The Corridor of Legends

Sips & Gossips

Working from the office is fast running out of fashion. For employees as well as employers. While employees save on logistics expenses, employers save on office overheads. Professionals love the proximity of their close ones and senior executives get to spend time in their big homes.  It’s a perfect win-win situation; more money in the bank with more time to enjoy it. Sometimes I guess, things that sound too good to be true, are indeed true!

What is my opinion? I am old generation; my opinion doesn’t matter! I am busy fighting my demons in a world that suddenly looks different. The offices are quiet. Other than essential Cybagians, the same handful of old-timers keep running into each other. These are the legends who have walked through the Cybage corridors forever. They didn’t have the privilege of an entrepreneur’s luck or momentum. Instead they had to earn their success each day ever since they entered the gates of this institution. “I know them well…,” I have been wondering lately, “…and  yet I can’t place my finger on the secret of their success!” 

The HR team somehow read my thoughts and recently set up my ‘Sips & Gossips’  session with a couple of leaders in the Cybage hall of fame – Rajesh Kurup (EVP – Delivery) and Amit Gajwani (EVP, Global Sales). Here is how the story goes…

Amit is a distant relative from my wife’s side.  The first time I met him, he was a geeky teenager from India’s aspiring middle class.  Before I knew it, he graduated with top honors from the prestigious COEP, and Infosys picked him up.  He worked there for a couple of years, and then one fine day, he quit India’s most admired company to join Cybage for a business role. He fantasized about traveling the world and meet diverse people.  

Settled in the USA, living in India was merely an experiment for Rajesh.  He owned a premium rowhouse in Kalyani Nagar, Pune, and was intrigued by the energy of a small startup in a neighborhood bungalow.  The company founders happen to be ‘rented apartment’ residents in his society.  In his words “I was working with the best in the West but, I put my American dreams on hold and bet on Cybage.”

Risk appetite is probably the first ingredient of success. The duo did not go for the safety of big brands. They instead were lured by the promise of an adventure.  

Rajesh’s career took off as a Cybagian.  He found his intellectual stimulation in his peers and was entrusted quickly with our key customer – DoubleClick.  It didn’t take long for us to discover Rajesh’s massive passion for sports – he became an integral part of our corporate cricket and badminton teams. Once, I even had the privilege of playing badminton as his junior partner where he encouraged me on – our role switch on the court was seamless!

Amit had a bumpy start.  While he was fascinated by the sales role, he lacked exposure.  His early business trips were all about nonstop chatter on cricket and Bollywood movies with our clueless prospects.  His role hurriedly was changed to handle delivery of another key account – Altiris.  Amit’s first act in this new role was to infuse campus life. He directed Mahabharata play that turned out to be quite a blast for the actors and a torture for the audience!

Passion is the second ingredient – being enthusiastic about stuff that defines us – be it outdoors on a badminton court or cricket field, or indoors in a movie hall or a theatre stage. 

Amit’s Altiris soon became our second largest account and was acquired by Symantec. The acquisition led to the exodus of our POCs, each one holding Amit in high esteem as a trustworthy partner Cybage was flooded soon with referrals that had spread out. In due course, Amit made his transition back into the business role.  I offered him the option of relocating to the USA but being with family and friends meant more.

Rajesh rapidly struck a strong rapport with executives from DoubleClick in boardrooms as well as bars.  Honesty in dealings earned him the respect of his teammates. Here is an amusing anecdote – Rajesh had a charming subordinate who decided to leave Cybage. Much to Rajesh’s dismay, her parting words were, “Rajesh has been a FATHER figure to me!” In time, DoubleClick became our largest customer and was acquired by Google.

Trustworthiness is the third ingredient. We need to earn the respect of our professional associates– that’s how we build the army in our march towards success.  

Post DoubleClick’s acquisition, Google decided to discontinue because of security concerns with India.  Rajesh made multiple trips but was unable to sway their decision. Demoralized, Rajesh contemplated resigning and then took it as a challenge. He went all out penetrating networks at Google’s other business units as well as global media houses. Today, M&E is our biggest vertical and Google has made a comeback as our second largest customer.

When Amit refused to relocate, we hired the President of Business in the USA. Amit now had a reporting manager other than the CEO.  It was a relational demotion but, he took it in stride. He shifted his focus on learning from his new boss, sharpening his strategic thought process and taking addon responsibilities of recruitment and legal. Later, when our President in the USA moved on, Amit regained his old role, only this time as a more rounded leader.

Resilience is the final ingredient of success. Senior roles are fraught with stress triggered by the volatile turn of events – it is the strength of mind that sails us through.   

Sips & Gossips session was in the closing stages. While the audience had their share of gossips, I had my sips of revelations – Risk appetite, Passion, Trustworthiness, Resilience – these are the four key pillars to excel in the professional world.   

Mission accomplished! The conversation moved to inconsequential stuff in the penultimate minutes. We recalled all the fun times the three of us had over the last 20 years, the annual management dance practices where we have been performing together for years, and late-night joke sessions over drinks during our strategic retreats in Goa.  I learnt that Rajesh and Amit have been roomies forever in our Goa escapades, and they even have a luncheon group with other leaders at Cybage where they routinely catch up and probably gossip about me! The more we chatted, the more I realized there had been a missing piece in my evaluation. I finally threw them a googly:

“If we had only one CXO position open between the two of you, would you recommend the other person for promotion over yourself?” Their impromptu answers straight from the heart, putting each other on a pedestal, cleared up my maze.

Sure, the four pillars of success stand tall.  But the foundation of these pillars is “relationships” – be it Rajesh’s fascination of rubbing shoulders in a bungalow startup or Amit’s aspiration of traveling the world to meet new people.  Their professional journey is laden with building bridges – in boardrooms & bars, in sports arenas & theatre stages, in strategic retreats & fun escapades – all this and more with their customers, seniors, juniors, peers, even with their closest rivals, including each other! Each social step of theirs took them a leap forward towards success. 

At times I ponder, without face-to-face relationships, would their careers have experienced this stellar rise? Would they have even taken the plunge if their initial professional life itself was “Permanent Work from Home”?  With no social adventurous spirit, the chances are Amit would have probably stayed back in Infosys, Rajesh would have just gone back to the USA, and I would have been deprived of the inspiration to write this blog!



Original, Relationships, Style, Team

4 Comments

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  1. Nice sum up of visuals of this pieace “Sips & Gossips” ! We LEARNED many aspect of these METAL personalities, their growth driven thought process on work, balancing with COOL culture & lasting relationships !

    We guess this one is beginning of these kind of “Learning Treats” for aspiring viewers in (Audio + Visual) this mode.

  2. Very interesting session and the blog too ! I had enjoyed the session but here you have connected this to the WFH scenario and posed a critical question very subtly. Yes, WFH is successful today only after building the ’emotional and social bonding’ amongst people first for years. Technological progress and digital ease of course help in remote working. However, we are using the “friendship and comfort capital” we have acquired over years. Remote working sometimes helps because it necessitates higher level of professional maturity and formal work allocations. Meetings are to the point, customer overlap is more and daily work is a bit more effective. However, team building and informal knowledge management is very difficult without being together at least for some time. This is going to be an interesting conundrum unraveling over coming years !

  3. Wow this is Astonishing…the real masala about wfh is in the last paragraph.

  4. Excellent article, as usual your style of narration is what I admire, and aspire to reach somedays. However I do have a different take on your concluding remarks about the WFH closing doors on social and personal interactions, but why be so despondent? Lets look at the bright side, for many of us this pandemic is an eye opener, it brought in a paradigm shift from splurge to thrift, from the myriad of life’ choices, it brought in a certain clarity.

    Agree that the loss of personal interaction cannot be replaced by digital medium, but i guess this pandemic has surely opened up a separate set of challenges, and to tackle them, we need to be resilient enough, to ensure our passion never dwindles there by standing in good creed amongst our partners.

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The Corridor of Legends | Arun Nathani Blog