New Manager

Minding their own ‘business'

Updated on: Jul 17, 2011
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The desire to be on their own and pursue their passions is prompting many 40-somethings to go it on their own.

The opportunity to innovate and create something prompted Suman Srivastava, in his mid-40s, to quit as CEO of ad agency Euro RSCG to set up Marketing Unplugged, a marketing innovation firm. Says he, “I see the opportunities in India and sometimes I felt that I couldn't get my foreign bosses to see them and invest in them.”

And, now that he's on his own, Srivastava says in terms of culture, he and his partners have the freedom to create their own. “We will make mistakes, but we want the freedom to be responsible for them and enjoy the consequences.”

Apart from the freedom to work on one's own and be one's own boss, it also allows one to pursue one's passion which one cannot in organisational life.

As Harish Devarajan of People Unlimited, a leadership development consultancy, points out, as HR head of Hindustan Unilever, he was doing more of the same. “My passion was around leadership development but I could devote only 20 per cent of my time to it. But, now I spend a big chunk of my time in organisation performance consulting and leadership development.”

For many like Brand Vector's Vishwadeep Kuila, it's also the excitement of doing what one likes best; in Kuila's case it's about building brands. The plunge though was agonising. Says he: “For me it was an unplanned end of a stint in my last organisation, and I was looking for a change in assignment, and it brought back the urge to go on my own. At 44 I thought to myself that if I take up a job now, it will be curtains to all my ideas and the urge to go on my own once for all, as after 50 it would be tough to maintain the same energy levels. So it was now or never. It was very discomforting to think that at 55 I might still be in a job and then look back and think I could have started at 44 and have had an established business by now. That was the clincher.”

But, today, he says the decision was right. With four clients with whom he is on a retainership and case-by-case assignments, Kuila is expanding his portfolio and says he's earning almost as much as he was in his corporate job.

For Richa Arora, who was head of marketing for Britannia Industries, having spent many years in the advertising business and later in FMCG marketing, strategic marketing consulting was a natural outcome. “When I started off in January 2008, I did not have any client base to speak off as I felt exploring consulting assignments before I had taken the plunge would short charge the effort on my then job. But I had a lot of support from Britannia during the initial phase, which incidentally was also my first client. Many people felt it was a somewhat foolish approach, but extreme caution is not a good way to start a new business! As it happened, the positivity rubbed off and I had my second client in the second month itself, and there has been no looking back since.”

Srivastava, who used to be Euro RSCG's CEO, says he was always a reluctant CEO. “Strategic planning gave me joy, and I became CEO just to figure out what it would be like. Having done the job for five years, I decided that I could not continue in that role for the rest of my working life. So I decided to set up my own think shop.” And, the feeling is good, he says, “Of working for myself. Of doing good work. Of developing myself as a person and a professional and of creating successful businesses for my clients.”

Doing something substantive is also what prompted 43-year-old V. Rajesh, former head of retail solutions, India, for TCS, and a retailer with over 18 years experience to quit his job and be on his own. “My wife asked me what will I do with my time, but I'm busier than ever!” says Rajesh. While offering his vast retailing experience to some clients who want to venture into retail, he's teaching extensively: a retail management programme for executives at the NM Institute of Management in Bangalore, at the Indian Retail School at ISB and also a course for the Retailers' Association of India. “At this age, people have an in-depth understanding of the industry and want to do more with that knowledge than we can do in industry. I'm enjoying being my own boss and pursuing my passion.”

Apart from the urge to go on their own, most of those who have struck out on their own believe that the business environment has become more conducive for people to operate on their own as business consultants to organisations. As Arora, an alumnus of IIM-A and LSE, points out, many organisations today believe that getting different perspectives from outside the organisation is desirable, and even essential to remain competitive and agile. “The environment is one with a greater spirit of entrepreneurship and we as a nation are far more confident than a few decades back. It is natural that each progressive generation has a greater confidence in its abilities,” she elaborates. 

Ask Srivastava if he had a degree of financial independence which gave him the confidence to set out on his own, he says his wife's successful market research company provided a safety net. “But then as (author) Po Bronson says in What shall I do with my life? you never have enough and you never have too little to start out on your own!”

Published on July 21, 2011

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