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Fifty-Fifty: Salaried Professional Vs Entrepreneur - Is One The Better Choice?

The biggest joy of entrepreneurship is that every day is a new day. A new challenge. A new mountain to climb.

Photo Credit : ShutterStock

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I have been working for 37 years now. That is longer than most of my readers have been on Planet Earth! So, when sharing perspectives I sometimes hesitate – because the prism through which I am looking at the world may be so very different from that of the receiver. My views, I may believe, are tempered by years of practical experience and real exposure. To someone else, the very same views may just be stale and anachronistic, with a set of experiences that are no longer relevant or contemporary in today’s times.

So, when asked, that since I have been a salaried employee (and a very well remunerated one in my heydays) and an entrepreneur (with decent success), which is the one I prefer, I really have no answer. TBH (to be honest!), the answer is really 50:50 – which is also the theme of my column. I am not trying to hedge. Or dodge. Or trying to be coy. The fact is I am not really sure.

Okay, let us weigh the pros and cons on both sides. 

I was fortunate to start my advertising career at HTA-Delhi. I got to launch Maggi sauces for Nestlé and I serviced Horlicks (the highest media spender brand in India at that time). These clients gave me the confidence to handle scale, and nurtured my ‘big game mentality’ – the ability to not be over-awed or overwhelmed by clients, competitors, colleagues or complexities. Then I spent a couple of years at Trikaya. HTA and Trikaya were like chalk and cheese. At Trikaya I learnt that in advertising creative ideas come first, clients come later. At HTA it was the other way around. I digested both philosophies. Then I went to work at a small ad agency called Interact which only handled small Indian entrepreneurs. The clients became my best friends, and I became more a family advisor than an advertising consultant. By the time I joined Rediffusion, I was a pro. I helped launch Airtel. I was now handling Rs. 100+ crore budgets (more like Rs. 500+ crores today) for the likes of Colgate and Maruti. I was at the peak of my profession. Two years at Zee were the icing on the cake as I learned to back-slap everyone from Shah Rukh to Kapil Dev to Prannoy Roy and claim they were ‘friends’. 

My years as a professional employee gave me economic security. I became, what I would call comfortable, and well-to-do. In 2001, I was India’s highest paid professional CEO. The perks and privileges were top-of-the-line. Cars, clubs, travel, hotels, entertainment … there was no hold-back. The work exposure I had had over the years was priceless – with little or no personal risk. The Rolodex got heavier every year as my outreach and influence grew. But the all-important stand out from my 18 years journey as a salaried executive was what I learnt from my bosses, without paying a single rupee a guru dakshina. Sanjay Sehgal, my boss at HTA taught me the virtue of forbearance and patience; Ravi Gupta at Trikaya drilled in me that advertising is only about big ideas; Srini Bhat at Interact taught me to dream big with and for my clients; and Diwan Arun Nanda at Rediffusion taught me when to say a difficult ‘no’ rather than acquiesce with an easy ‘yes’.  

Turning entrepreneur was not easy. It required a major mindset change. The first of which was learning to take risk. Never till then in my professional innings had I ever faced the prospect of potentially making a monetary loss at the personal level. That realization in itself was sobering.

My entrepreneurial break was a big one. I got to partner Dentsu, the world’s single largest ad agency for a joint-venture in India. It was a dream debut. The Dentsu brand name ensured that I could continue to play in the big league. Toyota, Honda, Suzuki and most other Japanese clients came because of the Dentsu calling card. And seeing our global line-up, top Indian clients also trusted their business to me. 

But with ownership of my own enterprise came new responsibilities. In no time we had over 500 employees. And paying salaries on time, month after month, became my first priority. And paying rents. And taxes. And vendors. And Indian Newspaper Society (INS) dues. I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night in a sweat. The business was doing exceedingly well. There was nothing to worry or fret about. But I had developed a new instinct as an entrepreneur: fear. Fear of failure. When I put up my apartment as a personal guarantee  – my family home in Mumbai, to the INS for giving us media accreditation, I could not sleep that night. I felt as if I had gambled our future away. It was, as I said, not easy. 

But the biggest joy of entrepreneurship is that every day is a new day. A new challenge. A new mountain to climb. Entrepreneurship also somehow brings in its wake the urge to innovate and experiment. Not that you do not do that when you are a professional but as an entrepreneur, the risk-gain equations are just so different. So, one day I created India’s first fantasy league. One day I started a company for momics – mobile comics. One day I launched a last-minute ad inventory exchange. Every new idea was worth a try. In the past 18 years I have invested in at least 18 new businesses. Some have succeeded. Some have not. To me all that mattered was that I did not have to ask for anyone’s permission. I was my own boss. I took my own decisions. 2008 almost killed me. I got bruised but stayed alive. 

The most heady part of being an entrepreneur is being your own boss. I had a good exit when I sold my stake in Dentsu. It made me affluent. Everybody called me a genius. Had I failed, I would easily have been labeled a dunce. Gain or loss, the buck stopped at me. 

If you want a good title in a big company with a big salary and big perks, stay professional. There is reasonable certainty and relative calm in your life. If you want a daily roller-coaster ride and enjoy the thrill of being in the driver’s seat without an insurance cover, well take the plunge and turn entrepreneur. 

Dr. Goyal is Chairman of the Mogaé Group. He also chairs the India Advisory Board of Snapchat in India. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Dr Sandeep Goyal

The author was Founder Chairman of Dentsu India. He has authored Konjo – The Fighting Spirit and Japan Made Easy, both Harper Collins publications, on his 25 years of working with Japan.

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