Introduction Who is a Visionary leader? What are his or her extraordinary competencies? What makes them do whatever they do? How do they do things so differently? How do they empower so many hundreds of thousands of people and build empires? Who were India's best Visionary leaders? Such questions are sought to be discussed with specific reference to a) Selflessness and a big plan b) highest standards of ethics as a way of life c) consistency in all parameters of business excellence d) succession planning of a tall order and e) the "Guru" status of such leaders, based on a huge number of real world examples.
Selflessness and a Big PlanVisionary leaders in public life or in business, are totally selfless. They are incorruptible. They place the interests of the nation or business above their own selfish interests. They look to maximize the potential of all resources and give the maximum to all stakeholders engaged in any business or any task related to public life. For example, Mahatma Gandhi showed the entire world, what selflessness is all about. He did not hate even the British. During the Independence Struggle when a police station was burnt and a number of British policemen also died, he clearly expressed his anguish. He went on indefinite fasts. He was able to convince millions that only non-violence is the method to obtain Independence. Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarder Vallabhai Patel and Kamaraj were the three other outstanding leaders who practiced selflessness to a great degree in their lives. There were others too, but these were really outstanding Visionary leaders in the Mahatma Gandhi mold.
Obviously, Mahatma Gandhi had a clear Vision to take on the entire world and the British in particular. History has recorded that his influence was truly international. It is primarily due to his moral power that we live in Independent India today.
Cut to Corporate India. The likes of Ratan Tata , Azim Premji of WIPRO, the late B.M. Munjal of the Hero Motorcorp, Anand Mahindra of Mahindra and Mahindra and Suresh Krishna of the TVS group, stand out for outstanding level of ethics, business excellence and honesty as a way of life. Ditto for Mr Narayanamurthy of Infosys Technologies.
The late Mr Dhirubhai Ambani would fit the bill only as far as shrewd business strategies are concerned. The group is still not known for ethics at all. Mr Ambani was a only a limited Visionary.
In each of the big groups with which the aforesaid leaders are associated, there is always a Big Plan, far exceeding five years or even ten years. Azim Premji is on record as having said that he would always "want to see WIPRO as India's most admired companies". It is already there.
Similarly, Ratan Tata had built a global empire, before he called it a day. Infosys Technologies is a global player. So is Tata Consultancy Services of the Tata Group. The Big Plan is always there in the minds of the Visionary leaders.
These leaders work upwards of eighteen hours per day. Their hard work influences and motivates all employees. They are always humble and simple. On any day they will always talk only about team work. The"I"factor is zero in such leaders.
Highest Standards of Ethics as a way of life The Tatas, Infosys Technologies and TVS group for example, stand for the highest form of business ethics. Mr Suresh Krishna of Sundram Fasteners takes care of his employees so well that till today, there has not been a single man day lost due to strike or lockout in any of its factories in over fifty years of existence. These leaders whose names have been mentioned above are role models for MBAs of the top IIMs and other good B schools.
A clearer idea of business ethics of some of these Visionary leaders has already been provided in Business Ethics: Some outstanding Indian examples. Business ethics is not negotiable in any of these companies. All taxes are paid. There is nothing that is not accounted.
Succession Planning of a tall order In each of Mahindra and Mahindra's factories, there are superb professional practices. HR is given a huge importance. Infosys Technologies has several professionals who can fit the CEO role. TCS already has several leaders who form a big talent pipeline. The Hero Motorcorp is another example of a superb organization that has carved a niche for itself, after it broke with Suzuki of Japan. The professionals run the show. As in the case of the Tata group, a non-family member is likely to run the show in each of these fabulous companies in the years to come.
Guru status of Visionary Leaders Each of the aforesaid business leaders is already a "Guru" of sorts. Their thoughts and opinions are much sought after. Infosys Technologies, for example, aided the Indian Government, when one of its founder, Nandan M. Nilekani, was deputed to get the AADHAR project rolled out. That he did it with the most sincerity and dedication was there for all to see.
Shri Narayanamurthy has been repeatedly invited to speak on business ethics and is on several Government committees. Mr Azim Premji would even take on the Government officials but never pay a single pie as a bribe. He would then talk with a huge amount of moral authority. That WIPRO has spent over one thousand crores in several CSR projects makes him a Guru in his own right. Suresh Krishna, whose company is a Deming Award winner and a formidable Total Quality Management (TQM) player, always talks with a huge amount of authority on every single topic related to Quality Management.
The list is endless. Visionary leadership is essentially executing a long term Vision. After Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Kamaraj, we really did not have a single leader who will fit the bill in terms of executing huge projects for the nation. For example, but for the success of superb companies like BHEL, which is now partly private, the energy needs of this huge country would never have been fully satisfied. All this was possible due to the Vision of these outstanding leaders.
These leaders are committed to huge social work. They never sacrifice social interests. For example, all TVS group companies donate huge amounts to social causes, temples, run schools and technical institutes and so on. This is the spirit of Visionary leadership. They owe their fame to society and since they have done so much to it, have every moral right to talk about social issues.
With the existing resources, by making their companies global companies, each of the aforesaid business leaders have made a big mark in the Indian Corporate Scenario. Their lives and their achievements will be there in every single book on Indian Business History, at any point in time. They will continue to make a big impact in the years to come too.