7 Questions with Shailesh Chaturvedi, CEO of Tommy Hilfiger India

7 Questions with Shailesh Chaturvedi, CEO of Tommy Hilfiger IndiaShailesh Chaturvedi is a recognized name in the fashion industry in India and a pioneer in the development of premium international brands in the country.

As managing director and CEO of Tommy Hilfiger India, “the most admired premium lifestyle brand in India” according to the Images Fashion Forum, he was recognized by “Business Today” as one of the top 10 young CEOs in India in 2009. He joined Young Presidents’ Organization in the Bangalore Chapter in 2011. But beyond the accolades and recognition for leading one of the fastest-growing fashion brands in the country, is a deeply humane business leader driving business excellence through values of ancient Indian philosophy.

You have an engineering degree and an MBA, but started your career with global fashion brands in India. How did this come about?

I was able to recognize early in my career that that the Indian business scene was getting more global. After completing my engineering and MBA degrees, I pursued what I saw as opportunities for international brands, first joining Madura Group, the Indian arms of the British Coats Viyella group where I secured strategic tie ups with international brands for their entry into Indian market. The efforts resulted in the tie up with Esprit brand from Germany in 2005. After 13 years there, I moved to Asia Pac Wholesale business of Benetton Plc, Italy based at Hong Kong and for the last nine years, I have been leading Tommy Hilfiger in India.

The key turning point was in 2002 when the Indian economy started picking up. It was then that I was able to convince my company to let me approach big brands. I was able to meet CEOs of the top fashion businesses in the world to explore opportunities, again based on my personal belief that India will upgrade and integrate with the rest of the world.


What is the top challenge for business leaders today?

I think inspiring minds of a young team is the most fascinating challenge for business leaders today, specifically in India.

India is one of the youngest countries in the world with median age of 27 years old. In a way, it is a millennial country full of a very young, digital-savvy group of consumers with different consumption patterns than the previous generation. This marks a very big change in our economy and we need to be prepared to meet their needs.

As a country and company, we need to make ourselves future ready to service them as they become more affluent. Our research says this is the first truly global generation. There is still disparity in terms of income levels but emerging markets are growing fast and catching up.

What is one must-read book for business leaders?

“Srimad Bhagavad Geeta” is a very spiritual book based on ancient Indian philosophy. The focus is on karma and the significance of one’s actions. It provides spiritual guidance that can be applied to modern workplace.

For example, the philosophy encourages focusing on the work and task at hand, and not on results. It is something I always tell my team to do. Positive output will happen, but they need to focus on input first.

Complete the sentence: “If I was not a business leader, I would be a…”

If I was not a business leader, I would be a teacher because I enjoy interacting with young minds. We are very fortunate in India to work with young passionate talent. When your team is so dedicated, as a CEO, you need to give back and provide them with recognition.

In India, it is not uncommon for young people to work on holidays and overtime. So a lot of time and energy is spent on work. Compassion is therefore very important. Business leaders need to interact with their team, recognize them and show empathy and compassion to support them to sharpen their tools.

I sometime see business leaders getting corporatized and focusing only on numbers. However, there is a need to acknowledge the team that is contributing so much and this I think it an important aspect of leadership. Inspiring minds of a young team is the most fascinating challenge for business leaders today.

What is the most difficult leadership lesson you’ve learned?

Whatever level you reach, getting better should never stop. We need to constantly invest in improvements and learning.

I have been inspired by business management through leaders such as Peter Drucker, Deming, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs and of course, Tommy Hilfiger. But I have also gained a few insights on business from Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

What are the top three insights you would like to share?

My firmly held belief is that there are no short cuts to success.

There is no wisdom without love and care. Corporate world is starved of compassion.

Keep an eye on millennials. They are going to be a big force very soon.

How has being in YPO positively affected your business or leadership?

The YPO forum experience continues to play a very important role in my life. I have been a member since 2011 and joined a forum the same year. Since then, my forum has been a very unique sounding board where I can share experience and get unbiased confidential feedback. I have been able to share challenges and doubts with seasoned business people through unique platform. I am also able to apply the same forum principles and practices with my team at work as well as in my personal life.

(The author of this article is Rola Tassabehji, Regional marketing manager for MENA, Africa and Europe)