Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How to be a CEO

.This talk was given by Dr. Jamshed Irani when he visited Persistent Systems, Pune, India on 23 February 2006. I have put down his words to the best of my recollection.

Note everyone can become a CEO, and not everyone wants to be one. Even then, I think that Dr. Irani’s words are still very useful and can be applied in your life.

Brief introduction to Dr. Irani

J. J. Irani is a director of Tata Sons, Tata Industries, Tata Motors and Tata International, among others. He is chairman of Tata Refractories and TRF. Dr Irani also chairs the board of governors at XLRI in Jamshedpur.

There is a more detailed introduction to Dr. Irani at the bottom of this article.

What is a CEO?

A CEO is like a magnetic coil twisted over a soft iron bar. When electric current is passed in the coil, the soft iron bar gets magnetized and all the poles point in the same direction.

In the same way, a CEO is supposed to align all people in the company in the same direction so that the company can progress.

Essential things that one should do to be a CEO someday:

  1. Have Credibility

This is #1 for any CEO. A team will follow its leader only if that leader has credibility. The team should trust him and believe him.

  1. Have a personal vision

Develop a personal vision for your own life. “Know the path”. Align your ideals with those of the company.

Note: If there is a mismatch between the company’s ideals and your own, it won’t work out. Leave.

  1. Change your mindset

Minds can’t be changed. Mindsets can.

Recognize the changes happening in your field. Change your mindset to meet new challenges.

  1. Prepare yourself for the opportunity

There is no such thing as pure luck. Of course, having an opportunity requires some luck. But to grab the opportunity, you have to be present there in the first place. So work hard and prepare yourself so that when the time finally comes, you will be ready.

  1. Be truthful

There is a famous saying, “You can fool some people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time”.

So be truthful. Lies may get you to some level in life, but they won’t keep you there. Only honesty and hard work will.

  1. Be fair

Nobody respects a leader who is partial. Be fair and people will look up to you.

  1. Do the tough things that no one else wants to do

Napoleon was always at the forefront of his army wherever it went. He did not stay in the middle/rear of his army, cushioned from attack. He did all the tough things, and that gave him the right to expect tough things from his men. His men also followed him everywhere because of this.

  1. Build a powerful coalition between management and board.

Sometimes there is a mismatch between management and board (or sometimes between management and ownership in case of a family owned business). Both parties are essential. Both need to get together. Do not try to bypass the board or treat them with disrespect. Try to bring both parties together.

  1. Guide the creation of a shared vision

Everyone has a personal vision. But unless this personal vision coincides with that of the company, neither the individual nor the company can progress. So guide the creation of a vision that everyone can share.

Communication will play a major role in this. In today’s age, there are a lot of ways of getting in touch with the employees even if the offices are geographically apart. Use these ways of bringing everyone together.

  1. Take the responsibility of being the main change agent.

“The buck stops here”. This motto should be followed scrupulously. Be the main agent for change. Bring out new improvements. People will follow.

  1. Create endless opportunities for 2-way communication.

One-way communication is of no use. If only the CEO talks, and everyone else listens, the company will not go anywhere.

Encourage employees to share their feedback. Have honest and open discussions. Everyone will ultimately benefit.

  1. Create opportunities for innovation in the rank-and-file.

“Human ingenuity transcends literacy”. There have been many instances of illiterate / less qualified people coming up with solutions to problems that have stumped more literate people. So treat everyone equally and give them equal chances of contributing. You will be surprised at the results.

  1. Maintain focus.

Focus is very important. Choose the area that your company wants to target, and stick to it. Do not try to diversify in all areas and ultimately lose in all of them. Stick to your strengths. Innovate, keep yourself updated, etc. but don’t forget the root area that you want to be in.

  1. Realign HR Systems if necessary.

If the HR systems in your company are not working in the way you want to, realign them. Give them directives that will help them be in tune with your (and your company’s) goal.

  1. Preserve the core values of the company and your own.

Under all costs, core values must be preserved. Resist the temptation of going for a shortcut that will compromise your values. Never risk the long-term goals of the company for short-term gain.

A more detailed Introduction to Dr. Irani

Actually Dr. Irani has many more achievements. But listing down all of them is simply not possible …

About Dr. Jamshed J. Irani

J. J. Irani is a director of Tata Sons, Tata Industries, Tata Motors and Tata International, among others. He is chairman of Tata Refractories and TRF. Dr Irani also chairs the board of governors at XLRI in Jamshedpur.

Dr Irani began his career in 1963 as senior scientific officer at the British Iron and Steel Research Association, Sheffield. On his return to India in 1968, he joined Tata Steel as assistant to director (R&D). In 1979, he was appointed general manager, and president in 1985. He became the managing director in 1992, a position he held till July 2001.

He has received a number of awards recognising his contributions to the company and industry. Prominent among them are the 'metallurgist of the year' award in 1974 from the Ministry of Steel and Mines, the prestigious 'Platinum Medal' in November, 1988, by the Indian Institute of Metals, Ernst & Young's 'Lifetime Achievement Award, 2001' for entrepreneurial success and the 'Twelfth Willy Korf Steel Vision Award' from World Steel Dynamics and American Metal Market.

Dr Irani has also been awarded the Qimpro Platinum Standard in November 2000, and has received the Indian Merchants' Chamber's Juran Quality Medal for the year 2001, for his role as a statesman for quality. In October 1997, an honorary knighthood (KBE) was conferred on Dr Irani by Queen Elizabeth II.

An academician, Dr Irani is an MSc in geology from Nagpur University and has a doctorate from the University of Sheffield, UK.

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