Bharat Kaushal: Running taught me to challenge myself and follow my passion
As a child, Bharat Kaushal was always active. As a student at Delhi’s Modern School and St Stephen’s College, he won laurels at national and state-level swimming championships. However, the stressful work hours and frequent work travel during his years as an investment banker led him to adopt running. Kaushal, managing director (MD) of Hitachi India, doesn’t just consider running a workout, he also uses his long runs to explore parts of any city he happens to be visiting. And for over 31 years, he has been running without more than a day’s gap. At 49, he has run over 50 half marathons, with a best time of 1 hour, 50 minutes in the 1996 New York City Marathon. Edited excerpts:
Did you ever hit the wall? What leadership lessons have you learnt from that episode?
In 2002-03, I faced a lower-back issue because of which doctors advised me to give running a break. They suggested I take time to recuperate—however, since I was a strict believer in running for both physical and mental health, I negotiated with my doctors to continue fast walking and soft running. I brought down the distance to 4-5km a day from an average of 8-10km. That period was a lean phase and it took a while for me to get back into the rhythm later.
I think a key learning for me was how I could challenge myself and follow my passion despite the odds stacked against me. There is always an easy way out—I could have convinced myself to stop running altogether for a few months, as advised by medical experts. But I had faith in myself and my decisions—being a little stubborn about my passion also helped.
How does running influence your performance at work?
Running is a challenging exercise—one needs to exert oneself both physically and mentally. On difficult days, you need to motivate and push yourself with grit and determination. The end result is that after completing an exhausting morning run, you achieve a sense of satisfaction—you have already crossed a hurdle by setting a target and achieving it first thing in the morning.
The same passion and determination translates into delivering my daily tasks and I promote the same approach and dynamism amongst my team members: Set yourself a difficult target and persist towards conquering it. Achievers will often express the sense of high they achieve after accomplishing a task—making a successful client pitch, closing a deal or delivering an impressive presentation in front of the board.
After working 25 years in the investment banking sector, I recently made a move as the first Indian head of Hitachi India—a leading Japanese conglomerate. It was not a conventional move and I knew it would not be easy for me. By taking this decision, I have set a tough task for myself to adapt to a steep learning curve. From facilitating other people’s businesses, I am now entrusted with running a business myself.
What impact does leading by example as a fit leader have?
Fitness quotient is a combination of physical and mental strength. We are all aware of the repercussions of unhealthy eating habits and sedentary work. Given the hectic workload and business mandates that today’s leaders follow, equal weightage should be given to health. My priorities are personal health, family and work. I don’t believe anyone can be committed to his work unless the other two priorities are taken care of.
Fitness is a lifestyle, not a fad. Aggressive diets and extreme physical exercises last temporarily. One needs to establish a permanent fitness plan and pursue it with consistency. It’s never easy to pursue your health and fitness with consistency. But if you are able to establish a routine and follow it for months and years, you imbibe the same passion for perseverance in all aspects of your personal and professional life—never bow down before a challenge, and demonstrate the same rigour for business.
How do you balance your training and work?
The advantage of working as an investment banker before and as the MD of a leading Japanese conglomerate is that you are always on the move. You enjoy the privilege of travelling the world in the profession. Due to the hectic travel schedules, I have never had time for sightseeing the conventional way. However, I was lucky that I could participate in many marathons during these visits. During a lot of my travel in Europe and the US, I would run at formal marathons and informal jogs organized in the city. This enabled me to quickly cover major parts of the city. Over the years, I have established some favourite spots — for example, every time I am in Tokyo, I run around the Imperial Palace, usually early morning, before I head to my meetings. Sometimes, I even run at night around the Imperial Palace.
Discipline in a runner’s life is paramount. Do you think this discipline also reflects your leadership style?
A runner’s life needs self-motivation, consistency and, of course, discipline. Having been a runner for 31 years and an active sportsman/swimmer since school, I have imbibed these qualities in my daily life. I believe I have reflected these in my leadership style over the years.
Running With The Boss is a series where CEOs, MDs and senior executives talk about leadership lessons, management mantras, the importance of a fit team and striking a work-life balance through running.