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'I've been laid off in the past': A CEO speaks

By Insiyah Vahanvaty
May 13, 2009 16:29 IST
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Describing himself as a smalltown boy from Jaipur who came to Mumbai full of dreams and ambitions, Manish Porwal, 36, can safely say he has realised them today. "The only difference is that I didn't want to be a movie star like everyone else who comes to Mumbai -- since I didn't have any illusions about my face," he chuckles.

In an interview with, the CEO of media, entertainment and communication company Percept Talent Management fills us in on his career, his success mantras and his advice to youngsters looking to make it big.

My educational background: I completed my schooling from Jaipur and first moved to Mumbai when I enrolled at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies for my MBA. When I graduated, I didn't get any job offers on the first two days of campus placements and thought I was completely worthless. And then, on the third day, I created a record of seven offers. That made me feel really good!

About my career: Luckily, I chose the right company in terms of the kind of work I wanted to do -- I started off with advertising agency FCB-Ulka as a management trainee and was the only employee ever to have been double-promoted there. I was also offered a transfer to Delhi, which I accepted. Soon after, I switched over to Everest Advertising, where I managed to rise through the ranks to the position of national media director.

After Everest, I moved on to Tamil television channel Vijay TV. Alhough I didn't know a word of Tamil (!), I was heading their broadcast sales, marketing and programme acquisition and syndication. Thankfully, I found people at the channel who helped me with the language!

Things don't always run as smoothly as you think though and it was during my stint at Vijay TV that I suffered a stroke of bad luck. The channel was sold, and the top three positions had to go. In fact, I was part of the team who negotiated the deal with the buyer channel and it boomeranged on me. I ended up losing my job. It was a huge stigma at that time. From doing so well, I went to being unemployed overnight. And when something like that happens, everyone stands up and says 'I told you so!'

However, in hindsight, it was a good experience to go through -- it taught me to be able to deal with setbacks. I approached the BBC and joined the organisation at a position lower than one they had offered me in the past. I came back to Mumbai to work for them, but found that they worked at a very slow pace. So then I moved to (media agency) Starcom, where I rose to the position of managing director. And that is when Percept asked me to join them -- we talked for months before I was fully convinced to leave Starcom, where I had a great career, and was rising fast.

But, well, everything worked out for the best and here I am!

The challenges I've faced along the way: When I joined Percept, many people were leaving and taking clients with them. It was important to ensure that all our clients were Percept clients, loyal to the company and not the account holder. So that leaking tap had to be screwed shut.

Another challenge I faced when I was younger was convincing people that my young shoulders could handle their problems. Everyone wanted to see some grey hair before they trusted you.

And third, one of the hardest challenges I faced was having to change myself as a person. When I began, I was a good guy to work with, but not as a team player. I had to learn not to race ahead of the team -- to pace myself. I realised that people were not too friendly with me at work. I had to reign in my temper and learn to be more accommodating. Now in hindsight, I also realise how brash I used to be. There is no need to be like that, even if you're right. I'm glad I changed that -- I had to try really hard, but I'm happy to say that today most of my best friends are from various places I worked at.

What a regular day at work looks like now: Well, running the management and operations of the company are major responsibilities. Expanding the market is another. In addition, I take the responsibility of my people upon myself too -- I prefer to understand their emotions and concerns myself. If my people are leaving, I take it as a personal failure.

My take on success: Early success impacts your personal relationships -- hugely. When you're rising faster than others, your friends and peers become either distant or envious. And when you fall, everyone is there, waiting to say, 'I told you so.' Early success also comes with dangers. When you taste success early in life, people put you up like mad. And then your tendency is one of looking back at past successes and believing that that was your peak. That can restrict you and get in the way of your rising further.

When I was in Class VIII, I was compering a programme on Doordarshan, which in a small town is a huge thing. You're almost a star. But ironically, that helped me keep my feet on the ground, because at that age, your parents don't care about all this, they only care about your marks. And so, while the neighbours might treat you like a celebrity, you'd still get slapped by your father for coming home late (laughs). So that balanced things out, and I never got a swollen head.

Balancing work and your personal life: If you ask my wife, I'm sure she'll say I don't! (chuckles). See, for the first 7-8 years of my career, I actually saw weekends as an interruption to work. I would be in the office for upto 21 hours a day, my then-girlfriend, now-wife would come to see me at the office, sometimes help me with some work and then go home. I did many unreasonable things back then, including leaving my parents at the station an hour before their train was due, because I had to rush back to work. Or telling my wife that I would take care of my son's illness when I got home, instead of asking how ill he really was.

Finally she put her foot down and I decided to move to Delhi, hoping it would slow the pace down for me. By the time my second child was born, I was clearly out of that mode. I started enjoying my weekends, spending time doing what I enjoyed and chilling with my family. A lot of this came from wisdom, because I realised I was burning myself out so fast that I wouldn't have a career left after 15-20 years. Today I would say I'm fairly balanced -- so when I have to go for a holiday, I do.

When I was younger, I used to play almost every sport in school and college. I was also interested in acting. These days I enjoy spending time at home and giving my boys the attention they need from me. My sons are 10 and 3, ages at which they need me to be around as much as possible. I also love Bollywood -- I love inane, stupid movies. I'll even watch Hum Saath Saath Hain kind of movies. And Andaaz Apna Apna cracks me up every time I watch it!

My advice to youngsters: Firstly, follow your heart and do what you want to -- the money will follow. If you chase money, it will evade you. I've noticed this happen to me every time. I believe what my mom says: "Even if you are a sweeper, that's okay, as long as you're the king of sweepers."

Secondly, concentrate on your strengths, not weaknesses. Don't try to do things you can't. If something has genuinely been identified as your weakness, it will never be your strength, so don't waste time on it. People will work around it. Just forget your weaknesses and concentrate on strengthening your strengths. Especially by the age of 25-30, don't focus on correcting things; focus on bettering what you already have.

Third, be ethical, if not for moral reasons, as a strategy. People are generally ethical because they are God-fearing and think someone might catch them. Don't do that, because since it's so far away, you won't end up being ethical. Do it as a strategy. If you're ethical, the word will spread, and you'll get more and more work, business, love, respect, etc. And therefore you won't have to be unethical. You might get hurt the first few times, but then people will start giving you credit. So use it as a strategy. It's so simple and really works.

One mistake we Indians make is paying too much attention to facts and none to insights. We need to knock the facts to get more out of them -- human insights are what provide solutions to most problems. Also, these days, I see newcomers being too dogged. I love the confidence they come with, but these days it borders on cock-sureness, which is bad. They also need to stop depending on Google so much for everything! Some things can't be learnt from websites -- you need to use your own intelligence.

If you've been laid off: It's a great thing to happen to you if you are young. When it happened to me, it was a huge stigma. Everything shattered around me and my father had a heart attack. I cried a lot those days. But I realised that because I was young, my stakes were low and maneuverability was a lot more. So I would say that if you have to be laid off, the earlier the better. If you can, go study some more. Take a long holiday if you have the resources. Go fall in love -- do whatever you'd like to do apart from work.

Today people will understand and be sympathetic -- and you'll get to learn so much. You'll know who your friends are and you'll learn to be humble.

My future plans: I want to start a venture someday that provides education or training. I haven't figured out the details yet, and this is a long term plan -- 5-10 years from now, so I have plenty of time to figure out what exactly I want to do. As a short term plan, I want to take Percept to the peak of its performance. I also want to create some synergy between various players in the field who don't look eye-to-eye right now.

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Insiyah Vahanvaty