Sunday, January 23, 2011

Five Great Indian Leaders: One Singular Leadership Ethic

In my long professional career of over thirty six years (from 1974 to date), I was fortunate to work with five great corporate leaders of India whose skills, attributes and personalities define sublime leadership in all its facets. A study of their leadership styles brings out that the Indian leadership model is clearly more of substance than of style. If India is now acknowledged to be in the vanguard of global industrialization, and if the world has stood up today to recognize that there exists a uniquely Indian way of management, such acknowledgement and recognition is in no small measure due to the leadership strengths that exist in India. The five leaders who are discussed in this blog post are archetypes of the vast community of the Indian leadership that is uniquely Indian, yet globally competitive.

The Indian leadership style is highly competency centric, relentlessly growth focused, steadfastly employee oriented, significantly export oriented, and uncompromisingly hard working. Indian leaders, whether they have their roots in enterprises belonging to the government owned public sector or family and people owned private sector, and whether they have entrepreneurial moorings or professional background reflect the above mentioned five leadership essentials. Each of these five facets, especially the facets of competencies and growth orientation have also variations that are contextual to the individual leadership backgrounds and the distinctive personalities. The clear common thread, however, is one of aggressive promise and authentic delivery, despite the challenges posed by a continuously dynamic macroeconomic and regulatory environment of a developing resource-scarce economy.

Given the high nationalistic orientation and professional pride that the Indian leaders possess, and the great opportunity for India to leapfrog into the innovation space while continuing to be the back office and workshop for the future, the Indian leadership passion never ebbs. The discussion of the five leadership examples brings out clearly that the Indian leadership model never takes it easy. As a matter of fact, each of the leaders discussed in this blog post even today actively contributes to the Indian leadership firmament, never resting on the laurels. It is fascinating to see how the Indian leadership recharges its batteries through work, and only more work, setting an inspirational model to the executives and managers across the organizations. In the earlier dogmatic socialistic era of the 1950s to 1980s as well as the recent pragmatic liberalization period of the 1990s and 2000s, the Indian leadership model has evolved in a consistently positive manner.

Though it is daunting to capture the multifarious leadership tenets of these five great leaders, and is even more difficult to describe adequately the several nuances of my association with them in a blog post I would, nevertheless, attempt in the chronological order of my getting in touch with them. The evocative titles that I have given to each of the models perhaps bring out just one facet each of the multiple leadership capabilities that the five great leaders possess.

Nationalistic rationalism

When the Government of India decided in the mid-1970s to bring into India a two-wheeler scooter for the common man in competition with the well-entrenched Vespa and Lambreatta models of dated designs, and that too through the transplantation of Innocenti production plant from Italy to India, it turned to Mr S Soundararajan (“SS”) who was heading the State owned Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Limited. SS, a protégé of the then Defense Minister VK Krishna Menon, a mercurial leader in his own right, had by then built a formidable reputation for turning around the shipbuilding firm which proved to be a waterloo for many a chief executive. SS, as the chairman & managing director of the new two-wheeler company, christened Scooters India Limited, brought a rare nationalism to the venture. His faith in Indian engineers was amazing; he refused to engage any Italian engineer in connection with the transplantation and indigenization efforts, and instead relied upon the Indian engineers to manage technology transfer, knowledge assimilation, plant commissioning and commercial launch. He had also a unique faith in the young graduate engineers of India, and extended bold invitations to them to set up a string of scooter retail centers and a clutch of component manufacturing ancillary units in India to support the new two-wheeler operations. At a time when import of components ruled roost in the Indian industrial scene and indigenization was considered a multi-year Himalayan task, SS motivated and managed the launch of the first product, the 150 cc Vijai scooter of the latest Innocenti vintage, in a completely indigenized state. While “India Can” is a fashionable axiom today it is to the credit of SS that he revolutionized Indian industrial thinking for true self-reliance decades ago. SS emerged in that context as an icon of nationalistic industrial pride in India.

The disaggregated components of SS’s leadership model make a fascinating account. A socialistic work ethic marked by equality combined with a capitalistic drive for efficiency characterized his unique leadership model. His egalitarian work ethic was characterized by a flat organization in Scooters India long before the concept became popular. He was completely socialistic, rubbing shoulders with the common citizens, whether on official or personal travel. It was all, however, not merely emotional or inspirational leadership with SS. A razor sharp intellect and an overwhelming passion for knowledge characterized his leadership model. Though a finance professional (SS was an Indian Audit and Accounts Service, IAAS, professional), he had an outstanding grasp of engineering matters, and personally solved many engineering and manufacturing problems. A photographic memory, an amazing sense of recall, strong analytical skills, a ruthless task focus, an unforgiving attitude towards slippages, a punishing approach towards slipshod work and a dare-devil approach to industrial risk-taking made SS a much respected as well as feared leader. He was a strategic visionary to the core too. Quite apart from the strategic marketing and vendor development approaches, his model of centralized production of aggregates and components of the scooter and decentralized assembly of the finished product in various States through independent licensee operations reflected his strategic thinking.

I was the Special Assistant to S Soundararajan between 1974 and 1976, following my stints in State Bank of India, and Tata Motors (then, Telco). My two years with him gave a lifetime of valuable experience to me, from shop floor studies to strategic licensee affairs; and from employee motivation to enterprise management. The principle of end-to-end thinking in the solution of operational and strategic problems, which became my forte in subsequent years, was inspired by his unique thinking approach. He challenged me to raise the bar of performance continuously, placed me resolutely in the zone of perfection, taught me the art of standing up to stalwarts, instilled in me the work ethic of selfless service and developed the rare attribute of thinking and acting strategically and tactically simultaneously. Whether regular shop floor production planning and inventory control or one-time savings in oil and energy consumption through optimized paint shop operations, SS provided the free play for demonstrating my engineering and analytical skills. That he saw a future leader in me as early as in the mid-1970s, despite my soft spoken and self effacing personality, is a great tribute to his ability to identify talent and challenge it to achieve greater heights. Clearly, S Soundararajan is an Indian leader par excellence who inspired others with unparalleled competency, irrepressible passion, and unquestionable ethics.

Focused specialization

When British Leyland plc decided in the late 1970s to steer the management and operations of its Indian subsidiary, Ashok Leyland Limited (established initially in 1948 as Ashok Motors to make Austin cars) into Indian hands, the parent corporation eventually focused on Mr RJ Shahaney, the then chairman & managing director, Jessop & Co a state-owned leading engineering firm for the onerous task. It was a decision well validated by the thrust of development and growth that RJS brought to the affairs of Ashok Leyland. RJ Shahaney, popularly called ”RJS” or “Ram Shahaney”, has been the long time chairman & managing director, and is currently the chairman emeritus of Ashok Leyland. He has also been chairman or director of many other Hinduja Group companies. RJS has been a strong believer in technological modernization and plant infrastructure development as the key drivers of corporate growth. Under his stewardship, AL grew manifold in scale and scope into a multi-site truck & bus behemoth in India, consistently optimizing fuel efficiency and load carrying capability of its products, and assimilating both Japanese and European concepts of manufacture. In fact, achievement of a singularity of purpose and delivery from a plurality of ownership, regulatory and environmental conditions characterizes RJS’s unique leadership strength. RJS was especially adept at deploying technology as a strategic driver of competitive advantage. He had an uncanny capability of harmonizing the best-in-class technologies of each aggregate of a commercial vehicle to develop a hybrid vehicle that was easily the best-in-class for India. A truck or bus engineered from a synthesized fusion of Japanese Hino diesel engine, German ZF synchromesh transmission, American Rockwell axles and British Leyland cabs is a tribute to his technological wizardry. Simultaneously, he also drove personally the concepts of indigenous vehicle design and manufacture to execution.

Undoubtedly, RJS ranks among the best in terms of leadership capabilities in the Indian industry. His crystal-clear thinking, laser-sharp focus, 360 vision, photographic memory, conceptual and analytical mastery and networking finesse are unmatched. He was extremely task focused and did not pardon delays and unjustifiable failures. Though he was an engineer by profession, his grasp of, and grip over business, financial and legal matters was exceptional. RJS was clearly a leaders’ leader. Several industry stalwarts worked under him at AL to enrich the management team at AL. RJS was also a champion of internal talent development. The clarity with which he identified R Seshasayee in the 1980s as the future leader of AL, enabled the space that could match Sesh’s extraordinary capabilities, and the steadfastness with which he supported Sesh as his successor were indeed remarkable.

RJS was a person not only of great professional eminence but also outstanding personal ethics. Despite the several environmental changes and market vicissitudes that AL faced from time to time, he held on to his professional beliefs and personal values and saw to it that no genuine platform or idea was ever mothballed. RJS’s passion for technology and scale is legendary. Technological modernization and infrastructure expansion at AL that were relentlessly pursued by him from the 1980s positioned AL as an undisputed leader in the Indian truck and bus industry. Long before the Japanese automobile industry took root in India, the innovative manner in which RJS led the absorption of the Japanese methodologies and techniques in AL’s engine assembly and manufacturing lines was exceptional. From multi-axle vehicles, tractor trailers and defense vehicles to Hino diesel engines, synchromesh gearboxes and ergonomic cabs, RJS was a pioneer of technological modernization at AL. After British Leyland sold its majority stake in Ashok Leyland to a joint venture of Hinduja Group and Iveco, RJS worked with the Hinduja family to drive the Group’s diversification moves, which he did as effortlessly as he steered the wheels of AL in the home turf of automobiles.

In my long professional career of over 36 years, my association with RJS has probably been the longest and the most profound. My first interaction with him was when I floated a note in 1982 on what I thought was an adventurous volume and geographic expansion that AL undertook in the 1980s under his stewardship. That was the time RJS was held in extreme awe by the AL organization that was conservatively molded by the previous Indo-British Management. It was a great tribute to his objectivity and equanimity that he not only took the critically evaluative tone of my note in his stride but also identified me to be his undeclared protégé and deputy in several of his strategic business initiatives and technological upgrades that he led at AL. My relationship with RJS was one of implicit mentor-mentee. He influenced talent development both by precept and practice and was a great role model. It was a pleasure and challenge to watch him dissect and analyze issues as well as numbers, and come up with brilliant solutions, whether in day to day internal corporate management or in external strategic negotiations. The support he gave for my Ph.D. program in industrial management at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras will always be cherished by me. Given the vast canvas of technological and business initiatives that RJS led at AL, it was a pleasure and privilege for me to be a part of all such developments with him.

World-class erudition

When Mr RJ Shahaney was like a huge banyan tree dominating the leadership landscape in Ashok Leyland, it was inconceivable that there would be an opportunity for another colossus to grow with the company to a leadership position. Mr R Seshasayee (“RS” or “Sesh” as popularly called) joined the company in the late 1970s as its internal audit manager from Hindustan Lever, almost at the same time as RJS joined the company as its first Indian managing director, and rose rapidly in the company to become the second Indian managing director in 1997. It required an extraordinary skill-set on the part of RS to grow under the never receding umbrella of RJS, with a vibrantly different personality and sparklingly differentiated skill-set. RS was the first consummate business leader from the conservative Southern India to make his mark felt as a pan-Indian leader. He conducted the affairs of India’s apex industrial association, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) as effortlessly as he managed the affairs of the automobile giant. His unparalleled erudition that matches the best of Harvard, Wharton and Stanford as well as IIT and IIM alumni brings a rare universality and global sheen to his leadership stature. RS, despite his financial academic and professional background, instilled in himself a fine grasp of all things technical. His first internal audit study in AL which focused on engineering optimization and cost compression of carburizing in the huge heat treatment furnaces of AL was an incontrovertible proof of his engineering grasp, financial analysis and creative approach. There was no looking back for him thereafter. Interestingly, Sesh’s interests and passion extended beyond corporate matters. He is a connoisseur of arts and music, and a fine vocalist himself.

When RJS made way for RS as the managing director in AL it was a latent question in everyone’s mind as to how any other leadership model could be effective, let alone be different at AL. RS proved that a true leader is one who creates his own shoes rather than one who tries to fit into another leader’s shoes. Without in any manner diluting the technological ethos institutionalized by RJS, RS added newer technological nuances, redefined competitive economics of design and manufacture, and triggered the development of a global product range. An outstanding and passionate speaker, out-of-the-box and lateral thinker, incisive and intricate analyst and no less important an empathetic and enabling people’s leader, RS brought a global recognition to the Indian industry. He has been responsible, leading from the forefront, for building a youthful organization at AL, bringing in winds of change and unleashing energies of creativity. Yet, the organization needs more of his strategic services, as exemplified his being elevated as the executive vice chairman of the company, to lead the strategic drive as a top-ranking global automobile company, in line with the vision of the new chairman of Ashok Leyland, Mr Dheeraj Hinduja.

I did not have the formal opportunity to work directly with RS as part of his organization all through my two-decade career in AL, except for my last year but my association and rapport with RS were perhaps more intense and synergistic than what any of his direct reports would have had. Whenever he embarked on any major conceptual exercise or business initiative, he would invariably invite me to thought-partner him, and provide supplemental thoughts as well as counterpoints to his views. The several theme sessions we had as part of the corporate planning exercises were particularly exhilarating from an intellectual point of view. His openness to seek an alternative point of view prior to solidifying his approach has been a strong point of his participatory style of leadership. His ability to channel the finance function as a business enabler at one level and as a prudential gatekeeper at another level was instructive to me as I went through the integrated corporate planning exercises with him. RS was both an inspiration and challenge for me; inspiration because he demonstrated how communication is a key leadership skill and challenge because to be an effective corporate planner after him required the best of one’s strategic skills.

Passionate entrepreneurialism

Nations derive sustainable competitive advantage through the entrepreneurial passion of their professionals. Mr K Raghavendra Rao, founder-CEO, and currently the chairman & managing director of Orchid Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals Ltd (“Orchid”), epitomizes this essential entrepreneurial passion of India. K Raghavendra Rao (“KRR” or “Raghavendra” as is popularly called) set out to establish in 1992, almost simultaneous with India’s liberalization drive, Orchid as his entrepreneurial venture and grow it into a world-class, globally recognized integrated pharmaceutical enterprise. KRR, currently the chairman and managing director of Orchid, is unlike any other Indian entrepreneur. A true first generation entrepreneur hailing from a modest, conservative but disciplined middle class background he attained the stature of industrial leader by sharp intellect and sheer passion. Orchid represented a more challenging entrepreneurial journey than any other contemporary or prior era entrepreneurial venture. Unlike other ventures, Orchid did not have the benefits of inflection of technology, wave of outsourcing, size of domestic market, lack of entry barriers, and/or founder’s core technologies which drove the inception and growth of many an entrepreneurial enterprise in India or abroad. On the other hand, the Orchid model of excelling in the established and highly crowded Indian pharmaceutical space militated against the easy way. Though focusing on active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and finished dosage forms (formulations) he built a business around indigenous process technology, global niche, scale and scope, and operational efficiency in the chosen product space. Starting with an initial focus on APIs for less regulated markets, KRR rapidly expanded the scale and scope of Orchid, progressively integrating into regulated generics markets and diversifying into innovative drug discovery. Building a US$ 3 million start-up into a US$ 500 million asset and 4000 strong employee enterprise, with a much envied status of becoming the 15th largest company in just 15 years from inception in an industry of several hundred Indian and MNC subsidiary companies, KRR demonstrated what Indian entrepreneurial gumption and passion could achieve.

KRR has many attributes that a great leader needs to have, from conceptual and analytical skills to strategic and operational capabilities and from a flair for communication and motivation to a penchant for control and coordination. More than anything else, however, his ability to connect with his stakeholders, from employees to investors, and from technology vendors to marketing partners in an endearing manner is remarkable. KRR passionately believed in establishing world-class facilities that generate employment and wealth for India. His commitment to environmental friendliness, as exemplified by his multi-million dollar investments to make Orchid facilities zero-discharge, place him in an entirely different class of altruistic entrepreneurs. In KRR, the oriental old world simplicity combines with contemporary new age dexterity to make him a charming, charismatic and dynamic leader, with a universal appeal. He is perhaps the most number-savvy leader in our midst, with a computer like numerical memorization and processing capability. And true to the already established thread of leadership in this blog post, despite being a finance and business management professional KRR has an amazing grasp over chemistry and pharmaceutics as well as engineering domains.

It was my privilege and pleasure to thought- and execution- partner KRR, whom I knew from my early Leyland days (from 1982 to be exact), on his entrepreneurial journey. After setting up pharmaceutical, steel, hotel and garment facilities and businesses in the rather industrially undeveloped areas of the Middle East, KRR set foot in India in April 1992 to set up his entrepreneurial venture with a modest seed capital of US$ 125,000. My leadership journey with KRR, built on the strong foundations of professional respect and personal rapport that we shared from the Leyland days, started first as an independent director from Orchid’s inception in 1992 to 1998 and later as its whole-time deputy managing director from 1998 to 2010. My association proves the point that a great leader has the uncanny ability to give the requisite space to peers and colleagues who can deliver value for his enterprise. He gave me the most challenging opportunity of conceptualizing and incubating all the diversification initiatives of Orchid from domestic formulations to global generics and from biotechnology to drug discovery. His unflinching faith in my strategic and negotiating capabilities helped me to structure several industry-leading strategic collaborations and alliances for Orchid. KRR’s ability to empower people to establish and grow initiatives, and provide value propositions for talented leaders eventually became Orchid’s core competence of attracting some of the best talent in the pharmaceutical industry to its fold. As part of this, KRR laid enormous faith in the competence of the Indian scientists, technologists and leaders to build a world-class infrastructure and global enterprise by themselves without any consultants. Such was the return commitment from his team that even in the most trying times of takeover threats, global economic meltdown and company-specific financial stringency, not a single senior team member left for greener pastures. My role, facilitated by KRR, in the strategic and structural transformation of Orchid remains undoubtedly the high point of my long career.

Technological virtuosity

Virtuosity, which reflects an almost inimitable and perfect skill that a true expert possesses, is not everyone’s forte. Virtuous masters are often seen more as domain specialists rather than business leaders. Mr RS Prasad, presently co-founder, and managing director of Suven Nishtaa Pharmaceuticals Private Limited is a virtuoso of pharmaceutical science and technology, turned into a passionate business leader. RS Prasad, popularly called “RSP”, is widely credited as the creator of some of the finest pharmaceutical research and manufacturing complexes in various corporations in India. He is also considered the pivotal force behind the generics successes of select Indian pharmaceutical firms, from the mid-1990s till date. An unmatched understanding of pharmaceutical science and technology coupled with a natural ability to develop new science and technology based on his own creative logic molded RSP into a unique techno-business leader. A fiery disposition towards exactitude and a friendly orientation to develop talent made RSP a rare genius who developed hundreds of pharmaceutical leaders in India, several of them now doing great stints in several overseas corporations. His talent development strategy is a simple three component strategy which is highly effective; he seeks accountability from his team members to deliver results, imparts deep knowledge, in terms of both know-how and know-why, and builds a community of professionals who share the vision of virtuosity. His vision is one of “doing right things and doing things rights” which alone, according to him, brings in sustainable results in the long term.

RSP proves a counter-theory that grassroots technical specialists can excel equally as high level strategic thinkers. He also establishes a framework that right-minded professionals would work, and choose to work again, with even the most exacting and often authoritarian taskmasters like him. The reason is that with RSP only objectivity and logic drive his fury. His team members appreciate that his passion to transfer knowledge to them, albeit through diligent working charters, ultimately empowers them. RSP characterizes a development model which abhors mediocrity at the peer and superior levels but accepts knowledge handicaps at lower levels with a view to make better professionals of his team members. Uncompromising integrity at both personal and professional levels, unflinching commitment to Indian science and technology, and unceasing quest for new knowledge and practice make RSP a true role model for the pharmaceutical industry. RSP, with his contributions to building of US FDA approved world-class pharmaceutical facilities, development of several products with Paragraph IV, first-to-file status for the US market, and shaping of a talent-driven quality oriented organization, is widely credited as the technological and scientific power behind the pioneering generics thrust of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, which catapulted the company into the global league.

Supported by KRR’s passion to get the best of technologists into Orchid, I was instrumental in inducting RSP into Orchid as the head of regulated generics business initially. As Orchid under KRR set out to grow into the complex business of setting up world-class aseptic formulations facilities for regulated markets, RSP emerged verily as the man of the moment. It was a pleasure to watch him conceptualize any objective in terms of a total resource plan, laying out sequential and parallel activity plans and schedules, integrating quality and regulatory compliance in each of the activities. We shared a belief that my business creativity and his technological virtuosity could create unbeatable value for the corporation. In my long conversations with RSP I could challenge him, and also get challenged, in the process expanding our horizons of knowledge. This process gave me a unique opportunity to understand his capabilities, conceptualize his leadership model and also make suggestions for his becoming an even more effective leader. Dogged as he was in his beliefs, committed as he was to his credos and immersed as he was in his pursuit of excellence people considered it a challenge to prompt him to look at a different point of view. On the other hand, it was to his credit that he accepted some of the most strident feedback from me or possibly anyone else, as long as it was logical. If a model of perfect planning and execution, marked by the highest standards of quality and self-reliance, ever needed to be defined, RSP exemplified it.

Indian leadership and global marksmanship

The account of the five leaders points out certain attributes that are common amongst the great leaders of India. Firstly, it is the competency basket that calibrates a leader’s stature in India. While a leader may or may not be accepted for his or her authority, the leader will certainly be respected for his or her intellect in India. The competencies that are reflected in India’s sterling leaders include not only higher order intellectual abilities such as the depth and breadth of knowledge, impeccable memory, and sharp thinking but also unique success factors such as visualization beyond the obvious, conceptualization of complex issues and incisive analysis of data and information. Secondly, certain unique factors emerge as defining aspects of the leadership personality, embellishing the commonly shared competency basket in a manner unique to each leader. These could be could be nationalistic fervor, networking finesse, collaborative mindset, export propensity, perfectionist quest, expansive erudition, influential communication, entrepreneurial spirit and technological excellence. Thirdly, all successful leaders are also inspiring role models who demonstrate their grasp over their related as well as unrelated domains and also impart knowledge to others by precept and practice. Fourthly, they are aggressive taskmasters who seek accountability and clarify responsibility, in the process punishing inefficiency and rewarding performance. Fifthly, all of them have an unflinching faith in the ability of Indian scientists, technologists and managers to deliver, and within that faith, a distinct reliance on the young and the intelligent to rise to overcome all challenges. Most importantly, great leaders also happen to be leaders’ leaders and/or people’s leaders who succeed in building great leadership teams and organizations that deliver sustainable performance.

To consider the flip side, if such sterling leadership attributes existed in the Indian industry from the 1970s and all through the decades of liberalization the question remains as to why such leadership could not make a more profound impact on the companies that it led, and on the broader industrial scenario. The answer to this lies in the fact that for most leaders their strengths act their weaknesses too. The delivery models of the five leaders offer interesting support to the intriguing but true theory of strengths sub-optimizing themselves as weaknesses. The five delivery models of the five leaders may be summarized as: “Intuit - Improvise - Indigenize” of SS, “Plan - Prioritize - Push” of RJS, “Organize - Orient - Optimize” of RS, “Dream - Diversify - Dominate” of KRR and “Resource - Recharge - Regulate” of RSP. In each case, an excess of a dominant streak of leadership served to erode the potential full impact of the respective leadership models. High dependence on intuitiveness, daring resort to improvisation and dogmatic commitment to indigenization resulted in several of the pioneering initiatives of SS going awry. RJS believed in meticulous and cautious planning, sticking to core product competencies and top-down push for enhanced delivery which sub-optimized his great potentialities. Despite well-intentioned efforts and notable successes in re-organizing and re-orienting the corporation around new themes (for example, cost savings and innovation), RS’s eventual propensity to satisfy conflicting interests possibly led to some level of compromise in execution. KRR dreamt like no other entrepreneur or professional CEO could, and expanded as well as diversified his canvas with great aplomb and panache but his overpowering desire to dominate led to overreaching on strategic and execution fronts. RSP clearly knew how to resource even the most complex project right, excelled in continuously recharging his team but probably could not generate self-sufficient leadership because of excessive regulation and minimal empowerment. These are, however, not insurmountable handicaps; little moderation or aggression on some of the components would unleash full potential of the leadership models.

As brought out by this blog post, India has had, and continues to have, deep leadership talent, of which the five leaders discussed herein are some of the finest examples. The Indian leaders, despite the handicaps of dated technology, scarcity of resources, paucity of trained manpower, and excesses of regulation, excelled in overcoming the challenges and bringing growth and competitiveness to the Indian industry. As India Inc braces itself for a new global competition it is easy to see how the leadership competencies and the leadership models defined by these five great Indian leaders would be very much contextual to India’s step function growth. The apparent plurality of these leadership models reflects, in fact, the singular and quintessential Indian leadership model of intellect-driven work ethic, which is smart and intense. These leaders point to the enormous leadership talent that resides in India. If the leaders such as these great personae are able to find common forums to work together, say as members of boards of directors, the powerful thrust for India’s competitiveness would be unimaginable. These five great leaders who represent diverse generations of leaders demonstrate that Indian leadership has continuously reinvented, reinforced as well as mellowed over time.

I sincerely hope and pray that all of the wisdom, foresight and passion of these great leaders, and several others of their illustrious ilk, will continue to be available to India Inc and its constituent professionals for years and decades to come.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on January 23, 2011.

1 comment:

Narayanan said...

As the proverb "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow", the author is indeed privileged to have been nurtured from the inception of his career by illustrious leaders. The various examples highlighting unique leadership styles are insightful and will serve as a valuable lesson for all aspiring professionals. Also, similar to the observation in the blog as as Neil Young put it "what makes you live, kills you in the end" i.e., the same qualities that propel leaders to dizzying heights can also be their undoing since experience and age tends to calcify dominant traits in each individual with each successful initiative serving to fuel this behavior. To some extent, empowering senior management to ask "tough questions" of the leader and self-imposed periods of sabbaticals wherein the deputy is charged with key decision making could help the leader counteract such involuntary dominance. An interesting thought experiment would be to envision how each leader's dominant trait could be adapted to solve India's current problems. For e.g., perhaps SS as brand ambassador for India to help project a positive image abroad or RS to spearhead meaningful reforms in the Education sector through public-private partnerships or KRR's skills and passion tapped for social entrepreneurship/innovation to serve the bottom of the pyramid. Von Clausewitz famously remarked "War is continuation of politics by other means". Along the same lines, for accomplished corporate leaders identifying opportunities to continue their 'winning streak' in non-traditional organizations such as the NGOs, non-profits or pan-asian/international outfits could be a 'force multiplier' to serve both national and humanitarian interests.