With the Aditya Vikram Birla Group expanding its footprint across 33 nations, chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla is confronted with the peculiar challenge of managing delicate cross-cultural currents that impact the morale of the group's diverse workforce spanning 42 different nationalities.
Birla, who was in New Delhi on Saturday for the India Today Youth Summit, disclosed that he had been forced to break the age-old vegetarian tradition of the Birla group and allow the serving of meat dishes at meals served during public functions held in the staff colonies of the company.
In a rare public interaction with youngsters at a packed hall of the Meridien Hotel, Birla said the issue had arisen as the employees in India wanted to be treated at par with the group's staff in Australia.
When the Rs 150,000-crore AV Birla group took over a mining company in Australia some of the managers asked the chairman whether they would have to become vegetarians as they were now on the payroll of a Birla company.
"Obviously not," the London Business School graduate told them. The question came as a surprise as their staple food is non-vegetarian and the company would not think of interfering with that issue.
However, the 44-year-old Birla did not anticipate that the employees of the company in India would cite this as a precedent to make out a case for allowing non-vegetarian food to be served at public functions back home as well.
Birla admitted that he had been caught by surprise and having grown up in the staunch vegetarian tradition of his family, refused to give the go-ahead at first.
"However, in the subsequent discussions with the staff I ran out of logic to support my case," Birla admitted.
"I had grown up with a cultural filter and at first that was coming in the way," he explained.
Birla disclosed that with people from different cultures operating in the same work environment a lot of misunderstandings tend to occur. For instance, the mannerisms or expressions of an Italian manager can be perceived as brusque by Swedish workers even though he is behaving in a way that is perfectly normal by Italian standards.
Similarly, Indian employees going to work in Thailand get a culture shock when they see an all-women team working on a night shift at the company.
Birla said the group was holding classes for its employees to acquaint them with the nuances of various cultures, which include etiquettes and basics of the languages.
This multi-cultural aspect of HR management is extremely important as the AV Birla group is looking for more acquisitions overseas.
Birla said that the global slowdown had opened up new opportunities to buy overseas assets, which are much cheaper now than five years ago.
When the group weighs the pros and cons of entering a new business at home or abroad it looks at the cash flow it would throw up at the end of the day.
"The matrix of success is cash flows," he emphasises.
Interestingly, for a man at the helm of a huge business empire he has little time for his own finances. Birla is a quintessential family man who likes to spend his leisure time with his wife Neerja and three children.
He enjoys the company of his eight-year-old youngest daughter the most " as she is the only one who listens to us," he quipped.
Courtesy: Mail Today