A unique source of inspiration arises within us when we ask ourselves the question, what can we do to take responsibility in this time of acute crisis on the planet? This could bring about new vibrations and thoughts. To reach such a state, we really need to pay close attention to some leaders who are leading the way through their unique approach, with a fresh outlook, and who are responding to crisis in a manner that can help make the world better.
In a conversation with Anil Sachdev, the Founder and Chairman of SOIL Institute of Management, as part of the institute’s webinar series, ‘Be the Best version of yourself’, Arun Jain, Chairman and MD of Intellect Design Arena, spoke about his entrepreneurial journey, the lessons he has learned as a business leader and throws light on how his company is navigating the COVID 19 pandemic.
Here are edited excerpts.
On his successful entrepreneurial journey
Arun candidly shared that he felt fortunate enough to find the right friends, who were ordinary people like him, and who were ready for an extraordinary dream – to set up a software company in India way back in 1986.
It all started in Delhi as a nucleus software workshop with a team of 40 people, which was a small two-bedroom apartment company with very limited resources, but with a big dream.
The team had later shifted to Chennai in 1990. “We were a company with a revenue of 2Cr. During our annual goal setting process, a target of 200Cr was set to be achieved by 2000, and we achieved 260Cr in the year 2000. It was almost like, we could achieve 100 times the revenue and if I go back and think about how we achieved this, I think it was a universal energy which came together in the form of all the people we could hire at that time,” reminisced Arun.
“My personal satisfaction was that an Indian company acquired a multinational. Most of the time Indian players sell their company to multinationals, but we acquired the Citibank subsidiary in 2002, the multinational which was our competitor when we started in 1986. It was a moment of delight for all of us, indicating that Indian talent and Indian teams can perform better than global teams in the world.”
Building a culture of design thinking
Arun said that he found Silicon Valley to be very different from the services industry. And that curiosity led him to perceive design thinking significantly. It was then that he took a decision to bifurcate the business into services and products, and took a call to launch a new brand intellect. This brand became known in the global market after four years. “That was another moment of joy for the team, which stood by during this phase, in the last five years, where we invested close to thousand crores in building a brand and product out of India.”
The brand invested in a 30,000 square feet center for design thinking where they changed the culture of the company, because talking in lectures is something different from experiential learning.
“Though we are close to 60 years old, we never looked at a business plan, we never created a business plan for it,”noted Arun.
On his transformational learnings
Arun shared some insights on how he is always hungry to learn new things, and the way he tackles himself and others in increasing the learning quotient.
- Listening: “Listen and Silent, both have the same alphabets. How do I change if I only keep telling and I'm not receiving anything? My worldview cannot change my world; you can only change when you listen to something that’s different from your perspective, a perspective from the people.
- Self-awareness: “In 2014, my top management team didn't accept the design thinking principle. It took almost four years for people to understand the benefit of design thinking. When I demonstrated that with design thinking we can increase our operational efficiency, they never believed it unless they saw it. So now, after seven years, we have a more aligned group, where everybody understands the language of design thinking,” said Arun.
“When something looks so obvious, and has not been adopted, how do you then control your anger and be aware of your frustration, is important.”
Responding to the pandemic
When Arun and team heard in March that the global economy will shrink by 7%, he said that they started working on risk planning, since they found that cash will become the most critical thing at this point of time, hence, they focused on collections on priority. This also included multiple dialogue sessions and sharing existing anxiety openly with each other.
“We avoided letting ourselves succumb to fear, because when you get into fear, your thinking process stops. Instead, we looked at the uncertainty as an opportunity”
“What I want to look at in people is courage, and not fear,” he added.
Beyond an outlook of courage over fear, Arun emphasized the need for experiential learning. “Three words are important here. First, celebrate the good that is happening. Second, we look at connecting with the best people in the system. The third is catalyzing. If all of us are catalysts, and if we start celebrating, observing what good is happening, and have an environment of thinking in abundance within us, it can be phenomenally valuable.”
He also spoke about how empathy and authenticity are important in keeping your team motivated, as a leader. “It is normally proposed that a leader should be bold and courageous in front of everybody. That's where the problem happens. In times of crisis, a leader can be vulnerable too; because this problem cannot be solved by one person, this problem is solved by all the 5000 employees of the company.”
The role of a leader is becoming like that of a social architect, inviting the right people into the room, and asking the right question(s). Both emotional quotient and contextual quotient are becoming critical to competency building. This is indeed the skill that is emerging to be in high demand, one that maximum companies are looking for in CEOs.
In individual journeys, rightly shared by Arun, we must begin listening to our inner-self, learn the power of dialogue and strive to become experiential learners.