Lonesome On Top

The king of hearts…

Life at the top is lonely. Especially for those born with a diamond spoon in their mouth. The economic mismatch limits their options of friends in their childhood. They are stuck with a handful of those who match their financial status. Which is unfortunate. For mankind predominantly consists of a colorful mainstream. A life devoid of an opportunity to immerse in the true colors of the human race is incomplete.

The above observations are my hypothesis. And this blog is an attempt to test my hypothesis.

1995. My first exposure to one of India’s oldest and largest conglomerates―The Bajaj Group―was when I returned to India after my 7-year US stint. I was trying to settle down in Ahmedabad, and was failing miserably. Hence, when I received an interview call from Bajaj Auto, I jumped at the opportunity and caught the overnight bus to Pune. The bus reached late. My father-in-law picked me up from the bus stand. I hurriedly headed for the interview all shabbily dressed, hair ruffled up. For some reason, they rejected me. So I joined an Internet start–up and learned the tricks of the trade, which eventually led to the birth of Cybage.

It was a good thing I didn’t get selected on that fateful day. Because things and beings in our life unfold for a reason. Had Bajaj Auto hired me, the iconic family’s scion―Sanjiv Bajaj―would have entered my life as a boss, and not as a personal friend. Well, as ‘personal’ as a tycoon can get with a commoner…

2010. It took fifteen years of climbing before I could glimpse abodes where the likes of Sanjiv Bajaj dwelled. I don’t remember who introduced us. Sanjiv was a prize catch. Our chemistry was compatible, both introverts and unsexy. Facebook, WhatsApp, wild parties, boy night-outs, branded wardrobes, social flamboyance, and general ‘fun’ public displays didn’t do much for us. Our reserved demeanor ensured that our bonding evolved at a snail’s pace. Thankfully, the wives clicked, and we kept bumping into each other on the social circuit. The reciprocal dinners followed. In due course, Sanjiv made it a point to honor Cybage’s annual bash invites.

Still, Sanjiv remained an enigma. While both of us carried an entrepreneurial zest, the professional similarities ended there. Sure, Cybage enjoyed local hero status, with sporadic national media splashes. But Bajaj Finserv group companies were playing a different ball game―with Sanjiv busy adorning the front page of Forbes Magazine, receiving E&Y’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award and rubbing shoulders with global business leaders at the Davos World Economic forum. And why not! How many industry scions take over a family business unit of 500M Dollar market cap, and catapult it to a staggering 20B Dollar empire in less than a decade?

The world is fascinated by rags-to-riches stories. We are inspired by the go-getter attitude of those who rise from the ground. We forget that the fighting spirit comes natural to first generation heroes because their back is against the wall. We often overlook the accomplishments of nth generation entrepreneurs who choose to dedicate their prime years building new business models, rather than enjoying the spoils of their family wealth. There is something to be said about the commanders who have the courage to lead on the battlefield without having prior battle scars! Sanjiv Bajaj was one such enigmatic commander I wanted to understand more.

Gazing-at-the-star

2017. It took seven years and a public setting to get to know Sanjiv’s intimate side in less than an hour! On Feb 18, I was requested to moderate a coffee session with him for the young business leaders of Pune in Cybage boardroom.  Our good rapport made the interaction a breeze, with lots of humor, applause, and enlightenment. We covered a great deal―from his phenomenal arrival on the corporate stage, to the number of zeroes in his balance sheets. From people vs. process tradeoffs, the top- vs. bottom-line ropewalk, to disruptive innovation vs. lean business models. And just when his guard was down and the moment was opportune, I laid out the bait, “Tell us all about your boarding schools in Switzerland and the Mercedes models that ferried you to school.”

Sanjiv laughed and replied, “My siblings Rajiv & Sunaina and I used to catch a bus every morning and go to the same local convent school as the children of all other Bajaj employees. Once we missed our school bus, and our mom arranged a car to drop us. We were elated. The next day, we intentionally missed our bus, and again rode in our car. This continued for a week. Till Dad figured out. So the following morning, after missing our bus, we discovered there was no car available. Dad forced us to walk down to school. The school was very strict when it came to timings, and it was greatly embarrassing to reach thirty minutes late. That was the end of our bus-bunking stint.”

Sanjiv’s unexpected reply left the audience dazed. While many wealthy families strive to expose their offspring to the real world, Bajaj household has walked the talk. The second half was packed with several revealing peeps―Sanjiv’s undergrad at the Government College of Engineering Pune and his courtship days with his fiancée, where he would train travel to Mumbai to meet her every alternate weekend and return on Monday morning to directly report on the shop floor of Tata Motors.

My maze cleared with each passing question. I had all the answers. Still I decided to take one last shot to reconfirm the verdict, “Isn’t life at the top lonely? Who guides you through business stresses?” Sanjiv replied without hesitation, “Bajaj executives and employees are my support system, they are my best advisors and peers.”

The interview was over. There was nothing left to ask. My hypothesis had crashed. Had I received the job offer on that fateful day in 1995, I would have still gained a friend, and not a boss. It is an incorrect generalization that those born with a diamond spoon find it difficult to connect with the mainstream. For every now and then, the challenge is on the exact reverse side!   Do you agree?  

I can’t promise you dinner with Sanjiv Bajaj, but it would be my delight to host dinner at my home for the most innovative thoughts and brief comments on which side finds it more challenging to connect and why?



Connect, Leader, Original, Style

38 Comments

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  1. This reading truly left me amazed and have broken my perception as well specially with the comment “There is something to be said about the commanders who have the courage to lead on the battlefield without having prior battle scars! “

  2. Very motivating and touching, hats offs for bringing all this to us.

  3. The word ‘lonely’ is so scary which forced me to read it thoroughly. And that is more when you feel alone even though surrounded by many.We are socially and culturally grown up to be “with” someone all the time; so the fear of being alone is greatest fear according to me.

    Very touching and happy to know that you and Sanjiv both are not alone even though on the top.

  4. truly worth reading this ….

  5. super article Arun ! a very interesting topic and people ,you & sanjiv !
    i feel ” lonely at the top” could be seperated ,as in “in personal life” & ” in proffessional life ”
    In proffesional life i think its not lonely because you have best of the experts from all areas as a resource , and they are “pros” , so they always try to give their best ! so no issues there !
    Also by being at the top , your access to seniors & stalwarts of the industry is possible , which a commoner has no chance of .
    Personal life is a different ballgame altogether i feel.,because people do try and be extra nice to the rich & powerful , in a hope of some benefits that may come.
    people asking favours !people misusing the name /association ! past experiances of the same ! i think people at the top do get cautious and even a bit cynical sometimes and almost look wary of meeting people.
    But i guess thats bound to happen , and i feel they also do develope an instict ,over a time ,which helps them recognise people/talent/a friend.
    And this scene is excactly reverse for commoners !! lot of security on personal front , friends & family etc , but lack of mentoring /guidence and access on the proffessional front !!
    To each his own , i guess !!

  6. “Lonesome on top” is as true as “lonesome at bottom”. I think the sides aren’t tough and it’s not on which side you stand, it’s all about how you have been briefed about the other side and how to react. Yes react, because we all generally act based on the preconceived image of the other side or presumptions. The story would have been different if the father would not have stopped the bus bunking and continued with the mother’s car drop approach. I think the foundation laid, the thoughts and values imprinted at early stage are the key factors which decide how one perceives and act. Yes act this time. So if someone feels lonely it may be either because others neglecting or himself keeping distant from others. Now one has to decide what’s true and act and not react.

  7. I fully agree with you. I am proud to be a friend of Sanjiv since our College of Engineering Pune days and also when we did our Mechanical Sandwich training at TATA Motors (TELCO as it was known that time). Whatever you have written in this blog is absolutely correct. As a college colleague we have always seen Sanjiv as a part of us, very humble, down to earth friend. Our College professors and guides at TATA Motors too admired him as Sanjiv always respected the professors and guides and was very particular in following the rules and regulations of the institute. Truly Bajaj family has a very high family culture and I feel Papa Rahul Bajaj must be very proud of his children.

  8. Definitely, the ones at the bottom find more challenges to connect with the ones at the Top.
    Because those at the bottom, need to prove themselves to the Society at large before they are eligible even for shaking hands with the established ones.
    In contrast, challenge for the diamond spoon people is -‘They want to connect with their childhood friends. However, they want that only occasionally or momentarily and thus fear continuity (of their presence).
    ..If a page 3 person sees an influential person having a feast with a group, as a first impression he will think that those might me great achievers…Who knows, its only because of writing few thoughts.

  9. very motivating and touching story
    ,Thank you for sharing with us.

  10. Support system and thinking is changing & getting more transparent, trustworthy, frank, democratic and adoptable. Remembering extract of poem of Ex PM A B Vajpayee, मेरे प्रभु! मुझे इतनी ऊँचाई कभी मत देना, गैरों को गले न लगा सकूँ, इतनी रुखाई कभी मत देना।
    – अटल बिहारी वाजपेयी

  11. The apprehensions don’t let you open up and the perceptions don’t let you try! Be it someone at Top or Bottom, the approach has to be positive and then when you look around you are not alone.

  12. Thinking of greater good and Tying yourself to a goal will never make you lonesome.

  13. hello Arun,
    i love the way you write. your style, the words that you use, etc. its just amazing. it forces the reader to actually visualize what one is reading.
    talking about the article, i do not feel that it is lonely at the top. a person reached at the top with so much of efforts, hardwork and support of so many people. so i feel all those who have helped you reach at a particular level all those are the ones you have really earned in life apart from the money and luxury.
    apart from this, if ones heart is pure and genuine then he earns the hearts of every individual and that makes one the richiest person and nowhere can you see loneliness then…

    thank you!

  14. This is an amazing experience you shared with us. It shows that you really did a lot of tough job. It
    Inspiring and motivating to me to do such inventing and creative thing.

  15. Arun, I feel, in a corporate world, we are taught to be professionals, and as professionals, we prioritize using our head leaving aside the emotions. Connection is emotional in nature……. Principally, it should be applicable on both sides !!

  16. Hats off for picking diverse topics every time you write and giving words to dilemmas of the mind!
    Since we all are human beings is the common denominator in all our interactions and so our needs at emotional level are exactly same. So if the interaction starts with this basic understanding and with a simple question like “How are you?” then the huge gap in external circumstances (like wealth, success, fame, etc.) will not matter at all.

  17. very motivating and touching story. Thank you for sharing with us.

  18. It applies everywhere. Most of the time we generalize all things until we find the answers.
    Thanks for sharing your experience and how you changed your views. Whenever I try to generalize the things I stop myself to do it. The person, who has a variety of experiences, can know the things well. A person, who has struggled a lot, knows things better than others.

    Thanks again for sharing the great thoughts. 🙂

  19. I personally feel, whether you are lonely or not, depends on your nature and the position has a very little role to play.
    If you are an entrant to the industry, you can still be lonely if you decide to not be social. Whereas most successful leaders have one thing in common, they have a very good social connect from top most person in the company to the junior most.

  20. If I have to choose one side, I would say person born with diamond spoon would face more difficulty while connecting with mainstream. Sole reason would be – He/She may have not seen/gone through nitty-gritty of everyday life which a mainstream person would have experienced. Reason may be economic mismatch limits the options of friend in their childhood (mentioned by you as well) or they got more shield from parents than mainstream ones would have got.

    Post answering the specific/to-the-point question, I would say It does not matter which side one belong to, everyone has to FIGHT his/her own BATTLE (with or without having prior battle scars).

    Coming from different background/situations one has gone through, does not have much impact than one’s goal and zeal to achieve something. Similarly connecting with people/environment is something which is totally one’s own personality/thought process/efforts/interest. We can see huge difference in this particular attribute of connecting with others even in two siblings grown up in similar situation/Eco system.

  21. Dear Arun ,

    Bumped across your blog accidentally. Blown away with your candor and the wide variety of issues that you have addressed!

    I guess a lot of pre conceived notions , class barriers mostly ingrained from birth prevent either from interacting effectively. However a lot of business leaders have shone in their fields by reaching out to their employees and customers by breaking down these walls . That truly is a key to success

    Regards

    Mayur

  22. Very interesting and thought-provoking. I sometimes feel similar but then looking at my team and colleagues, I renergize for another day.

  23. Hello Sir,
    The very mention of “lonely” aroused my inquisitiveness of knowing your views on the same. I vehemently agree to the crux of this fragment.
    According to me, loneliness can happen to anybody, irrespective of social and financial stature.
    By instinct, each person is lonely. I strongly believe that one has to, “actually earn folks” who will never allow the clouds of gloom to blanket the sunshine of true happiness and inner peace, by dint of one’s prodigious compassion for one and all.

  24. Interesting read, reminded me of the KRISHNA SUDAMA story.
    While birds of the same feather flock together, it is the cacophony of different birds that sounds melodious at dawn.
    While these glass walls exist because of obvious economic and social settings, the mainstream would welcome an opportunity to connect as it will be an enriching experience for them. And the ones at the top also get a better view into the organisations pulse. It can be a great bond if there is a connect at an EQ and IQ level.
    Coming to the question of which side finds it difficult – I guess the answers could be different depending on whether it is about initiation or sustenance of the connect.

  25. Good read. I wonder if generalization is the apt way to view these situations. It totally depends on the persona of the individual on either side – A true leader will be able to cut across all segments and strata and likewise a commoner who truly wants to connect with the segments above will be able to transcend the boundaries set by society. In today’s day and age – these hard lines and boundaries are blurred. Isn’t this blog a classic example of how you share your deepest thoughts with everyone and likewise you get an insight into the views of Cybagians, friends, colleagues, et all. Today the platforms to connect all exist – it’s the individual’s choice that keeps him/her connected or isolated.

  26. The title itself forced me to read the entire article. It was really something that I and even many people out there wanted to know whether it actually is lonely at the top or not! Ofcourse people at the top find it difficult to stay connected but it is similar the other way round too.

  27. Loneliness is inevitable if you stand out and are not a part of the general herd. Being a billionaire does make you stand out and does alienate you a bit. But the same is true even if you are a intellectual or an activist. As long as you are part of a galaxy orbiting around the same sun you will have the company of fellow planets and moons. But if you are a sun by your self you would form your own galaxy and have planets and moons orbiting you. You may not be alone as you will have people orbiting around you but you would be the only sun around.

    On the ability to connect, i believe it is a common interest or similarity that helps people connect. I might not have common similarities with Mr. Sanjiv but if i share a common interest like watches, gadgets & gizmos it would definitely help me connect if i were to get a chance to meet him. I feel the same is true for any person. Getting to meet someone is a by product of luck or chance. I could happen to be in the same lift as Mr. Amitabh Bacchan, what matters is do i stay dumbstruck, staring at him in awe or do I chance upon to strike a connect by engaging him in a conversation.

    On humility, I have had the good fortune of working in close proximity to Mr. Rahul Bajaj as well as Mr. Sanjiv. I believe it is the core Gandhian values that they follow that has enabled them to stay humble and connected.

  28. Heart touching story. Both parents are just perfect in their role. Very simple way of living, but it makes future of your children.

  29. This story clearly gives a message that it’s totally up to us as a parent that how we want to raise our children — making up their mind to follow the traditional rich approach or letting them free to see the true colors of our human race — as no child is born with pre thoughts of having financial equalities.

  30. Agree, Its true that most of the times; its an average person who find it difficult to connect with the top person.

    Its about in born nature and nurturing done to it by surrounding. It can be through family, media , movie etc. But there is a natural thinking in an average person’s mind that I just cant connect to financially superior family and people become shy to get along with them.

    Its not only about Nathani’s or Bajaj’s its true in every common family where you have some financial gaps among your relatives. If one observe it intentionally, this connection reality is visible and you will always find yourself on both sides – as a financially superior person and on other side as well.

  31. I totally agree with you. I guess society is somewhat responsible in creating this gap. As somehow money has become more important in our life than humanity. I know it is quite necessary to live a healthy and comfortable life. But unknowingly we have distant ourselves from one another. And here it is the only thing that draws the bridge between the top and the bottom. And it’s a challenge for the people who are at the bottom to get connected to the people at the top. In fact in their minds, they already have created a wrong persona about the people at the top. Which further brings in shyness and fear of being judged by superior, and that’s what draws them apart. And most of the times, it’s always the fear, what stops them from getting connected to top notch people. But things have changed a bit in the recent past. And the question arises here is how? Answer to this is nothing but “Social Media” i.e. platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp etc. have impacted a lot in our lives. Be it a revolutionary Anna Hazare andolan or recent Narendra Modi Campaign for 2014 elections, as all the driving force behind these events were such platforms. Wherein youth somehow felt connected with Indian politics and that’s what gave them the feeling that someone somewhere is listening to them and they are capable enough to change the system. And this is the feeling which I believe will help to establish communication with top people. Also there was a time when one had to achieve something big in his life to get himself connected to the prime minister of his or her country. But now it’s all possible because of these various social platforms available today. So I must say even here in private organizations social media will play a vital role in reducing the gap between top and bottom. And one should not forget that
    “The top of one mountain is always the bottom of another. “ By Marianne Williamson

  32. “Started from the bottom now we’re here”
    That’s Drake’s song where he mentions “we” that means he was not lonely at the bottom nor at the top!

    Finding a connection with other and building a friendship is something that happens when one believes it enriches their life. Now this can be tricky for someone in the limelight and mainstream.

    People at the top are surrounded by many they can choose to call their friends but often fail to find that connection in between all the noise. Similarly that noise makes it difficult for the mainstream to find that connection with people at the top.

    Grass is always greener on the other side, but we have to believe it is fertilized with rubbish.

    We should create a platform of opportunity for communication to bring together people from different walks of like ones at the top and the mainstream and who knows whom we might up becoming friends with. It is in the end our initiative and personalities that will help in building a connection and wipe out the loneliness.

    Special kudos to you sir for building one such platform for us through your web blog – “The Science of Success” which I feel is a tile Inspired from BBC Sherlock’s blog “Science of Deduction” am I right? Do we have a connection there?

  33. I totally agree with you sir. I guess society is somewhat responsible in creating this gap. As somehow money has become more important in our life. Sir I have one dream.from long time and that is I would like to meet you at lest once. So please sir can I meet you?

  34. Really nice read. Point put across very nicely. Point about the commanders without battle scars cannot be put more appropriately.
    It is a tough one to answer who has more challenges
    Both sides have challenges.
    Challenges for the other side, prejudice and fears of the commoner most of the times restricts the commoner even though other side tried to connect. Then dilemma comes in how much should one try to bridge the gap.
    One with the diamond spoon has to constantly watch whether his grandness (intentionally or unintentionally) is imposed. He has to constantly make an effort to be among the commoners. Commoners have many people to connect similar to them, not true for the other side.
    We very well know the challenges of the commoner to connect, two major factors (a) fear of societal pressure of doing it for a purpose & (b) Fear of same feeling resonated by the other counterpart.
    So maybe challenges (the need as well) are lesser for the commoner.

  35. I personally feel the real challenge is on parent side.
    According to me it is purely depend on how parents are up bringing their child. Childhood is to learn, grasp, understand, observe, prepare, and accept. Parents are more responsible for it. How they are grooming their child, whether they are giving their child the opportunities to learn, understand the ground level reality.
    The ‘status’ is what the others are giving you and not what you think.
    If the parent starts covering (unnecessary) their child on each foot step, then it is very difficult to connect with the mainstream and then the loneliness atmosphere will get developed. This might be like spider got stuck in his own net.

  36. Wonderful insight! Amazing article!
    Especially the words ““..employees are my support system, they are my best advisors and peers.”
    So much to imbibe from this.

  37. A sublime touch of effectiveness. A great zeal to connect with someone you always wished & extract exactly opposite you desired.

    Every successful person on this earth has a story. No one would have bought an empire without hard work except few who already were rich & as per your statement “born with a diamond spoon in their mouth”

    We are all driven by fame & glamour in this worldly life which poses us to connect with the richest & know their success mantra. Its not easy to connect with the one you always desired & fetch answers you wanted. In order to bring that person to a comfort level its pretty important to understand him first & then spread your cards.

    Success however is not digested by everyone so it might lead the person into arrogance & ego. At this moment its very difficult to connect & extract the truth & instead we might get a whole bunch of cooked stories which we shall not like.

    Its our ability to connect with someone we want & our positive energies help us to do so. The challenge is obviously this side because the other person is at rest & we wish to extract some facts out of him & to connect. If he feels the vibes he might revert or else it could a failure. I would rather target failures to connect to because of the deadliest experiences they had come across. One single meeting of 30 minutes would teach us our life lessons which will surely help us to grow in life. The pain & affection required to connect to failures will lead to the victory because its an ability to connect to human with love & affection. The biggest charity is to smile.

    However, its a wonderful attempt to involve everyone in learning lifestyles, glamour 7 other useful aspects of life to overcome difficulties & conquer in life.

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