What the streets of India taught me about leadership
Vice-President, Architectures, APJ
People and Culture
If you had told me 30 years ago that today I’d be driving one of the most exciting technology businesses in Asia, I’d probably not believe it. I was then a 19-year-old boy in the Indian city of Banaras chasing up tourists to sell them tours around the city. The competition for their attention was tough, but I needed to stand out to be able to get tours and pay for my college. Reading was already a passion back then, so I studied hard to know everything about the city’s history and be the best tourist guide that I could be.
When I joined the corporate world, I embraced it and never looked back. But this period of my life really shaped who I am and gave me knowledge and learnings that serve me well till this day.
First and foremost, this experience taught me about the importance of improving the story telling game with every experience. Other than helping me improve my English, working with tourists from all over the world really helped understand the cultural differences and that a story may work for one, but not necessarily appeal to another. If I was going to grow as a professional, I knew right there that adaptability and learning on the job were going to be key.
Secondly, I’ve learned that it’s practically impossible to sell anything – an experience, product, solution or idea - without listening. Only when I listened to each tourist needs was I able to connect with them to sell an experience. The same happens today: my team and I can only successfully help our customers if we listen and understand their needs first.
Possibly the biggest learning of all as a tourist guide, however, was humility. On a day like any other, I came across this Japanese couple, who I brought around Banaras for a half day tour. They were so appreciative that they invited me to have dinner with them at the Taj Ganges – my first-hand experience of a five-star hotel. The gentleman was very curious and asked me a million questions: what was I studying? What had my upbringing been like? What I wanted to do with my life? It was one of those moments when I felt true kindness and compassion from a complete stranger. A decade later, with the advent of the Internet, I learned this wise man had just become Sony’s CEO.
This really showed me that one should always keep his ears, eyes and heart open. Because interesting people, ideas and insights can really come from the most unexpected places, and as leaders or future leaders, we need to be humble enough to recognize that. No matter where I go, I carry these valuable lesson with me.