MUMBAI: Atleast 20 CXOs have been hired across India Inc in the last 10-12 months to drive digital transformation, marketing and innovation, in a testimony to how companies are jostling for senior talent to compete in an environment of sweeping digital change.
Leading headhunters say that the demand for the skills of such chief digital officers/digital transformation officers, coupled with a supply scarcity, has now pushed the salaries of top talent in this space up to and beyond the Rs 3.5 crore mark. Ganesh Ramamoorthy, research VP-Gartner said: "Today, the CDO is one of the top 3 important roles in many firms. In the last few years it has become a critical role and they report to the CEO and often are given same status as the chief marketing officer (CMO) or the chief information officer (CIO)."
India, in fact, is ahead of global trends in the appointment of chief digital officers (CDOs), says research firm Gartner. As per its CIO Survey report, in 2016, 20% of Indian organisations are opting for CDO roles whereas the comparable percentage globally is 9%.
Companies across sectors are aggressively looking to ramp up on this front and Reliance, Aditya Birla Group, Mahindra, RPG Group, Raymond, Birla Sun Life Insurance, L&T Infotech are just a few of the organisations that have hired digital talent for their top deck recently. In April, Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio roped in Vishal Sampat, former CEO, SMG Convonix, as chief digital officer to spearhead digital marketing initiatives for the telco.
Rajiv Rai joined Edelweiss Financial Services as CDO from HSBC Commercial Banking in the same month. Ritesh Arora, former managing partner, digital, at TCS joined CEAT Tyres as chief digital officer in May; so did Bhupesh Arya who joined DHFL Pramerica Life Insurance as CDO. At Aditya Birla Financial Services Group, Gaurav Zutshi came on board as CDO; Sriram Jagannathan joined Amazon from IDFC Bank where he was driving the digital and data strategy.
Other movements in the last 10 months include Anjali Malhotra, chief customer, marketing and digital officer who joined Aviva India from DishTv India last September; Rajesh Varrier who joined Birla Sun Life Insurance in November and Siddharth Bohra, who joined L&T Infotech as head of analytics and digital in September.
"Digital is fast becoming a way of life. Companies will have to hire talent in this space," says Saurabh Tripathi, partner and director at consulting major, the Boston Consulting Group. "We are now handling about 7-10 mandates for such roles compared to last year when the trend was just about starting," says K Sudarshan, managing partner, India for EMA Partners.
"It's a big shift that's happening." There are two parts to digital roles, he says. One: the digital marketing, front-end initiatives including how to make a company more visible from a digital presence. The other is digital transformation , which implies using technology to radically improve processes and transform the company.
"Digital is becoming embedded in every business. Even manufacturing companies are talking about it," says Sudarshan. R Suresh, managing director of RGF Executive Search, says that it has hired at least five CXOs for such positions in the past six months including for a bank, a multi-layer marketing company, a cosmetics company and a $50-billion group.
"These requirements are new. They didn't exist or more appropriately, the emphasis on digital and analytics expertise wasn't sought at all," he says. Hiring for digital roles has not been easy as demand has outstripped supply forcing headhunters, in some cases, to even look abroad for such hires.
"However, recent belt tightening in the e-commerce space has made it a talent pool of sorts," says Anuj Roy, partner, digital practice at executive search firm Transearch. He says even very traditional groups and companies are now approaching them to explore hiring for the digital piece.
"We are having conversations with clients to hire digital experts who have global expertise for an India focus. We are doing two such searches; one for the post of CEO of digital business and another for digital strategy head. Salaries offered are as high as half-a-million US dollar and they want the heads to help the company in its new phase of digitization," says Arun Das Mahapatra, partner in-charge of Heidrick & Struggles in India. Overall salaries are largely in Rs 1 crore-3.5 crore bracket, say headhunters.
Companies, on their part, are walking the talk. At the Mahindra Group, for instance, Anish Shah, group president (strategy), says that 7-8 people have been hired at the senior level in the digital field from global technology companies, start-ups, banking, retail and hospitality. "A concerted effort to enhance digital capabilities started about a year ago. We have an ambitious roadmap across all our sectors, so we continue to look for the best and brightest in this space," added Shah.
Globally, even conglomerates like GE that are mostly in traditional manufacturing businesses, have invested heavily in digital for market competitiveness and newer ways of augmenting efficiency, be it at an organisation, product or service level. It is also about moving up the value chain and offering a differentiated product or service.
Indian companies are now doing the same. RPG Group, for instance, has hired/transferred five resources in the digital space over the past three months. This number, says the company, will increase to 10-12 in the next one year. Titan has built up its digital function by bringing in a mix of external and internal people as appropriate. As part of its digital function of CRM, it has had Sanjay Narula joining in from Metro Cash and Carry. At Tata Global Beverages, another group company, digital strategy is the key to overall brand strategy.