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7 Questions on Leadership with Chetan Kapoor

Name: Chetan Kapoor

Title: Chief Executive Officer

Organisation: Tech Mahindra Foundation

Chetan comes with more than two decades of rich experience in the development sector. He has been instrumental in seeding thoughts and ideas to lead the way for projects on ground with effective outcomes. His core areas of expertise over the years have been education and skill development, and he has shaped organizational strategy and strengthened systems to enable high-impact program delivery in these areas.

He joined Tech Mahindra Foundation in 2016 as the Chief Operating Officer and since then has been an integral part of the Foundation, leading the way in achieving the vision of “Empowerment through Education”. He conceptualized the Foundation’s flagship Skill Development Program (SMART), which is now one of the largest CSR-led urban skill development programs in India.

Chetan has served as a jury member of the FICCI Excellence in Higher Education Awards for 2019 and 2020. He has been a member of the Curriculum Reform Committee constituted by the Govt of Delhi for transforming education in Delhi Govt schools.

Prior to joining TMF, Chetan led his consulting company Edulever that he founded in 2009, which created a name for itself as a premier support organization for the social development sector. He worked with organizations such as ITC, EY, American India Foundation, and many others. He is also the co-founder of Agrasar, a developmental organization working for Skills, Social Security, and Education in Gurgaon. Chetan completed his MBA in International Business from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and a bachelor’s degree in commerce from Delhi University.

With a strong commitment to the Mahindra Group’s avowed belief in “Rising for an Equal World”, Chetan aspires to continue contributing towards a resilient, empowered, inclusive and sustainable future for the generations to come.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Chetan's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Leadership to me is essentially a fine balancing act. Dealing with multiple stakeholders comes as part of the role, and managing the expectations of these stakeholders – sometimes conflicting, sometimes unrealistic, often ambiguous – is perhaps the greatest challenge most leaders face. Resource constraints, a perennial reality in the social development sector, spice up this challenge.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Back in 2001, just before I turned 30, I chose to move to the social sector after getting a start in the corporate world. I consider myself blessed to have found my calling at an early stage of my career. I have also been fortunate that in my 22-year journey in the social sector, I have almost always held positions at the top or close to it. In my first job in this space, I was given the fancy designation of “Executive Director” and was tasked with setting up a non-profit from scratch. Once this non-profit was up and running, I went on to lead the Delhi office of a large-scale education NGO which had a field team of over 500 people. Subsequently, I also served as the head of a large technology-based education program in south and west India. Then, in 2009, I started my own outfit called Edulever, a resource and consulting agency for the development sector. Finally, I joined Tech Mahindra Foundation as the COO in 2016 and am now serving as the CEO since Nov 2022.

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

I realize that over time, I have become a creature of routine and habit like many others like me. It helps to follow a routine for the most part. I like to wake up early and reflect on the previous day as well as on the day ahead of me. Some “me-time” at the beginning of the day is something that I cherish. The typical work day is usually a series of meetings (mostly virtual since several of my teammates and tasks to be accomplished. I like to keep enough breathing space on my calendar most days, but on some days this is just wishful thinking 😊.

For more than 10 years now, I have made a brisk 45-minute post-dinner walk as part of my daily routine. This again allows me to reflect on the day, and helps me sleep better.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

That when it comes to motivating your workforce, there is no substitute to going to them, listening to them, and addressing them directly – in person. The forced switch to work-from-home and virtual calls three years ago made us complacent and getting used to a more convenient way of doing things. However, this phase has also made it amply clear what existing technology can effectively achieve and what it can’t; and when it comes to connecting with people at a deeper, more meaningful level, virtual just doesn’t make the cut. Now that Covid is behind us, I think it is imperative that leaders go out and meet with people – there is no substitute to that.

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?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I read this book over 25 years ago, at a time when I was struggling with the question of what I wished to do with my life. Some of the invaluable lessons from this book, such as the True North principle and “Seek First to Understand, then be Understood” (Habit 5), are lessons that continue to be guiding stars for me in my leadership journey. On numerous occasions, I have found myself revisiting this book and each time, it has insights to offer that help me build a better perspective.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

To Find the True You, and then Be the True You.

For me, there is no “best” way to lead. Leadership has a lot to do with being authentic, being true to oneself. And since each one of us is unique, while you can learn a lot from others’ examples, what matters most is finding the uniqueness in you, and then using this to lead by example.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

This happened early in my leadership journey, soon after I had taken charge of the Delhi office of the large education NGO that I spoke of earlier. I saw that the existing mechanism of remitting monthly salaries to the ground staff – nearly 500 of them – was a rather unwieldy one (this was before the era of instant bank transfers) because of which disbursement of salaries was rather delayed. When I tried to change the status quo, I was given a litany of reasons why the solution I proposed would not work. However, I managed to persuade the concerned staff to try this out for just three months, and if it did not work, we will revert to the existing method. The new method worked from the first month itself, and there was a palpable improvement in the team’s morale because of the on-time salary pay-outs.

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