At 27, Ritesh Agarwal happens to be one of the youngest entrepreneurs in the Indian startup ecosystem to have built a multi-billion dollar startup. He founded Oyo when he was just 19 and created ripples in the startup world after Japanese conglomerate Softbank invested in his company.
In recent years, Oyo has undertaken a breakneck expansion beyond India to markets such as China, Europe, Southeast Asia and the United States, making it one of the world’s biggest hospitality brands in terms of the number of rooms. But that has come at the cost of widening losses and questions over the quality of Oyo’s properties. That makes Agarwal a magnet for social media jibes.
Nonetheless Agarwal is regarded as a role model by many youngsters. Few people hailing from a middle class family (from Orissa) have managed to build a billion-dollar business. In an exclusive interview with Moneycontrol, Agarwal talks about his management style, where he draws inspiration from and why it is ok not to like him to work with him.
What time do you like to be at your desk?
I start my day early and go through the emails and Slack/WhatsApp messages received from different teams from across geographies—India, US, China, Europe Southeast Asia etc. This really helps me in keeping up with the teams and assisting them with strategic decision making and effective time management throughout the day. Beyond this, it is all about preparing for leadership meetings, directly connecting with frontline staff, partners, and customers, making calls across geographies catching up on action and short frequent banter sessions with my leaders - everyone needs to discuss things beyond work, especially in these challenging times.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: at business school or on the job?
Leadership, as a trait, is a balanced mix of discipline, empathy, leading from the front and commitment towards creating an impact through hard work and perseverance. It’s about utilising your human skills in a way that you continue to inspire people around you as you collectively work towards achieving a common goal. Personally, the experiences I’ve had since childhood and in building OYO while working with thousands of OYOpreneurs have shaped up my approach towards leadership.
I believe in what Mark Twain said: don’t let schooling interfere with your education and this learning is applicable to leadership also. Your passion, grit and the willingness to create a positive impact define your leadership values.
Describe your management style. What does your support team look like?
At Oyo, I am fortunate to have partners from very early on who are strong independent leaders in their own right. As we progressed the list of leaders who reposed their faith in Oyo kept growing. As a famous poet said, “karwan chalta gaya, log judte gaye”. To me the management of this hugely talented group seems quite natural rather than having to deploy some deep science—it is fairly intuitive.
It helps that most of them operate with the founder’s mindset and hence alignment has been relatively smooth. There is alignment on purpose, and that is what matters. Rest is mechanics.
The expectation from them always stays to ensure the larger good for Oyo and its stakeholders and continued innovation so we stay ahead of the curve.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person or collectively?
We believe in the concept of distributed leadership. While every leader is empowered to take independent decisions to ensure timely execution, they are fully supported by the entire leadership bench. We arrive at any tough decision collectively backed by thorough discussions, deep-diving into the matter and opting for the best possible resolution.
Do you want to be liked, feared or respected?
Mutual respect and trust are two extremely important values at OYO and dear to my heart. Each one of us at OYO strives to deliver an exceptional customer and partner experience to ensure that we are the preferred and trusted choice for them.
And being respected by our stakeholders for the value we deliver to them is of the utmost importance to us.
Personally for me, respect is very important. Even if you don’t like me or my choices, if you respect me, we can still happily co-exist.
A business outside of the hospitality sector or a business leader that you draw inspiration from?
Bill Gates is someone who serves as a personal inspiration. His impact on the world is beyond business and technology. With the Gates Foundation, he is helping to make the world a better place.