Monster India’s CEO Sekhar Garisa shares life lessons learned, importance of technology and what it's like to lead an organization in the current times.
Monster India’s CEO Sekhar Garisa shares life lessons learned, the importance of technology, and what it’s like to lead an organization in the current times.
Born in Nellore, a city located on the banks of the Penna River, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Sekhar Garisa’s life was ensconced within the town in a family that encouraged academics and sports.
“Growing in a small town had its own advantages. There was curiosity about everything and anything, and one ended up making deeper relationships,” Sekhar says.
Lessons for life
Two areas that have wrapped Sekhar’s journey till date has been reading books and playing sports.
Born in a family of academicians he had access to a plethora of books. For Sekhar, reading books wasn’t just a fun pastime, it was crucial in helping him grow, both personally and professionally. He was always a part of the debate, quiz and elocution teams in his schooling years.
“The more I read, I realized that I didn’t know much. After reading every book I felt that there was still so much to know and learn. The learning orientation that one develops as a kid is extremely powerful,” Sekhar says.
This learning served him well even in his professional success. “I have always given priority to what I don’t know. We cannot rely on our knowledge. There is need to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn. Not knowing something is just fine, but we need to accept it,” Sekhar says.
He also sees many parallels between sports and executive leadership in the corporate world. Even today, when he is pulling a business team together, he uses sports aphorisms that he learned as a youngster. “Sports teaches you when to be a natural leader and when to be a trusted follower. In sport, as in business, it is not simply about defining a clear vision and competitive proposition – aligning the team behind that goal is equally important,” Sekhar says.
Tennis has been one sport that has been fundamental to Sekhar’s success. “Tennis helped me to work on the basics and make small corrections towards perfection. It taught me the need to have a balance between hard work and giving yourself the space to think and be creative. One should always combine effort with the right strategy,” he says.
He shares that being in the tennis court helped him to learn from failures. “Don’t be susceptible to the “sour grape or “ostrich” effects when confronted by failure. Swallow your pride and prepare for another day,” Sekhar says.
Most CEOs were grounded in March 2020, right when their customers and employees needed them most. Leadership roles were put to the test. The crisis redefined the CEOs role.
“The biggest lesson that the pandemic taught us is that as humans we are resilient. We emerged stronger by rethinking the way we lead, and prioritized purpose, trust, empathy and inclusivity for our employees and customers,” Sekhar says.
While companies were facing the worst crisis in their history, they were seeing the best of their people. Many CEOs were sincerely empathetic, walking compassionately in the shoes of their employees, customers, and their broader ecosystems.
“Adaptability is within control today. How do we keep ourselves in the mode of agility and adaptation on everyday basis is a thought that fascinates me,” Sekhar says.
The post-COVID era also challenged a lot of existing paradigms. Business models and work patterns changed overnight. For Monster India, the discovery of candidates was done online, and the actual hiring happened offline. Today the entire process is done virtually.
“We need to be aware of the trends and also understand customer needs. What our customers want tomorrow, we need to create them today. This is the kind of pace that we need to move. All of this possible if the business is structured in a way that allows flexibility. Rigid organizational constructs will lead to business failure,” Sekhar says.
The inability to credibly forecast the future has come as a bit of a disappointment. Will “pretending to know” become the most dramatic mistake organizations could make?
“Absolutely. In a room filled with smart people, logic always wins. I learned this at McKinsey. This should happen at all levels in the organization. We need to understand that while we know many things, we don’t know it all,” Sekhar says.
Sekhar Garisa drives People Services and new technology-based business efforts, and manages the Strategy and Corporate Development group at Quess. He also leads the Monster and Digicare businesses.
Before joining Quess, he was the Senior Director of Partner Development at Microsoft, where he was responsible for leading the company’s go-to-market activities through their 10,000 strong partner network.
Having started his professional journey with P&G, he worked working extensively on go-to-market initiatives that expanded P&G’s distribution reach. He also worked briefly at McKinsey, and later with United Telecom.
He co-founded India’s first sports specialty business, Sports365, along with some of India’s sporting icons, leading it to become a category leader within a short time. He holds an engineering degree from NIT Warangal and a management degree from IIM Lucknow.
Book genres you prefer to read: Autobiographies, contemporary history, economics and business
Name your favourite book: Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman
The biggest responsibility of a leader is: To provide clarity
Biggest lesson learnt from the pandemic: Resilience and humility go together
Your take on tech: Technology is no longer an element of differentiation
Future Take: Be nimble as an individual, collectively as a team and structurally as an organization. It will help respond to changes very fast
Tech on the CEO agenda
In the past, top business leaders tended to delegate technology priorities to specialists, but that is rapidly changing. Has it become imperative for CEOs to drive the tech agenda as much as they would drive finance or corporate strategy?
“CEOs need to be a lot more tech aware and devote time to the technology charter of their companies. They need to seek answers on the possibilities that digital tools and technologies can open for their business,” Sekhar says.
CEOs are increasingly realizing how technology can change the company’s performance trajectory.
“Being tech-aware should become a pre-requisite for getting into a CEO or leadership role,” Sekhar says.
He explains that every function within the company needs to have enough tech intensity. For instance, a sales executive with tech intensity means that they are familiar with all the digital tools that support their role. This ensures that an organization leverages tech to its full potential.
Today customer experiences are being shaped outside of one’s sector. Powerful technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics, make it possible to gain deeper insights into all areas of business activity to drive efficiency and gain a better understanding of customers.
“We need to catch the signals using the right data, and this means developing a top-to-bottom culture of data literacy throughout an organization,” Sekhar says.
He shares that today we are in a world of a technology-led business strategy, and not a business that is supported by technology. “The engineering/product/IT teams are not ordered, takers. They are paving the path to growth and need to be respected,” he says.