Mallika Srinivasan to head PESB


* An order dated April 1 named Mallika Srinivasan, chairman-cum-managing director (CMD), Tractors and Farm Equipment (TAFE) Limited, as the new chairperson of PESB

* While steps have been taken to recruit and promote women employees at front levels and middle levels, the government is equally pushing for more women representation at senior and board levels

* Traditionally, the top position at PESB has been held by retired bureaucrats

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No, it was definitely not an April Fools’ Day prank. After almost sevenmonths of functioning without a head, the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) had indeed acquired a chief.

An order dated April 1 named Mallika Srinivasan, chairman-cum-managing director (CMD), Tractors and Farm Equipment (TAFE) Limited, as the new chairperson of PESB. It also announced the appointment of Sailesh, secretary, department of Public Enterprises, Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, as Member, PESB.

You may ask, so what?

Well, for one, the PESB was headless from September 2020 to April 1, 2021. Two, it is not any old organisation, but a high-powered body with an objective of evolving a sound managerial policy for Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) and, in particular, to advise the government on appointments to their top management positions. It is responsible for the selection and placement of personnel in the posts of chairpersons, managing directors, CMDs and functional directors of these CPSEs. The PESB also advises the government on formulation and enforcement of a code of conduct and ethics for managerial personnel in Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs).

The delay in the PESB getting its full quorum also meant a delay in appointments in PSEs, which in turn meant disruptions in the work environment and decision making processes in some key undertakings. But there was a subtext, too: It led to the buzz that not appointing a chief was in keeping with the government policy of not being in the business of doing business. This also raised questions on whether this was in keeping with the recently announced CPSE disinvestment policy.

Traditionally, the top position at PESB has been held by retired bureaucrats. Srinivasan is the first person from the private sector to hold the post.

As Mumbai-based Aashish Chandorkar, a public policy commentator, puts it, “In the recently announced CPSE divestment policy in the Union budget 2021-22, the government expressed its intent to retain only a few large CPSEs in four strategic sectors. By corollary, the government would want these few large firms to become global leaders in the respective sectors. In this context, the management of these CPSEs becomes important. The PESB appointment committee now to be headed by Mallika Srinivasan points in that direction.” The government, he held, wanted to attract and choose the best people from the industry for the CPSEs. “Bringing in industry expertise to the appointments is the first step,” he added.

The government, some argued, wanted to highlight the growing professionalism and transparency in PSEs. “Mallika Srinivasan’s impeccable background will act as a confidence catalyst in this direction. Bringing professionals like her is a part of the larger strategy of the CPSE Policy about Public Private Partnership,” said Aroon K Aggarwal, managing partner, Bradford Consultants LLP — an International head hunting firm that works across various industry segments.

There were many advantages to this move, he added. “First, it will bring the much-needed confidence among senior professionals to consider public enterprises as a career move, and not just consider them as a sarkari naukri. Second, the knowledge and experience that professionals will bring in will help frame the entire CPSE Policy in the right direction,” he said. “Last, the transparency that can be expected through these changes will remove a lot of the stigmas attached to a public enterprise.”

Indeed, most of these positions were for long seen as the parking ground for the favourites of successive regimes in the services. A professional holding the high post would indicate change.

Others pointed out that the appointment also underlined the spirit of a public-private sector partnership. “I think Mallika Srinivasan’s appointment is a great first step in building a more productive, collaborative and inclusive public-private sector partnership beyond what it is today,” said Nirmala Menon, CEO and founder of the Bengaluru-based Interweave Consulting. “That the first chairperson from the private sector at the PSEB is a woman, a South Indian and an icon of enterprise from a non-traditional sector is, in my opinion, a conscious and firm declaration of the new vision and direction the CPSE is embarking on.”

This, she added, was a welcome change, as it would lead to a diverse viewpoint from the private sector. “The private sector agility, rigour, strength of data analytics and efficiency tools combined with the diligence, perseverance and the wider concept of the ‘Larger good’ of the public sector is a great way to ensure balanced perspectives and decision making across the board,” Menon stressed.

The move, most agreed, was in keeping with the government’s reforms agenda. “The government has been consistently pushing for reforms to improve efficiency in the public sector enterprises. There have been a lot of change initiatives for improving public sector services by investing into technology upgradation, better talent management practices and attracting good talent to the sector,” said Ashissh Kaul, associate director, knowledge and advisory, SHRM India (Society for Human Resource Management), which work largely on human resources.

Kaul said the government’s intent to ensure performance from the sector was evident from the fact that senior executives from PSEs were regularly called in to the ministries for review meetings and in “holding executives accountable for their committed objectives, very much like you find in any world class MNC”. It was time, he said, for the sector to also start changing policies and structures for putting “the right talent” in place. “Considering this change, it is a very good call to get in someone who has ample experience beyond PSEs and understands the Indian market and customer very well,” he said.

The government, Kaul stressed, was also serious about creating an equitable workplace for women and have more women representation in corporate India. “While steps have been taken to recruit and promote women employees at front levels and middle levels, the government is equally pushing for more women representation at senior and board levels. Having a woman chairperson would help in this regard. The other advantages are bringing in experience and branding to the sector that help attract better talent and build efficiencies.”

Time will tell how the move plays out. But the appointment certainly goes beyond the traditional template. And it promises not just change but new perspectives. As Menon summed up, “The more diverse the group of decision makers, the better and more inclusive the decisions are likely to be.”



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