Sunday 12 May 2013

Bateman Interviews: CEO - "I'm a guy who gets things done"

It’s been a while since I posted a new interview, so I thought what better way to get back to the job than an interview with the top guy in a company? I recently got a chance to have a lengthy one-on-one conversation with CEO of the biggest flower company in India. He is a person who has reached where he is today, solely on the basis of sheer hard work and a determination to move ahead. In today’s plethora of MBA-wielding C-level executives, it’s hard to believe that he is not even a graduate. Today, he has over 27 years of experience and is considered an authority in the retail and e-commerce segments.

Read on if you are interested in a wealth of free information in an uninhibited conversation, with the sort of person most of us don’t even get to meet. Without further ado, presenting Mr. Pawan Gadia, CEO, Ferns N Petals.

Bateman: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Before we delve into where you are today, could you tell us about your background and your journey till the present?
Mr. Gadia: The best job description for all the jobs I have ever held is, “A guy who gets things done”. I dropped out of school after 10th standard and started working at the age of 16 as a trainee in a manufacturing company. Even as a trainee, the best part of my job was the freedom to do things the way I wanted to do, in the context of my limited responsibilities.

By the time I was 18, I joined another company as in-charge of all North Indian sales. This job required traveling all around the region, ensuring that whatever was required to be done gets done. I was also handed the responsibility of building and operating a new factory in a new location; right from identification of the land to commencement and running of operations. Again, it was up to me to determine the best way possible for executing every aspect of the job.

A few years later, I joined another manufacturing company as the person-in-charge of their factory and helped them quadruple their turnover in the couple of years I was there. My fourth job was again as a plant manager, with the responsibility for setting up the plant from scratch and bringing it up to profitable standards.

And finally in 2001, I joined Ferns ‘n’ Petals as General Manager of all retail shops of the company, with the initial objective of expanding the retail operations of the company.

Bateman: Great, thanks for the detailed description! We’ll come back to your job at Ferns N Petals in a bit.
From your journey, it seems that qualification does not matter so much after all if you have the grit and the willingness to plow ahead.
Mr. Gadia: I would not say that qualification does not matter; in fact, I firmly believe in getting the best education possible. When I started, my biggest weakness was that I did not have the theoretical knowledge that one gets from education. Whatever I knew, I learned on the job. In hindsight, a lot of the mistakes that I made might have been avoided if I had that theoretical backing. Thus, I would never deny the value of getting educated.

Bateman: Agreed. So coming back to the present, what do you basically do as the CEO?
Mr. Gadia: My paramount responsibility is to ensure that the organization grows. We constantly look at the growth percentage that we achieved last year and aim to do more than what we did last year. Towards that end, I have to make sure that I am surrounded by not just the best, but a highly motivated team. I need to be aware of what the competition is doing, and move our strategies accordingly. Similarly, I need to be on top of the new technologies and ideas that are surrounding our business.

Bateman: Or in other words, you have to be a jack of all trades! Not everyone’s cup of tea.
What about your daily routine? What is a typical day in the life of a CEO like?
Mr. Gadia: My daily routine is generally like this:
6:30 am:
Wake up. Before I reach office, I read three newspapers (Times of India, Hindustan Times and Economic Times). I get updated on what happened in sales the previous day, as well as review an in-depth summary of the previous day’s events sent to me by my staff.

9-9:30 am
Reach office and chart out the rest of the day, read and respond to emails. After that, I meet the MD for 15-20 minutes to discuss updates, strategies and growth of our business.

10:15-11:00 am
Meetings with heads of all divisions of the organization

11:00 am
Internal team meeting specially for the e-commerce division. Here we discuss updates on the website, any pending issues, agenda for the day and how to move forward.

12-1:30 pm
Outside meetings, like job interviews, meetings with sales representatives, technology representatives and so on and so forth

1:30-2:00 pm

2-3:30 pm
Meetings with the rest of the divisions on requirement basis

3:30-4:00 pm
Leave from office for shop tours, outside meetings with auditors, ERP consultants, etc. No fixed time for reaching home, but it’s usually sometime around 8:00 pm.

Bateman: Busy day! Seems like a major part of the CEO’s job involves high level troubleshooting and planning. So what is the most challenging part of your job?
Mr. Gadia: Well, the biggest challenge is getting up at 6:30 am every day. But other than that, I feel that the technology that we have in business is very slow and the businesses themselves are resistant to change.
Overseas, I have seen bouquets being manufactured in an assembly line, similar to the way auto companies manufacture cars. There will be hundreds of employees sitting along the assembly line, each employee performing one single function the whole day, for 1000’s of bouquets. Seeing such advances, I wish the technology would grow faster in India as well, and be embraced instead of spurned.

Bateman: That sounds like an inhumanely boring job, until I realize that such a method would increase the productivity exponentially. And as for the first part of your answer, I believe that’s something which all of us can relate to.
Has there been any time of utter desperation, when you just wanted to give up and quit it all?
Mr. Gadia: Of course, numerous times. But the more important question is how to deal with it. 90% of the time when we are in such a situation, we already know what’s good and what’s bad, but it’s the ego that’s driving us to the wrong end.
Whenever there is such a situation, don’t take the decision immediately, or even the same day. Sleep over it and make your decision the next day. Giving your mind a pause makes you see things with much more clarity; and the decision that you ultimately take is much less emotional.

Bateman: That makes sense. What about the part of your job that you love the most?
Mr. Gadia: The thing that I love the most is having the freedom to do what I want. If I feel like the website needs to be modified or updated, I can get it done. It can be anything, be it a new idea, experimentation in terms of a new product line, or a different agency – imagination is the limit.

Bateman: Freedom of imagination and execution is probably what people miss in their jobs. Speaking of people, what do you look for in a potential hire?
Mr. Gadia: I don’t look at bean counters. I prefer to determine whether the person has the skill required for the job, can communicate well, wants to work hard and move ahead. A lot of it is based on intuition, on what I feel about the person.
I may notice a person I’d like to have on my team anywhere – in auto showrooms, or wherever. If I like the person, I’ll hand him my card. It matters on the individual.

Bateman: And what it is that you feel is missing in today’s candidates?
Mr. Gadia: Many people today have no sense of responsibility of what they are doing or want to do. If I’m interviewing a candidate, I will expect him to know about the company, about who we are and what we do.
Most importantly, when someone is handed a job, or a responsibility, he or she should ensure that they own up to the job fully. People tend to do their 10-to-6 job and don’t bother about it before and after that period, there is no proactive thinking. This sense of ownership is what I feel is missing the most in today’s candidates.

Bateman: And specifically in context of those who want to work in finance, what would be your advice?
Mr. Gadia: If you want to work in finance, you should be able to read the balance sheet like a book. Know everything about the business you are dealing with, and know even more about what you yourself are tasked with.
I don’t mean to brag, but to give you an example, I have numerous CA’s working for me, but I know more about the business than they do. If I ask for a figure, or a statistic, or an operational metric, you should be able to hand it out; which, sadly, many people are not able to.
Also, while studying, please go in for internships. And when you do, request the management to hand you some real work. Say you are asked to pass an entry in Tally or whatever ERP you’re working in. Learn not only how to pass the entry, but also how that entry affects, or what impact it has on the overall financials of the Company. Work experience while you are studying is crucial and will be extremely beneficial when you go in for a real job.

Bateman: Thank you, much of what you said resonates with what I keep hearing over and over again from my past and current seniors, especially the part about being able to read the Balance Sheet like a book and about understanding the bigger picture.
Finding a mentor in the industry is also something that I have been recommended multiple times. But how can we actually go about finding a mentor?
Mr. Gadia: Ask. Pick any CEO or CFO that you like and admire, and send them an email requesting an hour of their time every month. You’ll be surprised, 90% of them will say yes. Most of the people in the industry want to contribute to the society and will be happy and willing to help out younger people.

Bateman: Thanks for the tip; I need to try this out! Now let’s move on to the lighter side of the business. Any interesting incidents during your life as a CEO?
Mr. Gadia: Sure, there are many. One that stands out is when we were required to deliver a bouquet on one day’s notice and failed to do so. The customer who had placed the order personally came to my office to see me, and said, “I had asked you to deliver the bouquet, but you did not do so. It was meant for my wife, and we are going through a very difficult period right now. I was sure that the flowers would make a difference. For you, it’s a business; but for me, it’s a matter of my reputation and my love for her. I have not come here to scream at you or to ask for money. I just want you to realize the importance of what you are doing.

Note: There are some more interesting incidents concerning Mr. Gadia, which I have come across via other reliable, confidential sources:
  • When attending page 3 parties, he has been known to change right outside the party venue, for the lack of time. 
  • Apparently, he works 365 days a year, including Sundays and even vacations. 
  • His team does not actually have any “off day” – they’re on call 24/7. His team is known to receive emails at all times of the day, be it 11 pm or 3 am. 
  • Values his privacy a lot. HR staff has been known to send out company-wide emails, asking the employees not to mention his anniversary or birthday on the respective occasions.
Bateman: That seems to have left a mark on you, because if there’s one thing that Ferns N Petals is famous for, it’s their timely deliveries.
Well, that brings us to the end of the interview. Any parting advice?
Mr. Gadia: Read a lot, especially books on people who have done well in life. Some of my recommendations are:
  • Good to Great – Jim Collins 
  • Execution – Larry Bossidy (CEO of General Electric, later of Honeywell) 
  • Open – Autobiography of Andre Agassi 
  • Autobiography of Lee Iacocca (Chairman of Chrysler) 
  • Simply Fly – Autobiography of Captain Gopinath (Pioneer of India’s first ever low-cost airline) 
  • Cold Steel – Book on Laxmi Mittal’s takeover of Arcelor
Bateman: Great, thanks a lot for your time and advice!
Mr. Gadia: It was a pleasure. All the best!

Note: Ferns N Petals is India’s biggest flower retailer, involved in retail and franchising, e-commerce, event decorations and FNP Floral Design School. Beginning with 1 store in 1994, today it is a behemoth with 141 stores across 50 cities in India, and deliveries across 150 countries worldwide.

To visit Pawan Gadia’s Linkedin profile, click HERE.


  1. Very inspiring work ethic and attitude towards life...

  2. You are writing some Amazing tips. This article really helped me a lot. Thanks for sharing this blog.
    ferns n petals coupons

  3. You are writing some Amazing tips.
    Hindi News