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'A true leader gives people space to work’

Gaurav Choudhury, Hindustan Times   October 24, 2012
First Published: 21:51 IST(24/10/2012) | Last Updated: 21:58 IST(24/10/2012)

Havells India Ltd is a $1.3-billion ( Rs. 7,000 crore) electrical goods company and a power distribution equipment manufacturer. In 2007, it leapfrogged into the league of the world’s top five lighting companies after acquiring Sylvania. Today, Havells owns brands such as Crabtree, Sylvania, Concord, Luminance and Standard.  Its chairman Qimat Rai Gupta spoke to HT on a range of leadership and management issues. Excerpts:

What, according to you, are the key traits of a leader?
Leadership is about giving space to people to work, empathising with them and listening to their issues and suggestions. A leader must be a visionary, he must be motivational, inspirational and knowledgeable. A leader must be able to build a stronger and effective team and enable them to perform.

Finally, you cannot do everything on your own. Integrity and ability to learn are a few more of the key qualities of a leader.

Do you think leadership is an inborn trait or it can also be acquired?
Leadership is a trait that naturally comes to some; it is ingrained in their DNA. That said, leadership skills can be taught as well as acquired.

It is a multi-dimensional trait and one cannot say that only when an individual has ‘x’ number of qualities can he or she be a leader. Each one of us has some leadership traits and some can be acquired over a period of time.

The key to being a successful leader is the ability to learn from various situations that you find yourself in.

What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
I am highly influenced by the Srimad Bhagavad Gita. It teaches us how to maintain inner peace while performing the most complex tasks, accept the ups and downs of life with detachment and overcome uncertainty and anxiety about the future with faith in God.  These lessons hold true in business as well.

I have taken life changing decisions and the Srimad Bhagavad Gita has always been my guide.
 
How difficult or easy is it to cultivate leaders in a promoter-driven company?
A promoter-driven company brings a certain amount of passion - and that is not at all bad.

An organisation needs to build leaders and that’s the way to grow. My journey so far cannot be completed without different leaders within the company. We disagree on a lot of issues, but that’s healthy. That’s how we learn, understand and grow better as individuals and as an organisation.

As a leader, does competition bother you?
No. I believe competition is healthy for a company to grow and it teaches you to stay a step ahead. It forces you to think creatively and innovate all the time. Everyone has a space to grow, one just needs to respect that.

As the captain of this ship, are you satisfied with the journey so far?
I guess the answer is both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ When I started my journey, did I know that we will come this far? No.  So, to that extent, this has been a great journey. But Havells still has a long way to go. To me it seems that the journey has now started.

We may be recognised globally today, but we intend to take the company to greater heights. The acquisition of Sylvania was done with this aim in mind.

What is the role of leadership in nurturing relationships with vendors and customers?
It’s the duty of the leader to invest in building and strengthening relationships. This is more important in consumer-centric businesses.

The only way to nurture relationships is by being truthful, transparent and determined to achieve collective goals. In our company we have built our business with over 5,600 dealers, purely on the basis of trustworthiness, quality, transparency, efficiency and determination to succeed.

What are the key lessons on motivation that you have learnt over the years?
I started my entrepreneurial journey way back in 1958, with virtually no money in my wallet.

I did not have a large base for financing a capital investment, but had the ambition, passion and confidence to excel, to make it big.

As the company started to grow, I was fortunate enough that I came across the right opportunities at the right time.

I have always believed in the power of a brand, and that is why in 1971 when the word ‘Brand’ ‘was unheard of, I invested in buying the brand ‘Havells’. It was a very popular, home grown brand amongst the electrical trading community.

This was followed by another turning point in my journey - the acquisition of one of the world’s leading lighting brand ‘Sylvania’ in 2007.

I am of the view that as an entrepreneur you must believe in yourself, learn to take setbacks in your stride and stay focused on the ultimate goal.

At the same time, a leader also needs to build a loyal team of co-workers who will be with him through thick and thin.


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