Right Attitude&LearningMindset: Going the distance as aGreat Manager

In this edition of the ‘CEO Insights” we have Mr. Manish Kapoor, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Pepe Jeans London. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his views as a leader.

Rahul: Who are your mentors?

Manish: I was fortunate enough to have started my career with companies like MaduraGarments and with certain people like my first boss Sanjeev Mohanty, Ashish Dixit, my last boss Kavindra Mishra, and growing up in that atmosphere was amazing withthe very best management talent. Even though I joined as a management trainee, the organization gave me the freedom to interact with these people on a daily basis. So, when I look at it in terms of people who influenced me, I would say, Sanjeev for his understanding of consumer and trends , Kavindra for his poise and Ashish, for his humility, that he has even today.


Also, if I look at my elder daughter sometimes, it inspires me in terms of the way she manages difficult situations by remaining calm, being able to deal with those situations. I also get inspired by guys like my driver who’s working hard like  18 hours a day but never complaining . So, I think inspiration is not something which is limited to great managers and if you look around,ordinary looking people can also inspire you.

One business leader who really inspires me is Steve Jobs because of his vision for the future and passion for innovation.


Rahul: What would you say are some of the leadership lessons that you have learned in the last six to nine months?

Manish: I would stress on a few important things. Firstly, I think I’ve learned the power of Empathy. That’s something that we kept talking about previously but I think the way it has panned out in the last nine months, how you actually practice it and the differenceit makes is a very important learning.

Secondly, I think is the power of communication. In times of crisis, it gives a lot of confidence to people in terms of actually being able to relate to the organization, the leadership, and also being able to have that feeling that they’re being thought about and cared for.

Thirdly, I would say as leaders and managers, we’ve learned about being able to steer your ship in ambiguity. But I think the crisis has taught us a lot in terms of being able to take decisions in ambiguitybecause this was a situation that you never faced before; you’re never prepared for it. So,in every single decision you are taking there is some data to back it up, but at the same time, you don’t know how it’s going to pan out. So, you are ready to take your decision and mould or change them basis the situation.

Rahul: If you had the chance to go back 10 yearsin your life and tell your younger self the things that you could have done differently. What would they be?

Manish: I think one thing is that I would have told myself to be more patient. I always used to be in a hurry, wanting results very fast. But, over a period of time what I’ve learned is that patience is very, very important, be it patience with people, circumstances, or situations. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

The other would be the difference between a P&L statement and a balance sheet. A lot of times what happens is that you are only driven by profits, betas and just the P&L part of the business, but what you don’t realize is that your balance sheet is actually the one which actually reflects the strength of your business.

Rahul: As a CEO, how do you typically go about understanding your company’s cultureand working towards defining the culture that you want the firm to have?

Manish: For me, everything starts from the consumer.Every single action that you take as a business has to be thought about in terms of how does it help the consumer or what difference does it make to the consumer and then it works back to the organization.

My driving theory is that a happy organization or a happy internal customer delivers happiness to the consumer. So, your employees need to be happy to be able to deliver that happiness or value to the consumer. Your remuneration plays an important role but that is not the most important thing today. If I look at the younger generation today, the environment that you are able to provide to them in terms of the physical amenities and more importantly, the culture that you are able to deliver within the office.  For me culture is people being free enough to talk to, to walk into a cabin and express what they feel. Are you giving them enough opportunities to learn? Are yougiving them enough opportunities to develop themselves as individuals? I think that is culture.


I think culture is all about simple things in terms of actually understanding what excites your employees, and then basically, delivering on those few parameters, it doesn’t need to be theories, it has to be very simple things.

Rahul: What are the qualities that you would want to developin managers to get to your strategic intent?

Manish:I don’t want my one downs (n-1s) to run the company. I want my n-2s to run the company on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s something that we have achieved in the last 12 months. The more amount of time the top managementis devoting to operational items, not talking about the future, it’s very clear that the organization will not progress or grow. For me, it is very clear that an n-2 has to run the company on a day-to-day basis and its operations. The n-1 has to keep thinking in terms of what’s next and what better they can do in terms of their areas of expertise or functions.

When I look at it in terms of quality or areas to develop, skill is not important, and that’s something that I maintain across levels.It’s more in terms of your attitude. Secondly, I look at it in terms of learnability in terms of ‘Are they ready to learn new things?’

Rahul: If you need to find a successor and you have three candidates in front of you, what would you look for in them?

Manish: I will probably look at three things. Understanding of the consumer, understanding of technology, and the way they are able to manage people. I think those are the only three things that matter to me. I think you can get experts around you to help you out with the rest but if you have those three fundamental things, you should be able to lead any organization.

Rahul: If you have limited time in an interview and you could ask only one question to a candidate and basis that question decide whether the candidate is the right fit. What could that question be?

Manish: I think attitude is more important than skills. I would probably ask him a situational question. For instance, if theywere in a difficult situation, how would they manage it?

Let’s say somebody was coming for an HR interview. I would ask them if they know anything about Digital Marketing.If not, what would they do? For me, attitude and learnability are the two parameters that I look at whenever I’m hiring people. If there are some people who are coming to you for a particular position, I would say that at least 80% of them would be very similar, in terms of their technical skills. What would differ is in terms of their attitude, and that would be the difference in terms of how successful they have been. Attitude and learnability are the only two things and I would probably ask a situational question to get an understanding on those two aspects.

Rahul: What are the usual challenges that you face in terms of people management?

Manish: I think that the generation we are managing todayneed to learn a lot about patience, most of them want to grow very fast.The challenge is making them understand that there is a process to things and patience is important. The other important thing is that whenever you are conducting business, you can’t always take shortcuts which might give you short term results. Because if you really want to succeed,you need to create long term value for all stake holders which means to always do the right things even if it  might give you short term pain.

The second challenge is more in terms of making people sync with your consumer, making them realize, irrespective of industry, you need to adapt, learn, and change. So, it’s more in terms of going back to learnability and being able to grow.

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving to theGen Z population?

Manish: I think it’s effectively two-way traffic across the board.So, whether it’s my daughters or colleagues, gone are the days where as leaders, we thought that we will be preaching, that we know the best, and we will always be able to tell people if something is right or wrong or even the right way to do things. I think we need to realize that we have had certain learnings in life, people around us might have more experience or lesser experience than us, but they have also had certain experiences in life. We need to learn from each other. Also, living in a constantly changing world, there is no right or wrong, what worked yesterday probably might not work today. So, you always need to be ready as there might be a better way to look at it or doing it today.

When you’re looking at managing people, you need to understand what drives or motivates people. You need to always be ready to learn in the competitive world that we are living in. So,the pandemic was an eye opener for a lot of us in terms of understanding of consumer and the whole manner of doing things digitally. We have realized that we can work very efficiently from home, we could have done it three years back also, but we never felt the need, or we never thought of it. But I think those are important things in terms of being up to date. One of my biggest things is one shouldn’t always resist change. I feel I am a proponent in terms of saying that technology is something which is very important in our lives. If you want the latest model of the iPhone, why don’t you think the same way when you’re thinking of doing your work?



About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of Great Manager Awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul consults organisations in identifying & developing successors