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June - 2007 - issue > Leadership
Honesty,-his-first-policy
Harish Revanna
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Dr. Bhaskar Reddy Penumalli is the new India Managing Director of Analog Devices (NYSE: ADI, market cap of $11.18 Billion), a semiconductor company birthing chips for signal processing applications. As a co-champion for the cause of establishing an India center in 1995, he helped the company build, what he calls, a world-class team. Now in 2007, he’s leading the two-centres, 12-year-old, and 200-membered company to new height. He tells what it takes to be a leader at all times.

To spend a good part of one’s life in a single company means being culturally fitted to that company. My 18-years with Analog Devices is simply a testimony for this. But culture is not a documented lifeless rulebook that can be skimmed over; it is a growing phenomenon that one often has to live through to experience. Experiencing the company culture moulds the managers within. In certain ways my behavior and actions are a reflection of my culture. (What I narrate here perhaps reflects my company’s culture as much as it does mine)

As a manager, I have always ensured that all my employees get ample accessibility to their immediate managers. In any place of growth, heads are held high to look up for better performers. These performers or people are the lifeblood in any organization. But to make levelheaded managers out of performers is a leader’s task. How do we make it? Certain clichéd statements like ‘it comes with culture’ are important here. I believe, it really does.

To start with, when I portray my belief in being honest and levelheaded through everyday dealings, I have set the environment for my teams. Each manager in my team is a product of such environment. True products, with no manufacturing defects, are bound to stay for long. Their durability is high. In Analog, for that matter, we have had senior managers working with us for long time. Remember, I’m a product myself of the environment my seniors created for me.

Now again, environment is not just the intangible thing that happens over intuition. It is made to feel physically with a slew of best practices like Open door policy: where all my employees are free to walk in to my cabin and talk to me anytime; Non-hierarchical system: employees from different teams are free to communicate with each other without any stifling from their team leads; Pay-for-performance: star performers are put on the pedestal and offered more remuneration with full recognition; Commitment: respecting committed individuals albeit their (say) poor performance; Challenging work: not a cookie-cutter chore, but stimulating learning opportunities.

Nothing, I can assure you as a techie myself, is much ado than the challenging work. It is a genuine motivator, be it for a freshman or even me. Especially when you learn where exactly your work will fit in as a technology. However, it is important to realize for engineers in product companies that super duper technologies today are mundane tomorrow, but work is needed on the same. You have to peel a banana to eat it and peeling isn’t always such a good job. Then, thanks to business, it teaches about the breadth associated with a company while we immerse ourselves in the depth of a particular technology. It tells us why it is not just technological importance, but its application to solve customers’ problems, while fetching money to your company. In the chip industry parlance, “it is about taking chips to market and generating revenue.”

This balance of focus between technology and business is what managers bring in, and in an attempt to do so they’re honing their leadership skills. Today, my motivation comes from this holistic view of my corporation, and the world-class India team we have built. Besides our technology give-away to the world, we have survived the volatility, competition in the markets year-after-year successfully for four decades. And a look at the semiconductor landscape reassures that very few companies have made it this long.

Thank You, People
“People are your most important asset,” believes Ray Stata, co-founder and chairman of Analog Devices. I concur to the core of my heart. The value associated to each of the employee in many ways creates the system in which we all exist. It’s a philosophy that trickles down from the founders to senior managers to employees. When employees are happy, they’re motivated and motivation leads to performance.

It is important to understand that performance or innovation cannot be legislated. And forgive me, I don’t mean innovation to be not-in-your-planet or done-by-any-mortal before kind of work. It is simply about identifying the problem areas of your customer and solving them with right solutions. It is about adding value to a particular task where there is none or little. Innovation is an outcome of job happiness—something that the culture, environment and value system all assists to create. Like my senior once said, “employees are like electrons. They behave in their own way until a desired condition is created.”

An unending task of a leader is to always create this condition in any place he works. While he does this with supportive first-line managers, he constantly stretches his best performers ability and doctors low performers’ problems. That is the art of leadership. And for the latter micromanaging isn’t that a bad idea: diagnosing the root cause of the problem is the only way to cure. In a way, I believe one way of supervising doesn’t serve all. In a team of powerfuls and weaks, some people need more help than others; some others perform well under supervision than some else independently. It is about tailoring supervision. But when done honestly for the good reasons of adding value to the company…anything is good leadership.

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