Home / News / Business Of Life /  ‘To get ahead in a career, don’t get boxed in by an industry’

Should one switch industries to advance one’s career? How to choose which company board to join? These and many more dilemmas that a professional faces at various stages of their career are what Shiv Shivakumar, group executive president (corporate strategy) at the Aditya Birla Group, has tried to address in his debut book, The Right Choice: Resolving 10 Career Dilemmas For Extraordinary Success.

His book comes at a time when there is much confusion and fear among professionals with regard to jobs and managing a career. What’s interesting is that instead of completely relying on his experience to address the many dilemmas, Shivakumar, who has worked in various industries, besides holding the chief executive officer (CEO) position for the past 17 years, handpicked 24 leaders and entrepreneurs to share their personal experiences. Some of these names include Kirthiga Reddy, Vivek Gambhir, and Meena Ganesh. The only chapter where Shivakumar shares his knowledge is “Dilemmas of the CEO".

In an interview with Mint, he talks about the challenges faced by CEOs in the pandemic world and how to advance one’s career during global crisis.

Edited excerpts:

How has the covid-19 pandemic changed leadership?

Leadership in covid times has been about showing empathy, rallying the troops, communication and holding people accountable when you are not meeting them every day. With covid, work has gotten distributed but somebody has to orchestrate and integrate that work.

In the past, CEOs had some degree of connection with the ecosystem. It’s the first time now where the whole ecosystem and society are facing the same challenges. So, one has had the ability to learn from each other by cross referencing.

One of the things which have gone up through the roof are the number of CEO dialogues across sectors. Companies have been more than open to bring in CEOs from other companies and industries to talk to their employees. In that sense, it has made companies and leaders a little more open than they were before.

Do you see leaders adapting to the change?

I think leaders today are under a microscope far more than what they were in the last 20 years. I think technology, workforce, market situation are forcing them to adapt. I also want to highlight here that a lot of reportage talks about leaders, but I think we should talk about the average employee. Companies don’t get disrupted, employees in those companies do. Today, employees are getting disrupted and they don’t know it. If the employees are unwilling to learn and change, then you can’t save that company.

One of the qualities required, not just for leadership but for everybody down the line, is if you do not want to be disrupted individually, you need to be self aware and self reflective. You need to be aware of what’s happening around you and you need to reflect whether you are actually getting ahead.

So, what’s your advice to someone who wants to get ahead in their career?

Instead of having a plan, prepare for your career. If you say, ‘I want to be a CEO’, ask yourself what qualities are required to be one, rate yourself on those parameters, and then consistently improve in those areas. If you prepare well, opportunities will knock on your door. You have to be extremely clear and careful the way you manage your career.

One dilemma that helped you learn a lot from?

When I moved from FMCG to technology, most people thought I was making a mistake. They thought my strength was FMCG. What you should recognize is that your strength is not an industry; that’s a mistake. Your strength can be innovation, business model, growing a business, people management. And these strengths can be replicated in any industry. So, don’t get boxed in by your industry.

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