A catalyst who kept getting better in business, golf and life

D Shivakumar | Updated on October 07, 2020

Chandramouli or ‘Mouli’ as he was popularly known was a versatile person and leader who succumbed to pancreatic cancer on October 6 this year. I’ve known Mouli for close to two decades, as a friend, fellow golfer and book lover. We were never colleagues in a company but worked together in many Industry bodies.

The first thing, which strikes one about Mouli, is his sheer adaptability. He would have been a millennial’s delight. He started his career with Asian Paints after which he moved to GE Financial Services, then to MIRC Electronics “Onida”, Cadbury’s/Mondelez and later to Pidilite Industries. That’s a wide range of industries and Mouli left a mark in every company he worked in, especially on his people and the eco system. His bosses always had good things to say about him.

The other aspect of Mouli’s adaptability was his breadth of functions. Mouli worked in sales, marketing, strategy, HR and was a CEO. His dual adaptability of industry and function is rare and I know very few people who have done this in India. Mouli was obviously a very good learner and had a curious mind, attributes expressed by all those who interacted with him.

Diligent golfer

In the last three years after I moved to Mumbai, we spent time playing some rounds of golf and chatting about everything from brands to marketing and from leadership to sports. He was a diligent golfer, warming up, and practising properly before a round. Once the round started, he would be dead serious, thinking through every shot, giving it all the attention that it deserved. He took his game seriously and played to win.

In his book Catalyst, Mouli says that a career is split into two parts: the first 20 years and the second or succeeding twenty years. Achieving success in the second 20 years is more difficult as the pyramid gets steep and you have to learn to be a thought leader. I was on a TV panel with two of his favourite bosses – Anand Kripalu and Bharat Puri --  and we discussed careers and why some people propel ahead and why some people stagnate in the second half of their careers. The dominant point from Mouli was that individual growth determines success in the second half of a career and this is a combination of knowledge, skills, judgement, influence and communication.

Mouli was very successful in his latter twenty years, being a corporate CEO and exploring the world of publishing as an author. Mouli ran a successful training programme and he distilled the learnings into a book, Catalyst, published in 2018.

Remarkable feat

This was his first book and was a blockbuster as business books go, having sold one lakh copies so far. That is a remarkable feat in publishing - the equivalent of scoring a triple century on test debut in cricket!

I happened to meet his editor Radhika Marwah last week and we discussed Mouli, his book and its success. Mouli was widely acknowledged to have done a great job of marketing his book. He used a combination of traditional media and social media very well in creating a unique buzz. Mouli travelled to various companies offering a training programme on Catalyst and its lessons; he landed up in airport bookshops, in city book stores, signing copies of his book and posting each significant event on social media.

Mouli got many senior leaders to talk about their careers and used the videos effectively in promoting the book on social media. Nothing like this had been done before in the publishing area and Mouli was a pioneer. The surround impact of this launch was like the launch of an Amitabh Bachchan movie.

Catalyst went onto to be the book of the year and Mouli was rightly proud. He had adapted to yet another industry and won.

Mouli celebrated the success of the book by celebrating it with a few friends over a movie, The Greatest Game Ever Played, a true story released in 2005 about an amateur golfer – Francis Ouimet - who beats society class odds and British professionals to win the US Open golf tournament in 1913.

I felt Mouli resonated with Francis Ouimet in his publishing journey.

Mouli urged me to write a book in every conversation we had. When I finally started work on my book, he would constantly ask me questions about its progress and what I could do better and what he felt was not working. He was honest in his assessment of my ideas and humble when he didn’t understand something. I interviewed him for my book, leveraging his adaptive strength across industries.

I think that’s what everyone who  interacted with Mouli will remember – his honesty and his humility. RIP Mouli, you are a catalyst who got better every day in business, in golf and in life!

(D. Shivakumar is Group Executive President, Corporate Strategy, Aditya Birla Group)

Published on October 07, 2020

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