Trying hard to downplay his credentials as a promoter-director at Lupin, Nilesh Gupta, group president and executive director says his leadership philosophy derives from some home-truths learnt from his father and the company chairman Desh Bandhu Gupta, and some text-book learning, which has led him to evolve his own, hands-on style. Edited excerpts:
As a leader, weren’t things handed on a platter when you are from the promoter family?
I completely disagree with that. I felt that things were much tougher as people never respect you beyond a point. First couple of years for me were spent in inductions. I was more into attending meetings without really finding my feet. I think it is only after Wharton that I wanted a clear set of responsibilities.
So the B-school degree was obtained to be taken seriously, or did you actually learn something new?
I applied in Wharton after three months of working and was refused admission the first time. They said get some experience, so I did that.
An MBA does teach you a lot, as never had any training in HR, leadership or how to crunch numbers. I think there were a lot of tools, from which I benefited immensely and I am a huge proponent of it.
And after your MBA, were you taken more seriously as a leader?
I don’t think I am taken seriously even now (laughs). Distinctly, the second time around I was taken a little more seriously, though not by everyone. Even after the MBA, I remember there was a relatively senior person to whom DBG (Desh Bandhu Gupta) suggested, ‘why don’t you report to (Nilesh) since he is going to be looking in to this function and your part is related’. He met me and asked what moral authority I had that he should report to me. I didn’t really have an answer to this question at that time.
How much do you differ from your father’s (DBG’s) leadership style?
Very different. He has an extremely trusting style, extremely autonomous — giving great degree of autonomy almost to a point where a person has complete latitude.
Where do you differ?
I am much more hands on. I work very closely with my teams. I feel that I would personally not feel engaged by just telling someone that ‘do this’, ‘run that’, ‘let me know in two months’, I can’t do this at all. I need to know about the problems, talk about them, my style is ‘everyone let’s meet, sit down and discuss’.
Are you then more cut-and-dry as a leader?
No, not at all. I wouldn’t call my self cut-and-dry. My style is extremely participative, completely engaging in the problem. I like to do a lot of reviews and meetings. DBG’s style is more of one-on-one. His is extremely personalised — mine is not so. I would never leave a business to somebody and hear a quarterly update.
Does it mean that you don’t trust people enough?
No, I don’t think it has got to do anything with trusting people. It’s about where you want to be involved with. For pharmaceutical industry, the devil is in the details and you have seen companies having compliance issues and pipeline issues. My level of engagement comes more from a point of view of making sure that executing doesn’t falter.
Is it fair to assume that eventually you are going to take over?
Vinita (Gupta, director and in-charge of Lupin’s North American operations) and me, at some point of time. She has done much more than I have in Lupin. She started well before me. So, in some shape, we have not figured it out, at some point of time, the two of us.
But who has a greater chance?
She. I think it’s going to be some kind of joint structure at that point of time. Even now, technical operations report to me, a lot of marketing-related functions report to her. So there is a kind of natural segregation, anyway.
As a leader how do you react to problems or to dissent with in the group?
In a problem, I would get into a fix-it mode almost instantly. Fix it does not mean that, hey, you get aside and I will fix it...more like ‘how do we fix it that it does not happen again’. I don’t think there would be any kind of fear or retribution. I don’t lose my cool. People have so many options and you have to treat them with dignity and respect to have them engaged.
As a leader, does competition bother you?
Absolutely, I think you have to be. If you really see generics, someone said if you are not the first to file, you might as well be the last to file. Literally, that’s what it is. Look at Wockhardt — they are doing so well right now. They have launched a product with 6 months exclusivity. Six months on $100-million product for an Indian company, you can make $40-50 million on an opportunity like that. That is sizeable for Indian companies. The amount of money you take to the bottomline becomes extremely meaningful.
How can a leader be smarter than his team?
Mehra: find missing link
A leader is an agent of change and leadership is all about raising the aspirations of his followers. In the words of Robert Kennedy, “Others see things as they are and wonder why; I see them as they are not and say why not?” This is essentially how a leader becomes smarter than his team.
I believe a leader must introspect and find the missing link or the requisite skill set, which he may not possess. This is the toughest test of leadership. On the basis of this introspection, a leader must bring in people who can add value and support him. A leader must also be self-assured in guiding the team towards achieving the set goals. A self-assured leader enables a confident team. Being smart goes beyond work knowledge, and is expressed through a healthy relationship between the leader and his team.
Arun Mehra, CEO — Talenthouse India (a part of Reliance Entertainment Pvt Ltd)
Pandey: build effective team
A smart leader builds an effective team as it is more about delivering the results than other things. An effective and high performing team is made of people smarter than you (the leader). For most managers, this is the biggest hurdle, as one tends to feel threatened.
Once you have an effective team in place, the challenge is to stay ahead and lead. And for that, one has to be visionary, motivational and knowledgeable. One needs to have a good understanding of business, should be able to model the way, enable his team to perform, challenge the processes, and get them to commit from the heart. That is not all - it is essential that the leader walks the talk and makes it all a part of a seamless culture. Display of integrity and learning ability are a few more key ingredients for a smart leader.
Ratish Pandey, director, Bose India