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Lessons in leadership: entrepreneur Siddharth Shankar


By Angela Sharda
Deputy editor
14 September 2018

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Siddharth Shankar is not your average 28-year-old. Born and bred in India, the billionaire is head of a company valued at £4.5bn.

Shankar is a leading trader in the Asian market and is currently chief executive of Tails Trading, which provides a new solution for SMEs exporting to Asia and has 15 offices – spread across 53 countries.

After growing up in New Delhi, Shankar built an Indian business empire of marketing, investment, construction and hospitality companies.

Shankar’s story as an entrepreneur began when he was just 18 and went into business with a friend, setting up a company that specialised in the recycling of medical wrappers; PVC and aluminium. He would sell the products to scrap dealers, where he would get higher prices due to good quality of the products.

The company began to flourish and everything started to fall into place. He paid his friend Rs 25 lakhs (£25,000) for the company, which he later went on to sell for around Rs 60 crores, approximately £6m.

There is no doubt that Shankar, who completed an MBA at the University of Strathclyde last year, is in a leadership role, juggling various tasks and making executive decisions on a daily. But what can leaders in the NHS learn from entrepreneurs in other sectors? Deputy editor Angela Sharda finds out.

Q. What does your working day look like?

I leave home around six-thirty in the morning and get back around 10 in the evening but that’s in the UK. Back in India, I used to work much more manically. India’s not as well geographically located as the UK and therefore time zones can be penalising. I basically used to get up, be in the office by 10 in the morning and get back home around 11 in the evening, but for me I still wasn’t getting enough work done. The American markets would open up so you would have calls with the Americans and then close the Japanese markets. I would essentially sleep at six in the morning.

Q. What is your vision for your company?

Apart from the commercial, it’s obviously to have a social impact and the whole company’s aimed at having the SMEs export and underwriting the whole risk.

Q. What is the key to success?

Sticking to the strategy that you set on day one. Always remember why you started doing what you are doing. I’ve been advising a lot of people that I meet, who tend to once they start earning, once they start approaching their 30s, look at saving money and actually cutting back on their lifestyles. I tell them the same thing. Remember why you started earning, why you went to school and why you wanted to do it. Always think back to the strategy you set on day one.

Q. How do you keep your team motivated?

Apart from the salaries you mean?! We tend to hire people who genuinely want to work with us, who share our passion, who share that commitment to take the company to the next level, to see the dream with us.

Q. How do you keep a work-life balance?

Keeping up with the whole schedule, do your thinking on day one. Stick to the strategy, you’re just forming a schedule and a plan.

Q. What advice would you give  people in leadership roles?

Don’t stick to your job description and be passionate about what you do. Once your organisation grows, don’t lose that momentum. Enjoy what you do, stay healthy and eat well.

Q. What constitutes a good leader?

I love to say this: it’s your network and not your net worth. In senior management, we’re expected to look above and beyond what the middle management can. The middle management obviously can look at the next five years. You’re supposed to look above and beyond. At the same time, provide them with the resources to perform for the next five years. Your job is to make sure their resources are in place and that your vision is better and focused on the future. As leaders, we have to see something that not everybody is seeing.

Q. What are you most proud of in your career?

The hunger to learn more; I’m not a specialist, not by any standards. I’ve been working across industries; I’ve been working across different things. My achievement is learning.

Q. What do you think NHS leaders can learn from an entrepreneur like you?

The good thing about the NHS is that there are structures in place. Something for NHS leaders to take away is that if you’re enjoying your life through the work you are doing, you can help somebody else enjoy theirs. In a challenging sector, I would say have faith and enjoy what you do.

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