Have you ever met a person and felt an instant connect? A connect that allows you to admire them and virtually track everything that they do. I e-met RENU KAKKAR, Director CSR & Communications – Apeejay Surrendra Group through a Corporate Communications group in 2008. I have been quietly watching her and following her thought-process. I have always been inspired by her actions and deeds. Several awards and accolades dot her profile, including Karmaveer Puraskaar by Indian Confederation of NGOs (iCongo), Chanakya Award by Public Relations Council of India, Ribbon of Honour by Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy amongst others. What struck me about her is her straight-forward and no-nonsense approach towards issues. Her humility towards her achievements is an admirable quality. Her constant pursuit for excellence inspires me. Her relationship with God and her ability to see God everyone, allow me to believe that good still prevails in this world. Writing this piece has been an emotional journey for me. Read on and #StayInspired….
Her Twitter bio says:
Passionately Workaholic, Daddy’s girl, ex-Journalist. Mother to three 🙂
A strong-willed, successful woman of substance, that’s you. What were your early years like?
I was brought up by my father once beyond the basic childhood needs of eat/ sleep/play repeat that my mother took care of while she lived for the first few years of my person. Being brought up by an accomplished, brilliant man has to be a building block of whoever I am today. He was a hard father. He despised mediocrity with a near violent vengeance. He was unforgiving of anybody who did not aspire to reach their potential. He was self-taught, self-made man with a sharp tongue that sent those at the receiving end scampering away injured and hurting for a really long time. I realized very early that his own children too did not have a natural ‘right of way’ where this barometer was concerned. He shed people like a snake sheds skin periodically. I realized very early that if I was to learn from this brilliant human being and to not learn from such brilliance would be a loss all round. I could not be mediocre academically and age appropriate thought leadership had to be in evidence. Thus I pursued perfection in everything I did then and nothing but the best will do operational style to earn his respect then and got a friend for life. He set the bar really high and as I grew older he kept raising it. Raising my own mindfulness was and is my normal! My commitment to self-leadership was because of this upbringing and has been corner stoned by continuously building competency, taking initiative and pursuing excellence.
Being brought up by an accomplished, brilliant man has to be a building block of whoever I am today.
Is there an incident that took place in your childhood/growing years that was a turning point in your life?
Ever since I was old enough to receive pocket money, I gave money to beggars whenever they knocked the windows of the car. I was lectured against ‘encouraging’ the begging menace which was rampant in Delhi. Once, my father was more harsh than usual and it ended in a crying marathon. He was disturbed by the thought that I could pick up depression, a disease unknown in the ’80s, which had already claimed my mother. He called his friend who was the Slum Commissioner of Delhi in those days.
The next thing I knew was that I had a job as a volunteer in the slum department.
He asked me to skip after school sports, weekend outings and school holidays. Dad advised me to use this time to garner a deeper understanding of why the feeling of ‘entitlement’ didn’t come to me as naturally as it did to others my age within the same social class. Knowing that I was a “privileged’ PSU child growing up in hallowed Asiad Village, he urged me to deep dive into the reasons for my consistent sadness when faced with poverty and deprivation. He also forewarned me that my negative debilitating ‘helpless’ feelings were a symbolic warning sign. The feelings needed to be channelized correctly so that I could experience the power of positivity. This is where my journey into capacity building, sharpening of leadership acumen and the pursuit of excellence began. I regard this as a major turning point in my life.
As a woman professional, I also want to share another incident in my professional life that proved to be a turning point:
I had started writing for papers early so while still in my early 20s I was a senior business journalist at The Telegraph. While there I went to a ‘press conference’ which wasn’t marked for me in the assignment roster because it wasn’t my ‘beat’. I went because the dignitary addressing the conference was an ‘uncle’ from my childhood days and had called and asked me to come show him my all grown-up face. When I returned, the editor accused me of going for a ‘free lunch at a five star’ – in front of the whole newsroom. This was a turning point for me. It hit me that the process of multi-tasking on all fronts, making ‘adjustments’, shifting cities as a professional takes a toll on females and we are quite likely to lose our true spirit amidst all kinds of responsibilities. This leaves us (women) vulnerable to attacks on our dignity.
I’m not sure how to say it but at the time I felt like I had invited this insane accusation because of my demeanor.
It was insane because I was from a privileged background, I had joined journalism out of choice and simply did not need newspaper junkets to go eat in a five-star hotel. The editor was a celebrated business editor and is very much around now so I won’t take his name. I took his class there and then. In a few months, he apologized and discussed what he had done to his star reporter. I forgave him and we had a healthy respectful professional relationship. It was a turning point because I began spotlighted my own self, clawed out my own spirit caged under responsibilities, made some serious changes in my life and got into the habit of self-assessment of my growth personally and professionally at regular intervals.
No matter what your personal or professional triumphs are Be nice. As old-fashioned as it sounds, be nice anyways.
What made you choose this field as a career? When did you decide you wanted to make your passion your profession?
My passion was making a difference. I chose journalism as a career instead of civil services. This was after I was three-quarters through the climb to be an IAS officer. That was my passion which I made into my profession. That is not my field of work now. I left in 2000 when I realized that I was dead-beat. I realized creating is better than commenting on somebody’s else creation. I joined the corporate sector and for the last 16+ years have pursued innovation and quite honestly Apeejay has responded with warmth space and some serious amounts of empowerment.
I realized creating is better than commenting on somebody’s else creation.
Just like anyone else, there must have been ups and downs in your life, what were they? How did you overcome them?
(Smiles) It may sound funny for me to say this now. However, it is true that as a young girl a few years into my father’s tutelage I thought that a movie would be made about my life one day. And therefore, I had to live every day being the best that I can as the lead actor. The script was my story and I was writing it every day. I spent most of my energy on keeping myself empowered with information and working hard as per that day’s demands. My sense-of-self was very strong. The sense of right and wrong was even stronger. I encouraged my inner voice to speak by hearing it out instead of shutting it for a moment of pleasure.
I thought that a movie would be made about my life one day. And therefore, I had to live every day being the best that I can as the lead actor.
What kept you going through all the low phases of your life?
I just kept walking through my todays. When it was a great phase I’ve walked slower and when it was a down phase I’ve walked faster. I stopped and stared at neither. I internalized all my learnings as my capacity building of self. The humongous effort of walking through it doing what I could the best way that I knew then ensured that I met the next curve in life. That’s all one can do. Keep Walking to meet the next curve, god only knows what that curve will lead up to – good or bad phase – but you’d never reach the turning point if you stopped walking and wallowed immobilized with pain or stood and stayed for pure pleasure in the current phase, bad and good respectively. Unfortunately, life only makes sense when seen in retrospect and that’s why ‘keep walking’ is a good advice I’d share for the low phases.
How different are you in your professional life from your personal life? Tell me something about your role as a wife, sister, daughter, friend.
I’m not much different. I’m in search of meaning always. I’m a hard person to be friends or be a relative of with because of that! I drive people around the bed with my intensity. I want to make an impact and I’m prepared to put in the effort that’s required to make everything meaningful. Whenever I have reached a goal I have always felt a sense of déjà vu as if I’ve already been here and knew this place that I have reached I was meant to. I know now that what I have practiced is called as the power of visualization. My best role thus far has been of a daughter as I genuinely believe I made my father happy. Some dreams that would have helped him yelp with joy , like holding a book with my name on it, too are now well on their way to happening but I’m glad my father passed away having read the first draft and making notes on the voluminous printouts !
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I have changed a lot of careers. One constant has been a lot of work. As a journalist I was curating my news in my head and as early as 9 am I was working the phones or meeting my sources, as an operations person in the stock market-related advisory I was in office by 8.45 am after doing my household duties, in my role as a technology VP I was creating innovation thus far unknown to my brick and mortar employer, in my current role I’m at my desk at 9. The day finishes when my work finishes. This is what I’m trying hard to change to making a hard stop to a working day max by 7.
Is there something you would like to tell the readers?
Know your subject thoroughly.
People in your profession always look and behave busy. You seem to have mastered the art of balancing. How do you manage?
About a decade ago I stopped using the term busy. It changed my life forever. Here is an article about what I feel about the business of being busy I wrote for a friend Palin. (click here)
Do you believe in God? What is your relationship with God?
Yes very much. I see God in people. I am my best in serving God when I serve his creations to the best of my ability. I have a passing affiliation to rites and rituals. God is my best friend.
Who is your role model? What qualities of your role model did you apply in your real life?
Nobody really and everyone worth their weight I suppose. I pick up good habits of whoever I meet. I get to the part I can use because I go for meaning and therefore frivolous relationships are rare.
Whom do you turn to in times of adversities? Has it helped? How?
I’ve just lost my father so at the moment I don’t have an answer to that. But whenever there is an issue I think it through. I’m by habit given to assessing how far I’ve come at regular intervals. Both professionally and personally. So that helps.
With my father, I used to ask for his time for a call. He was impatient and jumpy of any conversation that lasted beyond 5 minutes. So I had to be concise to immediately get out of him his advice otherwise, I would have lost his attention and no matter how much I begged I wouldn’t get it back unless he decided to be merciful and call back with a bit more patience and time on his hands.
What is your mantra of life?
Guts. We all have it and we all should use it. If we don’t have it then we should all learn from others who are gutsy and go for what we want in life. You can’t do that if you don’t stop and assess your life and achievements periodically so I suggest that we do a self-assessment as a mantra.
Is there something you would like to tell the readers? A message that would help them achieve the acme of success just like you did?
Know your subject thoroughly. I remember writing about Communications in Economic Times in 2007. (click here) about my new profession – I had been given the corp com portfolio a few years before and this line I quote from Charlie Munger, a close associate of Warren Buffet’s speech to law students makes the utmost sense to everyone who wants to achieve anything, including success. The line is – The safest way to get what you want is to deserve it. Every successful person you see out there who you seem to know personally to be undeserving of the success will fizzle out or fail but never the ones who deserve it. They may not rise all the time but they will shine always. Also, no matter what your personal or professional triumphs are Be nice. As old-fashioned as it sounds, be nice anyways.
What is your mantra of life?
Guts. We all have it and we should all use it.
What does marriage mean to you?
A deep friendship that inspires each of the partners to be the best version of themselves.
——- As told to Mayura Amarkant
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This is the 19th interview in the #StayInspired series. Here are the rest:
- #StayInspired – 1: Dreams keep people alive
- #StayInspired: Marriage is a warm & intimate cocoon
- #StayInspired: Born today, 4 Inspiring people
- #StayInspired: When I was 13, my grandma wanted to marry me off
- #StayInspired: God rejected my death
- #StayInspired: Meet the Dhoni of Indian Corp Comm & PR
- #StayInspired: He is the original TaxiMan of India.
- #StayInspired: The ‘Vamana’ of Alternative Medicine
- #StayInspired: Making Indian education ‘student-friendly’: Meet the new-age Lord Macaulay
- #StayInspired: Ram Kamal Mukherjee – Beyond Bollywood and Biographies.
- #StayInspired: “Story-telling is my life breath” Karaan Guliani director, Sarvann