Not only the employees, Achal Bakeri, Founder of Symphony, world’s largest air-cooler manufacturer, says it is important to encourage ideas at the grassroot level.
You head an iconic brand. Along the years, you would have mastered some leadership traits which have brought you to this position. What are those key traits ?
Achal Bakeri (AB): Focus is what had brought us where we are. We have not tried to explore everything or try and do multiple things in areas where our strengths may not lie. We tried doing it in the past and faced difficulty because of that, but by re-focusing on our core competencies is what has helped us to grow. So, I sincerely believe that there is enough opportunity in every field and if one is focused and willing to work hard on that single idea that’s good enough. My leadership secret –find out what you are best at and don’t waver from that. Life will throw a lot of options at you and many diversions or distractions may come your way but it requires a strong conviction to remain unwavering to your commitment.
Keeping the focus is a trait that I developed over the years. In my early years, I used to see how my father handled people in his company. He believed in the participatory style of leadership. In our company too, I have tried to implement the same. We generate a lot of ideas bottom up. At the senior level, our role is to filter all those ideas and to focus on one or two or a few, which we can execute well and then channelize the entire organization’s energies onto those.
Very often a stray idea from someone triggers the thought process and gives direction to the team to work on it. The eventual outcome maybe something totally different from the original idea but there is no denying that it’s that idea which started the whole chain reaction. When I say that we encourage ideas at the grass root level it’s not just the employees that we listen to, we keep our ears close to the ground, we listen to the market, to the consumers and try and gain insights essentially. We are in a consumer industry and what we produce has to resonate with the market. It’s imperative that we listen to the consumer needs.
Today the times are changing fast and so are the needs and demands of the customers. How do you keep abreast with all the changes and stay above the competition?
(AB): We have been in this field for 28 years and we sort of know what ticks. But, you have to constantly keep scanning the horizon and watch out for ideas and developments in other sectors also. This gives you something to think about. Even if it’s not directly related to your business, it can makes you think differently and give you new ideas which could be helpful for your business. I feel, if you have an open mind and if you keep your eyes and ears open, learn to connect the dots, you can successfully apply what you have heard to your business. In a nutshell would say be a good listener.
What is the most important quality of a leader ?
(AB): A leader’s role is, first and foremost to set a vision for the organization. But, that is not enough. A successful leader is one who also executes that vision. He realizes that execution is not someone else’s job. He has to have a 360 degrees approach where he not only sets the vision but also helps in the execution. He guides , he monitors and pushes the executors whenever needed. As a Chief Executive Officer you are also the Chief Expediting Officer. When the team sees your involvement and commitment they get motivated and encouraged which makes the task at hand seem easier. As a leader, you need to monitor the progress to make sure you are heading in the right direction and the pace doesn’t slacken. As organizations grow they tend to work in silos and as the leader of any organization, the role is to co-ordinate amongst the different functions and sort of try and break those silos and make it work in tandem towards the common objective.
Can we teach people to become leaders ?
(AB): There are some traits one is born with. I come across a lot of people and I very often feel that some of them don’t have that zing or that X-factor that is required to be a leader. You need to start with something and over the course of our life you build on it and develop it further. While I say this, I would also like to add that the best and the biggest leaders were not born with the best leadership skills in the world, but they had that little something which they worked on. When I look at my team, I look for people who have the ability to lead others and these are the individuals who stand out in the crowd.
Power is something that cannot be given. It has to be taken. You may give a responsibility to a person but how well he exercises it depends totally on that him or her. So giving responsibility and assuming responsibility are two different things and that is where leadership skills become evident, in how people assume certain roles and expand their responsibilities and take things forward.
I personally look out for people with a spark. It’s that indescribable quality which is difficult to define but one can sense it. They have an unique innovative almost intuitive way of thinking, they have an inner drive to excel, and they catch your attention with that extra special spark, which impresses you and you realize that this individual will go a long way.
Everybody gets 24 hours but not everybody gets the same amount of work done in one day. What is your secret to getting so much done in a day ?
(AB): A core tenet of my philosophy is “If someone else can do something don’t do it yourself, and if there is something one is not able to do then identify someone who can do it for you, develop that person, build a relationship of trust with that person.” So very frankly, I really don’t do anything myself. Like any leader my main role is to set the vision, set the goal, push the people, monitor progress, and make sure that different facets of the organization work together. So if you learn to delegate well and avoid being tied down to a responsibility yourself then you can virtually do anything and as many things as you wish because then you are not the limitation.
How does one handle and survive failures?
(AB): There was a time we were down and out but we refused to give up. We were always very sure there would be a way out. Instead of mulling over inconsequential things like why did this happen, it should not have happened, I spend all my time and energy thinking how to resolve the issue and overcome the crisis at hand. So I feel, the most important thing to keep in mind is that even if one has faced failure he or she should never lose self worth. Failure should never allow you to shake your self-confidence. The second thing to remember, when you fail in the eyes of the world you may be a failure but don’t let that bother you.
You need to develop a thick skin. It helps you during your times of failure and success. You can’t let people’s perception of your failure or your success affect you. Lastly, always believe that even when you are faced with the worst of times, there is always a solution and it’s just a matter of discovering that solution. If you try hard enough you will always find that elusive solution. If you are determined to find a way out then you will most certainly overcome any crisis is what I believe.
Is there anyone whom you have admired or anyone who has kept you motivated to go on ?
(AB): Not really. My motivation has been the opportunities out there. I am constantly looking for new opportunities new challenges and that’s what keeps me going ahead and fuels my motivation. There is no individual or a material issue that motivates me. I am not looking at a certain market capitalization, or a certain net worth. These things have never inspired me. I see them as just an outcome of what one does and not the goal that one aspires to achieve. What keeps my mind abuzz, is new ideas whether it’s a product or a new market. Looking forward for the next thing to do is what keeps me motivated and energized and helps me get out of bed every morning.
Work-life balance –is it possible or just an illusion we all are trying to chase?
(AB): Not really, it’s most possible. You need to remember a few things. Be very selective about what you want to get involved with. There will be a whole lot of people who want you on their board or their committee, or be a part of their institution. It’s very important to learn to say no. You have to be very clear in your mind of what you will do and what you will not. You have to ensure daily that you don’t fritter away your time on things or issues that are not important to you. If you take my case as an example then I don’t play golf . That does not mean I have anything against golf. A lot of my dear friends and family members are avid golf enthusiasts, but for me personally I find it very time consuming and I try and avoid any such pursuits. I am happy focusing my time on my work, my family and myself in that order. Despite all work obligations, you need to and you must take out time for family. Work will always be there but the time lost will never come back. If you don’t spend time with your children when they are children, then once they are grow up, it’s too late. Then, you may have the time, but they wont. There are certain things, like spending time with your children, which has to be done regardless of anything else. So, learn to prioritize things and a work-life balance is very much possible.
When you are not creating new brands or exploring new markets what is it that you do to unwind and relax?
(AB): I am not a very social person, but I am not anti-social either. What I mean to say is I am not the kind of person who can’t do without meeting people, without constantly partying. For me, the ideal Sunday is when I don’t have to step out of my house. I may spend my time at home doing some work on my laptop, but staying put at home the whole day is what I would describe as the best way to spend my Sunday. That apart, if I have to relax and rejuvenate I like to workout at home and go for a swim after that. These are the activities I enjoy. I also like to catch up on Hollywood movies, I like to read a lot. The best time to do that is when I am flying long distance. I look forward to these inter-continental flights where I have lots of time to read, watch movies, and I am perfectly happy being alone, for my books and movies are the perfect companions.
Any book that you enjoyed reading recently.
(AB): At this moment I am reading a book by Viktor Frankl titled “A man’s search for meaning.” A small book but with great learnings and very insightful. Being an architect myself, many many years ago I was inspired by Ayan Rand’s book “Fountainhead” and I feel it’s a must read for all architects. This book at that time helped me shape my world views. Over the years, I have read lots of books and many have influenced me. Just recently, I read a very interesting book “Predictably Irrational” and enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I read everything. I am not so much into classics ,I did read a lot of them in school but it’s books like the ones mentioned above that I enjoy reading and learning from.