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7 Questions with Rakesh Setia

helps you in your leadership.



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7 Questions with Rakesh Setia

Name: Rakesh Setia

Current title: President Sales & Marketing

Current organisation: Rustomjee Realty Pvt Ltd

Rakesh is a 52 years old business leader working with a top real estate organization, Rustomjee, in India's largest market, Mumbai.

Rakesh has over 30 years of working experience and has worked with various Indian and Multinational companies such as Nerolac, Reebok, Kodak, Parker, Hutchison and Vodafone in the past before joining Rustomjee in 2019.

He has worked in various parts of India, possesses management degrees in Management, Marketing and Finance. He is an alumni of IMT, GlobalNXT University, INSEAD and is currently pursuing Doctorate from SPJGBM.

He is known for his penchant for building strong teams, business processes and ability to deliver business goals in tough business situations.

He has grown from a front line sales position to a senior management role and is a great believer in perseverance, conscientiousness and high moral and ethical values.

7 Questions with Rakesh Setia


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

All large organizations are built around large teams operating in distant locations, having diversified objectives and working in a cross functional environment.

In order to progress and achieve business objectives in an ever changing and evolving competitive scenario, it's important for the teams to work on their own deliverables, however, with a broader objective to meet the overall business goals and to have larger corporation objectives as focus.

It is also important for the senior leader to build a high level of commitment and a culture of innovation, ownership and solution oriented mindset. Therefore, building a strong sense of purpose, commitment and solution orientation are some of the most important soft skills to be possessed by the team members.

Building a strong pipeline of talent to manage crucial roles, acquiring talent to meet emerging business complexities is something that the top management has to continuously focus to ensure that the business grows and strong leaders take all the necessary steps to continue to build in ever changing and most complex business situations.

Therefore, the aspects of 1) creating a strong solution orientation and innovation led culture, 2) having a larger purpose to lead organization through the changes and 3) building talent and creating a strong pipeline of future leaders is the most challenging part of a CEO's job.

This is what I find most interesting and challenging at the same time. I have generally seen that it takes some time to align, build and form strong teams. This time depends upon the organization, culture and also the credibility of the leader. It may take less time, if one moves within a large corporation and has some credibility, or longer if you move to a different industry and have to make a fresh start. However, once some sort of alignment is achieved and the teams start seeing some benefit tickling in, it builds on and gains momentum.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I started my professional work life after an undergraduate degree in 1989 at a relatively young age of around 20 years. I started in a front line sales role in a medium size Paints company of national repute and soon became a part of the young achievers club and started doing well.

Over the first 15 years of my professional career, I worked with some extremely large international brands such as Kodak, Reebok and Parker and grew to Sales Manager roles and handled the retail and distribution led roles.

And then around 2002, I moved into the fast growing Telecom industry and joined Hutchison in India as a Sales Manager and that is when I started having fascinating chances to become P&L head, because I could see how CEO's work and take decisions in a rapidly changing market environment in a highly competitive situation.

Over the next 12 years in the Telecom industry, I handled 9 different roles in Sales, Operations, Marketing and Strategy and shifted multiple locations, before I became CEO at the age of 45 years.

These 12 years were some of the best periods of my professional career where I could grow myself into a highly competitive business environment, met some great successes and also some big failures, which taught me a great deal of management lessons. There were some awards and rewards, some push backs and periods where I got nervous and leaned back on my mentors.

However, while working with a large corporation like Aditya Birla Group, I got a tremendous opportunity to learn and upskill myself. The organization provided me lots of opportunities to enroll in various courses and training programs and also put me in an Advance Business Management Course in INSEAD to polish my skills as a P&L Leader.

Then, in 2014, at the age of 45 years, I achieved the greatest reward of my professional career when I was announced as the Business Head for Idea Cellular for their business in a geography of high importance.

In this role I had to set up a new office at a new location and recruit a large team from inside the organization and also from external sources.

This role gave me the opportunity to work with senior leadership as my leaders and mentors and also some very senior people as my team members.

More importantly, my team members were senior business leaders themselves who knew about their domain much better than I did and I had to learn and educate myself a great deal before I could contribute to their domain areas and areas of expertise.

Initial few years were most challenging as we were laying the foundation of a new team where we had to recruit a large number of people and it took time to create facilities, recruit and train people and build the alignment.

It needed a huge amount of patience and perseverance to get a large number of people together and make them appreciate each other as team members and business leaders. People, not only had to shift to new locations, also had to settle their families and manage logistics and work with new team members altogether.

It took great effort in putting this together and also achieving the business goals. It was extremely demanding yet satisfying to see it through and deliver the business to the expectations of the top management.

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

I am generally an early riser and prefer to get up by 5 am. After some amount of exercising and jogging, I scan newspapers and social media accounts to update myself with the latest news.

I generally start working at around 8 am and start responding to emails, messages and various daily and weekly tasks, pendency, reports and data analytics.

I plan my meetings from about 10.30 and this morning time of two and a half hours gives me enough self time to prepare and structure my meetings, decide on future projects, updates, catching up and planning.

I generally keep busy till 7 pm in various work meetings and manage working lunches during meetings itself. From 7 to 9 pm, I again go on my planning and reading sessions and prepare myself on various tasks and analytics.

I have light supper at about 7 pm, while on work and prefer to skip dinner.

9 to 10.30 is the family time where I get to catch up with my wife and kids and I generally go to sleep by 10.30 pm.

I prefer to keep my phone on silent mode and attend only very important calls and messages during the meetings. It helps me give full attention and focus to the topics at hand and not get into multi-tasking.

Over a period of time, I am able to build a support system around me to help me with this kind of schedule and my Board members and team members support me managing my time more efficiently and they also are able to structure their time accordingly.

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

I spent more than 17 years in the telecom industry and worked in three different organizations, 9 different roles and as many different locations.

While I grew from a Sales Manager role to a CEO role and grew very rapidly, however, frequent role and location changes were personally very challenging. Telecom industry being a highly agile, competitive and ever changing industry, I had to quickly reset to the demands of a new role, make new teams and grow the business, often at the cost of family life.

From early on after my marriage in 1997 and getting two kids by 2000, my wife had well understood the importance of my career in my priorities and extended a great amount of support to help me meet my professional demands and work nearly 75 hours a week. She took complete care of our household, kids' upbringing and their education and relocation movements. I had to just focus on my professional requirements to be able to give more than 100% focus.

Being a highly reflective and introspective person, I could develop a learning style which is quite open to acquire new ways of working, settling, building relationships and strong team works. However, what hasn't changed is my commitment, passion and high energy levels despite growing in terms of number of years.

It is, when I changed my industry and joined a totally contrasting real estate industry, I had to learn to adapt and change again and much outside my comfort zone.

I had to adjust to a new work environment, a new set of colleagues and team members, new customer profiles, channels and this is where my past achievements do not bring me immediate credibility especially from the team members.

This period of little over two years has been the most challenging, which has taught me the importance of staying supple, having an open and learning mindset, appreciating team members, however, have your own point of view based on logic and fundamentals because the business fundamentals don't change.

So, the last lesson that I have learned is that for a professional to be successful, s/he has to understand five basics -

1) Product, importance to consumers and purchase behavior;
2) Competitive landscape, industry best practices, changing dynamics;
3) Team members and Peer group;
4) Channel Partners, various modes of distribution and product delivery;
5) Stakeholders and their priorities

If a senior leader is able to form a top view of above five parameters and get deeper into where it is required, the leader will be able to understand the dynamics of the new industry, organization and team and will be able to shorten the learning curve.

In order to form a top view along five parameters, I made it a point to meet several colleagues from the industry and various technology partners to also get external views. This put tremendous pressure on my time management, however, given the stakes, it has been worthwhile.

I also tried to gather various study materials, research reports, published material and read about the real estate industry to gather various knowledge.

One classical principle for me in life has been to know about my job, more than my Boss (Board in this case) would know and this has helped to leapfrog in terms of knowing the details of the real estate industry, changing landscape, emerging technology and consumer trends.

With all humility, I don't claim to know more than the stalwarts of the industry, however, I know enough or different things as compared to industry veterans to add to their knowledge of the real estate industry from an external perspective. And, this has helped me to gain a foothold in the new industry and move forward from here.

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 had developed a habit of reading books and reading through many books.

Initially, I used to read books on self help and improvement, then I started reading books on leadership and spirituality, then shifted to reading biographies.

My reading has slightly gone down in the last two years, however, I catch up by reading through some Book Summaries and browsing material on the web. I have also been occupied in reading course material of various courses that I have done in the last 10 years.

Some of the books which have had a profound impact on me have been Mindset by Carol Dweck, The Secret, Biographies of Steve Jobs and Jack Welch, Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseih, Autobiography of a Yogi.

These books among various others and also my life experience has taught me various lessons and I would like to mention some of the following lessons :

1) Short term gain equals long term pain and vice-versa
2) There's no better time to start than now
3) You can see God whenever you want
4) You have to see the dreams that keep you awake and you can achieve anything
5) You have to die to see the heaven
6) Whenever feel confused look deep inside where you find all the answers
7) Values are like the lighthouse and they guide how you take decisions when faced with a dilemma. Decisions for self and others can not be differentiated.
8) You get the reward for the work, it comes sooner than later.

I am also fond of collecting one liner motivation quotes on my cellphone as and when I come across something powerful and browse through them once in a while.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

The world has changed a great deal in the last three decades that I have been working.

I have worked from the age of typewriters and telex and today is the age of 5G, IOT, AI, VR, AR and a limitless digital world. There have been huge amounts of changes and adaptations that one has to go through to work in today's organizations.

However, if I develop a pattern of managerial and leadership growth in the last three decades, I observe the followings :

In the beginning of the career, one starts as an "Individual contributor" and the people who deliver high results and also demonstrate ability to lead the teams are grown to the next level.

After achieving the "Manage Others" level, the managers are evaluated on the basis of their ability to perform and deliver business goals through the team members. In addition to this, the managers need to be able to appreciate the financial outcome of their performance regardless of their functional area and those who are able to deliver goals through the team and also take care of financial objectives are grown to the next level of "Manage Managers".

After achieving the level of supposedly leading a Business Vertical, leading Managers and delivering on business goals with financial prudence, the leaders are identified on their ability to understand technology and build processes which are scalable and can be implemented in wider business situations. Such Leaders are valued and they demonstrate the ability to manage functions and build organizational capability to deliver business objectives over a long period of time.

By this time, a professional is generally at a Function Head or a CXO level and manages a team of Business Vertical Heads.

When it comes to selecting CEO's the organizations look for all the skills till now and ability to build business and deliver the objectives in a highly complex situation by leading a team of Function Heads or CXO's. In addition the skill that becomes important is the ability to create a long lasting and profitable organization.

In other words, it is the ability to develop organizations to not only deliver on the business today and immediate future, the CEO's are required to create the organizations that can sustain the medium and long term business challenges and thrive in such situations.

The CEO's have to envisage emerging consumer behavior, competitive scenarios, emergence of fresh product categories and hence the new set of competitors and create an organization that is execution focused and also builds new businesses.

The book by Govindarajan, "Three Box Strategy" explains this concept well and will be highly relevant even in future.

To sum it up, a Business Leader needs to understand the business and deliver, lead teams, understand financial implications, understand the role of technology and create a future proof organization to perform in different business situations.

So, while thinking about building leadership capacity in a large enterprise, the CEO's need to keep these factors in mind and accordingly grow the pool of people that can deliver the business today, tomorrow and build a future proof organization.

Aligning the board, stakeholders and investors and business leaders inside the organization is required to develop leadership capacity in any organization.

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

I am often reminded of a small town young boy who was extremely mischievous and was caught whenever any mischief was reported.

He was third among his siblings and had two elder sisters and a younger brother. Loved by both parents and had a loving family. Had a huge group of well trusted friends who were always available and used to play and eat together.

During childhood, father's profession took some challenges, ran into huge business debt and the family got into rough weather. The boy had to supplement the family's earnings along with his two elder sisters. They built their life brick by brick and repaid the loans, got the comforts in life and gradually started prospering.

While the boy had aspirations to acquire good university degrees, however, he had to start working at an early age and joined father's business initially at the age of 16 years, and did some petty jobs. Got lucky to join a decent organization at the age of 20 years and got into a corporate job.

His dreams were big, hence, he kept on studying and working at the same time. Acquired a Business Management PG qualifications, another PG course in Finance, another Business Management PG degree, AMP program from a foreign university and went on to achieve high qualifications even till late in his career.

After initial hard work of about 10-12 years, the boy kept on growing in corporate life, earned good salaries and kept on upgrading his skills and continued to work hard with humility. He always remained a mama's boy in his heart, a rural folk and never shied from working hard and gaining knowledge from others.

To a great extent, this boy suffered from some inferiority complex till late in his career and shied away from public attention and was less than confident speaking among the public.

However, he remained the darling of his bosses due to his ability to slog, solution orientation, ability to see the larger picture and align with corporate goals. This habit saw him through many business obstacles and difficult professional situations and he could always come out with flying colors despite efforts of some conniving individuals.

Overall, he made more friends and mentors than foes and took pride in doing the things with his own hands.

Despite the lack of education from top institutions like IITs/IIMs, this boy got to work with colleagues from such eminent institutions and reached there even sooner than his contemporaries from top colleges.

This boy grew into a matured and mentally strong person and always valued the importance of hard work. He, together with his wife, was blessed with two loving kids who went on to achieve great professional heights in the field of medicine and engineering.

His other siblings also settled down in happy personal lives, albeit with some minor hiccups.

This boy has lived through various management and spiritual lessons in life and is happy, contented and peaceful. He takes pride in his living the life by working hard and often pushes others, who he feels aren't working as hard. However, he realizes the different lives being led by different individuals and despite his tough demeanor, he continues to be love his team, work and loves to don the title of being a Workaholic and a Tough Boss.

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