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India's hottest young executives

Business Today's sixth listing of the young trailblazers who are setting the benchmarks for success in India Inc. See them in Pictures

Shamni Pande | Print Edition: April 4, 2010

When Business Today kicked off the annual exercise of picking India's Hottest Young Executives (HYEs) in 2002, getting 25 such whiz-kids wasn't arduous. But this year we have 22! Now, if you're tempted to link this drop to the economic slowdown and the inability of the HYE tribe to come out with flying colours in tough times, you might be right — but not totally. See them in Pictures

BT PANELLISTS


"Today, it is very important for candidates to have a magnetic draw and they should also have a demonstrated strategic ability and an implementation mindset"

— Sonal Agrawal/ CEO/ Accord Group India

"Corporates today want young leaders who are not only aggressive, but also good with their people-skills"

— Kalyani Shastry/ Lead Consultant StantonChase International

"A leader's passion inspires members of an organisation to take on new challenges"

— Hastha Krishnan/ CEO/ Ma Foi Global Search Services

"Leaders today are also expected to have undisputed integrity and must have the ability to create a culture of complete honesty"

— Purvi Sheth/ CEO/ Shilputsi

Yes, the shrinkage of the bright-pack during tough times may have something to do with the downturn—but that's largely because promoters get even more paranoid during such periods about their fast-trackers getting poached. BT—with plenty of help from its steadfast band of HYE-stalking headhunters (see The Panellists)—had few problems in drawing up a master list of over 100 names. Whilst some of these didn't make the cut after several rounds of rigorous scrutiny, more than a few fell off the list simply because their employers preferred to shield them from the public—and competitive—glare.

So, what does it take to be a HYE? "Today, it is very important for candidates to have a magnetic draw that can attract various stakeholders and they should also have a demonstrated strategic ability and an implementation mindset," says Sonal Agrawal, CEO, Accord Group India, who has been on BT's HYE panel for six years now. Translated, that would mean: an executive who is respected by employees, who is brimming with ideas—which he duly executes—for his employer, and who thereby does his bit to create value for shareholders of the corporation he works for.

Another way of distilling that message is to break it down into the qualities that outperformers need to have. Here are some vital ones that BT has zeroed in on after meeting the HYEs: Passion and persistence, strategic vision, planning and execution, people skill, ability to attract and influence (colleagues and consumers), integrity and character. Passion, for instance, is a no-brainer—no passion, no leadership.

{mosimage}"Passion is infectious—others will feel it and want to get on board with you. They will go to the ends of the earth, live for it, die for it. A leader's passion inspires members of an organisation to take on new challenges," says Hastha Krishnan, CEO, Ma Foi Global Search Services, one of the panellists who helped identify BT's HYEs.

Often, the difference between performers (who won't disappoint but who won't surprise on the upside, either) and fast-trackers is that the latter take on convention and go on to script a new paradigm. Example: Brotin Banerjee, the youngest CEO in the Tata Group. One of the biggest challenges in the career of the 36-year-old Managing Director of Tata Housing Development Co. came many years ago when he was with another operation in which the Tatas had a stake.

It was Banerjee's challenge at Barista, an early bird in the cafe retail business in India (where Banerjee went on to become its Chief Operating Officer), to persuade people to pay Rs 30 for a cup of coffee, which was otherwise available at an Udipi outlet for almost a tenth of that amount. Barista and Banerjee succeeded in creating that habit, in the process spawning an entire new industry of coffee retail (which arguably today has benefited others like Cafe Coffee Day more than it has Barista).

HYEs also have a nose for sniffing out opportunity — not just for the next job but for seeing potential for growth in the most unlikeliest of places or events.
Or consider Ashvini Yardi, who at 37 is a veteran of sorts in the world of content creation for general entertainment channels (GECs). After a longish stint at Zee, she moved to Colors where she continues to go against the grain of saas-bahu soaps and reality circuses to create programming that takes on social evils like child marriage, female infanticide and farmer suicides. Those who believed that only the glitz and glamour of superstars on the small-screen or contrived and vicarious family sagas earn ratings were in for a shock—Colors, with a judicious mix of programming, emerged top dog in the GEC space.

Fast-trackers also possess the gift of versatility that enables them to seamlessly switch streams, no matter how distinct they may be. Note: This is quite distinct from either often-delusory bravado or just sheer desperation that prompts an executive to jump onto a dissimilar ship. Consider Gautam Bhandari, who studied chemistry, then did an MBA (from Stern School), plunged into the world of semiconductors before settling in the world of financial services with Morgan Stanley—er, settling down may not quite be the appropriate phrase to use; after all, Bhandari is only 40 and in the years ahead may find many more different species of fish to fry. HYEs, by virtue of their record, will never have to chase jobs (or headhunters).

Fast-trackers also possess the gift of versatility that enables them to seamlessly switch streams, no matter how distinct they may be. 
Offers will come to them. The trick for them is to be able to pick the right one. Ajay Khandelwal knows that. Last year, perhaps during the worst period of the slowdown, the 38-year-old was rushed off his feet with three offers. Joining Jubilant Energy, an oil & gas exploration and production company was his eventual choice— not a bad progression for someone who was not too long ago managing the investments of a Norwegian high net-worth individual.

Our HYEs also have a nose for sniffing out opportunity—not just for the next job but for seeing potential for growth in the most unlikeliest of places or events. Amarnath Ananthanarayanan saw it in a killer tsunami. Ananthanarayanan, who was working with GE's general insurance arm in 2004 when a tsunami hit southeast Asia and India's east coast, discovered that GE received just five claims across all of India, Indonesia and Thailand. The upshot: A massive potential for insurance.

At this point, it would be good to throw some light on the age factor— how important is it for a hot executive, or even a CEO, to be young? (Interestingly, when BT kicked off its HYE series in 2002, it wasn't easy finding executives who made the cut who were under 40; these days, it's less of a problem.)

Well, we've tackled that issue separately on page 104, where we look at why India's CEOs, particularly in sunrise high-growth sectors, are getting younger. The conclusions: High-growth businesses attracting plenty of promoters and financiers, and those businesses that are run by highly-charged decision-makers who can think on their feet will have a distinct advantage. The downside of younger CEOs: They lack the experience, but what the heck—they can only get better with age.

Finally, how important is it to be a workaholic who burns the midnight oil to be on the HYE list? Unfortunately, we don't have a clear answer on that. At one end of the spectrum we have on our list Mahendra Jain of E&Y who frowns that today's generation doesn't want to spend long hours at work. At the other, we have Gaurav Mathur who chucked up an 80-90-hours-a-week investment banking job for a shot at private equity.

Whose shoes would you want to be in, Jain's or Mathur's? We'll make your choice easier: Mathur these days spends his weekends sailing in the waters of the Arabian sea. That's if he isn't flying around with his wife in a rented Cessna 172! Read all about the hot, young, and loving-every-momentof-it executives—at least most of them are.

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