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Lessons in business from Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

Last updated on: January 29, 2010 09:39 IST
As part of a unique iniative to help its students learn from the best, ISB Hyderabad organised the 'Shadow a CEO' programme where three of its students met and spent a day with three stalwarts of Indian industry -- NR Narayana Murthy, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and KV Kamath.

In the first part of this series, Chaitanya Sagar Bethu (ISB Class of 2010) shares his experience of spending the day with Narayana Murthy, chief mentor, Infosys. In the second part, Ajay Lakhotia (ISB Class of 2010) shares his experience of spending the day with former managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank KV Kamath.

It the third part, Kriti Mehra (ISB Class of 2010) shares her experience of meeting Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, CEO of Biocon.  

My decision to shadow a CEO was driven from a belief that there are factors that differentiate those who excel in business from others. What sets them apart? How are they able to build a company? What do they keep doing consistently well? There was no better way to learn first-hand about these factors than by shadowing Ms Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, one of the most successful CEOs in India and an icon of woman achievement.

The day started with a CII conference on why are women a small percentage on the boards in India. Ms Shaw was a part of the accomplished panelists of women leaders. The discussion brought out some key points on how women must take proactive steps to make a mark in the corporate world. The panelists unanimously attributed the sparse population of women in key leadership roles to the tendency of women to remain in their comfort zone and avoid networking. They highlighted that women in leadership roles are risk takers and can make an impact if they find a place on the board of company.

The panel emphasised that to aim for a place on a board, one must develop a rich experience in a core function, enhance communication skills and develop a bent of mind to observe industry trends.

We then attended a meeting with the Oncology team. This was a quarterly meeting to felicitate the sales team on its performance and to discuss the way forward in terms of product focus. During this meeting, Ms Shaw first congratulated the team for a great effort. She apprised the sales team of the progress of product development of their product portfolio. She emphasised that the team should be knowledge-led in their marketing. The session brought out the fact that CEO's knowledge of minute details of product development, competitive landscape and performance of products in the markets and ability to effectively communicate this knowledge to the sales force can serve as a significant confidence building factor for them.

Ms Shaw displayed leadership by demonstrating the importance of acknowledging the efforts of the entire sales force irrespective of whether they met their targets. It brings in team spirit and a collective celebration of success.

This was followed by a meeting with the new employees. During this session, Ms Shaw encouraged the new employees to be entrepreneurial and focused on innovation. She emphasised that it was okay to make mistakes as long as one learnt from them. Next on the agenda was a meeting with Cellworks on possible synergies for future business. It became apparent from the meeting that Ms Shaw participated in the technical discussions of the company which enabled informed and sound decision making for the short-term and the long-term. Observing interactions with her team during the discussion also made it apparent that every team member's opinions were given equal weight and that she had truly built a team of equals.

During our interaction during the day, she emphasised the importance of entrepreneurship for creating jobs in the country. She mentioned that students with a business background are well-equipped with the fundamentals of business and therefore should actively consider pursuing entrepreneurship. She also mentioned that entrepreneurship has been traditionally misconstrued as an option for risk-takers. She mentioned that it is necessary to understand that entrepreneurship is about risk management and not risk taking.

Through the experience of observing a CEO through the day, a common theme for effective leadership emerged. A CEO has to be able build a strong and loyal team and the actions he/she takes should be geared in that direction. It is essential for the CEO to communicate the culture of the company and what the company stands for to the new employees on the first day. It is essential for the leader to emphasise the importance of ethics to the employees -- new and old on an ongoing basis.

A CEO has to inculcate the ability to motivate employees at various levels. He/she has to take part in the hiring decisions of the top management in order to keep the core culture of the company intact. Thus the role of an effective CEO goes far beyond the boardroom, into the day-to-day working of the company, building the culture of the company and keeping the company together.

Reader invite

Met Mr Murthy or learnt a lesson or two from Prof Prahalad? Share with us stories of interactions with your idols and what you learnt from those dynamic women and men. Write in to with the subject 'I met my idol' and we'd love to publish the most inspirational stories right here!

Kriti Mehra