Born into a small trading family, India’s retail czar, Kishore Biyani, replaced conventional wisdom with “guts and instincts” to create Future Group, a $1 billion company that includes Pantaloon Retail, a department store group; Big Bazaar, the company’s name for hypermarkets; Food Bazaar supermarkets, and Central Mall, a more upscale aggregation of merchandise. Known for his insights into Indian consumer behavior, Biyani also represents an enigma to the country’s emerging retail players, both domestic and foreign. He offers some glimpses into what makes him tick in his recent biography titled, It Happened in India: The Story of Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Central and the Great Indian Consumer, co-authored with Dipayan Baishya. The book has sold some 100,000 copies, more than any other business book published in India so far. In an interview with India Knowledge@Wharton, Biyani, who has often been called “the Sam Walton of India,” talked about leadership, the Indian retail market and why he would never consider collaborating with Wal-Mart, among other topics. Excerpts from the interview follow.
India Knowledge@Wharton: What does leadership mean to you?
Biyani: In the last six months, I have read many articles on leadership and met a couple of experts on that subject. But I still could not find an answer to what, exactly, leadership means.
There are two types of leadership. The first is all about thought leadership, which is original thought, believing in it and making things happen based on those thoughts. The second type is skills leadership, which refers to doing things consistently and in your own style.
India Knowledge@Wharton: What part of leadership is inborn and what can be developed?
Biyani:For me, leadership is all about thought leadership, not skills leadership.Skills leadership can be developed even after the age of 24 or 25, but thought leadership cannot be developed after a certain age.
India Knowledge@Wharton: How do you define thought leadership?
Biyani: Thought leadership is about building scenarios and making them happen. I believe everybody is a victim of systemic thinking and has their own mental syntax. First things come first, and everything else is a reflection of where you started on that first thing. If you change that syntax, things change. If you have a business school orientation, your syntax of thinking will be in a particular direction. I am a businessman and entrepreneur, so my syntax of thinking will be in a different direction. Each has a unique method of sequencing to arrive at answers.
One would have to change everything to look at things differently. That is a very difficult thing to do as we have our own mental maps. We are not trained to change mental models. Business schools also have not been trained to do that. Business schools work on creating efficiencies, creating productivity and managing consistency. But life is not like that. Life is chaotic.
India Knowledge@Wharton: How have you developed leadership in your organization?
Biyani: We have developed a very different style of leadership. We run a seamless organization. We don’t have structures; it is a non-hierarchical organization that works with people coming together to do things.
It is also a very design-driven organization. We believe the structure has to be broken up to change; the design has to be altered to change things. A design-driven organization has flexibility and maneuverability. It is an amorphous organization that can be given any shape and any direction anytime.
India Knowledge@Wharton: Can you give an example of how that works?
Biyani: We can chop and change anything we do, anytime. Nothing is constant for us. Nothing is constant here. We believe in destroying what we have created.
India Knowledge@Wharton: In your book, you have described three types of entrepreneurs. You say your father and uncles were “preservers” and you call yourself a “creator” and a “destroyer.”
Biyani: Most people are trained to be preservers. It is great to be a preserver. But for us, whoever has to create has to destroy. Without destroying, you cannot create anything new.
That is also the law of nature. Look at the seasons. Everything gets destroyed to create something new. But unfortunately, business does not take any cues from nature. None of the business schools takes anything from nature. One cannot go against the flow of nature. In our group, we don’t follow business principles. We follow the principles of nature.
One of the biggest principles we follow, as I have said in the book, is to go with the flow. We never do anything against the flow of nature. And when you follow the principles of nature, ideas will get destroyed and recreated.
If you look at nature, human beings have not changed over a period of so many years. Love, hate and all the other emotions are still the same. But we all complicate things. We create segments, psychographics and other indices. It is a simple world, but we break it up and start looking at it through lenses that are very different. You will find all the answers in nature.
Continue here India Knowledge Wharton.