‘Never Hesitated To Engage’
Many a time, it’s those challenges that you can’t leave back in the office that demand the most of you
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I am quite battle weary, but I guess it’s justified at 57. I am justifiably proud of some battles. I still hurt from some, while there are others where my strategy was incorrect. Those still irk me, but if there is one thing in which I have been consistent, it is that I never hesitated to engage.
In my 20s, building the first three Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi seemed a huge challenge to me. I was literally thrown off the deep end and asked to supervise the design, build, equipment procurement and pre-op of India’s first purpose built hospitals. By the time the hospital in Delhi was completed, I thought I was an ace, but now, looking back I realise I could have done it much better. That is a huge life lesson that I always use — to keep the child in me for the energy and enthusiasm, but surround myself with and listen to top-class talent to help me get the best results and have no regrets later. My early experience also taught me to trust and delegate, which is something my father as the founder of the Apollo Hospitals group did brilliantly. It’s a skill which has stood me in good stead at Apollo Munich Health Insurance.
It’s said that when you are doing the work you love, that’s when you perform best, but does passion really equal success? I think it’s not always true, because when you perform to the best of your ability and earn success, that’s when you fall in love too! Sometimes, passion clouds your vision. I was handed the decidedly ‘unsexy’ business of pharmacies early in 2000. At that point, our retail business with over 200 stores was just a rounding error in our balance sheet! In fact, my father started it only so patients should have access to genuine medicines. We built on that premise and amped it up with the challenge that in a 1,000 days we would open a 1,000 stores and have a top line of Rs 1,000 crore. We achieved the target with a few days to spare and today, we have over 3,500 stores across the country! This challenge taught me the importance of leadership, working as a team and of staying close to the business. Success came from an awesome leadership team that was homegrown and matches that of any world-class retailer.
Speaking of challenges, many a time, it’s those challenges that you can’t leave back in the office that demand the most of you. In 1989, while driving back from Bengaluru, our car was involved in an accident. My knee was shattered, my face cut and my neck was broken in six places at the C4/5 level. The long recovery and nine subsequent operations put my priorities in perspective. It taught me patience, resilience and the ability to tolerate a lot of pain. On a lighter note, those qualities really came in handy as the president of CII last year, when I travelled over 450,000 km and met many people, while being in the midst of a roller-coaster economy.
As a woman, I am aware of discrimination faced by women — it is a reality that I fight against and champion, but I have been fortunate not to have faced that challenge. However, I know how difficult it is to be a super wife, a super mom and a super boss. I am blessed that I never had to face the choice of opting out of any of these. I never take for granted the support given by my family. Success and happiness for us is a collective endeavour. Women today must work so they find that sweet spot of economic independence and also strive for a familial interdependence through shared responsibility that will enable them to shine and be happy. Now that’s a challenge we should all work on!
My favorite poem is by a woman I truly admire — Marianne Williamson. The following lines from the poem always inspire me — “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…”
In conclusion, I believe that there are challenges ahead which will probably test me more than I have been tested before, but I am confident that I will face it all, unafraid to ask for help and optimistic that it will be a growth opportunity!
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