Business Today

India's hottest young executives

Shamni Pande        Print Edition: May 15, 2011

Humans are wired to be more interested in young people. "Hypothetically, if your grandmother wrote the best song in the world, no one would care,'' blogs workplace satirist Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. Provocative as that sounds, it is difficult to deny the fascination the world has for young achievers. Given India's demographic tilt in favour of youth, combined with the threatening skill shortage that companies face, the onus of spotting achievers early is becoming a survival strategy for most organisations.

As Business Today unfolds its seventh edition of India's Hottest Young Executives, or HYEs, it becomes clear that what began as a project to record the change in Corporate India's leadership profile - that was opening up to younger leaders in 2002 - is today turning out to be a definitive list. Fast movers such as Salil Parekh (now a member of Capgemini Group's Executive Committee) or Nirvik Singh (now CEO, Grey Group, Asia Pacific) featured in our first list have gone on to take global mandates. Manisha Girotra has become CEO of the banking operations of UBS from being the head of UBS Securities in India.

Thanks to a fairly constant set of counsellors who help us unearth young achievers every year, we have been able to include people from diverse sectors and companies outside the comfort zones such as Hindustan Unilever, Tata Group and GE, or even companies in investment banking and financial services or information technology.


Toral Patel
Toral Patel
Kalyani S.
Kalyani S.
Companies are seeking diversity in gender, nationality, education, and are being inclusive in their approach
Toral Patel, Senior Director, Accord Group

Stability does help as many large Indian business houses support in-house talent for 'C' level positions
Kalyani S., Associate Director, Stanton Chase

Purvi Sheth
Purvi Sheth
Hastha Krishnan
Hastha Krishnan
Companies are asking for talent that is varied in skills and can manage in a multitude of business environs"
Purvi Sheth, CEO, Shilputsi Consultants

Employee engagement, effective communication are the two key challenges for organisations. Those managing it well have motivated teams
Hastha Krishnan, Director & President, Ma Foi/Randsta
So, how do we do it? It is a good question to ask, given that companies are paranoid about revealing their gems for competitive reasons. Luckily, with the best headhunters on our side, we have been able to at least identify candidates. We have Kalyani S., Associate Director at Stanton Chase International, Toral Patel, a Senior Director at Accord Group India, Hastha Krishnan, Director & President of Ma Foi/Randstad, and Purvi Sheth, CEO of Shilputsi Consultants. They collectively drew up a 100-strong list and subsequently in a round table discussion spent hours debating the names to throw up the true achievers. Common industry segments were grouped to prevent the list from getting loaded in favour of any one segment. Care was taken to avoid bunching of too many similar job profiles, and a robust debate ensured that no one kind of job was edging out others. Thereafter, the discussion focused on:

  • The individual's record and consistency
  • Contribution to an organisation's bottomline and other objectives
  • People management skills
  • Ability to deal with start-ups, and/or fast growth situations
  • Passion and ability to influence key stakeholders

Manisha Girotra
Manisha Girotra
Manisha Girotra
(BT: HYE 2004) Then 34, she was Managing Director, UBS Securities, India
What BT said then: The self-confessed deal junkie who says she is happiest "when winning deals" ... (is)busy with cross-border deals of the kind that have become UBS's speciality
Today: She is CEO and Country Head, UBS India

Salil Parekh
Salil Parekh
Salil Parekh
(BT: HYE 2002) Then 38, he was CEO CGE&Y India and COO, CGE&Y, Asia Pacific
What BT said then: If Parekh's targets are any indication, he can't wait to get started: over the next three years he proposes to hike revenues and workforce a staggering 12 times
Today: He is a member of Capgemini Group's Executive Committee
Ruchir Sharma
Ruchir Sharma
Ruchir Sharma
(BT: HYE 2002) He was then Executive Director, India, Morgan Stanley Investment
What BT said then: He is so young, he refuses to give his exact age. "The only reason I am in this industry is my passion for markets, especially global ones," says Sharma
Today: He is MD, Head of global emerging markets equity team and Portfolio Manager at Morgan Stanley Investment Management

Nirvik Singh
Nirvik Singh
Nirvik Singh
(BT: HYE 2002) Then 39, he was CEO, Grey Worldwide, India
What BT said then: In 1997, "there were reports every day about how we were closing down," Singh recollects. Grey now boasts revenues of Rs 283 crore
Today: He is Chairman and CEO, Grey Group Asia Pacific

It was fascinating to see how winners emerged from a list of 100 names, especially since almost all were minted from the best colleges or B-schools, and had worked for heavyweights.

Often, a star performer failed to make the grade because he or she had no recent achievement. Sometimes, as in the case of Soumya Goswami on this year's list, they stand out as they are in a new area in which there are relatively few contenders with such skills.

Every year, we try to list the top 25, but face the occasional hurdle when a candidate opts out because his or her employer does not wish the world to know it has a star. Our most famous but reclusive candidate was Nitin Paranjpe. We put him on our list in 2002 when he was the head of fabric wash at what was then Hindustan Lever Ltd or HLL. But neither Paranjpe nor HLL wanted him featured. Today, Paranjpe is the CEO and Managing Director of HLL's new avatar, Hindustan Unilever Ltd.

Our experience suggests that the hottest performers are people who know their minds, and have not been swayed by temptations and moved on to other jobs in the face of challenges. Kalyani of Stanton Chase says there are both movers, and those who stay on. But the scales are tilted in favour of those who stay long enough to build a sustainable business.

At the end of the day, it is not about moving or staying on in one job, but about what one does at the job. Entrepreneurial dreams can also prompt an HYE to quit a job. So, two BT HYEs of the past, Bobby Parikh (2002) and Mukesh Bhutani (2004) have since teamed up at BMR Advisors. In the current list, Jagdish Mahapatra of Cisco says he harbours start-up dreams.

Given the range of their talents, and the diversity of interests it becomes difficult to put any clear pattern to the achievers - except, of course, their burning ambition and passion for excellence. Just as there are stereotypes, there are as many exceptions to break the urban legends.

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Besides, diversity is a key issue, the final winner in the mix. As companies battle often unpredictable economic swings and a fusion of cultures, this attribute is being sought the most. "Companies are asking for talent that is varied in skills and can manage in a multitude of business environs," says Sheth of Shilputsi. According to her, skills should also be applicable in different jobs so people can play different roles in an organisation, even at a time of change in business strategy or altered execution plans.

Gender diversity is not the only agenda that is becoming critical. "We find the diversity aspect playing out on many fronts," says Patel of Accord. According to her, "Companies are seeking diversity in gender, nationality, education and are being inclusive in their approach."

Maybe that is why we have on our list: former hockey Olympian Viren Rasquinha, who went to the elite Indian School of Business at Hyderabad and is today chief operating officer of Olympic Gold Quest. Then there is Aditya Ghosh, a lawyer, who heads one of the most successful airlines in the country today.

Enough about success. Headhunters are actually eager to meet HYEs with a difference - people who have dealt with setbacks in business or, at a personal level, have an athlete's attitude. Many would not disagree with what Bhutani had to say when we profiled him in 2004. "I am biased towards people who have played competitive sport," he told us, referring to his approach to hiring. "They are resilient, can work in teams, and accept defeat."

Traits of effective people

Is there a pattern to youthful achievement? Most of those profi led displayed some common features

MBA Degrees
Barring a few, who are lawyers or engineers, most of our Hottest Young Executives are MBAs

Willingness to learn

Hot trackers are constant learners. They are forever trying to pick up new skills, be it a new language, or a new way of solving problems

Keenness to stay fit
Sportsman's spirit is crucial in business. It helps if you are an athlete, but if not, an hour at the gym daily is a must to beat stress

Especially in these times of change, staying in the same company for a lengthy period is useful. It allows you to understand the system and implement ideas

Workaholics welcome
Whatever senior executives might say about work-life balance, most of them put in well over 80 hours a week at work

Hobby as therapy
Often breakthrough solutions to work-related problems come to mind while taking a short break, maybe playing a game of chess or working in the kitchen

Turnaround, or start up
Most young achievers have either had fi re-fi ghting stints and come out on top, or have been involved with successful start-ups. Or at least, they nurture dreams of turning entrepreneurs

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