IMD International

Building an Asian multinational: Olam CEO Sunny Verghese

6 keys for successful leadership

November 20, 2015

Coming from a low to middle-class income family from India, Sunny Verghese, who is Co-Founder, Group Managing Director and CEO of Olam International, shared that his parents have been the biggest influencers in his life and on his leadership journey. His parents never taught him values, they just lived them. Living in an insight-deficit and knowledge-surplus world, he said that the key to successful leadership is built on two key factors: to lead by example and to lead with humility.

Speaking at IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) Program in Singapore, Verghese shed light on six key points on what good leaders should do to be successful.

1. Be the company strategist

An essential role of leadership is to shape the future. Leaders have to develop and be able to stake a claim in the progress of the industry they are part of. It is important to set a hierarchy of objectives as well as to understand the ambition and aspiration of the company.

Sharing his dream with the participants, Verghese said, “My ambition for Olam is to become the world’s most valuable, differentiated and globalized company in the world in the next 25 years".

2. Be an executor: Make things happen

A successful business is not only about developing the winning strategy, but also executing it. Leaders need to develop a proper governance structure, put in place performance indicators and incentives for their employees, and have growth-enabling skills including risk management and managing mergers and acquisitions.

3. Manage talent

The first two indispensable factors for a successful enterprise - developing a winning strategy and making things happen – both depend on people. Verghese said, “Developing human capital and leadership becomes critical, and it is the only way where we can sustainably differentiate ourselves".

4. Build a relationship pipeline

Leaders often fail to see the importance of growing and building on their relationships with partners – employees, customers, suppliers, etc. Verghese believes that leadership is about setting the future direction and aligning people towards that direction. A leader can move in the right direction, but it is more crucial to be inspiring and motivate people to help achieve goals.

5. Invest in your own proficiency as a leader

Humility and authenticity is at the heart of good leadership. Verghese’s definition of humility is having the willingness to learn from multiple experiences and sources. A leader has to demonstrate the capacity to grow from humility, and be willing to learn from his or her subordinates, peers, superiors, or from external consultants.

A leader should always be thinking: How can I be of significant value to the people that matter to me?

6. Manage all stakeholders

It is inevitable that leaders will have to deal with stakeholders from all parts of the supply chain. Verghese suggests that one way to prioritize is to migrate along the value chain by seeing which parts of the chain are valuable or strategic to enter into according to the sector or product associated with it.

Concluding Verghese shared a few key takeaways from his years leading Olam. He said that leaders who focus on building organizational health will be able to see results follow after that. Three aspects of organizational health are to build engagement, institutionalize values and culture and to build a ‘one company’ mindset in the entire organization.

He also encouraged executives to develop their own insights that they will be able retain permanently. Referring to the sessions and classes that they have followed to during the week of OWP Singapore, Verghese said that so much knowledge might be overwhelming.

However, if one is able connect the dots and see the patterns between all of this knowledge to come up their own valuable insights, these will become extremely powerful in building business models.

Sunny Verghese is Co-Founder, Group MD & CEO of Olam International.

IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP) program runs every November in Singapore. For live insights from the program follow on Twitter at #IMDGlobalLeaders or check out OWP pictures on IMD's flickr account.

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