The Forbes India Leadership Awards (FILA), now in its 11th year, is an acknowledgement of corporate excellence, visionary leadership and innovation. Most corporates have come out of the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic reflecting better realisations, but profitability was muted due to rising costs or uneven consumption demand during the second wave.
The IT sector saw a strong surge in revenues, but FMCG, automobile and hospitality continued to face headwinds on margins and volumes. It has resulted in muted growth for the services and small business sectors. Statistically, though, India’s pace of growth is likely to expand by 8.9 percent for the full fiscal ending March 2022, due to the low base of 2020-21.
The pick-up in activity, particularly in the ecommerce and technology-led businesses, meant that it required a deep dive into the businesses and investments into various startups—both well-established ones and those which had turned unicorns and had the potential to become larger corporates.
Our distinguished jury used these themes to identify companies and business leaders worthy of corporate honours. We introduced two new awards this year: Unique Unicorns and Green Warriors to recognise companies that had transformed their businesses towards clean energy from traditional sources and generated scale.
Achieving corporate excellence, turning around business fortunes or scaling up startups remain the underlying themes to find leaders who were thinking out-of-the-box or had been doing this consistently. Besides the quantitative data, which includes operating performance and efficiency measures, we looked at leadership skills and the quality of corporate governance to determine candidates.
Girish Mathrubootham wins Entrepreneur of the Year for successfully building a $12 billion technology giant, Freshworks, which got listed on the Nasdaq in 2021. Prathap Reddy, founder of Apollo Hospitals, won the Lifetime Achievement award for successfully expanding the massive corporate chain of hospitals.
Aman Gupta and Sameer Mehta, who co-founded homegrown consumer electronics brand boAt, won the Outstanding Startup award for building the fifth largest wearable brand globally, with revenues in excess of `1,500 crore in the first half of FY22.
Rohini Nilekani, who along with husband Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, signed the Giving Pledge to donate half of their personal wealth to charity, won the Grassroots Philanthropist award while ICICI Bank, led by Sandeep Bakhshi, won the Company of the Year award. Farah Malik Bhanji and Alisha Malik, daughters of Metro Brands Chairman Rafique Malik, bagged the GenNext Entrepreneur award, for a successful expansion and listing at the markets in 2021.
India’s corporates are less leveraged than previous years, but private capex plans are unlikely to commence in a hurry. Job creation and income growth will be even more challenging. The global and domestic business environment has turned challenging, as central banks globally are sucking out liquidity to lower growth and demand to curb rising inflation. The need for FY23 could be to discover leadership that has successfully turned around businesses.
The process started almost three months ago, with extensive research on qualitative and quantitative parameters. The long list of names in each category was whittled down by mid-January and narrowed down to a strong set of six to 11 nominations per category. In early February, the high-powered jury headed by Harsh Mariwala, founder and chairman of Marico, debated the nominations to decide the winners. The other jury members were Ashu Suyash, Saurabh Mukherjea, Rajat Dhawan, V Vaidyanathan and Ankur Gupta. Venture Intelligence, which tracks private company financials, private equity transactions and mergers, and Tofler, a new-age business intelligence platform, helped with financial data of listed and unlisted firms respectively.
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(This story appears in the 25 March, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)