by Poojitha Jayadevan

CIO profile: Ashish Grover on a role that opens doors to leadership

Nov 28, 2021
CIORetail Industry

After 23 years in technology roles, Ashish Grover believes ‘digital’ is a great leveller that will drive innovation and transformation, disrupting industries.

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Credit: Falabella/Raghav Ramaia

It was in 2018 that Ashish Grover took the difficult decision to leave Reliance Retail and join Falabella, a fashion retailer based in Santiago, Chile. He had little understanding of the role his expertise, technology, had to play in the company’s vision. With no textbook to follow, Grover pretty much paved his way at Falabella.

At Reliance Retail he was the vice president of the eCommerce platform; during his time there he led the launch of the Ajio and Jiomart platforms.

After the move, he led the Falabella Technology Development Centre in India and within three years was promoted to CIO. Now based in Bangalore, Grover is also instrumental in steering the Start-up Connect program at Falabella, which aims to form alliances with start-ups for innovative technological solutions. Here are edited excerpts of his conversation with CIO India.

CIO India: Can you take us through your career path? What is your greatest achievement in your professional chapter?

Ashish Grover: My 23-year professional journey from programmer to CIO spans different domains, technologies, and industries. Throughout the journey, what has stayed the same is my passion for learning. I was always driven by learning and not by designations or benefits. Various jobs and jobs within jobs, new challenges, and exciting responsibilities came my way and I have been very fortunate to receive these purposeful opportunities. I am also grateful that I had the personal support to go after them with all my heart.

I feel very proud of my career achievements in the last 10 years. I worked with several traditional businesses, each with a successful legacy but struggling to compete with digital natives at one stage. I could act as a strong catalyst for them in leading digital transformation and platform thinking tied to business outcomes. From launching and initiating its transformation, or leading and building a foundation of for Reliance, or modernizing, scaling, and transforming to be a marketplace ecosystem. What a phenomenal experience the last decade has been! Still, many more miles to go.

CIO India: What’s the toughest decision you’ve had to take in your IT career, and how did you make it?

Grover: We are all a summary of our decision-making. In my professional journey, joining Falabella four years ago was a tough one. I hadn’t worked in the Latin America region before and didn’t speak Spanish. When I joined here, there was not enough understanding of the role digital has to play in our overall vision. Even the role being based out of India was ambiguous at that point. My decision was purely driven on the basis of learning potential, a leap of faith in people, and in the leaders of Falabella. Fast forward to today, I am enjoying every bit of this experience and am proud of these four years at this wonderful organization.

CIO India: What’s the best career advice you ever received?

Grover: When I was taking up the CIO role, my previous boss told me that the CIO role is not only about technology, strategy, or financial astuteness—you have all that or will learn if you don’t. More importantly, this role is much more about mental strength, and you shouldn’t get into the trap of appeasement if you want to do a good job.

CIO India: What are the prospects for career mobility for a CIO? What roles would you aspire to?

Grover: The CIO role exposes you to many things: deep technology, innovation, strategy, commercial and governance aspects, strategy pieces, talent development. This means that the role opens up doors to many leadership roles across the spectrum. In the end, it all depends on what you are passionate about and what you bring to the table as your signature strength. For me, technology-led transformation, creating something new, or growing a business opportunity excites me. It’s aspirational for me, the potential to grow or build a technology-led business!

CIO India: How do you groom the next level of leadership for the CIO role?

Grover: I believe in leading by context. It’s all about empowering leaders with frameworks of decision-making. Being a coach to help translate strategy better, creating a passion for talent and development for self as well as for teams, and presenting them with various opportunities that bring the best in them helps them develop a holistic mindset and skillset for the role.

CIO India: How do you walk the tightrope of IT-business alignment, a much-abused term in business technology?

Grover: This is the essence of the CIO role. For me, it is important to create a co-leadership working model where you are driven by business values but doing things in a well-charted technology roadmap. To make it work, it requires many aspects—the right talent being the primary one, but also evolving the operating model and adequate technology architecture supporting it, alignment of incentives, and so on.

CIO India: What myths about technology, IT/IS management, digital transformation, and the CIO role would you like to debunk?

Grover: Let’s start with the most used phrase: digital transformation. It will be done at some stage; the responsibility of a CIO is just to make things happen and not define what needs to happen. IT/IS management’s job is only to ensure stability, it is to encourage a huge rate of change with minimal disruption.

CIO India: In the past few years, has it become easier or tougher for the CIO to get a ‘seat at the table’? How do you equip yourself for it?

Grover: I believe that the CIO already has a seat. The challenging part is how you and others think about the role of your position at the table. This seat has always been seen as the one to enable the vision and that has to change to the co-creating vision for the company. In today’s fast-paced technology world, CIOs have a moral responsibility to help their peers understand, appreciate and believe the potential impact of technology.

CIO India: How do you build motivation and the right culture in the IT department?

Grover: For me, the most important aspect for engineers and other members of the technology team is to start seeing themselves differently, especially if you are not coming from a digital native company. Realizing that today everything runs on technology, and we have a huge responsibility—not to enable it but to lead the vision for the company. We need to be able to guide business operations, help them think beyond current models, and be partners to achieve these goals. This is an empowering mindset for technology, to change is the foundation of the culture of what you do, how you do, and why you do it!