Name: Nitin Sethi
Title: SVP, Chief Digital Officer – Consumer Businesses at Adani Group
Organisation: Adani Group
Young, dynamic, and all original, Nitin Sethi is presently the Chief Digital Officer of Consumer Businesses at Adani Group and Founding Leader of Adani Digital Labs. A relatable individual, a Thought Leader and Industry Leader, Nitin mentors many aspiring entrepreneurs and start-ups and has invested in a few of them too. Design Thinking and Digital Transformation being close to his heart, he has shared his extensive knowledge on public forums as a speaker and has authored several articles as well.
Nitin’s experience of over two decades in creating digital platforms and businesses comes from ace digitalisation brands like Naukri, 99acres, Shiksha, Quikr, Yatra, Travelguru, IndiaTimes, Rediff, and Bharti Airtel. He scaled up the 6EDigital for IndiGo prior to joining the Adani Group. He is a curious design thinker who believes in driving growth and innovation by enhancing productivity, empowering and upskilling employees, and sharpening processes and operations to craft business models par excellence.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Nitin's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
As a leader, irrespective of the industry you work in, one of the most challenging objectives to uphold is managing workforce diversity. I have always maintained a people-first approach as I strongly believe in promoting inclusion and diversity across teams. While this enriches the organisation, it also presents challenges in terms of managing different perspectives, cultural backgrounds, and work styles in a cohesive and effective manner. But, in order to drive innovation and growth, you must empower and upskill deserving individuals – which comes with people from varied backgrounds, perspectives and experiences. By surrounding myself with such employees and peers, I, in turn, get to learn different perspectives and diverse experiences, driving personal and professional growth.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Design thinking and digital transformation have always been close to my heart. In a competitive digital landscape, maintaining thought leadership and staying ahead of competitors require continuous effort. This involves staying relevant, sharing valuable insights, and positioning oneself as a go-to authority in the industry. Having a never-say-never attitude and enthusiasm can serve as assets in overcoming hurdles and inspiring teams to tackle any obstacle that comes their way. By addressing these challenges head-on and fostering a culture of innovation and resilience, I have continued to strive to make a lasting impact in digital transformation. My experience has spanned over two decades in creating digital platforms and businesses which comes from ace digitalisation brands such as Naukri, 99acres, Shiksha, Quikr, Travelguru, IndiaTimes, Rediff, Bharti Airtel, and IndiGo.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I begin my day at 6 in the morning, with a healthy start by working out, because I strongly believe it fuels a healthy mind. I check my emails, get some breakfast to fuel myself further, and get ready to step out for work. For me, the early half of a typical day at work involves tackling core leadership responsibilities, interactions with partners and external meetings. The second half is more about getting the vibe of different work streams and practices because building and maintaining the organisation’s culture and DNA is the top-most priority of a leader. By 6.30 PM, I wrap up my day at the office (although the calls and emails do make another appearance before bed time). While most of my day is focused on creating an entrepreneurial mindset, personal time with my family is just as important to me. 7.30-8.15 PM is dedicated to evening walks with my wife, followed by some quality time with my family and the people close to me. I try to be in bed by 11 PM, and look forward to another day of exciting challenges.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
One of the greatest leaders I have worked with is Mr. Gautam Adani. He showed me how having a long-term vision is important for successful leadership. I have learned first-hand how to lead from the back and the front, the art of keeping oneself smartly detached in various situations and conversations without taking anything personally – something not many people have, empowering leaders and respecting everyone equally because all perspectives are important. But the most important of all has been the most impactful one – learning the art of delaying defeat to increase your chances of winning.
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?
'What the Customer Wants You to Know' by Ram Charan is the one that easily comes to mind. It enriched my knowledge on design thinking, opened up new perspectives on gauging the pulse of the market, and spending the majority of time with customers, partners, and ultimately their journeys. A quote that stayed with me from the book is by Lou Eccleston – “Making a sale is not the objective, it’s just a symptom of a successful communication. It’s a symptom that indicates you understand the customer and are measuring your success by your customer’s success.”
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
It is very easy for a young leader to feel inclined to imitate the leadership styles of others whom they admire or believe to be successful. Authenticity in leadership style is an important aspect of staying true to oneself. Embracing your own unique strengths, values, and personality will not only garner respect but also create genuine connection with others. It is only with discipline, integrity, transparency in conversations, and dedication towards work, that you can build on your competency.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I strongly believe, as a leader, you truly get to prove your mettle when you are face-to-face with a crisis. In my career, I would say I was lucky enough to successfully tackle two major crises. I say ‘luck’ because when you can overcome such obstacles, you quickly learn to adapt, evolve and succeed. The first major crisis was when the COVID-19 pandemic hit during my time at IndiGo. As someone leading the digital wing for an airline while travel was suspended, this meant no dearth of challenges. However, that is when the true potential of digital emerged. And then there was the recent Hindenburg report that challenged me to up my game and deliver when it really mattered.
My mantra was simple but highly effective:
1. Motivate, repeat, motivate!
2.Keep the team focussed on what’s necessary.
3. Stay out of the market noise.
4. Manage media without affecting the core functioning.