Business Today

Grooming future leaders

Here’s a look at how the next generation of India Inc’s leaders is being primed.

Saumya Bhattacharya & Rahul Sachitanand        Print Edition: June 29, 2008

Mobility has literally been Christopher Tobit’s career over the last nine years. When he joined Bharti Airtel in February 1999 as Head of Corporate Sales, all he wanted to do was showcase his expertise in the B2B space.

While doing that, he was moved to the role of Head of Channels and then was given the charge of the all-important customer service. Next on Tobit’s radar was UP West (COO), Maharashtra and Goa (COO) and then Delhi (COO). Over this period, Tobit has had an assortment of diverse roles (eight to be precise) to play as this wildlife fanatic and avid golfer was identified as a potential business leader early in his career.

Christopher Tobit, Director, Sales and Operations, Enterprise Services, Bharti Airtel
Christopher Tobit
Tobit, who has been Director, Sales & Operations, Enterprise Services, Bharti Airtel, since January 2008, represents the next generation of business leaders in India, who are a curious mix of their organisation’s DNA, their own drive and the everevolving requirements of the globalised world. Says Tobit: “When you move up, you are as good as the weakest link. People are absolutely vital in my scheme of things.”

In today’s scenario, the demand for business leaders far outstrips their availability—what with the very rapid expansion of sectors like retail, telecom and financial services.

“These sectors are pulling away a lot of ‘tested’ business leaders from other sectors. There is more mobility at this level,” says Gauri Padmanabhan, Partner, Heidrick and Struggles. Therefore, companies have to look at their strategies for retaining what they have and also build a second line.

Come July, and 55-60 executives from LG Electronics India will head to the University of Michigan where management guru C.K. Prahalad and other eminent professors will impart lessons in leadership. This is the first time that the company is taking its leadership training to the global stage.

Sangita Singh, Senior Vice President, Wipro
Sangita Singh
The objective: to develop global leaders with global skills. Says Y.V. Verma, Director (HR), LG Electronics India: “As a global company in expansion mode, we need leaders with globally relevant mindsets and leadership skills.”

Shoring up management bandwidth

  • Start early. Leaders are identified across all levels.especially at the junior levels

  • Provide cross-functional exposure to the potential business leaders

  • Global exposure in tie-up with Ivy League, other well-known institutes

  • Exposure to training.from classroom training to experimental learning

  • Devise customised career plans for each of the profiles (for example, at Bharti)

  • Identify skill-sets intrinsic to the company's DNA. LG Electronics has its 10 commandments while Bharti swears by it 5 competencies
These future leaders will be taught about the challenges of operating in a business environment, their role in enhancing the value of their “borderless” brand and being leaders in subordinate development.

Finding and nurturing future leadership talent is a primary concern for most organisations. So, how do they identify top people, guide and mentor them, and retain them?

Common to all leadership development programmes across companies are the tried and tested formula— 360 degree appraisals, coaching programmes across all levels and exposure to global practices in the context of the company’s requirements. However, to find the perfect fit for their DNA, most companies devise their own mechanism.

Finding the Perfect Fit Therefore, it’s all about figuring out the organisation’s DNA and then finding the perfect leadership fit. And this search for leadership starts early.

Chandra Shekar Kakal, Senior Vice President, Infosys Technologies
Chandra Shekar Kakal
At the Aditya Birla Group, there is a three-tier coaching programme that prepares the climate for leadership. Building leadership has to start at the junior level. “These are building blocks; you cannot ignore the foundation and build the roof. Leadership has different values at different levels. For example, at the junior levels, it is taking initiative.

At senior levels, the crucial leadership trait could be strategic thinking,” says Santrupt Misra, Group HR & IT Director, Aditya Birla Group. He, however, cautions that organisations make a mistake and focus only on truly high potential (executives), who by definition are self-driven. “It is the next level of people that requires handholding, care and nurturing,” he says, adding: “Leadership is not everyone’s cup of tea; you have to hone it under diverse circumstances.”

Krish Shankar, Director, HR, Bharti Airtel
Krish Shankar
To do exactly that, IT industry icon Infosys Technologies has a formalised leadership institute. Spread across 217 acres and located on the outskirts of Mysore, in southern Karnataka, the Infosys Leadership Institute (ILI) is the nerve centre of the company’s initiatives to groom second-and third-rung management to manage the company’s rapid growth. According to Infosys executives, around 700-800 employees are trained every year to bolster its management bandwidth. “This creates a leadership development system for Infoscions all over the world and the institute works towards enhancing management depth and grooming leaders who can take responsibilities for critical activities,” says an Infosys spokesperson. The top management of Infosys, including its chairman, CEO and the Board of Directors, are closely involved in the design and rollout of programmes for the next generation of leaders.

“Interventions include classroom training to experiential learning by way of leading from the front. There is a formal process of identifying Tier-I, Tier-II, and Tier-III leaders at the organisational level and further at the unit level,” says Chandra Shekar Kakal, an ILI grad, member of Infosys’ Executive Council and Senior Vice President & Global Head of the Enterprise Solutions business unit.

Santrupt Misra, Group HR & IT Director, Aditya Birla Group
Santrupt Misra
For its part, Bharti Airtel has a leadership programme with the USbased Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). As part of this initiative, CCL coaches work with circle CEOs individually to hone their leadership skills. “We have career plans for each of the leadership profiles. It’s a mix of the different roles that he would do within his function, crosscircle and cross-function (as in the case of Tobit) and wherever required, a stint in expertise roles—say a sales person spending two years in marketing,” says Krish Shankar, Director, HR, Bharti Airtel.

Waiting in the wings

It isn’t just about CXO level. Once the recruits are in the door, companies groom them in ways that can prove useful later. At Maruti Suzuki India, grooming leaders starts at the time of talent acquisition—predominantly at the entry level.

The company picks up people from various streams so that it has “a good basket”, points out S.Y. Siddiqui, Managing Executive Officer, Head of HR, IT & Finance, Maruti Suzuki India. The company needs to broadbase its leadership to drive its ambitious expansion, he adds.

S.Y. Siddiqui, Managing Executive Officer, Head (HR, IT & Finance), Maruti Suzuki
S.Y. Siddiqui
At Pantaloon Retail, part of the Future Group, the creation of a leadership pipeline at the store management level as well as at the CXO level is considered crucial. Says Sanjay Jog, HR Head, Pantaloon Retail: “Leadership creation is done across all levels with the help of processes that help enhance competencies.”

The crucial frontline sales (3,000 people are employed in India) is the basket from which Bharti also identifies its future leaders. “Around 300-400 potential leaders are identified and groomed,” points out Shankar.

Passing the baton

At Wipro, leadership begins with the company’s Chairman, who has taken on a more hands-on approach after recently appointing two joint CEOs. “I teach a lot at employee programmes… interactive sessions and I have to mould them,” the silver-haired Premji told BT in an interview recently. On the ground, Wipro has a structured talent review process for all critical jobs, covering about 500 top leaders.

Sangita Singh, 39, has spent about 15 years at Wipro. Over this time, she has grown from being a product manager (she won the Best Product Manager award for five years in a row) and became its Chief Marketing Officer in her mid-thirties.

She now handles enterprise applications services business at the company. “There is a huge accelerated learning curve at Wipro; we’re expected to learn the ropes quickly and the management backs that up with intensive classroom programmes,” she says.

Wipro executives point to a tieup with the London Business School, where the faculty doesn’t just deliver lectures, but selected company managers join their counterparts from the likes of cosmetics giant L’Oreal and power component maker Schneider Electric to take management development programmes.

Sanjay Jog, Head (HR), Pantaloon Retail
Sanjay Jog
“The rules of the game are the same for every Wiproite whether it’s a senior manager or a 22-year-old who joins us today from the campus. Empowerment is a crucial element in encouraging ‘Intrapreneurship’. We expect them to take ownership of their businesses,” says Wipro’s HR Head Pratik Kumar.

These future business leaders are all products of their companies’ cultures. As Misra says: “Just as there are different routes to reaching God, there are different ways of becoming a leader. Across organisations, the paths are different but the aim remains the same.”

However, most organisations agree that leadership is all about selfawareness— who we are and where we stand. The organisation can provide the opportunity but it is up to the individual to make the most of it. Like Jack Welch says: “Control your own destiny or someone else will.”

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