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BW Businessworld

India’s Most Valuable CEOs: To Be A CEO Is A Calling

This year’s annual Most Valuable CEOs are from varied industries, redefining leadership mantras in a challenging economic arena

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


To be a CEO is a calling. You should not do it because it is a job. It is a calling, and you have got to be involved in it with your head, heart and hands,” once said Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo

If great businesses can sprout from the most unlikely backgrounds and situations, so too can great CEOs. With the blazing speed of reactions today to major decisions of CEO, it’s definitely not an easy era to be one. And it has not been so in the past three years — the period of the BW-Cedar Management Consulting study of the Most Valuable CEOs.

At the start of 2014, credit off-take in the economy had begun to be squeezed, and companies started cutting back on investing. CEOs were struggling and stretching themselves to alter strategies after the gut-wrenching slowdown of 2013 and were seeking ways to conserve capital. The questions during those crucial years were: should we invest now or later? Should we continue with this product line or do away with that one? Should we invest more capital or re-direct resources the other way? And so on.

There were no easy answers. But some CEOs, to stay profitable, found newer areas of growth, paths untrodden but promising. Others tweaked their business models and came out ahead. Yet others, to strengthen their brands and business, invested further in research and development. When businesses require course corrections and ‘re-engineering,’ CEOs, perforce, have to lead the change. At times though, re-engineering is not needed, but a relentless focus on the goal.
At a recent Nasscom event in Mumbai, Rajiv Bajaj of Bajaj Auto highlighted his ‘eye of the apple’ strategy to gain major market share in the global motorcycle space, and the distractions he faced from the outside world.

“I am always told by media people, by analysts, that scooter bhi hoga, motorcycle bhi hoga. This is not de-risking, this is gambling. This is playing darts. This is distraction and fragmentation of resources. At the end of the day, you must be like Arjun and believe you can see the eye of the bird, and go for it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work; at least you gave it your best shot,” he said.

Sometimes the decision a CEO makes can backfire; sometimes it can catapult companies into a sweet growth trajectory and take them into another orbit (remember “Planet Bajaj”?). Every decision a CEO makes has major ramifications in this day and age, and could be the shot between success and failure.

For the many in the BW-Cedar Management Consulting list of top-ranking CEOs, it’s all about handling this change, and investing in the right areas of growth.

Rana Kapoor, for instance, has been building a knowledge bank over the years, establishing ground-up expertise in several sectors. With the analytics and understanding of the market, the bank can offer new financing solutions or recognise problems in an industry early enough. Needless to say, Yes Bank’s differentiated strategy has reflected in its stockmarket value, which increased from Rs 400-odd to over Rs 1,400 in a little above three years.

Indiabulls Housing Finance, for instance, converted itself into a housing-finance company, moving away from personal and business loans; now it’s one of the largest in the mortgage lending business, with CEO Gagan Banga leading from the front. Indiabulls Housing Finance stock is up 39 per cent CAGR in four years.

When it was taken over in 2000 by a new management, Ajanta Pharma’s CEO Yogesh Agrawal changed the conventional business model, undoing the traditional businesses the company had been into for several decades. Agrawal recalls that doing away with old businesses and withdrawing from government sales was painful. But the gains the company has made in the last few years has been immense. It is now reaping accolades for its management.

Torrent Pharma’s executive chairman Samir Mehta has been instrumental in identifying fresh opportunities. The company acquired Elder Pharma’s domestic range of brands when sales were lagging and launched key niche products in the US market. Here, the company has seen massive growth in its revenues and profits of respectively 24.89 and 47.2 per cent, earning the CEO accolades for steering the company to higher profitability.

In fact, you will read more such amazing stories in this year’s list as we have expanded the number of CEOs profiled so as to give you a fuller perspective and a 360-degree scan of the business landscape from their corner offices.

BW and Cedar Management Consulting have used three-year growth and return-on-capital parameters and included qualitative ones such as CSR spends and even independent directors to check whether a CEO follows corporate governance standards.

We have left no stone unturned and have enjoyed presenting this package of the ‘Most Valuable CEOs’. Not only would you relish reading it (as much as we have enjoyed stitching it together) but you could also pick up sufficient cues to tread your business on the amazing and complex growth called India. Read on.