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Godrej goes young

The Godrej Group is infusing young blood into its leadership to take the century-plus old family-promoted conglomerate into a Rs. 30,000-cr entity. Rachit Vats writes.

business Updated: May 09, 2012 22:58 IST
Rachit Vats

It's changeover time at the 115-year old Godrej group and it's being led by the family's young guns, who are blooding even younger managers into leadership roles within the group.

Take for instance Naveen Gupta, who at 39 is already a 13-year group veteran and is heading its Indonesian business after its acquisition in 2008. Initially nervous about power suddenly thrust upon him, he says he was hand-held by Adi Godrej, chairman of the group, during the takeover process.

"While I was less of an M&A person, Adi Godrej briefed me on how to go for the Rs. 4,000-crore acquisition. Later, I got the mandate to head the Indonesian arm," recalls Gupta, COO, Megasari Makmur, a Godrej Group company.

He wasn't the only 30-something involved in that deal. Much of the background work for this deal, as also for several others, is done by the rather boyish-looking Omar Momin, who at 34, heads the group's M&A division. He has spent a decade at the group, having started as a management trainee in 2001.

"The last three years have been a systematic proactive approach towards M&A," said Momin, EVP, strategy and business development, shunning the perception of the family promoted firm being a stodgy entity. "The family provides an environment that is efficient and free of hierarchy. There is no bureaucracy to hamper decision-making."

But if these 30-somethings - as also a few 40-somethings - are garnering increasing footage in the company's thrust, it has partly to do with the change of guard that has been set in motion at the very top, comprising Godrej's three offsprings - Tanya, 42, Pirojsha, 30 and Nisaba, 33. While Pirojsha recently took over as MD of Godrej Properties, Tanya Dubash is currently ED and president, marketing, and also considered the front-runner to take over after Adi Godrej decides to call it a day, while Nisaba heads human capital and innovation as president.

"We encourage employees to take risks. The idea is to motivate people to take larger challenges, and do different things," said Tanya, when asked just how much slack would the group cut its young managers if they goofed up.

The stirrings of this young revolution date back to 2000 when group firm Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL) was identified in a survey as a socialist organisation that held little interest for the younger generation of corporate leaders. The survey, admits another decade old veteran of the group, Sumit Mitra, 39, executive VP (Corporate HR), Godrej Industries, was a wake-up call.

"In the last few years we have seen a number of relatively younger in age employees handling bigger roles. A decade ago similar roles at Godrej were handled by individuals in their 50s. Today the 30s are taking bigger roles," he said.

The stress on opting for a younger leadership profile is in sync with GCPL's objective to become a Rs. 30,000 crore company in 10 years. However, the aggression is also taking a toll on the company's managerial bandwidth.

"One of the challenges right now is how we develop the bench strength as we have grown at 20% over the last five years. As a result we are in a short-supply of talent," said Vivek Gambhir, 43, chief strategy officer, Godrej Industries.

That explains why the group is tapping into former employees to hard-sell its we-have-changed spiel. "The biggest challenge is to keep the pipeline active. The pace of expansion has outstripped the talent development. If you look at Africa, the next 2-3 years will need at least a dozen CEOs and CFOs. We cannot find all of them internally. There is an active hiring opportunity and we are going back to the alumni, people who have worked with us before," said Mitra.

The other danger, of course, is the threat of a burn-out, as managers in their 30s and 40s, with at least a couple of decades to go before they can hang up their boots, get bored of the repetitive nature of their job - a threat that the group has also acknowledged. "We have a strong corporate centre that takes care of talent stress and burnout," said Tanya.

One of the ways it is doing that is by packing off young managers to foreign markets where the group has its presence. "We promote personal entrepreneurship and tell youngsters to take roles in newer markets, work there and then come back to take bigger roles here," said Gambhir. Will the strategy work? That, only time will tell, and time is what the century-plus old group's young managers have plenty of.