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How Leyland finds those drivers at the top

Vinay Kamath


Mr R. Seshasayee, Managing Director, Ashok Leyland Ltd

CHENNAI, May 30

ASKED by the then Managing Director of Ashok Leyland, Mr R.J. Hancock, in an interview for a job in 1976, on where he expected to reach in his career in Leyland, Mr R. Seshasayee had replied, "Eventually, to your position!"

A cocky answer, which, no doubt, must have taken Mr Hancock by surprise. After all, the young Seshasayee, after five years spent at Hindustan Lever, was being interviewed for the post of Manager, Internal Audit. However, events did bear him out, when Mr Seshasayee eventually took over as MD of the commercial vehicles major in April of 1998.

Mr Seshasayee recalls the informal leadership process that the company had which saw young managers like him rise to senior management positions at a relatively young age.

"Of course, I didn't know that I would be MD till I became MD," he quips. However, now that he is MD, Mr Seshasayee is putting in place a formal leadership process in Leyland that will throw up the right leaders who can lead the organisation through critical phases in the future.

Several organisations are looking at a structured programme to identify and groom leaders. While several high-profile `new economy' companies like Infosys and Wipro have taken the lead, the former even establishing the Infosys Leadership Institute in Mysore, Ashok Leyland has now taken the plunge to chalk out a structured programme to identify and develop leaders who can take up senior management roles in the future.

Mr Seshasayee told Business Line that the company had just launched its `future leaders forum' after laying the ground for this programme over the last few years. This involved a competency mapping exercise for the company's 2,000-odd executives for which Leyland had engaged IIT, Mumbai's School of Management.

"We looked at a fairly structured way of appraisals and also some direct interaction. Last year, for example, I met all the executives who were rated four and above on a five-point scale individually at lunch. The idea is to assess the quality of people that we have who can be brought up as future leaders. We will identify the inputs required for improvement and we will also assign a mentor who will have 8-10 people under his wing and guide them through their career paths. And we will use this as a silo to pick up people as division heads," he said.

Asked whether this could impact those who are not part of this process, Mr Seshasayee said, "We have discussed this. I mean if this chap goes around as a future leader and wears his badge on his sleeve, what happens to the others? We have devised some methods whereby we won't make this too obvious."

The company will encourage others also to be a part of this programme, "but there will be some issues, and it may be a dampener to other people, but we have to manage this," he said.

As Mr J.N. Amrolia, Executive Director, HR, explains, this programme is a continuum and the company expects that this exercise could throw up 40-50 people who can be potential leaders of tomorrow. The competency mapping exercise, as well as a psychological assessment, is being used as the basis for this programme, done mostly in-house, though Leyland could rope in a consultant at a future stage if necessary.

"We are looking at relatively younger people, under the age of 45, who are currently at the executive level and going on to the management level," said Mr Amrolia.

The company has also initiated the cross-functional teams approach to its processes and at least a thousand executives are involved in this programme where they get a multi-functional exposure beyond their regular work function.

This kind of approach to problem solving, said Mr Amrolia, had tuned up performance and resulted in cost savings of Rs 4-5 crore in the last fiscal.

"We decided that active involvement of the employees does not have to be a top-driven approach, rather a bottom-up approach is what works. In the last two years we have also followed a rewards and performance approach," said Mr Amrolia.

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How Leyland finds those drivers at the top


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