Birthday Specials – Pooja Iyer – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Over the past few months, since the time I have rejoined work, I have shifted my weekly blog to Sundays instead of Fridays as I make time during the weekend to blog. Exceptions can be taken for exceptional individuals , so I have come back with a Friday blog for a special individual whose birthday is today.

I first met Pooja 3.5 years ago in Hyderabad. She was the only good thing which happened during my time spent on Bharat Matrimony.com. During my first interaction, Pooja had come across as a genuine, simple, friendly, free-spirited individual who takes each day as it comes. Not much has changed in all these years. At that time, she was doing her first year of DNB in radiation oncology ( for the non medicos, DNB is like a P.G course like MBA/ M Tech). This was her second P.G and I was amazed by the persistence the medicos put in to make a mark in a competitive world.

Pooja did not think too much about the future and was not bothered about the world at large but she had her limited set of priorities which she cared about. She was upfront about what she had in her mind regarding marriage and beyond. She loved Bollywood and followed cricket. She was scared of dogs. These were a few commonalities between us. We were poles apart in all other things – she was 5 feet , I was close to 6 , she loved partying while I was a minimalist in this aspect. She was a doctor who knew nothing about MBA. I was an MBA who knew nothing about medicine and still the status remains the same. But still we got along and within 6 months, we got married ( November 2016).

Pooja’s choices for honeymoon were very clear- Greece, Corsica, Australia , Spain. The common connection was Bollywood. Three of these locations were based on Ranbir Kapoor movies but finally after eliminating options based on weather and number of days required, we chose Country na Milegi Dobara – Spain.

Pooja always wanted to be a doctor since childhood and she loves her profession. She loves the fact that she is able to contribute in saving lives and that is her single biggest motivation to pursue a career. Again, this is completely opposite to me – Electronics engineer, software job, MBA in HR, moved to Sales, now in Client Engagement. She comes from the school of thought that you will excel in something only if you love doing it. When I told her that I wanted to try out writing and see how far it takes me, she was the first one to egg me into blogging as a means to improve my writing skills.

Being a doctor, listening to people whining about their problems comes naturally to her I guess. She still continues to patiently listen to my regular cribs about everything under the sun. We all need that one person to pour out all kinds of feelings without worry of being judged. For me, this person is Pooja. Everytime I feel low about something, she is able to spot it immediately and make me open up and feel better. She has a very very small circle of close friends but she will move heaven and earth for them. Both of us are Tamilians but for some reason, we speak to each other in Hindi – I still don’t know why. She has made me do some really silly things like binge-watching CID daily for almost a year. My dressing sense has improved substantially after being with her 😊

She’s a sport and she doesn’t mind me calling her “Gurr-inder Singh” for her quick temper. When I told her that I wanted to take a paternity break and support her during her first few months as a mother, she was extremely supportive and did not say no at all. Its very difficult to support such decisions without hesitation but I have been fortunate to have such a mature partner. Between the two of us, she was the one who transitioned quickly to being a parent. She has understood and accepted the changes quickly. For example, it took a while for me to accept the fact that I could no longer get up late but for her, it was a default auto-setting. This rubbed off on me.

One of her wishes is to get herself clicked with Ranbir Kapoor. I hope this comes true sooner than later. I am a terrible singer. Otherwise, I would have sung a nice song for her today. But now that I am taking a shot at writing, I will end this post by dedicating the following lines to her ( slightly filmy ending but being a Bollywood fan she will not mind 😊)

Tum Ho Toh Gaata Hai Dil
Tum Nahin To Geet Kahan
Tum Ho Toh Hai Sab Haasil
Tum Nahin Toh Kya Hai Yahan
Tum Ho To Hai Sapno Ke Jaisa Haseen Ek Samaa
Jo Tum Ho To Yeh Lagta Hai Ke Mil Gayi Har Khushi
Jo Tum Na Ho Yeh Lagta Hai Ke Har Khushi Mein Hai Kami

Tumko Hai Maangti Yeh Zindagi

Happy Birthday Pooja – may all your dreams come true. Keep rocking!!

The Family Man -Super Sundays – Weekly Blog

If you have had a stressful day and want to get over it, then “The Family Man”, streaming on Amazon Prime, is the perfect medicine to unwind. Once you start watching, it becomes very difficult to take your attention off it. I tried my best not to binge-watch but couldn’t resist watching back to back episodes.

Shrikant Tiwari, played by Manoj Bajpayee, is a middle-class man, who works as a spy for a division of the National Investigative Agency. He keeps this high-pressure job as a secret from his family and tries to pass it off as an administrative Government job.  He is supported in his job by JK Talpade, played by Sharif Hashmi. Shrikant is entrusted with the responsibility of finding the complete details of Mission Zulfiqar, a covert operation being planned by terrorists and secretly backed by the ISI, which if successful could force India into taking military action.

The series starts off with 3 ISIS terrorist being captured by the Indian Coast Guard. What follows is a fast-paced sequence of events and a cat and mouse game to get to the core of Mission Zulfiqar. The screenplay is tight and some of the funny one liners give a hilarious twist to an otherwise serious situation. Without getting jingoistic or preachy, the series gives subtle references to a host of issues ranging from the beef ban, teenage parenting issues, job switches to the Kashmir issue. The support cast fit into their roles perfectly and ensure they do justice to the characters.

Priyamani plays Shrikant’s wife Suchitra. The ISIS terrorist Moosa, played by Neeraj Madhav deserves a special mention as he effortlessly plays a cold-blooded terrorist without the usual frills. Gul Panag also has a cameo when the plot moves to Kashmir. The script writers do a great job of keeping the narrative fast-paced, suspense-filled and throwing in the requisite amount of humour. The characters and the situations are easily relatable , which makes it easy and light hearted. Manoj Bajpayee is a treat to watch.  Such is his portrayal of Shrikant Tiwari that you will feel sorry for his plight when he tries to manage things at home despite having such a high-pressure job. Equally impressive is Sharif Hashmi’s portrayal of his assistant , Talpade.  Some of the scenes like Bajpayee bribing his son with an ice-cream, pleading with his daughter’s teacher to let her off are hilarious. In between all his struggles as a spy, Bajpayee also suspects his wife having an affair with her colleague at work. Bajpayee is undoubtedly one of the finest actors of today and Shrikant Tiwari ranks right up alongside the likes of Bhiku Matre ( Satya) , Sardar Khan ( Gangs of Wasseypur) and Waseem Khan ( Special 26)

The only disappointment for me was the climax, The build-up to the last episode was great but somehow I couldn’t find the climax live up to the hype. I will rate this series a 9 on 10. If not for the climax this would have been a 10 on 10. In case you haven’t watched this, go for it. A good stress-buster and a thorough entertainer. I found it better than Sacred Games.

Bheja Shor Karta Hai toh Goli Maar Bheje Main.

Dishkiyaaon 😊

P.S : Trying to review a web series for the first time. Do share your feedback

P.P.S : If you have any suggestions for blog topics, please do share

Jai Hind

What happens in Vegas – Super Sundays – Weekly Blog

My first international trip was to Las Vegas in November 2014. Never in my wildest of dreams did I imagine that I would be going to Vegas so early in my career, at the age of 27. I was one of the 30 Area Sales Managers from across the country who had qualified for this trip organized by Mahindra for exceeding sales targets. It was a week long trip to the U.S with 2 days in LA and 4 nights in Vegas. Till date, the memories of this trip are fresh in my mind.

Aerial View
With ex-colleagues from Mahindra Auto

Our stay in Vegas was organized at The Venetian. It was a resort cum casino. In Vegas, every place is a casino first. The ambience of all the casinos has been cleverly planned in such a way that you will never come to know the time of the day , once you get involved. The lighting stays the same all through. The noise outside is cut off, food and drinks are served at the table continuously. Everything is done to ensure that you don’t move out from the table once you are in. It is truly a different experience. When we first sat at one of the tables, we did not realize that five hours had passed by. Such is the lure and aura of the casinos in Vegas.

The Venetian , eponymously, has been modelled on Venice. There are a few artificial boatways connecting two parts of the resort. The experience at the resort was truly world-class , with easy access to all the major attractions. The Venetian is part of the Vegas Strip. The Vegas Strip is a strip of land where most of the must-see casinos and tourist attractions in Vegas are located. The Americans are gurus at marketing and it is amazing to see how a small area of land, situated amidst a desert, can generate so much income and money. It is one of the most expensive places in the world.

The Strip

Time is money in Vegas and we realized it the hard way. We want to visit one of the clubs and had asked the club for a pickup from our hotel at 9 pm. Typical Indian time of 9 pm means at least a delay of 15 to 20 minutes. When all of us had come down by 9:20 pm, the driver promptly gave us a mouthful saying time is money and refused to take us. He said he waited just to ensure he could convey this and also lodged a complaint with the club saying time was not honoured by us. From then onwards, we became careful and would only call taxis once we were all ready.

While Vegas is rightly called “ Sin City” because of its nightlife dominated by casinos and strip clubs along with related indulgences , there is another side to Vegas, which is not spoken of in the same breath. Vegas is also a great destination for families and kids (yes you are reading this correct) and there are enough activities to keep families and kids engaged. Every evening , there is an artificial volcanic eruption around 7 pm at The Strip and it is a sight to watch. There is a musical fountain which plays every hour in the night and crowds gather to watch this beautiful sight. The Strip also boasts of replicas of the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower. We had gone up 470 floors in a lift and watched the beautiful fountains from the top of the Eiffel Tower replica. Vegas also is a hotbed for arts and culture, hosting several popular plays, shows and concerts all round the year. The best in the business come and perform at the various theatres here. We had watched a show by an acrobatic troupe at the MGM Grand and it was a marvellous performance. The Strip also hosts a Harley Davidson café and a Madame Tussauds. For the adventure freaks, there is a casino called Stratosphere, which hosts a few thrilling rides on the topmost floor. For a few extra bucks, there is also a helicopter ride which will give an aerial view of the city. The Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam are a few hours drive from Vegas. We also rented a limousine ride and it was quite an experience.

The fountain.. viewed from the Eiffel Tower
The replica of the Statue of Liberty
The Harley Davidson Cafe

The highlight attraction is undoubtedly Fremont Street. This is a tiny street frequented by people of all ages all through the night. It is lively and always buzzing and has everything for everyone. There is a ride called SlotZilla where you can zip-line through from end of the street to the other. There are street performances daily and it is a unique experience and you can keep walking in and out of every shop. Clothing, accessories, souvenirs, food – you get everything you need to shop at every price point here. I was pleasantly surprised to see families enjoying themselves in hordes here.

With Wax Britney at Madame Tussaud’s Vegas

We spent 4 days in Vegas but this was not enough. This is true with most international locations but all the more with Vegas. A one-of-its kind destination, which everyone should experience at some point in their life. I must consider myself lucky that I got to experience this early and hopefully, will visit this place, once again at some point in time. I will not comment on the Sin City related experiences, because………

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What Happens in Vegas …Stays in Vegas 😊

Jai Hind

Throwback- Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho – Super Sunday – Weekly Blog

Six years ago, in October 2013, I was working as an Area Sales Manager with the automotive division of Mahindra. The auto industry had witnessed a muted first two quarters and the festive season of October November followed by a discount heavy December was the last hope left to salvage things.

The festive season ( Oct- Nov) in Indian retail sales is boom time for every consumer facing industry. Discounts, new launches clubbed with the typical Indian consumer sentiment of buying new products in an auspicious period make it a season to look forward to.  In 2013, all of us were hoping for the Festival of Lights to bring back something to cheer about in an otherwise gloomy year.

Mumbai Area Office, where I was working, was part of the West Zone. The previous festive season ( 2012),  West Zone had sold an all-time high of 16,000 vehicles in these two months. That year, the auto industry had recorded month-on-month double digit growth.  We were expecting a target at best of 21,000 vehicles for the Zone ( a 30% growth over last year – which itself was very steep considering the way the first two quarters had panned out).

In October,2013 a contest was launched for the Mahindra sales team and the dealer principals – Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho. Based on targets achieved, winners could fly to Las Vegas , Rome and Singapore ( 100% + achievement was Vegas, 95 to 99 % – Rome, 91 to 94% – Singapore). While we were all looking forward to the contest and the thought of going to Vegas was mouth-watering, we also knew that this would not be easy as the targets would be extremely stretched.

When our West zone target was communicated – 25,000 vehicles for two months ( against 16,000 the previous year), we were all taken aback.  Unrealistic, unattainable, far fetched from ground reality. The motivation levels were low because of the dismal first two quaryers. One man though, was in a completely different state of mind. It was Jacob Varghese, then Zonal Head for West Zone. Jacob was highly regarded for his market knowledge, ability to get into the details and ruthless execution. Jacob also was extremely aware of the pulse of his team. He called all of his sales team for a 2 day program in Garudmaachi, a picturesque outbound venue on the outskirts of Pune.  The entire agenda of the two day program was to make us believe that the targets were achievable.  Jacob had his unique way of alignment. While all of us had individual Area Office targets, Jacob throughout was only harping on one number – Mission 25k for West Zone. He got in a speaker, Dinesh Nathani, who was an expert in conducting workshops which focused on mental beliefs, positive psychology and training the mind. Nathani had a half-day session which was focused on visualizing positive outcomes, letting go of negative thoughts and feeding positive energy off each other. Jacob also coined a name for the team – Western Warriors. All the departments – including HR and Finance , were made to participate in the program. A famous motivational video –“Inch by Inch’  by Al Pacino was played multiple times during the day. By the end of the two days, all of us were charged and focused to deliver Mission 25k.

For Jacob, it was not only about doing a two day program. Post that, he created a mail chain where people would continuously write about success stories, statistics and tracking of how we were inching closer each day. Jacob would also have his weekly con-calls and keep the motivation going. Jacob’s energy rubbed off on all of us including the dealer fraternity. We were out in the market for 5 days in a 6 day week trying to do everything possible to make the magical number.

For the first few weeks, the number looked a distant dream. But with each passing week, what looked improbable started coming to life. In those days, I used to handle the territories of Nashik and Jalgaon. The Jalgaon dealer, whose monthly average was 70, was chasing a steep monthly number of 200. There was a chart on which 1 to 200 was written in the backward order and with each vehicle sold, a number was crossed. I had accompanied a few sales executives to close some bookings .  Travelling to the interiors of the hinterland made me get a feel of rural India.  These folks had no clue about terms like recession, GDP , growth rate etc. For them, all that mattered was a good monsoon, which would get a good crop, leading to substantial income and the excess income would result in retail purchases. While the folks in the corporate would think of strategies to improve sales in rural area, at the ground, the factors involved were pretty simple. One of our prospects was a legislator, who wanted to replace his vehicle with a Scorpio. Sales thrives on relationship, especially in rural areas and because the Sales executive had  a great relationship and was continuously following up, he finally ended up booking the vehicle. The biggest learning for me was that Sales is not complex, yet difficult. The folks with strong follow-up and great relationship skills would invariably end up achieving their targets. Motivation was the key and there were various angles to this – the desire to be recognized, the need to earn the extra rewards and the feeling of being a winner. If the basics were taken care of, then results would follow. The Jalgaon dealer had announced a Goa trip to the entire team,if the overall target was achieved. The feeling of group-win gave that extra push and as a result, the entire team went over-drive to win in difficult conditions. The Jalgaon momentum rubbed off on neighbouring Nashik as well. We were not sure where we would end , but all of us knew that there would be no one who would question the efforts.

Likewise, in other parts of Mumbai AO and West Zone, success stories started emerging. After two months of hustle-bustle, the festive season came to a close. Jacob Varghese’s Western Warriors had achieved what seemed improbable two months ago. We had crossed 25,000 vehicles. While a strong monsoon had helped from  a macro-economic perspective, the biggest differentiator for me was a motivated unit and the power of the collective.  Accolades followed. West Zone had the highest %age of ASMs going to Las Vegas. Me and 5 other people from our Area Office went to Las Vegas. Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho had brought about a fresh lease of life in a gloomy environment. For me personally, it was a defining moment in my career transition from HR to Sales and the thrill of achieving the near impossible.  I had doubts about moving from HR to Sales but Western Warriors and Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho changed everything.

6 years have passed and Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho continues to be one of my favorite memories in my sales career.

Cheers to hope, motivation, positivity, team work and focus. Hopefully, the current auto slowdown will end soon and there will be similar tales told by the current crop of auto sales folks.

Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho

Jai Hind

Birthday Specials – Gaurav Gupta – Super Sundays – Weekly Blog

It’s been a while since I have written a birthday special blog. Amidst the hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes miss out on appreciating the goodness around us. Last Tuesday ( Sep 17th) was my and good friend and former colleague at Coty, Gaurav Gupta’s birthday.

Gaurav’s journey as a hairdresser has been really inspiring. He started off his career in Sales in the pharma industry. After a couple of years, he figured out that this was not his true calling. He decided to take the plunge in a field which he was passionate about – hair dressing. A very unconventional career choice , especially after having started in sales, but Gaurav had the clarity and desire to follow his true passion. He learnt his craft and started off as a hairdresser in a salon and steadily inched his way up and today, he is one of the most respected trainers in Coty India. He currently heads the training (education) vertical for South India. He has numerous accolades to his credit, winning the Trendsetter award ( best trainer in India) multiple times.

Gaurav was the first person I had met when I had joined Coty. An extremely warm and pleasing personality, the biggest strength of Gaurav is his positive attitude in all situations. He had come in and taken over the South market in challenging circumstances, but his positive attitude and problem-solving mindset rubbed off on his team and he was able to turn things around. I had just joined as the Divisional manager for South and this quality of his was a great source of strength for me as I was initially finding it tough to manage the business. Gaurav would always have a solution when his team would come to him with issues. He also had a sound understanding of business, which is generally a challenge for many trainers as most of their focus is uni-dimensional ( majorly on training delivery).

We all need a colleague at work with whom we can talk freely- without inhibition and worrying about disclosure concerns. Gaurav was one such colleague, whom you could trust. He would always see the lighter side of things in stressful situations and ensure we find a way out. It is this quality which I think holds him in good stead. With him as my counterpart, I always knew that the training function was in safe hands and help me focus on the business side. Gaurav would never shy away from taking up challenges and would figure out some or the other way to come out of a problem.

We have travelled together a lot and I would make it a point to have Gaurav in meetings with top customers as his subject matter expertise would really go a long way in enhancing the quality of the discussion. All the customers held Gaurav in high regard for his subject matter expertise and his practical approach.  Gaurav reminded me of another Gaurav ( Gaurav Manjeshwar) in my Mahindra stint,who also was a similar personality and a subject matter expert. The other Gaurav will be a subject of a blog some other day.

One really good quality about Gaurav , which I really admired was his constant efforts to upgrade his skills. He would always be looking to learn the latest techniques and not rest on his laurels and this had a rub-off effect on his team as well.

Gaurav Gupta – it has been a pleasure knowing you. I am glad our paths crossed and I am sure you will keep marching on and achieve all your dreams. You have shown that passion can be converted to professional success even if you have started on a different path. Keep inspiring.

Belated Happy birthday and cheers to a colourful life. Stay blessed.

Jai Hind

Super 30 : Super Sundays – weekly blog

When things aren’t going the way you like, what’s the easiest option? Quit and hope that things will improve and start afresh. Blame it on “external factors”. Blame all constraints.  Look at others around and if you see a “similar to me” example of things not working, then maybe console yourself saying I tried my best but couldn’t manage. Go with the “new flow” and hope that someday things will work better.

My blogs had taken off quite well in the last six odd months when I had taken a break from corporate. Every Friday morning, religiously, the blog would be sent out. The positive feedback received from all my well-wishers kept me going and by the end of six months, quite a lot of people wrote back to me saying my writing had improved tremendously from when I started.  Then I rejoined the corporate world back in July. The first couple of weeks, I still managed to send in blogs. But after that, I just couldn’t manage.

I leave from home by 8 :30 am and come back by 7 pm or later, which I think is the case with most of us working in the corporate world. There is outstation travel on need basis.  Weekends are free. Technically speaking, this should be no impediment to taking out a couple of hours in a week and doing something which you like – writing in my case. But life doesn’t exactly happen as you plan. I just couldn’t manage to type in those characters. I blamed it on everything happening around me – my work, the fact that we had a new born kid , household chores etc etc. I allowed this to be the new normal and was ok to not do something which I had started to enjoy and blamed the “situation “ for this. Ironically, just when my writing quality had started getting better, I couldn’t manage to write. I took the easier choice – when things get difficult, just quit or postpone. Nothing wrong with this approach but in my case, I was not feeling happy about it. I was feeling miserable deep inside that I was not able to do something which I loved. I hoped that the long weekend during Independence Day would re-invigorate me but then I was faced with the writer’s block. I typed in three sentences and shut my laptop. By the end of August, I had a strange creepy feeling that it was all over slowly. I hoped that I would get back to blogging but it just didn’t happen. My worst fear – “the situation will control you” instead of the other way around had come true.

A lot of my friends asked me why my blogs had stopped suddenly. I blamed it on work saying work had made it tough to focus on this. Faced with a difficult situation of managing multiple priorities, I chose the easy path – giving up instead of fighting it out. Until yesterday, when I saw Super 30 .

My first memory of Anand Kumar was in 2014, when he had come in as a guest speaker in the Mahindra Annual Sales Conference. I was an Area Sales Manager in those days. Until his session, a host of senior leaders had come in and delivered typical corporate presentations. Kumar had about 10 slides, mostly pictures and spoke in Hindi throughout. He was in tears when he spoke about how, despite coming from an economically weak background, he had got a seat in a prestigious foreign university, on the back of his research papers being published in international journals,  but due to lack of sponsors, he had to give up his dream of higher education. He had reached out to ministers and various sources but nothing worked. Money is everything. If you don’t have the money, then you are gone. The difference between Anand Kumar and a lot of other people who have quit their dreams when it didn’t seem to work out was the mental approach. Instead of giving up completely, Kumar started Ramanujan School of Mathematics, for IIT coaching. He spoke about how 2 students had enrolled in his first year in 1992. In 3 years, 500 students had enrolled. For 10 years, he was purely running this as a business until one day, he decided to start Super 30 (when he saw a poor student , who had come to his Ramanujan institute wanting to enroll in IIT coaching , but could not afford it). Every year, he would call for an entrance test for the underprivileged students and 30 under-privileged students from Bihar, would be given free IIT coaching, inclusive of food and accommodation at his centre. Kumar was determined that other deserving students should not suffer the same fate as him and he decided to enable them. If you are passionate about something and keep pursuing it, then the world will take notice some day.

In the first year, 18 out of 30 students made it to IIT. Children of rickshaw puller, masons, housemaids from Bihar had got through the IIT entrance. The first in their families. These students had ensured that their and their future generations lives would take a positive spin. From then on, there was no looking back for Kumar and Super 30 and he had a 90% + conversion consistently. In 3 of the years, all 30 had qualified.

Recognitions came in from across the world. Super 30 was in the Time Magazine “Best of Asia 2010”. Barack Obama’s special envoy – Rashad Husain, termed it “the best institute in the country”. Anand Kumar was awarded the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Shiksha Puraskar in November 2010, the highest award given by the Bihar state government in the field of education.

At the end of his presentation, Anand proudly mentioned that because of his success, a lot of corporates and the Government had approached him with donation /aid requests for Super 30 but he till date has not taken a single rupee from any of them. When he needed it, people had turned him down and now it was his turn. Kumar’s journey had his own challenges and he had endured a fair shar of smear campaigns in the media by competitors and death attacks. Kumar exhorted all of us not to “ give up on our dreams” come what may.

At the end of Kumar’s speech, many of us were in tears. Kumar only spoke for 30 minutes but had all of us spell-bound and motivated by the end of his speech. After the session, I ran outside and took a photo with this inspirational figure. This man was not as heard of as Bollywood stars or cricketers, but a photo with him was priceless.

When things are not going your way, you can still slug it out and keep fighting to pursue your dreams. Anand Kumar – you have made the country proud with what you have done. Hrithik Roshan and the makers of the movie “Super 30” might have taken a lot of cinematic liberties in bringing out his story to life, but to me, Anand Kumar will always be an inspiration – six years ago, he motivated us to achieve our dreams and now, he has again woken me up from my slumber and pushed me back to pursue the things I like and not get bogged down by “situations”.

I do not know if my blogs will continue in the same weekly frequency as before ( hoping to publish every Sunday) , or I will again go back to a state where I blame the situation. But for now, I am at peace that at least I have come back and written a blog after a few weeks gap and no prizes for guessing the inspiration behind this.

Long live Anand Kumar and Super 30.

Jai Hind

When Coffee Kills : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

As the business fraternity in India tries to recover from the shock demise of Café Coffee Day Founder VG Siddhartha, lets take a look at some unaddressed issues facing the society at large.

Siddhartha, through Coffee Day was one of the shining stars in India’s entrepreneurial circuit in the late 1990s. From the first Coffee Day in 1996, the chain had expanded to 1600 outlets as on date. A phenomenal achievement considering the modest beginnings. The rise of CCD as a youthful, aspirational brand coincided with the rise of India’s middle class with higher disposable income. Siddhartha had most things going in his favour – a strong business case with a first mover advantage in a then untapped segment ( pre Starbucks, pre Barista, pre Chai Point), a good customer experience offering by and large and strong political contacts. Very little could go wrong, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, running a business in India is not as easy as it seems. For every celebrated entrepreneur, there are untold stories of five to six failures. You not only need to compete with competition, but also with political and regulatory uncertainties. On top of it, working capital challenges crop up. The desire to grow top line, bottom line quickly leads to more debt, leading to increased exposure and when the engine stops due to a seemingly small issue, the vehicle comes to a halt. The desire to become a cult celebrity may force people to take risky paths.

While various angles are being probed into Siddhartha’s death –  tax terrorism, investor pressure, political vendetta, what I fail to fathom at the core of this issue is this. As per the unverified letter written to the shareholders, Siddhartha acknowledges huge debts and declares enough assets to pare the debts. The huge debts could have been a reason to sell off his Mindtree shares. If he was so sure of him having enough assets, why then end his life? He cites pressure from a certain private investor along with tax harassment. Is the pressure unjustified? Was there financial fraud, which not many were aware of? With a new BJP government in Karnataka, was he fearing the worst of times for him? Only Siddhartha knew the answers and hopefully a thorough “un-tampered” investigation will reveal finer details.

With a huge debt burden ballooning and banks tightening credit norms in the wake of the ILFS crisis, Siddhartha had a huge task at hand. Siddhartha’s story is very similar to Ramalinga Raju of Satyam. Great brands, great promise but the owners confessed shockingly when nobody expected them to. And until they confessed, the world did not know that things were murky. They took that step because all roads led to a dead end.

It is saddening that Siddhartha chose to take the most extreme step when cornered. He seemed to have decided that ending his life was better than suffering in possible disgrace. When stress gets the better of the mind, then all hell breaks loose. The most important organ in the human body, aside of the heart is the human mind. Unfortunately, most of us give least importance to maintaining the mind in good condition. When we have the slightest of physical pain, we reach out to a doctor, take tablets. But when something troubles our mind, we decide to keep it to ourselves. We somehow feel that by confessing to a mental health specialist or a counsellor or a psychiatrist, we may be “labelled” as “mentally ill”. I wish Siddhartha had explored these options. I wish he had a coach who had guided him, along the way , when he was taking some crucial decisions. Very few organizations today focus on “mental conditioning” – training the mind. When we know that uncertainity is going to be a recurring theme in the business context, why not accept it and try to work on facing it? The mind, if relaxed and conditioned, can take effective decisions and restrict problems to be viewed just as problems, not life-threatening obstacles. Organizations spend time and money training people on data analytics, presentation skills, managerial skills but ignore the most fundamental skills required to survive in a complex environment – the Wellness Quotient (Physical and Mental). In fact, the word mental is seen as a stigmatic word in our society.

The other unaddressed angle is the whole media hype around quarterly earnings and results. This phenomenon is worse in the developed countries where a CEO’s fate is decided by his/her Wall Street performance every quarter. One bad quarter and you are out. Thankfully, India does not seem as cruel but we seem to be heading in the same direction. The pressure to report sustained growth quarter after quarter results in short-term decisions gaining preference. Unless the obsession with this stops , we will continue to see a bunch of stressed out individuals leading a highly stressed life.  Why would one aspire to be a CEO if life at the top is lonely, ever stressful and one mistake pulls you down and impacts your well-being? What’s the point of earning truckloads of money if you continuously are under the scanner?

There are no easy answers out there. But Siddhartha’s reaction is yet another warning of a deeper systemic malaise which is not being addressed at all. Today’s Indian CANNOT cope with excess stress and the environment is not conducive for discussing or managing stress. This coupled with the media fetish for instant celebrity-dom and quarterly earnings growth is enough recipe for disaster. Hopefully, the Siddartha file leads to a national debate on these two areas as well instead of trivializing it as a case on politics, financial ethics, tax terrorism , or ease of doing business , all of which are relevant but not the only issues.

No country for old men weak minds

Jai Hind