You are currently viewing Venkatesh Rao: A Powerhouse of Leadership
Venkatesh Bao

Venkatesh Rao: A Powerhouse of Leadership

Leading Unique Group’s Emergence as the Most Reliable Integrated Engineering Solutions Provider

To stand out as a leader with a leader with a remarkable personality, a leader must possess a unique blend of qualities that cater to the specific needs of the people and the region. This includes visionary and strategic thinking along with fundamental comprehension.

It means understanding the regional landscape, economic trends, and cultural nuances to develop a clear, long-term vision for the company’s success in the Middle East. It also involves effectively leading diverse teams, fostering a culture of inclusion, and understanding different communication styles. Further, building strong relationships with government entities, local businesses, and key stakeholders to navigate the business environment and secure opportunities is a must.

The next set of traits includes market knowledge, innovation and growth, and financial and business acumen. These ensure the company’s financial health and profitability while considering local economic factors and regulations.

The attributes that complete this integration are those that include personal qualities like resilience and adaptability, strong work ethics, cultural sensibilities, social responsibility, and digital transformation in that context.

Meet Venkatesh Rao, the powerhouse with all these qualities leading Unique Group’s operations in the Middle East. Recognized as one of the most remarkable Managing Directors in the region, and for good reason, Mr. Rao is currently contributing to Unique Group’s emergence as a leading provider of integrated subsea engineering solutions.

Mr. Rao spoke in an exclusive interview, the highlights of which are given herein.

Please tell us about yourself and what motivated you to embark on this sector.

I am an engineering graduate from a reputed university in India who graduated in 1988. My initial career was in India as a Technical Sales professional selling Instrumentation products to various public and private sector industries. I got an opportunity to pursue my career in the Middle East in 1997, which led me to explore the Marine Industry for the first time.

I spent seven years working for Maritronics, a UAE-based marine services company, as a Key Account Manager responsible for Sales & Business development of certain shipborne Instrumentation, Navigation, and Communication products to Shipping industries in the Middle East.

I joined Unique Group in 2004 to start and lead the new Marine Business Division. Unique was then an already well-established name in the subsea market that provided specially engineered solutions and services. Unique’s business started growing globally between 2007 and 2010, which provided ample opportunities for me to learn more about subsea applications, which was a starting point for my career growth. I completed my full-time MBA in International Sales and Marketing simultaneously.

After Unique’s business restructure in 2017, I was entrusted with the responsibility of managing Unique’s Middle East Division, covering all lines of business such as Diving Life Support, Buoyancy + Water Weights, Survey Equipment, Unmanned Surface Vessels and Lifting + Mooring and I’ve never looked back since then.

Please brief us about your company and its inception story.

Unique Group, established in 1993 as a conventional rental provider for the oil and gas industry in the Middle East, has evolved to become a global leader in subsea technology. From its humble beginnings with just three employees, today it is a global subsea innovator boasting a workforce of 600+ professionals, including over 200 engineers. We specialize in providing integrated subsea and offshore solutions.

Our expertise encompasses a comprehensive range of solutions, including unmanned surface vessels (USVs), survey equipment, diving and life support, lifting and mooring, buoyancy, and water weights. These services cater to the Oil and Gas sector and extend support to the Renewables, Defense, Offshore, and Medical industries.

With manufacturing hubs strategically located in the UK, South Africa, and the Middle East, we ensure a global presence to meet the diverse needs of our clients. Our commitment to innovation is evident through our dedicated R&D department, which is constantly working on pioneering solutions. Under the “Uni” brand, we proudly offer our survey and USV solutions line.

Unique Group has transformed into a leading global player, offering cutting-edge solutions across multiple industries and continually pushing the boundaries of subsea innovation.

How do you effectively manage and lead a team of executives and employees, and what strategies do you implement to drive growth and profitability in your organization?

Clear communication ensures the team understands the organization’s goals, mission, and core values. I believe in teamwork and encourage a collaborative work environment. People are our assets, and I believe in delegating responsibilities, empowering them to make decisions, and trusting them to foster a sense of accountability.

It is important to be aware of the changing market dynamics and stay informed about industry trends to arrive at the right strategy aligned with our overall mission and vision. Introducing innovative technologies or ideas and adapting our approach to changing market conditions is key to driving growth and profitability.

How do you approach decision-making and problem-solving as a Managing Director? Can you share an example of a challenging situation you faced and how you tackled it?

To make the right decisions and find a solution to any problem, I try to gather as much information relevant to the problem or decision at hand as possible and set a specific objective. I discuss the decision with relevant stakeholders to seek their input and evaluate various alternatives before arriving at a decision. I make sure to implement the decision, maintaining open and transparent communication with all stakeholders.

How do you ensure effective communication and collaboration between different departments within the organization?

Weekly and monthly business coordination meetings will be held with all department heads. Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and workflows to minimize confusion and duplication of effort. Using the technology, i.e., we use Microsoft Teams extensively to communicate with a wider audience across all regions—brainstorming and team-building sessions in a more relaxed environment to overcome barriers and build mutual support.

What measures do you take to stay updated with industry trends and changes in the business environment, and how do you handle and resolve conflicts within your organization?

Nowadays, most of the information related to industry trends and technologies is available online via social media and specialized websites. I also believe in continuous learning by engaging in online education through courses, webinars, and attending conferences and exhibitions related to our industry. We have access to some industry publications through subscriptions that provide us with the latest market trends and other useful information. A strong professional network connecting with industry leaders and peers helps stay informed.

I encourage transparent and honest conversations among team members to address any conflicts as they arise and prevent escalation. I provide a collaborative environment for team members to find mutually acceptable solutions.

Can you discuss a successful project or initiative you led and the key factors that contributed to its success?

Well, I cannot take credit alone for various successful projects executed across all lines of business in the Middle East. One of the key strategic initiatives taken recently was to strengthen and expand our operations locally in KSA to meet growing demands in the country and fulfill regulatory requirements, including the Aramco-initiated IKTVA (in-kingdom total value add) program. Our local presence and operations benefited us in securing some important projects from the KSA government sector. Also, they facilitated the addition of new lines of business offerings, resulting in our overall business growth.

How do you prioritize and manage your time effectively as a Managing Director?

I derive my overall KPIs based on the goals and objectives set forth by C-level management and prioritize the tasks based on importance and urgency. I have a strong team to support me, and empowering them to take ownership gives me ample time to take on a higher level of responsibility. We have good management tools, such as ERP systems, CRM, and PowerBi dashboards, that help provide useful MIS data to track and monitor relevant business results.

How do you develop and nurture relationships with key stakeholders, such as clients, investors, and board members?

As I mentioned earlier, clear and regular communication with full transparency and trust is the key to building and nurturing any relationship. Fortunately for me, most of the stakeholders, including the Group C-suite members, are located on the same premises as I operate, which gives me an added advantage and opportunities to engage with them regularly.

How do you foster a positive and inclusive work culture within your organization?

At Unique, we have established clear policies and guidelines to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion that apply to all our regional offices across the globe.

We practice a professional hiring and promotion process purely on a merit basis. In the Middle East, where most of the workforce comprises expat workers, we encourage recruiting people of different ethnicities and try to maintain a healthy gender ratio. Also, as part of the inclusion, we recruit local Emirati/Saudi young professionals to train and nurture them. We have provided all employees with an online platform to give feedback and suggestions for improvement. We have implemented a monthly/quarterly/yearly recognition and reward program in various results categories.

Finally, what do you believe sets you apart as a Managing Director and makes you a strong leader?

Well, throughout my entire career, I have learned a couple of important lessons that I have firmly believed all along, such as that there is no substitution for hard work and that teamwork is essential for success. I always treat people with respect and equality and provide them opportunities to express themselves and grow, as well as be good team players.

Please give us testimonials from your clients and awards or recognition that accurately highlight your achievements in the corporate niche.

The biggest award is winning the trust of our clients and maintaining that trust. I have been fortunate enough, and I would like to thank many of our elite clients in the Middle East who have been with us since the inception of the company three decades ago.