NEW YORK – Punjab-born Bali Padda has been appointed as the new CEO of the iconic Danish toymaker Lego.
Padda has become the first non-Dane boss of Lego which is headquartered in Denmark, from this January. With the low-profile and long-serving COO taking on this top role, he joins a small yet growing list of NRIs, or those with Indian-origins, heading some of the most iconic global brands.
Born in Punjab in 1956, Padda had humble beginnings and worked his way up the corporate ladder through sheer passion and determination. His parents migrated to the UK from Mumbai for a better quality of life, when he was just 12. At the age of 16, he dropped out of school and took up odd jobs.
"Mine was a business family and therefore, making a career in the corporate world was never a priority for me. After taking up odd jobs for several years, I started my own business and failed. Realising that business was not my forte, I started working in a blue-collar job again," tells Padda, who started taking evening classes only after his son was born.
"My manager was supportive and asked me to take up a white-collar job. So, as soon as I graduated after this prolonged 'work-study' period, I was promoted to a new role. After a couple of years, I also had people reporting to me. In 1999, my family and I moved to the USA for a new job as I had sensed that a glass ceiling existed for me in the UK," adds Padda.
However, a culture shock awaited him just across the Atlantic. Eventually, he and his wife decided to move back to the UK after his daughter finished her schooling in the USA.
"Lego was recruiting in 2002. That's when my Lego journey began. And my rise within the company was quick; I went from being a director to senior vice president in three years. I had met the current CEO as a director. He became CEO in 2004 and asked me to join his team in 2005."
"As part of the famous turnaround in Lego, five of my six colleagues were fired and I was asked to hire a new team and lead them. Looking back, I realise how fortunate I have been to get a lot of breaks in my professional life," shares Padda, whose major decisions at Lego included bringing back the outsourced manufacturing and later, moving it closer to the markets.
Setting up a new factory in China to serve the Asian markets efficiently has been another important project for him. At a time when Lego has been leveraging the digital mediums to achieve growth, Padda realises the need to expand the company's presence in Asia, especially in countries like China and India, for future growth.
What does he have to say on the rising number of NRIs or Indian-origin C-suite executives across top global conglomerates?