‘Leaders open avenues’
Deepak Kapoor, chairman, Price-waterhouse Coopers (PwC) India, an auditing and management consulting major, spoke to HT on a range of issues. He spoke at length on his trying experience of handling the crisis following the stunning confessions of the erstwhile Satyam Computer Services’ chairman that the company’s books were doctored for several years.
How do you define a leader?
I believe leadership is all about people. A leader is one who makes sure people not only see the vision, but live and breathe it. They inspire others to be the best that they are capable of. A leader is also one who represents the spirit of a brand.
What are the three most important traits of a leader?
A leader needs to be a motivator, one who inspires trust and spurs others to perform. Their foresight charts a course for the future and navigates the organisation through it successfully. They should be good at listening, should be able to empathise and effectively empower their people.
As the leader of PwC in India, how do you cultivate leaders?
It is very important for an organisation to nurture tomorrow’s leaders. Of the many leadership programmes that we currently have at PwC, one that stands out is the Young Partners Forum. This platform gives select young partners, on a rotation basis, the opportunity to deliberate and recommend on live issues facing the firm. These recommendations are then considered by the leadership team whose decisions are communicated back to the young partners, giving them insights into why the leadership team took the decisions it did, taking them a step or two higher in their transition towards ‘hard’ leadership skills.
Also, at PwC, diversity is at the core of our business philosophy. We value the unique qualities of leadership that come from our women colleagues, and actively promote them. We have worked hard at plugging the leaking talent pipeline, and it gives me pride to tell you that currently 30% of our employees are women. We also have 19 women leaders as partners/executive directors and directors and 19% of our leadership team consists of women too.
Can leadership be learnt? Like, how can a manager become a leader?
Absolutely! A good manager can evolve into a good leader by working effectively with teams and most importantly by developing skills which can help them unlock other people’s potential.
Since September 2008, the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
It is in tough times that the mettle of a leader is tested. Instead of becoming defensive, good leaders take steps to improve their businesses’ resilience against further disruptions and to grow in markets they believe are most important for their future.
They lead the process of crafting new approaches to risk management and new strategies in response. Also, they make sure that there is right talent at the right place.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced?
The Satyam episode. The challenge was to convince our clients, staff and the community that the audit team was misled by the Satyam management, and no one from our staff was involved in the fraud perpetrated by the erstwhile Satyam’s promoters/senior management.
Though it took time and effort to win back the trust of our stakeholders, I am happy to say that we overcame this challenge and soon rebuilt the reputation as providers of high quality in our chosen line of service.
Do you think the role of business leaders have come under a cloud —globally and domestically — of late?
As long as a leader conducts business ethically, within the framework of applicable professional standards, laws, and regulations, there is no reason for this to happen.
Of course, as the scale of operations increase, more issues will crop up, but these are opportunities for us to keep plugging the gaps.
Leaders have to often carry the cross of other’s wrong doings and inefficiencies, the global banking sector today, for instance. What role can good leadership play to counterbalance this image?
As mentioned earlier, one of the roles of a leader is prudent risk management. Disruptions in the environment could be because of other’s actions, but good leaders will have their own business environment as insulated as possible.
What is your one-line leadership mantra?
It is the responsibility of leadership to provide opportunity, and the responsibility of individuals to contribute.
Who are the leaders that have inspired you?
Martin Luther King Jr., minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, and Mahatma Gandhi.
Who is a leader in your industry that you respect?
I will take the liberty of extending this beyond my industry, JRD Tata is someone who has been an inspirational business leader for me.
What is the biggest leadership lesson that you have learnt?
Appearance and content are two different things. Don’t be quick to pass judgment.
What is the best leadership decision you have taken?
Succession planning and initiatives to focus on the development of our high performers, creation of the Young Partners Forum being one of these.
What is the worst leadership decision you have taken?
I could have taken a few decisions like ‘not tolerating less than desired performance’ faster, but as they say, it’s never too late!