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Monday, Jan 27, 2003

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Surviving stress, embracing success

Isidore Domnick Mendis

Even as achievement becomes every high-profile professional's credo, so does the attendant problem of stress. And they devise their own remedy to de-stress — from dancing to collecting vintage cars — the remedies are as dynamic as the people themselves. A look into how some top executives combat stress.

Uttam Kumar Bose, CEO, Air Sahara

He's up at 6 a.m. Half-an-hour later, he's working out in the hotel's well-equipped gym. By 7.30 a.m., a Spartan breakfast, consisting of orange juice, porridge and toast, is brought to his room. By 8 a.m., he's on his way to an all-important meeting. And by 9 a.m., he's clinched the deal!

Meet the new-age executive — trim, smart and exuding confidence, whose schedules are hectic and, often, erratic. His touring is legendary. Mumbai in the morning, Chennai in the evening and, if in hot pursuit of a deal, it could be London the next day.

But even as achievement becomes every professional's credo in the new millennium, so have the attendant problems. Power, wealth and responsibility have now become the key words to success. And so a generation is realising that if your target is to zoom up to the top, then that's when stress arrives.

Take the typical example of 45-year-old Uttam Kumar Bose, Chief Executive Officer, Air Sahara. Bose reaches his office at 10 a.m. and never leaves before 9 p.m. But even after that, he could be attending an official party or a business dinner. "I belong to the service industry, which is open every day of the year. I go to sleep only around 1 a.m. and wake up by 6 a.m. Those are the only five hours that are truly my own," says Bose.

It's about the same for Tarun Thakral, the Cornell-educated General Manager of Delhi's Hotel Le Meridian. His day commences at 9 a.m. and stretches beyond 10 p.m. "The most important thing one learns at Cornell is that you are hired to do a job and not just to come to office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.," says Thakral.

Most high-powered executives have similar work schedules. Dr Naresh Trehan, Director, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre, sometimes, spends over 15 hours at the hospital. Apart from performing 12-15 surgeries, he also counsels patients and meets his staff daily. "I am so engrossed in work I don't know how time flies," says Dr Trehan, who is one of the country's best-known cardiac surgeon.

Changing corporate rules

The new millennium is changing all rules, says Gurnam Arora, Joint Managing Director, Satnam Overseas, one of the country's leading agro food companies, that sells under the brand name of Kohinoor. "Competition is increasing, marketing tools are changing. Today, the seller has to pamper the customer and understand his demands. Hence, more time is spent in the boardroom shaping strategy. Now, everyone is accountable and no one is indispensable."

"An executive's performance is no longer measured by hours. It is measured by results. That's what really defines your achievements and the company's expectations from you," opines 43-year-old Srikant Illuri, Chief Executive Officer, Allied Domecq Spirits & Wine (India) Private Limited, the second largest alcohol company in the world, producing brands such as Teacher's Scotch, Highland Cream and Old Smuggler.

Gurnam Arora, Joint Managing Director, Satnam Overseas.

Once considered a problem of the Japanese workaholic or the American executive, who lived in fear of being laid off, stress from high-powered jobs is second nature to India's top brass. Inadequate relaxation and hectic travelling leaves them with no time for family. So, how do they combat this dangerous enemy?

Most super executives have devised their own remedy to de-stress. As long vacations are not usually possible, they take weekend breaks. And to steer clear of lifestyle ailments such as blood pressure and diabetes, they practise moderation.

Advises Dr Trehan, "If the job is stressful, it is vital to unwind and relax. As a doctor, I can tell you that there is a certain balance in the body and once that gets upset, the metabolism gets affected, which, in turn, effects the heart. That's why highly stressed people develop heart diseases."

But stress is nothing strange for Dr Trehan himself. He says it is the inefficiency of other people, which gives him tension. But since I am a teetotaller, I am spared of the other dangers of stressed people. I don't hit the bottle. That is the most dangerous thing to do. People who drink under stress doubly abuse their bodies."

Stress points

Thakral has his stress points. "Things not happening on time, people not using their common sense, traffic snarls and late night partying. For me all these can be causes of stress."

Thakral has a unique way to de-stress himself. He collects vintage cars and related memorabilia and has one of the country's largest collections of classic automobiles.

"Restoring them to their original glory is my way to mental nirvana. I also have a keen interest in antiques," he says.

But that's not all. Thakral says he exercises considerable restrain in his lifestyle. "Self discipline is a must. There may be excess once in a blue moon, but I am very careful about my food and drinks. I usually take a low-salt diet and fried stuff is an absolute no-no. I prefer tandoori or grilled dishes rather than heavy curries."

Bose says that it is very important not to display any signs of stress. "If I get stressed, then 3,000 people working with me will get affected."

Bose too has a unique way of de-stressing. And it's dancing! "Whenever I get an opportunity to dance, I go on the floor. I don't know any particular dance form. For me, dancing is shaking the body. It is the best expression of joy. When I dance, nothing comes to my mind. It melts away all my worries and stresses."

Dancing may be on weekends, but during other days, Bose's therapy to remain fit is one hour of yoga daily. He also plays golf thrice a week. And when it comes to food, there's nothing better than homemade stuff. "Since I don't get time for vacations, I take my family alone on some of my interesting official tours. So while I do my business in, say, London or Goa, they have a nice holiday," says Bose.

Aruna Dhir, Director, Public Relations, The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi, only has to travel to her home to de-stress. Her two `kids', Cinderella and Pasha, a German Shepherd and a Labrador, help her unwind.

"No matter how stressful a day I've had, the moment I look at them all my tensions melt. They are like my kids." Indeed they are, considering she refers to them as Cinerella Dhir and Pasha Dhir!

"Every executive must develop some stress-busters to offset the stresses and strains and the long hours which are a part and parcel of every senior executive's life," she says.

Great precautions

Even though long working hours don't cause too much stress, Dr Trehan takes great precautions.

Dr Naresh Trehan, Director, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre

"I do circuit training consisting of treadmill, aerobics, weights and stretching four times a week. On the way back home from the hospital, I meditate for 15 minutes. That puts my mind and body in the right perspective," says Dr Trehan, who prefers homemade food for lunch.

And Arora has his own mantra. For one, he spends time with the family in the evening. "Vacations are very important part of my life. I take my family out to as varied holidays as Shimla or on a Mediterranean cruise," says Arora, who plays tennis for two hours every morning not just to keep fit but, as he says, "Tennis is a great de-stresser."

Srikant Illuri says he too has cracked the code for a stress-free, healthy and fit life. "I jog four to five times a week and average between 30 and 50 km. I've been running consistently in temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius in Dubai and as low as -20 degrees in Sweden. One does not need any gym or partner to run except a pair of good shoes," says Illuri, who's done his management from Sweden's Uppsala University. Their other passions

Most of these top managers have multi-dimensional personalities. Apart from their jobs, they pursue other passions or interests with the same level of intensity that goes into their jobs. When it comes to clothes, Tarun Thakral trusts none else than fashion designer J.J. Valaya. "JJ knows exactly what I want to wear in formal and casual clothes. He has created a selection of suits for me and I must admit they have been top class. His designs have definitely enhanced my personality," he says.

Tarun Thakral, General Manager, Hotel Le Meridian, New Delhi

If Thakral finds the portly fashion designer matching up to his style, Gurnam Arora is very impressed with Shiv Khera. "I met Khera a couple of years ago. I was so impressed by him that I sent all my senior executives and family members to attend his course. I made notes while attending his course, which I later on discussed with my top management. Believe me, the management guru made a qualitative difference in our business approach."

Bose says his guru is God. "He guides me in all the decisions I take. And I have implicit faith in his judgement."

Srikant Illuri, CEO, Allied Domecq Spirits & Wine [India] Pvt Ltd.

Dr Trehan seeks solace in Vipasana. "In addition to yoga and aerobics in the morning, I do vipasana in the evening in the car, while returning home from the work. Those are the best 15 minutes of the entire day and help me to not just relax but be a good human being too."

Aruna Dhir's too has a secret relaxing passion — reading and even writing. She has already published two volumes of poems titled, Collection Of Love Poems and Collection Of Friendship Poems, both being marketed by Archies.

Srikant Illuri's passion is food — or rather lack of it. Like all top CEOs, Illuri too practises great moderation in his diet. "I do not eat breakfast. For lunch, I eat a vegetable sandwich. Nothing more, nothing less. I've been doing that for years. My dinner too is a very simple meal. I feel one's body gets used to what you eat. People may think my eating habits are strange. But I believe it is the right way to ward off lifestyle ailments, which afflict young people."

A few tips

Management expert Dr Harish Sarin, who runs a de-stress clinic in Delhi, has the following tips for high-pressure executives... "Avoid working on holidays. Don't carry work home. Cut back to a maximum of 50-hour a week. And most importantly, take time out for the family."

Dr Sarin says these people are all success stories, which others want to emulate. Stress? Yes they are stressful people. But the difference in the new millennium is that they invest time and effort combating it, thanks to the age of corporate enlightenment.

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