Look Ma, no hands!!


After the last blog I wrote, “Letting Go” I got 2 buckets of feedback….

  1. said wow, what a career, you went from strength to strength, your story will be an inspiration for people searching for “the way”
  2. asked was it all hunky-dory ? how about the challenges & what they taught you?

That is where this follow-through blog took shape.  I felt I must share with you where I royally screwed up & what I learnt from those experiences….inspiration for the title of this blog.

Some of you may know the story of a small boy who was learning to cycle. His mother was cooking, & watching him through the kitchen window. The boy made his first round very tentatively, cycle shaking vigorously, trying his best to maintain balance. In the second pass, the boy was confident, rode the cycle well, maintained perfect balance. As he passed the window once more, he shouted to his mother….” Look Ma!” and whizzed past. Third round he had acquired the confidence & skill and shouted out,” Look Ma, no hands!” … he could ride the cycle without holding the handle!! The Mother clapped. Emboldened, the boy increased speed & was more experimentative. In the fourth round, he shouted, ” Look Ma, no teeth!” ….obviously he had had a fall, & broken his front teeth!

In  34 years of my Corporate life I too have fallen often. Why only teeth, I have lost many more things….my confidence, courage, arrogance, faith and my trust. This blog recounts some of these stories. So hear ye, hear ye, hear ye….how this fool lost his teeth, bruised his ego, and much more!! Some journeys need no roads, only a willing heart!


The nadir of my professional failure was when I left my AsiaPacific Director’s job in Johnson & Johnson and joined VVF as Global Head of HR. I was doing well in J&J but the travel was burning me out. A consultant friend (whom I later realised was no friend of mine), sold me on a stable job in Mumbai as Global Head HR for VVF. It seemed a logical progression from AsPac to Global role:  company had solid growth , 8 plants in India, 6 plants abroad, all good! Too good to be true I realised when I joined, as it was a company with zero professionalism, family owned and managed heuristically, no systems and processes and worst : no appetite for change! Directly from being on top of my professional career, I was dumped into a black hole in Sion. Except protecting my monetary package, the company gave me nothing….no freedom to operate, no chance to learn, no opportunity to contribute. Decisions today, were overturned tomorrow. People were treated as fodder for egos of owners and entrenched “mulajim” who knew how to do “han-ji han-ji” to survive & thrive. In true noir humour, my friends said your title should not be Global Head HR but Global Head HR (Sion)!! That was the job I had!!!

I was desperate to quit …first time in my life I dreaded going to office, as i did not know what surprise awaited me. Vinita saw how badly I hurt every day I had to go to office. She advised me to just quit. Tough call,  but I was clear : having done no wrong, I would not quit without a job in hand.


Fortunately I could leave in 9 months, but the role I landed in, I had to adjust to a 20% lower compensation. There was no choice (the proverbial Devil and the Deep Sea); at least I was protecting my soul & sanity.  Again I left in 4 months. After this short-lived adventure I joined General Motors, who placed me at Pune where I wanted to be & even restored my comp to pre-existing levels. While I was leaving Onida, the gracious Chairman asked me why I was leaving so soon after  joining. My answer  was “Never reduce someone’s compensation as that becomes a festering tumor which hurts the person daily” Big learning for me was: never think you can win by vanquishing the other person. Leave him his life, leave him his space so that he retains his dignity & honour. A principle which has stood me in good stead in life. A time tested formula followed by the Greek Kings as well as our own Chatrapati Shivaji. Long Live Win-Win!!!


Early in my career, I realised I must learn to face my fears. The head in the sand model may work for the Ostrich, but for us humans the sand storm sweeps us away, if we do not proactively plan our way forward. I remember many examples where I fell grossly short. At HCL I took responsibility for a Marketing launch meeting, relied on others who promised they would do their part, & ended up with egg on the face in front of Directors as no preparation was complete; as others had not done their bit & I had not checked. At Siemens Corporate Office I called for a walk-in interview in morning at office opening time. Since my staff bus came in late, there was a 150 people’ melee around the Corporate Office reception which could barely seat 10. I reached 75 minutes late. I did not know there was a Board of Directors meeting scheduled same day & they could not enter the office because of the crowd. The Personnel Director had to arrange Security to escort them to the back of the building and bring them in from the Garbage entrance! The US Army has coined a great word to describe such things: SNAFU: ie Situation Normal, All Fu..ed Up!


Another classic memory is of a training event arranged in Atul, Valsad where the program was wrongly scheduled on a festival holiday, got rescheduled and all people informed….only we forgot to inform the external visiting faculty who travelled from out-station all the way to face an empty training room. In Siemens,  once I rescheduled the weekly off for the Maintenance group of a 4500 employee strong factory. Maintenance people protested and did not follow the revised schedule, resulting in 2 mandays lost for the entire group.

दिल ही तो है इसने शयाद भुल भी की है
ज़िन्दगी है भुल कर ही रIह मिलाती है
माफ़ करना बंदा भी इक इन्सान है…अपनी तो हर आह एक तुफान है

My lack of numerical ability  often created errors in increment/promotion letters, where we had to withdraw letters and issue fresh ones. This happened with so much regularity that one kind hearted colleague offered to always become an “audit step”, before the letters were issued to employees. I rejoined Siemens after a gap of 6+ years as GM HRD. But the company & culture has changed so much in that period that I felt like a fish out of water, and was scrapping daily with friends & colleagues who had welcomed me back!!! Quickly I left again, as I was miserable in Siemens. My list of faux-pas are legion and so I must cut short their litany. But all of them had to be faced, accepted, apologized for, changed & corrected. My bosses trust was often shaken;  but intentionality & help from friends ensured I never got fired, though I was lectured often.


So where does all this lead us? I tell you: Life is what it is. And Shit happens. Especially when you are least expecting it. And that is ok. The glorious uncertainty of life makes it all worth living. If it was all predictable we would have long been bored. Chess is the best game only because of the possibilities and probabilities are enormous. And indeterminate.  So my learning in this game of Life, and of HR, is that you need to play the game best as you can. Do not try to control , as like sand it will slip out of your hand. Face every challenge and every day with a smile, keep a true heart, focus on the max good for the max people and you will come out right. Be Open. Do not attempt to be a Master of the Game. Rather be a Player. Just pick up the learning each mistake brings to you. Trust the Process. Go with the Flow. You will be a Winner.

I end with advice from one of the best influencers in my life, Ayn Rand who says,Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish ... The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.” 

खुबिया इतनी तो नही की सभी का दिल जीत सके,
कुछ पल ऐसे जरूर छोड़ जाएंगे कि भूलना भी आसान ना होगा: आपका अज़ीज़ विकिबाबा learner


                                From People Matters: applies to every day, don’t you agree?                                    सारे जहाँ से अच्छा हिंदुस्तान हमारा




26 Replies to “Look Ma, no hands!!”

  1. Dear Sir
    Hope you and family member’s are healthy and fine. I have an opportunity to work with you and I know you are so open minded person that you are telling all the truth about your working experience with the organisations and I remember you talked about hectic travel from one country to other during your association with j&j , when we meet at Sai Temple at Tithal. I like very much your Open mindset and close association with the Staff members. I love you so much sir. Thanks


    1. Jayesh bhai
      many thanks for your comments on my blog. Yes life has been kind and gave me a chance to work with different teams and different cultures. It has all been a learning experience for me
      Most important thing was the chance to make friends and build deep relationships with people which I greatly value
      Thanks a lot for being my friend
      Hope our paths cross again sometimes in future


  2. Well articulated lessons of your life, was able to connect the dots from our earlier conversations. Unlike the reel life real life has no options of rewind, replay or fast forward and while we realise the errs after time has gone past but we have no option to rewind and correct it.
    Life gives us one chance for every thing, whatever come later is a new chance every time as there is no replay, whatever happens life is worth living, atleast once..


    1. Yesh babu
      thanks for taking the time to read my adventures and comment on the blog.
      i always admired your obstinate courage to hold your views firm when you thought I was going off track
      That is a great characteristic of a good HR professional and I am sure it will stand you in great stead wherever you are.
      I feel happy that you have also been a risk taker and have never been afraid to meet challenges head on
      I have always been motivated by the following thought:
      Manzil milegi, bhatak kar hi sahi
      Gumrah to wo hai, jo ghar se nikle hi nahi
      Take care & stay in touch


  3. Great! Sir, you are simply great!!
    It needs a lot of courage & openness to share unintentional flaws that took place at different levels in different organisations during your 34 years of working life. We learn from our mistakes, failures but sharing them with others to boost their morale, confidence in the similar situations, can be done only by a thorough HR professional like you. Because you trust people & you are genuinely interested in people & organisational development.


    1. Shruti
      I am not great. People around me made me look great. I can never forget the contributions of all my team members who helped me rise from strength to strength and were always by my side when I was in the dumps and needed their help
      a colleague from VVF asked me after reading the blog, Did you not get anything from VVF and I said of course I did, I got great friends with whom I am still in contact
      I feel my main “punji” is the friends I have made all along. I am still in touch with friends I made in HCL in 1980. Siemens Workers Union still consults me when they want an independent opinion. I still get mangoes from Valsad after leaving from Atul Products in 1997. Zindagi me aur kya chahiye.
      aap logon ka pyaar mere liye sabse aham hai. Thanks for being in my life
      PS are you part of the Johnsonions Reunion WA group? Today we have a story telling event. And I am going to talk about VYW and our IR team who were so dear to me. Hope you can join


  4. વિકાસભાઇ,
    મારુ અંગ્રેજી તમારી તોલે ન આવી શકે માટે કમેંટ ગુજરાતીમાં કરેલ છે. તમારી કારકિર્દીનુ સુંદર તલસ્પર્શી નિરુપણ કરેલ છે જે જીવનમાં ખુબ ઉપયોગી થઇશકે છે.
    અનુકુળતાએ મળી વધારે વાતો કરીશુ. આપ વિનીતા રશમી વગેરે કુશળ હશો.


    1. Kanubhai
      thanks a ton for your vote of confidence
      we are all fine and wish the same for you
      You reminded me of a sher of Faiz
      दिल न-उम्मीद तोह नहीं,
      नाकाम ही तो है,
      लम्बी है ग़म की शाम, मगर
      शाम ही तो है……
      – फैज़ अहमद फैज़
      We will certainly meet on the other side of this present dark cloud in the sky
      Greatly value your friendship sir


  5. “Maximum good for maximum people”. It sums up a lot! I enjoyed reading this blog. It brings a lot of learning and shows a realistic picture of corporate environment.

    Quite impressed with the candid way the events and incidents are shared. Few HR professionals will demonstrate courage to share the misadventures of work life. Thanks for sharing this. Indeed commendable.


    1. Thanks dear friend for your kind words
      I have always believed that honesty and a clear conscience is the most comfortable pillow to sleep on
      and I have tried to live my life that way
      The teachings of my parents have stood me in good stead through out and continue to illuminate my path even today
      Hope I am able to create that for my daughter and my professional family
      do stay in touch


  6. Well narrated experiences straight from the heart! As you stated, one needs to go with the flow and if I may add, grow as you flow along.


  7. Well narrated experiences straight from the heart! As you stated, one needs to go with the flow and if I may add, grow as you flow along.


    1. And yes Jeevan chalne ka naam, but with the flow one must grow
      we both know many examples of people who stayed stagnant for a while and soon got fossilised on the way

      The Path is demanding and extracts a price
      Though a hard task master, the Path also rewards well


  8. Read your blogs for the subjects you address as also for the superb articulation.

    My experiences have taught me that life & learning largely exist beyond ones comfort zone.


    1. Nikhil bhai you are bang on
      If you continue to do what you have always done you will continue to get what you have always got
      So growth is always outside the comfort zone
      The Uncertainty sharpens all senses and we see, hear, understand, learn more when we are doing something new


  9. Greatly impressed by your honest straightforward acceptance of life with no frills attached. Have always admired you for your varied talents. Very few people will have such awesome courage to share such personal life lessons. Thank you. Great going


    1. Katie
      thanks for your kind words
      I have always believed that knowledge grows by sharing
      Getting challenged leads you down new paths
      and that is where your true growth lies

      also the first traveller owes it to the others who are following to guide and clarify
      which is what I have tried to do

      appreciate your feedback


  10. This is what I call bone honest which is what makes it beautiful in its simplicity. The amount of learning from this piece is immense. Takes me to what M S Dhoni said in an interview on NDTV Goodtimes when he was asked “What is your definition of a good time?” He said something to the effect of this – When I win, I celebrate; when I lose, I learn. Either way I am having a good time.


    1. So true Minouti
      You owe it to yourself and to the others on the same path that you must experiment and learn
      when you do something new. the results can be unpredictable
      But really is that not the thrill and joy of moving forward?
      Life is an adventure, one faces the sun and carries on


  11. True experiences are realistically acceptable as they empathise with the reader while the suggestions & advises thereof hold equal acceptance. The Will to hit back is admirable. 👌


    1. Thanks Ram you know me for 50 plus years and I was not like this
      But life picked me up and threw me into the stars and also dashed me into the mud
      But I have always believed:
      Manzil milegi, bhatak kar hi sahi
      Gumrah to wo hai jo ghar se nikle hi nahi


    1. Thanks Kailash
      You reminded me of my fav abhang of Sant Tukaram Anureniya Thokada in which he sings:
      सांिडली िपुटी ।
      दीप उजळला घटीं॥३॥
      तुका णेआतां ।
      उरलो उपकारापुरता ॥४॥
      I discarded the trilogy of the Physical world (Triputi of Viewer-View- Viewing)
      and became illuminated with true knowledge
      Tuka says now my existence is only for others

      Of course I am very very petty, but the last line is right Ata Uralo Upkara purta
      We have to do whatever we can for others


  12. Lessons from career history candidly expressed!
    Do share your tons of success stories and lessons we can learn.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: