On our trip to India in December 2007, we met with several corporations, educational institutions, trainers and young professionals. Most inspiring was our meeting with KC Kurien, who heads the people diversity initiatives at Pantaloon. Pantaloon Retail (India) Limited, is India’s leading retailer with more than 500 stores in 51 cities across India and over 25,000 people. What’s especially noteworthy is that the majority of employees come from lower economic groups. Organized retail is emerging as an important source of jobs in India, and is expected to add 2.5 million jobs by 2010. We found Pantaloon’s training approach to be remarkable on a number of levels:
- While the war for talent in India is aimed at attracting the best educated, Pantaloon’s employees are typically young people from slums who might not have a degree, but have aspirations like everyone else.
- Their innovative approach centers around helping these individuals be successful and providing opportunities and resources for developing their self-esteem and aspirations for their life and work. They ask recruits “what is your dream?”
- The training approach is holistic and extends beyond building skills needed to fulfill job requirements to encompass the overall well being of the employee. They provide parenting classes, continuing education, and even have a happiness index to gauge overall employee satisfaction.
We asked KC, who came to Pantaloon after heading the design school Shristi, how he developed this unique orientation. He said he gained insights from watching beggars at a traffic intersection and reflecting on why some beggars were more successful than others. He found that it had to do with self-confidence. KC’s stint with design enables him to look at developing people with fresh eyes and to try new approaches.
Pantaloon’s parent organization is the Future Group, led by the visionary Kishore Biyani. The organization’s manifesto speaks of “rewriting rules” and “creating the future” and identifies among its core values: leadership, building relationships, humility, introspection, openness, and adaptability.
The link that Pantaloon has traced between individual self-awareness / empowerment and organizational success is at the heart of the Center’s vision to make leadership development more accessible and available in our world. Pantaloon -- and the aptly named Future Group --provides an inspirational example of how we can create a brighter future for those at the bottom of the pyramid through leadership development.