My Experience as a Trainer

I started my career as a trainer decades ago, fresh out of B-School, still wet behind the ears. My first program was on Feedback and Counselling for Amul. As the twenty-something consultant with two years of experience and a management degree, stood in front of a roomful of experienced managers, I felt terribly inadequate. At that moment I realised I cannot ‘teach’ them but can help them learn. My first mantra as a trainer happened more out of compulsion than design and it has stood me in good stead since then.

Feedback and Counselling gave way to different topics on leadership, managerial effectiveness, skill building but what remained constant was my love for a roomful of people eager to learn. I soon realised that I drew my energy from the participants and hence my first task was to energise them. Through a variety of techniques, humour being one, I connected with them and shed the barrier between a trainer and a learner. I understood what it means to be a facilitator – to be one amongst them, be more knowledgeable but not to flaunt it. 

As I started delving deeper into the world of the learner, I realised training is not just skill building that happens in the classroom. It is a change process and change management principles are necessary for its success. One critical part is to understand and appreciate the environment in which the learner functions. Making that conducive is essential for training to be successful. Before sowing the seed, one needs to ensure that the soil is fertile. My focus thus shifted to pre and post training activities. Making the manager an integral part of the journey became a prerequisite. 

I also became a great proponent of byte sized learning. With attention spans shrinking and learning having to compete with other activities of the brain, small capsules of learning became easy to assimilate and practice. 

I feel privileged to be a trainer. The adrenaline rushes experienced when standing in front of a room full of people, creating those ‘aha’ moments and learning from the collective experience of professionals is what drives me to seek out the next cohort of learners. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         -Sarthak Raychaudhuri

Changing Landscape of Finance Function


I came across an article which was published in The Economic Times highlighting the professional journey of the CFO of Tata Motors, who is interestingly and unexpectedly not a Chartered Accountant or Cost Accountant, yet he is holding the topmost position in Finance function and hitting the top of the salary bracket among the highly placed CFOs within the Tata Group Companies.

Pathamadai Balaji embarked on his professional journey as Management Trainee from HUL and he continued with them for 24 years. His expertise in corporate finance caught the attention of Unilever Management and he was entrusted to head their finance function as Global CFO, HUL, prior to joining Tata Motors in 2017. 

From HR standpoint, Balaji’s emergence as the highest paid CFO within the Tata Group is attributed to a few unconventional reasons:

  1. He is not typically a Chartered Accountant or  Cost accountant (by degree) to be a successful CFO, which opposes the classical belief system/pattern. 
  2. He is a IIT graduate (Madras) along with Diploma in Management from IIM, Calcutta. Engineers are expected to have some added advantage because of their investigative nature, sound judgment, and good analytical skills. And that could be the testimony to his success.
  3. While his engineering experience did boost his logical thinking ability, his Management background might have helped him hone the business advisory capability, which is crucially important to assure alignment between the Finance function and the business.
  4. He might have been effective in striking an equitable balance between value-creation role and value-preservation role. Mostly, the Chartered Accountants are more tilted towards the value-preservation role.
  5. Chartered Accountancy is one of the most exhaustive courses in the Accounts and Finance space. It gives one an overall perspective, encompassing Financial Accounting/Tax/ Audit/Law knowledge/Treasury Management, that are critical to Corporate Governance and Financial Reporting.  Management degree in Finance provides perspective towards Financial Planning, Investors Relations Management, and ROI, which add effectiveness to the business partnering role of CFO. This could be the reason for Balaji’s phenomenal success by way of enhancing business advisory capabilities even in the face of daunting compliance requirements.
  6. Being an external recruit (not a home grown talent) and from a different background did help Balaji bring in a new perspective, cross industry insight or something new to the table. It might be better logic or even creativity. Or sometimes, it could even be a radical leadership or out-of-box thinking. 

During my long-standing corporate career I had found a considerable amount of reluctance from CFOs to induct resources having MBA Finance specialisation in their team…

In today’s volatile business environment, Chartered Accountant’s compliance focus has caused them to lose ground to MBAs in the area of financial planning and analysis. Businesses now prefer proactive risk analysis. Furthermore, companies need to develop a good risk culture, they need to be good risk managers.

According to the employers that hire MBAs and the schools that educate them, MBAs are greatly sought after for their ability to:

✔️Solve complex problems

✔️Deal with ambiguity

✔️Think critically as holistic thinking

✔️Voice for Investor’s community

To summarize, the role of Finance has undergone a change:

From Value Preserver to Value Creator;

From Compliance Service Provider to Business Advisor;

From Custodian of Corporate Governance to Steward of both control and company performance;

From Financial Accounting Role to Finance Business Partnering Role

While globalization, regulation and competition have driven changes in the role of Finance in recent years, investors now have higher expectations for Companies and their finance team. It’s preferred to have blended professionals in the Finance Team comprising of CAs and MBAs with Finance, as the Steward of both controls and company performance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Abhik Sengupta

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Former HR Head, Tata Global Beverages

Do corporates need a mother?


As I was inundated with messages on Mother’s Day, all extolling the virtues of this remarkable person, whose qualities transcend geographies, nationalities, culture and religion, I could not help wondering whether today’s corporates need a mother.

As a child she gave me the liberty to test my boundaries and try out new things without the fear of failure or reprimand. Inadvertently she encouraged me to have the courage to innovate and to dream. These are exactly the qualities needed in a leader today.

Her company provided that safety to be my true self always. All the fears, the guilt and the confessions would come tumbling out. There was no fear of being judged and no masks needed, to hide my inadequacies. If only organisations had a similar non-judgemental culture where everyone could be who they actually are. 

She was the best person to provide feedback and mend our ways, No, not by admonishing but through a patient method of explaining the consequences of our behaviour. There was no angst, no malice, just pure empathy and love to make us a better human being. She taught us what is right and wrong and how to differentiate between the two. If only our feedback process could imbibe the same amount of compassion and genuine concern for the receiver. She conveyed that it is our behaviour she disapproved of, not us. I wish we could similarly distinguish between the performance and the performer while giving feedback. 

When we were short of courage, while facing Dad or the neighbourhood bully, she led from the front. She used all means possible to convey our perspective and would always return triumphant. At the same time, she will disappear when the time came to take credit forcing us to gleefully accept that opportunity. Not sure when Robert Greenleaf coined the term Servant Leadership, he had Mom in his mind. Imagine having leaders stand by you during those tough times and allowing you to corner the limelight during success. 

I wish Mom was here at the corporates to remind us to be fair even when we are not equal, to accept our shortcomings without judging us and give us the courage to take a big leap because she is there if we were to fall. She was the Chief Culture Officer at home and corporates need to have many like her at the workplace. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         -Sarthak Raychaudhuri

Loyalty Factor At Work-Place

The other day I was discussing on a topic of common interest with an old friend when I mentioned that the concept of loyalty is somehow undergoing a change..

Like in management parlance, people mostly talk of personal loyalty as well as organizational loyalty.

Personal loyalty is the loyalty to someone as a person, rather than to a company or organization. Someone who believes in personal loyalty, promotes or  inspires personal loyalty among his employees. In many of the owner-driven companies, personal loyalty is viewed as virtue. The owner expects some of his key employees to remain loyal to him. Personal loyalty is preferred over meritocracy.

Organizational loyalty refers to attachment with the Organization. In our good old days joining an Organization was like a Hindu marriage, only death or retirement could do it apart. But now the situation has undergone a change and there is a shift in the value system. Someone sticking to one Organization is viewed as if he doesn’t have market value or he is a counterfeit coin. One Company loyalty is no longer perceived as virtue. 

The irony is this that we are increasingly getting influenced by western work/social practices which are contextual to their situation but non-conducive to our social fabric or in other words Western Management Style is not aligned with our social situation. In western culture, hiring and firing happen to be a common phenomenon. The similar prevalent custom they have with them is marriage and divorce. It is humorously said that An American changes his car and wife every year

The practice of hiring and firing is the accepted  norm of western work culture but not in India. Similarly, divorce in India is still a social stigma however progressive we may be. So, the frequent/intense occurrences of hiring-firing as well as marriage-divorce do not form part of our cultural DNA..

However in Japan, life time employment or one company loyalty is still their cultural hallmark. Japan does not have premier management institutes but Japanese Management is regarded as the best. Their work place is fine-tuned with social life/situation. We Asians are emotional people and we give lots of weightage to family unity values and social affinity and as a result of high degree of  sociability at their work-place one-company- loyalty factor is very strong in Japan.

“I am a Honda man” a Japanese says very proudly. The engagement with Company is very strong .

Coming to the loyalty factors, between personal and organisational loyalty, there lies professional loyalty which  supersedes all other loyalty factors. 

It was in the year 1999, when I was in Cadila.  I was attending an interview in Allembic for the position of General Manager-HR. I was already a General Manager in Cadila. Allembic offered me the position of  General Manager (HR) as a successor to the outgoing Head of HR who was on the verge of retiring. The offer made was with the understanding that I would be elevated to the position of VP after six months. It was a lucrative offer at that point of time . However, I did not join them…

During the interview discussion with the panel consisting of Top Management Team of Allembic, one of the panel members raised the topic of loyalty. His emphasis was more on organizational loyalty, which I politely disagreed and emphasized on the professional loyalty factor.

There was a small debate on the subject as that panel member happened to differ with me. He kept pressing upon his views on organizational loyalty as he himself spent more than 25 years in Allembic. 

Incidentally, it so happened that the same gentleman (the panel member who argued with me), joined Cadila in 2003 as Senior VP – Strategy & Market Intelligence after  four years  , leaving Allembic  after serving for more than 27 years.. He is a product of IIM, Ahmedabad…By that time he joined us I was elevated to position of VP – HR. We continued as colleagues working together for two years till my departure  from Cadila in 2005..

Someone has said, “Love your job but never fall in love with your company.”

Your contribution value to the organization matters the most. You are the star not because of your loyalty, you become a star because you are adding star-value to the company..

No employee promises lifetime loyalty just like no business promises lifetime job-security…

Professional loyalty is above all…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Abhik Sengupta

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Former HR Head, Tata Global Beverages

Common Threads of Leaderships Between An Entrepreneur & A Politician

One of my friends came with a strange and wild  thought that as  Modi being a  Leader of a high stature, is also equipped with a lot of talents similar to Mr. Ratan TATA. 

He told me, “May  I dare ask you making  a comparison  between the two giants.? If convenient, a SWOT ANALYSIS of them should bring out Modi’s innate qualities and skills, since Mr. Modi is the CEO of India Inc and Mr. Ratan Tata, currently Chairman Emeritus, Tata Sons (previously, Chairman, Tata Group).”

At the outset, I was a bit reluctant to respond, as apparently I found it irrelevant to  map the leadership traits of two different personalities who represent different field of activities. 

However, on a second thought I decided to give it a try to address his question. There is one commonality between Mr. Ratan Tata and Mr. Modi as both believe:

Leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.

Ratan Tata is a very decisive leader. When he took over the Tata Group, he quickly made a number of decisions that helped to turn the company around. He has also been known to make decisions quickly in difficult situations. This ability to make quick decisions is one of the qualities that makes him a great leader.

He succeeded in transforming a deeply entrenched corporate culture by taking on the cadre of barons who had been running the group’s larger companies, replacing them with younger and more dynamic leaders. His first conflict occurred with Rusy Mody..

Rusy was sacked by the TISCO board which was a  end to a memorable 53-year innings. However, Ratan and Rusy again became friends lately..

Another decisive action was taken by Mr. Tata when he handled the two-month-long strike faced by TELCO in 1990.  Lastly in 2O07, Mr. Tata didn’t even think twice to take the Nano unit out of West Bengal, as he didn’t not want to operate the unit at the cost of safety and security of people in the face of  political turmoil in WB at that point in time.

During the 21 years, Mr. Tata led the Tata Group, revenues grew over 40 times, and profit over 50 times. Apart from organic growth, he made few mega-aquisitions such as Tetley, Jaguar, Land Rover  and  Corus.

Similarly, Modi also took some bold, seemingly unpleasant and reformative decisions/actions when he took charge of Prime Minister (such as  Demonetization, Digitalization, GST, Article 370, Surgical Strike, Abolition of Triple Talak, Promulgation of CAA).

While both the leaders resonate with each other in their management and leadership styles to a great extent, they have few unique attributes that reflect in their personalities and modes of behavior..

Ratan Tata is a risk taker, so is Modi.

Ratan Tata is a visionary, so is Modi.

Ratan Tata is  decisive leader, so is Modi.

Ratan Tata is a disruptive innovator, so is Modi.

Ratan Tata is a great patriot, so is Modi

Ratan Tata is a transforming leader, so is Modi.

Ratan Tata has inspiring vision, so does have Modi.

Ratan has a philanthropic mindset, so does have Modi..

Ratan Tata achieved global respectability, Modi achieved global popularity

Ratan Tata is an eloquent communicator, Modi is a powerful communicator.

Ratan Tata is submissively warm, Modi is dominantly warm.

Ratan Tata has grace and elegance, Modi has charm and charisma..

Ratan Tata conducts himself with confidence, courtesy, dignity and humility, Modi conducts himself with focus, resilience, determination and assertion.

Ratan Tata is a man of high values and ethical standards, Modi is extremely honest and a man of  unquestionable integrity

Ratan Tata is humble,  Modi is dogmatic(emphatic)..

Ratan Tata has a democratic style of leadership, Modi’s leadership style has some resemblance with the characteristics of a benevolent autocrat.

Ratan Tata is hardly controversial, Modi is highly controversial(large no of followers as well as critiques)

Ratan Tata knows to inspire others to achieve their best, Modi knows how to coordinate the brains and talents of his associates to extract the best out of them.

Both the stalwarts represent unique mix of different as well as common personality traits..

As the saying goes, the meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

Post announcement  on shifting of Nano unit from West Bengal, the then CM of Gujarat, Modi then sent a SMS to  Ratan Tata, which simply said “Suswagatham” to persuade him to relocate the Nano factory to Gujarat.

The Tata Nano’s journey from West Bengal to Gujarat has had a massive impact on the economies of  Gujarat..

The shift from West Bengal to Gujarat helped Tata Motors establish a new dedicated mother plant with the shortest possible time lag and least possible incremental project cost

What happened next is well-known…..

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Abhik Sengupta

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Former HR Head, Tata Global Beverages

Tale of the Tulip

How a virus caused a speculative bubble.

Amsterdam in the month of April hosts thousands of tourists, thronging the Kuekenhof Gardens- to see the amazing sight of blooming tulips. This year a virus has quelled the cacophony. The prevailing hush amongst the tulips is loud, as the villain spreads itself across Europe . The Tulip sighs. It had faced a similar virus  in the past which was responsible for transforming it to become the undisputed king of all flowers . However in the process it had seen many kings been made who quickly turned into paupers.

The innocuous flower with a multitude of hues strangely has the distinction of being the first asset that drove speculation in the market. The flower was introduced to Europe by Ogier de Busbecq, the ambassador of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, who in turn received it from the Sultan of Turkey in 1554. The Ottoman Empire had 12 gardens of Tulip employing 932 gardeners. Let me tell you the story of how people known for their conservatism and caution could lose their heads over a flower, to the extent that a handful of the most valuable tulip bulbs could change hands for the price of a house.

In the 1620s, Central Europe was in the midst of a fierce 30 year war. Netherlands was quite unscathed by it. Instead its economy prospered driven by sea trade. It saw the emergence of the famous Dutch East India Company. Economic prosperity is a great catalyst for art.   Painters like Rembrandt flourished during this period. The tulip too made its place during this time. It bloomed in the Royal Gardens and rapidly became a coveted luxury item.

Tulips bloom in spring. Subsequently the bulbs are dug up from the ground like onions. These bulbs can be planted to grow flowers in the next season.  Each bulb had certain kind of flower patterns. The single-hued tulips of red, yellow, or white were known as Couleren; the multicolored Rosenor Violetten .

Prior to the 1630s, tulip bulbs were only physically traded among growers in the summer, after they were pulled from the ground, where cash and real assets traded hands. By the 1630s, the market for tulips began to grow. Soon few traders realised that its very seasonal so why not start trading the future production. Florists started buying and selling tulip bulbs still in the ground, using promissory notes. The notes provided welcome credit and liquidity as a new form of currency got created.  However, this approach gave no opportunity to inspect bulbs or to see them flower, provided no guarantee of quality, nor proof that the bulbs actually belonged to the seller, or even existed!

And now comes the virus.the present day villain . Tulip bulbs were infected by colour breaking mosaic virus that resulted in patterns that were unique and uncommon.  The owners of these ‘broken bulbs” hired painters who would paint the flowers. The painting would be sold along with each bulb and a promissory note. The same bulb would be sold 7-8 times, passed from one to other, creating a futures market. Someone described the situation very aptly, it was “normal for florists to sell tulips they could not deliver, to buyers who did not have the cash to pay for them and who had no desire to plant them”. The prices of bulb went up 1000 times. The average price was higher than the annual income of a middle level executive. 

This is when Semper Augustus the legendary tulip made its name.Because of the virus the colour of tulip broke down. They say that there were only a few bulbs and that too the owner refused to sell. The price offered was 10000 guilders. That’s equal to a beautiful mansion in those times.

The bubble burst in the first week of February 1637. In an auction for bulbs at Haarlem, the first offer did not receive bids. The price was reduced but still no bids. The price was reduced further with the same results. The bulbs went unsold! There was panic all around. People rushed out to tell their friends to sell off.  The once-plentiful liquidity provided by outside speculators dried up nearly instantaneously. Bulbs got sold at 1-5 percent of the original price. Within days complete investment went to zero

When the crash happened, some florists who had paid only small deposits still owed bulb owners huge sums of money. With the collapsed market, florists raised their hand and announced their inability to pay. They simply did not have the money.  On February 23, growers went to court and proposed that the florist buy the bulbs at 10 percent of the agreed-upon selling price. The Courts refused to intervene and asked the cases to be resolved mutually. The growers and florists had no other option but to do so.

The ‘Tulipmania’ can be considered as the first economic bubble to burst. However there are different schools of thought regarding the validity of its impact. While most agree that Tulips were used as futures trading, many believe that the impact was not as widespread. It is not that every part of the society or numerous companies went bankrupt because of it. The proponents of this thought attribute this hype to Dutch Calvinists who were worried that the Tulip induced consumerism will lead to societal decay.

The tale of the Tulip is an often  repeated story of human greed overcoming rationality. When the price of an asset increases significantly beyond its true value a bubble is formed. According to any natural law such a state is always unstable. The world has seen  many bubbles since. The British Railway Bubble (1864) Wall Street (1929), dot com (2000) and the housing bubble (2007). The story is the same. Unfortunately the most learned specie refuses to learn from them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         -Sarthak Raychaudhuri

Should the Economy Wear a Mask?

Are the covid appropriate behaviour relevant for the economy as well? Or should it behave differently

After much debate, points and counterpoints from experts and one hundred and eighty degree turns from respected health institutions the matter is settled. We must all wear masks in public. It is as much to keep ourselves safe from others as it is the other way round. The decision on the other factor – social distancing – was far more easy and unanimous. But what about the economy? Should it too follow these two principles to remain safe?

The virus has introduced new semantics in our day  to day language – containment, isolation and quarantined. Should the economy also start using these words? Some countries are. The United States has ‘contained’ its borders for the next 60 days with no immigration. While trying to isolate the virus, we are simultaneously trying to isolate China. We started practising economic distancing, trying to be self- sufficient in our entire supply chain. India modified its trade barriers to protect itself from marauding neighbouring investors.  The virus has accelerated the journey that stared with Brexit of ‘to each his own’. Only after a not so veiled threat from US did India change its stand on Hydroxyquinine.

Today there are eight different teams involved in discovering a drug or vaccine for the virus.  I am sure there are numerous others whom the world is unaware of. Except for one based in Oxford University none are multi country teams. The rewards of being the inventor is so high that we forget that the enemy is common. The famous Prisoner’s Dilemma game based on Game Theory has taught us how greed can lead to collective failures. While we compete against each other to fight a common enemy, numerous lives are being lost every day because of the delay.

History is testament to the fact, that the best way to defeat a common enemy is to join forces. Kingdoms who were staunch enemies have come together to fight a bigger threat. In the world of business, mergers have happened between two big competitors when both were at risk. Unfortunately the world today continues to look within and practice distancing from other nations even when the enemy is common.  

The pandemic has exposed us to a few stark realities. First there is a complete breakdown of trust between nations. While it was not out in the open, it is evident from how one is willing to help others only after their own needs have been fulfilled.  For all the G8 and G20 Summits, the world has failed to come together as a community. We watched other countries suffer but was busy securing ourselves.

Second it exposed us of lack of world leadership. Whether individual or institution. The World Health Organisation will always be found guilty of its inability to rise to the occasion. Their volte face on simple things like the need for a mask has left a lot to be desired. They failed to come up with either a point of view or kept changing their views with regards to dealing with the pandemic. It was also an excellent opportunity for a statesman to rise to the occasion. Unfortunately all leaders were wearing masks protecting themselves. And the one not wearing a mask was busy finding the villain of ‘China virus’.

Finally this environment of lack of trust and leadership does not auger well for world economy. We may be slowly inching back towards the pre-WTO days. At a time when every economy is trying to recover, removal of economic distancing and supporting others will be the best way to overcome the challenge. It is now, more than any time in the past, that we need the world to be flat. The virus did not differentiate when it attacked, so we must remove difference if we have to recover.  

While the health experts insist that we wear a mask and practice social distancing, the economy should not heed to this advice. The only way to deal with the devastating aftermath of the pandemic will be to come together, cooperate and collaborate . This is true not only amongst countries but also amongst states within a country. Let’s not forget the enemy is common and so is our goal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         -Sarthak Raychaudhuri

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