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Nokia MD: 'My Challenge is to Stay Relevant'

Nokia India’s MD, D. Shivakumar, believes that keeping your ear to the ground is the most important part of being a leader

Published: Jul 27, 2009 11:00:00 AM IST
Updated: Jul 27, 2009 12:27:27 PM IST

One thing I consciously do is share information — both positive and negative. For the headquarters, it matters that there is consistency and there are no surprises — they hear the good as well as the bad news from you. Working for an MNC also requires a willingness to accept new ideas that could come from elsewhere. I consider myself as the ambassador of the parent company at all times. This means you cannot have a bad day. No matter what the differences, you must know how to balance multiple things.

The toughest part about my job is to manage a company in a rapidly changing environment and yet ensure predictability of results. My conversations with my people help me. It is important for me to be transparent. If people believe I will act on the information, they are honest. If they think the CEO will not act and they will be victims, they will tell you what you want to hear, not what they want to tell.

The nuances of information gathering have changed. Earlier, a CEO gathered information through his direct reports who would keep him updated. Today, you have to seek information. Earlier, with longer job tenures, the communication machinery was well-oiled and predictable. Today, amid shorter job tenures and fast-paced growth, leaders need to have their antenna up all the time to be able to pick up early signals.

I also see an attitudinal shift among the younger lot. Earlier you told people what to do; today, they tell you what they want to do. So for me, connecting with the Nokia people, is important. At least once a month, I speak to all my 400 employees. These could be 5-10 minute conversations about anything. At the end, I prepare a note and share it with the company leadership to funnel the feedback back into the system. Most of my internal meetings are about aligning functions, selling the larger picture and sometimes being a good sounding board. All this brings in a lot of information and emotional connect within the organisation.

There are a few things I have figured. That you don’t need to make all the mistakes — you can learn from others’ mistakes. I avoid the tendency of making too many changes when I join an organisation. I have strived to work with the same set of people and deliver — if you are able to do that, it seriously energises the place. A CEO today gets little time to settle down in a new job — you have to hit the ground running. Mistakes made and learnings? Difficult decisions around people, portfolio, and the big one, setting price-value for brands are often done piecemeal. It doesn’t work.

At a personal level, the challenge is about how do I stay relevant — to markets, customers, people and as a leader? The Internet has democratised information. You have to go beyond that. So I try to read at least five-six books a month. I invest a lot of time interacting with different executives at all levels — old colleagues, consultants, peers, distributors of other companies. It helps me keep a pulse on what’s happening. I attend a few conferences, seminars and symposiums. Occasionally, I teach at management institutes. As a professional, I also think I must have a good understanding of all functions working for you because if required, I may need to step in.

Image: Malay Karmakar
It is not easy, but I have learnt to manage. I begin my day often at 5.30 a.m. and sleep around midnight. I SMS a lot — 200-300 a day. I find it the most non-intrusive way of communicating. As a rule, I try to reply to my emails within 24 hours. I travel about 15 days a month and I use my transit time well, making calls and reading.

I have had a very good middle class upbringing so money has never been the driving force. Money has never been the reason to do a job, responsibility has been. I believe you have to be physically fit to be mentally fit. I do 6 km on the treadmill every day. I follow football, F1 and golf. After dinner till about midnight, I read and watch TV to simultaneously catch up on multiple things. Amid hectic schedules, I try and have breakfast, tea and dinner with my wife Hamsini. She is the first person I turn to if there is any stress or emotional challenge I am facing. She is my harshest critic. My mom lives alone in Bangalore and her health is of concern. I try and speak to her as often as possible.

I am in my late 40s and at times I do think of my own renewal plan beyond professional pursuits. Since April, I have been sitting on the Godrej board. That’s a tremendous new learning experience. But at the end, beyond my own career, I want to figure out how I have contributed to society.

(As told to Malini Goyal)

(This story appears in the 31 July, 2009 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Sanuj Mohd


    on Aug 22, 2011
  • Sibi John

    Truly Inspiring and motivational article. Cheers to Forbes India<br /> <br />

    on Apr 24, 2010
  • marie

    Very impressed with article and Mr Shiv Kumar Nokia,s performance and invaluable input in furthering Nokia India. Bonne continuation!

    on Aug 1, 2009
  • Ajay Goyal

    Really Aspiring...Thanks Shiv / Forbes

    on Jul 31, 2009
  • Sahil

    Truly Inspiring !!!

    on Jul 30, 2009
  • Anjana

    Shiv is one of the best leaders of the corporate world... real good insights for all of us in this article!

    on Jul 30, 2009
  • Uma

    Excellent read!

    on Jul 29, 2009
    • Priya Prakash

      It's really inspiring isn't it?<br /> Forbes doing great job.<br /> Keep it up......

      on Nov 18, 2009