DQ Leadership Series: We are more in a structural recession now – Rajiv Srivastava, Managing Director, HP Inc. India

In an exclusive interview with Dataquest Rajiv Srivastava, Managing Director, HP Inc. India reflects on leadership challenges, influencers and key learnings. Excerpts.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing leaders today?

The industry is going through a phase of rapid change and consolidation. The way I see my challenges today revolve around 3 areas. First, in this era of change at hyper speed, how to predict trends and innovate to stay relevant and ahead of market. Two, how to drive growth in a stable or declining market. And finally we need to ensure that during this period employees stay engaged with the organization, continue to upgrade their skill sets and execute to strategy.

Who do you call as your mentor and why?         

Mentor is a strong word and let me say that we all have numerous influences in our lives. I have had the benefit of working with and learning from some really great leaders. While they have shaped my professional career, my mother has had the biggest influence in defining me as a person. Unfortunately she is no more but she taught me the virtues of tolerance, patience, respect for everyone, never to crib and always look ahead with a tremendous sense of hope and optimism. Those are timeless values and have held me in good stead.

What is your leadership style? 

I can sum it up in a sentence – simple thinking, inclusive approach and extreme external focus. In the times we are living in, leadership has to be inspirational with a display of a huge amount of energy and passion. Aligning people towards an aspirational objective that is larger than their immediate job and engaging them meaningfully has been our way of accomplishing better outcomes. The other important aspect is of building a great team and giving them an open and transparent environment that encourages them to deliver their best. 

What are some of the defining moments in your career and how those moments have helped you grow, unlearn, learn and renew your thought process?

Perhaps the most defining career moment for me happened through adversity. I had quit my well settled job in a motorcycle manufacturing company and taken up a sales assignment at Muscat. Unable to adjust, I returned within 15 days with no job and desperately looking for one. Another role in the manufacturing sector would have been a logical choice. However the IT industry appeared attractive in early 90’s and with absolutely no computer background I decided to give it a shot. After a few tough rounds of interviews HCL Infosystems came through which has really altered the course of my career since.

Another one is leading HP in its avatar of a new entity post-split. Establishing the new company, defining our value proposition, ensuring the team stays charged up and committed and maintaining our brand equity has been such a terrific learning experience. And it continues….

Quarterly pressures to long-term vision: The market needs numbers but a long-term sustainable vision is vital. How difficult is it to manage both and how do you do it?

The nature of our business demands a very strong operational execution over the short run aligned to a longer term strategy. Working across both timeframes is vital for the success of our business. While in most organisations the here and now gets done almost always, it is the longer term that needs focus and the team plays a most crucial role in this. Our core team collectively decides on a few strategic initiatives that have the potential to ensure sustained success. Individual leaders then take ownership to run those. The functional leaders – sales managers, product managers, operations etc deliver the day to day business. Our framework of managing business through a leadership scorecard keeps us on track.

Obviously this is a very deep topic and I can only say that having maintained our leadership over the last 4 years while expanding both top and bottom line over this period would suggest the framework works! 

On recession: Are we moving from a Cyclical to a Structural recession? Is it possible to de-risk for the future? 

I would tend to agree that we are more in a structural recession now. There is a mismatch between what is required and what is available/being delivered. Just on dimension – the jobs that matter undergo an almost complete change every 3-4 years and it requires a reinvention of the self to stay relevant. To cite an example, in just a couple of years we have migrated from software development of the big system/data center variety to apps that support mobility. Similar is happening in manufacturing, retail, banking etc. Pretty profound changes and the only way to de-risk is a continuous focus on skills building to stay current. Learning agility has become a critical success factor. On the product side this means having a maniacal focus on innovation to create/develop what the market requires rather than sell what you produce.

Linear vs Non-linear growth-How can Indian IT industry add more value? 

Opportunities in India today offer possibilities of discontinuous growth. Sometimes this growth is not obvious and you need to be innovative and take radical or bold initiatives to capitalize. Upsides are immense if they work out. These are in the domain of new product introductions or business model innovation.

IT industry does add a tremendous amount of value and most of the transformations that companies and governments experience are driven on the back of technology initiatives. Problems to solutions that India faces – in education, healthcare, agriculture, social and financial inclusion – can only be possible by technology intervention. What is needed is a set of quality proven solutions that can scale, are cost effective and can be deployed at tremendous speed. That is precisely what we are working at currently.

If you reflect on FY 16, per se HPI what are the key performance takeaways?

FY16 has been a path breaking year for us. We created the largest start-up of the world with the formation of HPI. The most significant accomplishment has been to ensure continuity of customer and partner experience during this period of separation of HP into two listed companies which we believe is the biggest in the history of IT industry. The operational cadence has been very intense and helped us to grow revenues and maintain our leadership position across all categories of products.

The  outcome of our efforts is that we have been recognized as the Most Trusted Brand by both customers and partners recently – we thank everyone from the bottom of our heart and are immensely grateful to them. And thank to our employees too who carry our brand with a tremendous degree of passion, pride, humility and responsibility.

Grooming leaders for the future: How are you approaching this at your organisation?

People are the most critical assets and leadership is such a big differentiator. We invest a significant amount of management time in developing key talent and grooming them to create leadership capacity. It is partly structured through individual development plans – enabled by assessment tools and gap analysis – and through periodic mentoring. This plus on the job learning with some oversight and a lot flexibility is, in our experience, most effective in creating future leaders. HP’s policy of job rotations enables them to get a broader perspective of the organization and prepare them for larger responsibilities.

Spending a lot of non-transaction, non-work related time with potential leaders is such a gift towards their scaling up.

What are your Top 3 priorities for FY 17?

We have focus on a good blend of quantitative and qualitative priorities for our business and these have stayed pretty consistent over time. Let me elaborate the top 3 for FY17 :

1) Profitable growth faster than the market which essentially means top line, bottom line and market share growth

2) To deliver the best possible, most differentiated experience for all our customers, partners and employees.

3) To make the HP brand as the most desirable for the millennials.

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