The problem: Many firms in the post pandemic era have a pent-up need to fill their leadership pipelines fast but lack quick moving successions.

Why it matters: Too much business can be lost if the right leadership isn’t in place.

The solution: At Vedanta, the answer was to fast-track identifying and assessing successors and move them into new roles immediately instead of waiting for them to become vacant.

When Vinod Jangir was told he was in line to be his business unit’s next CEO, he figured he would be groomed for a few years before moving into the position. After all, he was trained as an engineer and his only prior leadership experience was as the General Manager of the unit. But less than a month after receiving the news, Jangir was leading one of the units of Hindustan Zinc, a $4 billion revenue generating subsidiary of Vedanta and the world’s second-largest zinc producer.

“The feeling was out of this world,” says Jangir, who received his promotion after a colleague in human resources encouraged him to take part in the unique succession process. “Initially I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take part, but my colleague encouraged me to apply.”

For a company like Vedanta, a $30 billion firm with about 20,000 potential leaders across multiple business units, a comprehensive succession process could take up to two years or more. But Vedanta’s leaders didn’t feel they had that much time. As COVID waned, the natural resources market in India started opening up quickly, and Vedanta had ambitious plans. Among its goals, according to Deputy Group CHRO Praveen Purohit, were to double its capacity and production across all businesses.

“Vedanta turned succession planning on its head.”

Across the globe, many firms in the post pandemic era found themselves short of leadership talent—and then faced a pent-up need to populate the leadership pipeline quickly. In the natural resources sector in particular, finding talent is difficult and expensive, since there are only a few large diversified natural resources companies making up the bulk of the industry. “We didn’t want to take two years,” says Purohit. “Aligned to our core philosophy of growing leaders from within, we wanted to identify leaders and get them into new roles right away, even if they were not fully ready.”

It would require a succession process that could move as fast as business in the post-COVID era. So, Anil Agarwal, Vedanta’s Founder, and Executive Vice Chairman Navin Agarwal came up with a monumental challenge: complete the process in five to six weeks. They had the vision and were staunchly committed to it, which inspired everyone involved,” says Navnit Singh, Chairman and Regional Managing Director of India for Korn Ferry. “They turned the succession planning on its head.”

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To get a sense of how large the challenge was, consider that the process, dubbed internally as the “Management Act-Up” program, started with 1,800 candidates. Talent analytics quickly whittled the list of candidates to 500, and conducted testing to identify traits, drivers, experiences and other factors that were mapped to success profiles, created by Korn Ferry to further dwindle the number of prospects down to about 230. 

Still, for Vedanta to meet its accelerated timeline, there needed to be a way to assess the remaining candidates quickly and efficiently. The team, led internally by Purohit and at Korn Ferry by Sandeep Bhalla, a senior partner & consulting leader in India, found inspiration in the television show “Shark Tank.” The hit show features entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to an expert panel of established business leaders and investors, who provide real-time feedback and make on-the-spot decisions about whether to invest or not. 

“Instead of the traditional assessment process, which could take several months, we thought why not assess them on the spot like in ‘Shark Tank,’” says Bhalla. 

Such an approach likely wouldn’t have worked at most other Indian companies, says Parikshit Bhasin, a former MD at Nokia India who was on the panel. “I was amazed to see an Indian company trying this innovative strategy to give opportunities to its internal talent,” says Bhasin, crediting Vedanta’s founders with the vision and commitment to carry it through. 

The panel of external experts convened by the company spanned a wide range of fields and functions, from board directors, ex-CEOs/CFOs and former industry leaders to legal, human resources and finance executives. The 230 shortlisted executives were asked to pitch the panel on a plan related to a critical Vedanta business priority and their personal aspiration, which was also a unique element since most succession evaluations involve simulating a business issue or experience. The pitch consisted of a 30-minute presentation and another half-hour for questions from the panel. Afterward, panelists convened to score candidates on five criteria—among them strategic thinking, commercial acumen, innovation and ability to influence stakeholders—and give developmental feedback in real-time.

“Instead of the traditional assessment process, which could take several months, we thought why not assess them on the spot like in ‘Shark Tank.’”

One other unique aspect of the program was that panelists were given a list of available roles and Vedanta empowered them to suggest the best suitable candidates, says Seher Ali, a partner at law firm Antares Legal and member of the external expert panel. These roles were then aligned with each candidate separately along with the buy-in of the business CEO and CHRO. 

For example, Ali cites a senior leader from the finance department who could become a CFO within the next few years. “He had very strong innovation skills and ideas so we suggested a senior business role in another department where he could build and use those skills,” says Ali. 

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When it comes to succession planning, most organizations devote their energy to assessing talent but pay little attention when it comes to the actual handover. Think of it like a pitcher in baseball who focuses too much on the wind up and not enough on the follow through. Except instead of walking the batter or giving up a hit, in the corporate world the result is that successors often struggle with their new responsibilities and leave the firm, says Bhalla.

Turnover in the natural resources industry has been elevated since the pandemic, and one of Vedanta’s key goals for the succession exercise was to strengthen and create a future-ready leadership pipeline.

So the company decided that, rather than waiting for a vacancy to open up, it would put successors in their new positions immediately. Sometimes that meant creating new positions, moving to a different business unit or location, or dividing responsibilities. Data from the process showed that 40% of successors identified ended up moving across business units or locations, for instance, and dozens of deputy or shadow roles were created. Vedanta is also partnering with colleges and universities internationally and in India on leadership and business training and development for its next generation of leaders. “We felt that even if they weren’t fully ready to take on the role, if we gave them ownership and surrounded them with the support they needed, they would succeed,” says Purohit. “This is an integral part of our people philosophy and has been successful time and again.”

As an outcome, 107 leaders were identified and elevated into CXO and CXO-1 roles across businesses, units and functions. This included 33% women leaders and 60% from operation related functions. Doing that required an unprecedented amount of collaboration and buy-in from Vedanta’s CEOs, executive management teams, and incumbent leaders. As Korn Ferry’s Singh notes, for this plan to work business unit CEOs had to both release top talent from their teams and accept new talent for other teams. “There’s no way it would’ve worked without the commitment and shared purpose of Vedanta’s leaders,” he says. 

For more information contact: Navnit Singh at or Sandeep Bhalla at