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Leading with express speed

Magazine: The Human Factor, National

July, 2011.

Anil Khanna (MD, Blue Dart Express Ltd.) reveals to Schweta Chaturvedi and Sushmita Yadav the decisions that helped him bag the top spot at the company that promises to deliver

He always wanted to fly high and the sky was no limit for him. In school, Anil Khanna was an average student, but was very good in sports and won many trophies. In spite of that, he soon realised that there was a need for him to concentrate on his studies, and his results became proof of the hard work he put in. Passionate about flying, he dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot. Anil came close to his dream, when his name featured in NDA's merit list, but his father, an educationist, wanted his son to pursue higher studies. Anil then secured a place in St. Stephen's College, a feat his father was proud of. And though Anil was in two minds, he took the decision of pursuing Chemistry (Hons.) from the college. Yet again, he proved himself by scoring amongst the top ten in the course. He then set off to pursue an M.Sc., but after just a year, he got the opportunity to join Panjab University's B-school for an MBA with specialisation in marketing and finance.

His career began when he joined a chemicals and paints company as a trainee. Within nine months, he was promoted to the position of area sales manager, his first professional achievement amongst many to come. Though it was never a cakewalk, Anil did not shy away from facing challenges, as he narrates an anecdote from his initial days, "I started work at the Chandigarh branch, which was doing well. Then I was shifted to Delhi where things were in a mess, and my challenge was to turn the branch around in a year's time. The problem lay in unaddressed issues, such as a demoralised workforce, unhappy dealers, and senior employees in their 50s facing administrative issues."

The situation, he confesses, was so hostile that employees refused to wish each other and left at sharp 5 pm every evening whether or not the work was complete. Anil realised the uphill task ahead of him. "My first step was to start wishing my colleagues every morning when they walked in. While they were unresponsive at first, it was a matter of time before they started responding. As I took more initiatives to show my concern for the company, my colleagues also started opening up," he reveals. Anil slowly began to understand that this attitude in the employees had been ingrained as a result of not being treated well by their previous managers. Conscious of this fact, he made sure not to repeat history, and his gestures such as waiving off the half-day penalty if an employee came in late by ten minutes went a long way in making the mindset change possible. Says he, "It took time, but things did change and we saw higher cooperation than before."

With one obstacle out of the way, he focussed his energies on another problem area - the attitude of sales team. Comprising very senior people, the team was sceptical about the contribution that Anil, who had just two years of experience by then, could bring to the table. Often, they would request him to stay back in office, and prefer to go for meetings themselves. But Anil persisted, and as he accompanied his team on more and more meetings, the dealers too started responding positively. "Within six months, the sales figures showed an improvement, and I was rewarded with an independent branch. At my level, the norm was to be allocated a small branch, but the management acknowledged my potential and put me in-charge of the UP branch, which generated revenue in crores," he admits.

After a successful five years there, Anil moved to a consumer durables company, renowned for its products and processes. Whilst he know it would be a challenge, given that the public did not perceive it to be a people-friendly organisation, Anil affirms that he was in pursuit of "different experiences."

Adding to his learning from there, he joined a company specialising in water proofing products; a new experience altogether. He explains, "I joined as the marketing manager for the South region, a profit centre into which the four southern states were reporting. HR policies differed from one division to another, and I was professionally very happy."

On the personal front though, Anil missed his wife and family, who were staying in Delhi and Meerut. "I missed being part of all their good and not-so-good times," he rues, and at this point he took the decision to move to Delhi for his career. But fate had other plans for him. A head hunter approached him for a vacancy in Blue Dart, though Anil clearly had no intention of joining them at the time. However, his wife advised him to take such a decision only after meeting the people at Blue Dart. "I met three youngsters from the company at a hotel, two of them from XLRI and FMS. During the discussion, they told me that the organisation had those from IIM-Ahmedabad also working with them, a point that made me re-consider my opinion. I realised that Blue Dart was not just a courier company, but much more beyond that," remembers he. He then took the plunge and became part of Blue Dart in 1992.

As his association with the organisation comes close to two decades, he stands testament to its values and philosophy. "I have learnt so much here. Most companies only claim their commitment to their people, but Blue Dart really is a people's company," he says. Anil confirms that the organisation believes in its people, and has created a culture of mutual respect. "Though I kept getting opportunities to join other companies, I never had a reason to leave Blue Dart. I questioned what is most important in life, and the answer lies in happiness. If you are happy, then the rest is taken care of," he shares.

He acknowledges his respect for Clyde Cooper, one of the founding members, who has given him innumerable opportunities and challenges to make his career journey enriching. In 1996, Mr. Cooper moved out as the MD, into a Board-level position. This development and its subsequent impact led to a lot of changes at the administrative level, one of which was Anil being relocated to Mumbai. He recounts the factors that played a role, "The West region was not doing well and required improvement. Within a year, it became the best region even as I worked with the same set of people to make this possible. It seemed like a miracle to others, but for me it was only a matter of the right decisions doing the trick."

All this while, he dreamed of heading Blue Dart, and his wish was fulfilled in 2007, when Anil took over the reins as MD of India's leading air express company. Now that he is at the helm, he continues to practice the values that have helped him succeed in the past. "Recognition and appreciation are the best motivators for any employee. Besides monetary incentives, treating employees well is of great importance," he says. With offices across the country, Blue Dart has firm faith in treating everyone equally. Be it the top management or the junior staff, all of them maintain the same orientation and values. "It is like one big family," he gushes.

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