Workplace in 2020 and the challenges leadership will have to face
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It was one of those rare occasions and proud moments when a global business leader like Nitin Paranjpe comes down to campus to share his leadership experiences and to groom the next breed of leaders. Mr. Paranjpe, himself a management graduate, has climbed up the ranks to lead the country’s largest FMCG Company. HUL has always been the dream employer on the IIM Lucknow campus. However, HUL’s connection with IIM Lucknow stretches beyond the hectic placement week. Just a month back, IIML hosted the zonal finals of HUL LIME, one of the biggest B-school events in the country.
Leading a company which serves every home and touches lives of millions is not only exciting and challenging but also involves enormous responsibility. Leadership comes with experience. Speaking from his own treasured years at HUL, Mr. Paranjpe shared his views on how the workplace has changed in the last two decades he has spent in the industry.
Mr. Paranjpe set the tone for the evening with the idea that in the future, two worlds, one of change and another one of opportunity, would exist. And both would be interdependent, one cannot exist without the other. Speaking on the swift pace of change in the world, Mr Paranjpe quoted “Change is not new and is part of our lives, day-in and day-out”. Mr. Paranjpe referred to a book: ‘Future Shock’ when he quipped that almost everything that we consider indispensible today has been invented in a fraction of human history. He further expiated by saying “Therefore, all these things will become redundant. The rate of change is insurmountable, so no one can predict change and how it will impact us.” Mr. Paranjpe took the example of some of the biggest changes that have happened in last few years to further stress on the rapid pace of change in today’s environment. He argued that “Nobody could have predicted Google or Facebook or You Tube, before they actually became reality.”
However, adding another dimension to his earlier thoughts, Mr Paranjpe said that some things are for sure to happen in the future – “like information becoming universal and political boundaries becoming insignificant. But this is just one side of the coin; Globalization will be accompanied by emergence of counter currents and friction.” He elaborated on this through the concept of slow food movement in Northern Europe, where people have rebelled against fast food culture. To quote Mr Paranjpe - “We are missing on small joys of life such as enjoying our meals because of the materialistic rush. These are the challenges for the leaders. Leaders should be able to pick-up these cues and be able to foresee the trends.”
The future workplace will be full of challenges and out-of-the-box thinking would be required by future leaders to remain on top of things. Mr. Paranjpe said “Two sets of generations will exist in the changing workplaces. One that would think work is life and the other that considers work to be just as important but still just a part of life. These paradoxes are bound to exist and the challenge is to handle the aspirations of the both the generations.”
The other challenge that Mr. Paranjpe talked about was the growing aspirations of two-third of the world that exists in the developing countries. He explained that the growing size of this segment would require 5 times the existing world resources, which puts onus on the corporates to evolve business models that can sustainably cater to their demands.
Focusing on India, Mr. Paranjpe quoted that “India has been in limelight for last 3-4 years and as Indians we enjoy hearing India Shining and overtaking the giants of the world to become the next superpower. But there is a deep underbelly to this and the contrast is quite prominent. We produce maximum number of engineers and doctors but we are also among the nations with maximum illiterates. We may have some of the richest people in the world but we are not short of below the poverty line people. Aspirations of both rich and poor have become homogeneous, possibly because of booming media, but the means to manage these aspirations remain heterogeneous. The big divide between the haves and the have-nots is still increasing and quite predictably people may run out of patience.”
In the next decade, there will be far more challenges at the workplace that leaders will have to face considering India’s growth story. Stressing on this fact Mr . Paranjpe urged the students to take a front seat in shaping the future of the country.
Mr. Paranjpe said that “The only sustainable model he can foresee is the one which is socially responsible. CSR has changed drastically over the years. The act of running a business and the act of giving back to society are no more mutually exclusive. They are coming closer and the solution is the intersection of these two circles. However, the intersection is still very small and there is a need to awaken our conscience and not be intellectually lazy. A model which is not only good for the business but also for the society is the need of the hour.” Mr. Paranjpe said that HUL recognizes this as part of the organizational goal and plans to double the size of business while reducing the size of environmental footprints by half. He gave examples on how HUL has taken a step in this direction. Surf Excel, one of the company’s leading brands, offers an innovative and environment friendly solution by reducing the water required for rinsing by half. At the same time it is a good consumer proposition. Purit, another innovative product, which promises safe drinking water and follows stringent safety measures, addresses the needs and issues of the most vulnerable section of the society. It not only reduces the risk of diseases but also reduces the use of energy. He did not shy away from the fact that all these ideas are meant to increase business for the company. But he also stressed that social good was the motivation while designing these products. He urged the students to cultivate similar ideas but also advocated patience saying “ It will require tremendous amount of effort from their end.”
Responding to a question by a student on the requirement for guided aid by larger companies to SMEs, Mr. Paranjpe elaborated on his interaction with late professor C.K Prahlad. He said “The difference between managers and entrepreneurs is in the mindset. Managers are characterized by abundance of resources over ambition. They manage resources. While entrepreneurs have ambitions much higher than the resources and they stretch the available resources to meet their ambitions. Innovation is the key driver. There is a need to constantly create inequality between ambitions and resources to innovate.
Mr Paranjape concluded his talk by saying that students are the hope of the nation and they need to believe in themselves. Speaking to a jam packed room of students; Mr. Paranjpe said “We are limited by our ability to imagine and not by our capabilities. India has not always been poor and was a rich country in the past. But because of a series of unfortunate events we remain a poor country. In the past, we missed out on the industrial revolution and were untouched by it due to isolation. We were far too divided and allowed others to plunder us. We cannot afford to miss the knowledge revolution. This is our second opportunity to make it big. “
The room was all charged up with 250 odd budding leaders. Mr. Paranjpe patiently answered the array of questions, raised by the inquisitive minds during the 2 hour long session, through elaborate examples from his life and his experience at HUL. Students thanked Mr. Paranjpe for the inspirational talk and for sharing his insights.
This session was a part of HUl’s ‘Learn 2 Lead’ program. “Learn to Lead” aims at sharing HUL Leader’s perspective and experiences on leadership, with the students, through a common theme -“Workplace in 2020 and the challenges leadership will have to face”.