scorecardresearch

India's hottest young executives

Business Today’s league of extraordinary managers—25 young guns, aged 40 or under, who are blazing a trail up the corporate ladder.

Presenting Business Today’s league of extraordinary managers— 25 young guns, aged 40 or under, who are blazing a trail up the corporate ladder.

Power & Glory

Abraham Joseph, Vice President (R&D), Bajaj Auto
Abraham Joseph (40)
Vice President (R&D), Bajaj Auto
Been there: Key member of the team that worked on the Pulsar
Done what: Launched the XCD 125, which offers the features of a 150cc motorcycle with the mileage of a 100cc

By his own admission, Abraham Joseph did not expect to spend close to 19 years at Bajaj Auto. It was his first job as a campus recruit from the National Institute of Technology, Bhopal. “I was always passionate about motorcycles and joining Bajaj Auto was logical,” says the mechanical engineering graduate from the class of 1989. The early ’90s at Bajaj Auto were all about transforming from a scooter manufacturer to getting onto the motorcycle bandwagon.

“The focus in the company was changing,” recalls Joseph. It was around then that Managing Director Rajiv Bajaj put in place a concept called Streamline Manufacturing Systems (SMS) with the objective of increasing operational efficiencies. Joseph, who was a part of that team, says: “It gave me a good insight into manufacturing processes.”

For every executive, there is a turning point in the career and for Joseph, it has clearly been the launch of the Bajaj Pulsar. The year was 1998 and the brief from Rajiv Bajaj was succinct. “He said we had to create something that was bigger than anything else. He wanted to create a cult bike,” recalls Joseph. The next few years till late 2000 were hard work, but as it turned out, hugely rewarding as well. “That was a fantastic phase and extremely challenging,” he says. It was during this period that the R&D team at Bajaj Auto grew from an insignificant 10 people to a mammoth 350. The average age of that team is just 32. “What I learnt from the Pulsar experience was to always have confidence in oneself and in your team,” says Joseph.

While Joseph himself thinks the Pulsar has been his biggest achievement to date, the DTS-Si (Digital Twin-Spark Swirl Induction) engine story has not been far behind. “We succeeded in building a brand around it,” he says. Without a doubt, Joseph’s interest in R&D is impossible to miss, though he admits that he has other interests apart from work. “I love rock music from the ’60s to the early ’80s. I also enjoy wildlife photography,” he says with a laugh.

For now, the Bajaj Auto story is about R&D and the next five years promise to be hugely exciting. “You will see a complete transformation in the company. We have a very interesting pipeline,” adds Joseph. Clearly for this man, who is an unabashed admirer of BMW, the years to come will be a lot of fun.

Krishna Gopalan

Bangalore on his mind

Angshik Chaudhuri, Director, Globalisation (Operations), Cisco Systems
Angshik Chaudhuri (35)
Director, Globalisation (Operations), Cisco Systems
Been there: The Oberoi Group, GE Capital, Prudential
Done what: Worked on defining process maturity models to get a sustainable advantage in the current challenging times

Angshik Chaudhuri loves cricket, but shudders to watch a live telecast when India is playing. The man thinks India will lose if he watches. “I am superstitious about it,’’ chuckles the effusive executive, who handles globalisation operations for Cisco in India as a Director.

Chaudhuri flagged off his career with The Oberoi Group as a management trainee in 1992; then came GE Capital, which had an enormous influence on him, between 1998 and 2003; and then Prudential, his recent past employer, in Mumbai and London. One of the reasons for him to quit Prudential was the lure of Bangalore. “I have lived here for 20 years,” he says. Chaudhuri, perhaps, would not have joined GE Capital (now Genpact) but for a chance meeting with CEO Raman Roy; ditto with Cisco, after a similar encounter with Syed Hoda, his present boss. “Both Cisco and GE are ahead of others in the way they think,” he says.

K.R.Balasubramanyam

Home is where the dream is

Anshuman Singh, CEO, Future Logistics & Value Fashion Retail
Anshuman Singh (39)
CEO, Future Logistics & Value Fashion Retail
Been there: Grasim, Bombay Dyeing and Welspun. Got into supply chain much before it became the buzzword
Done what: Created a base for the group’s foray into logistics

It was just a chance meeting with Kishore Biyani in early 2002 that clinched it for Anshuman Singh. At 31, Singh was already one of Bombay Dyeing’s youngest General Managers and was heading the supply chain for the textiles major. “I saw the boom that was coming in retail,” says Singh. The offer on the table was to head supply chain & logistics at Biyani’s Pantaloon Retail, across divisions like Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar. A decade ago, logistics perhaps wasn’t even a blip on Singh’s radar.

Rather, he wanted to be an equity research analyst. As luck would have it, he joined Grasim in 1995. This was after the interviewer on campus merely asked Singh if he would work in a function called materials. “I spent two years with Grasim at Nagda and picked up a lot,” says the MBA from the Institute of Management Studies, Devi Ahilya University, Indore. In mid-1997, he had an offer from H&R Johnson India, which meant moving to Mumbai. “The assignment involved handling materials for their 11 plants,” says Singh. The offer was interesting for another reason. “They were setting up a new cell called logistics and this was before the era of supply chains. Clearly, this was going to be an important phase in my career,” recalls Singh.

Today, Singh is back in the Future Group after having been away for two years as Director and CEO of Welspun Retail. “It was time to get back home and, towards the end of 2006, I was again in the Future Group,” he says. “This is a Rs 200-crore business and we are looking to clock a turnover of $1 billion in five years,” adds Singh. Home will be even sweeter then.

Krishna Gopalan

Walking on the moon

Arjun Bharathan, Country Head (India Operations), Austrian Energy and Environment (AEE), GmbH
Arjun Bharathan (39)
Country Head (India Operations), Austrian Energy and Environment (AEE), GmbH
Been there: Has been in this post for the last five months; total work experience 17 years
Done what: Was instrumental in looking at 40 acquisition prospects for Tube Investments where he worked earlier

He was born on the day Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon (July 20, 1969). That may explain why Arjun Bharathan’s life maxim is: “If you are aiming for the moon, shoot for the stars.” He’s been doing exactly that. And search firms have been shooting for him. In November 2007, Bharathan was head-hunted—from the Chennaiheadquartered Murugappa Group— to take forward the m1.1-billion Austrian Energy & Environment’s (AEE’s) business in India.

Bharathan’s big break came when he started an online steel exchange, clickforsteel.com, in which the Ruias of the Essar Group became majority shareholders. The exchange transformed the way steel was sold. At AEE, Bharathan has his task cut out. “My mandate here is to build a team, strategise on the company’s foray into the power sector, plan on expansion, and establish the AEE brand name,’’ he says.

Nitya Varadarajan

Comeback kid

Ashish Gupta, COO & Country Head, Evalueserve
Ashish Gupta (38)
COO & Country Head, Evalueserve
Been there: A former consultant at McKinsey and Co-founder of family networking portal Ties2Family.com
Done what: In 2007, Evalueserve bagged the NASSCOM IT Innovation Award for its innovative business model

Failure as a stepping stone to success tends to sound hackneyed, particularly when management gurus and authors of self-improvement books spew out the cliché. Such a turnaround is immensely credible and exhilarating, however, when it actually takes place—as in the case of Ashish Gupta, COO & Country Head (India), Evalueserve, a KPO firm. Back in early 2000, Gupta along with a colleague at McKinsey, Alok Aggarwal, launched Ties2Family.com, a family networking portal that provided various services to Indians in India and overseas. “Online networking was relatively a new concept those days. Although during its seven months of existence, we were able to get more than 100,000 registered users, the idea didn’t go down well with advertisers. Also, a weak revenue model forced us to shut down the portal in a short span of time,” says Gupta.

Now for the stepping stone: In December 2000, Gupta, Aggarwal and Marc Vollenweider (the last-named being another former McKinsey man) went on to start Evalueserve. It’s been a dream ride since. As Gupta points out: “Since inception, Evalueserve has been registering an overall growth of 80-90 per cent every year.” The company has more than 1,300 clients, including Fortune 500 companies and small & medium enterprises across the globe. “I spend most of my time fostering innovation, leadership, teamwork and work values within the organisation,” adds Gupta, who now leads a team of over 2,200 employees spread across India, China, Chile and Romania.

To Gupta also goes the credit of coining the term KPO, in an effort to differentiate between his firm’s services and those of the established BPO firms. “The idea is to draw a line between the skills required in a KPO and what graduates at a BPO do,” explains the alumnus of Carnegie Mellon University and IIT Delhi. Apart from being a yoga and reiki enthusiast, Gupta is an avid cricket buff and spends time with his family to watch movies.

Manu Kaushik

Not redundant yet!

Ashok Vemuri, Senior VP & Global Head (Banking & Capital Markets), Infosys
Ashok Vemuri (40)
Senior VP & Global Head (Banking & Capital Markets), Infosys
Been there: Deutsche Bank, Bank of America; has been in the banking and capital markets for 16 years
Done what: Part of the team responsible for Infosys’ banking and capital markets business crossing $1 billion

Ashok Vemuri is a diehard fan of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and Nandan Nilekani, Co-Chairman of Infosys. He calls the duo true icons and even tries to think and act like they do. He describes them as visionaries par excellence and those who can relate to a global canvas while, at the same time, be comfortable in local climes. “I can go on and on about them,” says the global head of banking and capital markets at Infosys. He lives in New Jersey and shows up in Bangalore around the time of quarterly results.

Vemuri believes that an important role of a manager is to groom juniors and eventually become redundant so that the competent amongst them can take over. He heaps praise on the Infy senior management for “promoting meritocracy, and encouraging new ideas and innovation”. Vemuri is also Senior VP and member of the Executive Council at Infosys.

Vemuri says he feels immense satisfaction as being the head of a team that managed turbulence in the banking space last year. “Technology is the core part of any company today,’’ says the Infoscion who loves Carnatic classical music, especially losing himself to M.S. Subbulakshmi on his iPod.

— K.R. Balasubramanyam

Living in the future

Dhanpal Jhaveri, Executive Director, Future Capital Holdings
Dhanpal Jhaveri (39)
Executive Director, Future Capital Holdings
Been there: Partner at KPMG, Head of M&A at I-Sec, and Director (Corporate Strategy) at Vedanta Resources
Done what: The $2-billion listing of Sterlite on the NYSE; acquisition of a 51% stake in Sesa Goa from Mitsui & Co.

Becoming a partner at a big six consultancy firm for most mortals would be a crowing glory. But what do you do when you’ve reached there in your very early thirties? For Dhanpal Jhaveri, who was a partner at KPMG by the time he turned 31, the answer was a no-brainer. “I have always enjoyed the prospect of a new challenge. The key is in how quickly one can embrace change,” says Jhaveri.

Change, of course, has taken place more than once in his career. He did a stint as Head of Investment Banking with ICICI Securities (I-Sec). “M&A taught me a few skills like the ability to understand value, think strategically and develop an entrepreneurial mindset,” says Jhaveri. At I-Sec, Jhaveri was involved in one of the earliest cross-border transactions when automotive component player Amtek acquired US-based Smith Jones in late 2002. This was for a cash payment of $1.2 million. For Jhaveri, an MBA from the Babson School of Graduate Business, a career in financial services was something he had decided on pretty early in life. “When I finished my MBA, I was clear that I would make it on my own and that I would be in the world of financial services,” he says.

From I-Sec, Jhaveri moved to Vedanta where, as Director (Corporate Strategy), he was very closely involved in the M&A side of the business, apart from raising capital. After a three-and-a-half-year innings at Vedanta, Jhaveri moved to the recently-listed Future Capital Holdings (FCH) in early 2008. To him, the task ahead is amply clear. “In five years, we will have a preeminent investment platform, which will be Asiacentric and not just India-centric,” he says. For Jhaveri, who plays tennis thrice a week, the future ahead looks interesting.

Krishna Gopalan

On every street

Girish Baliga, Partner, 3i India
Girish Baliga (34)
Partner, 3i India
Been there: JPMorgan Partners in Mumbai and Singapore
Done what: Closed 3i’s infrastructure fund with a corpus of $1.2 billion

Most of our hottest young executives are unsurprisingly workaholics, burning the midnight oil along with the candle at both ends. And then there’s Girish Baliga, who is perfectly at peace doing the eight-to-five routine.

The difference could, of course, be that his mind works overtime, always looking for investment-worthy companies.

Baliga, who has been with 3i India since January 2006, always wanted to be in investing. “I derive the greatest joy from watching companies that we have backed doing well,” says Baliga. One of his biggest moments would have been the closure of 3i’s $1.2-billion infrastructure fund. So, how does Baliga spend those evenings? With his two sons and listening to music. “I enjoy Dire Straits,” grins Baliga. Yet, good returns are the best music for this sultan of the street.

— Krishna Gopalan

The brain in the Nano

Girish A. Wagh, Head (Small Car Project), Tata Motors
Girish A. Wagh (37)
Head (Small Car Project), Tata Motors
Been there: A key member of the team that worked on the design of the Tata Ace
Done what: Worked on the Tata Nano, India’s cheapest car to date with an ex-showroom price of Rs 1 lakh

Girish A. Wagh is literally at the heart of the Nano, the people’s car with an exshowroom price tag of Rs 1 lakh. When the Nano was finally displayed at this year’s Auto Expo in New Delhi, it was a proud moment for Wagh and his 500-member team.

“The entire body was designed twice, while the engine was designed thrice,” Wagh told BT at Tata Motors’ sprawling Pimpri facility just after the Nano was showcased (Wagh declined to meet BT for this profile). A Tata Motors veteran of 16 years, Wagh was handpicked by Ravi Kant, MD, Tata Motors, to be on the Indica vendor development team. Interestingly, Wagh’s father was on the Indica R&D team a few years before that.

Krishna Gopalan

Online, on the ball

Jaspreet Bindra, Country Manager (Online Business Services), Microsoft India
Jaspreet Bindra (38)
Country Manager (Online Business Services), Microsoft India
Been there: 11 years with the Tata group; COO, Baazee (now eBay india); for the last two years with Microsoft
Done what: Launched mobile search & ad platforms with Vodafone in India

As a graduate of the Tata Administrative Service and an 11-year veteran with various group companies, looking for challenging global assignments may not have been a top priority for Jaspreet Bindra. However, the ambition to work with a global brand was clearly too enticing, which eventually saw Bindra signing up with Microsoft to steer its online activities in India in March 2006.

Bindra spends around 20 days a month on the road. “Unfortunately, this is a sacrifice you make as your responsibilities and business grow,” he told BT from Seattle where he is camped for a series of back-to-back review meetings.

In the 24 months that he has been in charge of Microsoft India’s online business, Bindra has launched a slew of initiatives to try and grab a share of the fastgrowing internet user base and perhaps, more importantly, of the online ad market.

— Rahul Sachitanand

Bankers’ delight

Kumar Karpe, Country Manager (Financial Services Sector), IBM India
Kumar Karpe (37)
Country Manager (Financial Services Sector), IBM India
Been there: 10 years at IBM; four years at Microland
Done what: Launched Financial Information Network and Operations, a JV with ICICI, to provide a tech backbone to micro-credit companies

In the 10 years that Kumar Karpe has been with IBM, he has worked in a wide variety of roles, ranging from sales for the (erstwhile) PC business and channel development to solutions for the financial services business. Karpe’s first job was straight after a physics degree from Fergusson College in Pune, with a small Wipro dealer. However, he quickly realised that a return to campus was an imperative to graduate in the world of business. The result: An MBA from the Bharatiya Vidya Peeth followed by a campus placement (and a four-year stint with Microland, promoted by Pradeep Kar) clearly proved the benefit of his degree.

However, Karpe joined the big league when he jumped to IBM and became a star-performer for its PC and channel business. Now, with the financial services business, Karpe has been a key player in winning deals with the largest financial services companies, including ICICI Bank and the State Bank of India; he also piloted IBM India to the top position in the market.

— Rahul Sachitanand

HR healer

Leena Nair, Executive Director (HR), Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL)
Leena Nair (37)
Executive Director (HR), Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL)
Been there: 15 years at Unilever in a variety of roles
Done what: Got HUL back to Day Zero on campuses after six years

The ‘listers’ at HUL have always been a revered (and much tracked and trailed) lot. But there’s more to this bunch—which makes up roughly a fourth of HUL’s 1,000-odd managers—than meets the conventional eye. Some 15 per cent of these whiz kids are graded as sustained high-performance (SHP) listers—basically invaluable resources, but who don’t have the legs to take on leadership roles. And then there are the highperformance (HP) listers, who currently would total around 100 (or at any time 10 per cent of HUL managers).

These are the wunderkinds who are typically spotted early, and trained and mentored for leadership positions. Leena Nair, Executive Director (HR), would easily be somewhere on the top of that HP list. She’s been in that hallowed zone for most of the 15 years she’s been with Unilever’s India subsidiary. That explains why Nair went on to become the first woman on the eight-member Management Committee (MC) of HUL; and for good measure, also the youngest ever Executive Director. Early this year, she delivered the goods by getting HUL back to Day Zero on the campuses of management schools that matter (HUL had dropped to #15). “We broke out of the sector clutter and positioned ourselves as a company that produces leaders,” says Nair, who believes that money is the last reason for most people leaving. The top three are: dissatisfaction with the job; with one’s immediate boss; and with the future of the company and oneself.

Leaving HUL isn’t likely to figure on Nair’s career radar; she is after all still an HP lister, and being on the MC means that no less than the Unilever Board is closely watching every move she makes. There’s plenty they’ve got to watch out for.

Brian Carvalho

Growth machine

Madhusudhan Kela, Head-Equity, Reliance Mutual Fund
Madhusudhan Kela (38)
Head-Equity, Reliance Mutual Fund
Been there: In equities for 17 years. Started off as a research analyst
Done what: Helped make Reliance MF the numero uno fund house without any foreign tie-ups

Madhusudhan Kela and Reliance Mutual Fund’s two flagship funds have a lot in common—namely vision and growth. Reliance Vision Fund and Reliance Growth Fund have been stellar performers for the mutual fund from the Anil Ambani stable, and have contributed in a big way to making Reliance MF the largest fund house in the country, in terms of assets managed. “The biggest achievement in the past one year has been the overall growth of the fund, which has taken us to the #1 position, without the help of any foreign tie-up.” Kela is quick to mention the efforts of his team of 15 in getting to the top. “When I joined, I was a one-man army. Today, I have the largest buy-side team in any MF company in India. In the last one year, we have put in place proper systems and processes to better our overall performance and distribution,” adds Kela.

When Kela started overseeing the fund in 2001, the total corpus was Rs 250 crore. Today, it has surged to a whopping Rs 90,000 crore. The total number of employees has shot up from less than 25 in 2001 to close to 1,000 in 2008. The number of branches has gone up from less than 10 to 400 in the past seven years. And the number of equity investors has shot up from 25,000 in 2001 to 50 lakh today.

Organisation-building is clearly one of Kela’s mandates today, but at the end of the day, he is best known by his investments and his investing strategy. Kela is a classical bottoms-up investor who goes by company fundamentals and not just by momentum and the flavour of the season. “We have clearly demonstrated this by buying stocks and keeping them for two-five years, which is why our investors get the maximum returns,” explains Kela. In the process, both Reliance Vision Fund and Reliance Growth Fund have comfortably outperformed the markets and the main indices over a five- and 10-year time-frame.

— Anusha Subramanian

In-form striker

Pankaj Razdan, Deputy CEO (Financial Services), Aditya Birla Group
Pankaj Razdan (40)
Deputy CEO (Financial Services), Aditya Birla Group
Been there: Stock markets and asset management
Done what: Grew the assets managed by ICICI Prudential from Rs 15,000 crore to close to Rs 50,000 crore

Conversations with Pankaj Razdan are more often than not laced with words like goals, teamwork and speed. The Deputy CEO (Financial Services), Aditya Birla Group, may be talking about his new mandate (he joined the Birlas nine months ago), which involves building a highly-motivated team in a bid to take on the biggies in the financial services business. Or he might be talking about soccer, a game he loves to play, and watch. “I used to play a good level of soccer in my early days.

And I watch all the (English) Premier League games even today,” gushes Razdan. A fitness freak, Razdan figures in the think tank at the Aditya Birla Centre, which lays out the strategic roadmap for the group.

Razdan’s brief at the financial services arm is to oversee some of the group’s existing businesses even as he looks for new opportunities within the space. It shouldn’t be difficult for Razdan to put this ball in the back of the net.

— Anand Adhikari

Picture Perfect

Pramod Arora, Chief Operating Officer, Oberoi Constructions
Pramod Arora (37)
Chief Operating Officer, Oberoi Constructions
Been there: 12 years with PVR Cinemas where he was instrumental in revolutionising the movie-screening business
Done what: Drew up a game plan at PVR to invest up to Rs 400 crore to set up 250 screens over three years

An electrical engineering graduate from Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, Pramod Arora’s first job was a short stint with an engineering company, followed by a two-year stretch with Universal Studios’ India subsidiary.

But Arora is best known for his 12-year tenure with the Delhi-headquartered PVR Cinemas, where he can arguably take most of the credit for revolutionising the moviescreening industry. As the President & CEO, Arora was the force behind the expansion of the company and what it has subsequently become today—a Rs 64.8-crore powerhouse with a market cap of Rs 441.9 crore and nearly 100 screens all over the country.

Now in the fast-growing realty sector, as COO, Oberoi Constructions, a leading real estate developer in Mumbai, Arora is excited and also very aware of the leadership responsibilities that come along with this new role. He believes that it is imperative to enjoy what he is doing.

“My years at PVR had nothing to do with intentional longevity; I loved every single day I spent there. I am now looking forward to this new challenge,” says Arora.

— Deepti Khanna Bose

This guru is still learning

Ramesh Mangaleswaran, Partner, McKinsey & Company
Ramesh Mangaleswaran (40)
Partner, McKinsey & Company
Been there: Has been with McKinsey since 1993 and is leader of the manufacturing and operations practice in India and Asia
Done what: Expanding the scale and scope of impact on his clients

It is not often that you meet someone who has spent close to 15 years in one organisation and is still only 40. Ramesh Mangaleswaran is one of those people. After acquiring an MBA from IIM-A in 1993, Mangaleswaran was one of the four from the institute who was picked up by McKinsey.

Consulting was then a new business in India and this was just the second time McKinsey was visiting business schools in India. Mangaleswaran recalls that period as being rather exciting, albeit challenging.

“The joy of joining McKinsey from IIM-A was that it was a global player in India. The challenge in the first few years was to establish credibility in the eyes of our clients,” he says. After spending four-and-ahalf years in Mumbai, Mangaleswaran moved to McKinsey in Chicago. He was back in India in September 1998 and in 2001 was made Partner. Today, Mangaleswaran is the leader of McKinsey’s manufacturing and operations practices in India and Asia. “I will remain connected to the Indian manufacturing sector,” he says. The big question, of course, is whether he will ever be lured into it.

— Krishna Gopalan

Candy man

Sameer Suneja, CEO, Perfetti Van Melle India
Sameer Suneja (36)
CEO, Perfetti Van Melle India
Been there: Colgate, Frito Lays
Done what: Widened distribution, increased sales, and Happy Dent bagged a Silver Lion at Cannes last year

He’s at home, having fun. And friends, classmates and colleagues of Sameer Suneja, who’s now the CEO, Perfetti Van Melle India, will agree only too readily. They called him ‘keeda’ (slang used in college campuses for someone who’s always up to tricks) as he was always having fun while at IIM Bangalore, from where he passed out in 1994. But, no one’s fooled. Suneja has worked through all the odds of this industry that continues to walk a tightrope in the 50p to Re 1 price band.

There are many instances that highlight his uncanny sense of what will click. “When Centre Shock was launched in 2001, almost everyone who was given the sour gum to try, turned around and slapped the person for playing a trick. We had to turn this challenge into an opportunity, which we managed to do by positioning it well,” says Suneja.

Sunjea joined Perfetti in 1997 as a brand manager. Today, he heads a Rs 700-crore confectionery business that might well be the largest in the country. “We sell over 40 million ‘interactions’ every day.

And our distribution goes right down to the smallest of towns,” he says with visible pride. Both Suneja and his company have been closely scrutinised— given that the company has bagged nearly 100 awards in various categories and forums. “But ads do not make a product successful. It’s the product quality, innovation, and distribution that provide the real staying power,” he says.

— Shamni Pande

Fast moving marketer

Saugata Gupta, CEO, Consumer Products, Marico
Saugata Gupta (39)
CEO, Consumer Products, Marico
Been there: Worked for a decade-and-a-half in the FMCG and insurance sectors
Done what: Consistent, profitable growth at Marico

As somebody who oversees some of the country’s best-known brands like Saffola and Parachute, Saugata Gupta’s career has been an interesting journey. The IIT Kharagpur, IIM Bangalore alumnus was hired off the campus as a brand manager by Cadbury India in 1991. In 2000, Gupta switched industries to move to the insurance sector with ICICI Prudential. Gupta performed various roles from heading marketing to overseeing customer service. In early 2004, Gupta joined Marico as Head of Marketing. Currently, Gupta is CEO of Marico’s consumer products business— which is the bread and butter business of the group and includes edible oil and hair oils. Gupta attributes a lot of his learning in his career to the high caliber of people he worked with, right from adman Piyush Pandey and Rajeev Bakshi (a former MD at Cadbury) to Shikha Sharma at ICICI Prudential. Ask him about his greatest achievement at Marico and pat comes the answer: “Profitable growth. We have grown considerably in the last couple of years without sacrificing profitability.”

— T.V.Mahalingam

Google Scholar

Shailesh Rao, Managing Director, Google India
Shailesh Rao (36)
Managing Director, Google India
Been there: Served as Director for Google at its Mountain View, California HQ, before taking charge of India operations last year
Done what: Focussed on industries rather than regions to increase advertising revenues for Google India

On the face of it, it’s a ‘stinker’ of a statement: “I feel so good about myself after the day’s done that when I go home, I don’t feel the need to shower.” He probably doesn’t need to— even at the late evening hour when Shailesh Rao, Managing Director, Google India, agrees to meet us, inquisitively kicked about the honorific ‘hottest young executive’, he’s still looking fresh and energised. Ever since he took over as the head of the search engine’s India operations last June, Rao has unleashed his aggressive intent within the organisation—upping revenues, reorganising marketing strategies and building a cohesive team spread across the four cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

A self-proclaimed hands-on manager who sees his role in the organisation as one who adds value, Rao has reorganised Google’s advertising mix—from a regional focus to one that is targeted towards industry practices.

“Each industry requires empathy for which we hired people from industry with the requisite skill-sets to educate advertisers on the opportunities in the online media,” points out the affable workaholic who averages 12-14 hour days.

— Tejeesh N.S. Behl

The One-company Man

Srinivas Pallia, Vice President (Enterprise Solutions), Americas, Wipro Technologies
Srinivas Pallia (40)
Vice President (Enterprise Solutions), Americas, Wipro Technologies
Been there: Sixteen-year veteran at Wipro
Done what: Winning the Wipro All-Star award or the Wipro Oscars for the rapid growth of his business

The first thing that goes into Srinivas ‘srini’ Pallia’s travel bag when he goes on one of his frequent business trips is a pair of running shoes. While he has been with Wipro for over 16 years, he’s been a fitness fanatic for longer, specifically creating time in a packed schedule to go for a run, work out in the gym or ideally for a quick game of tennis. “I have got to get my daily dose of exercise and I’ve been known to go for a workout as late as 11 p.m.,” says Pallia from his base in Minneapolis in the mid-western US.

In the 16 years he has been at Wipro, Pallia has graduated from being a Product and Territory Manager to a Vice President at the lucrative Americas business of the soaps-tosoftware conglomerate. “When I started with Wipro, it had export revenues of just $50 million; today the company has become a multi-billion dollar entity,” he says. Despite his impressive credentials (besides bagging the All-Star Award from Premji, he has also been feted as the best marketer and for his high product line performance), Pallia believes there is a long way to go for him and, inevitably, Wipro. Despite the plethora of opportunities in the IT industry, he has stuck with Wipro for over a decade-and-a-half and believes that this is where his future lies. “We have just made inroads into the market, but I want to be part of Wipro’s global expansion and be part of this (hopefully rapid) growth,” he says.

— Rahul Sachitanand

Taller, stronger, sharper

Surjeet Singh, CFO, Patni Computer Systems
Shubhajit Sen (38)
VP (Marketing), GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare
Been there: Boost, Aquafresh, Horlicks and now the entire brand portfolio of GSK Consumer Healthcare
Done what: Restaged Horlicks and worked on new brand launches

He smiles when informed that he’s been identified as one of the ‘hottest young executives’ today in the country and feels so much has changed for everyone around: “Since we deal with nutrition products for young and adults, the country’s consumer profile has changed radically.

Today, my driver earns more than what I got as my first pay cheque here,” says Shubhajit Sen, VP (Marketing), GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, who joined the company through campus recruitment at IIM Ahmedabad in 1992. He’s, in fact, being rated among industry watchers as a hotshot turnaround artiste as he’s consistently grown brands in what many assumed to be a flat market. Sen started his career with Boost. In 2005, he worked at streamlining the Horlicks brand position as ‘Taller, Stronger, Sharper’; this has resulted in double-digit growth for the brand and led it into several brand extensions.

Shamni Pande

Not a bean counter

Surjeet Singh, CFO, Patni Computer Systems
Surjeet Singh (39)
CFO, Patni Computer Systems
Been there: Worked in pharma and IT for almost two decades
Done what: Improving the company’s margin profile

Surjeet Singh hates being called an accountant, even though he is eminently qualified to be labelled as one. Singh holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting from the University of Pune, and is a fellow of Institute of Costs and Works Accountants, India and AICPA, US.

Singh is among the few people under 40 who have work experience stretching to almost two decades. In 1999, Surjeet turned 30 and, like most men who cross that milestone, asked himself a few introspective questions. The answer—pack one’s bags and move to Silicon Valley, where Singh set up Cymbal Corporation, an IT services firm focussed on the telecommunication vertical. “The entrepreneurial bug had bit me. I wanted to do something different,” recalls Singh. The technology downturn in the early half of the decade brought along its own share of learning. “How to survive in an extremely hostile environment—that was the key,” recalls Singh. By 2004, Cymbal’s revenues had grown to over $30 million. In late 2004, Cymbal was acquired by Patni for $68 million. Singh not only was instrumental in the merger of the two organisations but also went on to spearhead mergers & acquisitions at Patni.

When Patni began hunting for a CFO in mid-2006, Singh, who held the same post at Cymbal, was offered the job. Among his achievements in Patni has been effectively transforming operating efficiencies and “improving the margin profile of the company.”

— T.V. Mahalingam

Going glocal

Tejpreet S. Chopra, President and CEO, GE India
Tejpreet S. Chopra (38)
President and CEO, GE India
Been there: GECAS, GE Commercial Finance
Done what: Developing and nurturing the next generation of leadership talent for GE in India

Anyone wants to know if Tejpreet S. Chopra, President and CEO, GE India, was taken by surprise at being identified as a successor to Scott R. Bayman in India late last year? “The answer is yes. We at GE take such pride in grooming talent and leadership that at any point there are several people within the system who are very strong candidates,” says Chopra, who’s known as ‘TP’ to many. And what’s made the difference is clearly his global exposure to cutting sharp deals: “When I was with GE Commercial Aviation Services (GECAS), I had to be on the road literally eight months in a year and negotiate global deals. I think that experience has helped me. I was groomed by Henry Hubschman, who’s now President & CEO, GECAS; I have learned a lot from him,” he says. Obviously, his previous stint as President & CEO of GE Commercial Finance in India has primed him for the top slot, given that he got to successfully restructure and expand the business, and establish GE Commercial Finance as one of the country’s premier financial institutions.

A few minutes are enough to understand that TP is one of those all-round achievers who plays to win. Born and brought up in Chennai, a swimming champion, Chopra’s schoolmates remember him playing the sarod on founder’s day at The Lawrence School, Sanawar. Though he finds less time to chase his hobbies today, he does not forget to mention his wife Itiva Chopra: “She’s given up a thriving practice as an M&A lawyer in New York to support me in my endeavours. And I really wish to offer our technology for local needs here. I think it’s the right time to do it and we have already offered many solutions to the market here,” he says.

Shamni Pande

Rural roadie

Vivek Bhandari, Director, IRMA
Vivek Bhandari (38)
Director, IRMA
Been there: Taught at the Five College Consortium in Massachusetts
Done what: Brought in scholars from Cornell University to address IRMA students

There is a sense of irony to Vivek Bhandari’s career. In 1992, after acquiring a Master’s in Modern History from Delhi University, he made it to the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) for the two-year programme.

But he didn’t go the whole hog. Instead, he opted to go the US to acquire a second Master’s and eventually a PhD in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Last May, Bhandari found himself back in India after a 15-year US stint as a Director at—where else—IRMA.

“This is really a homecoming for me,” he says. Even while he was in the US, his research had a huge focus on India and Asia. “I don’t think I was ever out of touch with what was going on,” he adds. The challenges for Bhandari are many, perhaps the biggest one being to position IRMA clearly against other institutes. “It is important for us to build a system that is transparent, where the institutional practices are aligned with our objectives,” he says.

— Krishna Gopalan

Young & restless

V. Vaidyanathan, Executive Director, ICICI Bank
V. Vaidyanathan (40)
Executive Director, ICICI Bank
Been there: Retail banking, SME lending and rural banking
Done what: Created the largest retail banking business in India

At 38, he was probably the youngest executive director on the board of a large financial powerhouse. For V. Vaidyanathan, an alumnus of Birla Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School (where he was the youngest executive at the programme), the tryst with power came as early as when he was 32 and made MD, ICICI Personal Financial Services (that entity was later merged into ICICI Bank).

With skill-sets like speedy decision-making, team-building and analytics in his quiver, Vaidyanathan led the charge in building a strong consumer business franchise for the country’s second largest bank in a very short period of time. The retail business, which Vaidyanathan has been heading since 2000, was worth $30 billion as of end-March 2007, with close to 25 million customers and over 9 million credit card users.

Vaidyanathan joined ICICI Bank from Citi in 2000, when the then Designated Financial Institution (DFI) was plotting its move into retail banking (with a merger between ICICI—the DFI—and ICICI Bank imminent). “Undoubtedly, Citi gave me a great grounding,” says Vaidyanathan. When the DFI converted into a bank, it offered Vaidyanathan a huge canvas to show his skills in retail lending businesses like mortgages, auto loans and credit cards.

Other than the largest portfolio of retail banking, the man who has run three marathons so far, has also been heading ICICI Bank’s new growth engine of rural banking, where the bank has ambitious plans, since October 2007. That’s doubtless a huge challenge for Vaidyanathan—but one that he eagerly looks forward to. His biggest challenge in his own words, however, is “to be in tune with the times and spot the next big trend”. The early riser and workaholic swears by the mantra: “Time is of essence, critical and we have to stretch it to maximum use.” He’s got a fair bit of it on his side.

— Anand Adhikari