What we think | Practitioners Perspectives

How does a Number One company maintain Excellence and Aspire for more?

Practitioner:

Vivek Saraogi

CEO & MD of Balrampur Chini Mills Ltd
VIVEK SARAOGI is the CEO & MD of Balrampur Chini Mills Ltd, the largest integrated sugar manufacturing company in India. He is the former President of the Indian Sugar Mills Association. He was a committee member of FICCI and the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata. Under his stewardship, the Company has grown rapidly through organic and inorganic means. This has helped Balrampur Chini Mills emerge as a leader in the Indian sugar industry. In this article, Mr Saraogi talks about managing and leading during the pandemic, the importance of succession planning, empowering and building hunger in leaders and how being number one does not mean you stop aspiring.
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How has your leadership transformed during this pandemic?

Fortunately for us, our industry was least impacted by the pandemic. The farmer did not stop bringing cane as it was the State Government mandate, so we kept running through the pandemic and my team did a great job. But this has had a deep impact on me emotionally. As a leader and as a human being and as someone who god has been kind to, the responsibility on me doubles. When people seek your leadership and guidance, you must step up and act as a leader. You must forget money and business at times. Therefore, this pandemic has made me more sensitive.  

What kind of innovations did you experiment with during these times?

I think innovation was forced. One fine morning, we had to lock up and work from home. But the team, right from the farmer to our banker, rallied behind the objective and last year in May, we sold the highest quantity of sugar in any given month. So, everybody learnt on the job including me. It also showed us what we are capable of. Sometimes when you are pushed against the wall, you realise you have double the power. So let us always realise and remember what we are capable of.

Given the chance, ambience, the right hunger and talent, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Hire for Hunger. Empower for Ownership.

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You have developed other leaders. What have you learnt about moving leaders from Good to Great to World Class?

Developing leaders is a two-way street. The first thing you should develop in leaders is hunger. Once they start getting hungry, they will want and crave more. If we can create this hunger, our work is half done and they will start to pull you instead of you pushing them. Create a want or need in them, not for money but for success, respect and higher leadership without arrogance. This will help them to go from Good to Great to World Class.

In family run organisations, how does empowerment work?

Empowerment works in two ways. First as a patriarch, you must see yourself as a trustee and second, you must be a bit detached from the results. Have a birds-eye view over the operations, only then you will empower your team. In other words, for empowerment to happen, disengagement is required. When leaders are empowered and given the chance, they sometimes deliver better than you. Given the chance, ambience, the right hunger and talent, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

How do you decide when to bring in outside talent into the organisation?

There is no formula for this. For every need, the question comes up as to whether it should be an internal promotion or an external hire. If a Shift Engineer gets promoted through the system and becomes the Head of the Engineering Department, then that is a great achievement and an aspiration for someone who just joined as a Shift Engineer. But there are times when you need an outside-in perspective. This is something you discover down the road with every vacancy. It also depends on your vision or goal. If you want to run 100mts, you will wear one type of shoe and if you were running 1000mts, you will wear a different kind of shoe. First decide how far you want to run and build your shoe accordingly.

How do you get succession right?

We are just in the process and we are following a very well thought out plan. Whoever is succeeding, should be worthy of succeeding. It is about selecting the right talent and choosing those who have a leadership trait. There is a difference between succession for ownership and succession to Management. The success of Management depends on talent, hunger and ability and nobody should be allowed into any place that they do not deserve to be.

If you are number one, what are other CEOs learning from you?

I have no clue! All I know is my team and I learn every day and we want to learn every day. We look at which other companies in the sugar industry are doing better than us and in which vertical. Some are more efficient technically, some are more efficient on cane, some have better quality in certain aspects, etc. We are lacking success is what we feel. I feel we are number one in maybe one facet, while being 2nd or 3rd in others. The aspiration should be to be number one in all facets. And once we reach there, we should be able to retain it. That is the goal, and we are far from that. Complacency is your biggest enemy.

You are number one in your industry; how do you decide how much more to aspire for?

It’s a team effort. There has to be aspiration in every individual. It also must be driven by excellence and not numbers. Numbers can be down one year and up the next, but it is excellence that lasts a lifetime. As a team and as a company, the look and thirst for excellence and doing things the right way and the best way is our motto. The excellence, the experience and a good team will help in building a good business.

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In your leadership position, how do you achieve the balance between body, mind, heart and soul?

I’m still striving to achieve that. It is important to stay fit in whatever way possible. If you are not physically fit, you cannot be mentally fit and vice versa. They both go hand in hand. Fitness is what we owe ourselves and our organisation, which has branded us as their CEO. If you are not fit mentally and physically, then step down or step up and own the position. If you are not fit, you are being irresponsible.

How do you sustain your soul?

By being compassionate to people around you. Compassion should be treated as a form of maintenance for the soul. If you are doing what you are supposed to do and a little more than that, if you don’t cheat, bully, or do wrong things, it gives you a good night’s sleep. It is like how cricket was played in the old days, as a gentleman’s game. You can still win by playing a straight gentleman’s game. Being straight makes great business sense. If for example, you are a good borrower, you get more money at a lower cost. And you get that by simply doing what you are supposed to do. Playing straight lets you sleep at night and it gives you a competitive edge. Why is that complicated?

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given?

Be true to your commitment. Think before you commit and right or wrong, you must live up to it. Once you commit, your word is your bond.

Your humility is very inspiring. Any words on that?

We are mere mortals. The faster we understand that, the better for us. We should not allow immortality, or some bullet proof idea to creep into our way of being. There are forces way beyond us, and this pandemic is proof that we are mere mortals. Hence, why shouldn’t our conduct with our family, colleagues and others reflect that. Why should there be any other trait?

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