SEPT. 15, 2002
 Cover Story
 BT Event
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Q&A: Douglas Nielson
Douglas Nielson, Chief Country Officer, Deutsche Bank, India, speaks to BT Online on what the bank has in mind for India, particularly its plans in the asset management arena. Equity research, as Nielson says, will emerge as a key differentiating factor in this business, and that's exactly what Deutsche is working on.

Long Bond Is Back
The government is bringing back the 30-year bond. Will insurers be the only takers?

More Net Specials
Business Today,  September 1, 2002
First, Take Charge
Inspired by GE's Crotonville 'pit', Indian companies are into leadership development at every level. The battle-cry: take charge.
HSS leadership workshop: Leadership takes attitude-shaping, Crotonville-style

Vineet Nayyar, 29, was bored. After joining as a management trainee, he had climbed into the higher echelons of HCL Technologies within six years. What next? He approached Shiv Nadar, CEO, HCL Technologies, with his problem. Nadar suggested he work as his executive assistant. He did that for three-to-four months, but grew restless again. So he started devising business plans for ridiculous things like an instant-omelette powder. Nadar suggested a holiday, and it was here that Nayyar got his big-bulb idea: a company to manage networks and connectivity-a relatively new area back in 1990. HCL approved, and Nayyar is now the CEO of HCL Comnet, a subsidiary.

Companies across India are empowering people to think independently, initiate change, set objectives, energise a team, direct projects, execute plans and take on risk-in short, assume leadership.

At every level, too. And that's the difference, for it's a rare greenhorn who has the guts to make categorical 'yes' or 'no' decisions that could either bring success or cost him his job.

Rare or not, guts are in demand. And leadership is no longer a career-capping reward for decades-long loyalty. "There is definitely a trend in this direction," affirms Elizabeth Nanda, Director, Northern region, Mercer HR Consulting. "Organisations are getting leaner and meaner and need to have such people on board." Corporate patriarchy is ill-suited to modern market dynamics. The result? Traditional command-and-control, with a single Big Boss using the entire hierarchy as an elaborate execution machine, is fast acquiring a 'Jurassic Park' tag.

(checklist for leadership aspirants)

» Think independently?
» Thrive on challenge?
» Initiate change?
» Energise/motivate others?
» Think outside your work sphere?
» Show the way?
» Prioritise actions?
» Set and achieve goals?
» Make decisive yes/no calls?
» Have the guts to risk your neck?

Pit, And Upwards

More and more companies are looking for leadership to GE, where if two managers think alike, one is deemed redundant. Managers have no option but to take charge and get cracking. Luckily, an experience at GE's training centre at Crotonville (with the famous 'pit') gives people just the shot of adrenalin they need. Says K. Murali, Director (Human Resources), GE India, "We've placed big bets on our leaders."

Take the case of Rohini Seth, who joined GE's HR Leadership Program in 1998, took charge of the training scene in India and went on to help Crotonville get its global training program together. Or take Gajinder Bains, who joined the same year, and has since set up (and now leads) the Washer Motors unit for GE Motors at Delhi, which supplies washers at amazingly low cost to GE units globally. Then there's Dhananjay Gupte, also a 1998 sign-up, who heads the lighting business in Indonesia.

What did they do right?

Apart from displaying energy, performance and the 'edge' to make razor-sharp decisions, they proved to be 'boundaryless' leaders, with a passion for learning from every and anywhere (within and without the firm) and leveraging the company's unique diversity of businesses, opportunities and cultures-to set and meet new goals. They were helped along, of course, by GE's famous training infrastructure and processes. "It is this learning, sharing and action-driven culture, applied across all our diverse businesses, that gives GE its true competitive advantage," elaborates Murali, adding that the company invests some $1 billion a year in creating leaders.

Thinking Flat

Companies that want to create a swarm (an 'army' would be the wrong word) of leaders need to be intellectually if not operationally flat, to the extent possible, at least by way of idea-exchange. The reasoning: everyone has unique value to deliver. Best, then, to use it.

"To win in the market place," says K.L. Muralidhara, Vice President & Country Manager, American Express Travel Related Services, India and Area Countries, "it is becoming essential to build a culture in which all employees are fully engaged in their jobs, realise their potential, and have the opportunity to grow and develop with the company."

At AmEx, people are expected to take leadership by getting work done, providing direction, delivering feedback, generating ideas, thinking innovatively, being competitive and raising issues. None of this is the prerogative of bigwigs.

''GE is structured as a meritocracy''
It's been over two decades for Susan Peters, Vice President (Executive Development) at GE, and her passion for the company remains undiminished. Leadership development is her core responsibility. With 310,000 employees spread across eleven businesses, that is quite a task.
Susan Peters: Thriving on it

We want to be seen as a place that attracts and keeps real talent. Our focus is to ensure we get the best people in, and then developing them in a variety of methods. Frankly, one of the most accurate methods is to give them stretch targets. I don't mean stretch in terms of numbers, but tasks that are seen to be larger than the individual's experience would normally enable them to do. How do you do that? You have to be a growth company that gives opportunities to individuals, plus you have to identify talent and know who your best players are and focus on them. You have to have processes and mechanisms that give your people and the organisation feedback.

We are pretty open about the fact that GE is structured as a meritocracy-our best people are rewarded. We are a place that will give you more to do than you thought you could do. People love it because they are challenged, and it means they work with incredible colleagues. It may not work for everybody, but those passionate about GE thrive in it.

HCL Comnet, relatively 'entrepreneurial' in its drive, has a simple philosophy-if you come up with an idea, it's your baby. If you achieve it, it's yours to lead. You're given all the support that is required but senior management only becomes actively involved when it comes to making an investment or providing the resources. "A technology company needs to constantly innovate to stay alive," reasons Dilip Kumar Srivastava, Vice President (HR), HCL Comnet.

Consider the success story of Anita Manwani, 40, who was working with Agilent in the US, and decided to formulate a strategy to leverage India's low-cost talent. This, in the face of the 'South Asian' risks on account of the post-9-11 instability. Today, she heads the it-enabled services operation in India. "As a leader, she was expected to take the risk and take a decision which would result in leveraging the talent pool and cost effectiveness of India," says Jayantika D. Burman, Director (HR), India Operations, Agilent Technologies, adding, "Manwani is responsible for delivering as per plan."

Leadership isn't all self-propulsion. It takes nurturing too. Which is why Wipro Technologies has a program to take leaders up a leadership 'lifecycle'. "Leadership is a development process", says Ranjan Acharya, Vice President (HR), Wipro, "which is why we have a program for each stage in the lifecycle."

The Infosys Leadership Institute (ILI) in Mysore also has a program to hone the skills of would-be leaders. It trains some 300 high-potentials, from every level, every year. And these folk are expected to set their own objectives and gain from the guidance provided towards achieving them. "It is a development process more than training," emphasises Dr. Jayaram, Senior Vice President and Director, ILI.

Fire In The Belly

Spontaneous leadership can occur, too. And feeding people with such inspirational stories can work wonders. A crisis, for example, can urge someone to abandon 'group paralysis' and make a gutsy move to resolve the problem. V.P. Nayyar, Vice President (HR), Transworks, a call centre, recalls a 9-11 incident at an earlier organisation, when hundreds of calls came in from New Yorkers asking what they should do with their rented cars. Roads were jammed, and they couldn't get anywhere. The duty manager couldn't get through to his client in the US. On the spur of the moment, someone decided what to say, without the client's approval. It worked. And a leader was born. "The ability to handle stress," says Tarun Bali, CEO, ABC Consultants, is a real test of leadership.

Eventually, there's nothing to beat self-motivation as a key to leadership. Almost by definition, a leader must always be doing something that somebody thinks is unwarranted, reckless or worse-but which the leader expects will pay off. Aadesh Goyal, Vice President and Head (HR), Hughes Software Systems, narrates the story of two 24-year-olds who decided to sit in for their senior managers (who couldn't make it because of an unfortunate riot) at a campus recruitment drive. That too, without any of the presentation or test material. The two smart alecks made an impromptu pitch, and devised an on-the-spot screening process-rather than lose the opportunity. "They went on a mission and they achieved it," says a proud Goyal.

That sort of heck-let's-do-it chutzpah is not always concentrated at the top. In 1978, the local leaders of a Chinese village called Xiaogang hatched a quiet little plan to quit collective farming and privatise their operations-and it was the success of this little experiment (to align the 'system' with the ground reality of common folk instincts), that sparked off the world's most talked-about economic reforms. But someone had to dare the status quo first. That's leadership in its rawest form.

It's simple, really. Some duck challenges. Others thrive on them. As Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, says in his leadership primer, "You don't know what you can get away with until you try... often, it is easier to get forgiveness than permission." So to all those future CEOs out there-hope that fire in you is burning bright.