7 Questions with Alok Agrawal

Name: Alok Agrawal

Current title: Member, Prasar Bharati Board

Current organisation: Prasar Bharati

I enable Application of 'Innovation as a Service' (IaaS) to make businesses great. Special interests - FinTech, AutoTech, AviationTech, MediaTech and Entertainment as a Service. ex-Group COO Network 18, CEO Zee Media and COO Cheil worldwide.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

Board position of a large enterprise brings with it large responsibility. I believe the key aspects of a board members role is a balance between providing guidance and support to the management team, at the same time keeping a key eye on aspects related to corporate governance and adherence to laws. As a board member I try to keep the focus on driving the enterprise towards the future with innovation and providing impetus to continuous transformation. Managing the balance between current necessities and future imperatives can at times be a challenge. A board member needs to provide an independent and fair perspective at all times.

2. How did you become a board member of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I have been on the board of several companies over the last few years, both in executive and independent capacities. Appointment to the board of Prasar Bharati is a particularly elaborate exercise, being the public broadcaster of India and an autonomous Govt. body. Board members to Prasar Bharati are first short listed by a selection committee which does a nationwide scan of personalities from media, corporate and public life. Final list is approved by the Hon'ble Vice President of India and the appointment is done by the Govt. of India on behalf of the Hon'ble President of India. I was shortlisted for my experience in corporate and media fields. It is humbling to be thus shortlisted and a privilege to be on the board of such a respected organisation like Prasar Bharati.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My primary work is consulting, in areas related to innovation and business transformation. A significant part of my time has to be devoted to learning and educating myself and documenting my learnings. I like to spend time equally between learning and carrying out my daily tasks with client related work and meetings. From time to time I indulge in writing on subjects related to innovation. I spare many hours a week to mentoring and advising startups and ecosystem players. I find these interactions most invigorating. It is a great sense of joy and pride to see many of these startups grow from fledgling status to success and recognition. Not much of a morning person, mornings are late and easy. Evenings are spent working out, time with family and news of the day. I like to watch shows from around the world for a while before I go to sleep.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

I have come to realize that there is never one leadership style. A leader needs to constantly mould and adapt to the environment, people and situation around them. Event alter their personality and style. The pandemic of 2020 and the ensuing mayhem on business was unprecedented. No leader could have trained for it. Ability to learn and adapt to radically new situations demands that leadership itself be redefined. Till about a decade ago leaders considered most successful were disciplined, meticulous, strong and authoritative. Today we are seeing emergence of leaders who don’t abide by rules, who are willing to be vulnerable and prefer creativity over discipline.

5. What are some of the keys to doing governance well in a large enterprise?

Governance is a complex subject. It ranges right from following the rules and laws to ensuring what the corporation does is 'right' by its employees, stakeholders, business partners, customers and society at large. Not many enterprises are driven by serving all segments with good. I always ask one question of myself when taking or endorsing a decision, which is, is this decision or act going to adversely effect any of the constituents. How do we mitigate the harm so that no one suffers with our decisions. Every enterprise, large or small, knows what is right and wrong. Good governance or lack of it is either by choice or ignorance. A conscious leadership would never accept otherwise.

6. How do you differentiate between the role of board member and the roles of CEO or executive team member of a large enterprise?

A board member's role is limited to providing guidance and independent perspective. The executive team on the other hand has to work to deliver on their plans and operations. In that sense, the board member plays a delicate balance. Providing meaningful guidance, being ever watchful and supporting the management to do their job that much better, all without seeming to be interfering or being pushy. It is a balance difficult for many to maintain, and we see frequent board battles as agendas take precedence. A mutual respect for each other's roles is the best way to maintain a healthy relationship between management and the board.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a board member of a large enterprise so far?

A few years ago, the company I joined had taken over a large enterprise and a new board was constituted. The board understood, even before the takeover that there is likely to be questions in the minds of the employees and even fear of the unknown. As a board we decided to address this head on by organising a series of road shows across all the offices of the enterprise in the first week of the takeover to address all questions openly and allay fears. Each event evoked passionate engagement and helped bring out all questions openly, which the board and senior management went on to address. This act helped tremendously in making the employees comfortable and led to a swift and smooth transition. This was a great learning. The fact that the board members took it upon themselves to meet all employees and address them brought out a sense of commitment and transparency which the staff appreciated. It is important for a board to take responsibility head on and not always delegate to the management. It is not very often that we see such action from a board.