“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”
When I look back today, the biggest catalysts in my life have been the mentors I had the opportunity to be influenced and inspired by along the way. At every important milestone, I have been blessed with individuals who have left their mark and navigated the journey for me.
I strongly feel each of us need to seek out people who become catalysts in our lives and bring out the best in us.
Who are mentors?
A classic mentor is an individual who will be straight with you, wish the best for you and also be able to see within us that which we can’t see ourselves and uncork that inner magnificence.
Mentors usually carry upon their shoulders wisdom, experience, integrity, warmth, a unique gift of listening, vision and a generous nature of giving and enabling. Seek out people who have inspired you and are a benchmark of the values you desire.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
― Benjamin Franklin
This is an ode to my mentors and the life lessons they gifted me.
“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”
― Galileo Galilei
My grandfather, A A Rahim
My late grandfather will always be a towering personality in my memories.
I have grow up seeing him in the epicenter of people and adulation and being a role model for excellence and ambition. From a small town in kerala, he went on to work with three generations of the Gandhi family. He became a cabinet minister with the foreign ministry portfolio and then a governor. His philanthropic work included being involved in building hospitals, educational institutions and mosques in the town and he is still remembered as one of the greatest political leaders years after he is no more.
I always remember our joint family house with the front door always open buzzing with a constant stream of well wishers and positive energy. He was a man known as an astute leader, an individual with the highest integrity and values, a politician with immense diplomatic skills and someone even his enemies respected. He was larger than life and still is.
He lived his life with the highest of ideals and scaled heights nobody ever dreamt about. Yet he did this on his terms and conditions and with no regrets or compromises.
As a child, I would cherish the alone time with him in the middle of his busy schedule. I would hop in whenever in I could on drives or sit in his room and seek advise and counsel or just watch how he conducted himself.
His words of encouragement and life lessons built the earliest seeds of leadership in my mind. He would expound on having an aim in life, about thinking big, the importance of fitness, knowing what true friendship is and about growing with your principles and values intact.
He walked the talk in enacting the principles of giving and sharing wealth with the needy. Even today, years after he’s no more, I always bump into someone who will share a story about how his actions touched their lives.
A story involving him that left the biggest mark in my life is regarding a race. When I was 15, I had a math tutor, who would come home in the holidays for tuition. In one conversation, the tutor learnt that I was a runner and he shared that he was also a coach for a local school. He invited me to race against his best runners and I confidently took up the challenge and reached the neighborhood school to prove my mettle.
The race was against 3 of his finest runners and we lined up at the 100 meter track with crowds from the school cheering. I put in my finest performance and raced ahead of the pack with ease. When I turned back to the group, I witnessed the scary sight of a screaming tutor running at the boys in anger with a cane and beating his fastest athlete repeatedly. After a shocking caning marathon and a barrage of verbal abuse, he turned and challenged me to yet another race with the boys.
It was the worst experience of my life and in that moment I decided to lose and save the boys another hiding. I finished last and made sure it didn’t look like I lost purposely. The tutor raced over and patted the boys proudly and I said the fastest goodbye ever.
When I reached home, I scurried into my grandfathers room wanting to recount every part of the incident. I ended with the story of what a hero I was and how I lost purposely. I thought he would be glowing with pride at my emotional intelligence at such a young age. To my shock and surprise, he asked me if I realised what I did wrong in this situation. I scratched my head and couldn’t think of anything.
He waited, paused and softly said, “I am so proud of you but do you also realise that you have just reaffirmed to the strange tutor that the way of the stick works and now, he will never stop doing that ever again!”
That was a big life lesson in reading situations, seeing the grey shades, about deeper thinking and behavioral patterns and about never being superficial and naive again.
My grandfathers influence will always stay within me just as his goodwill and aura still shines bright generations on wherever I go and meet people who once knew him.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
― William Arthur Ward
My principal, Mary Roy
Mary Roy forged within me an ironclad set of values and virtues. She was a catalyst that ignited a fireball of energy and purpose into my life when I was just 16. I am still fueled and charged by this momentum from my high school years. Mrs.Roy taught me the unflinching support of truth and instilled in me an unwavering form of integrity. She handed me courage to stand for what I believed was right and taught me to hold my ground no matter what.
Mrs Roy empowered students with responsibility and treated us and spoke to us like young adults. She taught me the importance of a well rounded education and that its never only about marks and studies.
Every experience was a life lesson and the 2 years under her tutelage and mentorship, allowed me to grab responsibility and carry on my shoulders that which I never thought possible.
At such a young age, she was definitive and clear and clearly stated to me that I was a leader who would one day make the country proud. She told me that great things waited for me as life would unfold. She stood and announced it to the world and that became the self fulfilling prophecy I wanted to live my whole life by. She had set a benchmark for me to live my following years by.
My inner confidence was spurred by her belief in me and I set off from school armed with her vision for me. I left with a strong conscience and an overflowing sense of self confidence ready to take on any challenge in the world.
“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
― Robert Frost
My first Boss, Sunil Handa
When I was just 22, I started working with Mr.Sunil Handa. I had just finished design school and I had graduated with a gnawing need to understand management and business principles.
I had heard about the corporate legend that Mr.Handa was and he was reputed to be a very tough taskmaster. At the time, I thought this would be the perfect training ground to evolve from just a designer into a businessperson.
Sunilbhai (as everyone calls him with respect and love) was all that and more. He was tough, set high benchmarks and expectations for me and taught me every nuance of business. I met him for my interview and shared that I wanted to use the experience over 4 years to learn hands on every aspect of business. I explained what I seemed what an apprenticeship and not a job.
The experience was any young man’s dream. He showered responsibility on me and paced me like no one had ever before. He made me believe I could do colossal tasks with quarter the time and enjoy my work as a challenge.
He would push me to the limits where I blossomed. Nudge me across the cliff and taught me flight. Combined with responsibility, there was always an unsaid belief in my delivering to his expectations and I never failed. I would seek out work outside my comfort zone and he would throw them my way. Negotiating, finance, running machinery, traveling across the country on short notice, creating dealer network, buying tools and hands on selling – I did it all and I loved every moment.
Over the years, we formed a bond stronger than a parent and he always told me that he believed that great things would happen to me and he was just being a catalyst. He sent me to one of the best business schools in the world and ensured I translated everything I learnt to reality by launching a division for the company and growing it alone as a profit center.
By the time I was prepared to take wings myself, he left in me values and had instilled a navigation system for life. Without realizing, I carried away the ability to be focused, think long term, benchmark internationally, grow talent from the roots, value the joy of work and be meticulous and resolute in any endeavor.
In my mind, no challenge would be too large anymore. Sunilbhai is still my father figure and the one who reminds me of long term goals and nudges me to the next milestone and gets me thinking bigger each time we meet.
“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”
My coach, Rajesh Nagjee
Rajesh knocked on the front door of my life in a chance meeting at a training and the journey has never been the same since. When he met me, our organisation was like a hostel room, a group of friends doing our stuff not caring about the world. We lived in the office, workaholics, disorganised and caught up with our selfish motives and artistic expression. From there, waking us up and instilling a code of professionalism and finding for us a calling that more than just self expression. He taught us to look inside and pointed out our distinct strength-to use our creative abilities and marry business acumen to enable our clients businesses to grow.
Through repeated sessions both individual and with the company, we grew from strength to strength. Even as the organisation broke geographical boundaries and rapidly expanded while deeply serving our clients, I found an amazing work life balance and what is more important a clear command of my calling. Over our interactions, I found a chief definitive aim and a laser focus on my life purpose. I found a perfect zone which married my passion, my talent and automatically created a market need for my clients.
He nudged me to discover by myself that I was passionate beyond a cure to assist entrepreneurs to succeed. I realised that my strength was being a catalyst for the growth of home grown brands, to assist start ups and SMEs to rapidly grow. For this, I devoted myself and the organisation to the science of using innovation and help businesses differentiate themselves. To help clients emotionally connect with their customers and potential customers and to be able to deliver this on a consistent basis around the world. With the company and my team, he helped to evolve pillars that became my core and galvanise us into action. All this while ensuring, we spent the least time on work and strike a perfect balance. We learnt to have fun, be playful and make our clients our best friends.
An ongoing coaching and mentoring relation taught me the science of listening, of growth, of systems, cash flows, relationships, people skills and a million other lessons which permeated into parenting, life goals, vision board, self actualisation, goal setting, time management and endless other insights across all parameters.
On our company’s 10 year anniversary Rajesh awarded me a title publicly which I today operate from and have made it my self fulfilling prophecy. He bestowed upon me the title “Zen monk in a suit” and that has today become me.
Besides my mentors, there are individuals who influence you in so many ways. My parents, my wife, my brother and sister and my children who teach me a new way of seeing the world each day, my friends and my core team at office, the books I read, my mastermind and idols whose lives I model.
I feel the universe conspires to ensure my success by sending people into my life at intervals and important milestones!