DELOITTE is the largest professional services network in the world with over 320000 dedicated professionals across the world collaborate to provide audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax and related services to select clients.
SAprofessionals.com spoke to Arun Babu, Managing Director of the Core Business Operations Practice in the Deloitte Consulting Africa firm about his personal and professional journey thus far.
Tell us about your early life, training, professional development to your role today
I grew up in the small town of Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape and was raised by two parents who were teachers. Most of my extended family are also teachers and this made education a key part of the upbringing.. After finishing matric from Lusikisiki in1998, I went to do my Engineering Degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. This was a definite stretch for me both from a social and academic perspective. I had just turned 16, was rather shy and quiet and it was the first time I was away from home and experiencing big city life. This was however an important stretch in my life and it taught me many valuable life lessons.
The university environment was a very diverse one with students and lecturers from several parts of the world and across South Africa. I also stayed in a residence that had a big number of overseas exchange students. I learned to appreciate the strength in understanding and embracing different cultures and backgrounds. I also relied on a strong network of friends to help me cope with the stresses of university life.
I came to Johannesburg after University in late 2003. And as life would have it, one of my good friends from university ended up playing a big role in supporting me through my early years in Johannesburg. He accommodated me at his place and helped me through the first few months of looking for the right job. I got a role with Accenture in their Consulting Graduate Programme in early 2004 and I spent nearly nine years there and had a very rewarding career. Then it was time for a change and I moved to Deloitte in 2012. I loved the entrepreneurial energy of Deloitte, increased focus on strategic business advisory capabilities and the ownership and freedom it provided me to build a business in my own style. I have since been here and am enjoying every moment of it. I have learned a lot, been given various opportunities and been taken under the wing by several senior leaders who have shared so much of their experiences and wisdom to help me on my growth journey.
What does it mean to you that your leaders have entrusted you with the position of Core Business Operations Managing Director?
It is an honour and a privilege to play any key leadership role in an organisation like Deloitte. There is an ecosystem of fellow leaders, colleagues and a large group of bright, mostly very young and enthusiastic team that work together to make my role effective. In the Core Business Operations portfolio, I have the unique opportunity to bring together business advisory, industry operations, new age digital solutions and analytics capabilities together in transforming the “core” of several largest businesses across the continent. Essentially we get to assist these large businesses to re-imagine their businesses to be more productive, agile and innovative. Overall it is a real privilege to lead this talented bunch of people.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term?
I like change and I thrive on creating big shifts over a short period of time. We are operating in a difficult economy locally in South Africa and several other uncertain markets across the continent. One of the primary objectives is to go against this negative sentiment and create a growth mindset in the business and execute on ambitious growth levels over a 2-3 year period. That however is an outcome of two key dimensions. Innovation of our services and activating the right people. On the people dimension I would like to leave behind the best team on the continent in the domain of business transformation and digital engineering; a diverse team that excels at what they do, are self-empowered and who find deep meaning and purpose in their work. A strong team like this is what creates a multiplier effect for us. The second dimension is that business consulting industry itself is going through a disruptive period globally. So in this dimension my objective would be fundamentally transform the nature of our services and how we serve our clients.
How would you describe your management and leadership styles?
In a few words I would like to think of it as eclectic, fast-paced, experimental and empowering.
During my career I had several leaders, colleagues and teams that provided a supporting hand and deeply cared for my success. Most important of support was giving me opportunities even when my experience and capabilities were not quite there yet. I never wanted to let them down after showing faith in me and worked very hard to do well in all those roles. So I have also come to instinctively back people’s potential; instead of looking for finished products, give people a chance to take on stretch roles if they show potential and ability to learn. .
I also try not to have a fixed view on what good or best-practice management looks like. I allow for sufficient experimentation and learnings to figure that out in a fluid manner. Key to this for me is to experiment often and scale of fail fast. I have never really enjoyed working under authoritarian leadership styles, so instinctively I dislike hierarchy or letting your level or role dictate what can be done. I like flatter structures and letting the cream surface to the top despite of corporate levels. Staying in touch with the junior levels of the organisation is very important to me as it gives you a sense of the real pulse.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?
I am fascinated by people, our substantial talents (often unearthed), our quirks and all those specific things that make each individual tick. Seeing diverse people come alive in to effective and high performing teams give me purpose. Personally I am a firm believer in lifelong learning, maybe making up for my lack of interest in it during school days; in whatever you do, you need to be constantly learning.
How do you take part in mentoring others?
My role is to provide an environment where everyone has opportunities to realise their potential, helping them understand where they are and where they want to go. Mentoring is a culture that is realised through the collective action of everyone in the team. . Personally I focus on being approachable and being available for teams that want any form of support.
If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?
Being made a Deloitte partner at the age of 32 was a highlight. One of the more regular lows would be when talented individuals leaves your business, especially for reasons that were avoidable. Often I end up reflecting deeply on the things that I could have done to have changed that outcome.
What accolades have you and your organisation received recently?
As Deloitte we are often recognised for various achievements across several fields. For our people we have a good culture of recognition across the levels. Personally, while it is a significant personal boost when I receive a recognition, I have learned to not read too much in to these. Measuring your progress against your own yard-stick is often more important and meaningful.
How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?
We have massive ambitions and we are very optimistic. We believe in high growth strategies and being bullish in difficult times. Under the current economic conditions, we are doing very well and bucking the macro economic trends
Through what means does the organisation ensure that the firm maintains high level of ethics and integrity?
For me, it’s about our people’s behaviour and value system and ensuring they are aligned to the overall business values. One must lead from the front. We must be seen to act on it. Our Deloitte Values and Code of Business Conduct sets the foundation and outlines the commitments that we all make as Deloitte professionals. Not only do we need to live the code of conduct and demonstrate these commitments, but we must also support each other in our efforts to live and work with integrity. Our environment is one where majority of our people feel empowered to speak up, consult and raise their voices.
Is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, and if so, how is it attended to?
Yes. We strongly believe that increased transformation and diversity will drive a better business. We are focused on diversity and inclusion at all levels in the organisation; everybody needs an environment where they can be themselves. We are deliberate in our approach and we are nearing our goal of being a 51% black owned business and will likely be the first Big-4 to do so. Women in leadership is also top of agenda for us globally and locally. We as a leadership team are fully committed to our “ALL-IN” gender diversity initiative.
Kindly highlight some recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are a part of.
There are significant number of initiatives across the firm that is focused on community upliftment and support. Deloitte encourages our people to follow their passion projects and give back to their various communities. We also work with various NGO’s and governmental institutions to do our bit for the country and the continent. Some of the recent ones include our association with World Economic Forum South Africa chapter, 4IRSA, United Way and Afrika Tikkun.
How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?
Key for this is to be deliberate on the net impact for the customer. In everything we do, we need to understand what tangible value we can or have added. Deloitte has people that are highly skilled, well-trained, and do impactful and purposeful work. Our professionalism and customer services is realised through them.
What values do you hold dear and why?
I have always believed that “intent matters more than technique”. Have the right intentions and try not to harm anyone else. We all have our ambitions and want to be the best version of ourselves, but don’t do it at somebody else’s expense.
Do you think your organisation is a great company to work for? If so, please elaborate in detail what makes it different from others in its field?
I have found that our entrepreneurial energy differentiates us from others. The “Impossible is nothing” attitude permeates throughout the organisation. Anyone with the right attitude and a good idea is backed to go execute on it. We are like 100 businesses within a business and many people get to feel and act like a mini CEO.
We are also part of a very successful global network that is performing ahead of our peers, however we are still given sufficient autonomy and entrepreneurial freedom to localise for our clients’ needs in Africa. This is quite different to traditional multinational companies.
When you not at work, what do you get up to including family life?
I enjoy social settings and meeting new people. I love being out with my wife or friends, whether it is to a new restaurant or to a good party. I also like travelling, golf, squash and cricket. I have two beautiful children who are 9 and 4 years who create a level of balance for me.
Where can people follow you online?
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