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Power of ideas vital for the top

The Indian CEO is being pushed inexorably towards ideation and R&D. Leadership alone will not suffice.

business Updated: Jul 11, 2012 23:41 IST
Rachit Vats
Rachit Vats
Hindustan Times

With competition intensifying, future Indian CEOs will need to flaunt their innovativeness to remain in business. Mere leadership experience would not be enough to get noticed - or get jobs - say leaders.

"Indian firms have become competitive with the global players and that itself is a tribute to innovation," says NR Narayana Murthy, chairman emeritus, Infosys. "At this moment besides many true-blue innovations Indian companies are imitating global best practices, which becomes the first step to become a leader."

While Murthy, alongwith Nandan Nilekani, Ratan Tata and Azim Premji among others have driven innovation at the personal and company level, scores of Indian companies are trying to catch up.

In the corporate landscape, becoming a manager is the first step towards becoming a leader, though many leaders, once they reach the top, rarely cross the threshold to make their companies innovators.

So is this beyond the scope of CEOs? Does it take a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates, or can 'lesser' CEOs imprint their legacy on the companies they lead by innovating products or services? How can they do it?

"The best way is to not make innovation your direct goal, but to fix your mind on something else. Innovation is the happy by-product of pursuing some other worthy goal," says R Gopalkrishnan, director, Tata Sons.

Gopalkrishnan believes that the term 'innovation' itself is a western concept; the Indian approach is solving problems, and we called it jugaad (loosely translated, 'work-around'). An invitation to innovate thus spells the end of jugaad.

"When the need becomes acute, corporates will become innovative. India today is far more innovative than it was 25 years ago. The climate is warm for more to happen," he said.

The Tatas have delivered several innovations, including the Nano small car and the Swach water purifier for the masses. But both have failed to live up to the hype. Gopalkrishnan claims Tata is engaged in scaling up the frequency of innovation, many of which will reach out to masses and may remain less visible but more value-led - unlike, for instance, Apple's technology-led smartphones, which are more visible but reach out to fewer people.

There is a long way to go before Indian leaders become innovators, though. Says Kishore Biyani, CEO, Future Group: "We are not there when it comes to product innovation. We are still building the nation. We'll see more leaders who are innovators in the next phase."

"Having said that, we have seen some movement towards leadership innovation happen as in the case of Tata Nano," he adds.

One of the stumbling blocks, probably, is the shallow focus on research and development (R&D), which is the foundation of innovation.

"India is not very R&D intensive compared to developed global markets, where innovation is heavily funded," says Dhruba Purkayastha, president & CEO, financial advisory division, Feedback Infrastructure Services. "So far the CEO's job has not been about driving innovation but rather profits. In future innovation will lead to a long-term profitability for the corporate world."

Things are changing, he says, and "a lot of invitation to innovation has surfaced in the last few years."

Innovation needs to rise above commercial interests, he says. A paradigm shift? But the country is moving towards that, relentlessly.

How can a leader build a lasting legacy in an organisation?
It is never too early our corporate careers to start thinking about the legacy that we will leave behind. What impact are we having on the life and work ethics of people who work with us? Would they emulate our work style? A true leader is one whom people trust - they believe in his ideology, respect his demeanour and his abilities. Leadership is about taking responsibility for actions and giving credit to the team, and standing by your people in times of crisis.

Leaders live on in the memories they create, in the systems they set in place, in the values they preach and practice, in the lives they touch. Leaders who invest in tomorrow's talent build for the future, create sustainability, and ensure a legacy. As Walt Disney said, "The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing."
(Richard Rekhy, Head of Advisory, KPMG India)

To leave a lasting legacy, a leader should have a stand point. It is important to be independent-minded, to have a passion for your work and a clear point of view, and to not be afraid to stand up for it. Only when you have all of these, only when you commit yourself to all of these - with objectives of running and developing that kind of a mindset - will you create a culture, system, processes and manner of being and living unique to you that will remain in the organisation long after you left.

If you just like to make do, if you just like to manage anyhow, you don't leave legacies. Legacies are developed and left when you have the courage to stand apart, even in the face of very uncomfortable situations that arise every day.

Strong belief coupled with strong passion and courage to stand apart will help you leave a legacy.

(Rupa Devi Singh MD & CEO, Power Exchange India)

First Published: Jul 11, 2012 23:13 IST