Note to readers: Fit to lead is a series of interviews with business leaders on their approach to fitness, leadership and navigating the new normal.
Shashank Srivastava enjoys the company of people, has the most fun when he is meeting customers, leading teams and is able to travel. He is visibly not a fan of Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls despite having been on plenty, including this interview, since the pandemic but he is full of anecdotes, stories and plenty of answers. Also, he is still in his first job and he has been at it since 1989, when he joined Maruti Suzuki, then a public sector unit, straight out of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A). Between his growth from an executive in the corporate planning strategy team and his current role as the Senior Executive Officer for Marketing and Sales at Maruti Suzuki, the 58-year-old has held several key roles and also witnessed the company’s transition from a PSU to a listed company.
Srivastava grew up in Bhopal and studied telecommunication and electronics engineering at NIT, Bhopal, before joining IIM-A in 1987. During campus placements, he already had offers from Asian Paints and L&T, but chose to interview for Maruti Suzuki because he knew he wanted to be in the automobile industry.
Srivastava, who visited 163 countries during his stint in international marketing for the company, says that his was a great learning experience. “It was the first time I was working in markets where we were not the leader. The approach is very different when you aren’t on top and I learned a lot,” says Srivastava, who is facing similar challenges in India when it comes to SUVs and its Nexa brand. Another issue he wants to address right away is the waiting period for the customers and believes if that is cut, Maruti Suzuki’s customer retention rate would improve while attrition rate would drop. Srivastava, who dedicates an hour of his day to walking and other activities to remain healthy and fit, feels prioritising on wellness helped him achieve more success both personally and professionally and would like to “motivate team members to find their own outlet for physical activity as it teaches you the consistency that helps in your professional life as well.”
Excerpts from an interview:
Your fitness routine…
I take out about an hour daily as part of my fitness regimen. It includes exercises such as strength training, cardio, yoga and mindfulness throughout the week.
Favourite fitness activity?
I enjoy vigorous walking. I kickstart my day with it. It helps me clear my mind, boost my energy and fuel my creativity.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. They can be incredibly demanding and require one to push beyond their limits.
How does your fitness routine help you strike a work-life balance?
Often, we let our work take centerstage in our lives. It wasn't until a few years ago that I began to take my health and wellness more seriously. Since then, I have made it a habit to prioritise my fitness routine, which has helped me achieve a better work-life balance by providing me with a healthy outlet for stress and helping me maintain a positive outlook.
The new normal for you…
My new normal at work and in life has been largely shaped by the pandemic. At work, we have had to adapt to new ways of doing business and interacting with our customers. This has involved leveraging technology to facilitate remote interactions and embracing a more agile approach to decision-making. Outside of work, I have been prioritising my health and wellbeing.
Has your fitness routine helped you navigate the uncertainties of recent times?
I have incorporated mindful breaks throughout the day to recharge and maintain focus. These breaks include stretching, meditation, and even enjoying a cup of tea, which has helped me immensely. Regular exercise has helped reduce stress and anxiety, boost the immune system, and improve overall wellbeing.
Your leadership style…
I believe it is one that emphasises empowering my team members through collaboration and communication. My intention is to help others succeed and become leaders in their own right. True leadership is, therefore, not about being in charge but inspiring and guiding others to achieve their full potential. It is about creating a culture of continuous learning and development. When we invest in our colleagues’ growth and development, we develop better leaders and build a more substantial organisation.
The one change you would encourage your teammates to make to deal with the challenges of current times.
I encourage my teammates to prioritise their mental and physical health, which have become increasingly important during the current challenges.
Has being fit helped you become a better leader?
Definitely… being fit has helped me become a better version of myself. When team members see that their leader is committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, they may be more likely to follow suit. A workplace that prioritises wellness can create a positive and supportive environment that provides a fillip to the team’s morale and increases productivity. Ultimately, my goal is to create a culture that values wellbeing.
Leadership lessons in your fitness journey…
I have learned that consistency is the key to attaining achievements, hard work pays off, and it is crucial to establish clear objectives and monitor progress.
Goals and challenges for the next year…
My goals for the next year include continuing to prioritise my wellness, inspiring my team to do the same, and achieving greater collective success. On the work front, I’d like to win back our market share in SUVs through multiple new launches and also make Nexa the number one brand in the country.