The Hunt – Part 2
The 1st Musketeer…
Have you ever spent fifteen minutes searching through your closet for your oldest t-shirt & jeans when getting ready to go for dinner at ‘someone’s’ place? And during the dinner, that ‘someone’ is the only one who keeps cracking up at all your jokes? And when all the jokes are done, this ‘someone’ asks your opinion on a matter of great importance, even though he has already made up his mind. If you’ve had countless such late nights, then congratulations—for you may have won a rare prize called “the best friend”! You see, a best friend is never worth wasting your branded clothes on. He laughs at your lamest jokes, for only he gets them the way you intend. And yes, when he is asking for your opinion, he is not really asking—only sharing a part of himself with you.
I first met Navendu Mathur in 1998. It was not friendship at first sight. First, our three-year olds became best friends, then our wives, and then we became ‘civil’ to each other. We made an odd couple. He was a thoroughbred marketing professional; I was an IT geek. He taught me about shoe/belt matching games, tie knotting puzzles, hair gel and stuff; I taught him nothing. He had a challenging job—‘Sales Manager’ for Pune’s Holiday Inn at a time when business travels were not in vogue. The hotel’s primary source of income was social events such as weddings and birthday parties that tested Navendu’s diplomatic and interpersonal skills to the hilt.
Then in early 2001, Navendu announced that he had packed it all in, and was off to Kathmandu as ‘Sales Manager’ for IHG’s flagship property, Soaltee Crowne Plaza. He declared that the opportunity would give him phenomenal exposure to the tourist category of global customers. It was a career move that didn’t need a best friend’s advice. Of course that betrayal didn’t stop us from holidaying in Kathmandu merely nine months after his relocation. The job had all the resort glamour that Navendu had dreamt about, but now he was toying with the option of relocating to Mumbai as ‘Director of Sales and Marketing’ for the Leela group. This time around, he did want to know my opinion. I vetoed. A professional who has always worked with large MNC players—how will he fit in a family-owned company culture? But Navendu didn’t see it my way; the prospect of engaging with the business travelers in Mumbai’s corporate circle was too tempting. Besides, of course, my veto didn’t stand a chance against the teasing compensation arbitrage.
Fortunately, his Mumbai relocation also meant rekindling our family friendship. During each interaction, I watched in fascination his great adrenalin rush while he cashed in on the booming business travel segment. Then one fine evening in 2004, as we were enjoying VIP service at the Leela bar, Navendu broke the news of an offer from Vodafone as ‘Director of Sales’ for the Western zone. This time I was vocally opinionated. Navendu had a specialized hospitality background; selling mobile services was not his cup of tea. But we were talking about India’s exciting B2C telecom story; my opinion was not as exciting. The icing on the cake, Navendu concluded, was the handsome monetary and positional elevation.
During the next few years I had the pleasure of watching in awe, as my friend rapidly advanced in Vodafone. Then in 2006, during our Bangkok family holiday, Navendu popped up a stunner. He asked my advice about “General Sales Manager” position he had been offered by IBM Daksh. My reaction was one of a complete disillusionment. My friend had lost it. For now he was talking about entering my backyard. What could he possibly understand about the ITES sector? The risks were overwhelming. But so were the rewards, Navendu proclaimed. To enter the roaring B2B segment of India’s sunrise industry was not an opportunity to be dismissed lightly. Thus, he made the transition to India’s BPO outsourcing business. Needless to say, he surpassed my expectations yet again, as he went about climbing IBM’s corporate ladder.
Four years elapsed, and the much anticipated discussion came up during our US holiday together. Navendu announced that a head hunter had approached him with an offer from Aon Hewitt, the leading global HR consulting firm. But it was a frontier like no other he had encountered in the past. Selling HR outsourcing solutions to the emerging market businesses is a far cry from the regular, well-defined sales environments. The market was not ready and the job in fact entailed the creation of demand itself! ‘So do you think I am ready for a challenge like this?’ Navendu quipped. ‘Why are you asking me’, I retorted, ‘as if you ever followed my advice in the past!’ ‘That’s precisely the point’, Navendu replied with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘If you say NO, that guarantees a great career move ’!
And Mr. Mathur continues to rock even as I am penning this blog today. At the last count, Aon Hewitt had entrusted Navendu with the role of ‘Business Development Leader’ for the entire APAC region. The promotion, of course, has come with a huge $ tag, a tag that would have bankrupted anyone who had bet against Navendu’s odds of success 25 years ago. After all, how many ‘Bachelor of Commerce’ graduates in today’s world, launching their careers as sales interns in some diner’s club in Calcutta, end up hitting a jackpot?
Surely, Navendu seems to have discovered some secret recipe of professional success. But before we hit the bull’s eye, it is time for a pause and switchover to the second tale. The impatient ones, however, are welcome to take a shot: If you believe you have correctly guessed the ‘universal’ secret hidden in the above story, ‘single’ it out in your comment. If our observations match, I promise to personally host an expensive meal for the winner(s). Those not in the commenting mood, it’s time for a little poll:
Which of the following industries (that Navendu flirted with) holds the best promise for a fresh graduate with a very modest academic background?