Arvind Fashions plans to list in a few months. While it is in the process of seeking regulatory approvals, there are good reasons why the parent, Arvind, found it best to demerge its brands and retail company. Consider this: In 2005, when Suresh J. joined as Managing Director and CEO of Arvind Lifestyle Brands, now called Arvind Fashions, it was a `200 crore company. Today, it is a `4,000 crore entity. It has grown from 32 stores back then to 1,260 stores now and is adding 150 new stores every year. During this period, it has grown from just under 300 employees to around 10,000, with 7,424 on rolls and the rest third-party employees. This scorching growth would not have been possible without transformation of the way it handles its human resources and ensures employees' career growth.
The importance the company gives to people issues was evident when BT met Suresh and Shilpa Vaid, the Chief Human Resources Officer, in their office on MG Road in Bengaluru. Looking back at the over 12 years that he has been with the company, Suresh said their growth had been closely linked with human resources practices - consistency in what the company has stood for and communicated to its employees, especially in terms of the fundamental direction it wants to take. "It is important as employees can make out if you are consistent or not, says Suresh. "At the centre of our human resources practices is something we call High Impact Performance as we want each employee to be a high-impact performer. This is not to put pressure on employees. It is more about creating an environment which helps people become high-impact performers." While the company encourages employees to adopt a 'will do' attitude, "we also give them space and freedom to build on this. In the process, any failure is not severely punished," he says.
The company's focus during the period of Suresh's stint has shifted from getting people on board to building an organisation with talent to face the future. "What we have focused on is upskilling and re-skilling employees with custom-designed programmes," says Vaid. She talks about a host of new initiatives. These include SMILES, quickspeak for Salary, My Career Path, I Do, I Achieve, Learning & Development, and Enjoyable Workplace. Then, there is iLearn, a digital learning offering on a range of topics to help employees upskill themselves and learn, anytime, anywhere. There is also something it calls 1% Delta, a pre-onboarding engagement app for new recruits. "When we go to campuses for recruitment, we tell them that we deliver 3 Es to employees. One is experience, given our 28 brands and seven business units dealing with the whole range from luxury to mass brands. The second 'E' is about making the person effective and efficient. The third 'E' is about enjoyment," says Suresh.
The company is also in step with the need to make itself more inclusive. Today, 22 per cent workforce in offices and 14.5 per cent in retail operations is women. "Out of 10 people in senior management, three are women," says Suresh. While most organisations take initiatives to make the workplace women-friendly, Arvind Fashions has added things that Vaid is especially proud of. "When a woman employee tells us about the need to take maternity leave, we give her a maternity transition tool kit that has tips on what to expect and what health precautions to take. We also hold workshops for line managers on how to treat returning mothers," says Vaid, adding, "Women in the last trimester are allowed to take cabs." The office also has accommodation where women can rest.
Lastly, there is something else that is engaging Suresh's attention - making employees digital conscious. But how about retaining staff in a sector where attrition levels are high? Suresh says the mix of rich experience and growth opportunities have ensured that Arvinds attrition rates are better than the industry average. In retail operations, the attrition rate is 35-40 per cent, about half the industry average of 70 per cent. Building on this is what is driving Suresh.