Transitions to the CEO’s post are riddled with challenges. More so in the case of professional CEOs in family-owned businesses. Just ask Mohit Malhotra who became the CEO of FMCG major Dabur in 2019. Despite having been with the company for 25 years, his ascension to the top job wasn’t easy.
“The one year when I was India CEO before I became the global CEO, I questioned all old systems and processes. It was very rough for me, but I stuck to my guns and the company decided to give me a free hand,” Malhotra told Business Today. He was eventually promoted as overall CEO from a bunch of contenders, but not before he was put through a battery of rigorous tests. Dabur called upon an external agency to ensure a thorough assessment, despite having known Malhotra in and out in various roles. And global leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder conducted a rigorous written aptitude test, a psychometric test, a series of interviews and a 360-degree survey of Malhotra by interviewing his subordinates, peers, seniors, parents and relatives.
“A full dossier was compiled on my strengths and weaknesses. To smoothen the rough edges exposed during the process, I was sent to Portugal for an Executive Breakthrough Programme,” says Malhotra. The 10-day curriculum had 7 CEOs from different countries get coached by 11 experts. “It was a 10-day programme, where I had to stay in a hotel and under 24*7 on-camera observation. They even observed how I slept and how I woke up. In the mornings, we had to report at 7.30 for case studies. There were one-to-one exercises with the coaches, impromptu speeches, etc,”
“When I came out of it, I was naked, so to speak. They knew me inside out. But it taught me to be transparent…For six months after that, they observed me and only then gave me this mantle,” he says.
After all, Dabur couldn’t afford to go wrong again, having burnt their fingers with their first professional CEO.
One of the first Indian family-owned businesses to professionalise, its journey had a rocky start when their first professional CEO, Ninu Khanna, left in three years in 2002. But the Burmans were keen to hand over the reins. After some introspection and corrections in corporate governance with Accenture’s help, they chose company insider Sunil Duggal as the CEO. The strategy has since worked for the Rs 1 lakh-crore market capitalisation company, whose reins passed on from Duggal to Mohit Malhotra in 2019.
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