Banmali Agrawala is the president and CEO for GE South Asia and is responsible for all of GE's operations in the region. A veteran in the energy domain, Agrawala has over 29 years of global experience.
He has served in several senior leadership roles in the Wartsila Group and in The Tata Power Group. He tells HT that one never stops learning at GE. Excerpts:
How do you define a leader?
Leadership is all about being oneself, it's that simple and that difficult. It is also about making others perform better in your presence and for that behaviour to continue even after you are gone.
For me, it is about having clarity and honesty of purpose, putting others before the self and possessing the willingness to be led.
You have recently taken over as the head in India. How is the experience and what are the challenges?
To be responsible for GE in the India and South Asia region is a great opportunity and responsibility. To have the ability to make a difference on such a scale is an exhilarating feeling and that's precisely why 'GE is in India for India'.
GE is also a 130-year-old treasure. This treasure has to be handled with care.
Can leadership be learnt? In other words, how can a manager become a leader?
Leadership can certainly be learnt provided the attitude is right. Skills can be acquired but attitude is something that gets shaped very early and is difficult to change later.
One just has to keep performing to the best of one's ability in the current role without thinking of the "next step". Leadership is a lot about judgement as almost every issue that comes up is "grey" and judgement is needed to make the right choices.
Judgement in turn comes from experience and from going through uncomfortable situations. Getting comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and not being disheartened by failure are an important part of the learning process which, again comes largely through exposure.
GE offers leadership programmes that are designed to build the next generation of leaders.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
Walk the talk.
Who are the leaders who have inspired you?
Ratan Tata and Jeff Immelt are the two leaders who have always inspired me. Ratan Tata for his decency and character which also defines the Tata Group and Jeff for his strategic thinking, clarity of communication and decisive actions.
How difficult is it to lead a company that has interests in several divergent fields?
GE is in divergent fields but the overall theme is "industrial and infrastructure". Being a conglomerate does help in a volatile environment; besides, for a company of the size of GE, it also provides the ability to provide wholesome development to regions/countries and other large corporates.
From an employee's perspective, the diversity provides tremendous opportunity for leadership development. The difficult part is to get all "cylinders" firing at the same time consistently. Overall, being a conglomerate is a huge advantage.
How do you motivate your team at a time when the economy is in a slowdown mode and sentiments are at its lowest?
The GE portfolio being so diverse and global, there are always opportunities for employees. Many businesses still have opportunity to grow in the India region even in this downturn.
Further, sourcing from India has become even more attractive than earlier. In GE, the emphasis and investment on people and technology development is maintained irrespective of the economic environment. There cannot be a better place to be than GE in such volatile times.
GE employees have a strong sense of bonding and ownership with the brand. How do you manage to nurture that culture?
The culture of GE is derived from its values. The deep commitment to ethics, technology, meritocracy, transparency and respect for each other is practiced by every GE employee.
I can say with great confidence that one never stops learning at GE. My job is to ensure that these values are never compromised no matter what the provocation.