It isn’t just a steady work schedule that sees corporate outperformers coming to the fore in their respective organisations— innovation and initiative are what sets apart the flag-bearers from the battalion. Then, the ability to take risks and believe in one’s own values are also key to success. Of course, a common feature to all the head honchos is their cross-functional experience—be it in one organisation or several— that stood them in good stead when they finally took over the reins.
Kundapur Vaman Kamath, 60
Designation & company: Managing Director and CEO, ICICI Bank
Education: Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Surathkal, 1969; and PGDBA from IIM, Ahmedabad, 1971
Career track: Management Trainee, Project Finance Division, 1971; Executive Assistant to the ICICI Chairman, 1985; Senior Investment Officer, ADB, 1988; Advisor, Chairman, Bakrie Group, Indonesia, 1994; MD and CEO, ICICI Bank, May 1996 onwards
Kamath is no stranger to corporate newsmaking—having steered the fortunes of India’s largest private sector bank, with assets of over $121 billion (Rs 5,20,300 crore) for the past 12 years. Of course, that’s not counting the 17 years he spent at ICICI after earning his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, before heading off for a stint at ADB.
Route to the Top: From tenures in project finance to new business streams in leasing, venture capital, credit rating, as also resources and treasury operations, Kamath has been there, done that and seen it all. Kamath also got a ring-side view of the nitty-gritty of the corner office during his years as Executive Assistant to ICICI Chairman N. Vaghul. The man credited with making technology an interface between the bank and the customer—he launched ICICI’s computerisation programme— began his second stint at ICICI (before it became a bank) in the postliberalisation era with an aggressive drive to harness the internet for the bank’s benefit, while simultaneously scouring the landscape for growth drivers— be it acquisitions of small banking and financial companies or wading into consumer finance and financial services, taking the corporation public and expanding the bank’s reach to global markets and customers.
Kamath, who took over as President, Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) this year, is now regarded as one of the elder statesmen of India Inc. Also, unlike many other iconic business leaders, he has groomed a line of successors in every business that ICICI is present in—banking, consumer credit and insurance. On the flip side, though, critics of ICICI Bank’s flaming growth have also panned Kamath for building an organisation too focussed on the bottom line.
Steady riserNitin Paranjpe, 44
Still to hit his mid-40s, Paranjpe rocked to fame as the youngestever CEO of India’s largest FMCG company when he took over the reins of Hindustan Unilever this April. His relative youth hides the fact that he has clocked up more than two decades in the company to reach the peak.
Route to the top: Paranjpe has worked his way up the rungs of HUL, earlier Hindustan Lever, from a management trainee to the head of HUL’s different divisions. He was also part of Project Millennium, an ambitious plan to identify and diversify into newly emerging consumer goods categories in the new millennium. A stint with Unilever in London saw him involved closely in a review of the group’s structure. Paranjpe also did a stint as an understudy to the Unilever Chairman in London, a precursor to his eventual takeover as CEO and MD of HUL this year. In between— since his return from London and his eventual crowning—Paranjpe dabbled as profit centre head for HUL’s home and personal care division, before being inducted into the company’s management committee and later, to its board of directors.
He takes over at a time when the economy is in a slowdown mode, which means his key challenge will be to put HUL back on the growth track that it enjoyed till a few years ago.
Anant Talaulicar, 45
Designation & company: Chairman & Managing Director, Cummins India
Education: B.E. (Mechanical), Mysore University, 1984; M.E., University of Michigan, 1985; MBA, Tulane University, 1987.
Career track: Corporate Financial Analyst, Midrange Engine Group, Cummins India, 1988; General Manager, Cummins Power Generation Business, 1996; Vice President, Power Generation & Distribution Businesses, Cummins India, 2003; Chairman & Managing Director, Cummins India, 2004; Vice President, Cummins Inc., 2005 (he simultaneously holds the last two positions).
Starting early seems to have helped Talaulicar, for it was while studying for his MBA that he joined Cummins as an intern in the US in 1986. From there to his current role as CMD of the Rs 2,800-crore Indian arm of the company with an employee base of nearly 2,600 has been a long journey.
Route to the Top: After his MBA, Talaulicar spent his early years with Cummins in the US, starting off as a Corporate Financial Analyst in 1988 for its Midrange Engine Group. This was followed by stints in engineering and product management positions in the engines business. He moved up the corporate chain of command in the US before relocating to India in 2003.
Talaulicar deems himself a collaborative manager who prefers getting out of his colleagues’ way after setting them clear objectives. He also quips that he has no important achievements in his career, adding that he didn’t set any hard deadlines for achieving his career goals—the plan evolved as he matured and took on assignments across business units, functions and locations.
Master strategistVineet Nayar, 46
From a greenhorn who learnt the ropes of the business in the early years of India’s computing era to an IT industry heavyweight who carefully considered his options before accepting HCL Chairman Shiv Nadar’s offer to reinvigorate HCL Technologies, Nayar has successfully strategised his way to the top heap.
Route to the Top: Nayar’s tryst with HCL began as a management trainee. Over the next decade he gathered experience in the engineering, product and sales and marketing divisions of the company, all of which came to the fore when he started HCL Comnet to tap the then emerging market of IT infrastructure and networking services in India.
His success there got him the offer to head the parent company, HCL Technologies, first in 2004, when he refused, and again the next year, when he finally agreed to lead the then troubled IT major as its President. During his stint as top boss, revenues have pole-vaulted from Rs 3,360 crore in 2005 when he took over to Rs 7,083 crore in 2007-08. And yet, Nayar asserts that his reaching the top of the corporate ladder was largely accidental, without much planning on his part. “I just focused on the job at hand—if you chase something, you never get it,” he philosophises.
Sanjeev Aga, 56
Designation & company: Managing Director, Idea Cellular
Education: Physics (Hons) from St Stephen’s College, New Delhi, 1971; PGDBA from IIM Calcutta, 1973.
Career track: Branch Manager, Product Manager, Regional Sales Manager, Asian Paints, 1973; Marketing Manager, Chellarams, Nigeria, 1982; Sales & Marketing Manager, Jenson & Nicholson, 1984; Vice President, Furniture Division, Blow Plast, 1987; CEO, Mattel Toys, 1990; Managing Director, Blow Plast, 1993; CEO, Birla Tata-AT&T Telecom JV, 1998; Director (IT Services, BPO, Insulators), Aditya Birla Management Corporation 2003; Managing Director, Aditya Birla Nuvo, 2005; Managing Director, Idea Cellular, 2006 onwards
To call Aga a corporate vetern wouldn’t be off the mark—his CV is replete with management experience across a gamut of industries, from paints to luggage and then swinging from telecom to fibre and back. He now heads India’s fifth-largest telecom operator with a market cap of Rs 29,000 crore. Route to the Top: Starting off as a rookie at Asian Paints, Aga went early into retail before returning to paints and emulsions. He then ventured off again, this time into FMCG, scaling his first peak at Blow Plast, when he became its MD IN 1993. It was a position he held for five years before the Birla-AT&T-Tata telecom venture beckoned him as CEO—a role that was also supposed to oversee the three way JV’s merger with BPL Communications. However, Aga had to suffer the ignominy of seeing the company withdraw the statement of his appointment following which he was rehabilitated within the AV Birla Group as CEO of PSI Data Systems and later given additional responsibility as Chairman, NGK Insulators. In 2005, he was appointed Managing Director of Aditya Birla Nuvo (formed from the merger of Indian Rayon, Birla Global Finance and Indo Gulf Fertilisers) and after a little over a year’s stint, took charge of Idea Cellular after the Tata Group exited the venture.
For Aga, it was a full circle, after heading the company’s initial charge. Like every other move in his career, this too was unplanned, says Aga.