The fundamental belief that any leader should possess, says Anu Rathninde, President, Asia—Pacific at Johnson Controls, is that, ultimately, the buck stops with them. “That’s nothing new,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “Every leader knows that they’re accountable and that if things don’t go well, there’s nobody else to blame.”
Conversations need to focus on methods that support people in getting things done.
For Rathninde, that’s not involving himself in negotiating prices with customers, producing parts or collecting money – he leaves these tasks to his highly productive workforce. Instead, he spends his time focused on Johnson Controls’ culture, which he describes as his “ultimate responsibility”.
“My organization is my shadow,” he explains. “So if I want to change the organization, I need to change myself.”
Like so many others within the building technology, software and services company, Rathninde has worked his way up, starting his career as a research and development engineer, and joining what was then known as Johnson Electric as Vice President and General Manager of the Automotive Powertrain Business Unit in 2010.
In May 2022, Rathninde became President, Asia—Pacific at Johnson Controls, a leader in smart buildings, which offers the world’s largest portfolio of building technology, software and services. He attributes his stellar rise to his willingness to get things done.
“When I became a manager, I thought that my job was to make sure that I align the team in order to get things done and to remove the barriers so they can do their jobs,” he reflects.
Driven by a profound interest in leadership styles, he pursued a PhD in Complexity Leadership in Switzerland and even penned a book on the subject. His intellectual journey has led him to a pivotal insight – the essence of leadership lies in nurturing human potential.
“Imagine that Michelle is my sales leader, but I’m going to develop Michelle to be the best sales leader in the industry. I’m going to give her coaching, I’m going to give her feedback,” he says.
While many leaders fear employees will leave once they have invested in their development, lured away by higher salaries and better perks, Rathninde has found this not to be the case; rather, he perceives that it instills in them a sense of loyalty.
“The secret recipe of my leadership is to develop people to be the best they can be. I’m doing it for them, and the byproduct of that is that things get done in the organization,” he says.
“If you interview many of the people who have worked for me throughout my career, they will definitely say that I’m the toughest coach they ever had in their life, but also they would tell how much they have learned and grown with me. I call it tough love.”
In the era of climate change, a new mandate has emerged for business leaders – to operate in a more sustainable way. Sustainability is an undertaking that Rathninde is taking seriously and hence collaborating with Johnson Controls’ ecosystem partners to advance the cause of decarbonization across the Asia—Pacific region.
“This climate challenge is going to be the toughest challenge of our lifetimes,” he says. “Can any company do it alone? No. Can the public sector do it alone? No. So this whole ecosystem must come together, including consumers.”
Products must be more efficient in terms of energy, with digital connectivity and digital components playing a crucial role – and this is where Johnson Controls comes into its own.
The company is at the forefront of advances in this space, recently releasing white papers on smart cities and sustainability across Asia—Pacific, which investigated smart city policies and opportunities in order to prioritize residential health, sustainability and digital empowerment.
Johnson Controls is catalyzing transformation through its diverse initiatives, impactful conversations and robust collaborations with academics, policymakers and regulatory bodies like Zhejiang University International Business School, U.S. Green Building Council, the International WELL Building Institute and the CBRE Group.
Moreover, the creation of ‘Teatime Talks with Johnson Controls’ program, a platform where Rathninde engages in insightful discussions with ecosystem partners, is being used to amplify the sustainability message to a larger audience.
“These are very important steps,” he reflects. “First, you get your own house aligned in the leadership and culture that you have, and then you work with your ecosystem partners to make sure that they are on board to make this journey real.”
These partnerships have great importance in terms of sustainability and in driving operational excellence. “None of us are at the top of the food chain,” he says.
“We are in business because of our customers. I love customers who push me very hard on higher efficiency, or on better specifications and increased quality. I love them because they make us better.”