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

RKR – Father’s Day Special Blog

Rasa-kudi Raghuraman ( RKR) in Hindi , loosely translates to Rasam Peene Wala Raghuraman. In my family, RKR was as big as SRK or MSD or SRT or GST. Even before these acronyms became famous, there was a certain gentleman, who had earned the nickname RKR in the 90s for his Rasam drinking abilities.

RKR had earned this nickname because he could drink 2 or 3 glasses of rasam back to back after having eaten a bowl full of rasam rice. He could easily devour a vessel full of rasam single-handedly. For him, drinking a full container of rasam was as easy as Federer winning Wimbledon on grass. The title RKR was bestowed on him after many such conquests and no one in our family has ever close to taking away the record from this gentleman.

And he was doing this routine, day in, day out just like how Sachin would go out to the nets daily. Harsha Bhogle has spoken a lot about talent, born vs acquired and the relentless hours of practice, which differentiates the champions from the ordinary. If Harsha were part of our family and he would see RKR drinking rasam, he would write an essay on talent, consistency and practice looking at this.  RKR, the phenom, has been doing this since childhood, continues to do this daily and he cares a damn about what others think about this quality of his.

RKR is an amazing athlete as well. I did not know of this hidden talent of his. One Sunday, me and RKR were walking out of our aunt’s house. RKR was scared of dogs, like me. As we came out of our aunt’s house, me and RKR saw a white Labrador barking at us. A teenaged boy was holding it. Both me and RKR were scared. We told the boy to hold the dog tightly so that we could walk out to the main road. As soon as RKR said this, I don’t what happened to the boy. The boy was trying to hold the cuff and keep the dog with him but the dog broke away and came at us. Me and RKR looked at each other for a second. We ignored our mind’s rational decision to stay still and instead, decided to listen to our instinct and decided to run and save our life. We equated the dog to a man-eating Royal Bengal tiger and ran for our lives. We didn’t even look at each other. The dog was coming at us. The boy was running behind the dog. Me and RKR were running without looking back. Usain Bolt would have been proud of our running. PT Usha would have nominated us to the Indian athletics team just seeing our 30 second sprint. The gully road led to the main road via a T junction. As me and RKR neared the main road, the road opened into two directions. I ran to the left. I did not see RKR.

As he was not behind/beside me, I assumed he ran to the right. After about 30 seconds more when I was gasping for breath, I stopped. I suddenly realized that I had lost RKR while running and I needed to find him. I started walking briskly to the other side of the T entrance to the main road. For a few minutes, I did not find RKR. I suddenly started panicking. All sorts of weird thoughts started entering my head. What if the Labrador had bit RKR and RKR was hospitalized? What if he had ran and met with an accident?  I was lost in these negative thoughts for a few seconds.

I felt miserable that I had not run holding RKR’s hand. That way at least both of us would have met with the same fate. It is in such situations that one realizes the true value of one’s father. RKR was after all my dad, who was instrumental in bringing me to this world.  Dejected at the entire chain of events, I was cursing the boy who could not hold the Labrador with him. Neither the boy, the dog, nor RKR were anywhere to be seen. I kept walking in the faint hope that I would see RKR coming from the opposite direction.

I had walked a few metres when I reached a cricket ground on my right. On every third Sunday, a league match would be played with players clothed in whites on a green mat. It would resemble a Test Match ground. I was staring at the middle of the pitch through the grilled fence . All sorts of thoughts started wavering in my head.

As a child, my dad had given me everything I had asked for. All my early memories like my first audio cassette – Darr ,my first animation movie – the Lion King ( my dad had promised me that if I came first in class, he would take me to a nice movie), the Sunday visits to the aquarium with him near Hussainsagar lake and many more memories started surfacing. I was kicking myself for being selfish and not looking at where my Dad was running. I was totally annoyed with myself. I dint want to go back home. What would I answer to my Mom, my aunt, my relatives?

As I neared the stands, I heard a familiar voice shouting at me “ Hari …” . It was RKR’s voice. It was such a relief. I was confused as to how did he land up as a spectator in this match, when a few minutes ago, he was running for his life. He seemed to have read my thoughts “I ran so fast and I could hear the dog coming after me, so I decided to climb up the grill and get into the ground so that the dog could not chase me” When both of us came home and narrated this incident, my Mom couldn’t stop laughing.

That incident, funny as it may sound in retrospect, made me realize the value of my dad. A few children are closer to their mothers, while for a few, it’s the other way around. I was and still am momma’s boy. Because my dad used to work and mom was a house-wife, most of my up-bringing was done by her.  My dad may not be the most perfect dad, but I think I am fortunate that he is still with me. Initially, I used to crib a lot about his imperfections and how he could never equal my mother.

We realize the true value of things when those things are no longer with us. When a few of my friends told me that they had lost their parents at a young age, I realized how lucky I was to have both my parents raising me .Thankfully, for me, the realization has come sooner before it’s too late. We all have our imperfections and, in our eagerness, to compare everything and everyone, we forget that each person is unique in their own way and continue to be judgmental.

Now, the wheel has turned full circle and I have become a dad and I can see my child thinking about me in future in the same lines a few years down the line. There are times when the baby is crying loudly and I am deep asleep. Its not that I intend to but it just doesn’t happen.

Becoming a dad also has made me realize the importance of one thing which most of corporate India has neglected – paternity leave. It’s really sad that most of the board members in the corporate world do not consider this as a priority. The situation is worse in some hospitals -where I am told even maternity leave is a luxury, forget paternity leave. There are a few bright spots like Zomato ( which recently announced a 6 month paternity leave for both men and women)  in an otherwise sad scenario . In today’s times, it is impossible to expect a woman to raise a child independently. The first six months of transition for a woman from wife to a mother is extremely difficult and the basic expectation from her is if the husband /dad spends “time”. There are various things organizations can do – something vary basic like paternity leave, to arranging sessions on how to transition to parenthood, career customization for new parents etc.

My dad worked in a PSU, which was pretty much a 9 to 5 job therefore I have a lot of fond childhood memories . In today’s times, someone who comes in at 9 and leaves by 5 is perceived as “not hungry for growth”. People who stay late , work on weekends, take calls post office hours are perceived to be more “hard-working” and rewarded with promotions in a lot of cases. Unless the culture in corporate changes from the top, there’s a grave danger that our future generations of kids may not have as many memories of their childhood with mom and dad, as our generation had. Father’s Day will become another tick-the-box activity. Let’s hope the future changes for the better.

Happy Father’s Day

Jai Hind

Recruitment Woes: Freaky Fridays: Weekly blog

This week’s blog is dedicated to my favorite department in the corporate world – the HR department. I am an MBA (HR) from Asia’s best institute for HR – XLRI Jamshedpur, but after having seen the way most HRs operate, I sometimes feel glad that I quit HR and moved to Sales. Now-a-days, I hear a fancy term – HRBP. Apparently, it stands for HR Business Partner but I think HR Business Puppet is more appropriate. When they literally have no say in most decisions , why falsely call themselves partners. You will agree with me when I take you through a few of the glorious HR botch-ups which I have experienced in my 9 year corporate career so far.

Let’s talk about the earth’s most customer-centric company “Ghamazon” ( the real name cannot be disclosed for fear of a legal backlash). Getting to know the CV shortlist status of the job you have applied for in this organization is like walking through Abhimanyu’s chakravyuh unscathed. You need to wage a “Ghamasaan” war just to find out if your CV has been shortlisted or otherwise. Of late, this company, which is the largest e-commerce company in the world, has pumped in close to 5 billion $ to win in the Indian market. If only they had invested at least 1%  of this in building a strong HR process, then their employer brand would have been way stronger. I had applied for a few roles here, which I thought would be suitable based on my previous work experience, via their online portal. Almost 20 people (my classmates, seniors and juniors from XL) work in HR here. Sadly, none of them could tell about whether my CV was shortlisted or rejected. They have an amazing candidate job portal, where in the candidate can see the status of his CV (applied, rejected, shortlisted). Sadly, even after 90 days, the portal was showing my CVs status as “applied”. The HR folks didn’t bother to update my status. I called up a few of my friends in the company and none of them had any clue. Finally, one of them said that my CV was untagged for those profiles so maybe I was not shortlisted. Why could the HR simply not update the same in their portal? I understand that the folks in this company are completely over-worked, almost on the verge of burn-out and crave for work-life balance like a kid craving for ice-cream. But what stops the HR from just updating a status on the portal? One of my HR friends in the organization was defending his fellow colleagues saying that each job posting receives 1000+ applications and it is impossible to screen so many CVs. A fair argument, but what stops someone from updating the status to “not shortlisted” for whatever reasons. Why have the portal in the first place? On one hand, the founder talks about the ultimate customer experience like “card-less shopping” while the HR department is not even bothered about updating a candidate’s status online. There’s a huge difference between the consumer experience and the employer brand experience. Hope someday, someone cleans this mess.

The fun gets better at its subsidiary ( let me call it Loud-tail). Ghamazon can’t retail products directly to consumers as per Indian e-commerce regulations so it has created this JV with an Indian partner. So, the interview process in Loud-tail is the same as the parent company. There are two telephonic rounds followed by five face-to-face rounds. This is as per Ghamazon global guidelines. Everything seems fair so far. Thanks to my HR friend referring me, I am shortlisted for the interview stage. After clearing the telephonic rounds, I am called for the face-to-face rounds. Questions are asked by different interviewers on the leadership principles and I am asked to describe past experiences. So 5 different people ask me the same set of questions, I give the same replies to different people. I am told that like MTV roadies, there will be a voting where each of the five interviewers will give their vote against me – yes or no. After meeting the 5 people and doing some research about their profile and experience, I get the first shock. 2 out of the 5 people are 3 years junior to me in batch and at the same designation as me. These people have no clue about distributor sales, but they probe me on it and argue why other approaches could not have been used. This is equivalent to a State Head of Kerala interviewing a State Head of Karnataka. And I get inside info that these two “panelists” have given a “no” vote to me. The fun gets better in the final round , which is called  a “Bar-raiser” round. The bar-raiser has the final say in case of a tie and is supposed to be a senior resource. When I meet him, he tells me that he has just worked for 10 days in Loud-tail and 8 years in Ghamazon. The bar-raiser also asks the same questions, I give the same answers. In all this tamasha, the HR’s role is only to co-ordinate the interviews, arrange conference rooms, escort me to the canteen area and give me a visitor card.I am told that HR is only a “facilitator” and a “support function”. Later, I come to know through my HR friend that I am rejected as the bar-raiser and the two peer “panelists” have given a “no” to me even the hiring manager was confident and had a yes. I don’t take this to heart but I quiz my friend as to why are peers/juniors interviewing a person of the same level. I am told that they need 5 panelists and as the employee base is small, there are not many senior panelists. Great logic but then why not reduce the number of panelists and have only senior folks interview. He replies with a  typical “Lakeer Ka Fakeer” reply – “Ghamazon’s global guidelines mandate that 5 people interview face-to-face”. Fair point but Ghamazon U.S and Loudtail India are two different organizations in two different contexts. Why the hell has a process which is illogical to be followed for just ticking the box? But as usual, why should HR have these tough discussions with global teams? Why bell the cat unnecessarily and create controversy? Typical safe HR mindset. And the best part is the HR doesn’t interview the candidate. It just “facilitates”. The icing on the cake though is the “bar-raiser”. Mr. Bar-raiser has an experience in supply chain and has zero experience of sales, key account management or business development and the role demands a person to be skilled at these. Yet, he thinks I do not have the required skill-sets or “special projects” to demonstrate these. Apparently, I have not met the bar.

The situation in Indian companies is no worse. I worked for six years in WIMC ( Well Known Indian Management Conglomerate). Recently, I referred someone for a Sales regional leadership position. I had sent a mail to the HR as I had their email ids. As expected, there was no reply – no thank you, no status nothing. And then the HRs complain about not able to close positions quickly, not able to generate referrals, not having a pool of profiles. I recently tried applying for a start-up ( let’s call it Hudaan). One of my XL juniors working there gave me a number of the HRBP working there. I called him saying I was looking for suitable opportunities. He said he would call me back. No prizes for guessing, he never called me back. I sent him a text later in the day asking for a time when I could chat with him. As expected, no reply and neither of us bothered after that.

Then, there are the great FMCGs of the world which only want to hire similar industry clones. While on hand, all the HR heads talk about diversity in organizations but in most organizations, there is zero diversity in employee profiles. If you have worked in one industry in sales, the recruiting fraternity ensures that you work in that industry for life. FMCGs want only FMCG experience, Banking folks only banking, healthcare folks want only healthcare and the list goes on. Zero value to the fact that a person who has worked in sales in X industry has his own learning curve which can make him adapt to Y industry. Nobody wants to take a risk and we all have industry clones. The outcome – no new diversity in idea generation, no new perspective. But the HR and the business leader feel proud that they have got an industry person.

All this are just recruitment related experiences. I haven’t even started on appraisals, transfers, resignation letters etc. Will leave that for a different day. Right now, it’s time to head to the gym. If ever I start a bar or a gym in the near future, no points for guessing what the name will be.

…..

……

“Bar-raiser” – of course.

Jai Hind

Baap Baap Hota Hai : Freaky Fridays weekly blog

Yesterday (27th Feb, 2019) was a Red Letter Day in my historic life. Our little bundle of joy , Miss Aaria Iyer , made a grand entry at 1:16 pm into this world. It was truly historic as it came a day after the Balakot air strikes. My friend Yosha asked me if we are keeping the child’s nickname as BALAKOT. While I loved his creativity, we already had a nickname – PEANUT. My creative wife had decided this name as soon as we figured out she got pregnant. Aaria was the size of a peanut in her first scan. Both me and wife are extremely impatient Indians in general and we like to keep things simple. We did not have the patience to think of another nickname and confuse the world. Our 4 year old niece Aiko had already started calling her Peanu. We were scared of her as she would ask a zillion questions and not stop till we gave a logically satisfying explanation as to why we changed Peanu’s name to Balakot. Both of us were too busy in the labor room since the past few days and if she asked any thing about Balakot, we were scared to say #Idon’tknow .Therefore ,we decided to continue with Peanu. This is a very strategically important decision for our family as it has serious implications on the geo-political climate in our family,relatives ,friends and other neighboring nation states. It would impact macro-economic parameters like inflation (of balloons as all future birthday parties may have a customized “peanut” written on it which increases cost) , cost of stationery purchased (a few pictures of a peanut would need to be pasted in diaries, books etc. when the kid asks what is peanut) , but we decided that it would stay this way come what may!!!

To provide some rock solid support, we had our amazing sister in law “Beat Yesterday Preethy” playing the “Dula” role throughout. A Dula is a mentor, counselor, physiotherapist, masseur, coach all rolled into one who will stand with the pregnant mom and ensure she has physical, mental and emotional support . The Western countries have a professional Dula. Due to tight finances, we decided that Beat Yesterday Preethy would be our makeshift Dula (like how Sehwag was made to open the batting in Tests despite never having played cricket before as an opener).

Like Sehwag, Beat Yesterday Preethy killed it in her new role as a Dula. I strongly feel she should stop doing what she does currently and make this her profession. She works as Director of a startup. We made her work from home.. Or rather work from cradle (cradle = Apollo Cradle). I had the privilege of listening to her superb con calls which she keeps having with her team. Yesterday, in a con call where in she had to give a monthly update to her bosses, she started off with an amazing one-liner.. “Starting with the update on our monthly newsletter..which has not been happening since last few months…

” I couldn’t stop laughing . Why give an update on something which doesn’t happen. These corporate updates I tell you…

Beat Yesterday Preethy has got her name because the sticker on her phone says “Beat Yesterday “. It’s an apt name for her as the look on her face always reads “Beat everybody.. Beat yesterday, beat today, beat Hari, beat Ashwin (husband), beat team, beat bosses “. But..Jo bhi Ho.. The delivery wouldn’t have been as smooth if not for my sister-in-law.

After looking at my sister-in-law’s dedicaton, I decided that I will do whatever it takes to be the best dad ever. One of my biggest weaknesses is I sleep like a log. When I sleep, I literally go deep into the deepest layers of the troposphere, stratosphere and ionosphere. And it’s difficult to wake me up easily. I promised my wife I will not allow this once Peanu is born.

So the first night, Peanu decided to sleep, I confidently told my wife – ” Baby, kuch bhi help chahiye toh bas ek baar mera naam Lena.. I will immediately wake up and help up” Saying this, I slept at 10 pm. In my first dream as a dad, I dreamt of me waking up at the first call, helping out and earning qaabil-e-taareef from my wife.

Suddenly , I woke up. I thought I had a bad dream as I could hear my wife shouting ” Hari !!! Hari !!!” When I woke up, I saw my wife staring at me furiously. There was a pillow lying next to me. The nurse was beside her. I was about to explain my dream to my wife but she cut me off “Hari, all this empty talk of waking up on calling your name won’t do any good if you don’t walk the talk. I called your name 10 times as I wanted the feeding pillow. I have thrown my pillow on your face but that also has had no effect. The nurse got scared that I was shrieking hysterically and she came and offered me the feeding pillow. Shame on you!!!”

I looked at the clock. It was 1.30 am. Sheepishly, a song started playing in my mind

” Dula ka role baap ke bas ki baat nahi,

Baap ka role side actor hi Sahi,

Bacche ki real lifeline maa hi hai,

Kyunki….

baap baap hota hai… baap baap hota hai ”

Jai Hind