“One key theme that emerges from my overall professional journey is that there needs to be a focus on execution.”
April 2022: Ultimately, what differentiates a business from an exercise that is more academic in nature is the ability to get things done on the ground, Amit Kumar, Group CEO and Executive Director, Symphony Limited, tells Manish Kulkarni, Director, Pro MFG Media, in this interaction
Your corporate journey is quite intriguing. You have worked in Business Consulting, a Tech Start-up and now in Operations. Could you share key leadership lessons from your journey?
The journey has been into different domains. So I am glad that you brought that out. One key theme that emerges from my overall professional journey is that there needs to be a focus on execution. Ultimately, what differentiates a business from an exercise that is more academic in nature is the ability to get things done on the ground. So getting things done is more important than figuring out what are the best actions available and spending more time on them. You have to hit the ground running, because by the time you realise, time just flies out.
We live in the VUCA world, which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And never have we seen the world change so rapidly, as we have seen in the past few years. Traditional working styles, management styles, and also the leadership styles are no longer as relevant in the current times. So what according to you will be the new trends?
Projecting something into the future today, like you mentioned the VUCA World, is an exercise fraught with a lot of risks. So the new world is possibly something as we see emerging every day. That said, some of the trends are very clear. A mixture of these trends is possibly something that will, at different points in time, manifest itself in different forms. So we will have to be ready for how the manifestations come. In terms of dynamics, we possibly have some better view. Today, users or customers are becoming increasingly more aware and more informed. They are more informed through tech channels. Today, when a consumer walks into a traditional store, even before going there to buy an air cooler or any other product, she would have done 80% of her research on the internet. The consumer is aware, the consumer knows what to ask for, and the consumer knows what she’s looking for. So she comes with precise questions on the product or the offering before she makes a decision.
The second thing that we are seeing is the willingness to spend on key categories, on things that are important and necessary has gone up. The service levels and brands have also become important. Consumers are looking for the right level of service and the right level of brands rather than experimenting with new stuff. The VUCA phenomenon that you talked about has set up in so many aspects of our life and yet wherever possible, consumers are going for what is reliable and what is trusted. In many aspects of life, consumers don’t want the VUCA phenomenon to come in. That’s why they prefer to go for brands that they can trust. So another shift that we see emerging out of the VUCA phenomenon is that at least some things need to be more certain than others.
You have a very rich experience as a business transformation and profitability improvement specialist with three of the Big Four consulting firms while handling large portfolios. Could you shed light on how that accumulated experience is coming handy for you in the current operational role?
The experiences of having been part of some of the amazing consulting teams and having done a tech start-up myself have prepared me for doing the right kind of thinking and driving the right kind of approaches in a more traditionally functional and execution oriented role that I am now working on. This is important because at Symphony we are very structured and a process oriented organisation. Sometimes, as we said, the world is changing so fast, we need to bring in new approaches and we need to bring in new methods of doing things in line with the way the world is emerging around us. We need to focus on introducing new technology; and in this case, the technology is more of the digital and tech side rather than the cooling side of it. We are bringing in analytics with focus on data. For example, we sell millions of coolers every year and that gives us a rich trove of data about consumers and about our partners. How to use that kind of data? That is the kind of aspect that I was able to understand as part of the role I had earlier in terms of consulting. It enabled me to see multiple facets of different organisations, and how they are doing one or the other piece brilliantly. So that has given me exposure to a lot of good practices in different organisations, domestically and globally. That is now upon me to bring to the current role and add those new approaches and methods into an existing performing setup, and evolve a new blend that works on the ground. So that’s broadly the sum and substance of it.
There is a famous quotation attributed to Harry S. Truman that ‘Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers’. Could you highlight the importance of reading for business leaders and which are the books that have influenced you the most in your life and career?
These days I am reading a book called ‘Poor Charlie’s Almanack’. This is a book authored by Charlie Munger, who is from Berkshire Hathaway. That’s an amazing book that I am reading right now. There have been a lot of books over the past that have influenced the way at least I have built my thinking. And the one that I would remember from my recent readings is ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’. It is an amazing book, especially if one is looking at how to build up new products or solutions and how one survives in what we call the VUCA world in terms of continuously adapting to changes as well as by adopting changes at the same time and so on.