I work from anywhere and everywhere. So my work happens when I am in the market, in our regional offices, or when I am in the car travelling to the airport. My work starts the moment I get into a car, because I am either returning calls or sending emails. For me, office is not where work happens. Perhaps the reason for that is that for so many years, especially the 11-12 years I worked in Coke, I was in a global job. So I was travelling all the time; between 150-180 days a year. I couldn’t possibly say that I would get back to the office and attend to this, so, the office becomes a mobile office. I need a place to keep my stuff, so that place is Bangalore.
I have a strong discipline for meetings I attend; like R&D meetings or operational review meetings. My calendar is fixed for the year; then everything else happens around it.
The Blackberry and an organised calendar is what I live by. Technology is a big advantage. The beauty of travelling today is that I don’t come back to a pile of paper. I clear up whatever I need to clear up on the road.
Working like this gives me more flexibility to manage my time. I still find the leisure time to do what I enjoy doing. If this gives the impression that all I do is get into the car and start working, it’s not true. When I come back to Bangalore by Friday evening, I have cleared up everything I need to. So Saturday and Sunday is mine to do whatever I want.
I have been travelling my entire career. I don’t get fatigued by travelling. Fortunately, I can sleep anywhere — in a hotel, on a train, on a plane. I also don’t think too much about jetlag. If I have landed in the morning, I just go to work. We don’t have flexitime here, I am in the office between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but travel is not an excuse for not attending to things.
It’s hard for me to describe a typical day. Because I usually take early morning flights between 6.00 and 6.30 am. When you land, the whole day is ahead of you. I work through the day. Then the evening is usually to meet people — either from work or my friends. I have friends in Mumbai and in Kolkata. And if there is anything happening there — a concert or play — I am organised enough to have tickets arranged for me there. That’s one very typical day when I am travelling.
I have a schedule in the morning where I do pranayam and my stretches. I also spend 30 minutes in the gym, either in the morning or in the evening.
I think people make too much of the work life balance thing.
You have to decide what is important to you, and where you want to spend your time. Somehow people who talk of this balance make work sound like something you have to do. There are aspects of work I may not enjoy or like. But by and large I like what I do, I like working, I like the stuff we do. It also enables me to enjoy what people call “not work”.
I love the theatre, classical dance and music. The interesting thing about travelling so much is that I can watch a play at the NCPA [Mumbai], and then a music programme in Chennai or in Bangalore.
I am the kind of person who is very focussed on what I am doing. So I can be really focussed on answering my emails till I reach Chowdiah [Bangalore]. Then I switch off my phone and email and I enjoy the play. Later I can very easily get in the car and switch on my Blackberry and answer a few mails by the time I get home. Even when I was in school, I would stay back and play a game of hockey and come back and finish my homework, then go for Kathak practice. It is very easy for me to get in and out of things.
Because I have worked in so many different countries and continents, I am reasonably comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. In business you are always chasing a moving target. You can’t say I have accomplished this and there is nothing more to do.
It used to drive me crazy that when you call for a meeting at 9.00 am, people thought it was anywhere between 9.00 and 9.15 a.m. The first few times I closed the door and said if you are not here by 9 a.m., you don’t attend the meeting. Deadlines are so stretchable in India and that drives me completely insane even now.
I lose my temper sometimes, but we still don’t have that level of discipline as a culture. It is hard if you are looking for near perfection and you don’t get it.
The analogy I use is that you say you are Sachin Tendulkar and so you don’t need to practice. But you are great only because you practice. I admire that in artists and sportspeople. They polish and chisel away till they get it perfect.
I once had the opportunity to interview Professor Ted Levitt of Harvard Business School and I asked him how many drafts he wrote before being published. He said he did anywhere between 22-25 drafts. The pen dropped from my hand. I thought if you are chairman, Emeritus and you are the editor of Harvard Business Review and you do 25 drafts, that is perfection.
People around me do find this tedious, and sometimes it comes back to me.
Sometimes I am empathetic and at other times I am unreasonable. The worst in me comes out when results are not delivered and there is no pro-active communication on why it has not happened.
I am not the kind who goes away on four weeks of vacation. I take shorter, more frequent breaks, like taking three days off. When I am travelling abroad, I take a few days off and do something around that.
(As told to Mitu Jayashankar)