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Gritty Leadership Can Make an Elephant Dance

Large Business conglomerates will not only have to be agile, consumer-centric, innovative, and digital-first but also purpose-driven and responsibly competitive to survive in a 'Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous' world

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Jim Collins in his book “Good To Great” starts with sharing a simple yet profound truth for success in business that Good is the enemy of Great. Indeed, being good is not good enough in these pandemic times. Effective leaders are critical to the success of organizations and businesses. They are invaluable when it comes to formulating and communicating the new strategic direction of an organisation. Globally and more so India’s business landscape has seen many leaders who identified trends ahead of time and worked on them to find a fortune for their company.

Take for example the Tata Group which found a fortune in information technology under the leadership of Faqir Chand Kohli who is fondly regarded as the father of the Indian IT industry. A technocrat, FC Kohli saw the future in IT services and set up TCS under the guidance of JRD Tata. Today, it contributes the lion’s share of the company’s bottom line.

In the digital era that we live in, it is ITC Limited that is marching ahead to achieve the same. The FMCG to IT conglomerate, led by CMD and IIT Kanpur Alumnus Sanjiv Puri is betting big on digital technologies, albeit not only as a service but as gasoline powering numerous nano engines propelling the organization to enhance operational efficiencies and unlock massive future value in return. This is not an easy task given the size of the organisation and the multiple businesses the company is into. But he is making remarkable progress.

Despite several operational challenges, ITC has shown remarkable resolve to adapt to the new normal and reimagine the next normal. This has fostered hardwiring of agility in every sphere of operation, leveraging purposeful innovation, realigning supply chains, building partnerships and collaborations as well as accelerating the pace of digital technologies, processes, and systems to serve consumers more effectively, communities, and the country. The company under the guidance of Sanjiv Puri has embarked upon the ‘Next’ strategy to architect the structural drivers that will power ITC’s next horizon of growth. This new strategy is aimed at ensuring that the company remains future-oriented, consumer-centric, and nimble to create enduring value for stakeholders.

It is interesting how traditional companies have been able to catapult themselves into the big league with the help of digitization. Take Indonesian mining company Petrosea. It embraced digitization to make its operations profitable and address “an existential threat” facing the company. To diversify away from coal and decarbonize its operations, Petrosea employed a suite of advanced technologies at its project sites. These include artificial intelligence (AI), smart sensors, and machine learning to reduce costs and find minerals that are required for electrification, faster and more efficiently.

Similarly, IKEA, the Swedish giant selling home goods to people for almost 80 years embraced digitisation to evolve with the ever-changing needs of customers. The company has embedded digital and analytics in every aspect of business making it a way of working, making decisions, and managing the company. This helped Ikea to not only transform business for the future but also enabled it to explore potential new offers to customers, new ways to bring offers to customers, and new ways to operate the business. In practical terms, it helped Ikea to triple eCommerce levels in the last three years and increase the contribution of revenue from e-commerce from 7% to 31% during the period.

Examples of age-old companies being transformed with digitization do not stop here.

The grit in leadership is a single indomitable trait that separates a great leader from an average leader. Defined as sustained perseverance and passion for long-term goals, grit is quality and competency that is observed in those that seem to achieve their goals, sometimes against all odds. It predicts who will accomplish challenging goals and propels people to the highest ranks of leadership in many demanding fields. In organisational parlance, grit is about turning passion and perseverance into performance despite challenges.

At ITC, Sanjiv Puri’s vision of rallying the young generation is particularly encouraging and shows incredible grit in his leadership. Today, ITC is banking on the potential of young professionals to lead

the digital transformation journey of the company. Sanjiv Puri has set up a ‘Young Digital Innovators Forum’ which will enable young employees to play a dominant role in new initiatives. They are further guided by a ‘DigiNext’ Council comprising the company’s leadership team to mentor, cross-fertilize and identify opportunities to scale up.

ITC’s world-class Indian brands anchor a wide range of Agri value-chains and its e-choupal initiative benefits farmers across the country. Here, Sanjiv Puri has pulled off a real masterstroke with the launch of Super App ‘ITC-MAARS’ that will herald the next phase of transformation in its agri-business. It will support e-Choupal 4.0 which is a digitally powered platform that seeks to empower the farming community by delivering customized solutions with synergic integration of NextGen agri-technologies.

Businesses are at an inflection point in history today. Large Business conglomerates will not only have to be agile, consumer-centric, innovative, and digital-first but also purpose-driven and responsibly competitive to survive in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. It is not enough for leaders to craft new and disruptive business models helmed by digital for the next horizon of growth and make the company future-ready. They must show more grit and determination to make it clear that they really believe in the idea and are committed to walk the talk/ take it to its logical conclusion.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Neeraj Kapoor

Founder, Startup Business Academy, Ex-CMO of PayBack, Ex-VP, GoAir, Ex-Brand Head, LG

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