The Growth Catalyst: Harish Kohli, MD, Acer India


Sharad Mathur in a conversation with Harish Kohli, MD, Acer India.


Web Cover


I see that Acer India is aiming to increase its market share in the Indian PC market from 10 per cent to around 12.5 percent. How are you approaching it?

We have both consumer and the commercial business in this country. The commercial business has been doing well for the last many quarters; it has been over achieving as far as the numbers are concerned. However, we are concerned about the consumer business. The entire emphasis has to be in the consumer business which we need to bring back to the levels that we were a few quarters back. We have announced Consumer Business version 2.0. As a part of this, we have made changes from the strategic and capability enhancement points of view and I am happy to say that we have seen some good results in the first two months.

What are some of these changes?

Acer has always been at the forefront of latest technology. And we have always focused on training our people. This enables us to communicate to the consumer, the value that Acer is going to add to their life. But now we have also developed an application for Android which helps in training the in-store promoters and retailers, they also have to take a quiz at the end of the session which helps us analyze how much they have retained and can apply. This is simple, fast and effective. The modules are 10-15 minutes long which they can go through on daily basis.

And strategic changes?

We have also undertaken some restructuring. The four pillars of our go-to market strategy for the consumer business are the retails outlets, modern retails outlet, tier three partners/ distributors, and e-commerce. I have roped in four experts in these four areas who can drive that portion of the business. It is a departure from our earlier model where all four areas were being taken care of by one individual.

Would you have some processes in place to ensure that these vertical leaders collaborate effectively?

At Acer India, people are free to interact with each other across levels. You don’t have to worry about a hierarchy to engage in a communication. Whenever we have a management meeting to decide the course of action for the next quarter, we immediately have a meeting with the level two and three employees who have to actually execute and implement the action points. We like to maintain a participative work environment because there is no work that can be done in isolation. For everything, you need support from other departments directly or indirectly. So, we ensure that everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing in the organisation and how they are supposed to support these activities.

Which are the systems that you have been able to create at Acer India that are critical to the success that you have enjoyed here?

Acer India is a 100 per cent subsidiary for Acer Taiwan. So, our processes and systems have to be aligned completely with those at the corporate level. However, there are some systems that are left for the subsidiaries to design and we also have some India centric systems in place. One such system which I fixed up for India is for performance evaluation. Under this performance management system (PMS), for every level, quarterly objectives are set up in a discussion between every individual and his boss. These objectives could defer for one quarter to the other because there are two ways that we look at them –first is the base, activities for which his role exists and second is strategic.  With the strategic objectives, capability building begins, because they include activities beyond what an individual is expected or likely to do in his/her role. This also allows you to know if the individual is ready for interdepartmental movement or a higher responsibility.

PMS being completely online enables me, at any given stage, to see how the person is performing on a quarter to quarter basis.

What are some of the core values that you are trying to drive within your organization?

There are some which are more localized and there are some which are at the global level. I give a lot of emphasis to open and transparent communication in the organization. There has to be transparency in whatever you communicate as people will have to see from that point of view. However at the global level we have the six core values – passion, user-centricity, innovation, team work, balance of interest, and integrity.

I believe key segments for your commercial business are Government and BFSI. How are you driving user-centricity for these segments?

Government customers are obviously supposed to go through a tendering process, and they must buy from the L1 vendor (the one who bids the lowest). Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines are also followed with extreme care. However, if you are able to add value to the customer, you are able to service them well, and take care of their requirements then they would make sure to buy again from you. We add value to the government customers by keeping them updated with the technological advancements on a regular basis. Whenever they come up with new requirements, in the spirit of participative management, we are able to suggest and sometimes even pay for an application.

With banking clients, requirements are generally in the C and D category towns as in last couple of years, no automation is happening in the larger cities. And the biggest challenge that you are likely to face in a smaller branch is related to after sales service. And since less number of systems are available in such branches, we are expected to do a faster turnaround. We are talking about places where courier takes a long time to be delivered. So, we will have to develop within ourselves possibly different levels, different systems for after sales support of the customer depending on the location and place that we are talking about. This customisation is going to be crucial for a good turnaround time (TAT).

What customisation have you undertaken to ensure a better TAT?

We are opening more service locations. Normally there is one service location in a radius of 40 to 60 kilometers but we are cutting it down to 20 kilometers. Next, maintaining spare locations for a specific customer or branch keeping into mind the annual failure rate of the products sold.

Last year, we executed a project where we were supposed to reach out to 22,600 panchayats, in 51 districts of Madhya Pradesh. You can imagine the gravity of supporting 22,600 panchayats which were to have a desktop, internet connectivity, 42 inch Television, Printers, Scanners etc. The systems in these panchayats need to be up and running to connect them to district headquarters and in turn state data center. It is a different kind of a challenge and we responded well to it. For example the call center where the complaints can be lodged have people answer the call in pure Hindi. Then our systems ensure that the district magistrate is able to evaluate how quickly and efficiently Acer has dealt with the complaints in his district. He can see how many complaints were made, what is the state of that complaint, and for how long it would take Acer to close that particular call.

Innovation is another one of your core values, how are you driving it?

Majority of the innovation on the product side continuously happens and our job is to make sure that we are able to convert this into easier communication to our consumer. Just to give an example, many years back we came out with notebooks which weighed just a kilogram and we had to tell the customer that this weighs just a kilogram. To an average consumer, I don’t think it makes much of a difference if a notebook weighs 1kg or 2.5kg. But a laptop not weighing 2.5kg and weighing just 1kg is a big difference to someone suffering cervical spondylosis. It was an important development, but we had to package the communication well. So, we put weighing machines at every display and curiosity forced the customers to ask why the laptop was displayed on a weighing machine? That gave a chance for us to speak a little more about the product.

Taking the conversation to you, which skills you think are crucial to your leadership?

Belief that it can be done is the first. Two, the team spirit and team work. Three, looking at the strength of the people and not the weakness. It helps everyone to enjoy and do their best because then you are not meddling with their core strength area. Most of the time people behave negatively when they feel someone else is hijacking their good work and that is when all the politics starts. I strongly feel that what matters is the thought process of the team members, how good they are, how much of alignment has happened between them. At the end of the day those are the people who actually do everything and not the leader.

Can you tell me of an incident where your belief ‘it can be done’ gave you rich dividends?

Honestly it happens every other day. We are an organization with revenue of over Rs. 3,500 crore. So, doing the arithmetic in a month, it would be around Rs. 275-300 crore to take you there. I remember one of the months a couple of years back and we needed to get to Rs. 410 crore and I suggested why not aim for Rs. 500 crore. Everybody laughed and thought that it’s the boss’ job to stretch people. However, couple of hours later I asked them what is that ‘extra something’ that we were to do to make it possible?  We made a plan for it and when we added the numbers, we were already looking at an additional Rs. 130 crores (over and above the regular monthly revenue). So, we said, when we can do Rs. 130 crore, why can’t we add another Rs.90 crore to it. At the end of the month, we actually ended up doing Rs. 511 crore which is the highest ever we have done in the last 16 years.

This brings me to my last question to you. What is the core competence of Acer India that will yield competitive advantage?

We are a lean organization unlike most of the other multinational companies in the IT arena. This gives us agility and we are fast in turning around something that is required. It took us just two months to complete the restructuring, as I mentioned to you before.


Related

The Lalit Modi Saga: When Competence is Not Enough
The Decline of The Statesman: A Shakespearean Tragedy
Tall Leaders (Part I)
Back to Top