Like A Boss I Hexaware’s Atul Nishar on building a compassionate organisation, emulating the franchise model of McDonald’s and leadership style

Atul Nishar, founder and chairman, Hexaware Technologies on his first leadership lesson, what he learnt about communication and how to treat people

Published: Dec 21, 2020
Atul Nishar Image: Hexaware

Note to readers:

Atul Nishar, founder and chairman, Hexaware Technologies, started and sold two successful companies – computer training institute Aptech and IT firm Hexaware – in 2005 and 2013 respectively. Currently, he is running his family office Techpro Ventures, which has invested in startups like Nykaa and Acko General Insurance. Apart from investing in startups, he set up Azent Overseas Education Ltd, an online-offline Edtech startup, along with his daughter Priyanka Nishar.

In an interaction with Moneycontrol, Nishar talks about his management style, the lessons on emulating McDonald's franchise model, and how to build companies with values and compassion. Edited excerpts:

What time would you like to be at your desk?

I am not very much a desk person. So for me work is the whole day.

First I start work for all urgent matters at 730 am. That would be 30 min. Then I start work by 10-1030 am and it goes on wherever I am – home, car or office. It goes on till late in the evening.

Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: at business school or on the job?

My first leadership lessons started from my father. He taught me to be confident, communicate well and be sensitive to other people. I think these lessons helped in building my management style. Then came school and college education where I held a lot of leadership roles.

To become a corporate leader it helps to have a foundation of knowledge. It can come from either MBA, Chartered Accountant or reading plenty of right books. That foundation is useful.

But personal qualities are important as well. They are important in succeeding in business. It can come from parents, reading books or your environment. But they are very important.

We cannot give less importance to them than an MBA education.

Describe your management style.

I would say I am consultative. I would like to hold group meetings and discuss openly on topics so that people can interact not just with me but with each other as well.

At the same time I am decisive and assertive. I never hesitate in taking decisions so that things move on. I would also like to take external expert advice from time to time. I have engaged with McKinsey on multiple occasions for their advice on validating certain strategies. This is to ensure that I am on a sure footing.

Are tough decisions best taken by one person or collectively?

The fact that it is a tough decision means that it is not one that is either easy to take or a decision everyone will like. That is why it is tough. In such situations I would still consult senior team members, and depending on organisation, I would take the decision along with the CEO or two or three more people.

But it is not a shared responsibility. A tough decision is only shared by the top one or two people. Finally buck should stop with me. I am not afraid of taking difficult or tough decisions. If that is what is in the best interest of the medium to long term interest of the company.

I have taken plenty of tough decisions in my career whenever the need rose. Leaders should give credit to others when there is success. But in difficult situations he should own up – right or wrong.

Do you want to be liked, feared or respected?

I have never been afraid of anyone. So I don't want anyone to be afraid of me. So fear would be a no-no. Then the point is, one needs to lead the company in a manner that gives the right vision, direction and focus to the company and the team.

If that happens employees are bound to respect you. Respect depends on how one has led the company. I think that is important to me. But being liked is another thing. Even if one is respected and led well, it is also important to deal with the team with humility and sensitivity and in a friendly manner.

So that we can create a good working environment. If that happens the employees will like you. It is not about making an effort to be liked but that would be the outcome of the good environment one creates in the company.

What does your support team look like?

So my support team has been small. Normally I have one competent personal assistant, corporate communication and family office head. Group finance head and human resources personnel, either head or consultant, to cover that area.

But that team has to be intelligent, capable and competent. That is very important. There is no compromise there since it would be difficult to work on a day to day basis otherwise.

A business outside of Information Technology or a business leader that you draw inspiration from?

With my working style, I always get inspired by Ratan Tata. The reason is he runs such a large number of companies and business houses with a heart. There was compassion in the manner in which he ran business, there was consideration for others.

I think I cannot ever not forget the inspiration he gave to people. I greatly admire his zeal of building business. I think that is what I wish I can do all the time.

Other person is Azim Premji. He built Wipro into a mega corporation, again with a heart. Major part of the wealth is being donated. There is heart and compassion for others. I think in business it is important to create value for everyone. At the same time there should be an approach of kindness, compassion.

Which management book has influenced you the most?

I don't like to read management theories much. I would like to read the story of successful entrepreneurs either written by themselves or others. So I love reading biographies and autobiographies.

Let me tell you three books.

First is Managing by Harold Geneen, former CEO of ITT, a US manufacturing firm, for 25 years. Second one isMcDonald's: Behind the Arches, a biography on Ray Kroc and third, Made in America, an autobiography of Sam Walton. These books I read in the early part of my career had a profound influence on me and the way I work.

Take Behind the Arches. The manner in which they build the network restaurants and processes they followed. I could do the same in a smaller way in Aptech. We build over 1000 centers, our own and franchise. We had manuals for everything and franchises had to follow, similar to the way the set manuals had to be followed in McDonalds.

At a time, there were 1500 centres across 50 countries worldwide. So definitely I learnt and gained confidence in building a network based on the thought processes.

It is a totally different business. But the management lessons are universal. It is not necessary that it is relevant only for the same business or industry.

From Made in American by Sam Walton, I learnt the value of money and cost control. For a long time when you are building business, the lesson is that you have to be careful about the way you spend money. I think we implemented that there is no wasteful expenditure anywhere without hurting the business.

Do you socialise with your team outside of work?

Yes, very much. I found that socialising with a team and being friendly with them has helped me connect with them much better. That has not impaired by impartiality, not come in the way of my taking decisions, which are fair and impartial towards all.

I found that meeting even after office hours in a small or large group and spending time together has helped connect with each other better.

I think it is important to have fun together also.

What would your key management advice be?

If one is an entrepreneur the focus should be building business with values. Because when you look later on towards your career you should feel satisfied. You should feel happy about what you have been able to build.

It does not matter what scale, small or large whatever. I think that is important. If I were to give my example. I may be in some other country and suddenly someone comes to me and says I have done an Aptech computer course or I was working for Hexaware, one feels happy about it.

If you have done that, it does not matter if you have received recognition or not.

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