A Clairvoyant Leader

A Clairvoyant Leader

In conversation with Human Capital, Ajoy Clement Salve, Sr. Vice President, Enabling Solutions, Xpressbees Logistics Solutions, shares the learnings that he accrued from his frontline staff during the pandemic and the journey ahead for him as also his company.


How do you look back at the professional journey traversed thus far? Could you share some enlightening moments experienced at various points in your professional journey?


Joining Xpressbees was initially a strategic and professional decision. Setting the HR function for an upcoming logistics brand offered the right challenge.


As I started out, I went about visiting our farthest branches and large, voluminous hubs. I interacted with the delivery staff that waded through floodwaters or extreme weather conditions to deliver their share of shipments. I interacted with the staff that chose to work round-the-clock to meet the demands during festivals. Closer still, during COVID-19 lockdowns, I met the staff that worked day in and out, went far beyond their KRAs to ensure that the logistics engine at the company does not stop. The field staff ensured that the essentials reached their destinations. The office staff ensured that operations continued uninterrupted whilst upholding the best safety norms. All these are examples of very challenging situations. They demand your time away from home and family, and that you put your own safety aside. Yet, the staff did it all.


And no, they did not do it for the money. It was something greater than that. To some, it was their sense of belongingness to the organisation, to some, it was their sense of duty towards the country, and to the others, just the need to be there with their peers during difficult times. This has been enlightening. The strong sense of ownership and the need to bend backwards to ensure commitments are upheld, and to be there. This realisation hit me hard and repeatedly.


Over a period of time, my calculated and strategic decision of joining XpressBees became a highly personal and emotional one.


How do you fathom the two experiences - setting up HR from the scratch in an organisation to managing well-established HR frameworks?


Both of them come with their share of learnings, of course. I will start with managing well-established HR frameworks because that is what I did in my previous stints. I headed the HR function for an organisation that had the human talent, processes, and systems down to perfection. Leading a function with the established framework and with copious resources leaves you with a very strong understanding of the ‘HOW’. How should you design a process, how should you execute it, how can you leverage the best, most cutting-edge tools out there to meet your business goals. It leaves you with a greater appreciation of the fact that strong processes are people agnostic. That, amongst others, is the reason why you as an HR leader is able to replicate established frameworks across remote locations. They give you an up-close view of how an ideal HR system should function.


Setting up an HR function from scratch pushes you to take a step back. You have to start with the ‘why’. Why you need a certain system or a process, and why you need it to be exactly in the format your business demands. You are not merely sitting at the drawing board figuring out the most comprehensive solution, you are also getting into the weeds to know why a great HR process is not working and why something else is yielding great results.


Exposure to both is helpful in enabling you to build a strong, wellrounded understanding of this field of work. I am fortunate I have been privy to both sides of the world. It has helped me bring the best of both worlds to build a strong, agile HR function that a fast-growing organisation like Xpressbees needs.


Having been associated with the Logistics Sector, what is your understanding of the business, and how big a role does HR play in this sector? Were there any sector-specific challenges and opportunities you encountered?


As soon as I entered the industry, I realised that a Logistics organisation can thrive if it has two levers working in its favour - people and technology.


When it comes to people, there are several factors that are unique to logistics. For example, you need your people in every nook and corner. We are presently servicing 20,000+ pin codes in India. That means we have our people in all these locations. Managing a thinly spread out workforce such as this which is vastly diverse and is often deployed on a contractual basis is a different kind of beast. From how to source local talent to how they should be incentivised, everything changes from one region to another, and from one month to another. 


An additional challenge, though not sector-specific, at the top of the list is that it is a very competitive landscape. For the blue-collared employee base in particular, every time you design a new compensation or reward scheme that you may think is highly attractive, your competitor ups it a notch. A bluecollared employee is often drawn to the instant gratification offered by an incremental financial increase. Without paying heed to factors like growth, environment, stability, etc. it may mean a lot more to your whitecollared employees.


 What are some of the values and ideologies with regard to which you think leaders should definitely walk the talk to win stakeholder confidence?


At the top of my list is good working habits. Sticking to timelines, walking in prepared for meetings, reviewing emails and documents before sending - very basic stuff. In fact, it is so basic that we do not teach leaders about it because we presume they know about it. And of course, they do know about them. But, there is a huge knowing-doing gap here. Leaders know about them they think they follow them too. But in reality, they do not and definitely not consistently enough.


The second ideology is truly getting your hands dirty with every single project. I see a lot of “helicopterstyle” management. Leaders delegate responsibilities - which they must - but they forget that they are still accountable for deliverables. As long as you are accountable, you have got to know how-what-where things are happening. I am not talking about micro-management. I am talking about remaining interested and suitably engaged so that you can mentor and guide at the right time. You can prevent a crisis instead of fighting it.


As a part of Xpress Bees, what will be your focus for 2022? What are the organisational goals that have been set by you?


Our aim is to be the single largest end-to-end Logistics Service provider in the country. Our major thrust area for 2022 is expansion - both Nationally & Internationally. This will of course require us to onboard the best of people, technology, and automation.


But onboarding the best resources is the simpler part of the journey. The real differentiator is that in an organisation’s ability to truly and optimally leverage these resources. To that effect, our efforts are twopronged. One is in the direction of building robust yet agile systems and processes. The second is in building a culture that encourages our people - internal and external stakeholders - to work with a single-minded focus towards established goals. Our value system that upholds “DELIVERING EXCELLENCE to CUSTOMERS with PASSION to INNOVATE and CONTINUOUSLY LEARN; whilst building a COMMUNITY that RESPECTS all”. On-ground promulgation of the value system in letter and spirit is, therefore, one large HR focus for the year.


Up Close and Personal 


What caused you to steer your career towards HR?


Nothing in particular, but when I was admitted into MIRPM and as I got involved with professional bodies while in college it started to dawn that this is the perfect space to be in. I was a part of the NIPM Nagpur Chapter & Vidharbha Industries Association and set up the Student body for NIPM along with the Nagpur Chapter, helped organise their monthly activities and seminars and went to different Management colleges to enrol students into the Student wing of NIPM. I had also rubbed shoulders with some Seasoned Industry leaders in the field of HR. That is where I honed my Human Relations skills.


How do you like to spend your free time?


Family, friends and Learning.


Please share some of your experiences of travelling to different places. What have you gained from these experiences?


I have stayed and worked in different parts of the country and the globe. In the process, I have learned from various cultures, from how they think and act, and what works in their favour. I have learned the value of clear, assertive communication from my experience in North India. From the South, I picked up simplicity. I learnt that you can hustle without losing your mind from Mumbai! And Pune has instilled some of its calmness in me.


Who would you credit in your life as a great influence in shaping the man that you are today?


Life is the greatest influence in shaping who you are as an individual. In my journey, I have learnt a lot from everyone with whom I have interacted with and continue to do so. My philosophy of life is that people come into your life with the purpose of adding value and most add value in terms of their good behaviour, ethics, and learning. They make your day by being who they are. Then there are others who genuinely teach you things and teach you how to make the most of this gift of life! Both kinds play their part in making you a complete person.


Rapid Fire 


Favourite Quote: Life does not end with death…. It ends when you fail to live up to life…


Leadership style: A mix of all - When my team is challenged I lead from the front, but when my team leads then I reinforce and follow…


Current Professional Goal: Build organisations with good HR values.


Favourite Book: Gandhi: An Autobiography: The Story of my Experiments with Truth


Favourite Movie/Web Series: Million dollar baby…


Favourite Music Artist: Whitney Houston


Life is… Face it and Finish it. Don’t back off.


Family is… A tree with branches growing all over the place but deeply rooted in the values that you have been brought up with.


I strongly believe in… Living life rather than leading a life.


The most important thing I do when I have a day off … Pamper myself – Family time


I deal with setbacks by… Facing it and Finishing it…


3 Things I never leave home without… Self-respect, confidence and determination.


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