Birthday Specials – Shivam Naman Sinha

My last blog was on the occasion of my wife Pooja’s birthday about 45 days ago. Just when I thought it would take some more time to get back to writing a blog, another special person’s birthday comes across. Today is Shivam Naman Sinha’s birthday.

There are some friends who you look up to as role models in certain aspects and want to emulate them. There are also some friends, whom you just feel like chilling around with and sharing all your joys and sorrows. Shivam belongs to the second category. Talking to him calms you down and makes you realize that it’s ok to screw up things and everyone else is also screwing up things. Life is not perfect at all and Shivam has the uncanny ability to accept it calmly, laugh it off and move on. I haven’t seen him cribbing or whining about spoilt milk. He’s had his share of raw deals and missed chances but he’s always laughed it off and come out stronger.

When I was just about to become a dad , everyone around was giving a lot of advice on how to do this, how to be that ideal dad etc but then I spoke to Shivam . Shivam being Shivam, he calmly explained to me the practical side of what you can’t be and some examples of how he has messed up in certain situations. It calmed my nerves and made me breathe easy.

Shivam works calmly under high-pressure when deadlines are approaching and it brings the best out of him. This has been his strength since college days. During our XLRI days, Shivam had multiple nick-names. One of it was “Undead” for his exceptional ability to be awake through the night and still be fresh during the day. He was equally adept at being the DJ for the in-house college parties just hours before an important presentation deadline and still create a great presentation.

The other great quality of him is his ability to completely switch off from work once he’s back home. He ensures he takes two vacations a year at the minimum to spend time with family. Small but significantly important things. In my friend’s circle, there is one set of friends who are only thinking about savings and investments. Shivam does his basic bit here but for him, enjoying the now is much more important than worrying about the future. Not worrying too much about the past or the future is a quality which very few people possess and Shivam has got this.

Amidst all the busy-ness of corporate life, Shivam still manages to ensure that he attends every outstation trip which our group of friends plan every year. Every year, there are one or two people in our group of eight who cant make it but for Shivam, the trips are an equally important priority. A chai-lover, Arsenal loyalist and an expert “candid photographer “, trips and hangouts with him are always fun. He has a regular collection of funny anecdotes which he repeats in every trip but you still can’t help laughing every time.

Shivam’s favorite quote is “ Attitude is matter”. In a world filled with people who invariably end up becoming part of the corporate rat-race, Shivam stands out as a refreshingly calm, level headed, “take-it-easy” personality who is always willing to help out. He may never have topped the class for his academic abilities, but for his sportive attitude, he will be right up the charts.

Shivam Naman Sinha – here’s wishing you a happy birthday. Hoping you wont change one bit in the years to come as well.

Cheers to lots of Chais , photographs, trips and “Siskaaris” (Even Google wont tell you what a siskaari is -you need to know Shivam to understand the meaning of this 😊)

P.S: I could have gone on and on about Shivam but it would go against his personality trait of less gyaan , more action and keeping things short and simple.

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!!

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

Birthday Specials – Prince Augustin – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

I first heard of Prince Augustin in my Group HR days at the Mahindra Group 8 years ago.  Prince would be taking over as the Executive Vice President – Group Human Resources in two months’ time then. In those days, Prince was the HR Head for the Automotive Sector in Mahindra. Prince’s mother had passed away then and we had all gone to attend the funeral in Chembur. I was amazed to see the entire Mahindra auto sector leadership fraternity in attendance for the funeral. There were about 150 senior leaders present for something which was not mandatory and more of a personal gesture. I was awestruck by the way this man had a personal connect with so many people. Outside of corporate success, this is the kind of respect one aspires for in a career. That was my first memory of Prince.

Before Prince joined Group HR, we were told that Prince was one of the most difficult bosses to work with and only a few people could survive under him. There was a distinct aura about him and also a sense of fear. Allen Sequeira, the earlier head of Group HR was retiring after having crafted a spectacular journey over more than 10 years and had set very high standards with respect to various initiatives and programs. Change management , in a diversified conglomerate like Mahindra, which is a mix of old school and young professionals is a complex challenge purely due to the diversity of various stakeholders involved. The baton had been passed over to Prince and some of the critical initiatives like the GMC program ( hiring students from India’s top B schools) , the leadership development program and talent management for senior leaders needed a booster dose and were in danger of decaying. It was a difficult job at hand and all of us in Group HR were nervous about the leadership style. We were told by a few that he was extremely aggressive, and we needed to be very careful. Some people even compared his style to Hitler.

But all those fears were proved wrong in our team’s first interaction. Prince was anything but Hitler-esque. Instead of meeting only the team leader, he called the entire team. And this was not a one-off. Prince never used to believe in the age-old hierarchical school of only meeting and interacting majorly with the direct reports. His level of detailing is amazing. He started getting into the details of the last T. Some of the questions he would ask us in our meetings would make us dumbfounded as to why such a senior leader should be so involved in execution. In my experience, he was the first leader at a very senior level who actually spoke about execution of initiatives and got involved as well. The other thing about Prince was he would always be curious to learn and if he didn’t know something, he would openly admit and get his answers from the team. This is in contrast with a leadership style where certain leaders want to put up a “know-it-all” façade of an image in front of their team.

I spent only 12 months working with Prince but the learnings under him will be carried for life. The best part about Prince is he is not afraid to call a spade a spade. I have seen a lot of HR leaders become politically diplomatic and side with the popular choice or the business head’s choice when it comes to opinions and decisions. Prince is anything but this. If he strongly believed in something basis his logical deduction and opinion, he would not hesitate to call it out vocally to the senior most of leaders. I have seen him get into tough discussions and voicing out his opinion during calls with the likes of Anand Mahindra and other senior leaders. These leaders are above him in hierarchy and designation, but Prince is someone who doesn’t mince words when he feels so and he wants to convey his opinion.  I guess this is why a lot of leaders at that level love Prince for his ability to be honest , straightforward and expressive nature.

Despite this ability to speak his mind, Prince has built an amazing relationship amongst his peers, superiors and subordinates. I have seen a lot of people in the corporate world who have high networking skills but also have a diplomacy and a selfish give and take attitude. Prince invests a lot in building relationships but never changes his core personality.  With Prince, you can be frank and honest and tell your problems and he will try to close the problem himself. He doesn’t believe in postponing or delegating problems. He would ask us –“who is to be called?” Instantly, he would pick up the phone, call the respective stakeholder, talk it out and move on. As a leader, if you can solve the problems of your sub-ordinates quickly, then the respect increases multi-fold. Prince was that go-to-man for all problems during my stint with him. He also would not tolerate mediocrity at work. If a presentation was shoddy, he would call it out and ask us to come back with a better output. Only if he was completely convinced, he would go ahead. Else, he would make us go through the iterations. Working with such a leader also improves your own quality of thinking and raises the bar.  There were quite a few presentations where we were blasted and would go out dejected. But Prince would always come out of the meeting and tell us not to take this to heart and reassure us.

Prince’s career has spanned over 35 years but he has worked only in a handful of companies. He has been with the Mahindra Group since 2003. The thing about great leaders is they are able to build great teams. Prince has been able to keep his long-serving P.A/E.A Kirsten motivated enough to work under him for more than a decade. Prince’s loyal team not only includes his P.As and E.As but also his driver. Whenever he goes to any event or conference, he ensures that his driver Irfan also gets to eat something. He doesn’t need to do this but such noble acts ensure the likes of Irfan also swear by him. He also believes in instant rewards for excellent work. I remember having worked extremely hard for pulling off the Mahindra War Room Grand Finale event and the very next day, he personally handed over a 2 nights/3 days Club Mahindra voucher inclusive of flight for 2 people and a handwritten note for putting all the hard work. I wasn’t expecting anything as there was no such policy but Prince wanted to ensure that we were instantly gratified for our hard work. He did not care about looking at any budget or policy. He just wished well. People everywhere work hard, but very few people get instant appreciation and recognition. Prince was truly princely when it came to rewards and recognition.

Prince also is a gem of a person at heart, and he believes that people should prosper in their careers. Unlike many, he does not believe in holding resources close to him forever. He ensures that people who have worked under him get roles which they like. It was because of his push that I moved from HR to Sales, a drastically different career choice, but he convinced a lot of senior folks about my potential. Later, in 6 months’ time, when I thought I will quit sales, he backed me urging me to see a full year’s cycle and if required, he said he would talk to the Zonal Manager to ensure that I succeed. That was his way of giving confidence to people. I took his advice and by God’s grace, there has been no looking back. My classmate Udit, who worked as his E.A, moved to China after two years. Prince was selfless in more ways than one as he has fought for a lot of people, if he felt he was right.

After moving to Sales, I wasn’t in very regular touch with him but would try to consult him whenever things were not going ok. I invited him to my wedding. He could not make it but he sent a greeting card, a note and a cheque of a substantial amount. I wasn’t expecting this. He had nothing to do with me but still such genuinely selfless acts ensure you connect with a person at a much deeper level.

A work-o-holic who jokes that “work is life, life is work and hence they balance out” , Prince is lucky to have an understanding wife like Carol who has stood by him by a rock and allowed to him to become a HR Rockstar. He has practiced what he preaches “do the things that help you visibly differentiate yourself. Have an abundance mindset, not a scarcely competitive mindset. The world has place for everyone.” No wonder that his alma mater, SIBM Pune, conferred upon him the “Alumnus of the year” in 2011 and “ Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to HR”.

In a corporate world dominated by servility, self-centered, politically correct “yes-ministers”, Dr. Prince Augustin stands tall as a selfless, straight-speaking , fearless HR stalwart . Prince not only by name, but by heart and deeds.

Happy Birthday Prince.

May you continue to inspire people around you. Fortunate to have worked with you.

Jai Hind