Yes, we all can
India is a land of bold thinkers. I am amazed by the ambition and aspiration visible in even the tiniest hamlet of the country. There is hope and optimism, despite hardships. Much of it is fuelled by new vistas opened by the government’s policies and programmes. However, the most important source of inspiration are the business leaders, the icons, who understand the heart and mind of Indians. I call these leaders intrapreneurs: the resilient and resourceful men and women creating transformation within the organisations they work for. An entrepreneur has the vision; an intrapreneur is one who translates the vision of the entrepreneur into reality.
“Mahindra raises investment guidance for next 3 year cycle by INR 3,000 crore,” a prominent business daily reported in May this year. Many would dismiss this as a very routine piece of news but it caught my eye for a reason. In May 2019, right after the general elections, the pink papers had been full of reports about falling sales of automobiles. And the “sad state” of the Indian economy. Why then was Mahindra auto going all out to expand its capacity?To understand this, we must go back to 1993, when Dr Pawan Goenka, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and Cornell University, left General Motors in Detroit, to join the modest R&D division of Mahindra & Mahindra, a five-decade-old family owned company. Anand Mahindra had just taken over and the young Harvard graduate had a vision to boldly go where few Indian companies had gone before.
Dr Pawan Goenka put together the team that went on to achieve the impossible – roll out a “Made in India” SUV called the Scorpio, in a timeframe of four years and a budget of INR 550 crore (a modest sum for the magnitude of the project). The car won big with its strong style statement, powerful engine (the first to cross 100hp in India) and great pricing. “I feel there was one more factor that worked for Scorpio. Which was a pride amongst Indians, that an Indian company has done this….” says Goenka. In 2009, Mahindra launched an SUV called the Xylo, which failed to achieve its sales targets. The company posted a loss in the 4th quarter of that year. However, it was at this time that Dr Goenka took a bold proposal to the board – to invest INR 5,000 crore into a state-of-the-art new plant near Pune. To meet demand that will come 10, 20, 30 years down the road. It was risk well taken and explains why Mahindra continues to invest, regardless of what may be a slowdown in the present moment. “The CEO’s job is not to create stars, nor to become a star, but to take an ordinary team and achieve extraordinary results. And that will happen if the CEO doesn’t act as if he knows it all,” Goenka explains.
Intrapreneurs can be found in the government sector as well. Bureaucrats are changing in a new India, where employees of the state must display dynamism, foresight and problem-solving ability. Amitabh Kant is a fine example of an officer whose career has been extremely impactful, for precisely those reasons. In the late ‘80s, as the district collector of Calicut, Kant initiated a community-led effort to fund Calicut international airport. Calicut became the first airport in the country to levy a User Development Fee (UDF), a model later replicated across the country. As secretary, Kerala Tourism, Kant was able to boost arrivals to the state significantly, during his tenure through public-private partnership. He brought the same innovative thinking to the national level with the Incredible India campaign, which showcased the tourism potential of the country, like never before.
Kant took over as joint secretary, Ministry of Tourism in 2001, just before the September 11 terror attacks in the US. Tourism got affected across the world. The attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 further scared away tourists. Yet, it was at this very time that the Incredible India campaign was launched. By the end of the first year, the impact was visible, with a 16 per cent rise in tourist footfalls in the country. Kant now heads NITI Aayog, the government think-tank that charts the direction and pace of change for India. Kant defines his mantra: “Because you will face a lot of opposition… you must be able to build counter-pressure in favour of change. That is the only way you can succeed.”
The same strategy was employed by Nitin Paranjpe, who took over as CEO of Hindustan Unilever (HUL) in 2008. Faced with a global economic crisis, he could have just put his hands up and said “circumstances are beyond my control”. Instead, he used the slowdown as an opportunity to lay the foundations for future growth. At the time HUL had around 1 million points of sale across the country, adding 10-15,000 outlets a year. In 2009, Paranjpe set a target of adding 500,000 retail outlets in the next year. At first, people were in shock, but then, there was a jolt of excitement. Followed by out-of-the-box thinking, and innovation.
“Most of us negotiate for lower targets because of one reason: fear of failure,” says Paranjpe. If, somehow, that fear can be eliminated, the power of human potential can be unleashed. In the next two years HUL added one million new retail outlets and as the economy recovered, sales soared. “What I asked for them (team) to do is keep the rationale mind aside and embrace the goal from the heart. Because the mind will use its logic and reason to hold you back,” he says.
The bottom line is that not everyone can be an entrepreneur, but each of us can think and act like one. And become an agent of change, within the ambit of a job. It is the need of the hour. Our duty to the nation, and the world.