A contrarian. It could be an apt description of Ronnie Screwvala. The entrepreneur set up tele-shopping network and cable TV businesses when little was known about them. In 2012, after Screwvala sold off his remaining stake in UTV Software Communications to Walt Disney, few expected him to put on entrepreneurial robes again, almost immediately after the Rs 2,000-crore deal. Presently, as the co-founder and Chairman of upGrad, an online higher education company that, unlike the other startups, doesn't believe in discounts, the 64-year-old continues to push the envelope; as he does while answering Moneycontrol's questions. "I'm going to be a little contrarian," he warns us. We wouldn't have expected any less!
What time do you like to be at your desk?
Desk isa colloquial word today. I'm an early riser, and am at my symbolic desk by 6.30 am. And until nine, it's my most efficient desk period. My regimen of a walk and yoga is the best thinking time. I think the most productive hours are when you are alone, can introspect and can organise and prioritise.
Late evening is also a good time for me. After a swim, which is not possible now, or a run and a bit of family timeat dinner, I get an hour to introspect on a couple of things. May be something during the day bothers me and requires a little more thought, or some strategic thinking.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: at business school or on the job?
I don’t think business schools really prepare you for leadership. But I also think, jobs are not the best place to learn leadership. A lot of these things depend on the individuals.
In business schools, there are a lot of collaboratives and analyses. There are a lot of things that you digest there, sometimes fundamental, and sometimes rudimentary. But when you get out of there, 50 percent of what you learned, you have to unlearn to become a good leader.
On the job, is also tough. About 80-90 percent of a job sucks you into the routine, whether you are at the top or at the bottom.
The best place to prepare for leadership is with yourself. Once you prepare yourself for it, then you will draw on situations based. You have to find your motivation and your own time to prepare for leadership. And once you tune your brain to that, then you can draw learning from a workplace or any other place, including from sports.
For me, it has been like that. It's about you moulding leadership for yourself.
Describe your management style.
Involved. My management style is involved. I would like to be involved in the work. Now that could be misinterpreted as interfering or being micro. But it's neither of the two.
If you are not involved, you can’t add value after a certain period of time. One can't always have a 30,000 feet view and pontificate. In the 21st century, you can't be that strategic, if you are not involved. Otherwise it is gyaan.
There will never be a right balance between involved and becoming micro. But the key is having a good balance. A right balance for you, may not be the right balance for the receiving person. But if the person on the other side continues to think that am getting a value add, then you are obviously doing something right. And that is the good balance.
I won't second-guess someone else’s decision. Otherwise, they will lack total ownership.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person or collectively?
If a hard decision has to be taken, should it be by one person or collectively? 100 percent I would say it has to be by that one person. It’s a fallacy when CEOs says that you have to take a tough decision in a collaborative way. When there is a tough decision to be taken, can you afford to be collaborative? I don’t think so. But can you make sure that the people have a buy-in on that decision? Sure. It's heavy lifting and you need to do it. But the reason it became a tough decision is because it couldn’t be done collaboratively.
Do you want to be liked, feared, or respected?
It’s a trick question (laughs). Because everyone would love to say I would love to be respected. But to be honest, I think if there isn’t a little bit of fear, then one can't be respected. Only being feared is not productive. But respect comes with fear. It's foolish to say that respect happens without fear.
What does your support team look like?
It's not a support team. I have my Executive Assistant who has been with me for 14 years and that is great. A team for me is one with people who are as passionate as I am on what we all are doing. And not someone I need to second guess on commitment. These two are the important elements for me when it comes to people.
Also important is to create an environment where the other person is empowered and can grow.