Providing an open environment where employees are able to debate honestly and come out with the right solutions is what has helped Palash Nandy, chief commercial officer, Numeric India, ensure the company retains a top spot in the industry. In a candid conversation with Baishakhi Dutta, senior business journalist, Electronics Bazaar, he shares his exhilarating journey in the Indian electronics industry.
Year of birth: 1969
Favourite music: Old Hindi songs and western country music
Favourite food: I am a Bengali, therefore I have many favourites – biryani, chicken tikka, Bhapa Ilish and, of course, Bengali sweets
Favourite films: ‘Sholay’ and ‘Three Idiots’
Favourite books: ‘The Alchemist,’ ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ and ‘The Discovery of India’
Favourite actor: Amitabh Bachchan
Favourite actress: Suchitra Sen
Favourite singer: Kishore Kumar
Childhood and background
I was born in a place called Chinsurah in West Bengal. Later, I moved to Bengaluru with my family. I started my schooling in Bengaluru. We then moved to Allahabad, where I completed my ICSE from Boys’ High School, after which I moved to Kolkata for my ISC from St. Thomas Boys’ School. For college, I enrolled at Vivekananda College, where I completed my BSc in mathematics with honours.
I am the youngest of three children. I have an elder brother and an elder sister. My brother works in a software organisation based in Kolkata while my sister is a school teacher in the same city. My father worked for a private company that dealt in imaging instruments. He was in the sales department throughout his career, eventually heading the firm’s sales operations. My mother was a housewife.
My wife Ajanta used to be a school teacher. We were classmates in college. She went on to do her MSc in applied mathematics and subsequently chose to be a teacher. She taught mathematics in a school in Kolkata for a pretty long time. But eventually, she quit when I relocated to Paris so that she could join me there. Now we are back in Chennai, but she has not yet returned to working since she wants to focus her attention on our daughter, who is ten years old and studies in the sixth grade.
How my journey began
After I completed my graduation, I was looking for a job. Since my father was in sales, that field somehow interested me a lot. So I joined a company called MDS Switchgear Limited in Kolkata in 1990.
At that time, MDS was setting up its operations in eastern India with its regional office in Kolkata and all of us in the company were completely new hires. As a result I along with my other colleagues got to build up something completely from scratch, which was an extremely good experience since I got to learn a lot. I got the hang of nearly everything that is done in an organisation and not just sales. This helped me grow within the company. In November 1996, MDS was acquired by Legrand, which is how the latter came to India.
Under the new Legrand management, I worked as an area manager and just when I was asking myself what I wanted to do next, I got an interesting opportunity to move to Mumbai as a product marketing manager. This was an extremely good break for me, because that was when Legrand was setting up its marketing department in India. While working in this role, I was asked if I could take up the marcom (marketing communication) responsibility. Frankly, though I had no relevant experience, I took up the job. Consequently, I was the only one who had the experience in sales, product marketing as well as marcom; so, some years later I was asked to head the marketing department. I did so for a few years for Legrand India, being responsible for all the three brands of Legrand in India. By that time, Legrand had acquired Indo Asian and subsequently Numeric, in 2012.
In 2013, I was offered a chance to work at Legrand’s headquarters in Paris, where I was responsible for strategic planning for the whole group. This was altogether a different kind of job, with very little to do with everyday operations. I had to identify business opportunities and risks for the whole group in the mid/long-term and subsequently plan how to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the risks. I worked in Paris for three-and-a-half years and then I was asked if I would like to come back to India to take up this job at Numeric. I was always interested in building something new, which is why I chose to come back to India and take up this assignment, which I’ve been working on for the last one-and-a-half years.
Incidents that left a lasting impression on me
Throughout my career, I got opportunities to build processes and organisational structures. When I was in Kolkata, I got a chance to do so; subsequently, I was instrumental in setting up the marketing operations for Legrand in India and the same thing happened when I was heading strategic planning at Legrand, Paris. So these were some of the major events that made me what I am today. Also, the three-and-a-half years in France completely changed my perspective, both personally as well as professionally.
Apart from this, a lot of people have influenced me and taught me how to maintain a balance between my professional and personal life. Pinpointing any one personal incident is a bit difficult. I come from a joint family and I believe that has had a big influence on me since experiencing such a lifestyle is very difficult today. So it’s a combination of various aspects of my life that have made me what I am today.
Preferred work environment
My preferred environment is one where people can easily converse across hierarchies and functions. Wherever I have worked, the concept of the ‘closed door’ didn’t exist. I encourage people to walk in or walk out of my office whenever the need arises. I prefer an environment where people are free to debate and finally come to a conclusion on what is to be done.
I have got a board up in my room, on which I encourage my colleagues to come in and write about what they think I need to improve on. Later, if and when that person feels that I have overcome that particular habit, it is that person’s responsibility to come and erase that comment from the board. For I believe I can work on my shortcomings only if someone points them out to me and motivates me to improve. That’s how a work environment should be, where we help each other rectify our mistakes and become more efficient.
Some things about myself that I’d like to change
I was extremely hot-headed and impulsive. I have learned to curb that aspect a lot but I still continue to work on it. I also need to start giving more time to my family. Upgrading my knowledge, both professionally as well as personally, is another thing I believe I should work on.
There were certain school teachers who simplified a lot of things for me. My teachers played a huge role in imparting quality education and morals which helped me a lot in my professional and personal life. My siblings were much more mature and better students than I was, and they again helped me a lot. My parents ensured that I was always grounded and rooted to reality. From my college days itself, my wife (my classmate in those days) had started playing a huge role in my life. She brings a sense of calmness to the entire family. Undoubtedly, she has been a major influence in my life.
Qualities that attract me to people
I admire people who have a passion for whatever they are doing. Also, openness, transparency, a hunger for learning and growth (personal and professional) are certain qualities that I appreciate in a person. I strongly believe that skills can be taught but that’s not the case with attitude—which you either have or you don’t.
The challenges of management
I always like to challenge my team members to go beyond their self-made boundaries and, at the same time, inculcate a ‘can do, will do’ attitude. I encourage them not to depend on me but to take independent decisions. I push my team hard to come up with practical solutions. I insist that they spend a large part of their time ‘listening’ to customers/stakeholders (internal and external), since the majority of the ‘good’ solutions come about when we are able to fully understand our customers’ ‘needs’.
I also believe in sharing my knowledge with my team for I believe that this helps me to grow along with them. Finally, I have always strived to provide an open environment wherein my teams are able to debate honestly and come out with the right solutions. I strongly believe that we have to make use of the diverse expertise that lies within any team, and that the leader’s job is not to always provide the answer but to create an environment where different team members can put their heads together to come up with the appropriate solutions.
My advice to budding entrepreneurs
Every entrepreneur needs to understand that at the end of the day, it’s a question of managing people. The market, products and the economic chain will keep on changing, but what matters is the way you manage your people so that productivity increases. I strongly believe that, in todaay’s world, the biggest differentiator amongst companies is the quality of the human capital they have.
The road ahead
I no longer think about my future in terms of designations. Today, I am responsible for the sales, service and marketing functions in an organisation that has a revenue of about ₹ 5.5 billion and 2000 employees. Keeping that in mind, I would like to take up more challenging assignments. I believe in this process. Designations will keep on changing, but thinking about them won’t let me take up challenges and create something new.
On the personal front, both for me and my wife, our first priority is our daughter. We intend to give her a strong education as well as a good moral values. I want to make sure that she has the chance to do what she loves to do. This is my top priority now. As for material things, I am not too concerned about them since they come and go. We have a bucket list of places that we want to visit since we have hardly explored India to the full extent.