Ignorance is a Bliss.
In 1991 when we started Shoppers Stop, all of us were new to retail, department stores, apparel and fashion. We were a bunch of ignorant, enthusiastic youngsters with fire in the belly and no fear of failure. There was no word as impossible as none of us had any baggage of experience; therefore we were willing to try any new initiative.
Lesson 1: When hiring look for people who have enthusiasm and willingness to try with no fear of failure rather than experienced professionals.
We set stupid and ambitious targets for ourselves, we dreamt big, we wanted to conceptualize events never attempted in the country and were willing to execute those events although we had very limited resources both people as well as financial, however each event became a big success and lead to establishing the brand Shoppers Stop.
A few memorable events of early 1990’s were “The Tie Festival” wherein we displayed more than 10000 ties and sold as many in a few weeks. “The Disney Carnival” the first time when all the four characters of Disney: “Mickey, Mini, Goofy & Donald” came to India and were part of a Carnival. “ The British Festival” where in we imported British brands likes of “DAKS” as early as 1995-96.
One may say it was easier to dream then as there was less competition and things were cheaper. I would not agree with such people as I have seen our small not for profit dream as big, just a three years back. When we set up TRRAIN we said we would celebrate Retail Employees Day (RED) and have a million retail employees participate in it. We achieved it in the third year itself. People said I am foolish and ambitious to dream that one-day the world will celebrate the day on the 12th of December. Well last year Boyner Corporation in Turkey celebrated the day with its 12000 employees, and there is every possibility of a few countries joining the celebration. What started, as a small initiative from TRRAIN can become a global event?
Lesson 2: Dream big, there is no cost of dreaming.
Listen to people.
In the early days we would stand outside our shop and ask customers about there experience in our store so that we could improve our merchandise and service. As we became bigger we started forming First Citizen customer panels. Many of our customers were invited to be part of our range selection. When we were a large group we introduced Customer surveys and established Customer Satisfaction Index.
Listening to our colleagues was an important part of our growing up days. We would have focus groups even human process labs where we all will spend 2-3 days together understanding each other and helping all of us develop as human beings before we developed as leaders. Employee satisfaction was of paramount importance. We ended up having an Employee Satisfaction Index.
Eventually as a business we established a platform called Partnership for Progress wherein we would invite our top 100 vendors, listen to them, take their feedback and improve. Finally we launched a Partner Satisfaction Index.
Shoppers Stop even today continues this as a best practice and publishes all three measures in its annual report to shareholders.
Lesson 3: The best consultants in your business are your employees, consumers and your vendor partners.
Lead by example:
As a leader you have to be visible. You need to communicate, actually in my experience it is better to over communicate rather than not communicate.
Employees and team members look up to their leaders and want to emulate them, follow them and admire them when they lead organizations to success. A visible leader gets pardoned for mistakes because people appreciate openness, transparency from leaders who walk the talk. As a nation we have seen the impact Mr. Modi has made in a short period of 100 days.
Lesson 4: Walk the talk.
Empowerment is the key:
Whether you are a start up or a small organization, a large corporation or a group of companies: there is no substitute to empowerment. An empowered team is more responsible and accountable to the leadership. Empowerment does not mean giving a free hand, it actually means clearly defined roles and responsibility, a well-established authority and an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.
Lesson 5: Ownership gets more established when people are empowered.
Build the culture- Build the Brand:
Employee’s along-with suppliers for consumers build brands. The eco-system of human beings thus creates a great organization. Organizations and families are built over generation based on principles and values and when these get entrenched a certain culture is built. Great brands come out of organizations with great culture, whether it is Parachute from Marico, Shoppers Stop or any TATA brand.
Lesson 6: Vision, mission and values are pillars of any organization and are the foundation of building brands. Never compromise.
People and Processes build Scale:
Processes are important for building scale; otherwise you end up creating a behemoth with chaos all around. As human beings we are used to process and discipline as long as we are taught and made to practice and not allowed to break rules. We have learnt to brush our teeth, dry ourselves; change clothes etc and these habits never die. Similarly we need a method to work so that we can replicate success and scale up.
Lesson 7: Consistency of process build quality and scale.
Performance Management is key to success:
All of us have aspirations and we set goals and objectives to achieve our desire. We follow up on them and have different ways to measure the success. Similarly organizations require performance management system Goal setting, performance evaluation, assessment and development have to be part of our building an organization. At this point I must say that leadership has a very important role to play in performance management. In the last 24 years with Shoppers Stop I do not remember a single month when the Raheja family did not attend the monthly review of the business. Good times bad times, off-season, festivals, come what may the Raheja’s were always present for the monthly review. The discipline of meeting on a particular day of the month without fail brings in accountability.
Lesson 8: There is no substitute to hard work and discipline.
Leaders can succeed only if they create leaders to succeed:
This in my mind is the biggest learning of my career. I realized the importance of building leaders and succession planning very early in my career when I had a heart attack in 1996 at the age of 36. I saw the panic and insecurity within all the stakeholders. Only then I realized that we can emotionally be connected with the organization till death but we need great pipeline of leaders and a method to build leadership if one has to create a long lasting and a successful organization.
Lesson 9: Leaders can also die. Nothing is permanent.
I have been lucky to interact with successful businessmen like our Chairman Chandru Raheja and Infosys Chairman Narayan Murthy and have had the privilege of interacting with professional CEO’s like K.V.Kamath and Deepak Parikh. Humility and humbleness is a great quality of a leader. Nature and society both have respect for people who are grounded.
Lesson 10: Be a good Human Being.
These are some of the lessons I have learnt during my 32+ years of experience. But, I must say none of the above applies until and unless you include the society and work within the framework of good corporate governance.