Kishore Biyani Curated
CEO, Future Group
CURATED BY :
What is the biggest asset for any company?
What would any organization have to do to survive in the market?
What is your view on the "Theory of Abundance"?
What do you vividly remember from the Sam Walton's book?
Which entrepreneur was your role model?
Which incidents do you remember from the early days of Pantaloons?
How are you implementing predictive technologies into your business?
Which categories of retail would thrive in online retail?
What is your view on the profitability of online retail?
Is there any ambition which is yet to be fulfilled?
Is there something you want to change about your life?
What inspires you the most?
Are you a spiritual person?
How challenging was being the first one to build a retail supply chain in India?
What was your reaction to National Retail Forum's refusal on recognizing you as a retailer?
Do you regret parting ways with any of your businesses?
What were you key learnings from the financial meltdown?
What inspired you to start Big Bazaar?
Are you still instinctive in making decisions?
Did you consult your family with regards to your business?
Do you feel you started your business in a favourable economy?
What was your first job that earned you money?
Why do you say you have learnt "most outside college"?
How do you explain the inability of financial success of multiple ideas?
What was the aim of Easyday model?
What controls the consumer behaviour in clothing business?
What will be the benchmark of business in future?
What do you think would be the trend shifts in coming years?
Who do you think will have a successful business model in India?
What are your views on being a leader in the market?
What do you think is the future of e-commerce?
What are your views on e-commerce?
What do you think is the consumer's perspective on branding?
What unique measures have you taken in your business?
How do you define innovation in retail business?
How has your perspective changed about business overtime?
What values have you inculcated overtime?
Any advice for SMEs and start-ups on brand building ?
What did you keep in mind while building a brand?
What is your advice for startups to reach success?
What according to you can help a business grow?
What are your views on creating a right value chain?
How do you think has brand building changed over time?
What do you think distinguishes digital from physical businesses?
What have you learnt from film making?
What are your views on growing SMEs in India?
What is the biggest mistake you made?
How do you incorporate Indian Festivals into your business?
Why did you choose a decentralize business model?
How were you able to upscale your business over time?
How different is the current generation from your time?
What inspired you to start your own business?
What, according to you, is success?
Success is when people start following you or start believing in your thoughts, and whatever you do is accepted. The consumers tell you that you have done something right when they keep coming again and again into your shop.
As you grow bigger, do you think the cost of failure gets higher and higher?
It all depends on how you design your organization. We have just restructured our organization, and created an innovation and incubation group which works only on developing new concepts. We have a very low cost of innovation. We don’t do research. We do not hire consultants. We experiment and do everything on our own. We run the largest design company and are very fast in our approach.
Could you tell us about the different patterns of consumption in the country?
Everybody has their own way of looking at things. People in Gujarat buy their staples in bulk, at one time, for the full year, because it ensures a consistent quality of products for them. Basically, we have not changed genetically. The north Indian still remains a wheat eater and the south Indian is still a rice eater. But we track the changes as and when they happen. It might take another three to four generations for a person to change himself culturally, for a wheat eater to become a rice eater.
What have you learned about forecasting consumer behaviour?
India is such a diverse country. Every location is different. Every catchment area is different. Consumers react very differently in different places. If it is a gloomy day, I can forecast what the sales will be. If the day is a little darker, I know sales will drop so much. If it is a brighter day, sales will be up. Mondays behave one way, Tuesdays another. We have a lot of data and research to support us and tell us how things move, both at the broader level and the consumer-entry level.
Having different retailing formats in your organization, how do you evaluate which one is working?
We come to know within one month of launching a new format. We launch it and the consumer tells us whether it will work or not. We get a feel for it while we are launching it, but the consumer tells us everything else. It is like a movie. First day, first show, the consumers tell you whether they like you or hate you. It is for you to notice and pick up what they are saying.
In your book, you mentioned that you like to watch people shop. How often do you do that?
I do that every day. We are trained to do that. So, while we are at the airport we are watching people, and then at the stores and the malls. We observe people anywhere and everywhere.
Do you think any of the Sam Walton's principles could be applied in India?
We followed that principle and worked quite a lot on merchandising. We have become a merchandising-driven organization rather than one that is operations-driven. Look at any of the companies that are entering India — they are all operations-driven. They want to perfect their operations on Day One. They want to have control. That is one big difference between them and us. Secondly, it is all about passion. We realized that retailing is always done with passion. It is not done with corporate imagery. Retailing is also about leading the group, leading the cheerleaders, having Saturday meetings. Walton’s book also presents insights on how to manage the family, how to treat sons and daughters, how to view the management and the family as two separate entities and how to manage wealth. Wal-Mart is the only organization I have seen that has gone against the law of nature. It has broken one natural law, which says that when you keep growing bigger and bigger, you get cut down.
Being a Sam Walton's admirer which of his principles did you find the most appealing?
I was struck by Sam Walton’s theory that the retail business is driven either by efficient operations or by very good merchandising. The first thing to do is to get your merchandising right. Operations can be gotten right anytime.
What kind of challenges did you face when nobody accepted your thinking?
It was not a challenge. I strongly believed we needed to develop our own original thinking. There has to be some fresh air blowing through our thought processes. This country has a lot of talent, but unfortunately we are borrowing everything from the West. But we also have to benchmark ourselves against some international standards. India is a unique country and we have to look at our problems in an original manner. We can use the West as a reference point or an inspiration, but we cannot ape it entirely.
Did you always believe in going with the flow, or did you develop this attitude with time?
It has evolved. Earlier, when we used to do this, we were called stupid. Now when people see it has worked, they call me a maverick, or something like that, because they have to label me. It is okay. It is all about acceptance. When we got one thing right, people did not believe in us. When the second thing was right, they did not believe in us. When we also got the third thing right, they still did not believe in us. Finally, when the fourth thing was right, people realized that if I got four out of four things right, everything could not have been a fluke. Then people started believing in us. Now my thoughts are accepted.
Can you elaborate on the three types of entrepreneurs you described in your book?
Most people are trained to be preservers. It is great to be a preserver. But for us, whoever has to create has to destroy. Without destroying, you cannot create anything new. That is also the law of nature. Look at the seasons. Everything gets destroyed to create something new. But unfortunately, business does not take any cues from nature. None of the business schools takes anything from nature. One cannot go against the flow of nature. In our group, we don’t follow business principles. We follow the principles of nature. One of the biggest principles we follow, as I have said in the book, is to go with the flow. We never do anything against the flow of nature. And when you follow the principles of nature, ideas will get destroyed and recreated. If you look at nature, human beings have not changed over a period of so many years. Love, hate and all the other emotions are still the same. But we all complicate things. We create segments, psychographics and other indices. It is a simple world, but we break it up and start looking at it through lenses that are very different. You will find all the answers in nature.
How have you developed leadership in your organization?
We have developed a very different style of leadership. We run a seamless organization. We don’t have structures; it is a non-hierarchical organization that works with people coming together to do things. It is also a very design-driven organization. We believe the structure has to be broken up to change; the design has to be altered to change things. A design-driven organization has flexibility and maneuverability. It is an amorphous organization that can be given any shape and any direction anytime.
What is your biggest leadership challenge?
I guess the biggest leadership challenge is always how you handle conflicts. Secondly, there is no end to growth in leadership. The whole problem is people believe that if they have achieved something they have reached Mount Everest and then leadership is over. But it is a continuous process.
What are your thoughts on "leaders who are effective in one context may not be so in another"?
Our measurement of effectiveness is a capitalistic approach based largely on how successful leaders are in terms of balance sheet performance. But we must also look at many other benchmarks. Leadership is all about making effective change, creating some kind of paradigm shift by looking at the world or anything in a different way. The environment around you keeps changing and you must keep creating new lenses to look at things. Very few leaders are consistent throughout.
How do you define thought leadership?
Thought leadership is about building scenarios and making them happen. I believe everybody is a victim of systemic thinking and has their own mental syntax. First things come first, and everything else is a reflection of where you started on that first thing. If you change that syntax, things change. If you have a business school orientation, your syntax of thinking will be in a particular direction. I am a businessman and entrepreneur, so my syntax of thinking will be in a different direction. Each has a unique method of sequencing to arrive at answers. One would have to change everything to look at things differently. That is a very difficult thing to do as we have our own mental maps. We are not trained to change mental models. Business schools also have not been trained to do that. Business schools work on creating efficiencies, creating productivity and managing consistency. But life is not like that. Life is chaotic.
What part of leadership is inborn and what can be developed?
For me, leadership is all about thought leadership, not skills leadership.Skills leadership can be developed even after the age of 24 or 25, but thought leadership cannot be developed after a certain age.
What does leadership mean to you?
In the last six months, I have read many articles on leadership and met a couple of experts on that subject. But I still could not find an answer to what, exactly, leadership means. There are two types of leadership. The first is all about thought leadership, which is original thought, believing in it and making things happen based on those thoughts. The second type is skills leadership, which refers to doing things consistently and in your own style.
How do you deal with competition, especially from international giants?
Competition is good for any industry and it has always been there. Nobody is going hungry in this country; everybody is getting what they want.
What are the changes that you have bought about in your strategy?
I think the consumers want more from us now. This means we need to change ourselves. We have grown old and thus need to change ourselves to keep track with the times and continue to delight our customers in every manner possible.
What according to you is the key learning from the journey till now and that you will be taking forward to the next decade?
As a retailer, I think it is all about consumers and change. The idea was always to look at how as a retailer we can bring a change in the consumer’s home and that according to me was the most gratifying thing.
What is your take on the Indian FMCG market in general?
Even though the percentage growth in India may slow down, it is still ahead of many other markets. How many markets with 70% of its people below 45 years can boast of such growth? Will there be ups and downs? Always. We are in this business for the long term and we are excited by the potential India has in terms of future growth in per capita consumption of dairy products.