‘I wanted to join the army’

Retail stalwart BS Nagesh reveals some unknown facts about his life – not surprisingly, each has a lesson that will inspire others

Back to college
Not many people know that I have a management degree from FMS BHU (Faculty of Management Studies, Banaras Hindu University) not from an IIM like most assume. Actually, I wanted to join the army. My parents allowed me to appear for the test because they thought I would never make it. But I did. When I got the selection letter, my mother starting sobbing. In South Indian families, if you join the army it’s assumed you have been shot even before you join. I was given one chance to do something else in life. If I didn’t succeed in it, I could join the army. Being the only son, I agreed. I appeared for the entrance at FMS BHU. I did not attempt all the questions but passed, didn’t open my mouth at the group discussion, but still got selected. I think I was destined for the MBA.

Sometimes things that are not in your control happen. Yet, they turn out for the best.
In college, my pocket money was Rs225 a month. So I used to run the mess for all my friends; I did it not to make money but for the kick I got out of it. I used to run a Tambola club every Saturday and was quite famous for it. Even in 1982, we used to make between Rs250-Rs300 every week out of it. I was a poor student but a good all-rounder and that made all the difference.

I am not the most intelligent, I am just able to use my common sense better than others.
During my MBA, unlike others I did two summer internships – once after my final year, and once even before finishing second semester. One of those involved conducting a door-to-door survey of the footwear buying behavior of consumers in Varanasi for Carona, the shoe company. Carona wrote back to me saying that my report was one of the best reports by a management student they had seen. But when I applied for a job there, they turned me down because I was from BHU. After 10 years, I joined Carona as a Zonal Manager through a headhunting exercise. When I was declared one of the best Zonal Managers I said to them: it would have been much cheaper for you if you had hired me as a management trainee than as a manager.

We should hire people for their management capabilities, not for their medals or from which city they hail from.

Professional life
During my journey at Shoppers Stop, I have seen more failures than successes. Unfortunately, the media only writes about successes and criticizes failures. Whenever I suffered the distress of a failure, I used to lock myself up in my bathroom and discuss with my mirror image about what could be done about it.

The subconscious can help make some critical decisions — like my mirror image has sorted many issues and challenges for me.

One of the toughest days of my professional life was the one before the Shoppers Stop IPO. At 5 o’clock we came to know that our IPO was not going through – the IPO application had gone to every city in the country. The entire team, including the promoters, got cracking on it. We went back to the Supreme Court, fought the decision and won the case to launch the IPO in the next 24 hours.

I call Shoppers Stop an ‘accident of a peg of whiskey.’ Once my boss in Carona asked me over a drink what I wanted to do in life. I told him I wanted to run a 50,000 sq ft store. This was in 1991. After some days, I got a call from my boss’s friend who was a headhunter for the Rahejas. He told me the Rahejas had a 50,000 sq ft property, which they wanted to use for retail. That’s how I came to Mumbai. No negotiation, no discussion, no questions asked. They had a 50,000 sq ft property for a retail business; I wanted to run a 50,000 sq ft retail store. In hindsight, it was probably one of the stupidest ways to make such an important decision, it’s just that it worked.

A team that comes together in distress, is one of the best teams that you can see.

Stepping out of Shoppers Stop and starting TRRAIN was not an easy decision — not just personally and professionally but also socially. Because it was probably the peak of my career with another 10 years or so left. My mother-in-law asked me: you have two daughters, when you go to marry them, what will you say – you are the Ex-MD of Shoppers Stop? Why can’t you be the MD of Shoppers Stop until you get them married? There were pressures like these. It is important to get the support of your family when you take any huge decision. Thankfully, I got that support.

You can’t be a rebel in your family or in your social ecosystem – you have to take everyone along or they have to take you.

I put all my life’s savings into TRRAIN – a tough call. The decision was based on a strong belief, which I have relied on often, including when we started RAI: It doesn’t matter if you are starting a one-man or a 100 people organization, it’s important to have a solid team to start with. People make a difference.

People are important, leaders are important and you have to respect them for what they bring to the table.

Passion, purpose and perseverance matter much more  than intelligence or medals. People are more important than money; team is more important than an individual, letting go is more important than getting it. Happiness, satisfaction and enjoying what you have  is more valuable than getting something at the cost of your happiness.

As told to Shiv Joshi

First published in STOrai March – April 2015. Click here to read the entire issue

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Retailers Association of India (RAI) is the unified voice of Indian retailers. RAI is a not for profit organization (registered under section 25 of Companies Act, 1956), works with all the stakeholders for creating the right environment for the growth of the modern retail industry in India. RAI is the body that encourages, develops, facilitates and supports retailers to become modern and adopt best practices that will delight customers. RAI has a three charter aim of Retail Development, Facilitation and Propagation.