7 Questions with Ram Narayanan
Name: Ram Narayanan
Current title: Vice President (Strategic Planning)
Current organisation: Reliance Industries Limited
I am a corporate professional who believes in time tested virtues of hard work and dedication married with latest trends of innovation and flexibility. In my corporate career I presently work as Vice President (Strategic Planning) in the petrochemical business of Reliance Industries Limited, India based out of Mumbai. In my corporate career I have worked across many industries - chemicals, metals, telecom, etc. across various roles which has given me exposure to various facets of the business world. I have had the opportunity to work in different parts of the globe - China, Malaysia, India, UK and have done business in various other countries. I have travelled across the length and breadth of 2 of the world`s most diverse and populous countries - India and China. I have travelled on business and pleasure to more than 25 countries across the world during which
I have had the opportunity to interact with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
I am also an avid marathon runner having completed more than 20 races. Trekking is a passion with trekking in the Himalayas being one of my favourite activities. Sports is a major passion with cricket and soccer being my favourite sports which I follow vividly across the globe.
I blog regularly under the name “PanOrama” (https://ramnarayanan1112.blogspot.in/). My articles having been published in various forums with topics of interests including geo politics, governance, sports and economics.
I have keen interest in the field of climate change and renewable energy having spoken and written about the need for a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
I am a firm believer in developing human capabilities to enhance the livelihood of people. I have been associated with the Grow Movement which works with small entrepreneurs in Africa to enhance their businesses. I regularly speak at various B schools in India and mentor young students on their career paths.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Motivating and encouraging my team to deliver the best results in adverse conditions is most challenging. Aligning the team, with diverse thoughts and talents, towards the common goal, ensuring availability of adequate resources and making the team work as a seamless unit can be quite challenging Motivating and encouraging my team to deliver the best results in adverse conditions is most challenging. Aligning the team, with diverse thoughts and talents, towards the common goal, ensure availability of adequate resources and make the team work as a seamless unit can be quite challenging
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I started off a junior sales manager in a global firm in India after finishing my B school. I was given a wide variety of tasks to perform based on which I was given an Asia Pacific role which was a great learning experience as I had to build up and scale up the business.
I then shifted companies and industries to take a challenging role in the telecom sector based in China. It was the career defining moment for me as I had to build up the business as well handle a multi-cultural team.
As a next career move, I moved back to Mumbai to take up a global role in a metals and mining firm, in which I rose to become the General Manager of the unit.
As a next career move, I moved to Reliance Industries in India to handle a strategy and business development role in which I got promoted to become Vice President.
I subsequently moved to Malaysia to handle an acquisition and run the business which I turned around successfully.
In my present role I head the Strategic Planning for the petrochemicals business in Reliance Industries in which I am driving the business performance as well as future growth avenues for the business across the world.
I have risen to this level by taking up challenging assignments, taking calculated risks, interacting with people and handling a wide variety of roles.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I start my day with a run or a work out or at least a walk in fresh air. My work day starts with my morning coffee where I read and reply to important work related mails and messages. My next activity is to have calls with my Malaysia business considering the time zone. Subsequently, I catch up on world news through newspapers, online news sites and TV channels especially BBC.
I start my structured work day by scheduling my day and first looking through my calendar. The first meeting of the day is a rack up meeting with my team where we take stock of the developments, markets and key actions to be taken for the day. This is followed by a daily senior leadership meeting at the company level.
I then attend to important matters which need an external interface and interact with other colleagues.
I also try to attend some important business related webinars to upgrade my knowledge.
After I close work, I then catch up with some reading of international journals, business related news, etc.
I structure my work so that my team is clear on the deliverbak
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Be in touch with ground reality and connect with your team, customers, suppliers and stakeholders.
The important thing I learnt when I handled important and challenging assignments is that by connecting with key people, establishing communication channels and being transparent in your actions, all challenging and tough situations can be tackled and faced appropriately. Another important leadership lesson I learnt is to build trust and respect. Trust is reflected in your actions while respect is built up by being consistent and transparent in your actions.
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?
“Long Walk to Freedom'' by Nelson Mandela. Here was a man who was incarcerated for 27 years but didn’t lose his spirit and dream of achieving the abolishment of apartheid. The book is a reflection of the great man's thoughts and vision for the country.
As a sequel, Nelson Mandela's impact on my thought process was enhanced by the movie "Invictus" in which his dream inspires the South African rugby team to win the world cup.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I would put leadership building in 2 buckets - capability building and soft skills / confidence building.
Capability building involves upgrading the hard skills of the people which will enable them perform their jobs better and more effectively especially in challenging times. Some examples are financial modelling, valuation tools, technical training, etc.
Soft skills involve upgrading skills like public speaking, networking, presentation skills.
The combination of the above 2 buckets of skills coupled with adequate exposure to challenging assignments is how I build leadership capacity in large organizations.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
The biggest experience in my time as a senior executive was when I was handling the Malaysia business in my present organization. We had to change the supplier of a key input item which involved regulatory approvals from Malaysian banks. As approvals couldn't be done in time we ran the risk of supply shortage. I networked with my contacts with the supplier, which was one of the world's leading oil and gas firms, and was able to get the necessary extensions.
The incident built up my respect in my Malaysian unit and added value to the business.