Secret Diary of an Entrepreneur / CEO-2018

"Setbacks set you back as much as you let them"

Secret Diary of R Gopalakrishnan — Part 3

Soumik Kar

I returned to India to head Brooke Bond Lipton, and later went on to become the vice-chairman of HLL. If you’ve spent 31 years in a company, you want to keep climbing higher. To say that I didn’t want the top job would be less than honest. But, Keki Dadiseth became the chairman. Until then, I had never missed a promotion in my life.

But, in life, there are setbacks. And setbacks set you back as much as you let them. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that the other guy is better than you. So I decided that I’m not going to be waiting around for the next nine years. I wanted to keep growing and feared that waiting for a second chance, when I was already 51, was not a good idea. I explained my reasons to Unilever, and didn’t resign in a huff. I left after a good two years because it was also the time that Brooke Bond Lipton was being merged with Hindustan Lever. 

I told the management I’ll stay till it’s all done and won’t even search for another alternative. After the merger was complete, I went to London where I was given a warm farewell. I hold very fond memories of Unilever and still attend their retired directors’ meetings. I’m very pleased to see that so many of my fellow companions have come up — Shivakumar, Suresh Narayanan, and Sanjiv Mehta. I can’t say I nannied all of them as they are all great leaders in their own right.

As my innings at HLL drew to a close, the head of a consulting company rang me up and said, “We have a client who is looking for people like you. I don’t know if you’re looking for a change. If you’re not, end of conversation. If you are, I can connect you.”

That’s how I ended up meeting Ratan Tata who wanted proven chief executives, and not specialists. I quite liked the diversity that I would be exposed to and became the first director to join the Tata Son’s board directly in 1998.

Tata group is a rare entity to have been around 150 years. It has produced some great leaders and I was humbled to sit at the same lunch table where the likes of Nani Palkhivala, Soonawala, JRD, and AD Shroff dined. The same room in Bombay House h


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