Human Capital Outlook

‘First time’ CEO’s in the Indian Technology space – An internal Redileon study

In India, business today operates in a high risk world, has little tolerance for mistakes and is getting ever more complex & challenging. This is true for any business, however more profound for the IT business. How companies start and grow, their leitmotifs and business propositions have been on a change trajectory. Companies are expected to meet the dynamic demands of customers, investors, employees, channel partners. This pressure from all sides falls squarely on the CEO, whose position has never been tougher. Difficult decisions must be made quickly but thoughtfully -- yet they have to be right decisions.

Throw into this boiling pan the fact that the Indian technology / Third-party BPO space has more first-time CEOs than any other sector. Does this make things any different? After all, they’ve had all the exposure when it comes to handling a P&L, teams, employee expectations et al.

Leading a company presents myriad, new and often unexpected challenges. Firstly, The IT or the related BPO sector in India is still not a mature industry and secondly, there are issues unique to these which have to be addressed with alacrity and precision. For example, the pressure of ramping up for a client vs. meeting the bottom-line quarterly numbers etc.
Such a dynamic environment requires immense display of maturity and decision making abilities on the part of the CEO. Necessarily, he may not have been used to taking such decisions even if this first-timer has been in senior management roles at large organizations

An analysis of the ‘First time’ CEO’s revealed the following inferences:

Our first observation is that in response to this pressure-cooker environment, more and more high-tech CEOs are strong believers in their teams and draw on individual expertise to resolve matters. Delegation is high, far higher than what one observes in a traditional sector. Snap decisions are the order of the day… there is no time for procrastination. As priorities tend to evolve, one may never get an opportunity to reconsider a bygone.

The second startling observation is that Indian technology CEO’s are most well networked. They band together the highest in peer groups to compare experiences and ideas. They meet regularly at industry forums, talk about critical decisions, challenging issues, thorny problems, and several times- HR related problems that are so common to all! By talking openly with others who truly understand the pressures of the leadership role, CEOs are able to challenge their self assumptions, compare what has worked and what hasn't, and come away with ideas and insights they wouldn't have thought of on their own. This helps in testing and getting confirmation on their own thinking that gives them the confidence to move forward."

For example, NASSCOM provides an excellent forum which fills a unique slot in a CEO's advisory requirements.

The third observation is that the CEO’s in the Technology space possess stronger leadership and communication skills than their compatriots elsewhere. This goes a long way in building a bond of trust that endures and allows the team to talk openly about issues related to the business. The CEO comfortably gets into the touchy issues that his counterpart from the industry would have reservations discussing with his team.

The fourth interesting observation is that these CEO’s are most occupied with strategizing the current and potential market conditions - current business offerings and planning for future. Strategic market positioning, competitor analyses, evolving global trends et al are well visualized.

The fifth observation is that the Indian technology CEO’s are deeply involved in recruiting and hiring great people. They understand that one of the key factors which would determine the success of their business is the ability to hire and retain high quality talent. While this thought has imbibed well in their minds, the CEO’s are not averse to reorganizations for future growth. ‘Executive team’ challenges take precedence on their minds and active resolution of the issues is one of the top things on the CEO’s mind.

Related is the sixth observation that our CEO’s more than their compatriots outside the country are impatient to jump to the next growth curve.

As a first-time CEO, one has several questions such as what exactly do the others in the team do on a day-to-day basis, how does one balance what one does with the roles of other people, and how to tackle communication and other organizational issues. These are not easy decisions nor however are totally insurmountable.

A systematic and thoughtful analysis of these can certainly help in setting up dashboards and the necessary metrics for an effective functioning of the CEO. This would actually go a long way toward creating more winners in today's revolutionary business environment.