Corporate Culture

Pantaloons gets its 11 Indias Finest Store Managers in collaboration with IIM-Indore Season 2

by ABFRLadmin | August 30, 2023

We at ABFRL, present stories excerpted from our internal newsletter In Touch, where we celebrate stories of our people and their contributions.


Where do you see yourself five years from now? This has come to be a rhetorical question for most professionals across the world. For those who are self-empowered, open to learning, and have a clear goal for themselves, this is a question that is always keeping them on their toes. With the high-potential talent pool growing rapidly at ABFRL, the Company is constantly reinventing its practices to create the next-gen leader of leaders. Pantaloons Indias Finest Store Manager (IFSM) program is a step in this direction.

ABFRL has always been all about building the Best Brands with Best People. While we attract the best talent in the fashion retail industry, it is important to ensure that our best stay ahead of the curve. This compelled our HR Leaders at ABFRL and Pantaloons to envision a path for our self-empowered Store managers who are open to learning and have a clear goal for themselves. With the IFSM, Pantaloons collaborated with IIM-Indore, to create a comprehensive plan to identify the most promising Store Managers and accelerate their growth to become the next ABMs for the brand.

The What Next Strategy for Future Leaders

Creating your own succulent recipe for growth requires a long-term strategy to future-proof the business. Some Store Managers sustain and grow their own stores,  but some rise above the challenge at an early stage of their careers and involve themselves deeply to understand the business from a holistic lens. IFSM Talent pool is created that has the potential to become Area Business Managers (ABM), simply put as manager of managers.

These handpicked Store Managers have quickly risen from small and medium-sized stores and have the capability to manage large-sized Pantaloons stores with INR 25 Cr+ Revenue, irrespective of the region and cities. They display a steep change, and with that rising growth they need to be groomed in leadership and temperament to move to the next level. Many employees are unable to transition at such a swift pace successfully without the right guidance.

An out-of-the-box solution such as IFSM helps build a differentiated cohort-based learning intervention with the help of a robust training partner of high pedigree such as IIM-I.

Planting a Growth Spurt

After the stupendous success of the inaugural edition, Pantaloons concluded the second term of Indias Finest Store Manager (IFSM) program! This unique high-performance program has been designed and executed in close collaboration with the prestigious IIM-Indore and its illustrious faculties to shape the industry leaders of tomorrow. From 57 store managers, who went through a stringent selection process, 12 high-performing store managers from across India were cherrypicked to explore their full potential and join the league of top-notch business managers in the country. 

At the end of the second cohort of the prestigious IFSM program, we spoke to two of our newly-crowned IFSMs, Guneet Khanuja and Rajneesh Kumar Manager, Operations at Pantaloons talk about their journey and the path that lies ahead.

I heard about the IFSM program for the first time at Euphoria Awards 2018-19, during the COO address to our North Zone. From there on its always a Dream for me to be featured as a Top Store Manager at the PAN India Level. Irrespective of the store size and business, I was keen on improving my skills by taking on various projects within my cluster and trying new ways of driving Business or achieving operational excellence which has improved the Store’s overall performance.

I got nominated for appearing in IFSM Entrance exam Pool, which was followed with several other rounds, including a personal interview with Other Zones Zonal Business Head and the COO, says Guneet.

The selection process for the IFSM program happens in 4 steps – MCQ, Essay writing, cross-zonal head interview, and the COO round. Since I am from a Mathematics background, I breezed through the MCQ, adds Rajneesh.

Sharing their wisdom

These handpicked Store Managers have quickly risen from small and medium-sized stores and have the capability to manage large-sized Pantaloons stores with INR 25 Cr+ Revenue, irrespective of the region and cities. They display a steep change, and with that rising growth they need to be groomed in leadership and temperament to move to the next level. Many employees are unable to transition at such a swift pace successfully without the right guidance.

An out-of-the-box solution such as IFSM helps build a differentiated cohort-based learning intervention with the help of a robust training partner of high pedigree such as IIM-I. IFSM has been an important strategic initiative to support the growth and development of our employees. The 12-month-long curated program is a tailor-fit for our leading store managers.

In the past 4 years, including the COVID phase, the Pantaloons team has completed 2 batches, with a third in the pipeline. This has led to a strong community of Managers or ABM talent. They have the capability to reach sales heads, function heads, and even beyond. But the intent of the program is to get them ready for the arduous task of moving from managing one store in a specific location with a set of employees, to managing a complex set of 10 to 15 stores.

From being an individual contributor, they need to figure out ways to both serve the customer inside the store as well as attract customers and be responsible for the footfalls that come into the store.

 Reaping the rewards

The first thing to do for Store Managers who wish to enter the IFSM program is to excel in their current roles, be it a small or medium store, then actively seek and pursue a role in a large complex store. It could be in any city and there are opportunities across the country. When they continue to do good work as a Store Manager falls in place and they could be a part of the IFSM future batches. Aman Rastogi, Group Manager, Operations, from Ambience Mall-Pantaloons store who was part of the first batch of IFSM has been a shining example of how applying his learnings from the comprehensive program has helped him grow as a leader.

 In his 8+ years with the brand, Aman started with Pantaloons Lucknow (now Saharaganj) in 2014 and moved to managing two stores at Varanasi and eventually select Citywalk in Saket. Beyond being recognized as an IFSM, he had shown signs of being an empathic leader. He was deeply involved in team growth, with four teammates under his tutelage being promoted as SMs. Several of them are also promoted to DM from floor FAs.

After completing IFSM in its inaugural batch, I was promoted to CBM. After a year-long stint, I am now the ABM of the Haryana Cluster, which contributes 16% business of north zone. I lead a wonderful team of 18 SMs, 300+ JB11 and Band staff, says Aman, with pride. Over the years, he adds, I gradually moved multiple stores from small, medium to large, which gave me the edge in having a deep people connect, building emotional quotient and a greater business sense. I was able to grab the right opportunities at the right time, which led me to consistently do well across roles in different geographies. On a lighter note, he shares an interesting start to his post-IFSM career path. My then Zonal Business head, Mr. Vaibhav Goyal informed me that there were no vacancies, which left me numb. While my hopes of being an ABG crashed, much to my thrill and dismay, he offered me the role of CBM, Haryana (then a territory of 12 stores)! I cannot thank Vaibhav enough for showing immense confidence in a young man.

Practicing Lessons Learnt

For Aman, the opportunity came at a challenging time  the peak of COVID. I was cognizant of some of the challenges that lay ahead, number one being managing virtual teams and store managers, who were friends and peers in my previous roles.

The transition wasnt as smooth as he first believed. For the first few months, I was stuck in the execution-led aspects of my job, clearing the clutter and building connections. I learned to delegate, finding the right people for work. I had to understand the geography, the people, the business dynamics, growth levers, and unleashing the opportunities within the system. I made mistakes and learned from them, opening 6 NSOs added a lot to my learning.

Customer centricity and people development is what make our business grow and I never compromise on these parameters.

I had to take some difficult decisions to weed out inefficiencies in the system. Doing things right has been a highlight of my transition, he concludes. 

The graduation ceremony of the second edition of Indias Finest Store Manager (IFSM) witnessed successful candidates eager to embark on their managerial roles with Pantaloons. These enterprising young leaders of tomorrow are raring to leave their mark in the world of fashion retail. We wish them the best of luck for the journey ahead!

Meet the Star Cohort members

Aman Rastogi, IFSM 1st Cohort

I lead the Haryana Cluster as the ABM and Im responsible for the annual business of Rs. 135 cr for Pantaloons. In my 8+ years with the brand, I have ventured into 4 states, worked with 600+ team members, and grown from Assistant Manager to Area Business Manager with my grit and determination.

3 Learnings from IFSM

  • Develop a macro-level approach by thinking about solutions, not the problem. My decisions ultimately impact the larger audiences and the organization on the whole.
  • Have a holistic view of all aspects. I am better at managing time and stakeholder expectations.
  • Ace your Analytical skills and observe things from different perspectives. I now have a better sense of decision-making at work and in my personal life as well.

Your advice for the next IFSM cohort

  • Come with an open mind. IFSM nudges you at every juncture to make right calls and see the results happening.
  • Explore newer opportunities, even if you have to opt for a different role altogether.
  • Dont settle for less is my mantra when it comes to my career aspiration and IFSM gels with it very well.

 Guneet Khanuja, IFSM 2nd Cohort

I started my Journey with PT-City Mall  Bathinda, Punjab in March 2018, one of the Top 3 Small Category Stores, in the North zone for FY 2018-2019. I won the Best Distinguish Store Manager & Best Store  FY 2018-19 at Annual Euphoria Awards of North zone. In March 2020, I moved to PT-Unity One Mall- Rohini, Delhi. In FY2020-21, Rohini Unity One won Best Store  Medium Category at Annual Euphoria Awards, North Zone. I also won Best Store Manager  Medium Category at the PACE Awards. Since, March 2022 I am leading Newly opened RI Format store  PT- Kamla Nagar, Delhi.

3 Learnings from IFSM

  • This Program helped me to fill skills gaps to unlock the next step in my career advancement and enhance my decision-making. Have a holistic view of all aspects. I am better at managing time and stakeholder expectations.
  • It broadened my perspectives on the current best practices, emerging trends, and other strategic opportunities that pop up from any other corner of the globe.
  • The individual and group projects in our mid-term and final-term presentations helped me understand the business from different lenses in our ecosystem.

Your advice for the next IFSM cohort

  • Ask for help when needed, own your mistakes, and graciously accept any feedback. Focus on improving your inputs consistently.
  • Commit to the task with everything you have at all times. Remember, Commitment + Consistency = Success.
  • Dont get discouraged with the end result if its not in your favor.

Rajneesh Kumar, IFSM 2nd Cohort

I am the Store Manager at Seawoods, Mumbai, with a business of 22cr. I started my Pantaloons journey in 2018 at Gwalior. I spent 2.5 years in the Gwalior store and moved to Mumbai in 2020 December.

3 Learnings from IFSM

  • Seeing the problem and its solution with 360-degrees perspective.
  • Conducting VUCA analysis to understand strategic decision-making at various levels of management.
  • Discipline in behavior and mindset with the multiple books suggested by IIM professors.

Your advice for the next IFSM cohort

  • Keep your focus on the basic principles of retail to understand consumer behavior.
  • Show interest in creating a competitive environment among the team.
  • Synchronize your thoughts between the area of influence and the area of concern.
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