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Leadership is a Process, not the Destination: Assa Abloy India chief Raman Koul

Managing director Raman Koul says that strong customer engagement is one of the core values at Assa Abloy India. To achieve this, the company is putting customers right at the top of the pyramid and empowering channel partners to be brand ambassadors. Read about this and Koul’s other mantras in this article, which is a part of his expansive conversation with Sourcing Hardware’s managing editor Deepak Gupta for the magazine’s #BPHILeadershipSeries.

Leaders and Leadership
I believe that leaders are those who shift the tracks and create new ones, while managers follow the tracks that have been laid down by others. The difference between the two is that a leader is the one who takes initiatives and responds quickly to the market requirements. And this need not necessarily be done by the leader of an organisation, like the CEO.People at all levels can show this leadership trait, whether they are in the field or at their desk responding to customers.

From an organisationalperspective, I do not define leadership in terms of revenue numbers. For me leadership is about continuously building a strong and broad range of products so that the organisationbecomesthe first choice for customers. It is also about becoming very valuableto the distributors and business partners, through whom the organisation achievessustainable growth. So with the Enox, Yale and Assa Abloy brands, we offer a comprehensive range of architectural hardware and sliding solutions, locking systems and closers, and intelligent entrance systems respectively. While Yale and Assa Abloy are our legacy brands with global acclaim, Enoxis the Indian brand we acquired in 2014.Collectively we probably offer the largest range of products, solutions, and services in the hardware domain in India.

The leader who fears that one of his subordinates will take his job will soon find his fears coming true

Most importantly, leadership should never be the end goal, because there is always the possibility that someone else will getthere first. Instead, it should an approach, a journey. And the right leadership approach is putting the customer at the top of the organisation, followed by the front-line people serving those customers, the salespersons, retailers, and distributors. Then come the middle management and the senior management, which are basically supporting these front-liners. That for me is the definition of an organisation of tomorrow, a kind of an inverted pyramid. And that is our approach at AssaAboly.

Make in India
Assa Abloy has a long-term vision for India, which includes having a strong manufacturing base. In 2017 we acquired the facility of SMI based in Jamnagar where we produce a range of door hardware, which is marketed in India and is being supplied to our markets overseas. We are also ready to develop products in India if in future our supply chain is disrupted due to regulatory changes.I am also confident that we will be setting up more factories in the country going forward.

For us, make in India is an initiative to develop products that are designed to meet the requirement of local customers. But we also have a host of innovative and technologically advanced products and solutions that are being manufactured at our 250 factories around the world. Through our finely tuned logistics infrastructure, we are making sure that all these global products are available for Indian customers at the right cost, quality and delivery schedule.

Competency Building of Channel Partners
To be a market leader, it is particularly important not to miss opportunities for understanding customer requirements. And for this we must keep improving the competency of distributors and retailers, since they form the front line that interacts with the users of our products.

Building the competence of channel partners and introducing relevant products is a part of our strategy. If we have tobuild a sustainable growth model in India,then our over 3,000 distributors and channel partners must be a part of it. It is not possible for the organisation to grow unless channel partners, distributors and the customers grow in the process.

Strategy is about courage of focus on four right things: targeting right customers; with right products and services; having the right cost; and getting the right price

We offer solutions for diverse applications such as healthcare, hospitality, education, retail, logistics and commercial. Thereforewe have a consultative approach in our marketing and communication with customers, and our channel partnersare a part of this consultative approach. Since we keep introducing digital and electromechanical products for all market segments,competency building of the channel is critical to our growth.

Future Plans
I have a vision to have a manufacturing infrastructure where we can develop products suitable for the Indian market. We should also create a supply chain that is localised and not dependent on imports from few countries. Our acquisition of the plant in Jamnagar was the first step in that direction. Currently our developmental focus is on door products for residential projects, which will be manufactured at SMI. We are expanding this range and will be launching the products under the Valencia brand soon.

The other area where we will be investing is customer engagement. I believe one of thefoundations of a business is a strong dialogue with the customer. We should have a long-term relationship with customers, which means we should go the extra mile in ensuring that every touch point, be it retail, aftersales or service, is carefully managed.That is what I would like to develop further and make sure that customers are delighted with our products and services.

Leadership can be demonstrated at every level, not necessarily at the top

Customer Experience
In my view customer experience isthe outcome of how our touch points are managed. It could be visiting the company website,stepping into a dealer outlet, meeting the sales executiveor calling up the company for a service. We should also not forget that our retail partners are our brand ambassadors. We must make sure that we have a very sustainable relationship with themso that they can uphold our brand in the market. It is they who are interacting with the customer, so there should be a seamless flow of communication between them and the organisation, andbetween customers and the organisation.

To get feedback from customers,we have shared the entire hierarchy of our customer support team along with respective email addresses, on our Enox and Yale websites.The last name on the list is mine, as that is where the buck stops. Many may think that this is like being on a firing line. But actually I’m right there, waiting for the customers to share their joy or unhappiness after they’ve used our product and service, or even otherwise.Customer engagement is anongoing process and one of our core values. We are making rapid progress in this space because this is something that I believe will be a key differentiator for us.

Also Read: Lockdown Leadership: Assa Abloy’s Raman Koul offers Six-point Economic Revival Plan

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