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India Inc taking baby steps to a 'young' brass

Age and experience not less relevant but firms are gradually moving towards younger leadership teams

Viveat Susan Pinto  |  Mumbai 

The age profile of senior management executives — typically managing directors, chief executives, presidents and those in higher ranks — at Indian is undergoing a change, slowly but steadily.

If a few recent reshuffles are anything to go by, the norm for these positions — being in one’s 60s or 70s, with a wealth of experience — seems to be changing in favour of relatively professionals.

Last week, cigarettes-to-hotel major conglomerate undertook a management rejig that entailed not only swapping of roles among the senior-most executives but induction of younger people for key positions. Sanjiv Puri, 51, for example, was named president of ITC’s fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) business, a position believed to have been created especially for him.

The promotion helped Puri make it to the corporate management committee of the company, the crucial second layer below the board, which oversees the actual running of the company. Replacing Puri as chief executive of the tobacco division was B Sumant, another 51-year-old, who was given additional charge of FMCG trade, marketing & distribution.

Sumant previously was managing director of Infotech. Sushma Rajagopalan, 49, was appointed chief executive of Infotech. Also, executives like 48-year-old Sandeep Kaul, chief executive of ITC’s personal care division and 50-year-old Atul Chand, chief executive of the lifestyle retailing division, have been around for a while. These clearly suggest an overall reduction in age profiles of ITC’s top executives.

Kolkata-based ITC is not the only company that is keenly looking to younger talent. Most consumer goods — from Hindustan Unilever (HUL) to Marico, and — are trying to make their boards younger. Managing Director & Chief Executive Sanjiv Mehta, for example, is only 53 years old. Similarly, when last year promoted Saugata Gupta as its MD, he was only 46.

Ditto for Godrej Consumer, which had named a 43-year-old Vivek Gambhir its MD in 2012. At a group level, the Adi Godrej-led Rs 13,500-crore conglomerate has brought down the average age of its senior leaders to 45 years, to transform itself into a next-gen, global Indian enterprise. The move coincides with its plan for a ten-fold increase in revenue over the next 10 years.

Speaking to Business Standard earlier, Adi Godrej’s daughter Nisa Godrej, 36, who is in charge of corporate strategy and human capital, had said a younger management and workforce could help the group achieve its objectives better. “To achieve our 10-by-10 strategy, we need to maintain our pace of growth at around 26 per cent a year. Besides putting in place systems and processes, we will need a highly skilled and motivated workforce for this.”

Apart from consumer goods, sectors such as manufacturing, heavy industries and capital goods are also following the ‘young’ trend. Larsen & Toubro, a traditional company, for instance, has hired relatively directors (in the age group of 50 years) for its board. The idea is to get younger executives at the senior level, where the average age of executives so far was 65-70 year.

Even the Tata Group, itself about 150 years old, inducted a 44-year-old as its chairman towards the end of 2012, after a prolonged search for a successor to Ratan Tata. Since then, Mistry has brought on broard fairly executives, to reshape the group and to help him drive his vision.

In an interview with Business Standard last year, Chairman had said he wanted a younger leadership that could stay on a for a while (at least 10 years) and take the group forward.

“This change in mindset is welcome,” says Arvind Singhal, chairman of retail consultancy Technopak. “Partly, it is led by the New Act that caps the time directors can stay on board, and prescribes the need for expanding board positions, among other things. Today, there is an endeavour (among Indian companies) to be more accountable to shareholders, implying there is a need for strong, capable and independent boards. This also means that you need younger people, who can devote 10-15 years before they superannuate or are be pushed out.”

Most companies and century-old groups are revamping their recruitment and human resource policies to strengthen their leadership pipelines. Though age and experience are not yet close to becoming irrelevant, experts see a gradual shift at Indian companies towards relatively young leadership teams as a welcome sign.

First Published: Wed, January 14 2015. 00:50 IST