When K. Sreekantwas appointed the Chairman and Managing Director of Power Grid Corporation of India in August 2019, one of the first things he changed was the setting of his seventh-floor office in Gurugram. He had the pale, brown wall opposite his desk replaced with large French-style windows that showed off the building’s vertical garden and the city’s distant skyline. The view serves as a metaphor for Sreekant’s leadership skills: open, positive and practical. For Sreekant, it’s all about fairness and merit. “I believe in meritocracy. Ultimately, people make an organisation. The key is to engage in a two-way communication with them,” he says. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why India’s largest power transmission firm reported consolidated revenue of Rs 10,447 crore in Q3FY22, up 3 per cent from Rs 10,142 crore in the year-ago period. The PSU’s consolidated net profit stood at Rs 3,293 crore. And Sreekant is the winner in the Power category of the BT-PwC India’s Best CEOs ranking.
Asked to describe himself, he recalls a management class he had attended. “We were asked to draw a picture which defined who we were. I drew a landscape with mountains and a river. I said the river is what I feel I am. I just go with the flow,” he says. But people, he adds, think he is more like the mountain—resilient. Sreekant is known to be one of the brightest minds in the power sector with expertise in multiple areas. Going forward, Power Grid’s consultancy and telecom (run under the brand name Powertel) businesses are the two key growth areas, he says. The challenge now is to diversify. “At one point... telecom, consultancy, etc. were like cherries on the cake. But we need to deepen that. We’re now going to focus on our data centre business. That’s why we’ve set up a data centre unit at Manesar and will look at scaling it up,” Sreekant says.
Power Grid also plans to improve its global footprint in the consultancy space. “We have a footprint in 21 countries. Our next step is to increase our engagement and look at global investments.” M. Taj Mukarrum, Power Grid’s Director (Finance), has known Sreekant for the last 38 years. Both joined NTPC as trainees, with 58-year-old Sreekant staying on till 2016. “He was the youngest in a batch of 20-25 management trainees and is a gold medallist. Sreekant is a natural leader, backed by sheer hard work, sharp memory and analytical ability... [and] has always kept his head high with knowledge and a deep involvement in all issues relevant to his area of work,” he says. Sreekant, Mukarrum says, has oodles of energy, keeps himself focussed and still appears fresh at the end of the day. His colleagues admire him for the way he managed the business despite the second wave of Covid-19 claiming at least 35 lives at Power Grid. “To the credit of my team, despite losing so many people, system availability and product execution didn’t come down. Keeping them motivated was my biggest test as a leader,” Sreekant says.
The next challenge, he says, will come from digital disruption. “In a large organisation the inertia is very high. The good thing is [that] traditional power businesses like smart metering, storage, transmission, etc. will continue to grow. But there will be additions. We have to enter these [new] spaces and do well. The willingness to change is essential,” he says. “Digital disruption doesn’t scare us. We want to harness it and turn it into productivity.” Sustaining growth, he feels, has been one of his key achievements. “There has always been a focus on addition of new transmission lines and capacity. Since 2012, Power Grid was doing almost Rs 20,000 crore annually kind of capex. That kind of a growth cannot be sustained. Today, the competitiveness in this sector has increased. Everyone is now looking at tariff-based competitive bidding. One challenge is that the pie itself has reduced,” he says. The second, he adds, is sharing that “pie with the private sector while our keeping leadership position intact”. Sreekant calls himself a moderate risk taker. “I’m not risk averse but I will not play blind,” he says.
Just like his colleagues, Swarnim Maheshwari, VP, Institutional Equities at Edelweiss Securities, too, holds Sreekant in high regard. “He doesn’t dismiss any question and listens to everyone. Despite a financial background, he became the CMD of the world’s third largest power transmission company—a testament to the fact that he has technically sound knowledge of the power sector,” he says.
Maheshwari calls Sreekant a solid leader with an inclusive approach. “This company stood out under his leadership [during the pandemic]. The environment under him is very fair and transparent... from an equity holder’s perspective, the dividend payout is going up. ” Sreekant’s next big focus is clear: traditional transmission and expansion of the data centre business. Though Power Grid is a PSU, experts say in the last few years, it has shown a start-up-like fervour. “It is a PSU yet its business style is commercial. It can take on the competition, given its strong technical/financial capabilities. It... is a torch-bearer for the entire industry,” says Maheshwari. But who inspires Sreekant? Everyone from ancient Sanskrit scholars to his gardener. “I always tell people: if you want motivation, go meet my gardener. He’s a self-starter and never says no to a task. Ho jayega [it’ll be done] is his response to everything. I think that’s an incredible learning about the pursuit of excellence,” he says.
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