Anand Mahindra is the chairman of the $20.7 billion Mahindra Group and executive chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra. He spoke to Quartz at his office in Mumbai about the future of jobs and the importance of Twitter for CEOs. Mahindra has over seven million followers on Twitter and tweets several times a day on topics ranging from economy to cricket. He also considers complaints and suggestions for Mahindra Group from his followers, and can sometimes even be seen advising his team on Twitter.
What is that one job that is going to be critical at your group in the future? And why?
I feel the biggest job is going to be where you roll in together the job of a chief governance officer and a chief people officer. This has not been done anywhere before. At Mahindra & Mahindra, governance is a big focus area. If you look at the drawing of our banyan tree, a metaphor for our organisation’s structure and values, we say governance is the trunk of the tree.
The job would entail attracting and retaining people who have the right qualities. You have to have ways of judging if the person will have integrity and follow the values of the company.
One of our concerns about millennials is instant gratification, which means people sometimes take short-cuts and they want to get material goods quickly. The concern is, where is the conversation today about integrity and morality. If a young person’s only goal in life is to buy a Birkin bag or a Ferrari, will he or she follow the right path? And often when you find a major crisis at a company and it involves the brand, you find it because someone has not followed the straight path.
This role is crucial because of the kind of volatile world we are going to face in the future. I don’t mean simply economic volatility; I mean there will be a lot of questions about how you deal with problems.
Does the MeToo movement also play a role in making this role crucial?
Absolutely! And every company will have to look much more deeply into what is kosher and what is not in terms of behaviour.
How will you hire for this role?
In a group like ours, with a deep bench of people, it is better to have an internal person who is aware of our values in this role.
You’ve said that with a quantum leap in technology, new jobs would be created. Are you worried Indians won’t have the right skills for those jobs?
Arguably, if we are so digitally savvy as a nation, why should we be worried? It might be a problem for someone sitting in the midwest in America, someone who has been a blue collar worker in an ancient industry there. I am not saying it does not exist here but why should we worry more than them? We as a nation have shown great ability to enter the digital world and become tech-savvy. The question is if it is being done at the scale we need, but the answer is never going to be yes to that question.
But I remain optimistic.
But one keeps hearing about these abysmal reports about tier 2 or tier 3 colleges in India, where, for instance, aspiring computer engineers can’t even code.
My hope there is that again the answer will be found in technology. Education is going to shift online—look at Byju’s or edX. I was told the majority of edX users are Indians. So yes, if you take a guy fresh out of an Andhra college, he may not be employable. But that same guy can go online and pick up the tools he wants. I am not that pessimistic. I feel technology will solve the problem that technology has created.
What do you think the next generation of India CXOs need?
Number one humility, and number two curiosity. These may sound like fuzzy words but if you don’t have humility, you will see a number of issues with your leadership style sooner or later. And if you are not humble you are never going to learn. You have to be continuously learning as a leader and to do that you have to first have the humility to acknowledge that you don’t not know everything.
And if you have humility and curiosity, you will have empathy.
Any book suggestions for them?
How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M Christensen.
His main point is that even when you are a student, you need to figure out what your purpose in life is. I think it is important for leaders because someone who has decided that at an early stage already thinks long-term. It also makes you more reflective and you pause before taking a decision.
What is your one productivity hack?
Twitter is my cockpit.
When you have a federation like ours, with a number of companies and a massive geographical spread, it is almost impossible to figure out what is going on where. Ten to 15 years ago, I asked Microsoft and SAP to give me a dashboard that will help me drill down anywhere, for example, the shop floor of our Detroit Assembly line to see which machine isn’t working. And they were humming and hawing saying we need video, IoT, and all this stuff. And then suddenly, I get one tweet and picture from Assam. Someone in Guwahati had taken a picture at one of our (FirstCry) stores and said the MRP of a baby talcum powder was scratched out and they had put some wrong amount. I called the CEO at that time and forwarded this tweet to him. Almost 24 hours later, that CEO came back sheepishly and said that franchise had screwed up. Now think of that franchise owner. He was left wondering how did Anand Mahindra know about that one bottle of talcum powder in Guwahati. You might think this is a “big-brother-is-watching -you” moment but I have no problem with it. Big Brother is watching not because I am Hitler but because I want you to stay on the straight and narrow path. I have no problem being the Big Brother if I am using that power of Twitter reasonably.
Then, once I got a tweet from some kid saying his girlfriend got sick after drinking too much at a concert in Nashik. She was throwing up outside our factory there and the watchman got her some water and helped them find an auto. I called up the plant and asked them to thank him on my behalf with a garland. Now think about what this does to company culture. I can give ten workshops to my staff on empathy but one tweet recognising that watchman is (way more powerful). Now tell me, would SAP ever have given me a cockpit like that? Look at my productivity. It is mind-boggling.
I am not on Twitter because I am lonely. I have a very nice life and I am very happy. This is not Tinder for me. I am on Twitter because this is a business tool. Any CEO who is not on it is probably ignorant.
Anand Mahindra is a Quartz Pro, where he joins other top business thinkers and doers who regularly contribute insights on the news as part of the growing membership community. To read more of his contributions and thoughts, download the Quartz app.