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7 Questions with Kanak Gupta
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7 Questions with Kanak Gupta
Name: Kanak Gupta
Current title: Group Director
Current organization: Seth M.R. Jaipuria Schools
Kanak Gupta is Group Director of Seth M.R. Jaipuria Schools. Seth M.R. Jaipuria Schools is running 37 schools (Nursery to Grade 12) pan-India with 30,000+ students and 2000+ educators associated with the group, primarily at Tier 2/ Tier 3 cities.
An educator with 16+ years of experience working in India, UK , and Germany, he's a graduate of Purdue University, USA and St Xavier's College, Calcutta.Besides other interests, Kanak works with leading media networks as consultant and television panelist, he is also co-founder of Theatrecian, the most prolific English theatre group in India, and co-Trustee of We Log Charitable Trust, involved with pollution issues, police reforms and protection laws. Kanak has been awarded 'Young Creative Entrepreneur' by the British Council in India, Indian Educator of the Year by Achievers Forum , and recognized as one of the 40 under 40 educators in India, among other awards.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Transform learning experience of 150,000 children and 6000 educators across 100 sustainable schools pan-India by 2026 through providing access to quality education.
India is a country that changes every 100 Kms, if not lesser, a country where education is lopsided in favor of large cities. There is so much diversity, it's so empowering and rewarding. The greatest challenge is to empathetic ally recognize this diversity, and celebrate it for the greatest synergy. Added to that, the challenges that come typically with scale, of having multiple stakeholders and each sub-set being a large number of stakeholders. Servicing needs of all without favoritism or compromise is key.
Engagement of all stakeholders, retention of key employees, growth of every individual associated with us, whilst strictly focusing on creativity, innovation and top of the line servicing would remain priority. At times, this does lead to fire fighting and panic, but over time, as the leader, one has to condition oneself to better manage tasks to get out of the to-do-lists mindset and truly focus on the big picture, the larger scheme of things.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Having had entrepreneurial experience right during my school years in Calcutta, and then studying for an MBA and worked globally with some of the better organizations in cities such as London and Hamburg, I realized during my travels worldwide that the root cause of everything would be better education. So, I decided to move bag and baggage and started teaching at colleges pan-India. Soon, I realized that what would be more important to impact students at school level. That is when I got Jaipuria Schools journey started with setup of K-12 Schools in Tier-2 Tier 3 cities. The bulk of growth for us as a business would come from there, and that is where the requirement of high quality education is the maximum.
It was very exciting being responsible for a start-up within an established business and by virtue of building it hands-on, I have set all processes and tasks.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I try focusing on the big picture. I try not to nitpick on tasks because that is why I have built a wonderful team. Nonetheless, 40% of my work day goes in day to day tasks, given that we have a very large and horizontal operation which is geographically diverse. Consciously, I don't do more than 3 department meetings a day, and every department gets a chance once a week; I do a town hall with the whole organization once a month. Three of my customers get phone calls/ video calls with me a day, that means I connect with them every fortnight. I spend couple of hours on my personal development and planning, and definitely an hour a day on physical health. This all besides time with family and routine works.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Empowering people would get better dividends. I strongly believe as a leader, I can't simply expect individuals to have responsibilities and targets without having power. Unless empowered, one doesn't have a sense of ownership. And, unless one has a sense of ownership, one will NOT perform to the best of their ability.
I am a strong believer in technology. However, technology is an enabler to overall plans, actions and learning thereof; empowering people will bring in incremental change.
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?
I've never been religious or spiritual; but then, I was recommended the Bhagwad Gita by someone and I took away more managerial lessons than I ever imagined. Self Realization is realizing who you ‘truly' are. Realizing your ‘true self'. Not what people think you are. Not your name, profession, etc but your actions.
It impacted my thinking as a leader because I could focus on seeing the world and tasks with empathy and without being partial, and the art of giving feedback, leading by example and managing teams- brilliant learning.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
By accepting ideas from all stakeholders, understanding your organization environment and that of those who're with you. Don't make capacity development a TASK or EVENT, but focus on a growth mindset, collaborative working and let every individual be themselves, be their best.
I often look at tasks and ask, how can technology make this scalable, measurable, replicable. Next, who will be best suited to do that- and I don't interfere with their work after that. I often sit with the team and we imagine what the future is like- a week later, two months later, three years or five years later, and where do we see the organization going. And, what capacity enhancements would we need- and we work towards that. There is no one-size-fits all. There is focus on innovation, collaboration, imagining the future, and upskilling accordingly
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Sure thing. Out of a million stories, I'll share one right at the start. When we decided that we are going to impact thousands and millions of individuals pan-India, we realized the mammoth task. And, as old-world wisdom would have it, we contacted the creme-de-la-creme consulting outfits. And, everyone suggested against the business idea. Subsequently, there was dissonance about geography- we were told India of Tier 2/Tier 3 cities does not augur well for us; then, the service model was questioned and ultimately, the consultancy "paper-pushers" suggested we drop the venture.
I did my own R&D; went physically to analyze results; created financial models to see viability on projections; and went ahead with the consultants' advice, anyway. Today, it seems like the business success came easy. But, this "overnight" success took almost 2 years of sleepless nights doing nothing but planning and imagining. Today, it's validating and fulfilling seeing the dream come true, but also now, there's a larger dream. Glad that the milestones reached have not become layover/stop-over zones.