While a match made in heaven is just fantastic, there is nothing heavenly about the process for the matchmaker. And that’s perhaps why the number of successful head hunters in India remains just a handful. But one man who has been in the business of “figuring out people’s DNA” for nearly 16 years is Ronesh Puri, director of head hunting firm, Executive Access. The draw to the trade for Puri is the thrill of meeting new people at every turn and getting to understand varying perspectives.
In the 10 hours I spend at work, I’m interacting with people for a minimum of seven.
During the course of our conversation, I ask him if one can be nurtured to perform the role of a head hunter and he pauses before saying, “It’s a 70 – 30 divide, 70 per cent of being a head hunter is based on the innate ability an individual possesses and the remaining 30 per cent can be cultivated through training on the job.” However, Puri is quick to assert that being a head hunter goes beyond making small talk and it involves speaking to people day in and day out to get an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. “Typically, any individual has a minimum of nine weaknesses, but if you ask him or her to list those weaknesses, 99 per cent will fail,” says Puri. And it’s the job of a head hunter to identify a potential candidate, weed out the inconsistencies and match an individual to a company based on its work culture.
Puri who studied to be a lawyer even practised for a while before being disillusioned by the system. He moved on to a job in the banking industry before fate steered him in the direction of head hunting. He joined Executive Access as its head of research in 1995 and transitioned to client servicing by 1997. It wasn’t long before he took over the reins as director and the rest as they say is matchmaking history!
Puri and Executive Access have been responsible for over 600 prominent hires for companies such as Bharti Tele-Ventures, Max New York Life, Fortis Healthcare, Doon School, MTV Networks and more. “While hunting for a CEO (chief-executive officer), the company must lay out its objectives in a clear manner. It isn’t enough to just want a ‘great guy’ for the job,” says Puri. In his opinion, the three make-or-break factors to consider are management style, the DNA of the individual and the work culture of the organisation as this ensures the most harmonious working combination amongst people. Puri is candid in his admission that the deciding authorities at companies often make recommendations based on the prospective candidate’s past work experience. However, he insists on knowing the individual first and seeing if he/she is the best fit for the organisation – a strategy that has proven to work time and again.
As he talks of his interesting experiences while helping large companies hire, Puri picks out a few instances where he was met with a challenge or two. “We hired the head of sales for Philips India – at that time, I felt that the individual and culture of the organisation were well matched but both sides needed a lot of convincing,” he says. Puri’s call was right as the individual made his way up to being country head and went on to become CEO. Puri also speaks of hiring Kanti Bajpai as headmaster for Doon School. “I had no previous experience of hiring for the education sector and I had to do a lot of homework. Kanti too had never worked with schools before as his previous experience was restricted to college and university level education. But I think he’s done a great job in bringing in a different dimension to the job itself,” states Puri.
While the past has been more than interesting for Puri, his priorities for the future are listed with clarity. “I have never kept count of the number of hires, it’s always quality before quantity,” he says.
Puri, the person
For Puri, the day begins with a quick skim of the morning newspaper followed by a brisk walk in the park with his wife. “It allows us a chance to catch up with each other as I live a lifestyle where I travel a lot, so this is a good way to connect,” he says. The walks also allow Puri to indulge the nature-lover in him. Once he hits the office, he spends his first hour responding to emails to avoid any sort of back log. The rest of the day is spent communicating with people from all walks of life. “In the 10 hours I spend at work, I’m interacting with people for a minimum of seven,” he says.
And a long day at the office is rounded off by coming home to a good meal and a few minutes spent surfing channels on the television. It’s usually a Hindi movie or a sport for Puri and that’s how he chooses to unwind.
As for what the future holds for Puri, his ambition is well matched by his ability and that will sustain Executive Access’ position as one of the leading head hunting firms in India. Personally, Puri wants to spread the right word about the profession in an effort to generate awareness that will build the number of head hunters in India.