“Passion, drive for results, customer first, effective communication& collaboration are what make a great leader in any work environment,” elucidates Manish Chourasia, CEO - IL&FS Infra Asset Management Ltd

You spent over 17 years in your previous organization. That is a lot of time and learning. What was your experience like?

The company I worked with previously was a commercial bank with a large domestic and international presence. When I had joined the group in 1995 it was a development financial institution and from there it grew to become one of the largest commercial bank in India. I was very much the part of this evolution process and witnessed the way culture changed in the group from 1995. As a small development financial institution the culture was more entrepreneurial but as it evolved into a bank the system became significantly rigid driven by inflexible regulations and policies.

It was a great experience for me to see how the leaders in the organization adapted and managed this change. I was part of various assignments including setting up of new businesses as part of my stint in the bank. During these assignment I learned a lot about organizational dynamics and importance of both strategy and effective execution for success. It taught me that interpersonal skills are as important as technical capability for effective execution. It taught me that that it is first important to “connect” with people before selling them any business proposition. It taught me that in real life we are all humans and no supermen and so only through inter-dependence and synergies we can create real value addition and prosper in life, job etc.

What was the transition like from a templatized environment to a startup one in IL&FS IDF?

In a commercial banking set-up, policies and processes are very formal and rigid as the entity itself is tightly regulated by central bank. Thus the nature of job is more execution focused based on getting the deal executed after taking required approvals from custodians of various policies and processes within the bank. On the other hand, IDF is a new initiative, where the business model and regulations are still evolving and one has to create his own path.

This transition has not been easy for me but it has helped that in my last organization also I have been associated with a number of new initiatives, were also situations were quite fluid when they were initiated.

In a start-up it is important to first have “the Vision” in place. Then you need to have suitable strategy to realize that vision. As a CEO important part of my job is to sell this vision and strategy to both top management and the subordinates so that they share your vision and are committed to it. Invariably there are execution related challenges as there is no precedence and standard operating procedures to get the work done. These need to be resolved on recurrent basis because of which there are frequent roller coaster drives. Important thing is to remain balanced and understand all aspects, especially regulatory, before taking decision

Explaining a new product to investors in the fund is also a big challenge especially in the current macro-economic context in infrastructure space. Important thing here is to build a strategy for attractive value addition and deliver on that strategy since performance is the only real yardstick for measuring success.

Other different aspect of this assignment is frequent interaction with regulators to convince them to remove various tax and regulatory bottlenecks, which are impeding scaling up of business. This comes with its own set of challenges since it involves explaining the concept often to those officials who are from very different background and sometimes not motivated enough to convince their internal government set-up for change.

You have significantly emphasized on relationship. Can you please elaborate?

Suitable interpersonal skills is fundamental for managerial effectiveness. In very simple terms it needs to be done at 3 levels – senior management, colleagues and subordinates

With seniors, I feel relationship building is relatively easy. You just have to understand their mindset and working style and then you can rework your day to day interactions accordingly. The key thing is to always ensure that they are kept informed on all important development and nothing comes to them as a surprise. Secondly, I believe in being forthright and frank so that expectations are always realistic

The second part has to do with colleagues. Now, this part is a little more difficult. Many a time the interaction with them is not that much, especially when you are in a senior position. But there is significant inter-dependence as various businesses and support functions do not work in isolation. To build long lasting relationship in this category it is important to connect first and always work on principles of collaboration and synergies. The differences needs to be carefully handled

The third part involves subordinates. This according to me is the most difficult category since reverse feedback is rare. It is important to create a culture of openness and respect so that you benefit from reverse feedback. Otherwise position of a boss can be very lonely where “blind spots” never become visible. Secondly, each individual is different and what motivates one person does not necessarily excite other. Hence it is very important to understand each individual in terms of their skill set and motivation triggers and levels. Only then you can make best come out of them

You have drawn from and brought a lot of your old experiences to this new workplace; like understanding the dynamics of an organization, relationship management, etc. What, for you, fell in the area of new learning when you came to IL&FS IDF?

The learning has been significant. I can broadly divide it into 2 parts – regulatory and behavioral

Let me start from regulatory:

As part of commercial bank I always use to deal in “term loans” as lending instrument, while in IDF the lending instrument used in “debentures”, which essentially is a capital market instrument. Secondly, the fund raising we do in IDF is also via “listed units”, which again is capital market instrument. Thus in IL&FS IDF I have higher exposure to capital market were regulations are very different that in commercial bank. In fact regulators are also different – Banks in India are regulated by RBI while Capital markets including IDFs (under mutual fund format) are regulated by SEBI. Thus I had to significantly enhance my understanding of SEBI regulations. Apart from this our investors like banks, insurance companies, pension funds are regulated by different regulators like RBI, IRDA, PFRDA etc. and it is important to understand their regulations to design right products for these investors

Secondly, our Asset Management Company, IL&FS Infra Asset Management Ltd. (IIAML) is incorporated under Companies Act and all regulations pertaining to company law are applicable to it. Hence, I had to make significant efforts to understand the rules and regulations of Companies Act applicable to IIAML

The behavioral learning has been more interesting. In a start-up eco system there is always considerable uncertainty on expected outcome of various business variable be it fund raising or lending. In such a scenario, it is important to remain balanced and not get carried away by negative outcome, since this can impact morale of the entire team and negatively impact their energy levels

Secondly, explaining and marketing new product like IDF to investors, regulators and other stake holders take time since there is always fear of unknown in their minds. The important thing is to be persistent and patient. Results do follow – in less than 2 years of our operations we have been able to get fund commitments of about ₹14.00 billion and have also made good headway with key regulators

Taking all your experience and putting it together, what do you feel really makes a leader tick in any kind of environment?

To start with, I think the key to succeed as leader in any environment is adaptability. One has to adjust his style as per the culture and organizational dynamics of the eco-system you are working in.

Secondly, passion for your work and mental toughness are imperative as many a times things do not happen the way you think especially in start – ups. Thirdly, one needs to always think in terms of “customer first” so that at no stage you lose focus from the real reason behind your existence i.e. to meet some need of your investors

Another important aspect is communication. It is important to communicate effectively at all levels, from board to subordinates, so that there are no communication gaps and expectations are realistic. Communication includes ability to give and take candid feedback at both personal and business level for timely course correction

Lastly, various arms of big organization are invariably inter-dependent and hence collaboration is another DNA which is essential for leadership. 

All the above mentioned traits are threshold competency for success.  To really make a difference one has to go farther than this. You have to develop the right culture of workplace, surround yourself with competent staff and constantly monitor the macro scenario and change / fine tune your strategy as per market reality.


Manish Chourasia

Manish Chourasia is the Chief Executive Officer of IL&FS Infra Asset Management Limited (IIAML), Mumbai
IIAML is the AMC for IL&FS Infrastructure Debt Fund (IL&FS IDF), the first IDF – Mutual Fund in India.



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