What would I do if this was my own business?" This is one question everyone from the CEO to the last person standing is encouraged and expected to ask of themselves before making any decision at the world’s largest privately held spirits company, Bacardi Ltd.

It is the Founder’s Mentality—a phrase coined by Chris Zook and James Allen, partners at global consulting company Bain & Co. Inc.—that encourages each member of Bacardi to see the organization as their own, so that they take every decision for the good of the company. Zook and Allen, in their book The Founder’s Mentality: How To Overcome The Predictable Crises Of Growth, describe this mindset through three key traits—an insurgent mission, an owner mindset, and obsession with the front-line.

The question itself sparks interesting and result-oriented conversations and innovations, recognition of best-practice behaviour, and a sharing of examples across the organization, says Bacardi India managing director Sanjit Randhawa.

Sanjit Randhawa says Bacardi India’s organizational culture has helped it attract the best talent. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Sanjit Randhawa says Bacardi India’s organizational culture has helped it attract the best talent. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Three years ago, it is this very question that helped Sahith Sethuraman, senior brand manager for Bacardi, India and South-East Asia, to quickly decide to close the venue gates of the first Shillong edition of its annual music festival, Bacardi NH7 Weekender, when the crowd exceeded expectations. “I was worried that we may ruin the Weekender experience for those already present inside the venue if we went gung ho with the ticket sales. I had a quick word with our event partner OML Entertainment and had the gates closed," says Sethuraman. He did not have to check with his boss to take a decision that meant letting go of additional earnings. “Our organizational culture is such that it allows us to be fearless in doing what feels right for the brand," he says.

Randhawa believes this culture of ownership is manifested in the way the company has grown its business in India over two decades—whether it was the setting up of the first Bacardi factory outside the Americas and Europe, in Mysuru, or the expansion of its manufacturing footprint across India by leasing facilities at nine locations, including Chennai, Nagpur and Nellore.

This mindset has also led to a working style that Bacardi describes as “Freedom within the Framework". In essence, this allows all Bacardi employees to perform and deliver on their commitments without too many restrictions, such as having to go through a series of approvals in decision making. “I always tell my people to not feel bound by chains of approvals and processes but go ahead with a decision if they are convinced that it is right for the company. My only caveat is: Do not repeat mistakes," adds Randhawa.

This freedom keeps enthusiasm intact. “We are encouraged to seize opportunities and not limit ourselves to our current roles," says Sethuraman, who started his career at the spirits company as an on-trade (night clubs, bars and restaurants) sales manager in 2011. Sethuraman wanted to move to the marketing function. The 35-year-old business administration graduate says he just picked up the phone and spoke to his boss about his aspirations. “I did not have to wait for internal job openings or for several approvals for role enhancement or functional change. What I have seen in my time here is that if you own your role and do well, your bosses are going to support you," he says.

“This kind of culture enables Bacardi India in not just attracting the best talent but also maintaining a high level of engagement," says Randhawa

Consequently, the company has come up with some of the best brand engagement ideas. “It is the India team that is behind Bacardi’s two iconic music properties—the annual multi-city music festival, NH7 Weekender, and award-winning TV series The Dewarists (which won bronze at the Cannes Lion Festival 2012) that brought together musicians from different genres," says Randhawa.

One of the key responsibilities of business leaders at Bacardi is to inculcate a “Founder’s Mentality" in their teams. “When the leadership team acts from a founder’s perspective, the behaviour organically cascades to the entire organization, thereby ensuring that every member embodies the same ethos," adds Randhawa.

Out of the Box is a series that looks at how leaders and employees go beyond regular desk work to build a team.