Sunday, 18 May 2014
Everyone has a story to tell. This is mine. Everyone’s life is full of unique experiences. Each one of us has faced joys and sorrows, pain and exhilaration, and has learned lessons in life. Yet, most people I know are shy of sharing their rich experience. I often ask such people what they have learned from their life and why they don’t wish to share their knowledge with others. After all, it is only when we learn to confront our own ‘ghosts’ that we will be able to really look back at our lives with confidence, joy and pride. I have lived my life on my own terms. I have been called a maverick by friends and colleagues and I know that I would not have lived my life any other way. This book is an attempt to share my personal journey from a professional manager to an entrepreneur over the last thirty-one years. Many people live their lives working in one job and retiring from the same organization. Others get a chance to change jobs, but stay within the same space. As the years go by and as our societies and the communities will evolve further, I believe that the world will offer our children an opportunity not just to change jobs but to change their careers and their lives completely. Our children can now dream of working in the corporate sector or the government, then move to pursue their passion as a musician or an actor or an author and later enter politics or contribute to civil society, all in one lifetime. I believe I have been more fortunate than a lot of others to have seen three completely different phases in my life—seventeen years with ITC Limited till I was thirty-eight years old, eight years in the aerospace industry till I was forty-six and the last ten years as a chemist, or in more glorious terms, an entrepreneur. This book is an account of my journey through life as I built Guardian Pharmacy. In order to do justice to my entrepreneurial journey, I thought that it is also very important to share some of the experiences of the first twenty-five years of my life as a corporate manager. It is this strong foundation and varied experience in the corporate sector that helped me set up the base and develop the mindset to pursue my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. I have also written about the various predicaments I have faced throughout my life and how these learnings from them have made me a much stronger person. I started out with a dream to build India’s largest pharmacy chain. It has now evolved into India’s second largest chain of wellness, health and beauty stores with over two hundred stores spread across thirty cities and ten states. We handle over eight million customers every year and have grown at a compounded average annual growth rate of over 40 per cent over the last five years. Over the last few years, I have met hundreds of professional managers who have expressed their desire to start off on their own. Some have told me in no uncertain terms, ‘We are jealous of you since you have managed to break free from the corporate world.’ When I ask them what was stopping them from leaving their jobs to pursue their dream, I heard all kinds of excuses: 1. ‘I have too many financial commitments at the moment.’ 2. ‘I am not used to working on weekends.’ 3. ‘I don’t know what to do, give me a good idea.’ 4. ‘Is this really a good time to start?’ And the mother of all reasons, ‘My family and I have got used to a certain standard of life. I cannot give all this up at this stage.’ My advice to all of them is simple: take the plunge and start your planning process now. There is no day as good as today to make a beginning, if you genuinely believe in your dream. Building a new company is very hard work. The toughest part of building a new company is not coming up with a new idea; it is to stay committed to your dream, make sacrifices and learn from your experiences. If you are not willing to give up on things really important to you or if you are likely to be discouraged because of rejection, it will be very difficult to stick to and implement your idea. As a first-generation entrepreneur, I did not have anyone to guide me on the dos and don’ts of building a business. Since the time I started Guardian, I have stumbled many times, fallen down quite often, but I have had to build the resilience to stand up, dust my clothes, learn from the mistake and start all over again. I learned to fail and I learned to manage failure, though I did not plan failure. Failure is essential for any new entrepreneur to succeed. We cannot let any adversity pull us back. We have to learn from our mistakes and our setbacks, accept the knocks our profit-and-loss account will take and keep moving ahead. Every entrepreneur has to plan for the best but prepare for the worst. I have often heard the phrase, ‘The buck stops here.’ I have also used this phrase innumerable times as a professional chief executive officer (CEO) in a large company, implying that I am the final decision-maker and that the responsibility of all my actions and those of others reporting to me finally ends up on my table. My understanding of this phrase has evolved during my entrepreneurial journey. An entrepreneur is the only person where the proverbial ‘buck’ stops. At the end of each month, he has to have the money to pay employees’ salaries and he has to ensure that there are no delays in doing so. In November 2009, as I concluded my talk at a large conference on entrepreneurship and building a new business, I was surrounded by dozens of young men and women who wanted to exchange business cards with me so that they could set up a separate meeting to discuss their business plans. Some of these young men and women came to my office and I spent half a day with them, talking about my journey as I built Guardian, as well as my transition from the corporate world to an entrepreneur. At this meeting I was asked many questions, some perceptive and some very basic, about building a business. As I answered these queries, I thought it may be a good idea for me to write about my own journey so that I could share my knowledge with a much larger audience. The first edition of this book was released on 10 January 2011 by Mr Omar Abdullah, honourable chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. It went on to become a bestseller. This is a revised edition, which includes several new thoughts and experiences of mine since the first edition was published. Writing this book has been a very therapeutic journey for me. I hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.