Updated: Jul 22
Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Anuraag Guglaani, Group CEO at a leading family holding group
My father used to fly for the Air Force a nd my upbringing has been in the community of Air force pilots, living right next to airfields where fighter Jets would be taking off, landing and engaging in Dog fights(simulated attacks) and conducting aerobatic exercises all the time.
Seeing the fighter pilots wear gravity suits, dressing up in flying overalls with flying helmets and Rayban aviator glasses, it was bit natural to develop a fascination for that profession. It was indeed my passion to fly at top speed–multiple times the speed of sound and enjoy that thrill and in order to achieve that, I prepared hard to get selected for one of the toughest Military academies in the world
A rigorous selection process, starting with a merit based written exam, which hundreds and thousands of aspirants would undertake but only about 1000 selected, followed by Five days of exhaustive Services Selection Board Interview process testing every aspect from physical to mental strength, adaptability, communication, Team and leadership skills followed by a Pilot aptitude battery test, which can only be appeared once in a life time and if failed, then one could never fly for the Air Force.
And if one managed to clear all this then finally a stringent medical exam to eventually be selected as one of the 60 Air Force Officer Cadets, to be rigorously trained for three years to pass out as an Armed Forces Officer and eventually from the air force academy as a fighter pilot.
Well at that stage, I didn’t know that I was destined for a very different career and having spent all those years at the academy and undergone a massive personal transformation exercise, wherein I was trained to lead by example and become a leader who can motivate his team to be able to even give their life for the country, without having any control over giving increments or bonuses or promotions as all that was driven through the official system. This grooming gave me a definite edge in the civil world over others, who weren’t fortunate enough to have gone through such a molding opportunity in college or university.
My initial upbringing in the defence forces environment wherein as kids we were uprooted frequently from one place to another, because of my father getting posted to a new station every three years, and us having to start making new friends all over again and settle in a new school, new environment etc etc, also helped immensely in harnessing some lifesaving adaptability skills.
This highly adaptive nature coupled with the mental and physical strength imparted during the academy where NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE was drilled into our DNA, really enhanced my risk taking and leadership abilities, which I believe is the key reason for me having had a differentiated approach in the business world leading to an extremely successful professional career.
During my career span, I have always had the privilege of being in Top management and C Level positions for very large and diversified family business groups across the Middle East region, while managing and growing business across the 23 countries in Middle East, Africa and South Asia region.
I have never shied away from change of country or product /service line or profession as my Risk-taking ability and eye for spotting an opportunity and further leading a team to show them the vision and motivate them to implement the change, has always been a proven success model for me.
I was always brought in at the top position to bring in complete organizational transformation and business turnaround and having done that over and over again for about 20 years, I found that there are several family businesses, needing such assistance from an external transformation leader who can walk the talk and bring in the desired change, as it relatively difficult for such businesses to hire the best of the talent and neither the leadership team is professionally qualified to lead change and that’s when I decided to get into the space of Consulting so as to help these businesses, structure themselves and take a leap towards creating a highly profitable, well governed, Professional and sustainable growth model.
Expertise as Business Doctor
I have always been brought in to resolve the key business problems of large-scale businesses, which started from scratch about two to three decades ago, as startups.
Problems being faced by these businesses after several years of existence, could be any - Be it low profits/loss making/ huge inventories and obsolesce/ Sizeable receivables and overdues situation, poor people management structure, lack of effective strategy and change management culture, poor governance framework, lack of technology adoption etc etc and almost every assignment required me to take the entire organization through a massive transformation journey, in my own indigenous style.
The requirement always was of a Business Doctor who could understand the pain area, diagnose the root cause and further cure it by walking the talk and bringing visible changes with clear return on investments.
My learnings and experience amassed over the years was a great help to Chairman’s and C levels of such organizations where they really needed the services of a “BUSINESS DOCTOR” to diagnose and cure the ailments which were eating up the organization inside out and preventing it from becoming a high growth, lean, efficient, process oriented and performance driven business.
Now coming to your question of the right time to start/invest in business, the reason I gave you the above background of established businesses was, that irrespective of the number of years for which an organization has existed, it has to undergo a natural evolution process and will constantly face several challenges and hurdles, which are nothing but opportunities of transformation and growth and if such occurrences bother a “would be” Entrepreneur, then they should never think of starting a business in the first place. In essence, an organization has to go through a STARTUP phase, multiple times during the business life cycle.
However if someone has the Risk Taking ability, an eye for spotting opportunity and knack of encashing that opportunity by developing an effective people management and leadership skill, then there is never a bad time to start or invest in a business, as we will all have to go through the ups and downs of business lifecycle at some stage or the other.
I have always been a firm believer that the success of any technology adoption is purely dependent on Humans and not the technology advancement alone. At so many occasions, I have witnessed businesses investing heavily into several innovative and expensive technologies but failing to utilize even a minor percentage of the same. The key reason for that is the failure of entire requirement gathering and decision-making process coupled with getting the Buy in, change management and implementation process, throughout the organization.
I always work with people and emphasize that the adoption of technology is to support the human beings in improving their efficiency, productivity, and decision-making process and thus it is essential to first identify as to what gaps really exist for each function and the value add that a particular technology solution will bring to the table.
This requires a massive buy in from each team member and therefore a mindset change needs to be created.
Secondly, businesses being pushed by aggressive technology salespeople, end up adopting these technologies but fail to create a risk management framework around the same, leaving them vulnerable to hackers and cyber security breaches.
Several businesses and more so the SME and family businesses have often been hacked and made to pay ransom for getting the access back to their own data.
Such organizations fail to realize the importance of creating a technology governance framework and protecting themselves from this biggest business risk- THE TECHNOLOGY RISK and end up facing financial and reputational loss.
It is proven that 80% of the cyber-attacks take place due to human error and thus once again, the emphasis of working with people and guiding, coaching, mentoring, leading, motivating, getting their buy in, is what are my core focus areas and this ability to work with people and mould them to bring out the best of their capabilities, is what separates me from the pack.
It is ironical to note that established businesses with several years of demonstrated track record as well as audited financials, albeit going through challenging times, find it extremely difficult to secure financial support from banks and financial institutions, whereas a startup, with no past track record or experience of running business or demonstrated results, are able to secure funding, just by making the right pitch.
This is inspite of the proven fact that 90-95% of the startups fail. The question arises as to why people still invest in these startups, given such high failure rates.
This is because the founders of these startup are NOT BUSINESS OWNERS but ENTREPRENEURS!!
What is the difference between a Business Owner and an Entrepreneur- Well a business owner is driving revenue and profitability while entrepreneur drives change and disruption. An entrepreneur is a visionary trying to make a difference in the lives of people and it is with that conviction that they present a Strategy of growth, which appeals to investors.
However, 90% of the successful startups become successful because of the induction of experienced Cofounder/C Level team, which is brought in to fill the skill and experience gaps of the founder and who can take away the load of day-to-day operational hurdles from the founder so that he/she can focus on innovation and futuristic vision.
This is what I did successfully as a cofounder for the Tech startup which I was involved in and which is why it is the team behind the startup that matters to me the most.
I strongly evaluate people because ideas could fail or require alteration at any stage however a well selected, coordinated and cohesive team can collectively overcome any such challenges and define a new path when required.
Human beings can create miracles and thus for me it’s always PEOPLE-PEOPLE and PEOPLE!!
Well for me, the First step is the validation of idea and the genuinity of the same. When I assess a startup, I do it with a mindset of not only judging or investing in the same but rather being an integral part of the team itself in bringing the idea to light and thus I ask several questions which could help me form an informed opinion, as if I was going to run the show and own complete responsibility of its success.
Asking the right questions is extremely important, followed by validation of the project by doing external market analysis of the assumptions given by the founding team.
Ascertaining the conviction of the team along with their openness to change , level of adaptability, risk taking ability, capability of accepting failure, understanding as to why are they getting into this business- short term/long term/quick exit etc
And lastly glancing through the financials to look at underlying assumptions that may have been miscalculated or certain risks which may not have been accounted for or future trends and assumptions that may not have been captured.
Well basically I do a deep dive in Internal and External analysis as well as in people and financials and everything I do is not with an objective of finding faults but rather being able to give a value add to the founding team, which they may eventually build into their overall business model.
Having gained quarter of a century’s expertise and skill in taking family businesses from scratch/loss making to high growth/ profit trajectory and building them into multi geography businesses by leading large teams and bringing the best out of them was itself a cluster of many success stories.
However, my leap five years back into the Strategy and Transformation consulting plus Technology governance and auditing space, is where my recent success stories come from.
I can proudly state that I have helped several family businesses operating in multiple business segments, to transform their organizations into Lean, Process Driven, Agile, Market Intelligent, Motivated teams, Clear strategy and high growth/profit generating businesses
On the technology side, I have helped organizations create a well governed technology adoption process with respect to ERP, Cloud, Ware house management systems, Client relationship management systems, Intelligent automation, AI, machine learning, Data Analytics, Fraud prevention, Mitigation of technology risks.
On people front, the key areas that I have turned around are the Talent acquisition and retention process, Supply chain and Procurement efficiency, Management Information Systems reporting processes, Team building and Management tam development.
And lastly on the leadership level, I have coached and transformed several business owners and leaders in creating a paradigm shift in their management style, Created – Inducted – Coached the successors into family businesses so that they can blend in easily and helped CFO’s transition into CEO’s and CEO’s transition into Board member.
Learnings from Covid
You may call me blind, but I have a tendency to always look at the positives that get created out of every challenge that is thrown across to mankind.
The world has become more resilient, and people have learnt to value life a little bit more than earlier. New jobs have been created and employers have learnt that businesses can be managed differently and successfully and that employees can be trusted much more than they believed.
Several sectors and industries have registered massive growths and their best years ever and new job opportunities have got created.
People have had time to learn several new skills and spend better quality time with families and understood the importance of human connect.
Governments have learnt the importance of becoming self-sufficient and do resource planning for the future.
Businesses have understood the essence of Geographical and Industry diversification for risk mitigation and reduction of dependency on just one area.
And if there is anyone who is yet to learn, then they can read this interview and learn from the same.
Learnings from Covid
I believe that the pandemic has been instrumental in making people, businesses and governments realize the obvious law of nature- Anything that goes up, has to come down and give way to new entrants. We have seen this happening every couple of years- Reasons could be different but the Pandemic acted as a catalyst in reinforcing the essence of those beliefs, in a hard-hitting manner.
We did learn that Technology adoption is not an option but a necessity and it’s even more important to create a parallel risk mitigation framework around the same!
We learnt that businesses need to be leaner and have a proper cash flow management along with keeping reserves for unknown incidental happenings!
We learnt that health takes precedent over everything else!
We learnt that it is possible to work remotely and remain effective in our delivery!
We learnt the value of a blended approach, where Humans plus Machines can work together to bring out the best efficiency and productivity!
We learnt that Family and Friends matter and improved our skills on identifying the true from the fake!
We learnt the value of work-life balance and the results thereof!
We learnt to appreciate nature and not to take things for granted!
And many other learnings……..
CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT!!