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CEO Speaks – Naresh shares his opinions on leadership, money & success in a candid interview with fisdom

Written by - Chitra Grace Marion

July 31, 2017 4 minutes

Naresh Ponnapa is the Group CEO and Managing Director of Indecomm Global Services. He has worked in various senior capacities within the Unilever organization for 21 years, on assignments both in India and abroad. He was a key member of Unilever’s core Mergers & Acquisitions team in London and a Special Assistant to the Chairman of Unilever. On return to Unilever’s Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Unilever Lever Limited (HUL), he became the youngest ever member of its Board.

You’ve been successfully leading Indecomm Global Services for almost 14 years now. During this journey, you have fostered talent and created many vibrant leaders. What, according to you, does it take to be a leader?

Well, there’s no real recipe that creates a good leader, rather it is a combination of various skills and attitude that is unique to every leader. However, there are a few common traits which set a leader apart from the rest.

First, a leader is an exceptional listener and a people’s person. Being a leader is not about knowing it all, but about getting it done by using resources available judiciously. A leader must have clarity of vision and possess the skill to convey that vision. Typically, a leader moves fast and has a lot of patience at the same time. Be generous in giving credit and appreciating your team’s efforts, individually and collectively. Finally, these features along with sharp skills and acumen are common trait-sets among renowned leaders.

Your company has grown multifold over the past decade and is continuing to soar. While you are building Indecomm brilliantly, what’s your personal finance mantra?

My personal finance philosophy is quite like that for Indecomm – discipline and focus. This mantra has worked well for me for the past many years. I believe, the key to building long-term wealth lies in staying disciplined and focused on your financial goals.

I follow a simple methodology to keep my personal finance in line with my goals – I start off by charting out all my financial goals in life and not the period I have to achieve them. Once done, I decide on the amount I’ll have to set aside every month to achieve those goals and then invest them in the right asset classes.

For example, I wish to set aside a corpus to educate the underprivileged children across different rural areas. I wish to start doing this in the next eight years. Since this is a medium-term horizon, I invest a certain amount every month into an equity mutual fund towards this goal. I’m pretty confident that I’ll achieve this goal at the end of eight years – or hopefully, even earlier.

Planning, Budgeting and Execution are traits that come to me naturally from my peasant background of being a 7th generation coffee planter. At the end of the day …. You reap what you sow!

When did you make your first investment? What motivated you to start the investment journey?

I made my first investment when I received my first paycheck. It was many years back and the best option I had was to deposit it into a bank recurring deposit. I still remember being fascinated by the concept of compounding. The very idea of my money growing exponentially, on its own, was a motivating thought in itself.

Do you regret any investment you’ve made in the past? Please share your experience

Yes, I sure have my own episodes of investments that I have only learnt from. Back in the early days, endowment plans were quite the buzzwords. So, I had once started investing into an endowment plan just because the absolute numbers promised looked quite large at the time and I was yet a young guy with his first job. As years passed and I started dabbling more into the world of investments, I realized that the returns on that endowment were too petty and the opportunity cost was huge.

What’s your golden advice to the youth?

I would share one lesson that has been quite instrumental in shaping my overall success – Make mistakes, make many of them, but make them quick and never repeat them. After all, Experience is all about learning from mistakes. The smart person will learn from other peoples mistakes!

The road to success is slippery, you may make mistakes and fall, but don’t let them stop you from learning and moving ahead.

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