How Asian Paints grooms its future leaders

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Asian Paints is one home-grown company, which has nurtured and produced many leaders, for the industry and across sectors be it retail, FMCG or paints.

How does one differentiate between a business and an organisation? A successful business will make money but a successful organisation will cultivate leaders—leaders who are not necessarily part of its own system, but people who take on leadership roles in the industry.

Asian Paints is one home-grown company, which has nurtured and produced many such leaders, for the industry and across sectors—retail, FMCG or paints. At the monthly meet of NHRDN Bengaluru, a group of such leaders shared how Asian Paints contributed to their leadership growth.

This group consisted of Jalaj Dani, a second-generation scion of one of the founding families, who turned entrepreneur this month, but until last month was president-HR and head of supply chain and chemicals business at Asian Paints; Amitabha Sinha, former head-corporate personnel & HRD, who spent a large part of his formative years—close to a decade—at Asian paints; Ashish Dikshit, CEO at Madura Fashion & Lifestyle, and Sundaresan Arumbakkam, CEO, JSW Paints – both alumni of Asian Paints.
“Asian Paints been a story of people, empowerment and  hiring smart people.”

Jalaj DaniThis session was moderated by yet another former employee of Asian Paints – Sudheesh Venkatesh, who is currently chief people officer—Azim Premji Foundation.

(L-R: Jalaj Dani, Amitabha Sinha, Ashish Dikshit, Sundaresan Arumbakkam & Sudheesh Venkatesh)

Sudheesh initiated the discussion for the evening by pointing out how rare the occasion is, with people from Asian Paints—known to be a shy company—coming and speaking at a public forum. The shyness, however, doesn’t reflect in its business growth. Asian Paints, which completed 75 years in 2017, has had a 10 per cent growth in revenue and a 15 per cent growth in return on capital year on year, for 19 years in the last 20 years and Asian Paints is the only Indian company to have achieved this.

“Asian Paints, as an organisation, allowed people to take ownership of the company and the basic lessons that were taught or one went through made one an operationally fit manager or a sound manager.”

Amitabha Sinha

Responding to Sudheesh’s question on how Asian Paints has managed to successfully stay put as a professionally run promoter driven company, Dani said, “It’s been a story of people, empowerment and  hiring smart people.”

Jalaj explained how it was never a crime to make mistakes at Asian Paints and the company still believes so. It encourages people to contribute to different functions, allows them to make mistakes and learn from them.

Talking further on the empowerment, Sinha recalled how in his first year, he experienced a strike at an Asian Paints factory. It so happened that the workers out there wanted to speak to the company. Sinha, for whom it was his first job, and who was just a year old in the company, said that he was the company.

The point that Sinha was trying to make was how Asian Paints, as an organisation, allowed people to take ownership of the company and the basic lessons that were taught or one went through made one an operationally fit manager or a sound manager.

Talking about leadership opportunities at Asian Paints, Dikshit mentioned how one learnt the nitty-gritties of execution because Asian Paints lets its managers test the waters earlier than usual, making them more sturdier, grounded and aware of values of righteousness.
“Asian Paints lets its managers test the waters earlier than usual, making them more sturdier, grounded and aware of values of righteousness.”

Ashish DikshitEchoing a similar sentiment on the practice of throwing its managers into the deep at Asian Paints, Sundaresan mentioned how he was given the opportunity to lead international business at Egypt when he had not even been a branch manager in the domestic market. This prepared him to manage various situations, which he wasn’t exposed to earlier.

Sundaresan shared how Asian Paints, as a company, places immense trust on the strength of its managers, by letting them do whatever they feel but at the same time grooming them along way.

Both Dani and Sinha concurred how Asian Paints always hired people who not only excelled academically, but also valued excellence. It preferred people with middle-class values and had a point of view without being rude, and if there was a stereotype at Asian Paints, this was it.“Asian Paints, as a company, places immense trust on the strength of its managers, by letting them do whatever they feel but at the same time grooming them along way.”

Sundaresan Arumbakam

Dani drew attention to the fact that even now when Asian Paints goes to campuses for recruitment, one quality it looks for in people is humility.  

Talking about how Asian Paints allows people to take ownership and shows immense confidence in them, Ponnapa PG, the former head of marketing of the organisation, shared a small incident:

A customer had complained to the chairman and demanded a reimbursement for a paint work that had apparently gone wrong. The local manager had already promised to deliver certain things, which the chairman was unaware of. As a result, he promised more to the customer. However, when he learnt what the manager had committed earlier, he reversed his own decision and chose to honour the manager’s decision.

That’s what Asian Paints is all about.