Sustainable Leadership: The 21st Century Corporate Epiphany

Saurabh Saha


The following is an excerpt from a recent interview where I had an opportunity to speak with Praveen Sinha Co-Founder and Managing Director Jabong where he discussed his views on issues revolving around Sustainable Leadership. Praveen has been in the leadership space for a while and has successfully steered Jabong from a fledging startup to a profitable company generating enormous value for the consumers and the investors in the E-Commerce space

Let’s find out more.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I have always been passionate about entrepreneurship. I am always on the look out for opportunities that involve converting ideas to real products and services, building businesses, and scaling up.  I have been fortunate to be part of this journey with Jabong, Aquabrim and a few other companies.

What kind of challenges did Jabong face when it set up shop in India?

I would classify those challenges into industrial, operational and market related.  E-commerce was at a very nascent stage when we started out. Indians were still getting initiated into the new age of shopping. There was hint of hesitation and doubt amongst online consumers.  Operationally, we faced challenges in building a widespread and robust logistics network, which is the lifeline of this business.

When we started out, most of the other e-commerce players were focusing on deals and discounts. However, our business model was very different. Logistic systems have to be very robust and adept considering the services at bay. Following the drift of the era and keeping in mind the spiraling number of mobile users, online markets are now shifting shop and spreading their arms across the m-commerce sector. Transaction on smart phones is going to be the biggest channel in future and to solve for the user experience and data speed is going to be exciting.

Is there a dearth of technical and management talent when it comes to hiring?

We hire people from premier business and technical schools. We have abundant talent around us. But yes, we need to invest heavily in grooming and developing this huge talent base and it’s very difficult to hire someone who can hit the ground running. In most of the cases we need to groom and train talent at various level and functions.

 What is the role of Business and Technology Schools in integrating Sustainability? Can you share some thoughts about responsibility and challenges we face in Academia?

The prime responsibility of all education leaders is to put in place a learning eco-system that engages students intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Sustainable leadership goes beyond temporary gains in achievement scores, to create lasting, meaningful improvements in learning. Sustainable leadership means planning and preparing for succession, not as an afterthought, but from the first day of a leader’s appointment. Schools play the most critical role. It is here that attitude and thoughts in a future leader’s mind take form.   People carry what they learn in school.  There should be consistency between what students learn on sustainability/CSR focused courses and the skills that businesses expect their new recruits to have.

This is not an easy task. Students from dedicated CSR or sustainability MBA programs are focused on working for CSR departments of large companies, whereas businesses need graduates to embed sustainability within different departments of the organization. Awareness and learning about sustainability issues across a variety of disciplines still remains a challenge for the educational institutions. We forget that sustainability is an integral part of business strategy and should not be viewed as a peripheral, compliance issue.

Given your expertise in Technology and Management, can you shed some light on the role of “Mindset” in determining Sustainability at Individual and Organizational Level?

As the world faces unexpected challenges, we need leaders who inspire hope and resolve the most pressing issues of the world. We need leaders who possess the mindset to link sustainability to their cause. We need leaders who can trigger the long term consequences of any decisions and should not be focused only on short term targets or limited metrics.

Do you see companies in the Technology space pushing the envelope hard to achieve sustainability?

There are many organizations in the technology space that are sensitized towards sustainability and as a team are pro-active in taking green initiatives. More and more companies are reaching out to their suppliers and contractors to work jointly on issues of sustainability, environmental responsibility, ethics, and compliance. However, I think there is lot of scope for further enhancement and scope of stretching themselves on this area.

Why is the concept of Sustainable Leadership different from other types of Leadership?

It’s a blend of sustainability best practices, stakeholder engagement and leadership capacity, both at the individual and organizational level. Sustainable Leadership aims to achieve the objective of triple bottom line i.e. people, planet and profit across the social/business/ government sector.

An important feature of sustainable leadership is that it is not just the responsibility of individuals. Sustainable leadership is a distributed necessity and a shared responsibility. It is about being responsible to the entire society and understanding how one’s actions affect the wider environment. It is about social justice. Sustainable leadership develops rather than depletes human and material resources.

 What would be the Three key tips for those who desire to become a Sustainable Leader?

  1. a strong vision for making a difference
  2. a willingness to innovate and be radical
  3. a long term perspective on impacts

More about Praveen Sinha

praveen_sinhaIn his current role at Jabong, Praveen is a Co- Founder and Managing Director of the company. Praveen’s role encompasses looking after the entire operations capability along with supply chain management, assisted sales, finance, human resources and administration. Jabong was founded in Oct 2011 and Praveen has played a critical leadership role in its phenomenal ramp up. The website went live in Jan 2012. Innovative ideas at various stages and speed of implementation has resulted in establishing Jabong as one of the top most sites in India in less than a years’ time.

Praveen’s work in recent times has made him emerge as a focused business leader. Prior to Oct 2011 saw him working with Mckinsey on transformation projects in South East Asia and India. In his time with Maruti, Microsoft, McKinsey and at Jabong he has effected radical transformations in the areas he was involved with. He is considered as a turnaround specialist and expert in energy efficiency and startups. He has worked in 4 different transformation projects across sectors viz. mines, steel, automotive and has done energy audits across Asia (China, HongKong, S E Asia and India). He is also the founding member of the startup – Aquabrim, which provides water management solutions for residential and commercial users.

Praveen has a keen interest in new business initiatives and has been part of various startups. He is passionate about entrepreneurship and shares his work experiences and learning at various institutes like IIMs,XLRI, Great lakes, Jamia Hamdard etc.