From transforming his family’s trading business to becoming the 33rd wealthiest Indian (Forbes’ 2017 ranking), Harsh Mariwala, the Founder ASCENT Foundation, Chairman Marico Limited and Kaya Limited has seen it all. In an exclusive interview with The Free Press Journal, Mariwala shares his entrepreneurial insights, ASCENT Foundation – his peer-to-peer platform for entrepreneurs and the secrets to be successful in business.
How and when did you come up with the idea of ASCENT Foundation? What was the motivation? How was the initial establishment done?
After I stepped down from the day to day management and operations role from Marico, I felt the strong need to give something back to society. After much deliberation, I decided to take forward an initiative that helps in the development of growth focussed entrepreneurs as entrepreneurs play an extremely vital role in the development of our economy. Many entrepreneurs who have a thriving business often do not know how to further scale their businesses to greater heights. The avenues to seek help, mentorship or guidance is still scant.
This led to the formation of ASCENT Foundation. ASCENT is a not-for-profit expression to create a unique trust-based, peer-to-peer platform for high-potential, growth-stage entrepreneurs. The idea to build an ecosystem for entrepreneurs came about from my own entrepreneurial experience wherein I have faced similar challenges that today’s generation of entrepreneurs face. I have always said that although the journey of an entrepreneur is no doubt exciting, it is also a very lonely journey. Through ASCENT, my aim is to build an ecosystem that enables entrepreneurs to share and exchange experiences, ideas, insights, and create a healthy trust-based ecosystem to learn from each other and grow their enterprise.
We started ASCENT in 2012, with 100 number of members to form 10 number of Trust Groups. A Trust Group acts as a peer advisory board, consisting of 10-12 entrepreneurs from non-competing diverse industries, segmented by enterprise stage and size. These meetings are held once a month for three hours, wherein members engage in conversations in an atmosphere of confidentiality, trust, and openness to share each other’s business and personal experiences. Today we have 400 entrepreneur members in our ecosystem and 34 operational Trust Groups across our Mumbai and Chennai chapters.
Do you believe entrepreneurship can be taught or are people born with it?
In my opinion, though many are blessed with entrepreneurial genes, we all possess the capabilities as the next entrepreneurs. What differentiates one entrepreneur from another is their approach in which they work for the development of his enterprise – are they organisation forward or are they focussing on individual growth. An entrepreneur also most definitely needs a sounding board – a trusted group of advisors who are able to trigger blind spots that we all possess. This group of advisors need not be mentors or life gurus rather just like-minded growth focussed individuals who encourage holistic development.
When entrepreneurs are in the company of like-minded entrepreneurs, the learnings from such associations can definitely spur motivation and the zest to develop not only a business but also balance one’s personal life.
According to you, what are the challenges faced by Indian entrepreneurs and business leaders today?
Entrepreneurship can be an extremely exciting journey but it is riddled with a fair share of challenges as well. To begin with, like I mentioned earlier, entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. Being an entrepreneur myself, I have traversed this path and know there are many times tough decisions need to be made. At such times, entrepreneurs need a trusted outlet to discuss their challenges or seek different perspectives.
Quite often, this outlet is not available as entrepreneurs are unable to find like-minded individuals. The other challenge is that entrepreneurs often are unable to find a trusted environment as entrepreneurship at times can be competitive. Without trust, an entrepreneur may find it very difficult to share his/her thoughts, visions or ideas with another entrepreneur who is traversing a similar path.
Lately, another area that has come to the forefront is that many entrepreneurs find it difficult to maintain a fine balance between their personal and professional lives. We live in an extremely dynamic environment where speed is of utmost importance. Keeping up with the pace and demands of entrepreneurship can be not only daunting but also harmful to one’s health. This could be a reason why we were witnessing a steep rise in the number of entrepreneurs who suffer from health issues such as anxiety, panic or even depression.
When we look at all these challenges, we will see how interlinked each of these challenges are. It is here that the concept of peer-to-peer platforms can be extremely helpful. These platforms allow entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds to come together in a trusted environment and share ideas, thoughts, experiences and insights in a manner that benefits all members at large.
The lack of such platforms is one of the reasons why I decided to start the ASCENT Foundation. These platforms enable experiential learning which although cannot be measured in numbers or ROI but it definitely has a very positive impact not only on the professional lives of an entrepreneur but also helps shape personal development.
When starting a new business, timing is everything. Share your views on it.
Timing is important for a business to grow though I would not say timing is everything. Timing is one of the key factors amongst many other factors that contribute to the growth of the organisation. Having said that, timing of business decisions, understanding the right time for expansion activities such as mergers, acquisitions etc. is critical. These factors are time management at a company level. At a personal level, time management is extremely important. Effective management of time can help in many productive outcomes without stress and last-minute tardiness. For effective time management, one needs to be disciplined.
ASCENT Conclave 2018: Tell us more about the signature event of Ascent Foundation and how will it enhance the growth of start-ups in India?
Held annually, the ASCENT Conclave brings together an eclectic set of established business leaders under a single roof for a day-long interactive engagement program. The Conclave has been unique for its curated sessions of these ‘Thought Leaders’ sharing their entrepreneurial ideas, struggles, journeys and insights. The Conclave also serves as a networking platform for over 500 like-minded entrepreneurs to engage and collaborate with some of India’s leading industry experts.
This year, the third edition of the ASCENT Conclave will highlight the importance of holistic development. The event will include a keynote speech by Rajiv Bajaj, who will elucidate on how, based on his own journey, entrepreneurs can leapfrog towards building billion-dollar enterprises. We also have recognised industry thought leaders such as Kishor Biyani Group CEO, Future Group and Managing Director, Pantaloon Retail; Sangita Reddy, Joint Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals Group, Ananth Narayanan, CEO, Myntra; PC Musthafa, CEO and Co-founder, iD Fresh Food; Lavanya Nalli, Vice-Chairperson, Nalli Silk Sarees Pvt. Ltd; Milind Soman Director, Maximus MICE & Media Solutions; Prabir Jha, President and Global Chief People Officer, Cipla Inc. Harshwardhan Zala, Founder & CEO, Aerobotics 7, Sunit Sinha managing director, Accenture, Gauranga Das, Director, Govardhan Ecovillage and Gauri Sawant amongst other leaders.
Entrepreneurs will also gain valuable insights from the unique session formats on various themes such as the importance of brand building, scaling of businesses amidst challenges, people management and working towards effective leadership. For entrepreneurs who wish to purchase passes to attend the Conclave or to know more, please visit: http://www.ascentfoundation.in/conclave2018/.
What advice / message would you like to give to young entrepreneurs?
For any entrepreneur, be it a start-up founder or the business leader of an established business, in my personal opinion, the following are extremely crucial:
- The right to win: Every entrepreneur needs to identify his/her right to win or simply put – what differentiates him/her from his competitors. His/Her right to win could be in any form – be it the manner in which he runs his business, the product offering, customer management or even an innovation focussed approach. If he/she is able to create a strong right to win, he/she is on the right path
- Clarity: The entrepreneur is the captain of his/her ship. For him/her to navigate his/her business to growth and development, extreme clarity of thought is required. If the entrepreneur is confused, it will show in the manner in which his/her enterprise functions.
- Vision: It is very important for an entrepreneur to have a vision so that he/she can steer his business in the right direction. Starting on a whim or without a fully thought business plan can lead to a crash and burn situation.
- Team building: Entrepreneurs must focus on a hiring good quality talent and this can be difficult as there is a war for good talent. However, entrepreneurs must invest in good talent as the right talent can definitely play an important role in the growth of a company.
- The art of delegation: Quite often, entrepreneurs tend to hold on to decision making for a company and try to do everything by themselves. This is extremely detrimental for the growth of an organisation and this hampers the process of building a second in line of command. Entrepreneurs need to let go of certain responsibilities to not only encourage colleagues but also so that they are able to pursue other activities and initiatives.