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    Grooming Future CEOs

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    The most important part of building any industry is the creation of capability as well as capacity. Retailers in India need to introduce management development programmes to groom entry-level employees to rise through the ranks.

    Indian modern retail has remained in its infancy for a long period now. The industry has grown in volume and value sales, but the contribution of modern retail to the overall retail hovers in the 5 percent range. The hard truth is that modern retail has not surpassed our country’s consumption growth in a big way. At the same time, traditional retailers are expanding and modernising themselves.

    Modern retail has attracted a large share of media space as well as mindspace in the consulting practices – after all, nobody can deny its benefits and positive contribution to the India growth story. Unfortunately, the politicians and the beaurocratic set-up of the country have not understood the impact modern retail can have on the Indian consumers and the economy.

    For me, the most important part of building any industry is the creation of capability as well as capacity. Both require government encouragement in terms of promoting and supporting the industry and infrastructure planning. In the absence of such an enabling environment for modern retail, bright youngsters and working professionals would not consider it as an attractive career option.

    The government’s lack of action in developing modern retail has left retailers with no choice but to build the infrastructure and the entire business on their own and thus suffer the pangs of uncertainty and low profitability because retail is very capital intensive, whether for infrastructure or working capital.

    In such a situation, capability building has to be taken up by retailers themselves. In hindsight, one of the best decisions I took in was the “Graduate Trainee Program” in 1992 or the “Baby Kangaroo” development centre in mid-1990s. Both these programmes have been of immense value to the company as well as the industry.

    , CEO of Gili; , CEO of Celio; and Pooja Dhawan, now Business Head for SS.com, are all products of this management training programme. They are now part of the leadership of the industry. They have grown through the ranks, worked in various departments and in more than a decade of hard-core retail experience become CEOs of businesses. They have seen many successes and a few failures during their tenure. What is very important in consumer-lead businesses is to learn “what not to do” because every book, magazine, and journalist glorifies the success of retailers and the CEO and keep talking about what they have achieved. However, there are very few articles or research papers about what leads to failure of retail businesses, retailers, and the retail CEOs.

    The industry will have to set up for itself a management development programme centre at the company, group, or industry level. We will have to groom youngsters to take higher responsibilities keeping a 5-10 year time-frame in mind. We have to consider this investment as a CAPEX item, otherwise HR managers will not look at these kind of investments as their line of sight is between two increment years.

    It is time the retail industry works on a business plan for the development of employees over a five-year period and the boards of retail companies review it every year. I am sure in the next 10 years, we will have highly experienced retail CEOs emerging from India who, in the next few decades, can become the global CEOs of companies like WalMart and the M&S, similar to what we have seen in Unilever and Citibank. I am sure this is not just my dream – it will happen in our life time.

    About the Author
    is founder of TRRAIN and vice chairman of Shoppers Stop.