late?Because corporate greed has reached new highs.What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?Good leadership is not corrective but preventive; it should prioritise the bottom line so that theorganisations don’t run amuck chasing profitless growth.
Your one-line leadership mantra?God is in the details, profit in niches.If your children were to join the family business, what would be the one guiding principle you wouldgive them?It would be Charles Darwin’s wisdom: its not the strongest or the most intelligent of the species thatsurvives, but the ones that are the most adaptive to change.Who are leaders that have inspired you?Homoeopath Dr Rajan Sankaran of Mumbai, Yogacharya Guruji Bks Iyengar of Pune, marketingstrategist Jack Trout of the US.Homeopathy and leadership?Yes, contrary to looking at things as piecemeal, like the blind men and the elephant I found that ifone looks at things more holistically as homeopathy does, one is likely to achieve far deepersolutions and solutions that are sustainable over time. This approach has reaped good We have notgone down the MBA route in how we approached our business, we’ve gone down the homeopathicroute and so far it works for us.What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learnt?That most important truths are often contra-intuitive. For example, to sell volumes you must market aniche. Or that we don’t manage our brands, our brands manage us. India an exporter of talent for usWith eight consecutive quarters of growth behind it, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has been able to ridethe stress of rising input costs, a falling rupee and changing business environment, with somesuccess. But how does it plan to sustain this growth? By focussing on new products, especially inthepremium range, the company’s chairman and parent company Unilever’s chief operating officerHarish Manwani told Hindustan Times. Excerpts:High input prices, global uncertainty, rupee fall…how do you see them impacting HUL’sperformance?In the global context, there is absolutely no doubt that the economic scenario is uncertain. In thelong term, India is a growth story — there is no question about it. Shorter term, are therechallenges? Of course, there are challenges in the sense that commodity cost inflation is high. Wehad some issue on devaluation, (but) now the currency has stabilised.What are the mega trends that are driving HUL today?In a country of our size, there are a large number of consumers who are constantly moving up and alarge number of consumers who are entering the economy. There is a market emerging forpremiumisation — people want to use products that have value-added benefits. Premiumisation ofcategories is not about perception, it’s about delivering extra benefits for which people are willing to
pay because they believe it has better value. Our products at the end of the day are affordableindulgences and a very affordable luxury.With Starbucks announcing its entry, what is HUL’s strategy for its Bru cafés?We are not in the business of retail. We are in the business of creating consumer experiences andwe are not competing with anybody. We are not going to open thousands of Bru shops because wehave suddenly decided we now want to be in the business of opening coffee shops.What we will do is open as many Bru outlets as necessary to augment customer experience where itmakes commercial sense.How and where does HUL fit into Unilever’s overall growth strategy?India is important to us because India is a net exporter of talent for us — 240 managers out of 1,400managers working outside India for Unilever are from HUL.For FMCG business, we follow people and we follow money. So, where there are consumers andwhere GDP is growing, the delta is more important than the absolute levels.India, Brazil, China and Indonesia — these are our fastest-growing markets because they alsohappen to have very large population base and the scope for market development is high. We arefortunate that 55% of our business comes from developing markets.Is HUL looking at acquisitions?We will constantly be tracking opportunities of industry consolidation and movements. If we believethere is an opportunity for us to acquire any business that is a bolt-on to our core category in a coregeography, we will go for it.We have not done any acquisition in this market because frankly there has not been an opportunityof an acquisition which we believe is accretive or gives us anything we can’t do organically. If we getit, we have a strong balance sheet, there’s no issue at all, we can do it tomorrow. Leadership is thinking out of the boxOne of Indias 48 billionaires - the latest Forbes rich list ranks him at 270 with a net worth of $4.1billion - Uday Kotak, 53, vice-chairman and managing director, Kotak Mahindra Bank saysleadership is about being disruptive and thinking out of the box.Excerpts from aninterview:What would be the defining trait of leadership, according to you?Leadership is building a team having a common purpose, and executing that purpose. It is aboutidentifying an opportunity in advance and most of the times people see it after its gone. Forexample, nobody saw an opportunity in tablets but Steve Jobs. Even the consumer didnt know thatthey have a need. So when an opportunity flows most people ignore it. And once you get thatopportunity, your ability to execute it - that is the key difference between success and failure. Thereare many visionaries but success is with the person who executes that vision. People underestimatethe importance of execution.
How do you identify opportunity and execute it?You have to follow your own instinct. Humans have a tendency to think that it is too risky, or I cantdo that. In India we have two diseases, what I call needling and tolding. You ask any manager andhe will say we need to do this - in that case why dont you do this. And second is tolding - I have toldhim, or passed on the work to someone else. Why have you told him, why havent you done that yourself. What is your leadership style? I like to build consensus, but once Im clear about something then I decide. I try to carry my team along but I am not scared to take a decision if it is not popular. I also think leadership should not be predictable. If its too predictable then people know that if they behave in a particular manner, then the boss will react in a set way. But unpredictability does not imply inconsistency - you have to be consistent in your philosophy but must have the ability to think out of the box. Any such instance of unpredictability you can recount? It was not an easy decision for us to buy back the Goldman Sachs stake in 2006. The predictable thing was to sell out but we finally looked deep inside and went with our conviction - which brings to another important issue about leadership. That the line between conviction and foolhardiness is very thin. Has the job of a leader become tough in times of a slowdown, especially when he has to take a decision on downsizing? Every downturn is an opportunity because if you have the right strategy and you execute it right, then post-downturn you have chances of getting a higher market share. But often employees are the last to know about developments. Is that due to a lack of respect or is the leader too scared to tell the truth? I think it is both. It is extremely important to carry your team in good and bad times. And when leadership does not have the trust of its people, its a huge sign of weakness of the firm. The two most important constituents of any firm are customers and employees. With both these categories I put disproportionate importance to trust. Conduct of a person builds trust and trust is fragile, it has to be nurtured. A firm must give as much importance to internal communication as to external communication. So where do most leaders go wrong? Most of the times people struggle on the who and lose the sight of what. It is not about who is right, but what is right. Stick to the
principle of what is right and manage the who separately.Which historical leader do you admire most and why?Mahatama Gandhi, he was the smartest negotiator in the world. What negotiating leverage did hehave when he went to the queen in a dhoti and yet, he shifted the negotiating leverage in his favour -as if saying that I am half naked because of what you have done to my country. The way Gandhiused fasts as a negotiating leverage, smartly, time and again, that too in era of no mobiles - he is theone of the smartest negotiators history has seen.