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Growing an empire by breaking the rules

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Kishore Biyani leads by breaking the rules. He turns conventional wisdom on its head in directing his retail empire in India.

Biyani, 53, runs Future Group, a huge corporation in India that includes giant supermarkets and lifestyle and fashion stores. Future Group, which is often compared to Wal­­mart, serves consumers in nearly 100 cities across India.

Biyani conveys his guiding philosophy for the company in four words: rewrite rules, retain value. The firm’s 30,000 employees heed his call and look for creative ways to serve customers.

When weighing whether to launch a new retail brand, for instance, Biyani rejects the standard protocol of amassing reams of data and crunching numbers to project sales and expenses. Instead, he instructs managers to start small, observe how customers respond and make adjustments accordingly.

The birth of Big Bazaar, a supermarket chain, began in 2001 when Biyani and his team studied shoppers’ behavior in stores in Hyderabad, India. Tracking local customers and consumption habits, they applied what they learned to formulate the Big Bazaar business model.

By focusing on how people shopped, they were able to make wise judgments. Only later, after they piloted the idea, did they incorporate metrics like market size and demographic data to build on their initial findings.

Rather than draft detailed business plans that predict sales and forecast other trends, Biyani prefers to open a store as a kind of test run. He’ll then get critical feedback from shoppers. Using this “learning from mistakes” approach, he limits the cost of early missteps.

— Adapted from Bringing Strategy Back, Jeffrey Sampler, Jossey-Bass.

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