Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why Indians Need Help In Developing Communication Skills?

On one of his frequent trips to Mumbai, Rajeev Chopra has a whole series of meetings lined up at the business centre of a suburban hotel, but he's saved a special slot - the lunch hour - for a Socratic Debate with CD. Over a plate of salad and a club sandwich (which he efficiently demolishes with a knife and fork), the vice chairman and managing director of the Gurgaon-headquartered Philips Electronics India, talks about the importance of friends, the egalitarian culture of MNCs and the challenges of doing business in rural India. Excerpts:

What's the toughest part of a CEO's job?

Getting people to move out of their comfort zone. You know there are major changes in the horizon, but getting your people to see it is tough. People management is 65% of a CEO's job; the rest is business management.

Is people management an acquired skill?

Some people are born with it. I wasn't. All in all, I'd say Indians are just about average when it comes to soft skills. We need help in developing communication skills, for example. We don't know when to open up, when to shut up. In a multi-national company like ours, a dictatorial style doesn't work, as it does in some family managed companies. We are very egalitarian. People are not afraid to talk. Since I am from sales, I like to mix with people. I hate sitting in my office all the time. I prefer to walk around a lot.

What do people want?

They want to learn, which means they want a challenging job. They want to rise in the organisation. But you will always have a mix of people in the company. Some are aggressive, some analytical. Some are ambitious, some are steady. You have to manage the mix. One way is to move people around.

Moving someone into a different area or sector provides challenge and I do it all the time. I don't believe you need to have a background in something to be successful at it. My first job was in FMCG sales, with Reckitt Coleman, and then I moved to IT, with Hewlett Packard. The basic principles of marketing were the same, though I had to pick up on the product specifics of ink jet printers.

How do you keep things simple?

You use common sense. For example, if the customer wants something quick and the process is taking too long, you use common sense to get things done. Simplicity is about crashing your development cycle. It's about making installation of a complex product easy. Sometimes experts have to do it for you and we provide them.

How important are friends in your life?

Extremely important. I've lost touch with schoolmates, but I do keep in touch with my IIT-Kanpur friends. I'd say they're my oldest, and best friends. Life in Kanpur was very campus-centric since we didn't have a big city outside. Email helped us all get in touch initially and now it's Facebook. A lot of them are in the US and quite a few are in government. The IAS was a big draw in 1985, when we graduated. And no, I don't use them to further the interests of Philips India.

What's the toughest thing about selling in rural India?

Rural India has harshest operating conditions but customers here have the least ability to pay. I realised this early in my career with Reckitt Coleman, when I would go to small towns to sell Cherry Blossom shoe polish. In Bikaner, I remember, the brand cost more than five times more than what was locally available. If you want to succeed in rural India, you have to first understand what people can afford and then figure out what you can provide within that.

Do appearances matter?

To some people it does, but I personally try not to form a judgment based on appearances. During interviews, for example, it's easy to get influenced by appearances since you have to form a judgment in one hour or less. To avoid that, we have at least four people interviewing the candidate, including would-be peers. I also do a lot of reference checks.

What do you look for in a potential employee?

Does he have the ability to handle a variety of situations, can he cut to the chase, can he get along with a mix of people, and does he have the energy to get things done.

What's your favourite time of the day?

I don't really have one. But if you change that to favourite time of the week, I would say it's when I play golf in the morning on weekends, at Noida.

Will machines take over the world?

It makes for a good story, but I don't think so. But then again, I've never been a science fiction fan.

What do you read?

I read The Economist on my iPad, usually when I'm stuck in traffic. I used to read a lot of business books till ten years ago, but then I just stopped. When I'm on a long flight I read fiction and standard business literature. The last one was Scenario Planning by Paul Schoemaker.
Thanks to Dibeyendu Ganguly,ET Bureau / Economic Times India Times / The Economic Times

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