Ravinder Kumar Sinha, founder and chairman, SIS Group, built SIS from a 12-member security guard company to a multinational security services empire. The company operates in India and Australia with over 60,000 permanent employees and R2,464 crore in annual revenues. He spoke to HT on a range of issues on leadership. Excerpts:
What, according to you, is the most important trait of a leader?
A leader must have a vision… an ability to look beyond the immediate and the obvious. He should also have a high EQ (Emotional Quotient). The ability to connect with his team and other stakeholders of the business is vital for a leader, so that he is able to carry the organisation together to achieve its objectives.
Ability to commit completely to the business and work hard even through the rough patches with conviction is paramount.
Do you think leadership skills required in running a people-centric business such as security service are different?
Not really. In my understanding, the skills required to be an effective leader remain the same across business types and geographies. The only point I would like to highlight is that, in a people centric business like security and business support services, a leader would need to possibly hone his people skills particularly.
In your journey spanning four decades, what was the biggest challenge or hurdle you faced, and how did you overcome it?
Shortage of manpower at different levels (workers to senior managers) has always been the biggest challenge for us in this industry. We have partly overcome this challenge by first opening a training institute so that rural youth can imbibe the skills needed to carry out security functions. We were the first security company to do so. We opened the first institute in Jharkhand. We now run 10 such training institutes in 10 different states. Between 1982 and 2010, these institutes have so far trained 150,000 individuals.
What is the best leadership decision that you have taken so far?
In the post-war period, several of the army men retired at a fairly young age and were desperately searching for a livelihood to support their family and fulfill their social responsibilities. I was in my late 20s and was struggling too. But, despite my personal difficulties, I took a pledge to do something for retired soldiers.
While recommending some of my ex-servicemen friends for jobs at an industrialist friend’s factory, the idea of setting up my own security agency occurred to me. I had the idea, but not the resources or the experience to manifest this.
However, I still decided to go ahead so that I could secure not just my own livelihood but also create jobs for ex-servicemen. Thus, Security and Intelligence Services India Ltd, now known as the SIS Group, was born
....And your worst decision?
A leader makes many decision every day. It is natural for some decisions to be sub-optimal or not to play out favourably. But I do not believe in something like a “worst decision” or have any regrets as such. The important thing for leaders is to own decisions that did not go to plan and to learn from them. As long as you keep doing that, one always emerges wiser and more prepared to take decisions in the future.
What is the role for professional leaders in a promoter owned and driven company ?
There are stages in the development of an enterprise. Initially, almost all companies are entrepreneur-owned and entrepreneur-operated. The next stage is about entrepreneur-owned and entrepreneur-operated, but supported by professionals.
After that, most companies migrate to a stage where businesses become professional-operated while being owned and supported by entrepreneurs. I believe that promoters and professional managers bring their own benefits to an organisation. They are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, in a rapidly evolving sector like security, the mix of an entrepreneur’s vision and risk appetite with the organisation and execution skills of quality professionals has worked very well. SIS Group was possibly the first security business in India to handover the day-to-day operating controls of business to a team of professional managers way back in 2002.
The promoter family has since been more focused on incubating new businesses, forging alliances with global partners, acquiring talent and taking strategic calls on geographic expansion and inorganic growth.
How do you cultivate leaders?
Leadership development is at the core our company. We prefer grooming leaders internally rather than relying on acquiring people laterally for leadership roles. There are cases where security guards have grown to become regional and divisional leaders holding ranks such as vice presidents (VPs) and executive VPs.
In 1986, when the security industry was still in its infancy, we conceptualised the Graduate Trainee Officer (GTO) programme to groom young graduates in their early twenties as leaders for the security business. Last month, the 28th batch of such officers graduated from the programme.
What is your leadership mantra?
If you look after your people, they will look after the business.