Note to readers: How do corporate India’s leaders manage their businesses? Where do they draw inspiration from? What is their management style? Like A Boss is a new series of interviews aimed to offer readers lessons from corporate bosses on how they run their companies.
TA Krishnan, the founder and chief executive officer Ecom Express, is a fan of The Art of War by Sun Tzu. The 54-year-old believes it helps him understand how rules of battlefields can be applied in the corporate boardroom and recommends the book for every business leader. Krishnan, who leads one of the country's first delivery companies focussed on the e-commerce industry, does not believe in micro-managing people. He allows people to make mistakes and learn from them. However, he believes that the path to the C-suite is not always straight. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What time do you like to be at your desk?
I wake up early to have a consistent routine, and to plan my day well ahead. Therefore, usually, I am in the office by 9:30 am, even during the on-going pandemic my schedule has hardly fluctuated. I firmly believe that early rising is crucial to maintain a healthy work-life balance, which is pivotal for accomplishing one’s goals.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: at business school or on the job?
I would say, both are important. Of course, B-school is the alma mater that equips one with the right skill set to conquer the modern professional world and help build a foundation. However, a job imparts one with real-life experience. That is where the execution of strategy and its nuances can be learned, adjusted, and evolved over a career. One has to assimilate both to attain success in the professional spectrum. In fact, I think both these methods of learning are complementary to each other.
Describe your management style.
Participative. Since the beginning of my career, I have been fortunate enough to work under leader bosses who let me have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Today, I apply the same strategy at my workplace. I do not believe in micro-managing people. I allow due freedom, so my function/unit heads can feel confident while spearheading the business.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person or collectively?
Ultimately, one person has to own the tough decision, but seeking out information and input from others is always recommended. Personally, I make tough decisions by first gathering feedback. I take the relevant information at hand, challenge the assumptions, and perhaps apply past experience. After vetting all the options, I make the appropriate decision.
Do you want to be liked, feared, or respected?
In business, like in other aspects of life, appeasing everybody is not possible. However, your leadership is defined by the shrewd decisions taken by you, which make or break your reputation. Therefore, being respected is important to me.
What does your support team look like?
I see my venture Co-founders and function heads as the backbone of my business. They are an integral part of where Ecom Express stands today.
I deeply admire two persons in my professional journey who have inspired me immensely. Both happen to be from my previous organization, Blue Dart. One was my immediate boss Ashok Kumar Jain and the latter one is the founding member and former Managing Director, Clyde Cooper.
Which management book has influenced you the most?
I hardly get time to read books. However, I am deeply swayed by 'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu. The book is a classic example of business acumen of how the rules of battlefields can be applied in the corporate boardroom to gain against the opponent. The book has something for every business leader.
Do you socialise with your team outside of work?
These days I have distanced myself from public gatherings due to obvious coronavirus fear. Else, I love hanging out with my team outside the office as and when the opportunity arises.
What would your key management advice be?
New managers and seasoned professionals alike should always be working to hone their skill sets. For them, my advice would be to have conviction and a firm belief in your own story. Be a student of your business. Try to understand as much of its key drivers as possible. Be a student of all business models. Learn from outside your organization and across all industries. Lastly, be patient and thoughtful with your career choices. The path to the C-suite is not always straight.