Blessed are the Meek

Here are some excerpts of my interview with the Corporate Dossier, Economic Times, dated December 2009:

He loves to duck. At 37, Nikhil Nanda , the Joint Managing Director of Escorts Group, is a firm believer in the invisible hand. A co-promoter of the construction-to-agricultural equipment conglomerate, along with father Rajan Nanda, Nikhil lets his leadership team do the talking when it comes to business.

The suave and soft-spoken entrepreneur wants to prove a point in business — it’s possible to run a conglomerate with an ear to the ground.

Describe your job

My job is to continue to build Escorts, an engineering company, by bringing in products to give solutions to the end-consumer, be it in agriculture, construction equipment machines, or auto components. We want to innovatively engineer and manufacture products to make the lives of our consumers easier.

Is your job a hand-me-down?

It’s a journey. We’re all handed responsibilities. Since my grandfather started this company, I see it as a legacy that I’m a part of. My job is to really understand where India is, where consumption and the market is, and how, as an entrepreneur, I can ensure that we are firing on all cylinders and delivering all possible values across the organisation’s chains— from research and development to the actual delivery of an experience.

What is your constant focus?

My job is to create an environment and a culture that brings out the best in individuals. To achieve that, my focus is to create values within the organisation.

When do you start and finish work?

I have a 10-11 hour day. I’m in office by 8.30am. But I’m always working and don’t have to be physically tied to my desk for it.

What would be your advice for business executives?

The most important factor to be successful in the business community is to have inter-personal skills. Of course, you need to have the talent and the core competence from the knowledge point of view. But interpersonal skills are very important if you want to lead any organisation.

More specifically, what would be your advice to them in a volatile world?

It is very important to be physically present in the marketplace; you should not view the world from your desk. I also think we need to reduce the number of layers — from the man who is representing your company on the ground to the topmost bosses of the company — without compromising on efficiency, standard operating procedures or governance. In short, we need to be closer to the customer.

What do you expect from your CEOs?

My top leadership team has to ensure that the fabric of the organisation has the right processes and systems in place to create an environment with the right balance.

How do you achieve buy-in?

The day you can match the objectives of the company with the objectives of the individual, you have buy-in.

What’s been your smartest business decision?

I wouldn’t know what is smart (laughs). I’d like to feel good about life every day. I’m not looking for a moment for myself, but for my company. We recently designed a few products from scratch in our construction and tractor business. In terms of technology application, it is at par with any multinational company. This makes me feel very proud.

Your biggest mistake in business?

Mistakes are inevitable since they help you shape up as a mature and balanced leader. So we make mistakes in our day-to-day lives. I learn from my mistakes, though I can’t recall a mistake that’s hounding me even now. I have a tendency to listen more than talk. So before I take a decision, I ensure that I’m surrounded by people whom I respect in terms of their talent and experience. So decision-making, to that extent, becomes easier. That consensus, perhaps, helps in reducing mistakes.

Who has been your biggest influence?

People around me. My executives, it can be my workmen, my customers, everybody around me. I learn from them on a daily basis. But Steve Jobs has inspired me most. I’ve never met him, but he shaped our world, shrunk it and connected it. He’s created a product that all age groups can use. I admire the man.

Where would you go from here?

We are very fortunate to be in the four verticals that we operate in — agri-machinery, construction, railway business and automotive components. They are flourishing and I see no need to diversify further.

How important is money to you?

Money is the means. Profit is important for every business but your aim cannot be the money alone. The value that you need to provide should generate the means. Money and profit are the result of your effort and strategy. Profit is a cost of staying in business.

Has your job put your personal life under duress?

I love what I do, though I can’t spend the amount of time I would like to with my family. But my philosophy is that in my life I would like to do something for India as an entrepreneur and give back something to society through my company, which gives jobs to people and makes a difference to the common man. Just like the Tatas, the first thing that comes to mind is the word ‘respect’. I want Escorts to be in the same league where, through innovation, it earns respect the world over.

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