Adi Godrej: The man who always ensured that group stays ahead of the race

Adi Godrej, Group Chairman, Godrej
He’s been there and seen it all. Godrej Group Chairman Adi Godrej’s six-decade-long journey has not only been about upholding the diversified conglomerate’s storied values, but also nudging it to stay ahead of the race in every business sphere.

Over 500 million Indian consumers use one or the other Godrej product every day, including everything from soaps, creams and hair dyes to consumer durables and designer homes. The group is not averse to entering new markets too, as indicated by its string of acquisitions over the last decade and a half in South America, Asia and Africa, which saw it emerging as a key player in personal and home care. 

While joint ventures stitched up earlier — during the start of the liberalisation era in the 1990s — ended quickly, Godrej has no regrets about it, saying they were useful up to a point only.

The Godrej family, the seventh richest in India with a net worth of $14 billion according to the Forbes 2018 ranking, has also been at the forefront of women’s empowerment (a hot topic of discussion in many organisations today), walking the talk on a number of issues, including setting up an internal complaints committee to tackle sexual harassment issues, providing flexi-hours and day-care facilities for women and giving them the opportunity to grow within the organisation quickly.

Globally, 40 per cent of the group’s employees are women. “In certain geographies such as Africa, Indonesia and the north-east of India, the percentage of women employees is even higher,” Godrej told Business Standard in a recent interview.

The group is also a strong believer in diversity, having employed members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community in its offices across the globe.  Adi Godrej also believes in a strong work-life balance, rising early and making it to office at quarter past eight every morning. He is also instrumental in making the group a workplace of choice, which encourages employees to explore various facets of their personality, pick up challenging assignments and try out newer roles in different markets.

The group’s average employee age has also dropped in the last few years as it positions itself as an employer of the future, and one that is open to change. While the group’s business interests lie in consumer goods, retail, agri-business and real estate, a younger workforce has been able to instil a sense of agility and speed into the Godrej group, which experts say is necessary if it wishes to attract and retain the best in terms of talent.

Godrej’s initiatives on the business and employee welfare fronts have also been led in part by his deep understanding of and love for management issues. An alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Godrej holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the institute’s Sloan School of Management. His education helped him hone his management skills, something he was able to put to good use when he took over the reins from his father at the Godrej group.

“My father was into technology, while I was more into management,” he says, choosing to rely on a healthy board comprising qualified practitioners, something he says is imperative if an organisation wishes to position itself as a world leader.

The Godrej group was among the first in India to introduce independent directors on the boards of its various group companies and has always believed that being transparent with the board is at the heart of rooting out conflict. Godrej has also said that the way to avoid friction among directors is to take a thought or idea to the board early on in the decision-making process. He has also in recent years made way for the next generation of family members, including his three children, who like him have acquired foreign degrees and worked their way up the organisation.

The Godrej model of ownership has relied on qualified family members working closely with professional managers, something Indian family-run businesses in general have struggled to do. The Godrej group in that sense stands apart, visible in a fairly smooth succession planning that it has put in place over the years. Qualified family members, he says, are also aware of their role within the organisation, rarely crossing the line when inducted into the group.

Godrej has also been the president of several Indian trade and industrial bodies and has been a recipient of many awards. He is on the board of the Indian School of Business, and is a past president of the Confederation of Indian Industry. He has also been a member of the Dean’s Advisory  Council of the MIT Sloan School of Management, chairman of the board of governors of the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, and a member of the Wharton Asian Executive Board.

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