Attention, Future Corporate Stars! KM Birla Shares 5 Secrets About Sustainability, Hidden Strength
Business, Billionaire Style
The year 2020 has delivered a double opportunity for business leaders. It’s not just a time to reflect upon the year that went by and the one that has begun. It is also a chance to take a holistic view of the two decades past as we step into the third 10-year period of this millennium. Industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla (R) concurs with this.
Birla, 53, who has a reported net worth of nearly $6 billion, recently shared a 10-page long piece on a social media platform, encapsulating his learnings over the past few years. Here is an abridged version of the text:
“Dominant scale is not just about size. It is equally about achieving the widest reach, while replicating quality and service standards across markets. When that happens, you truly become the number one choice of customers,” writes the chairman of the Aditya Birla Group.
(In pic: KM Birla at the 54th Convocation of IIM Ahmedabad in March 2019)
Birla believes that the next phase of growth and scale for all his businesses will come from what he calls unlikely handshakes. He writes, “The new age way in which business will create value shall come by gearing with unconnected growth engines emanating from ‘seemingly’ disparate industries and companies. The linear concepts of value chain will be challenged by a new mesh of interconnections.”
Birla gives the example of the health insurance business creating an ecosystem comprising fitness wearable companies, gyms, pharmacies, dieticians and wellness coaches to make his point.
(In pic - from left: Vedanta Resources Chairman Anil Agarwal, Kotak Mahindra Bank MD & CEO Uday Kotak, KM Birla, Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran and RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani enagaged in conversation)
No list of learnings in this day can be complete without a mention of digital. “In the digital world, incrementalism counts for little,” writes Birla. There is no room for half measures, as he quotes Jeff Immelt of GE, who said, “Half measures are death for big companies, because people can smell lack of commitment. When you undertake a transformation, you should be prepared to go all the way to the end. You’ve got to be willing to plop down money and people. You’ve got to be all in.” In the light of these words, digital transformation, to Birla, entails rethinking assumptions about existing business models. And real digital transformation cannot be delivered unless a business goes ‘all in’ to make that quantum leap.
(In Pic: KM Birla (R) with his entrepreneur-wife Neerja Birla)
“When historians put 2019 in perspective, it will perhaps be marked as the year that saw a quantum leap in the climate change narrative,” Birla feels. Think Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist, who has become the face of the global climate change battle, and who Birla credits with possibly being the “conscience of Gen Z”.
“This generation is born into a posthedonistic world — where the choices they make will be influenced not just by considerations of personal good but also of how they impact the world 50 years from now. You can agree with them. You can disagree with them. But you can no longer ignore them,” Birla writes.
If there is one key takeaway from Birla’s note, it is the constant focus on building an energised workforce. As a note to self for doing better, here are Birla’s tips: Seek purpose in the work you do, and be genuine, as genuine intent and effort can be the difference between good and great. As a business leader, break the mould, make space for disruptors. “Organisational culture can very quickly create an assembly line of ‘similarsounding’ and ‘similarbehaving leaders’. It’s important to break the mould. In today’s world, homogeneity of leadership can be counter-productive,” Birla writes.
At the start of the note, Birla writes that this new world is not for the faint hearted. But with learnings like these, young professionals will be better prepared to take the challenge head on.