Surinder Kapur, founder chairman of Sona Group, which manufactures components for the automotive industry, shares his leadership mantra with HT. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader?
A leader is one who motivates his people by sharing his vision enthusiastically and in a
believable way, so employees trust his leadership.
What are the three most important traits of a leader?
A leader should be a greater communicator and be able to: share vision and goals to the people; build and give hope to people, which also translate into trust; and align people together to achieve the collective vision.
As a leader of your group, how do you cultivate leaders?
We have a special programme called ‘Drivers of Tomorrow’ (DOT), which is being led by my son Sunjay Kapur. This is a fast track programme for potential leaders, which is conducted year round with both in-house and external faculty deployed to build and speak on the traits of leadership and cultivate leadership traits in the inductees. The idea is to transform a manager into a leader.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
Yes, I do believe that leadership can be learned. However, there are also people who are born-leaders. But, it is not necessary that one cannot be a leader if he or she was not born with the leadership traits. Similarly, in the case of entrepreneurs, not all entrepreneurs end up as good leaders. Enough evidence exists today to suggest this fact. Entrepreneurs either sell off their businesses or bring in CEOs to run their businesses.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced?
During 2008 we bought a large company in Germany and turning that company around after the financial crisis was a real challenge. In a foreign country, with a foreign language, turning it around during the crisis was a tough challenge. I personally took the challenge, fired the existing management and visited Germany every month in the last three years, and the results were most satisfying.
To overcome the language barrier, I used an interpreter.
I communicated with my employees regularly, introduced discussion forums and formed a monthly monitoring meeting with my union leaders. I committed not to let go of my 1,300 employees, was transparent about the financial health of the company, their poor performance on productivity, and slashed overheads dramatically.
Do you think the role of business leaders has come under cloud — globally and domestically — of late?
One of the main reasons for global financial crises, in my personal opinion, was excessive greed. This greed was mostly for personal gains, rather than for the organisation’s good.
Business should not have only short-term gains but should rather work for creating shareholder value in the longer term.
In my personal view, around 2005 to 2007, various global banks, corporates and governments allowed the decision making to be biased by greed. The balanced leadership and clear objective were missing, which led to crisis.
Leaders have to often carry the cross of other’s wrongdoings and inefficiencies, the global banking sector today, for instance. What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?
Leadership must have a selfless agenda. One cannot be a successful leader if he or she only thinks of personal gain. Leadership of today have to walk that extra mile to first clear the negatives associated and then come forth with a transparent approach. Having said that, one must accept that there have been flaws and issues, but a good leader will also communicate the possible remedies to tackle the impending issues. This will not only instil confidence in the followers but also help to garner strength and support from the team.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
Peddle ‘hope’ and create ‘trust’.
Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
There are two leaders whom I have looked up to as my gurus and who have inspired me. They are my father- in-law the late Raunaq Singh, one of the greatest entrepreneurs I have known; and Keshub Mahindra (former chairman of the Mahindra Group), who is one of the best corporate leaders. Both of them were selfless in their way and ‘karmacharis’ in my personal view.
What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
People will only follow and respect you as a leader if you can win their trust. This alone can be achieved by being transparent and having a vision that can motivate people.
What is the best leadership decision you have taken?
The best decision we took was of acquiring the forging businesses in Europe and the USA. At that time Sona Okegawa was a Rs. 200 crore company, which went onto making acquisitions of Rs. 2500 crore.
What is the worst leadership decision you have taken
I trusted the management of the European company, which we had acquired without conducting due diligence. As a result, the lesson learnt was that sometimes a leader must also micro manage.
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