Sundeep Sikka, CEO (left) and Rajesh Derhgawen, CHRO of Nippo Life India Asset Management
Image: Neha Mithbawkar for Forbes India
At asset management company Nippon Life India Asset Management’s (NLIAM) office in Mumbai, employees are back at work, but there’s a difference—the office is open four days a week, and employees come in any three days while Fridays are work from home (WFH). The hybrid model of three days a week from office is here to stay, irrespective of the pandemic, and there’s the option of six months of WFH, in case of exigencies, that can be extended to one year. These are lessons from the pandemic codified into policy changes at the company, which, at the start of the pandemic, had put into place WFH even before the first lockdown was announced. Like several other companies, comprehensive and holistic medical insurance and Cult.fit memberships became the norm. A family support plan—an amount equivalent to two-year’s annual CTC or a minimum of Rs 20 lakh—in case of any eventuality, not just Covid-19, was also put in place.
The pandemic came at a time when the company had been in a transition phase—Nippon Life Insurance completed its acquisition of stake from Reliance Mutual Fund in late 2019—and yet, ironically, the last two years have been one of the best periods for the company. “Agility has to be deeply ingrained in every organisation, and that’s what has stood us in good stead,” says Rajesh Derhgawen, chief human resources officer, NLIAM. “This was not a business challenge, this was survival. So it’s very important that as a company, we should have a collective resilience. That is what saw us through and we could bounce back faster.” This fiscal alone, the company’s growth has been faster than industry—according to the company, in nine months, its assets under management (AUM) was up by 23 percent to Rs 280,600 crore, while market share at 7.34 percent grew by 22 bps in 9MFY22. “What is more interesting is, one of the three investors coming into this industry is coming to us,” says Sundeep Sikka, executive director and CEO, NLIAM. The company has a unique investor base touching 1 crore, which is 33 percent of the total unique investor base in the industry and Nippon India Mutual Fund added 3.1 million investors versus 7.8 million for the industry in 9MFY22. What has also helped is the stability of the team that has been working together a long time and the company’s employee-centric policies. NLIAM has positioned ‘Employee Well-being’ among its top three Business Responsibilities, says Kamal Karanth, co-founder of specialist staffing company Xpheno. While the primary responsibility is towards ethics, transparency and accountability, the second is sustainability and the third is articulated as employee well-being. Stability comes from the fact that the average tenure of people at the company is six-and-a-half to seven years, says Sikka, who has been with the company for 18 years. Derhgawen too has been with it for 16 years, while there are many in leadership positions who have been with the company for 10 to 15 years. “In a highly competitive business environment, this is impressive. The long tenures at the top positively cascade down the pyramid as a sign of enterprise stability,” says Karanth. The company has around 960 employees at over 270 locations. It follows that a majority of their leaders are homegrown, and growth opportunity is one of the factors that attracts new employees. Programmes like the Leap Club, designed to nurture and groom young talent to prepare them for mid-management leadership roles, and the flagship CEO Club, an initiative to recognise and groom employees for future leadership positions, have helped the company create an internally sustainable pipeline of leadership. Despite the competitive environment and what has come to be known as the year of the Great Resignation, attrition rates are actually down, “from around 17 percent pre-pandemic to around 14 percent today”, says Derhgawen. Their female diversity ratio too has gone up from 17 to 19 percent in the last one year. Polices like double referrals for female candidates and maternity benefits seem to be playing their part. At the end of the day, though, besides creating a challenging and supportive environment for employees, and providing growth opportunities, what sets the company apart is the “human touch”, having a connect and a comfort factor, not just among each other but also with the families. “It’s a very interesting mix of very high goal orientation, having a very strong approach towards business, meritocracy, empowerment and agility but having a very human touch,” says Sikka, who firmly believes that people will forget what you said, but never forget how you made them feel. Appreciation gifts and promotion letters are sent to parents and spouses, and children who have done well in board exams are felicitated. Messages about personal achievements are shared between teams and leaders as commonly as messages about achieving goals and targets. “We always say, business results are very, very important, but how you achieve them is equally important, if not more,” says Derhgawen.