Episode 95 / December 14, 2020

Making a crisis work for you with Sanjay Swamy & T. N. Hari

hr min

Episode 95 / December 14, 2020

Making a crisis work for you with Sanjay Swamy & T. N. Hari

hr min
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In this special episode of 100x Entrepreneur Podcast, we have Sanjay Swamy & T.N. Hari with us who were once best friends in School. After many years, they reunited again to write a book – “Sailing Through a Storm: Making a Crisis Work for You”.

Sanjay Swamy is the Founding Managing Partner of Prime Venture Partners. Sanjay who also co-founded ZipDial and EzeTap is known for his sense of humour and his impeccable expertise over fintech.

T. N. Hari is the Chief People Officer at BigBasket. Hari is an advisor and mentor to numerous young entrepreneurs and startups. He is also a Strategic Advisor at Fundamentum, a growth Fund, co-founded by Nandan Nilekani and Sanjeev Aggarwal.

Listen to this podcast to learn about:

00:31 – Intro of Sanjay and Hari

01:52 – Background story of their friendship

03:28 – Idea of writing a book together

06:43 – “Socially nobody likes to talks about things which are not going well” – Sanjay Swamy

07:31 – Biggest crisis faced in personal lives

24:07 – Experiences/Lessons from the crises

37:49 – Leadership traits a person must possess to make a crisis work


Read the full transcript here:

Siddhartha 0:03

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia, welcome to the 100x Entrepreneur podcast. Today, I have with me Sanjay Swami, Managing Partner, Prime Venture Partners, and T. N. Hari, Chief People Officer, BigBasket. Hari and Sanjay have penned together a new book Sailing Through a Storm, Making a crisis work for you. The book is on how crisis shapes organizations, individuals, and countries and what are the best mechanisms to cope with it to emerge out of them. It’s a journey, which Hari and Sanjay will take you through on what they have faced, personally, professionally, and what they have observed in their environment and managing some of the worst crises people face in their lives. We are sitting in December 2020, almost a year, in the worst pandemic, people living in this age have ever seen. Some of you who are listening would have lost someone, a friend, or a family member, who has themselves gone through COVID, some of you would have lost a job. And some of you would have been going through mental and emotional health. But there is something which we can use, this experience to emerge a better version of ourselves through this crisis and to emerge as a grown individual. Welcome, Sanjay and Hari to the podcast.


  1. N. Hari 1:31

Thank you, Siddhartha.


Sanjay Swamy 1:34

Thanks, Siddhartha. Great to be here.


Siddhartha 1:36

So, Sanjay, and Hari, I would love to start with the story of your friendship? And what gave birth to the book?


  1. N. Hari 1:51

So, I think Sanjay and I have been friends at school, you know, and in school, you always have a best friend and Sanjay happened to be my best friend in primary school. So we were there, from first grade to the fifth grade, after which Sanjay left for Bangalore, we grew up in a small town during those years in Orissa, very, you know, nondescript Township, where about public sector undertaking was located, Sanjay moved to Bangalore, after a fifth grade, I continued to remain there. And we met after we turned 50. And we continued to meet friends. And at some point of time, we decided, you know, why not do something together. And as we talked about, you know, what was happening during the pandemic like the life that turned upside down in many ways for all of us. And this was the first time that you know, many of us were seeing a crisis of this magnitude. And these kinds of crises, one doesn’t see more than once in a lifetime. So I think we spotted this early, and we realized that there is a megatrend, you know, taking shape, and lives are being turned upside down. People are adopting or adapting to new normals, new ways of life. So we thought, you know, why don’t we write a book, and then we thought, what the theme should be, then we realize that, you know, while the pandemic has created a crisis for all of us, we have also dealt with different types of crisis all our lives, you know, both as individuals and being part of organizations and institutions. So crisis is not particularly new. In fact, some of the crisis that we have dealt with are far worse than the pandemic, for instance, a family that’s lost a loved one, the crisis that they deal with is far worse than a pandemic. So there’s nothing particularly new to a crisis. But then we realized, you know, what, this is the right time to put together a book that talks about a crisis in general, it could be a crisis in your personal life, it could be a crisis in your organizational life. It could be just about a crisis in being born into adversity. And still, how do you make the best of it? So I think we identified a crisis and dealing with it as a story that was worth telling.


Siddhartha 4:02

Sanjay, why is this book important to you?


Sanjay Swamy 4:04

Yeah. So just to add, to what Hari said, and to get to your question, as well. Yeah. So, Hari and I have very fond memories of literally the age five to 10, right? Most people may not remember a whole lot, especially once you get to our age. But you know, we had a very, very close bond at that time. And you know, why we never stayed in touch you know, we, I think when we reunited about, you know, six, seven years ago, I don’t think there was, it felt like we’d been together all along, right. And so when he reached out to me and said, Hey, I’m writing this book, would you like to co-author with me? It kind of was symbolic, because I think during these crises, and these moments, we turn to our best friends for several things, right. And I thought, well, it’s a great opportunity to be writing something with someone who has for a long time been either my closest friend and in fact, the dedication of this book that I’ve done that is to two best friends, and Hari has done to, I guess, his best friend, his daughter. But, you know, I think, unlike most crises that several of us would have experienced, and I can personally say I’ve been through probably four in my adult life, right, four to five, this one is unusual in that everybody has been impacted by it. Right. So this is not one where, you know, somebody went through something and others cannot empathize with it, right. Everybody actually has, as you said, you know, in some cases, under very tragic circumstances, lost somebody close or gone through a pretty narrow escape, either too close or themselves. But, you know, certainly, people can empathize with it. But I think history is strewn with situations where actually crises happen on a daily basis to people, right. And finding the strength to come out of it is the biggest challenge, right? And, when you look at it from an entrepreneurs perspective, where companies go through near-death experiences, or personal experiences, like how Hari talked about as well, you know, these situations will constantly arise and there is actually, as we believe in this book, you know, through examples there is a structured formula almost for how to deal with these situations, right. And we thought we’ll bring it out through a combination of examples, as well as you know, some abstracted lessons at the end of the book. So that’s sort of the background behind the book. And some of these are actually very personal examples that some of us have faced, which, you know, which we have shared, and, others with people close to us. I think one important thing, you know, is socially, nobody likes to talk about things not going well, we generally, you know, when you go drinking, you don’t tell somebody about all the things that are going on wrong in life, you’re always talking about all the awesome things you’re doing. And I think we are trained as human beings to think or try to appear positive, and sort of almost train ourselves and our brains to say that things are going well. So we thought this is an opportunity here for us to share because people from the outset may not realize what people have gone through. And in some ways that will give stealth to people when they read this and say, okay, you know, what I’m going through now isn’t half as bad as what people have been through. And hopefully, that gives people confidence.


Siddhartha 7:25

Hari, and Sanjay, if you can share, what was the biggest crisis in each one of your lives.


Sanjay Swamy 7:36

You know, Siddhartha, I think every day is a crisis, every day is a great day, every day is a challenge every day is an opportunity. Right? And I think at any point in time, every challenge looks like it’s a crisis, right? I would argue that you know, preparing, for JEE or preparing for second POC exams or engineering exams later on, on that given day it looks like the biggest crisis you’re gonna face? Right? But certainly, there are times I think, where it’s a combination of health, whether it’s personal health, or someone near to you, or financial health, right, I think those are the two times where people feel most vulnerable and challenged about and, you know, I’ve talked about in the book several times wherein I’ve been through a combination of both, and I know people that have been through a combination of both. So situations, where, you’re living in a foreign land, you’re down to a few $100 in the bank, you don’t have a job, you don’t know where the next paycheck is gonna come from, right. But you keep plugging away, you keep doing the right thing, So, I would say that that would be one example in my life, there have been several others as well. And I don’t think I did anything different before or after them. Right. And I think you can only focus on what you can do in life, right, as they say, input metrics, for example, right? That’s literally all the things you can do. And I think, in general, people tend to think very inwards and climb up a little bit. Right. And crises are moments where you actually need to talk to people, it gives you confidence. And, you actually can, you know, work through a solution, right. In my case, you know, I would say the first time, you know, I was completely out of money and without a job added in the foreign country, and my wife was my greatest supporter, but we were newly married at the time. Right, and talking to each other, you know, we came up with some creative solutions. And we realized, look, it’s not the end of the world, right? The worst that can happen was acceptable to us at that time, right. And the good things ended up happening after a period of time. But yeah, I think everybody goes through things, and dealing with them is what defines your character.


Siddhartha 9:54

What about you Hari?


  1. N. Hari 9:56

So, Siddhartha, I don’t know if I have faced personal crises like the way Sanjay has faced. But some of the organizations I worked for went through some of these near death moments and some serious crisis, I will talk about one of them. But if I have to talk about the real personal crisis, I think it’s about my mother’s mental health. So, that has been the biggest one, by far and I have not talked about it a lot. Maybe this will be the first podcast when I will be talking about it, the book I mentioned about it, I also realized that it’s important, you know, to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable gives you some strength, I think this is something you discover a little late in life. So if I can share this with younger people, you know, I think it’d be helpful if people can be vulnerable from the early stages. It’s not such a bad thing, after all, as Sanjay said, you know, what we’re all keen to put on a mask and show our best side, but it’s also okay, you know, to show some of these warts, it’s perfectly alright, actually, you know, it makes you look like a real person. So, you know, my mother was not particularly healthy in terms of mental health. And, you know, if I look back, I think she suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. And I never knew what these terms were at that point in time. In fact, in the town that I lived in, the society that I grew up in, you know, mental health was not considered the way it’s considered now, it was considered, you know, a black spot, something that should be despised, you know, something that shouldn’t be talked about. So, that was something that I had to deal with, you know, it began unfolding at some point of time, it grew very rapidly, especially when I went to the ninth grade after that, things began going from back to worse, and she was there with us till almost till 2016. And the life was, you know, tragic. For the last 15 years, she never left one room in the house that she was in the village, she never left that place. So, I feel guilty also, in school, I was always trying to get out of the house, you know, for me, the school was a big distraction. And it’s not that I only had negative things. School was a great place actually, it was a lovely place, I had great friends, our teachers were good. You know, the culture in the school was good, the culture and the township were good. So, everything was all Well, I would say, but the home was not necessarily a great place. So I took a lot of, you know, the other interests in life, education, sports meant a lot to me because they were a source of joy, satisfaction, and also a distraction. I was also in some ways, wanting to get out of my home and find a place for myself in this world. And in some ways running away from home. You know, at some point, if I look back, was that good or bad? I don’t know, was that escapism, I don’t know. But that was the way it was. And I think I’m living with it. I think I now slowly have been able to come to terms with it. But that phase of my life, you know that the challenges that I went through at some of those moments are something which I would say, extremely difficult to forget. And I think it’s very difficult for a child to deal with those challenges. And I had no sibling with whom I could talk to typically if you have an elder sibling, you could talk to someone I had nobody to talk to. And it’s not something that you can talk to your friends about it. So I think climbing all the thoughts in that little head wasn’t easy. So from my perspective, I think clearly there is no other, you know, adversity that I have faced in life that compares with this. This perhaps is the only real personal adversity I’ve faced. And, of course, many of the organizations that I have been a part of went through existential crises. I’ll just talk about one, which is Virtusa. So, this was a US-based company, you know, located in Boston, headquartered at Boston. And I, as the Chief People Officer was based out of Hyderabad, which was our Epicenter in terms of headcount, you know, we had most of the people operating out of Asia, the delivery centers were in Asia. And we listed the company on NASDAQ in 2007, sometime in August 2007. And that was when the rumblings of the credit crisis actually began a little after that. And we took great pride, you know, all of us in the management team being part of a company listed on NASDAQ. It’s a dream come true ticker symbol, we were so proud, doing the roadshows and finally listing at $14. But very quickly, we also realized, you know that this credit crisis was taking shape. And suddenly, Bear Stearns collapsed, Bear Stearns was actually the lead banker for us that helped us take public along JP Morgan. And ironically, JP Morgan ended up acquiring Bear Stearns. And this began to have an impact on Virtusa as well. A lot of clients began canceling orders, canceling contracts, especially those which were involved in discretionary spending. And a big number of clients were, you know, doing the discretionary kind of work with us, projects with discretionary and revenues began coming off share prices came down dramatically, all stock options underwater, we had to right size. And when you right size, you end up identifying who goes right. So then we looked at what approach should we take, and the approach that we took was, you know, identify those who were highly compensated, who cost the company very significantly, and whose contributions at this point of time were questionable, in terms of having an immediate impact people cost for the most significant cause. There is, you know, no opportunity to look at any other costs. So, it really was about slashing people costs. And since, you know, those in the US and Europe cost both those were employed in India, we had to, you know, do a lot of cost-cutting in those geographies. And obviously, a lot of people, it was an American company, and imagine a Head of HR from Asia, visiting the American companies headquarters and telling them that we need to lay off people here, it was not easy for me, I was doing something like this for the first time. And therefore the very thought of it, you know, was a bit scary. So, in fact, people have told me that before you go out and speak in this town hall, there are some individuals who are going to ask you difficult questions, there are some people who intend to be very difficult, I was even told their names. So, Kris Canekeratne who was the CEO, left me by myself and that was a good thing, because, you know, he didn’t want his presence there. Because he thought it will, you know, in some ways constrain the way I express myself. And, but it was also a bit lonely doing that. And actually, it went off quite okay. And the biggest problem for me personally, was that I had to layoff about three or four people from the HR team. And the individual that I respected the most was the HR head for North Americans. I was instrumental in hiring him. He was one person, I had deep, deep respect for his clearly even to this day, one of the best HR professionals I have ever seen. But you know, sometimes you’d need to take these decisions without emotions, as I said, in that we said in the chapter, balancing reason, the motion, you need to be able to do that well. And we took that call, I had to tell Clark, that we are, you know, taking the score, and seemed okay with it. Thinking back, you know, reflecting I wish, if I could do this, again, I would have done it better. And there were some missteps that I did. In fact, we were wondering whether he should communicate, you know, further headcount reductions to his team, or should I be part of that, and we took the call that he would do, it may not have been the best of things to have happened. And, you know, finally, life over a period of time began bouncing back, you know, at the end of it, a public company, where, you know, public investors are looking at whether the management has the guts to take right calls. I think that really matters a lot. And I think we were seen as taking some of these right calls some of these bold steps, correcting our costs, and aligning them with revenue, which come off signals vary significantly. And therefore, you know, profitability began slowly, you know, coming back. And things slowly began coming to returning to normal. But it was a long time, it took almost a year for things to come back to normal.


Siddhartha 20:16



Sanjay Swamy 20:18

You know, rather than dive into an event, particularly. So, as I’ve written in the book, and I personally have experienced in my adult professional life, about three or four instances, right, so there was the first time in 92, I had just gotten married, living in the US out of money, a foreign student trying to find a job during the recession years. This is right after the first Gulf War, right. In fact, as I mentioned, in the book, there was, you know, people would talk about, you know, Liz Taylor’s passion, Calvin Klein’s obsession, and George Bush’s decision as the three fragrances that were going around, right. And, you know, later on, I’ve seen the 9/11, you know, again, in the working in the valley, you know, the world changed that day permanently, then in 2008, I know the one that Hari was talking about the same instance, and I was the CEO of mCheck, I was raising funding at that time. And everything changed after that, right. Sequoia put out I think most entrepreneurs in from that generation will remember the story around those times, right? I think what’s interesting here in all of these cases, right, the first thing that you have to realize is the world has changed. And it’s changed permanently. Right? And you go through these crises, the worst thing you can do is to not accept that the crisis has happened, right? And the moment you’ve accepted it, actually, it’s very liberating for people, that now you’re no longer worried about, you know, trying to preserve the past or say, What am I going to do from here, right. And in a strange way, while it’s a very tragic year for many, you don’t even have to explain to anybody, everybody understands, right. Whereas in those situations, right, like when I was going through fundraising, and the world changed, and suddenly the value of your company was dramatically different. Few people outside of your ecosystem could understand what you were talking about, right? Where it’s here today, actually, we have as a situation that everybody understands. But I think accepting it is a very difficult thing for people to do and we keep living in the past rather than in the reality. Right? Once you do that, and I’ve talked about some specifics that I experienced in the book, but during each of these, it’s actually very liberating. The other thing I talked about was a very interesting story. I met an elderly gentleman, elderly at the time now he’s been aged probably less than my current age. But at the time, you know, I was around 25. And, you know, the Gulf War was going on, and in the US and Iraq, were sort of taking opposing positions. And I was just saying, you know, we must make sure that we don’t fire the first bullet, right, and we, being the Americans, and he said, you’re so wrong, young man, what’s most important is that we do fire the last bullet, because then we can tell the story, as we wanted it to be told, right? And so a lot of times people also hide, right, and then they come back, and then people start talking about what might have been right or people’s versions, right. So, people also need to be very proactive about communication here, right? Whether it’s internally as Hari’s organization there or externally, right, because controlling the narrative becomes a very important thing as well, that how you communicate it and explain it to people. So, accepting the problem, looking for solutions in it, and being open about communication right, and, honest about communication is very, very important. Because otherwise people will conveniently especially in business, twist things where, you know, they put give their company, the upper hand over you in the competitive situation.


Siddhartha 23:59

Hari, and Sanjay, why don’t you share also some of the stories from the book, you know, of crisis, and the lessons learned?


Sanjay Swamy 24:07

Yeah, maybe I’ll go first with one example. And then Hari might add a couple more. Right. Yeah. So, I was saying, right, you know, during you know, maybe talk about the story that most people in India might be at least relatively familiar with. So, I was one of the first mobile payments entrepreneurs here in India, right. And I was CEO of a startup called mCheck from 2006 to 2010, which, in many ways was sort of the precursor to a lot of what’s happening today with mobile payments in a different sort of incarnation and approach. It was on the SIM card, a very challenging attempt, trying to do mobile payments in many ways. with smartphones now things have gotten a lot simpler and easier, right. And, you know, it was sort of the early days of entrepreneurship in India very few people really knew what a startup was. So in hiring people into this ecosystem and certainly a tech startup in Bangalore, in India at that time, it was still, you know, the first wave of technology companies in India, IT services providers, and we have some giants here in India. Right. So, it was sort of a very interesting time where we were trying to create, you know, branded servers in partnership with telcos and banks and VISA and what have you in an early era, pre AADHAR and pre-everything right. And Those were some of the lessons learned that sort of forced me to later on to volunteer with the AADHAR program. And, you know, we were going through fundraising. Right. And most startups, you know, today, you know, fundraising is almost seen as the right way many entrepreneurs, but it’s actually, you know, quite a significant risk that investors taking, which nowadays of being on the investor side, I understand that a lot more, right. And, you know, we were in the midst of a funding round and a lot of details going on, you know, working through the mechanics, and suddenly, you know, September, 08 happened, right. And this, and the public markets in the US collapse, everything changed, financial markets collapsed. And Sequoia put out things saying, you know, end of the good times, right in, and we weren’t even talking to Sequoia, it was the other VCs that we were talking to, right. But it had a domino effect on everybody. Right? And here, I was looking at my things, saying, why is it affecting me does not change, my opportunity does not change, my company does not change anything. Right. But the reality is, everything had changed. Right? And it took a lot of hardship to try to figure out how are you going to deal with this situation? I can’t say I dealt with it really well, at the time, you know, we did the best we could at the time. But it kind of had, eventually, a fatal impact on the company. Right? Not just that one incident, but generally the overall trajectory from that point on changed completely, right. And for me, as an entrepreneur, you know, it was devastating. Right, I would say that, there were times, you know, it really shattered my dreams, right? It was the hardest thing to deal with. And eventually, at some point, I said, Look, this is not going to be a big company, you know, and I need to move on in life. Right? When that aha moment actually happened, it was the moment it struck me later on, when I was done. I was at the airport, in fact, planning to leave and go meet a client, I pulled out my Blackberry and email my board and said, today’s my last day, right and I will be most cooperative, right, but, and that’s something for an entrepreneur if your heart is no longer in it, if you no longer think, you can build the biggest company on the planet. Probably the best thing I did was leave then and there, right. Because it was wrong to the company if I had continued to hang on in there and hope something would change, right? That doesn’t mean one should give up. It had been four long years of toil. But it was a hard thing to do. And, I did that, and I took off thinking I will spend a few months not doing anything. I actually went and watched a movie that week, during the day as I used to in college. And then I realized the world goes on. People don’t care that I’m watching a movie, so I have to do something about it. Right. And it literally took me 48 hours to say I better do something now, right and I jumped back on my feet and then started Zipdial, started Ezetap around the same time, you know, volunteered my time with the other programs and sort of used all those lessons and you know, it sparked the next wave. And I think it’s very important even for a lot of entrepreneurs who listen to the show might wonder, how do you deal with adversities? You know, there will be times when it won’t work out. Right. And, and that’s reality, right? But you just have to accept it at that time and put it behind you, right, it’s like very much like a cricket match, you know, scoring essentially in the first inninngs doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed anything in the second inninngs. And vice versa. Getting out for a fastball duck in the first inninngs or getting out after having done all the hard work and seeing off the new ball, which is what I felt like at mCheck. There was time and then suddenly, without doing anything, something happened, I didn’t see it bam out, right. But you start again in the next inninngs and you start again at zero in both cases. Right. And you have other opportunities, right and I think we need to be thankful for the opportunities we get. Right and share those moments here. Right. So that was I would say one of the things I’ve talked about and a couple of others in the book as well. And, you know, I think people should understand and realize especially as youngsters, we haven’t seen a lot of crises, right. For most of the average age of people in India, this is the first crisis they’re seeing in their professional lives, right, and perhaps in their personal lives, right. It is never the end, it is always a new beginning. And I think that’s the takeaway. I’d like most people who are either listening to this podcast and you know, hopefully read the book to take away from this. I’m sure Hari has some thoughts he’d like to add to this.


  1. N. Hari 30:31

So, I just talked about two stories, that one is about a person I know really well. And one is from history because I really believe you know that the stories from history also can be very, very inspiring and motivating. So let me first talk of this woman scientist, Henrietta Leavitt. So at one point in time, you know, there was a big debate in cosmology and physics, that big debate was, whether the Milky Way was the whole of the universe, or was there a universe beyond the Milky Way? This debate was settled by Edward Hubble, he figured out that, you know, the Milky Way was 100,000 light years across, where is the nearest galaxy, or the patch of light called Andromeda was more than 900,000 light years away. And this was enough to show that, you know, there is a universe out there much beyond the Milky Way, and the Milky Way is a small part of the universe. The second biggest debate in cosmology, was also settled by Edward Hubble. And that debate was whether the universe originated as a big bank, or was it always there, the steady state theory. And this was settled by you know, Hubble making a series of observations where he figured out that all the galaxies are racing away from one another. And the velocity at which they’re moving away from each other, depends upon or is directly proportional to distance between them. And he was therefore able to settle this debate by saying that a big bank created this universe. Now the interesting thing is, that is not the story of Edward Hubble. The interesting thing is that he was able to solve both these problems because he found a way to measure distances in the universe. And that method was figured out by Henrietta Leavitt, a deaf and dumb woman who actually deserved the Nobel Prize, she didn’t get the Nobel Prize, but to been, you know, painstakingly through backbreaking work, looking at hundreds of 1000s of photographic plates from different observatories, she figured out a way and I won’t talk about that way, because it’s a bit complex to figure out what are the distances of different celestial objects in the universe. And because of that, Hubble was able to therefore crack both these problems. And actually, at some point of time, the Nobel Committee wanted to consider her for the Nobel Prize, and they went looking for her, they found she had died four years before. She was a woman born as a woman at the wrong time in history. When women were not even allowed to, you know, get a graduate degree in any subject. Cambridge offered degrees to women only after 1946. So you know, what motivates someone like a Henrietta Leavitt and there are many other scientists, you know, who women scientists, particularly who were just born as women and therefore born into adversity, and therefore, were denied all the, you know, credit that they duly deserved. The second example I will talk about is about a lady called Pushpalata in Bangalore. I actually like going and meeting interesting people, in fact, that has been one of my passions having conversations with people from different walks of life. I met her some time, I think, in 2018, when I was writing this book, you know, Cutting the Gordian knot, India’s quest for prosperity. When I heard about her, I thought, let me go and meet her. So, she was a woman who started her life as a sex worker. She actually fell in love with a man who was more than twice her age and eloped with him. He sold her into the flesh trade. And you know, she lived in railway stations and you know, bus stations where destitute people in India normally put up. And gradually she figured out that her purpose in life was to solve the problems that sex workers in Bangalore were facing. And she understood what problems they’re facing. She understood the police harassment, why it was happening, what should she do about it, she understood the health issues and what she could do to address these health issues. The conversation was extremely interesting. It gave me deep insights into the you know, underbelly of flesh trade in India and how it actually operates. And she ended up you know, creating an organization that serves the needs of 15,000 sex workers in Bangalore. She runs a small bank that provides loans for the needy sex workers in Bangalore who are part for organization. She ensures that they are well taken care of, they’re well represented, their security is addressed. And Bill Gates actually had come to meet her in Bangalore. They have a very, very humble down to earth office meeting was on the floor. Everybody was squatting, Bill Gates squatted there for, you know, one hour 45 minutes listening to the presentation by these young intrepid women. So the story for me here is that, you know, you need to find some kind of meaning and purpose in life, there was this famous Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, he wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning he was a victim of the Auschwitz at Auschwitz concentration camp Nazi concentration camp, and emerged as a survivor. And one of the things he figured out was that, you know, those who deal with these kind of life threatening crisis, and managed to successfully emerge out of these are those who somewhere believed that the primary purpose of life is a search for meaning. So I think, you know, this search for meaning sometimes looks 30,000 feet view, and sometimes seems very philosophical, and not something that all of us can attain. But, I am reasonably sure at this point of time, after so many years that I think it’s important to have some kind of a purpose in life. And that purpose need not be extremely great. For example, helping people selflessly can be a purpose. And sometimes it, you know, gives you returns eventually. And sometimes it may not give you returns. But if that’s what you’d like doing, then it’s fun in itself. So I think, you know, the people who come out of crisis, a crisis like the PushpaLata crisis very successfully, I have found are somewhere who believe that it’s important to have a purpose in life. So, these are the two stories that I wanted to share many more stories like this, Siddhartha,


Siddhartha 37:11

They’re very powerful stories, like how these women never led a crisis, drowned them. And the purpose kept them floating. And finally, they are able to steer clear of the crisis as well as set an example for others. That’s the best part. Your life becomes meaningful for others to live by it. That’s our life to live by. Hari, do you have shared a few leadership traits, you know, on sailing through the storm? Would you like to, you know, talk more about them?


  1. N. Hari 37:50

I’d like to talk about a couple, maybe Sanjay can talk about a couple. So, the first one I’d like to talk about is, you know, the difference between acting and knowing and that’s really the difference between character and intellect. I’d like to talk about three terms, you know, intellect, uncluttered thinking and character. I think, you know, intellect isn’t being able to understand complex things. Whereas uncluttered thinking isn’t being able to simplify complex things. Intellect isn’t being able to see a lot of interconnections. uncluttered thinking is about figuring out which interconnections matter and which don’t. And character I think is above everything else, which is being able to act on that knowledge. So for example, right, Warren Buffett has told all of us the secret of his investing success. So we are all knowledgeable on how to make money in the long term by investing correctly, he’s told us the secret, but none of us are able to execute on that because we don’t demonstrate the character that he has to be able to execute on that. And therefore, investing is not about financial knowledge. It’s not about how smart you are or financially savvy you are, it’s about character. So, a lot of things in life are really about character. If you know something, do something about it that demonstrates character, if you see in your organization, you know, some very senior leader demonstrating poor integrity, point it out, bring it out, speak about it, speak to the individual that this is not okay. Make integrity as an important value for your organization. I think that is character. Whereas all of us know that integrity is important. Let us personally lead lives of integrity. So I think characters is doing something about what you know, that’s I would say number one trait. The second one, I think, and that’s very important in dealing with a crisis because the crisis does not really need intellect. I think all of us are reasonably smart. I think the character is extremely rare. The second one is I think, in dealing with a crisis, a balance of masculine and feminine leadership traits. And by masculine and feminine, I’m not necessarily talking of men and women. I’m talking of traits that are typically associated with men and women. So for example, being collaborative, demonstrating warmth, demonstrating vulnerability, seeking help, you know, asking for help saying I am unable to do this, I’m not good at this, those are pretty much considered as feminine traits. Whereas, ambition, achievement orientation, goal orientation, going after what you want, there are typically masculine traits. And you know, a lot of crisis in this world have been created by unbridled masculine traits, the alpha males in this world have created a lot of these crisis, extreme greed, extreme ambition, if you go to the source of any conflict in this world. The crisis that led to World War two World War One, any financial crisis, it’s all about alpha males pursuing masculine goals, you know, in an unbeatable way. I think if you can bring in those feminine traits on all of us, if we embody a combination of these two, that I think first of all crisis are not going to happen result as frequently as they do. And when a crisis does erupt, I think we’ll all be able to deal with it in a much more mature way. These are two things I talked about. Sanjay, you want to talk about it?


Sanjay Swamy 41:09

I’ll talk about it slightly differently from How we have written in the book, but a couple of points that I had made in different circumstances as well. But in the book, again, I think one of the things that is related to leadership traits is actually decision making, right, and I think, having sort of a blueprint for thinking through how to make decisions in a venue or in such a crisis, right. And I think a lot of people struggle a lot with making decisions in life with incomplete data, that in almost everything we do in life, actually, we don’t have complete data, we don’t have the luxury of that, because you don’t know how something is actually going to play out, right, you’re just making a calculated guess, in some ways. And in some cases, you may have a little more data than others, right? But what you want to do is sort of stack the odds towards yourself look at, you know, I think the first thing is going to be are going to make it work has got to be like an absolute commitment that you’re going to have ready, you’re not going to necessarily say, Well, if this happens, then maybe I’ll do it. If not, you know, I’ll think about something else at the moment, it gives yourself an escape door, now you’ll immediately want to use it right? So I think that’s the first thing I feel, you know, people need to do, right? There is no ambiguity about it, we are going to make this thing work night, then I think looking at sort of, you know, probabilistic outcomes here, what, what is the highest probability of something were to happen, and you really have to make your judgment at that time and knowing fully well, that you might be wrong, right? and be willing to sort of change course if you start observing that, you know, that the risks that you thought actually happened, right? And I think then looking at, you know, what’s the best that can happen? What’s the worst that can happen? Right? Ultimately, we are taking risks in life, the best that can happen had better be so amazing that it’s worth taking the risk, right? And the worst that can happen has got to also be something that you’re willing to live with. Right. And so, you know, you really have to be playing for something where the positive situation is spectacular. And the negative situation is not the, you know, the end of the world. Right. And I think that the combination of these right is I think, both from a leadership perspective, as well as a decision making perspective, you know, you’re well equipped. Right? So I think, you know, we often think we’re making very large decisions in life, right? But none of these, except if it’s a medical situation, you know, ideally irreversible, right? So it making us a large number of small decisions, and we should really think of it that way, right? The moment we go out there and make a big deal about something that we’re doing, you know, invariably fall flat on your face after some time, right? And then our ego sort of prevents us from accepting that. And so I think I always tell people don’t overthink it, right? You know, don’t overanalyze, try it out. You know, in some cases, these are important irreversible decisions. Of course, you need to take those very seriously but broadly, most of the other decisions we make, if we don’t assign too much importance to it, we end up actually making the right decisions.


Siddhartha 44:20

Thank you, Sanjay. And this has been a phenomenal conversation, Hari, and Sanjay. To all the listeners, you know, I would encourage them if these stories have moved you even a tiny bit, go for the book Sailing to a storm, making a crisis work for you by T.N. Hari and Sanjay Swamy. This will give you a new perspective and new tools on how to deal with a crisis and how to grow in it. Thanks again Sanjay and Hari.


Sanjay Swamy 44:50

Thanks, Siddhartha. All the best.

N. Hari 44:52

Thank you, Siddhartha.


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