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7 Questions with Ajay Shukla
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Ajay Shukla
Name: Ajay Shukla
Current title: Managing Director
Current organisation: EdOrbis DMCC
Ex CEO International Horizons College, ex President McGraw Hill Education Asia Pacific, ex CEO readers digest India.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
A common purpose, alignment, a will to win, collaborate and not compete
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Born poor my first school was roofless and in a remote village. I loved reading, had innate curiosity and I was ambitious. From there I moved to a hill town known for his schooling. I couldn't speak English until the age of 16. Lost my father at 14, won a government National talent scholarship (selection rate - 0.1%) to pay for my education. Cleared India's most competitive engineering entrance exam (IIT) with a rank of 56. Did my MBA from a top 3 B school with an entrance rank of 1st in India. Joined American Express in sales, rose to head of marketing and sales within 10 years, was appointed the head of credit cards at ABN Amro, CEO of RD India and then President of McGraw hill and CEO of International Horizons College in Dubai. It's quite a story of a village boy in slippers sneaking into the corridors of global corporations with nothing but talent and determination and a passion to give back to society.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Before sleeping I go over the next day. Visualise what I would and when. What's important and what's urgent. Make a list of tasks the next morning. I try to minimise urgent tasks by delegating or finishing then quickly and maximize time on important stuff like strategy, client proposals, meeting customers, checking on quality and employee well being and imagining the next big idea.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Humility to learn from your subordinates. The world of work has changed forever - we need to learn new skills e.g. digital competencies and it's the youth who will help 'experience with the knowledge.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
7 habits of highly successful people by Stephen Covey is one. The last habit of sharpening the saw was profound. One had to constantly learn and unlearn.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Experienced leaders must actively mentor, delegate with skill, allow for mistakes (with careful risk impact) and showcase talent to serve as an example.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
When I was appointed as the President of McGraw hill Education I led a multinational team - Chinese, Australian, Korean, Singapore etc. As the first non white President people were curious, perhaps apprehensive, about me and my style. I did a town hall tour of my region to meet all the staff personally and opened my interaction by saying and showing my passport - " This may be the colour of my passport but I am here to lead and support everyone of you in equal measure. I belong to you as much as people in any other country uber my watch". The mood changed instantly.