Think Elon Musk, Satya Nadella, Sergey Brin, Mukesh Ambani, N. Chandrasekaran, Anand Mahindra. They, and a few other top honchos of India Inc., have all redefined stamina, which reflects in the long hours that they manage to put at work, hours that show up in their productivity and success of companies that they head. While their entire focus is on the businesses they run, they all are conscious about the need to maintain good health. So, what differentiates these leaders from, shall we say, the lesser mortals who, too, log in long hours at work?
Consider Dr. B.S. Ajaikumar, Founder-CEO of HealthCare Global, who spends most of his time treating cancer patients and whose thin frame and quick strides on stairs (he avoids the elevator) belie the 13-plus hours that he puts in at the workplace. The 67-year-old marathon runner and prospective black belt in karate has taken part in seven gruelling runs and trudges 40 km a week on an average. "To remain fit, ensure a good dose of physical activity and under-eat, as a little bit of starvation stimulates your brain," he says.
What also aids better outcomes is his attitude to life. "I have always been a positive person and I think that has been one of the major drivers for me." He gives the example of a patient with nasopharynx cancer (a head and neck cancer, behind the nose) who came to him at what seemed a terminal stage. "We researched and worked on his treatment. Today, he is disease-free," he says. Or when, in the US, he saw his savings nearly evaporate in the 2000 economic crisis. He sold his house, returned to India and in 2003/04 started his entrepreneurial journey. Since then, he has never looked back.
Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group, is in a business where competition is brutal and slackness can cost dearly. "He is forever looking at the positive side of things. He has the capability to challenge without being aggressive and an astonishing capacity to remain calm even when waters are choppy and things are not falling into place," says a person who has known him over the years. But what also matters is the "poise and energy which is constant at all times. It does not matter whether you are meeting him at 7 pm or 11 pm." A part of this has perhaps got to do with his approach to empower the leaders. A number of people close to him quote his belief that it is wrong to see life as a dichotomy where one has to choose between work and life. They say he maintains that "the phrase work-life balance will be extinct - we will say work is life and life is work because they are about getting the best out of myself as a human being." Mahindra is conscious about his health and glimpses of his fitness are apparent in pictures of the Mumbai Marathon, much like those of N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Sons, who has a commendable record of running quite a few marathons. Or consider infrastructure barons G.M. Rao, Founder of GMR, or G.V. Krishna Reddy of GVK, both of whom are conscious about the need to maintain good health even as they put long hours at work. Krishna Reddy, passionate for sports, starts his day with a game of tennis, and was an early sponsor of tennis star Sania Mirza.
The high performers also believe in pursuing an interest. For instance, G.V. Prasad, Co-chairman and CEO of Dr. Reddy's, is an avid photographer who, despite his pressing work schedule, finds time for wildlife photography at locations in Africa or the Arctic to rebalance his mind and recharge himself. So, how does this increase productivity? "It is not the activity that determines the outcome," he says. Becoming more productive is not about the hours spent at work but more about the approach. "Metaphorically, you need to go from the ground floor (your daily activity where you do not see the bigger picture) to the balcony (spend time looking at the strategic picture of where you and the company are going)," he says. He tries to do this by taking breaks (he is soon headed for Alaska). "You need to reflect and gain better insights which you may miss in the middle of an activity." However, this does not mean that he does not look at the nitty-gritty. "I delegate but there are times when you need to get into the trenches, get into the details and make changes, like when we got the USFDA warning letter."
Others like Venu Srinivasan, Chairman of TVS Motor Company, believe in the power of meditation to "de-junk the mind." He is learnt to be quite regulated when it comes to eating. Or Ajay Piramal, Chairman of Piramal Enterprises, who, given a choice, would prefer to pursue photography and is spending at least half an hour each day on either reading or attending sessions on Indian philosophy.
Most top CEOs are also very careful about what they eat. Venu Srinivasan of TVS had earlier told BT that he mostly sticks to a simple diet and likes the British practice of 5:2 diet where people eat what they like five days a week but eat next to nothing on the remaining two days. G.V. Prasad of Dr Reddy's is also disciplined in his food intake and, aided by inputs from a nutritionist, has been sticking to a diet chart for the last five years.