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Business News/ Opinion / Ashu Suyash | The harmonious tigress

The corner office in an office block in Mumbai’s Nariman Point might seem compact, cookie-cutter and utilitarian—just a workstation, a meeting table and a storage cabinet. But the personal items in the cabinet tell a much more meaningful story—an eclectic mix of objects, ranging from personal, historic and corporate, to motivational and spiritual memorabilia.

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Decorative artefacts.

Having heard her speak at a conference in November, I was impressed with her views on workplaces and organizations, and curious to learn more. At the time, she was head of the Indian mutual funds business of Fidelity, a global asset management firm. The mutual funds business was subsequently acquired by L&T in November.

The elements of harmony

The office has a photograph of her daughters.
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The office has a photograph of her daughters.

“Harmony", in both her leadership style and desired corporate culture, seems to consist of three elements. First, as Suyash emphasizes, being “friendly" is important, for both individuals and for the company. “Organizations must be friendly. This is the age of the youth. You don’t have a half a chance of getting long-term talent if you’re not able to attract the youth. You need to demonstrate it, not just communicate it. A workplace that can allow a little room for expression is what makes it friendly," she says.

Her collection of objects serves as physical testimony to this belief. Personal favourites include a family photo of her daughter, a teddy bear (a Mother’s Day gift from her two daughters), a cluster of hand-carved wooden statues from Shimla, and a painting by the Mumbai-based non-governmental organization Aseema, which works to protect and promote the rights of underprivileged children.

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Decorative artefacts.

“The fact that this business can make a difference to people’s financial lives is what drove me to take the job. Fidelity has a great track record in investor awareness and now, with L&T, we’re present in 55 towns and cities. We’re talking about investor awareness, the chance to make a difference is right there," she says.

A preserved print of the front page of The Times Of India, published when India was declared a republic.
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A preserved print of the front page of The Times Of India, published when India was declared a republic.

Clarity on processes is key to executing strategy, Suyash says, highlighting that L&T has chosen to eschew a star-based performance culture for a more process-led approach to managing money. “It’s called GEM—Generation of ideas, Evaluation of ideas, and Manufacturing of ideas. This process is what we follow across the board for managing money, it’s easy to understand and simple," she says.

The third element of harmony entails balancing differences, whether those relate to gender, or approaches to work. Suyash points to the team photographs and says, “I believe in facilitating teamwork", adding that “the recent acquisition was perhaps one of the smoothest, least disruptive and absolutely seamless transactions that could have happened, because both organizations chose to be clear, and participative and open to feedback."

Tigers and elephants

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Asked to compare Fidelity and L&T to animals, Suyash’s response is somewhat surprising. “Fidelity is an elephant, rock solid, large and dependable. L&T is a tiger, young in financial services but making huge strides," she muses.

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A soft toy gifted by her daughters.

Photographs by Hemant Mishra/Mint.

Aparna Piramal Raje meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspaces and working styles.

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Updated: 24 Mar 2013, 04:04 PM IST
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