An important component of Network Capital’s mission is to democratize inspiration and offer personalized mentoring to every student, every explorer and every professional. Many times well-intentioned but misplaced career advice results in futile attempts by students and professionals to “game the system” and “crack the code to success”. Truth be told, the game is self-defined and there is no code or formula to success. Why? Because success doesn’t have a standardized definition.
The best we can do in today’s fast paced, continually evolving world is to pause, refect, build our own paths and follow OUR dreams. The only way to do that is to be a sponge. As psychologist Carol Dweck puts it, be a “learn-it-all”, not a “know-it-all”.
This is the personal account of Gaurav Jhunjhunwala, one of Network Capital’s first 100 members. He has beautifully captured lessons learned from his career. His work has been instrumental in S Chand’s heavily oversubscribed IPO.
“After having been born in Hong Kong and completing my high school there, I went to the US to pursue my undergraduate studies.
In 2009, at the age of 22, my life underwent a number of changes. I moved from Hong Kong to India, while simultaneously transitioning from being a student to entering the workforce.
I joined the family business S Chand in the newly created e-learning vertical. What ensued was a feeling of an identity crisis that may be familiar to other individuals who may have entered their family businesses. Although I was technically from the promoter group, I was operationally at the bottom of the pyramid as I was learning the ropes and running small errands such as creating flyers, doing market research etc. Not only was I not sure how to conduct myself, but even those under whom I was working were not sure whether to treat me like an owner or like a subordinate. Due to this ambiguity I was often given a ‘golden glove’ treatment, which may have felt good then, but over time I realized it deprived me of opportunities to learn and grow.
A few years later, I was officially elevated to the position of Director. Here again, I faced some internal turmoil. I fel that although the designation on my name card demanded respect, I myself did not have the business acumen or industry understanding that went with the title.
It was at this point where I realized that I wanted people to respect me for my knowledge and understanding and not for my name or designation. I became like a sponge and absorbed as much information as was humanly possible. I started seeking out colleagues in the office more often and getting their insights and inputs on various topics from HR to Accounts and finance, to setting up meetings with as many vendors and suppliers as possible to learn from their perspectives as well. I also started reading financial newspapers and books on management so that I could stay abreast of current market trends that may affect my business.
In 2012, S Chand embarked on a new journey when we received a private equity investment from Everstone Capital Partners. For the first time we had to become answerable to someone outside of our own family, and had to implement a lot of processes, which we were not, previously used to.
As I worked closely with our investors, we started to draw up plans to augment our leadership in the textbook space with more digital offerings. Here again my willingness to learn served me very well as I started meeting as many edtech startups as I possibly could. In my estimation I have met or had discussions with a few hundred edtech companies til date. We also spruced up our team by hiring smart people from top companies with good academic backgrounds. Together with new professional businessheads, and the investors, we charted a growth plan for the company that saw us grow tremendously over the past few years.
Our company continues to have big ambitions to grow even further, which has led our company to a successful IPO on May 9th, 2017.
S Chand being a family business, my father and uncle have been leading the company in our recent forays, and over the years I have taken a leadership role in our evolving digital and services businesses.
The key lessons I have learned in my 8 years of working life so far would be:
DON’T STOP LEARNING
No matter how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. The day you think you know everything, is the day that will mark the beginning of your end. If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can check out these two books that will drive the point home.
Learn or Die by Edward Hess
Island of Knowledge by Marcelo Gleiser
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE BEST PEOPLE
I found that when I worked with individuals who were not very motivated or passionate, I too would soon lose my motivation to come into work. The moment we started hiring better individuals, the entire mood changed. I was all of a sudden spending less time imparting knowledge to my employees, and spending more time learning from them, and this feeds very well back into the previous point.
Don’t ever be too insecure to work with people who know more than you or are more adept at certain skillsets than you.
When speaking and discussing with colleagues, investors and also edtech startups, many times we found ourselves being pulled in different directions. With so many different thoughts and opportunities it became more important to figure out what we did NOT want to do, rather than what we did want to do.
In such situations, I like to use the rule of three. Generally speaking, any team or individual should not have more than 3 high level goals to achieve or more than three projects that they are working on simultaneously.
Spending disproportionately higher amount of time and resources on a smaller number of goals will greatly increase your chances of successfully achieving these goals.
For a great primer on how to effectively focus on a small number of projects over a longer period of time, check out the following book:
4 Disciplines of Execution by Sean Covey
FOR THOSE LOOKING TO JOIN A FAMILY BUSINESSESES
Keep in mind that this is by no means ‘the easy option.’ Joining a family business comes with its own unique set of challenges, a lot of which is not taught in most MBA courses.
Some of the biggest challenges you will face:
LACK OF STRUCTURE:
Most family businesses are promoter driven companies in which power is centralized. You will find that such companies have more unwritten cultures and traditions, and less defined and cottified processes and workflows. There is a likelihood that you too may face an internal struggle or identity crisis as did I when I initially joined our family businesss framework.
Navigating this maze of unwritten rules and eventually finding your place is not going to be easy, you will inevitably make some mistakes. Just know that it was the same for those who came before you, and with a few years of experience under your belt, you will slowly start to find your way.
POWER IS TAKEN, NOT GIVEN:
This is not an endorsement for a Machiavellian power grab, but more of an attempt to understand human tendencies.
As mentioned previously, family businesses are very promoter driven. Most promoters are in the habit of making a large number of decisions across the entire spectrum of business functions and may not be used to delegating a lot of tasks. Unless you are in the tiny fraction of family businesses that have a structured succession plan, you will find that the only way to climb up the ladder is to start sticking your hand up and opting to work on as many projects or tasks as you possibly can – no matter how big or small they may be. This is the best way to gain the confidence and respect of those above you, and you will soon find that rather than you opting to take on tasks, people will be coming to you for your inputs and support.
This challenge has many shapes and forms and is one of the toughest hurdles in a family business. One such example is how both your family and your employees will magically expect you to understand everything about every aspect of the business even though there is little in the way of training or formal knowledge transfer. As with the other challenges discussed above, there is no short-term answer. Just be patient, keep learning and keep sharpening your saw.