Leadership Lessons: The Start-Up Man

Soft spoken Delhi boy, Puneet Malik, who heads ABFRL’s Innerwear business is an oasis of calm amidst the stressful world of corporate multitasking. In over 25 years in ABFRL, Puneet has successfully aced multiple roles in his life and the organisation, and through it all he has managed to remain balanced, cool and collected. Balancing every aspect of his multifaceted personality—family man, inspiring leader, successful CEO, doting father, considerate professional—while still being humble about his achievements.

ABFRL has given him the opportunity to experiment and innovate in his career. Puneet has made the best of this opportunity to try new things, deliver and prove himself. For ABFRL, Puneet is the go-to start-up man. Starting as a Management Trainee in 1994, he has set up a series of new ventures.  These include setting up the company’s shirt factory and then the suit factory among other projects. The newest of these is starting the company’s Innerwear Business from scratch, of which he is the CEO.

Puneet would have it no other way. He thrives on new ventures. “I love new businesses and new challenges. That’s my forte,” he says. He enjoys the process of setting up a business from scratch, the learning that comes with it and the journey to making it a success, he says. “It’s an overload, but it is an exciting overload.” According to him, starting a new business is a lot like an entrepreneurial venture. So working across all the different verticals has helped Puneet fulfil his entrepreneurial spirit.

Puneet is one of the most dynamic leaders that ABFRL has produced. In an interview with Puneet, In Touch attempted to uncover different facets of the man. What keeps him ticking? Read on to find out.

On the success of Innerwear Business

“We did a lot of research before we got in. We also brought in the best talent from other companies across FMCG & Innerwear industry.  We had to get everything together starting from understanding of competitive play, consumer behaviour and pain points to key levers of success. We needed a strong team, a winning product and positioning strategy along with a reliable supply chain and deep distribution network. Above all we needed the culture of innovation, speed and entrepreneurship to win in the face of a very strong and entrenched industry leader. A culture where everyone’s opinion’s matter and everyone feels like the promoter. But it was quite a difficult process to stitch everything together and it meant taking lots of risks.  It was also an exciting time, we would have city launches with the whole team which was always a high point for the team to get together and celebrate the efforts. I remember, after one city launch, we actually had our own mini fashion show where we walked the ramp, played music and celebrated.

The learning has been tremendous, especially in Women’s Innerwear. Early on, we realised that innovation and differentiation is the key. The initial days were tough. It is a very complex business. The innerwear business is very different from selling suits and shirts. So there was some unlearning to do as well as learning. The business differs from metro to non-metro and also from state to state. In nutshell, this is a very exciting business which throws lots of new challenges and hence new learnings.

On His Team

We do a lot of things together as a team. We are like a family. Every so often, we have a ‘Surprise Friday’ where we make a sudden plan to go out. In the past, during an award ceremony for the team, we brought in the family of the winners to present the award. It was a way for us to acknowledge the sacrifices that the family makes while the employee is out working hard. It was a very emotional moment for everyone. I call my team the ‘magic team’ because I believe they can, and do, create magic.

Our efforts were rewarded when we got the ABFRL Award for Leading Through Innovation. Innovation is something that is very close to my heart.

On Leadership

Leadership is about finding the right talent for the right job, trusting them and inspiring them to deliver their best. Your energy and thoughts as a leader are extremely critical and positive thoughts and positive energy is infectious. A leader has to build trust with her/his team and she/he can only do it if she/he is authentic, genuinely committed to the success of her/his team and is unbiased. As a leader, I keep myself updated by keeping a tab on consumer and macroeconomic trends, frequently visit markets and meet channel partners, retailers and consumers to understand competitive play and business imperatives. A big realisation for me is that energy travels really fast. If I am in a bad mood, my entire team get affected by the same energy very soon. So I take care to keep myself positive and not pass on negative feelings.

On Legacy

I would like to be remembered as someone who helped people to become better leaders, unlock their potential and encouraged them to dream big. Someone who empowered and unleashed the entrepreneur and innovator in people.

Role Model

My role model and mentor is Mr. Ashish Dikshit. He is an inspiring leader and an outstanding human being.

Five secrets to Corporate Success

i.       How much value you create for the business and how do you do that.

ii.      Emotional Intelligence – Empathy, humility and authenticity.

iii.     Ability to handle ambiguity, absorb stress and inspire others because when it comes to execution only an empowered and aligned team can create magic.

iv.     Grit, perseverance and patience combined with learning agility.

v.      Doing the right thing for the business, people and yourself exactly in that order.

One Lesson for Career Newbies

 Your success is a function of how much value you create for the business and how you create that value and is not dependent on any external factor i.e. boss, role, peers or environment. Hence if we learn to internalize issues we own more and find quicker solutions. Your canvas is as large as you imagine and especially in ABG you are limited only by your imagination.

On Rest and Rejuvenation

I love to travel. I spend a week or two in Vancouver with my son. And sometimes we travel together. I make sure that I travel somewhere every year. The gym is my energy pill. I have to spend some time there every morning to muster up my drive for the day. Some weekends I spend few hours teaching under-privileged children and it gives me immense satisfaction and joy.

I am a movie buff and weekend movies with my wife are a must for me. Once a month or so we meet up with friends.

I keep my energy high through exercise, holidays, weekend breaks and reading.

On Purpose

Your purpose is very important as a human being. I need to question, what keeps me happy? To help someone in his or her role, to achieve a career growth for someone else, when his or her leadership skills and behavioral competencies improve. That’s what keeps me going.

Puneet Malik is a man for all seasons. From being the driving force for new businesses to flourish to walking the ramp with his team and planning Surprise Fridays with them; from kicking back with a movie on weekends to spending quality with his son, Puneet lives every moment to the fullest. Every second is supersized.

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