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'Hire smart people, even if they are smarter than you'

April 16, 2009 12:57 IST

Most people would kill for a job as cool and lucrative as this. But what many don't know is that Rohit Sharma, COO of software gaming entertainment company Zapak Digital Entertainment, was originally an entrepreneur.

After graduating in physics from Delhi University, Rohit started his own leather exports business. Three years on, however, his major client went bankrupt and he decided to down his shutters.

Looking for a switch in careers led Rohit to an MBA from Lancaster University in London, after which he returned to India to work with specialty media house CyberMedia as their head of projects and new media. A key project he undertook during his time there was the creation of site www.ciol.com, which is still India's largest IT portal.

In 2000, Rohit started working with Indiatimes.com and launched a gaming portal for them. This was also the launch of his own career in gaming and when he was offered a job by Reliance Entertainment to set up a gaming business for them, it was only natural for him to accept. And so in 2003 Zapak was born, built from scratch with no precedents to go by.

In a tête-à-tête with Insiyah Vahanvaty, Rohit talks about his career success, how he balances work and family and doles out advice to young professionals.

From leather exports to an MBA to an IT portal to gaming, your career has seen a lot of twists and turns along the way. What have you learned from all these experiences?

Well, the hardest lesson I learned was when I had to give up my entrepreneurial venture. Dealing with the idea that my leather business was failing was tough -- taking the decision to shut shop was a hard call. And once the decision had been made, shutting smoothly was imperative.

Then when I started working with Indiatimes, the Internet was still at a nascent stage and it was hard to get through to customers, because they weren't embracing it as an advertising medium. Also, the growth of the Internet was rather slow at that time.

And then more recently, when we were setting up Zapak, gaming was very new in India and we didn't have any precedents of what would work and what wouldn't. So we really had to start from scratch, building a business model. And now, the challenge is scaling up from where we are. However, the recession hasn't been a problem, because we've been cost-conscious right from the start. Also, gaming is a recession-proof business, because no matter what happens, people will still continue to play games.

Despite all the set-backs you've had, you've still made it. What is the key to success?

You need to have a clear vision of where you are and where you want to go in life.

I think, to be successful, you need to empower other people. Hire smart people, even if they are smarter than you. And realise that sometimes your subordinates may be smarter than you or know more than you. This is an age of specialisation -- you can't know everything yourself; there will always be someone who has more skills and knowledge. So allow people to realise their potential, along with making them accountable, of course. And respect your peers and colleagues.

Apart from that, be focused. And be aggressive too -- you need to be, because there are so many hurdles to overcome. But don't confuse aggression with arrogance -- that's a big mistake I see many young professionals making these days. Attitude is good, but arrogance is not.

As COO of Zapak, what do your day-to-day responsibilities entail?

As the COO of the company, my responsibilities are:

  • Managing the expectations of the top management and the shareholders.
  • Managing and delivering on the overall P&L of Zapak .
  • Creating and implementing plans to scale up the business.
  • Managing a 200 people team, their expectations and creating one of the best work environments possible.
  • How does it feel to be looked up to by young people as an achiever?

    It feels great -- I feel like my hard work and perseverance have paid off. It makes me want to be a mentor to young people, and create more such success stories.

    Any advice for youngsters being handed the pink slip during these tough times?

    It's nothing to be ashamed of or panic about. This is the natural cycle of businesses, and when this phase is over, better times will come. So just be positive and be patient.

    What are your future plans?

    I plan to make Zapak a profitable company and create history in the gaming space. I want to make it a global leader. On a personal note, I want to continue doing what I do and strike a healthy balance between work and my family.

    How do you balance your work and family life?

    I think the key to that is being focused on what you do. If I'm working, I give my 100 percent to that. And if I'm with my family, I'm concentrating on them. It's not about the quantity, but the quality of time you spend doing a certain thing.

    How do you like to spend your free time?

    I love listening to music. I carry my iPod with me and listen to music whenever I can. And I have a 3-year-old daughter, who I love spending time with. I also like reading, but I hardly have any time for it these days. As for movies, I save those for when I'm on flight -- and since I'm flying at least one or two days a week, it provides enough time to watch quite a few.

    What are your thoughts on India and the upcoming elections?

    The biggest issue hindering our development is the lack of infrastructure in India. All other nations, even developing ones have leap-frogged ahead in this department, and we're just lagging behind. And every sector is suffering because of this. If we really want to progress and develop, we need better infrastructure.

    As far as the elections are concerned, its high time people realised that the same reason they employ young people to run businesses applies to the country too. Young people bring in a different set of dynamics and fervour to the nation. Voters need to identify that. And people need to realise that it's through single votes that we have a mandate for the nation, so it's important to vote.