An unassuming young man walked into the cabin at the Coffee square building where we were caught unaware for a conversation over a cup of coffee. He was none other than the visionary Leader of Cafe Coffee day who is at the helm of affairs as a Group Head, Human Resources and also the President of NHRD Bangalore Chapter.
Excerpts from the interview:
1. Before we embark on the mode of conversation, do you have any quote or message for this young people who are with us right now (referring to the student team?)
Well, if you look around you will notice the paintings of musicians on these walls, right! They reached there because of their personal interest, practice and following the dreams. Likewise, not only the youth, anyone for that matter has to have a “Sadhana” to reach heights. So stay focussed,
2. Can you tell us about your journey, any specific turning point in your life?
Yes, the turning point was at the age of 18 when I joined Eureka Forbes as a young Sales person. Knocking at the doors of the customers and eventually getting into the portals of reputed organizations was an experience by itself. The self discovery was amazing! The inflection point was when I started my journey with Asian paints, Hewitt Associates, GE Health Care, Strides Arco lab, Standard Charted Bank across the country and Globe. The years of learning and immense exposure made me what I am.
3. Can you throw some light on your back-ground?
I am from Chennai, have a MS in Industrial Management from IIT Madras and a Masters in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations from Loyola College, Chennai. I am married with a daughter and a son.
3. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
(Beaming) An Architect of course!
4. What would you think are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
(Smiles and says Interesting) Passionate about an idea, Tons of hard work and perseverance is the key for a successful entrepreneurship venture.
5. Do you wish to share your thoughts about any failure which was an eye-opener in your journey?
Many, just not one (Contemplating) very recently when the Government had turned down the proposal to host the conference at NHRD it was a tough time. However, before three days to the event we got the proposal much to our relief. So, such learning experiences make one wiser.
6. Describe your typical day.
The day starts with different transactional roles, meeting and listening to people, hiring and developing leaders. Spotting talent coaching and grooming is a part of the day’s activity
7. When you refer to the word “developing leaders” do you significantly have any leadership development programs or training interventions for your workforce?
Absolutely, we have people joining us from rural parts of the country, who have to be groomed according to the industry needs. So, we have the “skill development centres” which help in training them. There are many instances of individuals who have transitioned from team members to team leads. There are multiple training interventions and transition programs that help people grow. Yet, another thing is spotting talent and mentoring them. We hire students from management schools as trainees and coach for six to nine months to make them industry ready.
8. In the era of job hopping / attrition are there any retention strategies you follow at your organization?
Job hopping is a common thing if some other organization is paying thousand rupees more individuals tend to move. Having said that, we ensure there is challenging roles, job rotation, talent management and employee engagement practices. There is always a culture of learning mode at our place.
9. One word that defines “Mr. Balachandar Natarajan”
An optimist who is self driven
10. What are your hobbies?
“I shoot pictures not animals” (laughs) interested in photography
11. Who is your inspiration or a role model, any good book that has left an indelible mark?
Not just one role model. Different and multiple role models in different situations have been a positive force. Like, Siddharth, our chairman, my ex-boss from GE.
Once again there is nothing like one special book. Yes (ruminates a little and quickly quotes) “Talent masters” is a wonderful book. Authors like Ramcharan have always left an indelible mark, no doubt.
12. Apart from your organization, which is the other company or business you admire the most? Why
(Answers in a jiffy) Amazon! Is the only name that comes to mind for its intense business, rapid growth and unique culture?
13. When you said culture, what kind of culture is practiced at CCD. Please elaborate.
At CCD it’s always an entrepreneurial culture. There is a sense of purpose and ownership among the people.
14. As you are into two major leadership roles, both at CCD and NHRD what are the challenges you face?
At NHRD it’s a voluntary role from 11th June to 19th May. However, the challenge is to continuously add value to the HR community. It is quite interesting. There is always an urge to contribute the best. And at CCD the challenge is always to cater to the changing customer base.
15. when you refer to the changing customer base, what exactly does your organization follow, Because, you mentioned earlier about your fascination for Japanese culture. Is there a practice of Kaizen, kanban, and poke yoke?
There are more than three lakh customers and the front line employees are the linking pin. Here the importance is attached to the grooming on the required insight, cafe culture etc. There is no such labelling but definitely continuous improvement. Innovation and training in the customer service is highlighted. In India there is lack of training in the customer service which cannot be neglected at any cost.
16. What motivates you to perform? How do you deal with stress?
The motivation comes from the focus in making a difference. The urge to learn continuously keeps me motivated and of course there is no pressure as such when you love what you are doing. There is a clear time management at my end.
17. Do you any fear or threat for that matter?
Technology is a threat and I fear that however I tend to learn from kids. The current generation is tech savvy. I think one need to overcome the fear by being agile and adaptable.
18. What should be the key focal areas for Management institutes like ours?
The b-schools today no doubt are imparting the much needed knowledge. But the practical learning is somewhere missing. For instance if I had to hire a student I would certainly like to know if he/she is equipped with the usage of Excel. If yes, then which level of using an Excel tool? Knowing to doing is very important.
19. The success mantra for a professional is…..
Certainly, look forward to take up the challenges and stay ahead of the learning curve.
Thus the conversation came to close with Mr.Balachandar Natarajan when Prof Preeja Sreedhar wrapped up the interview with a quote from Jim Collins “Good to Great” thus: Level five leaders are a rare combination of personal humility and personal competence and I should certainly say you are indeed a level five leader and no exaggeration in it.