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360 in 36 years

From being a preacher to a practitioner, Naresh Malhan’s career has come a full circle, interspersed with interesting career breaks along the way.

Namrata Dadwal | Print Edition: February 21, 2008

Naresh Malhan

Naresh Malhan

Age: 57

Qualification: Ph D, Allahabad University

Previous career: Lecturer, Regional Engineering College, Allahabad

Salary in previous job: Rs 650 a month

Age at career switch: 29 years

Reason for quitting: Being in a rut

Current career: Managing Director, Manpower Service India

Present salary: Best in the industry

Transferable skills: People management, administrative skills

Career outlook: “Constantly strive to do your best”

I’m not too worried about my career. Over the past few years, I’ve constantly proved my mettle,” says Naresh Malhan. From someone else, the words may sound arrogant, but Malhan’s aura of confidence and humility make you believe his words. From being a lecturer to the managing director of Manpower Services (India), which offers placement and staffing services, Malhan’s career spanning 36 years has seen him conquering challenges.

“For me, an obstacle is the perfect excuse for pushing boundaries,” he says. After completing his post-graduation in industrial psychology from Delhi University in 1971, Malhan’s first job was as a lecturer at the Regional Engineering College, Allahabad. While teaching there, he completed his doctoral thesis. But after five years, he found himself in a rut. “Unless the class excites you or the students challenge you, teaching becomes quite boring,” he says. In 1978, he joined Shri Ram Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources in Delhi, designing aptitude tests and recruitment procedures.

Risking stability In 1979, Malhan joined tyre company Goodyear. As manager of training, this was his first exposure to the corporate world. “From theorising, I now had to put my ideas into practice,” he says. At Goodyear, he had to work with people at different levels, from production floor employees to managers. Training programmes had to be specifically designed for each level. The most challenging task was to choose a person from one level and train him for the next higher one. “It was professionally stimulating to train an employee from being a team member to a team leader,” he says.

Expanding core skills For Malhan, it was a phase of phenomenal learning, especially in developing employee-centric programmes. “Unless you have an approach geared towards the staff, no system will work well,” he says. His employers were so impressed with the programmes he implemented in India that he soon found himself travelling to the US and Asia-Pacific region to replicate it in the plants there. But Malhan wanted to learn more and hone his skills. He moved to the production side of the business for a year and then to the sales and marketing department for about six months.

“My seniors were very encouraging and they had the confidence that I would make a good manager,” he says. “They had taken a risk, but it is something that even I might do today because it simply means having conviction about your assessment.” But after a little more than seven years at Goodyear, Malhan realised that the company was losing its edge. First, the competition was getting tougher and second, there was no technological upgradation of the plant. In 1987, he moved to Xerox India (then known as Modi Xerox) as manager, management development, to develop training programmes.

Fortuitous move His next big career leap, in 1989, was more by accident than design. Malhan was profiling candidates to head the company’s operation in south India. But none of the candidates seemed to impress the company board. Instead, it decided to offer the post to Malhan. It was his methodical and systematic work that had impressed them. “South India was a huge challenge. Our market share was minuscule and, worse, we were losing money there,” he says. In 1992, chance again played a role in his career progression. The director, heading the company’s north India operations, quit and took with him 37 members of the core team. Malhan was called to fire fight and he jumped at the opportunity. His zeal and determination to face challenges and come out on top saw him rising to the post of managing director in 1995.

 Malhan's tips for a career shift

Critically analyse yourself and why you believe in your strengths, otherwise you are simply taking a risk

Study the organisation that you are going to. If its value system is at crosspurposes to your own, then you’ll only end up with failure

Determine your capability to learn and adapt. You will have to accept the people already present in the organisation and also learn from them

“Xerox inculcated a sense of competition within me. I wasn’t willing to let the competition eat into my market share, no matter how much bloodshed,” he adds. But the most important lesson he learnt was the service culture that Xerox brought to India and the importance of the customer-supplier relationship.

When the company wanted him to move to its headquarters in the US, Malhan quit and in 2000 joined the telecom branch of the Essar group as CEO, ASL Digilink India.The company was going through an extremely rocky phase. Due to non-payment of dues, the government had cancelled the licences for three of its telecom circles for nearly 18 months. “It’s not an experience I would like to repeat,” says Malhan. “But I knew I had to succeed,” he adds. Within a few months he helped the company manage to scrape up enough revenue to pay the dues. Not only that, by 2003, it was profitable enough for Hutch to consider a merger with Essar.

Malhan became part of the Hutch team but there was a sense of discontent. “Hutch had its own system of working and I was feeling slightly cramped,” he says. He moved to Tata Indicom in 2003 and was responsible for introducing pre-paid cards on the CDMA platform. However, when the CEO of Tata Teleservices moved to Manpower to head the Asia-Pacific office in Japan, he asked Malhan to do the same for the India office.

The chance of heading operations of a multinational proved irresistible and he took up the offer in October 2007. So what is Malhan’s ambition now? “I want to make Manpower one of the best employers to work with by 2011. And on a personal front, I want to leave behind a legacy that is robust, time-tested and shows consistent results,” he says.

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