Fun and games are serious business for Ishmeet Singh, the country manager of Mattel Toys India. So is being active. Till a few years ago, Mumbai-based Singh, 48, used to cycle because he did not want to buy a car.
When the physics graduate, with a master’s in management studies from Mumbai’s Sydenham Institute of Management, joined Mattel in July 2016, one of his conditions was that his new workplace in Bandra Kurla Complex, around 10km from his Lower Parel residence, should have a shower and changing facility for employees who cycle or run to work. “I cycle to work at least three-four times a week," he says. Singh, who believes that fit professionals can contribute more, took up running while he was working with Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), under the leadership of Nitin Paranjpe (its chief executive officer at the time). Running, along with cycling and yoga, has become a permanent fixture in his weekly calendar. He continues to join his ex-colleagues from HUL and Vodafone for weekend runs. His daughter Ishita, 14, participates in the Dream Run (around 6.6km) in the Mumbai Marathon held in January. “After I finish my half marathon at the Mumbai Marathon, I join my daughter for her Dream Run," says the six-time half marathoner. Singh’s personal best time was at the 2015 Mumbai Marathon, where he finished the 21.1km run in 2 hours, 15 minutes. One thing he wishes he could change? Get his banker wife Jyotsna to take up running. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How does running influence your work?
Any form of exercise—running, cycling, yoga—helps clear my head. The endorphins reduce stress and improve my mood and self-esteem. Running gives me much needed “me time", as also a lot of confidence and a sense of achievement. It makes me feel like I can take up any challenge at work or in life.
How do you balance your training and work?
Unless exercise becomes a habit, it will always be considered a chore and, therefore, susceptible to excuses. My running shoes are a standard part of my travelling kit and I have set a minimum 10,000 steps as my daily target. Rain or shine—I follow my routine.
When the base is set at a decent level, then scaling it up during the run-up to a marathon is easier, with minimal changes.
What impact does leading by example as a fit leader have on your team members?
I am the first in office at my desk at 8am every day and I stay there till evening. Respect, commitment and passion are visible and infectious. My colleagues realize that fit professionals contribute more to work. I can’t share their stress, but I certainly hope that my energy levels can keep them charged.
How do you use running to improve interaction with employees and team building?
My running story as a major team motivator started during my stint with Hindustan Unilever. Under the leadership of Nitin Paranjpe, many of us were encouraged to make it a routine. Sudanshu Vats (group CEO, Viacom 18) and Manish Tiwary (vice-president, Amazon India) are some of my peers who took up running passionately while in HUL and have been motivators for their teams in their new organizations. I continued the tradition in Vodafone, and now Mattel. We use occasions like the Mumbai Marathon, World Environment Day and Health and Safety Day every month to mobilize the team to either run, walk, cycle or work out together. Mattel is currently participating in the Stepathlon competition (a virtual platform that urges participants to walk 10,000 steps), where we have 10 teams of five members each competing with each other, recording their physical activities of the day on an app. Keeping the excitement on with a visual leaderboard energizes everyone and is fantastic for building team spirit within the organization.
What are the leadership lessons you find in distance running.
Running a marathon isn’t on everyone’s bucket list. However, if you are in a leadership role, then you are metaphorically training for a marathon every day you turn up for work. The biggest lessons here are determination, self-discipline and commitment. The “marathon" goal gives me purpose, direction and motivation to channelize the focus of all my efforts. If you want to achieve your goal, you must train and eat right. The lack of effort and training will show. You set small goals to boost your confidence and get a sense of progress. Leading your teams or organization to reach their goal reflects the same actions.
Has running changed the way you work and network?
Oh, yes! Every part of the day, week and month is planned and scheduled. As I cycle to office, my workday starts, latest, by 8.30am. The next 9 hours are maximized to finish a lot. The one-two days I drive in the week are scheduled to socialize on work groups or corporate network with a meal or a game of golf. The weekend is booked with Saturday running and Sunday morning long rides with my cycling group, the majority of whom are my former and current colleagues and friends from Vodafone and Mattel.
Your favourite running moment till date.
The sense of achievement on completing my goal every year. The spirit around you is amazing and you can feel the confidence in the eyes of all the winners. The next one is to meet my daughter and see the pride she feels when I join her for the 6km of the Dream Run.
Describe your training regimen.
My fitness schedule is pretty fixed: three-four days cycle to work (20km). Yoga and an average of 10,000 steps every day, whether by running or walking. Weekends usually entail a longer haul, either running a longer distance or cycling 100km.
In a perfect world, how would you incorporate fitness in the workday of all your team members?
I wish a fitness routine could be mandatory for all. But to make it a way of life, it cannot be forced on anyone. We can create an environment that reinforces the fitness culture and encourages people to take up a physical activity they enjoy. Leadership setting an example does help.
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.