Rahul Khosla | Breathe easy4 min read . Updated: 26 Apr 2014, 12:02 AM IST
The managing director of Max embraces life's adventuresexcept when it comes to food
If you go in thinking this is how it must be, then you’re dead before you even start," says Rahul Khosla. The managing director of the ₹ 10,000-crore Max India Ltd—the holding company for the Max group—and father of two, Khosla, 54, prefers not to focus on how things ought to be. He likes to take things as they come, whether it’s going from “always having a large dog in the house" growing up, to befriending his tabby more than a decade ago or shifting base from well-ordered Singapore to the “colour" and drama of India three years ago.
You can see this attitude even in the ease with which he embraced his children’s alternative career choices. His son, Aman, a rock guitarist in New York, came close to becoming a suit when he went away to Monash University in Australia to study marketing and commerce in 2006. After completing that course, however, Aman decided he wanted to be a musician instead. Khosla’s only concern was that Aman, till then a self-trained guitarist, go to a good music school. Once he got through the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, US, Khosla left off worrying and let his son tread his own path to a “tranquil life…not multitasking like his father does".
Khosla’s daughter, Aditi, is graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York in less than a month.
It is part of the reason he chose to meet at the guest house instead of a restaurant. The other reason is that he tries to avoid “hotel-y" settings. “This is more personal," he says. Indeed the warmly furnished living room, with its large windows looking out on to an inviting patio on one side and a garden full of petunias on the other is a great setting.
Going back to the food discussion, Khosla acknowledges that his reticence in experimenting—at all—in this sphere might seem strange in someone as well-heeled as he. “I am not a chaser of the exotic escargots and different types of eels," though he had ample opportunity to sample these. His previous job at Visa, Inc., as group head of products across the Asia-Pacific, Central Europe, Middle East and African markets, meant he travelled wide, and often. At the time, he was also living in Singapore, arguably one of the gourmet capitals of the world. Not for Khosla, though, who says the best food he’s ever eaten “continues to be cooked at home".
Despite his aversion to food-adventurism, there were many other hooks to keep Khosla in Singapore. Life in Singapore and at Visa, Inc. “was good". He had again taken up sports—golf and swimming—after an accident in college had forced him to give up high-impact games like cricket and boxing. In Singapore, he improved his game of golf to reach a personal best of “81. My handicap in Singapore came down to 9; which is good. I haven’t played to 9 in a long time."
So when the invite came from Max promoter Analjit Singh for a meeting to explore a role for Khosla at Max in India, he had to make sure his wife Mehreen and he were ready to shift back at a personal level even before checking whether the “professional side was a tick".
In the end what tipped the scales in favour of moving back—at least on the personal side—was that both Mehreen’s and Khosla’s mothers were in their 70s or 80s and lived in south Delhi.
On the professional side, Khosla credits the alignment of work values between him and Singh for why the shift made sense to him. Close to completing three years at Max, Khosla now rarely consults with Singh on matters of business. Singh relinquished his role as executive chairman of the group that owns brands life Max Life Insurance and Max Speciality Hospitals earlier this month. “There is no politics, I have complete say in all decisions," says Khosla.
In the initial few months in 2011 after he joined, Khosla “immersed" himself in learning about the group companies and key employees at Max in minute detail. By the time he reached the group’s Okhla office in Delhi, he felt like he had known everyone for years. Trouble was, he found, that few people across the conglomerate’s six companies—Max Life Insurance, Max Healthcare, Max Bupa Health Insurance, Max Neeman International, Max Speciality Films and the Antara Senior Living project—had even heard of each other.
The first thing he did was to set up councils where the six group CEOs would meet regularly, get to know each other’s working styles and learn to think not just as individual company heads responsible only for their own profit and loss statements, but also as a group. “Good management is where you are able to zoom in and take a micro view and 30-40-50 times a day, zoom out, go to the sky, and take in the perspective from there," he says.
At the group CEOs meeting now, Khosla says no subject is too trivial or too big—everything from saving costs by clubbing purchases of, say, personal computers across companies to devising human resources policy and taking up critical customer care issues is kosher.
These days, Khosla is again working on charting a clear point A to point B strategy: this time to make some time in his busy schedule to practise the guitar. He learnt to play many years ago as a teenager, but has grown rusty of late. His rock guitarist-composer-music teacher son has made him some videos to help practise some chords and do some exercises as a birthday gift. Khosla even “lugged back" an acoustic guitar from a holiday in Spain two years ago. He expects that in no time at all, all these elements will come together and he’ll be strumming his favourite riffs from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rock tradition.