Motilal Oswal, chairman and managing director, Motilal Oswal Financial Services, has spent more than 25 years in the Indian financial market but says the stock market volatility still keeps him on his toes. Oswal, 51, spoke to HT on a range of aspects on leadership. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader?
A leader has to think strategically and also needs to be very strong on execution. He/she should have capability to move from 50,000 feet to ground level. When it comes to execution, he needs to know what is happening at the ground level, and for strategy-making he needs to move to the highest possible level.
How do you spot a leader in your organisation?
A person has to be very good on interpersonal skills and should be non-political. Ability to work as a team is also very important. He should be proactive in identifying in opportunities and solving problems and also be good in learning and reading. Presence of all these qualities makes it easy to identify a leader. A leader should be able to make his boss redundant.
A leader should be able to do his boss’s work.
How do you cultivate leaders in your organisation?
We groom our people and we have a human resource department that runs a lot of programmes on leadership. If a person is ready to take responsibility, say if he/she is 60-70% ready, we give him the responsibility. You have to have confidence on your people. You need to take a bet that this guy will be able to perform. And, then we keep working on the process of mentoring and training.
Can you cite some examples of developing leaders in your organisation?
We have many examples where people have risen to higher level from entry level. In our organization, we hire at lower level and keep on promoting them without hiring people at higher level from outside.
Our internal auditor, who joined the organisation 12-13 years back, is now chief operating officer. Our head of research started in our company started his career in our company as analyst, became senior analyst then covered some more sectors and then became head of research. Our CEO of institutional business joined as head of research then became head of sales and then became CEO.
These examples send positive signals among other employees that if they perform they can also rise to the higher levels and strengthens the belief that the company believes in meritocracy.
What is your leadership style, are you a hands-on or hands-off leader?
I am a hands-on leader and I like to know what is going on. We have coffee with chairman, where I meet with officials at middle level. I like to meet employees through other ways to get the feel of how things are moving. For example, I don’t have a reserve place in the canteen. I go and sit at any seat next to any employee for lunch. It’s very important for me to know what is going at the ground level.
What is the biggest leadership challenge you have faced?
Volatility in the financial market is a major challenge. Sometime we plan for x and get 2x but sometime plan for x but achieve only half of x. Attracting talent is also a major challenge, because being part of the financial services sector we have to compete globally.
As a leader do you regret any decision you have taken in the past?
I feel that some of my decisions relating to hiring people at higher level from outside proved wrong. A wrong hiring, at higher level, takes the company back couple of years.
Can managers become leaders or can leadership be learnt?
I think leadership traits can be acquired. There are very few born leaders. Leaders are created by circumstances, environment and organisations. A leader creates more leaders.
What is the role of a leader in a family-driven company?
In a family-driven company, a leader has two options. First is to groom a family member as a future leader and the second is to get a professional to lead the company. And both models work well. The only thing is that the leader has to be very clear whether he wants a family member or a professional from outside to lead the organisation.
Who will lead your company - a person from family or a professional from outside?
It too early to decide about that, right now our entire focus is on growing the organisation.
Which leaders have inspired you?
There are many business leaders who have inspired me. From India’s business space I am inspired by Pawan Munjal (head of Hero MotoCorp), Rajiv Bajaj (MD, Bajaj Auto), Kumar Manglam Birla (chairman, Aditya Birla Group) and on international front I admire Sam Walton (founder, retailer Wal-Mart), Steve Jobs (co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple) and Jack Welch (former chairman and CEO of General Electric).
Does leadership style varies from industry to industry or one leadership style fits all industries?
Softer skills such as grooming and mentoring, listening, communication and other interpersonal skills remain universal while technical skills vary from industry to industry. Also every leader would have strengths and weaknesses.
For example, Steve Jobs was very strong on technical skills compared to softer skills while Jack Welch would be very strong in softer skills compared to technical knowledge.
What is your leadership mantra?
Whatever you do, do it with passion, half- hearted measures will not take you anywhere.