The MD & CEO at BEUMER India Private Limited, Mr Nitin Vyas shares a practical guide for leadership in a post-pandemic world. In this episode of MU's Leadership Series, we cover:
- Business in 2021 through Nitin’s lens
- The industries that’ll lead the recovery
- Mutual trust and empowerment in organisations
- Evolving people functions and things that have gone out of vogue
- Some advice for young leaders
- Respecting different companies leadership culture
- Who Mr Nitin Vyas is behind the scenes
Below we have gathered highlights from the conversation.
Recovery and the return to normalcy
While 2020 was bleak, the business funnel for BEUMER looks quite promising. 2019 saw financial closures and spending on infrastructure that were stalled in 2020. But consumption increase over the last two quarters of 2020 meant that projects began quickly with a V-shaped recovery in the stock market. The business landscapes from the cement and CL industries are looking up since.
Half a million passengers moving across the country spells good news for us as opposed to the dull international travel numbers in large hub airports abroad. With an optimistic head on square shoulders, Nitin remarks on the crucial element of technological innovation at BEUMER for big retail and e-commerce brands in India. The facts and patterns portend a return to normalcy across the manufacturing, logistics, tourism, hospitality, and aviation industries by 2022.
Besides logistics, Nitin is certain that consumption will go on regardless. The agriculture sector, for instance, has had four consecutive bumper crops in 2019 and 2020. This has not happened in the last decade which is great for the consumption industry. The e-commerce and retail sector are more organised than ever. Tier 2 and tier 3 cities are likely to spearhead the new norm as businesses re-invent digital, physical, and phygital systems across industries.
Trust and empowerment in multinational companies
Having worked with German companies over the past two decades, the last 10 years of which have been in a leadership position at BEUMER, Nitin recalls how he had to build trust and relationships over time. If trust were to be represented mathematically, it would equate to relationships multiplied by time.
He emphasises the need for transparency in all situations as a prerequisite for trust. A corrosive ego in the equation is likely to erode trust. While it took time for Nitin to earn trust and empowerment, he duly credits the management for having mutually trusted and empowered him. Standardised processes and measures have also been conducive to his effective leadership skills and relationship with the management that sits across a continent.
Evolving People Function
Leadership today values people with self-drive and ownership at work. Nitin firmly believes in hiring leadership talent that is capable of cross-functional alignment with a high-level understanding of the business. Otherwise, the teams become susceptible to silos which are detrimental to business growth.
Leaders need to articulate business objectives and let people discover the fulfilment of these objectives by themselves. Autocratic styles of leadership have gone out of fashion along with a list of negative practices like micromanagement and constant monitoring. It makes more sense to have decentralised decision-making with the necessary checks and balances.
Advice for young leaders and top leadership traits
Make sure you have all your facts down and make quick decisions. Don’t wait for the approval of somebody else. Delays in decision making usually make situations much worse. Fail fast, and succeed sooner. Take risks now so you can avoid future blunders.
Nitin commends critical leadership traits like a good attitude, the ability to handle crises independently, and take ownership. Another crucial trait he looks for when hiring leaders is cultural awareness and intelligence. Humility and respect for another culture are foundational to any leadership dynamic.
Indian leadership culture vs. German leadership culture
Leadership styles across German companies may vary. No two companies have the same culture. You need to factor in things like the business size, management style, geography, people, and business context to understand the culture. In this light, every company evolves a unique culture and behaviour.
Nitin however remembers when BEUMER acquired Indian SMEs in 2011. When the Indian team started operating in 2012, he observed a clear distinction in behaviour in the team. While they had a new set of policies, values, and principles drawn out, he noticed some interesting things.
For instance, a team of capable people who had worked for several years at small proprietorship firms. As able as they were, they refrained from making independent decisions, perhaps because they were conditioned not to or were not confident enough. Other examples were the existence of stringent standardised processes or the lack of any standardisation. Neither was right or wrong. They were relevant in their specific contexts of business. But in multinational or cross-country teams, it’s important to have a balance of both practices.
Nitin goes on to highlight important behaviours for leaders to instil in their organisations: confidence, empowerment, and decentralised decision-making.
He cheerily encourages young students to take a sleeper train from Delhi to Kanyakumari or vice-versa. This 36-hour journey would give one more insight into India’s diverse culture than any literature. The potato cutlets sold in Chennai or Bangalore, for example, have a different nomenclature up north. Compare potato cutlets and aloo tikkis you’ll find interesting nuances in ingredients and cooking methodology even if they are pretty much the same.
Business takeaways from 2020
2020 has no doubt helped develop a good eye for potential risks, so we can monitor and plan for plausible scenarios ahead of time. Businesses across industries are hoping to build inherent robustness that can weather future adversity.
Nitin recalls nuggets of wisdom from a colleague in Singapore who not only prescribed blueprints for crisis management but live drills to build survival capabilities. He had witnessed, for instance, the Singapore airport practice a mock drill of an IT system failure with live passengers. Scenario planning without execution is merely a grand strategy without practice, control, feedback loops, or backup processes.
A similar scenario planning strategy was implemented at BEUMER before the lockdown in India. The key leaders put their heads together and intuitively drew out a WFH plan and process. When the shift to remote work did happen, they were equipped to handle it.
Nitin behind the scenes, life mantras, and inspiration
Convener Rachit Sharma (Consultant at MU) asks Nitin how he manages to remain calm and patient at all times. To which Nitin rationalises how stress and anxiety cannot add value to a crisis. He prefers to remember the problem and preoccupy himself with finding solutions. If there’s nothing he can do about it, he’s likely to get help from an expert. If that can’t be done either, he’d move and do something else. The world doesn’t end there.
As an introvert outside his professional life, when Nitin is not working, he is cooking or reading. Chopping vegetables, spending time with his family, and a select few friends are simple pleasures he cherishes.
He fondly remembers his retired grandfather from his toddler years who was perhaps his first source of inspiration for a great work ethic and unassuming discipline.
He also remembers leaders, mentors, and colleagues over his career who helped shape his personality. Some helped him add more meaning to how he executes work so the next person can pick up where he left off. From another great boss, Jackie Chan, he learned key lessons in sales. Chan encouraged his fellow leaders to identify three critical people in a sales scenario: the commercial buyer, the technical buyer, and a coach.
Nitin’s mantra for life? Plan ahead of time and keep working hard. Stay unperturbed by the outcome of your work, be it success or failure. It’s no wonder he can smile in the face of adversity and see his team through.