Gaurav Mantri's Personal Blog.

Things I learned from Sanjaya Singhal

We draw inspiration from people around us. Over the years my thinking process and professional behavior is defined by the behavior of a few individuals. In this post, I will talk about one such great man who has kept on inspiring me for past 20 odd years since I began my professional career and continues to do so. This man’s name is Sanjaya Singhal and he was responsible for setting up and running Secure Meters Limited, a high-tech company based out of Udaipur. In this post I will describe some of things I learned from him and some interactions (there were really very few interactions really) I have had with him in past 20 years.

Some Things I Learned

First I will share some of the things I learned from him.

Work/Home Life Balance

Back in 1994, when I joined Secure Meters it was rather a small company and Sanjaya Sb. (as he’s fondly addressed by his employees) used to have at least one session with all the new recruits (not sure if he does that now but if he doesn’t then the young recruits at Secure Meters are missing out on something very important). So there we were, a bunch of engineers fresh out of college sitting in a conference room with him and he asked us a question: Assuming you have some important stuff going on at work and at the same time some important stuff going on at home, which one would you pick? Obviously, all of us picked “work” thinking that he would like to hear that. To our surprise, he said “home”. This had left a lasting impression on me. Ever since I began running my own company, I make sure that for the folks working with me have maintained a good “work/home life balance”. It’s a different thing that I personally don’t follow that but I think that comes with the territory☺. Nevertheless, I always encourage my team members to not to stay late in office (unless there’s an emergency which so far we rarely had) and at least reach home in time. If needed, they can always work from home but then they are near to their family and not skulking away in office late in the evening.

No Feedback is Small

He is an avid reader. His library was full of all kinds of books. As a young engineer aspiring to do an MBA, I used to borrow books (mainly management related) from his library and read them all the time. I also saw him talk about all the changes he wanted to do with the company (back then he had a vision which he titled “Vision 2000”. This was in 1996/97). Inspired by all of this I decided to write him a letter in which I raised some ten points about the company. I sincerely wish now that I should have kept a copy of that letter. My intent was to get some one-on-one time with him through this letter but to my surprise he actually called a company-wide town hall meeting where he had all the points I raised in a slide on an overhead projector. He made his senior managers sit in front and I saw him rip them apart on each of the issues I raised. Considering the letter written by a person (me) who was junior most in the organization hierarchy at the time, he could have very well chosen to ignore it but he didn’t and that left a deep impact on me. Even today, I encourage all of my team members to speak up. I tell them, it doesn’t really matter if you have lots of experience or no experience at all. If you have something meaningful to say, then say it no matter how harsh that thing would be. I’m glad that I’m following his behavior on this because this has led to so many positive changes in the company and me personally.

Learn, Learn, Learn

By educational qualification he is a Geologist but he could put any Electrical Engineer or MBA to shame any given day. He didn’t go to an engineering college or business school to gain the knowledge; he acquired them on his own while running the business in parallel. I see a lot of young graduates blaming their colleges for not teaching them enough. To them, I say – look at him and inspire from him. If you put your mind and heart to anything, I’m sure you’ll achieve this.

Few Interactions I Had

Next I want to talk about some interactions I had with him over last 20 years. I never had a chance to interact with him one-on-one while I worked at Secure Meters. If I count, I believe I met him just twice one-on-one and I want to narrate those incidents.

First Interaction

Before I tell you about this, let me share another story. So I came back to Udaipur in 2008 from US and after I came back, I wrote an email to a very senior person at Secure Meters (I won’t name him) introducing myself. This guy never responded back. I even sent him a request to connect on LinkedIn but again my request was ignored.

Then in 2012, I summoned some courage and wrote an email to him. Picture below shows our conversation.

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Based on my earlier experience, I was not expecting to hear back from him and to be honest, why should he respond back? I mean, here’s me who worked for him almost 20 years ago and that too at the lowest level of organization hierarchy and did not have any interaction with him while I was working there and all of a sudden he receives an email from me.

To my surprise, he responded back. Not only he responded back, he responded back in less than 30 minutes. At that time he was in UK so responding to my email was the very first thing he did in the morning. I was deeply touched and humbled by this. He could have very well ignored me for all the reasons above, but he didn’t and I guess that makes him a great man.

When he came back from UK a few months later we met in his office for about 45 minutes. We talked about a lot of things ranging from general things like current generation of India and skills/attitude mismatch to technical things like cloud computing. I was amazed by his knowledge on everything we spoke about and the clarity of his thoughts. Needless to say, I walked away from that meeting somewhat more knowledgeable all thanks to him.

Second Interaction

It was this interaction which compelled me to write this post. After this interaction, I truly realized how great this man really is and people should know his qualities so that they can adopt his qualities somehow.

A few days ago, I was attending a wedding reception and I saw him there. Since I saw him, I thought of saying hello to him. He was with many senior persons from his company but I mustered some courage, walked up to him and said “Hello Sir.”. His response was “Hello Gaurav, How are you?”. I was stunned, floored, overwhelmed and speechless! Here there’s a guy who probably meets hundreds of people every day both in personal and professional capacity and who met me just once almost one and a half year ago (and there was no contact at all with him after that) and he knows me by my name! Personally, it was a huge deal for me. I was deeply touched by this gesture of his. I also meet with a lots of people every day (not as much as him) but I find it really hard to remember names and putting names to faces. Not sure if this is something which came naturally to him or he acquired this over the years but I honestly wish I have this quality. No wonder he is admired by so many people (me included).

Summary

The post may sound cheesy to some but honestly I don’t care. I genuinely admire him and wanted to tell about his qualities and that’s why this post. My sincere wish is to learn more from him so that I can better myself as an individual and an entrepreneur.

Comments

  1. Masarrat Quaisar says:

    Hey Gaurav,
    Hope you are doing well and keeping up with your jovial attitude :-)
    Truly touching post! I can claim to be that person in the same boat as yours, though I never touched base with him on one-to-one basis like you did. Admire him for the vision and business acumen – at the same time the personal level that he brings in esp the fact that when we joined (around the same time back in 93-94), he would keep photos of freshers with their names, so he could put name to a face that were in the organization.
    I have imbibed and continue to do the same what we learnt in the early stages of professional life when we joined Secure. It was a once in a lifetime experience and keeps coming back so often.
    Good post.

  2. Boonlia Prince Komal says:

    I recall you talking about the interaction with him. I have been working for the company for almost 8 years now. Things have changed a lot since then and I always feel that they are losing their competitive edge and I always feel like speaking out. I guess we should discuss it some day and see if we can bring about some change. I owe this organization a lot that put faith in me when no one even knew me.
    A great read. Thanks for sharing these experiences and learnings.

  3. It’s a Good Learning Organisation which could not kept pace with the changing world around, there are many other qualities which Mr Singhal has put to the organisation and one can feel it around.
    Its only a matter of the team you build to take an organisation to another level(earlier it used to be), if it happens it can be a great place again.

  4. What a great post, to be honest this is very inspiring for new generations developers “It doesn’t really matter if you have lots of experience or no experience at all. If you have something meaningful to say, then say it no matter how harsh that thing would be.”
    Such a great stories motivate people like me to work hard for achieving all dreams. Thanks a lot

  5. Manoj Taunk says:

    Hi gaurav. I completely agree with you what ever you have shared here, but now a days the focus of secure is on a broad market, and Indian customers are not in focus, I am also planning to interact with Sanjay sab.

  6. Rajesh Naik says:

    Dear Gaurav,

    As somebody who had the opportunity to be associated with Secure Meters and Sanjaya Saab, I fully endorse with all the qualities you have mentioned about the great man. Despite all his greatness, I still admire him as a greater human being. There is saying that if you want to know the real chacter of a man give him power. This is where Sanjaya Sb is so different. He would treat even the junior most person in his company with respect and dignity and would remain approachable to them. His ability to treat his employees with empathy and at times even be kind to a fault is something which not every His multifarious knowledge and abilities are legendary. He has the unique ability to add value to everyth ing he does.

  7. Rajesh Naik says:

    As somebody who had the opportunity to be associated with Secure Meters and Sanjaya Saab, I fully endorse with all the qualities you have mentioned about the great man. Despite all his greatness, I still admire him as a greater human being. There is saying that if you want to know the real chacter of a man give him power. This is where Sanjaya Sb is so different. He would treat even the junior most person in his company with respect and dignity and would remain approachable to them. His ability to treat his employees with empathy and at times even be kind to a fault is something which very few people possess and practice as a way of life. His multifarious knowledge and abilities are legendary. He has the unique ability to add value to everything he does.

    I think you come across people like Sanjaya Sb once in your life time. I doubt if I will meet somebody of his stature again.

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