Vinita Bali pulled the rug out from under her feet and swept the floor clean, “quite literally", she laughs. I am visiting the offices of the managing director of Britannia Industries Ltd, one of India’s most popular consumer brands, on what was once one of India’s most iconic campuses, built on a 5-acre property near Bangalore’s old airport.

Innovative thinker: Her office has a desk and small meeting table (Photographs by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

Newer campuses would be much more collaborative.

Bali’s private suite of offices (with a space for Bali, her executive assistant, her secretary, and a waiting area) was inherited; the then managing director had been allocated a large suite in the main office block. Bali joined Britannia in January 2005, at a tumultuous inflexion point for this nearly century-old business. Today, she is credited with its financial and market transformation.

A map of India marked with Britannia’s factories

A study in contrasts

Bali’s workspace is notable for three sets of contrasts. First, it is a combination of old and new interior elements. Bali chose to retain some aspects of the room’s luxuriousness, such as its finely crafted teak-wood presidential desk and six-seater meeting table, and two impressive paintings by Jehangir Sabavala and B. Prabha. She replaced its “imposing" chairs with some “more comfortable chairs", she says, and added a few potted plants.

Second, it displays its occupant’s aptitude for operating at different levels: the global and the local, the abstract and the concrete. A photograph of Bali shows her next to former US president Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting 2009, speaking about Britannia’s attempts to help tackle major challenges such as malnutrition in India. Just above it is a large map of India, colour-coded to show the individual locations of Britannia’s manufacturing facilities, distribution hubs and sales operations: a detailed overview of the company’s ground-level activities.

Art and books dot her cabin

The eclectic collection of books and art reflects her cerebral dexterity. Bali clearly applies both left- and right-brained thinking at work; she is as comfortable advocating the importance of empathy, aesthetics and design in the biscuit business, as she is explaining the granular detail of Britannia’s latest financial results to a stock market analyst.

Multidimensional workstyle

These contrasts serve as analogies for Bali’s layered approach to work. On joining the company, she was keen to retain “all the goodness of Britannia, whether it was good people, products or processes", yet “wanted to add to it" without compromising either on its lineage or future innovation—arguably her biggest contribution to the business to date.

A caricature of Bali, presented by colleagues

Bali does not disappoint, offering a compelling insight into Indian managers which highlights her ability to extract abstract conclusions from operating data: “I think in India somehow we underestimate complexity and we overestimate competence, with the result that we’re scrambling."

Lack of attention to process and project management, i.e. underestimating what it takes to actually accomplish a task, is possibly the result of operating in an “unpredictable environment", she suggests, as process-driven companies are more effective in predictable environments. While she admits to losing her cool over poor planning and detailing, she realizes that flexibility and pragmatism are important, especially since she’s worked and lived in “six different cultures on five continents" for multinational firms such as The Coca-Cola Co. One must know “when you have to adapt, when to adopt, and when to insist".

Bali has kept a picture of her with Bill Clinton in her office

Aparna Piramal Raje, a director of BP Ergo, meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspaces and working styles.Write to Aparna at businessoflife@livemint.com

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