The capability of an organization to capitalize nascent opportunities is governed by its futuristic vision and forward-looking orientation
I want to be remembered as a builder of institutions withintegrity, which are sustainable over time
Looking Beyond - Creating India’s Global Footprint
Having taken over the Aditya Birla Group at a mere age of 28 years, Kumar Mangalam Birla shares the transformational journey and the values and management style that helped him bring about the required change in making it a truly global MNC
Excerpts from the book In Search of Change Maestros* by Dr. Pritam Singh and Dr. Asha Bhandarker
Kumar Mangalam Birla took over the reins of Aditya Birla Group (ABG) in 1995 after having lost his father, Shri Aditya Birla. This was a critical moment for the 28-year-old K.M. Birla then to take on the responsibility of one of India’s leading empires, which had many veterans leading the various business units spread across Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Egypt, apart from ten key locations in India. From 1997 to 2008, the organization has seen an exceptional transformational journey, having scaled many new heights in preparing the company into becoming a global giant in the 21st century.
The transformational journey at Aditya Birla Group is best seen in the seven themes that emerged as the guiding forces in making this mammoth task possible:
The Gandhian idea of trusteeship guides the organizational approach to wealth and wealth creation, and the Aditya Birla Group considers itself a trustee of the shareholders’ wealth. The group’s value orientation is driven from the top. This is a group where the chairman personally wrote to each of the CEOs advising them not to take shortcuts with law, even if it would benefit the group.
Global: Taking India to the world
Till 1997, the group had operated only in five countries including India. Today, their operations has grown to 25 nations, making it a true MNC and a transnational ‘Goliath’. They have invested in developing a global mindset and cross cultural sensitivity among its key people through exposure and training in top B-schools.
Futuristic and forward-looking Group
The capability of an organization to capitalize nascent opportunities is governed by its futuristic vision and forward-looking orientation. Through various acquisitions, the group has successfully moved from the preponderant traditional economy business to new economy businesses like telecom, insurance and retail.
Among the various pillars of competitiveness, the quality of people is most crucial, since it plays a critical role in fostering innovation, which in turn, enhances the competitiveness of the organization. The group emphasizes on building its leadership talent through the use of best-in-class global practices such as 360 degree appraisal, assessment center, mentoring, and robust succession planning.
Robust growth strategy
The group aims to double its revenue to $60 billion (from its current $29.9 billion) in the next 5 years, which clearly indicates the ambitious growth strategy of the group. The key markets identified as areas for growing its business include Europe, South America, South East Asian countries and China. Their growth strategy is supported by the strategy of consolidation – restructuring the Group into Strategic Business Units (SBUs) which is headed by its respective CEO.
Towards meritocracy with a personal touch
The Aditya Birla Group makes efforts to treat people not as performance resources but as members of the family, showing care, concern and extending help when needed. The Group compares with global standards of performance while taking care of its people. Their rewards are directly linked with people contributions and are devoid of nepotism, favoritism, etc.
Managing change with continuity
The Aditya Birla Group has made great strides towards globalization, shifting to new economy businesses, including new mindsets in line with emerging challenges and demands, and towards building collective leadership. This transformation within a span of 12 years has been mainly possible due to Aditya Birla Group’s continuous focus on the need for change to evolve for greater competitiveness.
How would Kumar Mangalam Birla best describe himself?
I am a very balanced person when I am at work. As a person, I am tougher on the people I choose. I also reflect a lot on one thing that my father always used to tell me - one should never sacrifice the long term for the sake of the short term, especially when issues involve people.
What would be the one great trait you learnt from your father and great grandfather?
I admired my father for his ability to connect with people in the organization, while my grandfather’s focus on numbers enthralled me. My great grandfather was always farsighted, and kept a very low profile. He played a role in politics and contributed to the process of nation building from an industrialist’s point of view.
So is there a legacy that you are expected to take forward?
I used to feel so when I first entered the world of business, but I think you outgrow that with time. I was always encouraged to be my own person right from the beginning when my parents asked me to take my own decisions. I have grown up knowing that I have to do things that are important and right for this company.
What are the three competencies you look for in people?
I look for people with humility and a willingness to learn. I think that is key.
When you took over the three or four things you decided to do, how did you feel?
People were skeptical but I did not bother too much as I was more focused on the work to be done. I wanted ABG to become a people-centric and contemporary organization. It was already a very successful organization.
I was not thinking that I needed to push it into another orbit of performance. I was only doing what was right and getting the right people on board. Now, I have to take this very successful organization to even greater heights of success.
How would you like to be remembered by the future generations?
I want to be remembered as a builder of institutions with integrity, which are sustainable over time. Future generations should remember me as someone who built a world level organization that is recognized globally and as someone who built an organization which is meritorious and attracts the maximum number of talented and competent people. At last, I want to be known as someone who did the right things for the organization.
What gives you the drive and energy to move ahead?
I am very passionate about my work. I am very ambitious and I work hard because I am passionate about what I do and hence, love every minute of it. I do not get to spend much time with my children. To be honest, I have lost out on that, and I would like to have a much stronger bond with them. Off late, I have been trying very hard to get a better balance between work and life, but I think it will take time.
Dr. Pritam Singh is Professor and Director General at IMI, New Delhi and former Director MDI, Gurgaon and IIM, Lucknow. He has been awarded the Padma Shri for his outstanding contribution in the field of education.
Dr. Asha Bhandarker is Raman Munjal Chair Professor of Leadership Studies at Management Development Institute, Gurgaon.