Managing director of L’Oreal Malaysia discusses his life achievements
By LLOYD GREEN
Ashwin Rajgopal is a living proof that an emphasis on individuality, freedom of thought and a desire to “find your true calling in life” is a sustainable blueprint for achieving success in today’s business world.
Speaking on The Leaderonomics Show, the Indian-born Rajgopal shares his passion for identifying talent within the industry and harnessing a winning culture in individuals.
Having dedicated the past 13 years of his life to transforming the Indian, Indonesian and Malaysian offices of French-based cosmetics giant L’Oréal into booming financially profitable brands, Rajgopal highlights the key ingredients for tabulating successful leadership qualities within the corporate sphere.
Channelling an inspiration
So where did it all start?
“It wasn’t really planned for,” Rajgopal recalls, when quizzed on his entry into the industry after initially graduating with a Bachelor of Science from St Xavier’s College in Mumbai.
“It was one of those accidental turns in life. I really wanted to pursue my masters in biochemistry and I had everything carved out in that direction. In the interim, I found a job (at Blow Plast India, the largest luggage manufacturer in the country) and one thing led to the other. It turned out to be interesting and I thought my true calling lay in the corporate world.”
Before he knew it, Rajgopal waved goodbye to his biochemistry career and was thrust into the world of international business, spending two years in the Middle East working for the Al Tayer Group in Dubai.
Realising the need to cement his transition into the corporate market, Rajgopal travelled to France to accept a full scholarship at one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools INSEAD, completing his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) in 2001.
The rest, as they say, is history
His six-year posting as group project manager and then general manager, consumer products division at L’Oréal India, was followed by a successful four-year stint as general manager, consumer products division at L’Oréal Indonesia.
With his profile and reputation on the rise, Rajgopal was subsequently promoted to managing director of L’Oréal Malaysia in 2012 – a position that he has held since.
“Somewhere along the line you find your calling,” Rajgopal says.
“I think that comes in the form of your passion and you realise you are enjoying what you are doing. Today, it’s something that I thoroughly enjoy and I can see that in my work every day, so I know I took the right decision.”
Broadening your horizons
A matter close to the heart of Rajgopal, and one that has fuelled his passion and the passion of his staff, is that of “mobility”.
Rajgopal is a big advocate of empowering individuals to channel their inner entrepreneurial qualities. He insists his fortune in being able to live and work overseas early in his career has given him the necessary perspective and breadth of global knowledge to achieve the success he has.
“My recommendation is to travel as much as you can early in your career, try to pick up assignments in different countries and you will always come back a stronger professional,” advises Rajgopal.
“I think what adds to the self-dimension when you travel is the fact that you’re able to aggregate opinions that stem from different cultures.”
“You’re able to look at viewpoints that have been shared by different upbringings, different schools of thought. What then happens is that your own opinions thereafter are stronger. You are more robust when you have a point of view.”
At L’Oréal Malaysia, Rajgopal is passionate about instilling “mobility” in his young talent with many aspiring employees being encouraged to take up postings in Singapore, Paris and Shanghai.
He believes travel enables the individual to harness greater freedom of thought – a point that compliments his company philosophy of being an “individual-led” organisation, rather than relying on processes and systems.
“What’s imperative is who you are as an individual and how entrepreneurial are you within the organisation. So we look for leaders right from the start,” he adds.
“A lot of our development is mobility-driven. It is our belief the more globally exposed young talents are, the better they are able to deliver when they come back.
“We want to ensure that individuals are able to rise above the process. We really encourage talent within the organisation to confront in a very positive manner, to bring in opinions to the table, to bring in a point of view and get people to speak their minds.”
Reaching your potential
Being able to transfer that courage and independent thinking into career results is another weapon in Rajgopal’s armoury. He adds that he has a much better sense of readiness within him to deal with potential unforeseen challenges as a result of his holistic development.
Three things he strongly adheres to when dealing with complicated issues are developing a vigorous work ethic, associating himself with talented people, and maintaining a work-life balance.
His emphasis on “talent” shines through, outlining how essential it is as a leader to associate yourself with talent.
“You never know when talent is going to come to your rescue,” he says.
“You need people who have the innate ability to deal with risk, who are very authoritative with their thinking and very clear cut. These are the qualities that you need.”
With talent, comes management, and Rajgopal is equally concerned at developing a healthy work environment for both himself and his staff.
“I don’t work on weekends and I don’t encourage my team to work on weekends,” the cosmetics industry guru enthuses.
“What you get out of life depends on what you put into it.” (He reads and plays tennis with his son as a form of renewal).
He adds, “You always need to have your life in balance. If it’s not and it’s unfavourably tilted, when the challenge manifests itself, you might be ill-equipped.”
Rajgopal’s image as an industry leader speaks for itself. His passion for success is articulated in each word he delivers. The qualities that have seen him rise to the top are simple yet indicative of the courage he has displayed.
As a result, Rajgopal is unabashed about sharing his wisdom with others and is dedicated to inspiring a generation of talented professionals.
Here is Rajgopal’s response on our Thinkonomics question of the week: Relationships
What is the most important ingredient for you to establish a strong relationship?
The epicentre is trust. It’s not just blind faith, it has to be trust that has been demonstrated through actions. It’s not something that should be taken for granted. It’s not something that should be dictated by the relationship. It is something that has to be cultivated. You’ve got to earn it, but once it’s there, it’s probably the fulcrum.
Watch the interview with Ashwin Rajgopal on The Leaderonomics Show below: