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The Most Daring CEOs of 2019

By Punita Sabharwal

You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Entrepreneur India

While an entrepreneur thinks of an idea and vision of the company to take it to newer heights, it is the CEO's job to ensure it is being well executed. Every year, we dedicate an entire edition to these intrapreneurs, while the rest are focused on entrepreneurs and all the buzz surrounding their dreams. This year, too, Entrepreneur shortlisted business leaders from across sectors – ranging from start-ups to technology, finance to management. The aim is to laud these risk-takers and how they hold on to the radar even during times of crisis. These leaders, with an owner mindset, have chosen different battles to fight and lead to stay ahead in uncertain times.

(This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

Entrepreneur India

The Revenue Catalyst

Mountasser Hachem, Founder and CEO, Monty Mobile

With a wisely built product portfolio, high quality service and a dedicated team, Monty Mobile is constantly evolving in the telecom business and is now collaborating with international operators from across the world whilst competing with top players in the field. The company is all set to raise funds worth USD$5 billion for its new mobile fintech project in Asia. With innovation at its fulcrum, Monty Mobile encourages a team-oriented environment that contributes to improved employee communication, cooperation and performance. Entrepreneur gleans further insights in an exclusive interaction with Mountasser Hachem, Founder and CEO, Monty Mobile.

Entrepreneur India

The Growth Manifester


From a humble beginning with just 10 retail stores in 2010 to a whopping 1300+ stores today, Vineet Gautam is riding high by ushering in an unprecedented growth at Bestseller India. In India, Bestseller is present under the brand names Jack and Jones, Vero Moda, Only, Selected Homme and JunaRose. Gautam augments his current designation with his expertise in the retail industry, especially in fashion retail. He joined the company in January 2010.

Gautam has been instrumental in making Bestseller India achieve a target of Rs 1,000 crore and one of the fastest growing fashion retailers in India. He says, "We've adopted and integrated various technological solutions across departments. We were the first retailer in India to implement SAP ERP and SAP business intelligence on HANA. Majority of the business processes and requirements of the organisation are rooted through a single mobile application. For the first time in the history of retail in India, a 24-hour shopping day was organised at our flagship store at Linking Road in Mumbai on May 30, 2014." At Bestseller, Gautam has fostered a culture of ownership. He mentions, "I have a very participative leadership style which embraces freedom but also brings in responsibility and ownership."

He believes that ability is unlimited; one just has to find a way to channel it in the right direction to build a fast paced organisation.

Entrepreneur India

The Auto Man


Rajeev Chaba was fortunate to establish a new brand in a segment like automobile where 70 per cent of the market share is still owned by stalwarts. Talking about the new innings started two and a half year back, Chaba shares, "I was the one man army to start operations in India — right from building strategy for launch to product program, buying the plant, planning product portfolio, recruitment, dealers, partners and agencies to support to managing headquarters."

After a great stint with General Motors and a PE company in the US called Man Cap, Chaba was approached by SAIC, the new owner of MG Vehicles. GM China had partnered with SAIC. He says, "They gave me a free hand as that was part of the deal that I should be able to do certain things. I didn't have to do political management and manoeuvring of bosses. They wanted a local to lead and they listened to us." Interestingly, MG Hector was not the first choice to be launched in India. "I had to cancel their earlier plan before I joined as they were thinking of a particular car to which I said no you should not do it, then they proposed a second car, which I said no. Then MG Hector was third. Ultimately the chairman of the company had to intervene to decide in our favor," informs Chaba. So far, they have invested close to 2,500 crore, with another Rs 2,000 crore planned in two years. "Our plan is to launch four distinct cars in two years. We are launching EV by year-end," adds Chaba.

He says, "Indian market was not ready for the internet car. We had a choice of either waiting for the whole country to become 5G ready or take the plunge." They started producing 1,500 cars a month and aim at 4,000 a month by the end of this year. Chaba claims, "When we started in June, we had 28,000 bookings.

Currently, we have 19,000 bookings left. We will reopen the bookings very soon." Chaba is a flagbearer of gender diversity. With 31 per cent female participation, the company also trains tribal women.

Entrepreneur India

The Workplace Revolutionary


Though Regus has been present in India for the last 19 years, it is under Harsh Lambah's leadership that the company witnessed significant growth. IWG in India has now grown into 120 workspaces across 16 cities. He mentions, "We have two distinct offerings – Regus and Spaces. Regus is a serviced office while Spaces is more on the lines of co-working. We call it a workspace that is more inspirational and transformational, catering to millennials."

Currently, Regus is the only player in the industry which has a portfolio of brands. Internationally, it operates five brands for different target audiences. Spaces was brought to India two and a half years ago, owing to the growing culture of co-working. Talking about the workspaces industry in India, he mentions, "There might be a lot of players operating at the same level. I think consolidation will happen in the market with larger players being able to keep their business plan operating."

Currently operating on a company-owned model, IWG is keen to explore the franchise model. "50 per cent of our customers are corporate while 30-40 per cent comprises SMEs. Start-ups and professionals would be less than 10 per cent," Lambah shares.

Lambah's experience spans 28 years across a range of industries, from hospitality to international trading to financial services in India and the United States. He has held leadership positions at MoneyGram, Recall and Western Union.

Entrepreneur India

The New Tech Honcho


From building a team of four to over 1,500 employees today across Hyderabad and Bengaluru, Suman Reddy has been leading Pegasystems India on a rapid growth path for the past 12 years by driving a culture of innovation and ownership. During Pega India's formative years, Reddy decided to become the employer of choice and attract the best talent who usually went to larger and conventionally popular organizations. "We disrupted ourselves and positioned Pega as an organization impacting the world through strategies like large hiring events and other out-of-the-box initiatives," he shares.

By owning a substantial share of global development projects, Pega India today is the de-facto R&D engine and an indispensable part as it pertains to managing the growth of the global organization.

A major chunk of product development, innovation and ideation, platform engineering, along with global customer support efforts are driven from the India centre. Sharing this milestone, Reddy says, "I am fortunate to have supported the centre's rapid evolution to achieving leadership status through our R&D capabilities in a short span of time."

Safeguarding the company against the expected recession, Reddy mentions, "Our software is meant to improve fundamental growth levers of the world's largest organizations like optimising business processes, engaging customers and providing agile customer service. This puts us in a position to weather market headwinds. During the last major downturn a decade ago, we grew positively during critical quarters when the market was battling to stay afloat."

Entrepreneur India

The English Master


After spending over 25 years in a variety of large companies in India and around the world, Sanjay Gupta realized that he wanted to make a difference by giving back to the society by using his knowledge, experience and skills. He gave up his job as India Head of American Express in 2010 and decided to take a break only to identify that the education sector is his forte. "I was biased towards technology since I had formerly worked with Motorola many years ago when there were literally no phones in India. Given the scale and size of the problem with our education system, I felt the need to leverage technology at the earliest," shares Gupta. His quest for technology led him to an innovator based out of Boston, eventually leading to EnglishHelper.

Today, he has partnered with the public education system in India with more than a million government schools with almost 170 million students. With a massive literacy, numeracy and education crisis, the government school system is clearly not functioning well. Partnering with government/s requires real commitment, perseverance and the ability to keep going despite all odds. "I believe the ability to stay focused despite the numerous challenges, hurdles and high probability of failure requires determination and courage," Gupta says.

By the end of March 2020, he expects EnglishHelper to be present in 100,000 schools, reaching almost 20 million students. "We have also launched a programme called 'EnglishBolo' aimed at low-income youth and adults to help them speak English. We offer them live, video-based teacher classes at an extremely affordable price," informs Gupta.

Entrepreneur India

Mr Turnkey


Grabbing an opportunity to create something that the world has not seen before is what Aditya Ghosh swears by. He joined OYO Hotels & Homes last year following an outstanding stint at IndiGo as its President, where he was instrumental in turning it into the most profitable Indian airline as well as one of the fastest growing low-cost carriers in the world.

Ghosh is all set to build the start-up into an enterprise mode. Describing the growth stage, he says, "As far as being a start-up is concerned vis-a-vis a large company, I keep saying we are almost a split personality where we are a start-up in some ways. We are just six years old. At the same time, we also have to think, behave and act like the third largest hotel chain in the world. While we have that agility, hustle and energy of a start-up on one hand, we have to also possess the leadership quality of being one of the largest in the world on the other."

Ghosh finds quite a few similarities in his previous and current role — staying close to customers and employees in both the stints. "The biggest learning has been from the 20,000 colleagues I got to work with at IndiGo. In fact, both OYO and IndiGo are similar businesses; you are in a supply constraint market. We are bringing in lots of supply where there is a massive amount of demand at an affordable price but at a consistent quality. And there are many touchpoints with the customer and our employee bases. Earlier we were selling airline seats, now we sell hotel rooms."

On choosing to take the biggest risk of working with a start-up, Ghosh avers, "The airline was a constraint due to regulatory frameworks. OYO enjoys the luxury of being one of the world's largest hospitality brands." Ghosh is excited to make the most of the opportunity to build a global brand out of India. Today, OYO can be found in 800 cities across 80 countries. But every unicorn comes with its fair share of challenges. It's time when everyone questioned just bleeding money for growth or thinking about profitability.

When asked if IndiGo lesson can be applied to OYO, he says, "Profitability, whilst ensuring your cost is under control, has to be a fundamental metric of any business. At OYO too, we are creating that efficiency to make it better as it's very important to create a sustainable business." sings off Ghosh.

Entrepreneur India

The Master Gamer

IIM Ahmedabad and NIT Warangal grad Manish Agarwal was fortunate to enjoy the independence of an intrapreneur when he started working out of a small set-up of a digital play in a large corporate. Agarwal began his stint with Rediff, working with Ajit Balakrishnan and then joined Ronnie Screwvala at UTV. In view of his rich expertise in the digital space that ranges across consumer marketing, product development, developer evangelism and digital monetization, Agarwal was chosen to head the gaming venture in 2015. Prior to Nazara Games, he led gaming companies like Zapak and Reliance Games. "I have grown Nazara through a strategy of acquiring companies, thereby bringing in more founders into the Nazara network." Nitish Mittersain, Founder, Nazara Technologies and Agarwal have been friends since 2012. Agarwal feels what clicked between the two was sharing the same DNA of profitability, scale and growth model, as both understand unit economics very well.

Nazara's key investor Westbridge Capital, headed by Sandeep Singhal, was another bridge between the two as Singhal was Agarwal's senior from the same campus. "Having Nitish and Sandeep was a comforting factor. We thought we can achieve our dream together rather than chip it alone." Nazara is now built of 11 acquisitions. Agarwal says, "It could have been very easy for us to set up a large team in-house. Despite starting with some 300-400 people, we were unable to scale up but now our approach is more agile and nimble. People say we are becoming an investment company rather than an operating company. I believe as long as you are able to add value and synergize across portfolio and demonstrate that in your P&L, it doesn't matter." Sharing a learning lesson for start-up founders, Agarwal mentions, "When you decide to appoint a CEO outside of your circle, you are taking a call of letting your creation to be shared by others. The maturity to let go is the key."

Entrepreneur India

Boss of the Bourses


Little did Ashishkumar Chauhan know that he would witness a turnaround of BSE from a sluggish stock market to an agile platform. The man in question has been leading from the front for the last 10 years when he decided to join the 144-year-old institution. The IIT Mumbai and IIM Calcutta alumnus has a reputation of a leader who gets things done even in the most difficult circumstances. From IDBI Bank to National Stock Exchange of India to Reliance, Chauhan has always been at the helm of things. Talking about the risk he took while joining BSE, he says, "BSE was considered a declining brand when I joined. Now, it is considered as one of the best success stories which has regained some portion of its past glory."

Adapting to technology, according to Chauhan, was the toughest time in his decadelong journey. He shares, "It is like changing the heart of the person while he is running. He can't even stop to breathe. It has been remarkable how the BSE team achieved it almost in 10 per cent of the time it had taken another exchange and in a fraction of cost for capital expenditures as well as operating expenditure." In early 1990s and then later on in early 2000s, BSE faced several scandals. Even though other exchanges also had similar problems in 2000s, BSE was aggressively under scanner due to its past and lack of credible management. "I am delighted to say that today, BSE enjoys much better reputation for its compliances and fair business practices in India," claims Chauhan.

BSE also became the first exchange to list 300 companies and is the market leader with 60 per cent market share. The total amount of money raised through this platform is Rs 3,184 crore as of August 31, 2019. To augment its SME platform, BSE has enabled capital raising for start-ups via 'Startups' platform. Alphalogic Techsys and Transpact Enterprises are the first companies to get listed on the BSE Startups Platform on September 5, 2019.

Entrepreneur India

Man of the Roots


The assets of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) have shot up from Rs 2,32,760 crore to a whopping Rs 4,87,500 crore (unaudited) over the last five years; thanks to Dr Harsh Kumar Bhanwala's stewardship. He introduced a project approach to funding of irrigation and dairy infrastructure through Long Term Irrigation Fund and Dairy Infrastructure Development Fund respectively.

It was under his guidance that NABARD conceived, designed and conducted the NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS) 2016-17, a first-of-its-kind survey in the country touching all aspects related to financial inclusion. The survey covered livelihood (income, expenditure, etc) as well as other important financial aspects of over 40,000 sample agriculture and non-agriculture rural households, covering 245 districts. NABARD has launched pilot projects for setting up agri business incubation centres to identify and support successful start-up enterprises in identified sectors. It has also set up an agritech, agriculture and rural business start-up fund called 'Nabventures' in May 2019 with a targeted corpus of Rs 500 crore. The first close of the fund is over with an investment of Rs 200 crore from NABARD. The rural development bank, which has been contributing to other funds till now, has now launched a fund of its own for the first time.
Dr Bhanwala explains, "The bank will fund around 100 agriculture and rural start-ups in this financial year to boost innovations and farm entrepreneurship. A lot of biotech funding and international entities are showing keen interest in our maiden rural-exclusive fund."
The fund will provide a boost to investment ecosystem in the core areas of agriculture, food and improvement of rural livelihoods. Till now, NABARAD has contributed Rs 273 crore to 16 alternate investment funds. Prior to joining NABARD, he was Chairman-cum-Managing Director of India Infrastructure Finance Company. During 2000 to 2005, Dr Bhanwala led the turnaround of Delhi State Co-operative Bank as its Managing Director.

Punita Sabharwal

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur India

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