PH Ravikumar, who recently took over as managing director of Money Matters Financial Services Ltd, comes with over four decades of experience in the financial services industry. A banker to the core, Ravikumar spent 22 years at Bank of India, where he established several key verticals before he moved to ICICI Bank. There, he was part of the core team that built India’s largest private sector bank. Ravikumar also led commodity exchange NCDEX for five years. He spoke to HT on a range of issues on leadership. Excerpts:
You have spent over four decades in the lending industry. According to you what are the key leadership qualities one needs specific to this sector?
One needs deep understanding of the sectors in which one operates. In the case of lending to small and medium enterprises, issues as well as risks, lending structure, which is in alignment with ground realities and captures the cash flows for risk management, are the essential ingredients for any entity to operate in this segment. We also need a certain degree of foresight to figure out if any sector of the economy is likely to face pressure. The knowledge would help to handhold small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as prepare the lending entity to guard against bad loans.
What does leadership mean to you?
For me, leadership primarily means responsibility. Leadership involves setting trends, thinking ahead of the sector, seeing the pitfalls in advance and evolving structures, which help the sector to overcome problems. Leadership for me also means spotting talent and grooming the next line of managers. A leader must be passionate, willing to take risks and willing to admit and learn from his mistakes. A leader must always remember that his greatest asset is human resource and that he is dealing with people who have the same instincts and emotions. Providing guidance is a key role and job of a leader.
What has been your best decision as a leader so far in your career?
There have been several decisions that have gone a long way in providing impetus to my company’s business. However, the decision to launch trading in Guar on the platforms of NCDEX that enabled price discovery in agricultural commodities stands out.
What is your leadership style?
My style is consultative but when I firmly believe in something, I go with my beliefs, notwithstanding differences with my colleagues or my team. At the same time, it is important to interact with your co-workers because it is important to know what they are thinking, it’s important to know their ideas. It always helps and encourages colleagues to approach you with their inputs, ideas and thoughts.
Can leadership be taught or does it come naturally?
I believe people can acquire leadership skill sets, if they focus on key deliverables. While all of us have some leadership traits in us, most can be acquired over a period of time. We also have to create the right environment to nurture leadership. Education and grooming play a critical role in developing leadership skills. Further, as leaders, we should have the skill and the ability to identify tomorrow’s leaders.
As a leader, are you open to debates with your co-workers?
I am very much open to debates since it throws up fresh perspectives, helps you think out of the box and brings novelty to one’s approach towards issues and problems. When we debate about a particular move, we can clearly figure out its merits and de-merits and likely implications. To that extent, we can discuss issues threadbare and get opinion of others on board. I believe its part of my job to hear their views and also convince them about my decisions. However, the final call will be mine.
Who do you admire most as a leader and why?
Lal Bahadur Shastri. He was a simple person from a humble background who ran a clean administration and took all the tough decisions. I remember in 1956, when Shastri was the minister for railways, he had resigned when there was a train accident. He was a leader of the highest integrity and ethos.
As a leader, what should be one’s approach to slowdown in the economy like the one we are currently witnessing?
The world around us is constantly evolving, so as a leader we must have our ears to the ground and we must be very conscious of such situations or else we would never realise when we are hit. While one can never completely predict the extent of a slowdown or a recession, as a leader it’s important to have some foresight so that the company can be prepared to tackle that situation. That said, slowdown is also an opportunity since it forces you to think differently and makes you get out of that comfort zone so that you can adjust to the prevailing situation and keep your head above water. If you have the right strategy in place during a slowdown, then post-downturn you will surely come out stronger and perform better.
What is the importance of change-management in today’s business environment?
Change is an opportunity if one manages the challenges. Management of change requires constant change in oneself. I see trees as the best example in this regard. They constantly change themselves to survive changes in the weather and conditions that they are required to live in and grow. Organisations must be like trees – constantly changing and learning to grow in the ever-changing environment. Change always ushers in something new, it’s the only constant so one must accept it and learn to adapt.