Leadership Spotlight: Series of Exclusive Interviews

Manish Ballani, CEO of Propella Consulting Group in Conversation with Dinesh Dayal, CEO of La Terre Group and Ex-COO of L’Oréal India


Month – November 2023

LinkedIn – Manish Ballani

LinkedIn – Dinesh Dayal

Delve into the depths of industry expertise with our exclusive interview led by Manish Ballani, CEO of Propella Consulting Group, with Dinesh Dayal, CEO of La Terre Group and Ex-COO of L’Oréal India, President at IBHA. Recognized as an advisor, mentor, and visionary, Mr. Dayal has played a pivotal role in expanding L’Oréal Group’s presence across South Asia and establishing L’Oréal India operations.

Prioritizing mental wellness is the key to flourishing life. Watch this in-depth conversation between Manish Ballani and Dinesh Dayal on preventing burnout and nurturing mental well-being in the fast-paced corporate landscape. Discover practical insights on balancing work and personal life and fostering resilience to overcome professional hurdles. 

Join us on a thought-provoking journey as we dive into the profound leadership insights of Mr. Dayal. Explore the evolution of leadership styles, from traditional practices to contemporary strategies that are shaping the dynamic business landscape of today. Uncover the wealth of knowledge and lessons derived from his extensive experience, providing a distinctive perspective on effectively navigating the ever-evolving realm of leadership excellence.

“Leadership and Innovation: Lessons from Dinesh Dayal, Ex-COO of L’Oréal India” – Read the Full Conversation


Q1. You’ve had a remarkable journey leading the team of L’Oréal India for over 30 years and establishing it into a thriving business. Could you share your insights on how India as a business landscape has changed during your career, and what challenges and opportunities this transformation has presented for leaders?

I have had the privilege of witnessing India’s economic evolution through three distinct phases. The initial phase, preceding the 1991 reforms, featured a closed economy with limited innovation and sluggish GDP growth. However, in early 90’s India began opening to the private sector, leading to increased economic growth as policies were liberalized.

The second phase, around 2000, marked the emergence of the IT industry and the internet revolution, fundamentally transforming business practices and India saw a surge in its economy that put India on the global map.

The third phase, starting around 2014, saw significant economic growth driven by manufacturing, infrastructure development, and the rise of the middle class. Government initiatives and demographic shifts further catalyzed this growth.

During these transformative years, India experienced a remarkable resurgence, akin to a phoenix rising from its own ashes. Sweeping reforms across social, economic, and political realms ushered in a new era of transformation. Amid these changes, we entered a new era where behavioral and macroeconomic shifts converged. With rising disposable income, individuals are increasingly inclined to invest in travel, fashion, and indulgence. There is a growing emphasis on brand consciousness, with people willing to allocate higher budgets to acquire the products they desire. On average, the current generation is taking 2-to-5 vacations annually, signifying a notable departure from the cost-saving mindset of the 1990s.

In response to this evolving landscape, leadership in India underwent a remarkable transformation. In the beginning of 90’s, India had a limited number of prominent companies and making entry into any of them was quite challenging. Previously, organizational leadership operated in a top-down manner, with hierarchy playing a pivotal role. This work style resulted in an imbalanced opportunity for advancement without the support of your leader. During that era, the prevailing sentiment was one of survival, and individuals possessing knowledge were often perceived as threats rather than assets.

Fortunately, India experienced a substantial influx of multinational corporations (MNCs) in the early 2000s, opening numerous opportunities for emerging leaders. Globalization played a pivotal role in shifting the leadership style from top-down to a more bottom-up or flat culture. This transformation not only impacted leadership styles but also the mindset of leaders, who began to place greater value on knowledge and expertise.


Q2.  In your role as the President of the Indian Beauty and Hygiene Association (IBHA), you interact with a lot of the leaders who are shaping the industry today. How do you see the skills set required for leadership evolving in today’s fast-paced business environment, than how it probably was a decade or two ago?

In today’s leadership landscape, several significant changes have come to the forefront. Firstly, we’re witnessing a generational shift with younger leaders taking charge. They bring a collaborative approach to leadership, which is a stark departure from traditional top-down management styles. Leaders today recognize the value of humility and collaboration, understanding that creativity and innovation can come from any team member.

Secondly, the abundance of data has necessitated a higher level of wisdom in leadership. Access to data alone doesn’t guarantee effective decision-making. Leaders now need to be savvier in handling market information and consumer data. They understand that data can be manipulated, and they use it wisely in their decision-making processes.

Lastly, the marketplace has evolved significantly. Large, established brands no longer hold an exclusive advantage. Consumers are open to exploring products and services from smaller, more agile players. This democratization of innovation has created a level playing field, where even newcomers can thrive. Leaders must adapt to this new reality, recognizing that the market is no longer a one-way push but a dynamic space where consumer preferences and loyalty can shift rapidly.

Overall, leaders today must be agile, digitally savvy, and capable of fostering collaboration while navigating a marketplace that welcomes innovation from both large and small players.


Q3. How would you describe your approach to identifying, establishing, and cultivating high-productive and cohesive leadership teams? What would be your recommendations to the aspiring CXOs to foster such teams?

In my perspective, the ideal approach to building a leadership team involves a blend of traditional and contemporary qualities. I often lean towards younger individuals with less experience but substantial intellectual capabilities. It’s essential to seek out highly intelligent individuals who possess a deep understanding and passion for your core product or service.

While they may not have the extensive experience that some candidates might have, they compensate for it with their eagerness to contribute, innovate, and promote your product or service. These individuals can be considered as “racehorses” in your team. They’re identified through a combination of rigorous evaluation, references, and a track record of disruptive and fearless accomplishments. They can be groomed and given the opportunity to scale their expertise on a larger stage.

However, leadership isn’t just about being a racehorse. It also involves the ability to collaborate effectively with a diverse team. These leaders must know how to work alongside other high performers and complementary team members, creating a harmonious and productive dynamic. This mix of “pillars” and “stars” is vital for a well-rounded and successful leadership team.


Q4. As the Founder and CEO of La Terre, you mentor multiple high-growth potential start-ups, many have likely adopted remote or hybrid working. Given the rising importance of soft skills in leadership, particularly in remote work setups, could you share your perspective on the unique challenges and strategies for nurturing these skills in a virtual leadership context?

In today’s business landscape, the hybrid model of meetings, combining virtual and face-to-face interactions, is key to success. The choice between the two depends on factors such as the nature of the issues, the size of the audience, and the stage of the business.

For startups, face-to-face meetings are often more essential, especially in the early stages. Startups are in the learning phase, acquiring new skills, and gaining critical insights. For example, I’m currently advising a skincare startup with expertise in formulations but needing guidance in go-to-market strategies. In such cases, direct contact and face-to-face meetings are vital for knowledge transfer and hands-on guidance.

As businesses mature and processes become more streamlined, virtual meetings become more prevalent. However, effective soft skills are crucial in virtual interactions. Without the benefit of facial expressions and body language, clear communication and active listening become imperative. Leaders must ensure that dissent or counterpoints are expressed openly during virtual meetings to prevent poor-quality decision-making. Clear agendas, punctuality, and covering all relevant points are crucial in both virtual and face-to-face meetings, ensuring productive discussions and efficient decision-making.


 Q5. Let’s talk about mental health and work-life balance, something that wasn’t given any importance until recently. What advice would you give people with regards to maintaining this balance to avoid burn-out in high pressure jobs.

Achieving a work-life balance is a multifaceted challenge that requires a personalized approach. I firmly believe in this balance and have practiced it throughout my career, even while launching new ventures. Personally, I’ve always identified more with an adventurous, sporty lifestyle rather than an intellectual one. This recognition of my interests outside of work has been pivotal.

I advocate that everyone should define what makes them feel complete beyond their professional roles. As you transition into your thirties, make a conscious effort to allocate time to these interests, whether they’re hobbies, passions, or activities. This balance not only rejuvenates you but also adds depth to your identity.

Planning plays a significant role in achieving work-life harmony. I, for example, engage in yearly planning, allocating time for holidays and personal pursuits. This approach ensures that personal time is safeguarded. In today’s environment, companies are more supportive of employees taking their entitled leaves.

One piece of advice I’d offer is not allowing yourself to be coerced by superiors or colleagues when it comes to your personal time. Stand firm on your right to a balanced life. Having the confidence to assert your boundaries is crucial.

Lastly, a practical tip for preventing burnout is to manage your Monday effectively. Reserve the first few hours for your own priorities, avoiding impromptu meetings and requests from others. This approach sets a positive tone for the entire week and maximizes your productivity.