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Titan weighs internal, external candidates to replace MD Bhaskar Bhat

"The retirements of senior executives is not a concern as Titan has been working to build a strong leadership base just below the top management for the past three years," said Bhat

  • External candidates may include those from Tata group firms, says Bhat, who will retire by end-2019
  • At least six other top executives in Titan are also close to hitting retirement age over the next few years

Titan Co. Ltd is considering external as well as internal candidates as part of a formal search to find a successor to long-time managing director Bhaskar Bhat.

Bhat is set to retire by end-2019 after helming India’s largest jewellery and watch retailer for more than 16 years. At least six more top executives in Titan are also close to attaining superannuation over the next few years.

“We’ve already started working on the succession planning. The board has considered internal and external candidates but which one it is likely to be, we don’t know," Bhat said, adding that external candidates could include those from other Tata group companies.

The retirements of senior executives is not a concern as Titan has been working to build a strong leadership base just below the top management for the past three years, he said.

Management consultants say if Titan were to look internally, which is what Tata Group companies usually do, then the company may choose one of the larger division heads. Of those, jewellery division head C.K. Venkataraman and watches division head Ravi Kant have an edge, they said.

Jewellery is the company’s biggest revenue earner and Venkataraman has been with Titan since 1990 and worked in the advertising and marketing functions before taking over as his current role in January 2005. Kant has been with Titan since 1988 and has had stints in marketing, retailing and exports, and was also the chief executive of the eyewear division.

But a whole bunch of the top brass – from Venkataraman and Kant, to eyewear CEO Ronnie Talati, chief financial officer S. Subramaniam, human resource head Raj Narayan, and Tanishq’s retail and marketing head Sandeep Kulhalli – will be reaching retirement age (65 for the managing director, 60 for others) over the next few years.

“Titan has a tendency to favour internal candidates. But in this case, since a lot of executives are going to reach retirement age soon, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it brings in someone externally. Titan has always been buzzing with innovation and creativity but they have got too much fat at the top. Have they showcased younger talent enough is still a question," a management consultant said, requesting anonymity.

Still, the company’s primary instinct will be to choose someone internally, even if it is someone close to retirement, and let them run the show for a few years as it continues to groom the next rung, another consultant said, also requesting not to be named.

No matter which way the search swings, one thing is clear, that the new managing director will have large shoes to fill. When Bhat took over as managing director, Titan was not quite the stellar performer it is today. Overall revenue was 674.45 crore in 2001-02, according to Bloomberg data. In 2017-18, just the watches division generated more than three times that number. Total revenue was 16,244.81 crore in 2017-18.

Bhat has served across various functions at Titan – from sales and marketing to even human resources. He has immense knowledge about the firm, having been with it since the 1980s when it was called the Tata Watch Project. He was instrumental in adding new sub-brands for the companies, including Zoya and Mia in jewellery, setting up the Helios premium watches showrooms and growing the eyewear business. The company also entered the perfume business with its Skinn brand and more recently, the handloom sari segment through Taneira.

“He is extremely hard working, connected with even retailers and distributors on the ground, and is a very hands-on boss. Although much of the vision for Titan was, to be fair, laid out by the founder Xerxes Desai, it was Bhaskar who helped execute that vision," said Raghu Viswanath, founder of Vertebrand Management Consulting Pvt. Ltd and a former executive at Titan.

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