It was a sign of the times.
It was an event on Design, hosted by the hugely popular business newspaper Economic Times in India.
In that just concluded ET Design Summit 2015, in Mumbai, Mr Navroze Godrej, was quoted as saying ‘ Design should be elevated to the Boardroom level, if business is to make design really work at senior level.’ Noble thought that. Navroze is singularly qualified to say this. He is the new generation Godrej in the Board of Godrej & Boyce, who is also a qualified industrial designer from IIT Institute of Design, Chicago. He is also credited with introducing disruptive innovation in the company by setting up an Innovation centre at Godrej.
As a fellow designer, I am happy that he is using his position of power to create Design awareness. Navroze is in the board, because he is a Godrej and an heir apparent to the group of companies. He can also be the poster boy for the Boardroom designer, a new spin-off to the design professional in India.
Another designer who is using her design skills to design strategy instead of stuff is Ashni Biyani, director in the Future Group board, that is led by her famous father, Kishore Biyani.
Ashni has even better credentials. After she graduated in Textiles Design from Srishti School of Art & Design, Bangalore, she did design courses in Parsons and then a management qualification from Stanford, only to come back and join the Future group, the big dad of retailing in India. She is being credited with single-handedly bringing design-led thinking to the group that owns brands like Big Bazaar, Nilgiris and Central. Ashni is known to influence the entire group into Design thinking and helps strategising the business.
Suddenly, Design is being looked upon as the Holy Grail that will bring succour to the businesses in India. Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys and an ex-SAP man, seems to have ordained all the 5000-plus staff in Infosys to go through a programme on Design Thinking. That his ex-company SAP’s Hasso Plattner also supports the d* school in Stanford, shows where Mr Sikka’s influence comes from. He claims that, “..design thinking, a creative and systematic approach to problem-solving by placing the user at the centre of the experience, has helped the business win five large deals.” Sikka should be made the patron saint of design thinking.
In what can be termed as an industry-first, he has roped in design professionals to help his sales team to write and design sales pitches.
Godrej and Biyani have found their way into the board room, more because they have the chosen surnames and not because that they are designers. But, seemingly, they are leveraging their position of power to spread the cause of Design thinking. When they move on to higher positions, they would be keen to use professional designers, who may not be family.
Long time ago, in 2011, Time magazine had waxed eloquent about the Indian CEO. I had written a post on this, pitching for Designers as CEOs, which was received very well.
“What I find interesting is the attributes that Indians have that is apparently tailor-made for operating in the chaotic world today: Multi culturalism, ability to work under complex constraints, working with meagre or depleting resources and speaking the global business language : English.
With all these qualities and the ability to come up with beautiful attractive, cost-effective solutions, applying design thinking, makes the Indian designer ready and primed for the post of the global CEO.”
I am happy to see that a beginning has been made. Designers entering the board room, will definitely make an impact in businesses and the sooner the businesses learn that, the better.
Designers are going to give their MBA counter-parts in businesses something to think about.