Gurpreet MalhiChief Executive Officer, ALBA

Gurpreet Malhi is the Chief Executive Officer of ALBA. He reports directly to the Board and is responsible for the day to day running of ALBA and its subsidiaries/associates. Gurpreet is a Master Mariner and has completed his MBA from the prestigious HEC, Paris. He has over 20 years of experience in Shipping and Maritime activities. He has been with ALBA almost since inception.

1. What was the mandate given to you by the Board when you took over in your role?

My brief was three fold; i) to consolidate the existing business, ii) to implement the awarded projects and iii) to bid and develop new projects and business, such that the company would be a leader amongst the bulk terminal operators in the country.

2. How much of that has been achieved? What were the challenges faced?

When your top counterparty is the Government, the word ‘achievement’ takes on a whole new meaning. Even mundane tasks transform into challenges. Having said that, I say that we have made significant achievements but a lot more needs to be done. New challenges are thrown up almost every day, we still have a long way to go.

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3. What are the key challenges your organization is facing currently?

In my experience and opinion, the level of Government control (interference, if I may say) in Ports surpasses all other sectors in the country. Bottlenecks, be they arise out of policy and regulation, (which is usually too-much or is often misguided), or arise out of lack of supporting infrastructure have the end result of delaying our projects, which by nature are capital intensive. The resultant time and cost over-run can wreck the sustainability of the projects. This is the key challenge faced by us today.

4. What are the key challenges for the sector?

To add to the above; a well defined regulatory framework across national, state and local governments is the need of the hour. Since most of the investment in Ports is through the PPP model, proper roles between public and private parties needs to be defined. TAMP (tariff control) is another malady plaguing the sector. Now that more than enough competition exists, market forces should be allowed to determine the tariffs. I cannot think of any other sector, with private investment, which has such level of tariff control. Archaic agreements which govern the projects make it virtually impossible for business to adapt to the dynamic and ever changing world of business.

5. What is your talent strategy? How do you draw the balance between home grown vs. lateral hiring at the leadership level?

It has been a very challenging and interesting experience for us. In 2010, when we just started out, expansion was rapid and we had to hire laterally. The port sector was at a nascent stage and it was a real challenge to find suitable talent, especially at the leadership level, from within the sector. We, thus, started with a judicious mix of acquiring talent from our parent company in France, hiring from within India and hiring Indians who were employed abroad within the port sector.

6. How does your organization identify and develop future leaders?

Despite the size of our projects and capital outlay, we are a relatively flat and lean organisation. We understand the challenging environment we operate in and believe in being hands on. This philosophy is well understood and implemented in the organisation. This enables us to identify the potential leaders. Implementing a formal leadership development program has been on my ‘to-do’ list. But not having one is not holding us back from developing our leadership pipeline. We do so through mentoring and progressively entrusting more responsibility and challenging tasks.

7. In a world full of volatility, Uncertainty, complexity & Ambiguity (VUCA) and also being closely involved with government, what is your strategy to manage various stakeholders to get the desired outcome?

It is indeed a complex environment that we operate in today. Stakeholders have varying interests, which at times are conflicting. We need to adopt a multi-pronged strategy to progress. It always helps to breakdown challenges into smaller sub-tasks and then deal with the appropriate stakeholders. By doing so, we are able to reduce the conflict and achieve progress. We also engage with stakeholders at all levels to ensure that a unified opinion is formed.

8. How do you define & practice leadership?

For me, leadership is multi-faceted and 2 dimensional in the least. The first dimension focuses on the self and the second dimension focuses on those around me.

I practice leadership by leading from the front, being compassionate and respecting and empathising with those around me.

I believe in creating an environment that enables my team to be confident, fearless, challenge the accepted and ultimately perform beyond the ordinary.

9. How Indian leaders can become Global Leaders?

India is complex. I therefore believe that Indian leaders are amongst the best there are. But, this alone would not guarantee success as global leaders. In my opinion, to succeed globally, it is essential that leaders should accept complexity, the economic, administrative and political differences and the contradictions they may throw up.

10. What are the 3 most pivotal moments in your career that you either learned from and/or that got you where you are today?

In my merchant marine career, as I was being mentored to take command of the ship, one day, while standing on the ship’s deck somewhere in the Atlantic, the captain told me “Don’t be ever afraid of taking decisions”. This has stayed with me and I see today how true and relevant this learning is as I see so many people procrastinate rather than take decisions.

In command of a vessel faced with a life threatening situation, I was being pressurised to take an unethical decision. I, however, stood my ground and successfully managed the situation without compromising on ethics. I can thus fully relate to and appreciate the growing importance of governance and ethical business.

After 16 years in the merchant marine and having scaled to the top, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself all over again. I went through the rigorous admission process and got an admit to HEC-Paris, where I undertook an MBA. After the initial misgivings and trying days, it turned out be one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I now continue to live by this mantra and am not afraid to step out of the comfort zone and also encourage those around me to do the same.

11. What message would you like to share with young professionals at the start of their career?

Work hard, identify what’s important and focus on it, don’t be afraid of the uncharted, believe in yourself, keep calm and above all work-life balance is more important than you think it is.