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ET Young Leaders: Mariwala, Hemrajani's advice for the future leaders; CEOs suggest staying balanced, thinking big

Top CEOs engaged in a conversation on the theme ‘Grooming Young Leaders Faster and Better’.

Updated: Dec 12, 2019, 01.20 PM IST
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India Inc on jury duty at ET Young Leaders​. (L-R: Shyam Srinivasan, Rashmi Daga, Rekha Menon, Kalpana Morparia, Ashish Hemrajani and Harsh Mariwala​)
India Inc on jury duty at ET Young Leaders. (L-R: Shyam Srinivasan, Rashmi Daga, Rekha Menon, Kalpana Morparia, Ashish Hemrajani and Harsh Mariwala)
Six of India’s top CEOs engaged in a conversation with ET Young Leaders on the theme ‘Grooming Young Leaders Faster and Better’. Their suggestion to the candidates chosen for the seventh edition of the programme was to stay balanced and keep reinventing themselves every day, think out of the box, have a clear purpose and take failure in their stride.

Edited excerpts from the discussion moderated by ET’s R Sriram:

What were the most interesting and insightful things about the young leaders?

RASHMI DAGA (founder & CEO, FreshMenu): For me it was really interesting to see that all the candidates had very clear paths to what they want to do. There was a lot of interest in the macro parts of the business as well as what they are doing day-to-day.

SHYAM SRINIVASAN (MD & CEO, Federal Bank): This is the third year that I’ve been engaged with ET Young Leaders and the first two years I have been quite miserly when it comes to picking candidates. This year it was a struggle for me to stop. The level of preparedness, enthusiasm and capability was quite stunning. Both the previous years’ ETYL participants have become vendors to the bank and we’ve been greatly benefited by the work they’ve done.

REKHA MENON (chairman and senior MD, Accenture India): Each one of them had passion and that was very important to me while picking the winner.

KALPANA MORPARIA (chairman, South and Southeast Asia, JP Morgan): I found this year’s candidates more prepared. What also stood out was the passion to win, plus the impact that they were going to make on society.

Winning streak: The Economic Times Young Leaders with the CEOs
Winning streak: The Economic Times Young Leaders with the CEOs

ASHISH HEMRAJANI (CEO & cofounder, Bigtree Entertainment): For me, the true test was who can be hired from these candidates. At least 2-3 of the 7-8 candidates I interviewed are hireable tomorrow, which is the metric I follow. I found them to be very clued in, very sure of who they are, their strengths, their weaknesses, what they can deliver.

HARSH MARIWALA (chairman, Marico): The degree of preparedness was higher. The other thing that came out differently for me was that many wanted to eventually start their own business, that was very heartening for me. They were also conscious about the purpose of the organisation and their social responsibilities.

When a lot of us started out, the world was very different, business conditions were very different. What do you think are the biggest challenges these candidates are likely to face?

HEMRAJANI: The economy has grown, the stakes have grown, the dynamics have changed, challenges have changed, and therefore, if you fail or you don’t succeed, consequences can be fairly large. Having said that, how can you keep yourself relevant, be nimble? It’s important to take failures in your stride but have controlled failures. That is very important for businesses today. Also, it’s about having a purpose.

SRINIVASAN: Almost everyone has access to everything today. Challenges are not unique to an individual. The main challenge is more personal. ‘Do I have the balance and the ability to not swing from one thing to another and behave like it’s Day 1 every day?’Challenges are the same but who deals with it better comes out ahead. One has to make sure, they are centred, balanced, have a higher purpose. And that’s hard work, keeping your energy and reinventing yourself every day.

Rashmi Daga: Food for thought
Rashmi Daga: Food for thought

DAGA: As someone who started this only five years ago, from that point of view, survival, creating a business, creating disruption was very important. Shareholder wealth is important because you take VC money and it has to fall into a plan which creates wealth for investors. Having said that, the business you create, how you create sustainability in that, how you think of creating employment, do environment friendly stuff, all that is important. It’s not just that by hook or crook you create money.

How do you ensure that corporations of today, boards today are much more gender diverse?

MENON: It’s a real problem. Whether it’s corporate India or startups, very few women are heading organisations. Even in startups, often women don’t get funding. Some of it has to do with the cultural conditioning, external environment. Second is women themselves, who believe that they can’t aspire for roles some of us are in, and selfselect themselves out. Third: biases and blocks that come their way and that’s the part corporations can work on. We took a stand three years ago that we’ll be 50:50 by 2025. Right now, we are at 40% women.

Is it tough for startup woman entrepreneurs to get funding?

HEMRAJANI: In urban India, there’s enough of meritocracy in terms of venture funding. If you have a big idea, you have the ability to think of a large marketplace, you demonstrate the ability to execute and 110% commitment — if you exhibit these four behaviours, then it’s based on merit.

DAGA: It’s not just investor perspective. Women in India tend to fight the fear of failure way more and that’s a hurdle, be it in corporate success or as an entrepreneur.

Kalpana Morparia: Thronging the banker
Kalpana Morparia: Thronging the banker

What can large corporations do on this issue?

MORPARIA: I spent 33 years in ICICI where the problem was in the reverse. We were told men needed reservation. Later I learnt ICICI was an island. Now I’m focusing on ensuring that there is no exclusion. Because there is an unconscious bias sometimes.

MARIWALA: I think we should not look at diversity with a narrow lens because it is not just about gender but also about other forms of diversity such as LGBTQ, diversity of nations, states, ethnicity, educational background, etc., and that is what will make an organisation really inclusive and innovative. My view is organisations need to have the right policies and support systems but you cannot have targets because in driving targets you may actually compromise on the quality of decisions and that’s not sound. The organisation’s role is to make sure that all the diverse options are properly accepted, the policies are created accordingly, and all diversity issues are given encouragement.

MENON: I would like to differ a bit. Just as we have business metrics if we don’t measure it, then we don’t know how it works. If we measure it and have a goal, then we can drive towards the goal.

Do you think today’s generation is more accepting of the different forms of diversity?

SRINIVASAN: I increasingly see people are disappointed if we have a conversation of inclusion of any kind. Many of our senior executives get disturbed with the conversation of positively biasing because they say look at my capability — my gender or other background is irrelevant. In my mind, we should move away from such kinds of conversation to ensuring truly equal opportunity.

Entrepreneurship tips from Ashish Hemrajani
Entrepreneurship tips from Ashish Hemrajani.

KRITI SETHI, Marico: What are you doing to make sure that at every level the issue of having no biases is addressed by your organisation?

HEMRAJANI: For us, inclusiveness is the mantra and purpose of the company. For me inclusiveness is taking into the fold every part of the society — it is not just gender alone.

ADITYA NANAVATY, Aon: 186 leaders of The Business Roundtable rejected the notion of shareholder wealth creation as the main focus of corporates. Is this a point of discussion in boardrooms in India today or are we some distance away?

MARIWALA: This movement has actually started many years back. All the stakeholders in an organisation are interlinked. It is proven that companies that look at all the stakeholders show better results in the capital market. If I motivate our employees as our members then they will feel far more charged and produce better results. It is very clear that you cannot look at only the shareholders. Lehman Brothers is a clear example where only the shareholder interest was looked at and you can see the history of the organisation.

MENON: If you look at all the great organisations which have sustained through the years, they have taken well beyond shareholder value as their mantra. That is the only way to sustain. It is in business interest — it is good for your own people, good for the bottom line, the brand and the community but overall financially also you get a better result.

Say cheese with Shyam Srinivasan
Say cheese with Shyam Srinivasan.

How do you retain and harness young talent that has entrepreneurial ambition?

MORPARIA: I am a product of being an entrepreneur in a corporate world and I actually believe that is a super combination where you are allowed to unleash your entrepreneurship but you don’t need to worry about, for instance, how you pay your electricity bill.

MARIWALA: You have to look at entrepreneurship from two different lenses — one is to start your own business or being a part of an organisation where you play an entrepreneurial role or make a big impact though your own initiative. One thing we have done is we started incubation cells which are not connected to the existing business. These are standalone two-, threemember incubation cells reporting directly to me and do not have to go through the normal bureaucratic process of approvals within the organisation. And we moved really fast. We started two businesses within a short period of time. And if we had not started the incubation cells we would not have started these two new businesses because normally the tendency is you have your own job and always there are escape buttons. So, if you can identify some entrepreneurial streak in individuals then put them in a role where they can have some kind of big impact or start something like an incubation cell where they can start a business.

MENON: Not everybody wants to be an entrepreneur but those that want to be, we tell them to go ahead and find ways for them to innovate within the organisation because that adds to our innovation quotient immensely.

Words of wisdom from Harsh Mariwala
Words of wisdom from Harsh Mariwala.

DAGA: The word entrepreneur perhaps sounds glamorous right now but I don’t think the world inside is as glamorous as it sounds outside. The reason I wanted to become an entrepreneur was because I found large corporate jobs very siloed and a lot of the time you have to wait for an annual review for you to make a case, etc., … in early years my motivation to learn and learn fast was very high and it was one of the reasons to think of having much more flexibility.

SRINAVASAN: One part is entrepreneurial spirit and those are the people who we can harness who are willing to work within an organisational structure. The other type of people is the ones who want to have their business and make the big cheque and big money and such people we have to let go.

HEMRAJANI: Entrepreneurship is a state of mind. If you are self-motivated and self-driven, then your Monday mornings are as exciting as Friday evenings.

(Additional reporting by Prachi Verma Dadhwal)

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Cheers To Young Leaders

12 Dec, 2019
The high profile 11-member jury looked for diverse attributes including innovative mind, keenness to learn and clarity of understanding in the candidates.(Additional reporting by Prachi Verma Dadhwal)
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