As Shashikanth KS was growing up in Bengaluru, where his father was employed as a scientist with Hindustan Aeronautics, he aspired to become an actor. He was quite an active member of the dramatic society at his school and college.
At one point, he also planned to actively pursue a career in sports, as he loved to play cricket and badminton.
Destiny, however, had something different in store for Shashikanth. He couldn’t pursue acting as a profession, nor could he become a professional sportsperson. However, he did climb up the ladder fast in the corporate world in a span of 25 years. His over-two-decade-long career saw him dabbling in many functions, starting from cost accountancy and consultancy, to business strategy, planning, and marketing to HR, and now he holds the position of COO of the popular Indian tea-café chain, Chai Point.
Shashikanth started out as an accountant with Tatra Udyog (now Tatra Vectra Motors), a manufacturer of heavy-duty off-road trucks, after completing his professional degree in cost accountancy. Later, he moved to a BPL Group company, Electronic Research Limited (ERL).
Sharing his experience on his first job, he recalls, “Col. Shenoy, who was a top executive in the company at that time, was an ex-serviceman. I always looked up to him as a great leader and wanted to become like him.”
However, Shashikant was not content and wanted to achieve more. In 2002, he took a break to pursue his MBA from IIM Bangalore. For securing a seat at IIM, Shashikant had to go through CAT (common admission test), and prepare for the tests; he worked during the day and studied for the tests at night. He considers himself lucky to have been able to crack the examination, but the determination and hard work cannot be undermined.
Shashikant has changed paths quite often and, that too, with conviction. His father, being a scientist, wanted his son to follow the same path. Shashikant enrolled to study pure science (physics, chemistry and mathematics) during graduation. However, within one month, the young man changed his subjects to economics, statistics and mathematics.
He quips, “Till date, my father isn’t aware that I had voluntarily changed my subjects.”
Immediately after completing his PG diploma from IIM Bangalore, Shashikanth spent a few years in the IT sector. First, a very short stint with Wipro and then later, Infosys. At both these places he was into business strategy and planning. The turning point for Shashikanth’s career came at the Aditya Birla Group, where he spent more than a decade.
It is there that he got the opportunity to work in different functions of the retail business — operations, strategy, marketing and HR.
“At Aditya Birla Retail, there were leaders, who trusted my capabilities and gave me new roles,” shares Shashikanth
He joined the Group in 2007, and in 2010, he was entrusted with the task of leading the strategy and operations of the western region business.
The business in the western region was always considered tough. It was said to be extremely difficult to turn cities, such as Mumbai — where the real-estate cost was really high — into profit centres. Shashikanth took up the challenge, and as the regional head, he ensured that the western region turned profitable in a few years.
“I remember that I was working for almost 12 to 14 hours every day. I took up that role when no one else was ready to. Thomas Varghese and Ramesh Mitragotri, who were the CEO and CHRO, respectively, of Aditya Birla Retail, at that time, showed great trust in me and gave me this opportunity,” shares Shashikanth with gratitude.
Though it may sound exciting and vibrant, it’s not always an easy walk for any professional to step into different roles and functions so frequently. However, Shashikanth was able
to do this successfully, putting in efforts to understand the business and the requirement of each role.
Shashikanth mentions three things that helped him prepare for a new role each time. First, understanding what is expected differently from you in the new role; second, understanding the requirements and expectations of the managers; and third, identifying the key stakeholders that vary from role to role.
“These different experiences have given me an all-round perspective of the retail business. It is very important to understand the requirements of your managers and stakeholders when you are essaying different roles.Even though I used to struggle in the beginning, gradually, I was able to learn from my mistakes,” says Shashikanth.
After a successful stint as the regional head, Shashikanth went on to become the marketing head of the supermarkets business, and later on, the HR head.
Sharing what he has learnt from HR, Shashikanth says, “HR has helped me become a far more sensitive leader.”
“The HR experience has taught me talent management — in terms of both hiring the right talent and retaining them. And these are useful skills in any management role. While HR is soft, it is also a critical aspect of an organisation,” asserts Shashikanth.
He loves to interact with young upcoming professionals, and always advises them to maintain a learning outlook whenever anything new comes their way. He urges them to be committed to their work and always be open to change.
(This article was first published in the HRKatha print magazine)