In this edition of ‘CEO Insights’, as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Ms. Farah Malik Bhanji, who is the Managing Director and CEO of Metro Brands Limited. In her conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country – Lead of Great Manager Awards, she shares with us her experiences as a CEO.

Rahul: How would you describe your leadership style and what are some of the do’s and don’ts around you?


Farah: Metro has been an integral part of me for years. When I started my career, I had to prove that I was worthy of the job that was given to me. So I used to prepare myself far better than anyone else, to ensure that I was clear in my mind, as to what I need to do before I walk into a meeting. Now, 20 years later, I’m more collaborative in terms of decision making, allowing my people to build capacity for themselves, because the more they grow, the more I develop. Secondly, I enjoy and would prefer working with people who are enthusiastic and are excited about their work. It’s important for every leader to enjoy working with their team. 

‘Evaluate everyone in your team and ensure that you’re excited to work with them, because that’s what makes you a Great Manager’

If you’re not excited, it will be difficult to get work done from them. They will drain your energy as well. The company is focused on intrapreneurship. We encourage each person working for us to have an ownership mindset. They should be able to scale and grow or disagree freely and openly. The next thing which I appreciate the most, is integrity. We work in a retail organization and cash transactions happen constantly, but we never compromise for any cash-related situations. We have an open office concept. The idea is to enfosterr transparency and reinforce integrity in the entire organization. Communication and team alignment also plays a very important role. This instills passion and ownership. 

‘I believe that when you’re in a growth stage you need to have an authoritarian style of leadership. And as you professionalize the company to a larger degree, the leadership style tends to become more collaborative’


Rahul: What are some of the X-factors that you would like to have in leaders who work with you?


Farah: A passion and excitement for their work, integrity, being good listeners who think independently, aggression and being able to make decisions quickly weighing all the pros and cons. These are essential traits in the leaders who work with me. I like to work with people who challenge the status quo, are receptive and don’t hesitate to question me if they have a valid point to make.

In retail, you need to be adaptive, agile and nimble. The customer is ever changing. Yesterday’s wow is today’s now so it is important that leaders are able to evolve to keep up with changing times and customer preferences.

Rahul: If you could go back in time, let’s say 10 years, what advice would you give to the younger Farah? 


Farah: Honestly, it would be about working with the right people. Being a family-run company, we have an emotional bond with the employees which is a big part of our culture. But it has its pros and cons. Sometimes it stops us from taking harsh decisions and not getting in  fresh talent when required. I believe that it’s good to have a balance of both. 

So, being excited about your team would be one piece of advice that I would give to a younger Farah. 

 Whenever you have a new concept or an idea, it has a lot to do with people management. 10 years ago, even I wasn’t aware of it. From failures and mistakes, I realized that any project is almost 90% change and people management. I would also have told a younger Farah to aggressively adopt technology and digital.


Rahul: What is your long-term vision and how do you go about cascading it down? 


Farah: We believe, we have a strong foundation which makes it easy for us to expand. Our vision is to be the most innovative footwear, footcare and accessories company obsessed by customer delight delivered by passionate people. 

We don’t want to grow vertically. We want to keep  the organisation  relatively flat. In order to get our teams aligned, we do a lot. Recently we did a complete restructure of our supply chain team. It’s easier when you make the team, a part of the decision making . We give them the right tools to help them, come to a decision As a result, they will be as passionate about it, like you. 

When you give people the framework and the freedom to run it their way, it brings in a sense of ownership, which will help them make decisions similar to yours. If there is ownership in decision making, then you don’t have to infuse passion.

‘If you have a passionate team who strongly believes in your vision, and is fully aligned with where you want to take the company, then nobody can stop you from attaining success’

In addition, we set very clear and measurable goals and ensure that the Company Goals cascade into every employee’s KRAs. This way, through clear communication about expectations, the teams are aligned towards achievement.


Rahul: What is that one piece of advice that you find yourself giving to the younger generation?


Farah: Here’s my piece of advice to the younger generation – ‘Choose an organisation wherein the value systems are aligned. Personal satisfaction is most important. Enjoy the experience and maximise your learning’ 


Rahul: If you have the opportunity to ask only one question and basis that determine whether to hire a candidate or not, what could that question be?


Farah: Well, that’s a tough one. However, I would ask ‘Tell me how you’ll spend the first 90 days in our company?’ My expectation would be, the activities, questions, and people with whom they will be interacting.  This will help me understand, whether they have the right mindset or not. 

However, there is never that one question that determines the decision. It completely depends on the interaction. If someone interprets any question differently, I will have to come up with a different line of questioning. We give a lot of importance to reference checks. We do a three-tier reference check, where we check with people under them, at their level and above them. It’s like a 360-feel of the candidate. 


Rahul: What do you think is the most critical competency of a Great Manager?


Farah: For our front-end managers, I believe, that people who are super motivated and have an equally motivated team under them perform the best. We have a morning huddle at the stores, where the manager recaps the previous day and motivates their team, sets targets, reviews inventory, etc. 65% of motivation should come from within and 35% is from the way organisation works, learning, growth, promotions.

For our backend, it’s important for a manager to be to be a good listener and a quick decision-maker. It’s important to take data driven and well-informed decisions. 

Encourage and listen to new ideas that come from the team and put it forward, to ensure that such innovations and ideas are not killed at the lower level. 


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 closely works with Business & HR leaders to help them identify and develop successors for their organization.

About Great Manager Awards:

Great Manager Awards Program is an initiative by ‘People Business’ to identify, recognize and reward “Companies with Great Managers” in India.

This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.