It is not often I meet someone whose post-retirement workspace is in the same building where his career first took off, several decades ago, and is pleased about it. For Arun Nanda, chairman of Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India Ltd, and long-time Mahindra Group stalwart, life has come full circle.

In April, he moved from Mahindra Towers, the group’s landmark headquarters building in Worli, Mumbai, to a new workspace in the Gateway Building in Apollo Bunder, the group’s registered office. This is the same address as his first role with the group’s corporate headquarters in Mumbai, as a company secretary in 1986, and he worked there for several years before the company headquarters moved to Mahindra Towers.

Now, Nanda’s office is one of only three in a newly created executive office suite, alongside the workspaces of the Mahindra Group’s former and current chairmen—Keshub Mahindra and Anand Mahindra, respectively. Nanda, 64, serves as non-executive chairman and board member of several group companies, having resigned in 2010 as executive director of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, the group’s flagship company, to focus on non-profit projects. His workspace and career journey offer an insight into managing professional transitions.

Photographs dot Nanda’s table

Nanda’s cabin is elegantly appointed—comfortable sofas, a Kashmiri carpet, an art deco cabinet, wood flooring and panelling—in a style suited to someone fond of silk handkerchiefs and formal blazers, and congruous with the building’s heritage architecture. Adjoining the main cabin is a small chamber with a meeting table and a wall full of black and white prints of sketches of Club Mahindra resorts across India.

The selection of art and artefacts in the main room reveals much about Nanda’s personality: All the artworks were bought from charity auctions, including a sculpture made entirely of scrap material by a Chennai-based artist. “I only buy art from charity auctions. I think that’s a way to give back and it’s something you can use," says Nanda.

Finally, two books are displayed prominently on the coffee table near the sofas—India Rising by journalist Oliver Balch and Conscious Capitalism by Raj Sisodia and John Mackey. Nanda points to the first page in the former—the book starts with an interview with him in his role as executive director. It is clearly important to him.

He is currently reading the second book, saying he recently “had lunch with the author Raj Sisodia". Capitalism-with-a-conscience is Nanda’s mantra. “I’m not saying don’t have conspicuous consumption, but I’m saying be conscious of the have-nots," he clarifies.

His office is one of only three in a newly created executive office suite

The workspace provides three important suggestions as to how Nanda was able to come full circle, that is, from being a company secretary to becoming a board member and finally adopting a new semi-retirement role.

First, as highlighted by the Club Mahindra prints, Nanda reinvented himself at critical times, transforming from accountant to business leader, to take on new responsibilities within the group. His early years with the group’s businesses in Kolkata and Pune entailed functional roles, given his qualification as law graduate, chartered accountant and company secretary. “My starting salary was 750 on probation and 1,100 on confirmation," he recalls.

After moving to Mumbai, however, he began spearheading businesses. Following the group’s stated intent to move into the service sector, Nanda identified holiday time-shares as a growth opportunity, leading to a quasi-entrepreneurial role as the founder of the Mahindra Holiday and Resorts venture, the group’s hospitality business. He nurtured the business from inception; it is now worth 2,131 crore in market capitalization.

The Mahindra World City—in Chennai and Jaipur—the group’s large-scale, mixed-use township business, was another example of leveraging the group’s brand to enter unknown terrain.

“They gave me the opportunity and I took a risk. I took a chance to move from a very comfortable job to get into an area where neither the group had any experience, nor I had any experience," he says, adding with characteristic bluntness, “that risk was very painful because these businesses took a long time and a lot of people took potshots at me."

A copy of ‘India Rising’ in Nanda’s office—the book starts with an interview with him

The decision shows how much corporate culture can shape personal values, particularly when one devotes the better part of one’s career to a single employer. “The values of the group have played a role in my decision to spend my second innings working in the social sector, that is, setting up and managing the Adhata Trust to bring happiness, purpose and dignity in the lives of our senior citizens," he says. The Mahindra Group has always been driven by purpose, he adds, and its businesses have mass impact, whether it’s tractors, utility vehicles or newer sectors like affordable housing.

Finally, the location, layout and décor of the office itself point to a very important aspect of any transition: providing the right physical environment, which allows individuals to retain elements of their old identity as they forge new ones.

Nanda continues to speak at public events, participates in a global, anti-corruption task force and is involved with national initiatives on skill development and water management. Despite these commitments, he says, it was “difficult" to extract himself from daily business operations. “It was a painful transition, not an easy one. I’m too detail-oriented and very passionate and tend to jump in…so I did have my withdrawal symptoms, but one learns," he says, acknowledging both Keshub and Anand Mahindra’s “generosity" in re-appointing him to the board, retaining him as chairman of two listed entities and providing a workspace and administrative support.

The heritage Gateway Building is evidently underpinned by another timeless quality: grace.

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

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