NAW Interview with Sumit D Chowdhury

Sumit D Chowdhury

Sumit D Chowdhury is a multi-faceted leader with rich experience across multiple domains. He is a brand-ambassador of ideas, an intrapreneur, who excels at taking ideas and converting them into successful businesses. He has been mentoring, funding, and incubating several start-up companies in diverse areas like health-care research, mobile & internet technologies, Health & IT Services. An avid painter, an active Marathon runner, cyclist and swimmer, Sumit has a versatile personality and he brings learnings from all these arenas into managing life and career. Rules of The Game is his first book.

NAW- Tell us about your book, The Rules of The Game. How did you get the idea for it?

The idea to write this book came from my interactions with thousands of young professionals who have worked with me in the past and my effort in trying to get into their shoes and see that the challenges they were facing in today’s hyper-competitive work places. I realized that after spending 12-16 years in school and college, they hardly use the skills that they learned during this time. Most of them start learning all over again and spend the next decade figuring out the rules of the game of corporate life. By this time everyone else also catches up. This book is an attempt to cut-short this learning time by making them aware of the different nuances of corporate workplace that speeds up or cuts-short the careers of people. It is my sincere attempt to make a contribution to the minds of my readers on living their early careers consciously, being aware of the game they are playing and understanding their contribution to the world.

‘Rules of the Game’ is my personal interpretation of life and of managing careers. It is certainly interspersed with my own career journey and thoughts, along with the wisdom of several top CEOs of the country and hundreds of opinions from people who have gone through the formative stages of building their careers successful or not so successfully.

NAW- How did you carry out research for the book?

On the demand side, I have spent more than 100 hours of interaction with thousands of young professionals who worked for me, asking them their challenges as they entered the workforce and spent the first few years on the job. On the supply side, I have spoken to more than 200 people from across the world, who were in their 30’s , 40’s and 50’s. These people had already gone through this journey and my question to them was: “What were the three things they wished they knew when they were 22 or when they joined the workforce, that either speeded up their careers or slowed them down”. This set consisted of people who had succeeded, or not succeeded (in their own admission and with their own definition of success). After summarizing my thoughts into a set of concepts, I had personal one-on-one video interviews with 13 CEOs of Indian companies. These CEOs were chosen to represent the gender, industry and age diversities in India. These were CEOs who had worked hard and made their way to the top of the organization. They did not inherit their roles.

So my own career journey, the ideas of challenges from young people, the ideas of people who had already gone through the journey and the career paths of successful CEOs constituted the research that went into the book.

NAW –What can a reader expect to take away from your book?

It is a personable “living workbook ” to help you determine and achieve your success values. The book does not tell you how to achieve fame or fortune. Nor does the book succumb to the cult of ambition or the supposed power of positive thinking. Happiness is not the goal; self- knowledge is. “What, in the end, do you think success really is? And with that idea in mind, what specific steps can you take to achieve it?” Because it focuses on you, and not it, the book will provide you ideas to create the tools to align your expectations with your defined values and your unique capabilities. It will help you identify what truly motivates you most, and how to “stay on course by returning to these sources of energy each and every day.” It will have you searching inside yourself and answering some often difficult questions about what you truly want and why, but in the end, you will be that much closer to your most authentic-and successful-self.

The main beliefs which permeate the essence of the book are that success begins with self-awareness and success progresses through excellence in practice. The key is to manage your career as if it were a game. You start with some rules of this game and as you learn and excel, you will discover new rules and invent other rules to differentiate yourself. You create a micro learning cycle into each and every interaction in your life.

The book is aimed to get you to contemplate. It is meant to create an awareness about yourself that will help you discover those particular nuances that could help shape your life. It is designed to give you a head start in your professional life by helping you understand how to orchestrate your own path. The interviews of CEOs along side, are portals through which you could perceive how the masters of the game learnt the rules and diligently practiced them as early as they could, to make their careers a resonating success.

NAW- What would you advice a fresher to do, pursue his passion or go for job security?

My sincere advice to the fresher is ‘to first find a passion and then create a career around the passion’. To find the passion they may have to try a few different jobs or companies. Or they might find it all in one company itself. A career is not one job alone. A career is a set of jobs or roles you take in one or more companies, accompanied by a set of tasks you do outside the confines of the job you are doing, so that the passion and success is visible to others. No one can stop a person who is passionate about his job. There is nothing like job-security – there never was (for a successful person). Successful people create periods of unstability and lack of security to propell themselves in their careers and in their life as they leave their comfort zones frequently and expose themselves to new experiences.

Rules of The Game cover

NAW- Tell us about your career path. Was it all a planned move or did you go along with the flow?

The book reflects my own ‘I wish I knew’ journey in many ways. I had a few principles that I have noticed across the different jobs and roles. For the first 10 years of my life, I went along with the flow. I wish it was more planned. But one thing I have done over and over again is to do the best job I could in each of the jobs that I got into. After my undergraduate degree from IIT Kanpur, I joined Philips India. That was an OK job – not the best nor the worst but just OK. I made the best use of that role to get some very interesting projects that I can still feel proud of. I went to do my PhD in the US without a clear understanding of why I was doing it however, I did the very best and graduated in 4 short years and once again stumbled upon a job at KPMG as a consultant; not the best job but just an ordinary job. I converted this into a success story as well as I became a Partner with KPMG in 5 years and as a 32 year old, it was an achievement. Since this time, I have undertaken deliberate and planned steps towards a set of personal and professional goals. These goals were all long term. I took an international stint in Australia and that too I stumbled upon. Over there too, I became the CEO of the outfit in 5 years. Moving to India in 2006, I became the CIO of Reliance Communications. Once again, it was not the best job in town but it was a job that I took and made the best of the opportunity. I achieved a lot of life goals and became known as one most prolific CIOs of the field. I left that job (and the job-security) and joined IBM where I was essentially an advisor to many CIOs across the country. The next role was a deliberate choice to be part of the most ambitious project to create a 4G-Broadband Network company. This role at Reliance Jio (initially as a CIO and now as the Business Head of the Enterprise Business), is giving me the additional skills required to become the well-rounded business leader that I want to be.

So, in short, I have never wasted an opportunity to improve myself even when I found myself in circumstances, jobs or roles that were not the best in the world. I think I have played a good game with the cards that were dealt to me.

NAW- How important is it for a working professional to acquire new skills and keep transforming?

It is the most important skill for a professional to keep transforming themselves and improving existing skills or acquiring new skills. The world is moving very fast and if we don’t move along with it, we will be left behind. While acquiring new skills we sometimes find our passion – something that happened to me many many times. I have articulated the concept of ART Cycle – Action , Reaction and Thought Cycle as a method to bring in micro-learning into every moment in ones life. Once that happens, you are able to take each and every opportunity and make it into a learning experience and not complain about the circumstances. It will make you take deliberate control over your life. You have to create a brand for yourself and keep the brand fresh.

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

I am actually not a writer by profession. I am a passionate business executive, a technical thought leader in the industry and these roles keep me occupied full time. While doing this, I am also getting an opportunity to lead many youngsters and mentoring them through their career journeys. I spend my early morning waking hours either writing or running or cycling. I regularly run marathons and also take part in cycling and swimming long-distance events. I am also an exhibited painter with a very distinct style of paintings where I use the ‘Comma’ as a building block for abstract figurative forms. I keep drawing these ideas into my sketch book and when I get time, these are transferred onto a canvas. I also am a trained musician so I regularly play the piano accordion with local bands or whenever I get an opportunity. I support various charities through all of these activities that I pursue. I raise funds through my running or music or paintings and constantly keep my network updated about my experiences. This active social media presence is also required to achieve the objective to motivate more people to explore their passions.

NAW- Who are your favourite authors? Are there any who have influenced your work?

There are several people who have motivated my work. From global business leaders like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and local leaders like Ratan Tata, Dhirubhai Ambani, Anand Mahindra are all inspirations to look up to. I have been inspired by political leaders like Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi and spiritual leaders like Vivekananda, Dalai Lama and writing of various other philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, or recent ones like Poulo Coelho etc. Recent authors like Robin Sharma, Stephen Covey, Dan Schwabel, Subroto Bagchi have also influenced my work. I am actually a big admirer of Leonardo Da Vinci and his Renaissance Man – which had led me to do a brand association with Raymond and their ‘Complete Man’ campaign for this book.

NAW- What are your upcoming works?

There are two immediate next steps following this book. The first one is a Workbook and Teaching Guide that goes along with this that can help someone think through some of the aspects that I have covered in the book. This workbook will help someone else to teach the concepts without the author being there. The second is my next book that will deal with concepts from our scriptures that can be used as a guidebook for a leader or a CEO to create self sustaining organizations.

I will continue to give motivational speeches on ‘Creating Effective Employees’, ‘Self-Awareness’, ‘Personal brands’, ‘Dos and Donts of Corporate Careers’ etc. I am sure that these talks will stimulate many more ideas.

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