People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision, says leadership coach John C. Maxwell. Indeed, the credibility of the leader is what determines the extent to which the team will follow the vision he or she lays down for the organisation. Iconic banker Aditya Puri, credited with building HDFC Bank brick by brick, told me that one of the first things he did when setting up the banking giant was to ensure his entire team, across levels, was aligned to the vision he had. The bank’s success is as much a reflection of Puri’s own credibility as a leader as it is to the depth of his vision.
As companies across the world grapple with the after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of the CEO has become even more crucial. The CEO today is expected to navigate a world where nothing is certain anymore—indeed, strategy is only as good as, perhaps, a year or two, as business realities and technologies change rapidly. But even more important is the need for today’s CEOs to ensure leadership is purpose-driven, empathetic, and in consonance with the changing needs of the customer. As the India findings of the latest PwC Annual Global CEO Survey show, most CEOs have goals related to customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and automation or digitisation included in their long-term strategy.
The much-awaited annual BT-PwC India’s Best CEOs ranking underscores these trends. The winners who were picked this year by the jury demonstrate not just strategic vision and the ability to make course corrections as market dynamics change, but also a keenness to understand deeply what the customer wants while being empathetic to the needs of the employees at a time when the pandemic has threatened to upend people’s lives. This year, the jury unanimously decided to confer the Lifetime Achievement Award to iconic industrialist Ratan Tata who demonstrates all these qualities—Tata’s empathetic leadership style and his vision for the group over the past decades have seen it command market leadership in several sectors, spawning a number of leaders within Tata companies who are now taking them forward. Champion of Champions winner Rajeev Jain, the Managing Director of NBFC major Bajaj Finance, was a clear choice for his vision and the manner in which he is transforming the finance company into one of the most exciting fintech firms, one which shareholders have been celebrating year after year. And then there is our cover person Salil Parekh, the CEO & MD of tech giant Infosys, who has managed to bring the bellwether back to its glory days with his single-minded focus on customer-centricity, digital transformation and the concept of One Infosys, while continuously focussing on up-skilling his employees to keep pace with changing market dynamics. Parekh tells Krishna Gopalan, who helmed this project, that his strategy was simple: “We needed to be more relevant and that was really it.”
As you turn the pages of this issue, I invite you to read the stories of this diverse set of leaders who are bound, really, by just one common factor: the pursuit of excellence.
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