CEOs are using workplaces to drive organizational change in their companies: Aparna Piramal Raje

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By Rusen Kumar

MUMBAI: A book ‘Working Out of the Box’ 40 Stories of Leading CEOs auhtored by Aparna Piramal Raje recently released. Book, foreword by Anand Mahindra is published by Random House India, a leading publisher.

Including 40 profiles with CEOs from companies of all scales and in varying industries, Working Out of the Box examines how all these leaders leverage some of the most important intangible resources at their disposal: work culture, corporate brands and their own personal energy. The book highlights the very different ways in which leaders motivate their work force and obtain results, providing a fascinating peek into their personal sides and how that impacts the way they work.

Aparna Piramal Raje writes regularly on business and design, workplaces, cities and urbanization for the Mint, India’s second largest business daily, and the UK’s Financial Times Weekend, a leading global publication. She has also co-authored a comprehensive report on the Indian design industry for the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and has worked as a television anchor for a leading business news channel. Aparna was previously CEO of BP Ergo, one of India’s largest office furniture companies, and has also worked with VIP luggage, one of India’s best known consumer brands. She currently serves on the board of Kokuyo Camlin, one of India’s largest stationery companies. She completed an MBA from Harvard Business School and read Economics, Politics and Philosophy at Oxford University. She lives in Mumbai with her husband and their two sons.

Aparna Piramal Raje shared his thoughts with Rusen Kumar, Editor, India CSR on her latest creation. She says, book is all about how CEOs are using workplaces to drive organisational change in their companies. Here are the edited excerpts:

Can you summarize the Book?
Working Out of the Box: 40 stories of leading CEOs looks at business leaders through the lens of workplaces and workstyles. I met and interviewed a range of business leaders – from well-known names such as Kumar Mangalam Birla, Deepak Parekh and Uday Kotak, to the CEOs of technology companies such as Google, Tata Consultancy Services and myntra.com to understand how their workplace reflected their workstyles.

Describe what the story/book is all about?
Workplaces tells stories about workstyles, and workstyles tell us how leaders manage their most important assets – their intangible assets – on a daily basis. The book captures 15 different workstyles (or ways of working), which tell us how business leaders are evolving, and how they manage intangible assets, such as personal energy, organisational capital, brand values and sustainability and the environment.

Briefly, what led up to this book?
I’ve been writing Head Office, the column on which the book is based, since 2010. Having interviewed over 50 CEOs, I thought it would be nice to compile a book and see if any common patterns or themes emerged, which they did. For example, it was very interesting to note that although sustainability and environment was a priority for only a few CEOs, those that had embraced this domain as a strategic priority, were very keen on aligning their physical spaces, as well as their organisations, around this goal, and their workspaces reflect this. There also several CEOs with strong interest in the non-profit sector, which was interesting to observe.

What was the time frame for writing this book?
The column started in March 2010, and continues to run. We started discussing a book sometime late last year, and it took about 6-8 months to pull the stories together, update them where necessary, and convert it into a book.

What message you want to give through the book?
There are several messages: First, for those interested in leadership, there are lessons on how leaders work, that may not be found in other business media or publications. For example, how Chandrasekaran of TCS manages to stay in touch with 500 customers a year, but only gets 40 emails a day.

For those interested in design, there are 4 workplace archetypes that explain how workplaces can serve four different purposes, depending on the business needs of their occupants. There are also ‘design triggers’ for each workplace archetypes, to help business heads and designers articulate their preferences.

For those interested in HR issues, there are great example of how CEOs are using workplaces to drive organisational change in their companies.

What motivates you to write this book?
I am very curious about the intersection of design and business. This stems from my previous work experience: I earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School and worked at my family’s office furniture business, which was a very design-facing industry. This experience led me to writing about design, in order to bring design to a business audience. If I’ve been able to to generate a vocabulary about workspaces that connects both design and business, I will be pleased.

For whom the book is intended?
A wide range of readers:
Business readers: From CEOS to MBA students, there’s something here for all.
HR professionals
Design practitioners
Anyone interested in stories on leadership and management.

How much research do you do?
I do in-depth research on the subject and the industry of course before the interview. And I always try and speak with people who’ve worked with the subject too to get a sense of what that person is like at work.

Do you write full-time or part-time?
Nearly full-time. One of the reasons I’ve chosen this profession is that it’s flexible, and I can work from home, since I have young children.

What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
I think the biggest challenge with the kind of column is to stay updated of all industry trends since I cover a wide range of industries in my stories. While I discuss the office with my subjects in some detail, we also have a detailed conversation about their industry and way of working too, so it’s important to be knowledgeable about their business(es).

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I usually work from 10 am – 6 pm. I like writing in the mornings.

Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
Probably not as much as I should do, but I enjoy fiction and am part of a book-club which meets regularly. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi is an absolute favourite. Karen Joy Fowler’s novel ‘We’re all completely besides ourselves’ was a great delight too.Working out of the Box Aparna Piramal Raje

Where do you write from?
My desk in my study at home. I also often work from an office space next to my sister, Radhika Piramal, who is the MD of VIP Industries, the luggage maker.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I like making short films – made several for my family, for anniversaries and birthdays. My older son Amartya (7) and I made a 5 min short film, Ria & the Magic Train Tracks about a fearless toy engine who learns what it means to be a winner and a hero, without winning a prize. His cousins and he narrated the film, and we shot it at home using his train set. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-7bZiA8MlM

What’s next?
Apart from book promotion, I’ve got several potential projects, including more book projects, hope to finalise them after a few weeks. My column in the Mint continues.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Best way is to send me an email: aparna@aparnapraje.com and I can then add them to my newsletter, which I send out as regularly as possible. My website www.aparnapiramalraje.com should be up and running soon and that will have links to all my previous works and projects.

(She invites readers to email her at aparna@aparnapraje.com and to visit her website at www.aparnapiramalraje.com)

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.

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