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CEOs back to school to tie knots anew

Preeti Mehra

NEW DELHI, May 25

AS markets take a beating and new challenges emerge on the business front, more and more CEOs are finding the need to go back to school. This time it is not to hone their financial, technical or administrative expertise, but to enhance the skill most vital today for the survival of their enterprises - interpersonal relations.

In the changed economic scenario where revenues are falling, competition has become fierce and companies as large as Arthur Andersen have had to fold up, CEOs know they can no longer take for granted their customers, shareholders or even their employees. To keep them all together and to channelise growth, they have to play more roles than ever before.

And what are they? CEOs have to be chief mentors to their employees, brand ambassadors to their customers, principal envoys for their shareholders and key emissaries when dealing with other crucial stakeholders such as administrative policy-makers, foreign partners and politicians. To achieve this, training is the key.

"Everything has turned on its head and CEOs are today required to manage dramatic change. There was a time when it was the ultimate for executives to work in business houses such as DCM, Metal Box and the Tatas. Today it is different. If a company wants to attract the right talent, it has to send out a different message and manage the organisation in a different way. The leadership has to use strategies such as shared responsibility, collaboration, teamwork, etc., to thrive. The younger lot of CEOs are beginning to realise this and giving themselves in for training in people skills," explains Sanjeev Duggal, President NIS Sparta Ltd, a sister concern of NIIT that has been involved in building the emotional quotient of the top brass of several companies, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, ABN-Amro, Gati and NTPC.

"Another motivation to attend workshops is that CEOs get an opportunity to meet their peers, network with them, discuss common problems and realise that others are also in the same boat, says A. Sandeep, Managing Partner, Planman Consulting who takes CEO sessions along with management Guru Arindam Chaudhuri.

But are CEOs not reluctant to admit that they need to learn? While the older ones prefer to ask trainers for "brainstorming" or "facilitating sessions," the younger ones who have studied overseas or been exposed to modern management principles, have no qualms about giving themselves to training. Often it is their HR departments that suggest a particular learning course.

"CEOs want help in not only forming a vision and a value system for their organisations, but in getting to know how to sustain it," says Sandeep Chaudhary, Director, ResourceGroup. He, however, finds that expat and MNC CEOs are much more open to training as they are exposed to such practices. Expats, specially, have no hesitation in admitting that they need inputs on India's cultural differences.

"But times are changing and though slow to change, Indian CEOs are also realising that traditional methods cannot be retained," he says. In fact, he and others feel that with CEOs from the HR stream taking over the reins in companies such as Escotel, Philips India, ONGC, Birlas, top-level training is likely to become the norm, rather than the exception.

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