In this edition of Pro MFG Leadership Lessons, we feature Rohit Pathak, CEO, Birla Copper (Hindalco Industries Ltd., Aditya Birla Group), who shared his ideas on leadership during an interview with Manish Kulkarni, Co-founder & Director, Pro MFG Media. By Niranjan Mudholkar
June 2022: Rohit Pathak joined the Aditya Birla Group in 2011 as the Principal EA to the Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla and is now the CEO of Birla Copper since 2021. Birla Copper, the largest copper player in India with one of the largest single location smelter globally, is the copper business of Hindalco Industries Limited, a flagship company of the Aditya Birla Group.
Prior to his role with Birla Copper, Mr. Pathak was the first CEO of Aditya Birla Power Composites Limited, a JV of Grasim Industries Limited with Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen of Germany for Composite Hollow Core Insulators. This was in addition to being the CEO of Aditya Birla Insulators (ABI) from 2016-2021. ABI, which is the largest insulator player in India and the third largest porcelain player globally, saw its transformation into an international business and also diversification into composites under the leadership of Mr. Pathak.
Mr Pathak started his professional journey with Analog Devices Inc as a Design Engineer and worked on the development and design of the cutting-edge range of microprocessors at its Bangalore and Austin (USA) Design Centres. Later, after having done his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, he joined McKinsey & Company where he developed and sustained two of the five largest clients for McKinsey in India, working on diverse issues such as new market entry, business turnaround, inorganic growth, large scale performance transformations, and business plan development & delivery. Also, he led the Procurement practice and co-led the Automotive & Assembly practice in India for McKinsey.
Mr. Pathak is on the National Executive Council of IEEMA (Industry association of the electrical equipment industry in India) and is the Senior Vice President for the year 2021-22.
Understanding the Industry
Talking about his experience in consulting for about 10 years in the initial stage of his career, Mr. Pathak says that it helped him hone his business acumen skills and the ability to quickly understand new industries/sectors in terms of mega trends, how things operate and how to ‘connect the various dots’ as you develop the vision and strategy for the business. “But I was itching to go and do/create something rather than just advise organisations. Hence I moved to the Aditya Birla Group about a decade back, where for the first five years I got a good exposure into understanding how the Group works, its core values and an understanding of the different businesses. Over the past five years, I have been working in operating roles where my itch for doing & creating versus advising has been adequately met. Obviously, I have learned a lot along the way,” he says.
Six Leadership Lessons
Mr. Pathak identifies strategic thinking, ability to work with & in teams, and emotional quotient (EQ) as the core skills, which have helped him to grow in the organization. “I have worked on these skills over the years to further refine, improve, develop and learn. There are six key leadership lessons that I typically like to talk about and which have helped me get to where I am.
1. Make yourself redundant: “The first one, and that’s the one that I find the most counterintuitive when I share with people, is that you have to make yourself redundant in your role! And the faster you do that, the faster you will grow. When I say make yourself redundant, I don’t mean that you have to become redundant in the organisation. What I mean is that you have to become redundant in your role. If you take that mindset, you will end up developing your team better. As a result, you also create more time for yourself to do things beyond your role, and that helps the organisation and you to create greater value.”
2. Enable people to succeed: “Leadership is a lot more about enabling your people to succeed. If you help and make your people successful by solving their problems wherever they are getting stuck, by supporting them when they need help and by developing them, the business will begin to see the results much faster, and you will create a strong team.”
3. All are equal: “At work, all are equal! The hierarchies that we have in organisations are only for decision making, because someone needs to take calls and have accountability in the larger interest of the whole organisation. But everyone has to be equally vested in the company in terms of how they operate in the company and how they contribute to the company. Right from the worker at the frontline/shop floor to me, all of us have to feel equal ownership of the work we do because each one of us ensures that the product we make or the service we provide is delivered in the right way to the customer.”
4. Seek opportunity in adversity: “The fourth lesson, which has at least worked very well for me, is to seek opportunity in every adversity. When tough times come and you get into a tough role, make the most of it. Once you are in the role, do your best and don’t worry about the rest. I have seen that all my growth has generally come from roles which were counterintuitive, which people felt they would not like to do. But I said okay, let me try it. And it has worked very well for me.”
5. Learn every day: “I learn every day, even today! I do attend several training programmes that the Group curates for us from time to time. Yes, the kind of training changes over time but you need to keep learning and keep building your capability and skill sets every year. Do consciously work on that.”
6. Stay humble, stay human: “You have to stay humble and stay human! Our first loyalty should be to humanity, to the larger society and to the ecosystem that we live in. And we should remain humble when we have got an opportunity to make a difference for the greater good. That is something which I have seen the Birla family do very well. It’s been inspiring to work so closely with Mr. Birla and to learn from him. I think I have further improved in this area over the last 10 years.”