The office I’m seated in has two stories to tell, and it takes two sessions to uncover them—more than other conversations for this column. I’m in Deutsche Bank House, in Mumbai’s heritage Fort district, in the corner office of Ravneet Gill, the chief executive officer of the German bank’s Indian operations.

Corporate heritage, art, environment

First, the compact room conveys specific corporate values: solidity, and sensitivity to local context. The furniture is classic and elegant—just the sort one would expect from a European bank located in a century-old building (Deutsche Bank bought the building from the Tatas in 1992).

A Ramkumar painting adorns a wall right outside his cabin. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
A Ramkumar painting adorns a wall right outside his cabin. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

An array of “tombstones", or mementos marking business milestones, are placed on top of a cabinet. For Gill, who moved into the office in August, client-centricity is key to expanding the firm. “I would want Deutsche Bank to be seen as the first port of call for most of the clients, and would want to strengthen the culture of sustainability, in terms of the businesses and relationships we develop."

Finally, there is a new “green" outlook: Gill’s cabin and the neighbouring conference room are powered by 20 solar panels, which were installed in February on the roof terrace. Gill’s room is now off the electric grid, apart from the central air conditioning, although there is an automatic provision to switch over should the panels fail to generate adequate power.

The roof terrace sports 20 solar panels that power Ravneet Gill’s cabin and the conference room. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
The roof terrace sports 20 solar panels that power Ravneet Gill’s cabin and the conference room. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

“The best way to inspire people is to set an example. It’s setting the tone from the top, that this office is powered by solar energy, so I think it just stays in people’s minds," says Gill, explaining the motivation for the effort.

Sport, art, nature

The second story is less well-known, and relates to Gill’s personal interests, some of which are aligned to the bank’s pursuits. Unlike many time-strapped corporate professionals, Gill, 50, has made it a point to maintain and develop hobbies, which he shares with me in our second meeting. “In India somehow we have this concept that if you find time to invest in yourself, it’s almost seen as some kind of selfishness. I personally believe that your ability to contribute to your friends and family is very dependent on how you keep raising the bar for yourself," he says.

There’s a framed T-shirt signed by the Indian cricket team next to his desk. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
There’s a framed T-shirt signed by the Indian cricket team next to his desk. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Gill is both a committed cricket fan and keen sportsman, saying: “Holidays have to be sporting holidays with lots of action—tennis, soccer, cricket or golf. Luckily my two boys share my love for sport, so I’m never short of company." He makes it a point to work out for 80 minutes every day, after work. One room in his home has been converted into a home gym to ensure “there are no excuses" to skip the gym, he says.

Gill and his wife have been serious art collectors for several years. While the art in the cabin belongs to the bank, the selection of works reflects his individual preferences. “This painting has moved with me through my various offices in DB House; I’ve had four-five offices here," he says, pointing to the Shrestha. Another striking piece of art in his office is a photograph of a tribal girl, which has personal resonance. “That picture is representative of the girl child my wife and I very much wanted in our lives."

The figurines from Uzbekistan were gifted to Gill by his sister. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
The figurines from Uzbekistan were gifted to Gill by his sister. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

The ability to successfully manage work and play is an enviable trait. For Gill, it is underlined by discipline. “It’s been a very important guiding principle of my life. Work-life balance is not something that happens on its own," he states.

Gill’s multiple interests might suggest lack of depth in each one. That would be a mistake: Each one has been carefully cultivated. “I have no hobbies or interests, I only have passions. I’m a very intense person," he admits. This fervour manifests itself in the workplace too. When describing desired teamwork, Gill emphasizes that “what you want is a high-intensity effort into changing the businesses we do, the clients that we engage, with everyone pulling in the same direction."

Universal banking

A wooden-ship souvenir sits pretty on a cabinet. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
A wooden-ship souvenir sits pretty on a cabinet. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

“One of the big issues with having very vertical careers is that at some stage your learning curve can flatten. The product skills required, and the overall performance culture in markets, was so different from corporate banking that I really thought it would help me reinvent myself at that stage of my career," says Gill, adding that “it was very challenging, the first six months were like being in a blender".

Diverse exposure, he feels, helped him reach his current role as chief executive in 2012. “How do you build a universal bank without universal bankers? If you’re now talking about building a much wider platform, and if you’ve had exposure to various sectors, then obviously it’s easier to relate to issues," he argues.

It is an approach to careers currently in vogue. Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, writes in Lean In, her new book, that “careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder. There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym." The challenge, of course, is to keep adapting, and be equally good at many things.

Aparna Piramal Raje meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspaces and working styles.

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