Ajay S Shriram, chairman and senior MD of DCM Shriram Consolidated Ltd, has been the driver of his company’s success story. As the director of the International Fertiliser Industry Association and the vice-president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, he reflects on corporate India’s track records. Excerpts:
Do you find leading a family-owned company more challenging at a time when the craze is to switch to multinationals?
Ours is a professionally-run family company and a leader has to manage people, whether it is in an MNC or elsewhere. The formula cannot be different — you require good people. In fact, being promoters of the company, we have the biggest stake and therefore, we can bring in more passion and genuine feeling, which can be injected into people.
How easy or tough is the decision making process as you have senior leaders in your team who are not from the family?
For me, decision making has always been a joint process with my brother Vikram, we always consult each other on almost all issues. That apart, we do have senior people as part of the top management team. And, we naturally differ on several issues, but that is just what we want. We do not want a situation of having an yes-man. If that is the case, we might as well have stenographers.
How difficult has it been to steer a company at a time when the economy is slowing down?
When the gun is on your head, you start thinking differently and we have done that in the last one year. Not just slowdown, we were also impacted by non-availability of coal, and naturally we had to experiment with alternative measures. We took it as a personal challenge and since we started experimenting with other sources, coal mines, we could successfully offset 70% of the impact. These measures that we undertook have not only helped us during the crisis but will help us in the future as well.
The employees of your firm have stuck on for decades, especially at an age when staff keep switching jobs. How have you managed that?
We believe we are a humane organisation — an organisation that has immense concern for its people. We are lenient and often our level of tolerance is a little too much.
Does it affect the firm’s performance ?
Maybe it does, but that is what we stand for. We are there with our people and we are tolerant, even if it means that the performance suffers a bit. But by and large, I have seen if you stand by your people they stand by you. We focus on the issue of commitment. Once we commit, we stand by our word.
What is your guiding mantra?
Our philosophy is that for an organisation to function effectively, one needs the right person for the right job at the right time. And, that person needs to be motivated and should have clarity about the future.
As a leader, how do you motivate your employees?
We give a lot of space to our people. It is very important to allow them to grow, allow them to make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, either you are God or just that you don’t take decisions. So, as an employee you must experiment, make mistakes and come out stronger. It is a different case if an employee keeps repeating his/her mistakes, but largely I have seen if you give them space, they come out with their best.
At a time when most companies have reduced increments, how difficult has the situation been for you?
I believe employees should get increments, based on what we think is fair. However, when the business is down, you have to moderate increments and you need to have logic for what you do, you cannot be unfair. There needs to be complete transparency.
Who has influenced you the most?
My parents. They have taught us what’s right and what’s wrong. Once my father got a photographic enlarger and in those days, it cost him £70. At the airport, when the customs officer asked him the price, he said exactly the amount he paid. The custom officer told him if he disclosed a lower price, he wouldn’t have to pay duties. But he refused and paid whatever was due. Such incidents have taught us a lot in life. When we joined the company, we were based in Kota, where our factory is, and we have learnt work even from the workers.
How can a leader prevent complacency from creeping in?
Complacency is an insidious problem faced by several leaders and organisations. The greatest challenge is — going from “good to great.” When the going is good, there may be a lack of motivation to be great and this could open the door to complacency. To ensure that there is no reversal in good performance, a leader can identify certain ‘key control metrics’ and constantly check performance against these parameters.
To go from ‘good to great’, you need to raise the bar all the time. One good tool can be the annual goal setting exercise. A leader must ensure that his/her leadership team has clearly defined measurable goals that are cascaded down below effectively. It is said that there is only one thing a leader can give his/her team which is ‘stretch’. Stretching goals will fight complacency and take an organisation to new heights.
(Dinesh Deo, CEO,
BNY Mellon (Pune operations))
The key to success is being ambitious enough to stretch organisational and individual goals — this benefits the employee and in turn the organisation. This will always challenge the workforce and motivate them to achieve better. However, it is also necessary for the team leaders to ensure every success is acknowledged.
One needs to continually strive to challenge the status quo to avoid complacency creeping in. Ask yourself: “How can we do better?”; “What ways can we improve our service?” and most importantly “What lessons did we learn when things went wrong?” It is advisable to develop a culture that facilitates learning optimistically and learning from failures. And judiciously advocating these takeaways into the operating framework will encourage continuous innovation.
(Vijay Bobba, MD & CEO, Payback India)