Different strokes, different folks23 min read . Updated: 28 Sep 2015, 02:01 PM IST
Naresh Trehan, Bhaskar Bhat, Vivek Gambhir, Saugata Gupta, Manish Malhotra and Varun Berry share their stories
Naresh Trehan, Bhaskar Bhat, Vivek Gambhir, Saugata Gupta, Manish Malhotra and Varun Berry share their stories
Six individuals, each on his own path, but driven by the same force—passion for the job. Whether it was bringing better technology to treat heart patients in India, or making quartz watches when no one else was, the career spans of the professionals featured here show that all that matters is a job well done. Naresh Trehan, Bhaskar Bhat, Vivek Gambhir, Saugata Gupta, Manish Malhotra and Varun Berry share their stories
FIGHTING FOR MORE, FOR BETTER:Naresh Trehan, chairman and managing director, and chief cardiac surgeon, Medanta—The Medicity
Naresh Trehan hates tags, no matter how flattering. He prefers to be called a fatalist Indian rather than patriotic; he is not fond of appellations such as millionaire, billionaire and high-net-worth individual, and he hates the word charity. “It sounds like you are doing a favour to someone and that you are superior," he says.
The aversion could also be because he is often tagged as India’s best cardiac surgeon. Trehan is the chairman and managing director, and chief cardiac surgeon of Medanta—The Medicity, a speciality hospital in Gurgaon. Since 2000, he has been the chairman of the health committee of the Confederation of Indian Industry. Over the past few years, he has also become a member of the health ministry’s Key Advisory Group, vice-chairman of the Services Export Promotion Council and chairman of the Healthcare Skill Sector Council, formed in 2012. He is one of the founder members of the International Society of Minimal Invasive Cardiac Surgery, and is consulted on every major health-related decision taken by the Union government. If that’s a mouthful, he isn’t disagreeing: “These names and titles are all useless. Either you are a good human being or a rotten one."
If there’s one thing that frustrates and excites the good doctor more than any title or achievement, it is technology, and his love for India. Frustration with not having sufficient technology to treat heart patients in the early 1980s made him head to the New York University Medical Center in 1988, immediately after graduating from King George’s Medical College, Lucknow. Medanta was born out of Trehan’s drive to improve India’s heart-care system.
“My biggest frustration is about why we have not been able to change the progression of heart disease in India. So, in the last decade, I have become involved in studying causative agents, the earliest detection, then reversal and then treatment," he explains.
But there is a paradox. Not all technology excites him, one example being his phone. Instant messengers like WhatsApp bewilder and irritate him and he prefers his old Nokia S52, a QWERTY phone without Internet connection, to any smartphone. He has ordered five of these phones already as the company has stopped manufacturing the model. He also cannot relate to people’s fascination with brands. “Somebody asked me once why is your shirt fraying. I said that there are two things: one, that I am very fond of it and I like it very much to wear it again and again, and second, that I have got full value of my rupee." He jokes that if he has a ₹ 1,000 note in his pocket at the beginning of the week, it will probably still be there by the end of it.
His day starts at 9.30 every morning with an hour of yoga and aerobic exercise, after which he heads straight to office where he sees an average of about 100 patients a day. Birthdays and anniversaries are also mostly spent working. “You basically mess up on your family time every day. Even during the birth of our children, I got there at the last second to take my wife to the hospital."
So, what does he do with all the money he has? “I travel twice a year for a week in summer and around Christmas with the family, and indulge in things that give me comfort in travelling and my work, for instance, my car," he says.
When it comes to investing, Trehan believes that doctors are the worst victims of financial manipulators. He has insurance for himself, his wife and two daughters, but doesn’t invest in shares or real estate.
“If I buy something, I buy it with a view that it will be used by the family at some point in time. I can plan for a house for my grandchildren because not many people can afford to buy and things are not easy today, but I can’t buy a property and plan to sell it for more money," says Trehan, adding that he also invests in various “not-for-profit projects", that include giving employment to as many people as possible. He is also planning to open a not-for-profit children’s hospital.
On his success mantra, Trehan says sincerity of thought matters the most, and thinking ahead. “I live by two things: if you are not better today than yesterday, then you wasted 24 hours and if you are standing still, you are going backwards." With that, he moves on to his next patient.
Investment mantra: My idea of investment is more on the saving side rather than the ‘speculative’ side.
KEEPING PACE WITH THE TIMES:Bhaskar Bhat, managing director, Titan Co. Ltd
Commit to your organization and the organization will commit to you." When Bhaskar Bhat tells this to the employees of the ₹ 11,900 crore Titan Co. Ltd, India’s largest watch maker, he means it. Bhat has lived by his words, spending over three decades with Titan.
In the 1980s, when India was growing at the so called “Hindu rate of growth" with regulated markets, a wrist watch was still a luxury. Tata Watch Project—a joint venture between the Tata group and the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corp., which later became Titan—was launched in these times by Xerxes Sapur Desai. Bhat joined him in 1983.
But Bhat’s professional journey had begun much before that—with campus placement at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, in 1978. A large panel led by Adi Godrej hired him for his first job with Godrej and Boyce, says Bhat over telephone.
After marketing consumer products for five years at Godrej, in 1983, Bhat applied for a job with Tata Watch Project. “While there was the excitement of launching a new business, it was a new category and we were not sure if it would succeed or not," recalls Bhat.
Over the years, Bhat worked in different roles across sales and marketing, human resources and international business, staying with the company through its lows and highs.
In mid-1990s, a few exits at Titan propelled Bhat’s rise. Bhat became general manager for sales and marketing, a role he humbly brushes off more of a chance occurrence. “They had confidence in me, which helped me do better. It didn’t have so much to do with my competence," he says.
Having played many roles, he says the role of being connected with the market is important. “I think to be in touch with the market is extremely important for any marketing company. The leadership team has to be with the marketplace," says Bhat, whose initial days at Titan were shaped by founder Xerxes Desai.
The most remarkable decision taken by the group, according to Bhat, was the entry into quartz watches, at a time when everyone was making mechanical watches. “We had a choice of making mechanical timepieces, but we took the right call," he says. Titan’s shift to digital watches effectively ended the era of clunky mechanical watches made by Hindustan Machine Tools.
Bhat became the managing director of Titan in 2002, after which he opened newer categories for the company—growing the eyewear business, creating sub-brands such as Mia and Zoya for jewellery and Helios for premium watches.
A mechanical engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, and a management diploma holder from IIM, Ahmedabad, Bhat attributes his success to mentors such as Desai and Ravi Kant, former non-executive vice-chairman, Tata Motors Ltd. “More than the academic part, interacting with a whole diverse lot of people broadens your perspective quite considerably," he says.
For 2014-15, Bhat’s compensation stood at ₹ 76.8 lakh, while pre-requisites and allowances at ₹ 1.2 crore and commission at ₹ 2.8 crore, according to the company’s annual report. On investments, a reticent Bhat admits that he is poor in managing his personal finances. “I’m not particularly enamoured by money," he says. “I have no expensive or inexpensive hobbies…just a few interests. I love coming to work," he says.
Though he manages an organization of 7,000 employees, Bhat says there aren’t too many people he himself confides into. “To be frank, I don’t have anyone that I speak to, but I speak to a lot people all the time; not from a view of mentoring, but more from a view of learning," he says.
Bhat’s tenure ends in 2017 and he does not aspire to be an angel investor, author or a budding philanthropist. “I plan to live life and enjoy every minute of it, because I enjoy coming to work and I enjoy going home. I like being with people. If I can be more useful to society in general, and country in particular, I would do that. I’m willing to help those who want my time or expertise."
So, what’s the one thing employees don’t know about Bhat, we ask? “I’m a senior citizen now, officially. So they all better respect me," he quips.
Investment mantra: After retirement, he does not want to be an angel investor, author or a budding philanthropist
TRAVELLER OF FOREIGN SHORES: Vivek Gambhir, managing director, Godrej Consumer Products Ltd
Home-grown consumer goods maker Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL), an over $12.5 billion company, has in recent years transformed into an emerging market force. A lot of the credit for this goes to its managing director, Vivek Gambhir, who assumed the position in 2013.
The company today gets half of its business from international markets, compared with 10% five years ago. The dramatic shift came as part of Gambhir’s globalization strategy for GCPL.
His 3x3 strategy of growing the company in the three product categories of home, hair and personal care in Asia, Africa and South America has meant that GCPL is no longer just a domestic “toilet soap maker’" Soaps now account for less than one-third of the business, from constituting over two-thirds of sales five years ago. Gambhir also spearheaded the company’s 10x10 strategy—announced in 2011—of growing revenue 10 times in 10 years. He calls it a goalpost that allows the company to make the right kind of investments and choices. In the industry, he is already known to be a motivational leader and an extremely strategic thinker.
Gambhir, 46, who worked with consulting firm Bain and Co. in the US, Singapore and India from 1997 to 2009, joined Godrej Industries, the group’s holding company, as chief strategy officer in 2009. He led the finance, investor relations, legal and information technology functions and then went on to drive mergers and acquisitions at GCPL and eventually to managing the company. Currently, he also leads the Economic Value Added Committee for the group and serves on the investment committee of Omnivore Capital, an agriculture technology-focused venture fund backed by the group.
But taking up an operations role was never the plan. “I was very happy as a consultant, doing relatively well. Godrej Group was a former client and one thing led to another..."
Gambhir and his team have managed to inject “a lot of sizzle" into the over 118-year-old company’s products in terms of packaging, design and features. GCPL today has doubled investment into research and development.
Due to work schedule, he gets to meet his photographer wife Roopika Saran, and their three children, who live in Delhi, only on weekends when they spend time either playing tennis, cooking, travelling or going out. “I live in Delhi and work in Mumbai. I have a super-understanding wife and a wonderfully supportive family, which helps manage this two-city lifestyle," he says. The family shares a common love for travelling to offbeat locations. Gambhir’s 13-year old daughter has been to 30 countries already. They plan to go to Botswana next. Then there are weekends when Gambhir and his wife decide to fly to a destination within the country for just a day. On a recent Saturday, they flew to Jaipur to walk around Amber fort, says Gambhir, who often does not remember his exact salary. “My wife thinks I don’t think about money. To me money is not the end; it is the means to the end." He doesn’t fuss over wealth creation, and uses services of a wealth management adviser, who has been mandated to invest in simple instruments. Neither does he invest in art or anything too speculative. “She (the adviser) decides mixed recommendations. I trust her judgement and evaluate her overall performance." He has also invested in real estate.
Despite the time constraints, he blogs every Monday on his website, Monday-8am.com, where he writes on topics such as venting, managing your boss, owning our relationships, and so on, often collaborating with colleagues. Gambhir has done a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School, and a bachelor’s in computer science and a bachelor’s in economics from Lafayette College, US.
Gambhir works out three times a week, has an elliptical trainer at home, and tries to use it a few times a week. He also tries to meditate for 15 minutes every morning and evening. His advice to people aspiring to make it big in their careers to have some goals but not over-plan. “Have a broad sense of what you want to do and what your strengths are. Don’t get caught in the herd mentality; it is important to figure out what makes each of us happy."
Investment mantra: Invests in simple instruments; does not invest in anything too complex or speculative.
DO A FEW THINGS, BUT DO THEM WELL: Saugata Gupta, managing director and chief executive officer, Marico Ltd
Saugata Gupta describes himself as boring, not in the least bit interested in social outings and latest gadgets. He still uses a Samsung S4, which by his own admission is the oldest phone owned among his team members use.
Yet, the professional life of Marico Ltd’s managing director and chief executive officer is anything but boring. Gupta, an engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and a management graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, started his career with Cadbury India Ltd, now known as Mondelez India Foods Pvt. Ltd.
One of his first assignments as a brand manager at the company was working on the Cadbury Dairy Milk brand and launching the “kuch khaas hai" campaign back in 1994. He also launched Perk in his nine-year stint with the company.
For the past 10 years, Gupta has been critical to the transformation of Marico, which he joined in 2004, expanding the company’s product portfolio into the value-added hair-care space and emerging growth segments such as deodorants and hair gels.
His 24-year career also saw him do a brief three-year stint in the financial services sector at ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co. Ltd as chief of marketing and group sales head. “I realized my interest lay in the consumer sector," he says, explaining his return to consumer packaged goods sector.
At Marico, his ascent to the top has been fast. He is the first non-promoter at the helm of the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company. He took over from promoter Harsh Mariwala as managing director in April 2014. Interestingly, Gupta also draws a higher salary, at ₹ 6.2 crore, than Mariwala, who drew ₹ 5.08 crore for the year ended March 2015, according to Bloomberg.
Gupta’s leadership style sees him taking on the roles of a general and a soldier. “The things that drive an FMCG company are brands, talent and culture," along with communication and alignment with company’s vision. These are also the areas where Gupta spends a lot of time.
Life, though, is not all about work for him. Gupta believes in balance, prioritization and sacrifice. At work, the act of balancing sees him manage the short term with the long term, speed with excellence, and control with empowerment. “Today’s leadership is about resilience, ability to anticipate and cope with changes.
Sacrifice to him means doing a few things, but doing them well. For instance, since he took over as managing director, he has identified five core areas of importance for the company to focus on; the rest are outsourced.
These values are integral to how he leads his personal life as well. He and his wife, a senior banker, prioritize family time over social commitments. “We have sacrificed social outings in favour of spending quality time with our daughter," says Gupta, adding that it’s not possible to do everything—have individual careers, a busy social life and raise children. His “regret" rate for social outings stands at 80%.
Gupta still drops his 15-year-old daughter to school every morning and then gets to office by 8.30am. “It’s just a matter of another two years after which she will be away to college," he says, adding that they can pick up on social commitments after that.
His strong middle-class values are also reflected in his investments. He is a long-term investor, reasonably cautious, not very greedy or demanding. He depends on a pool of financial advisers for his investments. His biggest indulgence is holidays. Gupta takes at least two-three holidays along with his family every year. His favourite destinations include Switzerland and Italy and the beaches of South-East Asia. This new year, he is taking off to New Zealand. In Mumbai, he has tried his hands at playing the keyboard and recently even bought a Yamaha model. But he gave up lessons five months ago as it meant waking up early on Sundays.
A resident of Bandra, Mumbai, he enjoys renting DVDs or going for a walk on Carter Road in the evening.
For Gupta, the rise to the top has also been guided by a simple motto: “If you are good, you are constantly learning and unlearning. Then you don’t have to chase roles, or chase money. The good roles and money chase you."
Investment mantra: He is a long-term investor, reasonably cautious, not very greedy or demanding.
SUSTAINABILITY IS THE REAL TEST: Manish Malhotra, fashion designer
Manish Malhotra loves two things—ploughing back profit to make his brand bigger, and unlearning to keep pace with changing technology.
But at heart, this superstar designer is conventional when it comes to personal investments.
Manish Malhotra, a well-known name in the Hindi film industry for designing for actresses, has spent 25 years in the movie business. The year 2015 marks 10 years of his label. A lot has changed in that time. “People like me have seen a lot of struggle to find their place in the world. I am a person who has not studied the subject, but has learnt on the job and moved with the times. I feel everything today comes so instantly; I hope they don’t lose their nuances." While ruing “instant" solutions, he also feels that progress is beautiful, and things like social media and Internet work for our good. He feels that the one important thing for the new generation is to focus—people who strive to evolve, to learn, are the ones who will perform.
According to him, everyone is on the same platform. “Now what is available to me is available to everyone. That is when the law of nature comes in. The person who wants to go beyond will have to reinvent and rediscover."
Malhotra has also changed the way he designs. This year, for the first time, he did Western wear. He moved from his usual red and pink to dark brown and burgundy. This change is in line with his plan of launching a store in London next year where he wants the silhouettes to be more modern. “I realised that buyers want new things. We underestimate buyers. They are hungry for new ideas in our genre. If you give the buyer something new in the genre that they like, they are there for you."
In the past three years the fashion industry has seen a lot of changes, he feels. There are younger designers, stylists, clients looking for something new and easy access via Instagram. “I think the buyer is also changing, which is a great thing. These are the times when you push yourself and reinvent."
Change to him is a natural progress. “There are a lot of people who age but not necessarily progress. They travel, but not necessarily imbibe. But I have always been that person who wants to imbibe and do something new, who wants to challenge, not to get tired, or get bogged down."
However, when it comes to investments, he is conservative. Of his total wealth, 50% is ploughed back into his brand as capital. The remaining goes into real estate and paintings. “I invest my money in my label. I am not a designer who is waiting for a sponsor. A lot of designers are only looking for sponsors for their shows because they don’t want to spend their own money. But for me, I like to invest in myself."
Besides investing in his business, the owner of a 9,000 sq. ft store in Delhi, buys real estate. “In a city like Mumbai where there are more people and less availability of property, it is a safe place to invest. I invest in property; whether it is my store, office or the house that I live in—I own it. It has been a lot of hard work to own what I own. I never had the money as I always put money into business." He says
While he finds investing in real estate conventional wisdom, the robust start-up environment in India is also attractive. “I may look at investing in start-ups. Not now, but at some point of time in my life." But he is not comfortable with equity or the stock market.
Malhotra likes to spend on his house and himself. “I have got expensive things for my house. I (also) love buying bags and shoes." When it comes to philanthropy, he says he does not do “empty" charity. “I empower them."
He feels he is lucky to do something in life. “I am rich in the sense that I can do something. I am also one who jumps into the water and learns to swim. I am a risk-taker when it comes to my profession," says Malhotra, adding that his clientele now extends to Russia, China and Europe.
Malhotra’s definition of success is that sustainability is the real test. “It is not easy to keep reinventing; it is not easy to cope at times. I choose not to be burdened by it. I keep on challenging myself. For me, everything is my work. I feel privileged that I am still relevant and get to work with people from Sri Devi to Alia Bhatt."
Investment mantra: He is a conservative investor. Of his total wealth, 50% is ploughed back to his brand as capital.
—P.R. Sanjai and Vivina Vishwanathan
READY TO GET HIS HANDS DIRTY: Varun Berry, managing director, Britannia Industries Ltd
Varun Berry has drawn many lessons in the course of a career spanning 29 years and four companies. Now managing director of Britannia Industries Ltd, Berry remembers most of the almost three decades.
It was 1986, and Berry was a 24-year-old management trainee at a warehouse in Jalandhar, Punjab. He was given the job of managing sales and distribution for tea maker Brooke Bond, part of the Hindustan Unilever Group.
On the first day of Berry’s first job, a senior colleague passed on the following words—the early bird catches the worm. Berry still lives by these words, using them ever so often as he traversed from being a salesman for a tea company to the managing director of the country’s largest biscuit maker.
His commitment to work, he asserts, is what helped him the most. “What defined me was that I was so committed to my targets. If I was given a certain sales target for a week I would make sure that I would finish even if it meant selling till 11 at night."
Berry’s early days in small districts and hamlets across the country were defined by rides on horse-pulled tongas, buses and jeeps, manoeuvring narrow by-lanes and dinky shops to deliver products, and managing stock, funds and sales alone. His first job fetched him ₹ 1,950 in the late 1980s. “I spent it all on new clothes and other such things."
A few years later, Berry took on a marketing role at Dubai-based Jumbo Electronics Co. Ltd. “Which was a mistake," he adds quickly. There wasn’t much work that excited him. “It was mundane… I got out as quickly as I could." A year later, Berry exited Dubai.
Back in India, Berry landed his most promising job ever at American food and beverage giant PepsiCo in 1993, which became a two-decade-long stint across various markets.
Berry’s PepsiCo days were influenced by the intense cola wars, where the two cola majors used marketing tricks to try and outdo each other. He recalls an instance in 1993, when Coca-Cola was relaunched in India after 17 years, and had decided to launch 300ml bottles at ₹ 5—an attempt to take on Pepsi’s 250ml bottles. Berry, then the general manager for franchising business in the North, along with the top management took a call to launch 300ml bottles. Within days, all bottlers were told to do away with 250ml bottles and splash the market with 300ml ones. “We did it before Coke could launch it… We painted the town blue," he adds, referring to Pepsi’s logo colour.
Pepsi took Berry to West Asia, the Philippines and Vietnam, where he spent his time working on new ventures, such as dairy products in Dubai. His last role at Pepsi was as head of the foods division in India.
In 2013, he joined Britannia as chief operating officer, taking control as managing director a year later. Berry’s success at the Wadia Group-promoted company is visible with the company’s shares having surged manifold after he took over. Britannia shares, which were trading at ₹ 704 in June 2013 closed at ₹ 2,882.10 on 24 September 2015.
In his personal finance, Berry takes a keen interest in real estate. “I’m a big real estate guy. Right from the beginning, I’ve been putting a lot of money (in it)." His most recent purchase is a house in Bengaluru. “We (his wife and he) will move into it soon." But his favourite is his house near a golf-course in Gurgaon. Berry’s fund managers, however, aren’t happy with him hoarding on real estate. “I keep getting letters from them that 110-130% of your life savings are in real estate, which is a wrong thing to do—you should diversify."
When not at work, Berry likes to play golf and travels frequently with his wife, whose potential new venture he could fund.
Berry has funded start-ups before—in between PepsiCo and Britannia, he invested in iClinic Healthcare Pvt. Ltd, a healthcare start-up launched by Sanjoy Mukerji, former chief operating officer at Vodafone India.
Berry uses only a few words to sum up his life as a professional. “There are two types of people," he says explaining the genesis of his tribe. “One is the queen bee who is made to rule the world, and the other is the worker bee, who is made to roll up his sleeves, work under the machine." Berry says he has always been the worker bee; doing things and getting his hands dirty.
Investment mantra: Has a keen interest in real estate and has put in a lot of money into this particular asset. he also funds start-ups.