It’s my life
Emax CEO Neelesh Bhatnagar tells Shiva Kumar Thekkepat that to succeed in business you need to have a burning passion, take calculated risks and be a people person
All you really need to succeed in your business is passion, says the CEO of an electronics giant.
‘I don’t have drea
You don’t need to possess a lengthy resume or be wealthy to realise your dream of setting up your own business. “All you need to make it happen is passion,’’ says Neelesh Bhatnagar, CEO of Emax Electronics.
“My philosophy is that you should have a passion for the business,” says the 53-year-old. “There’s no point putting in some money, buying or manufacturing something and making some money out of it unless you are really interested in your product and feel that it will make a difference in your customer’s life.”
In the short term you may be able to gain financially, but you won’t have a sense of satisfaction, he says. “And you won’t be able to grow the business beyond a certain level.”
This is the ethos that Neelesh tries to instil in his team – he doesn’t call them staff; he has a team, which he motivates, rather than leads.
“Whatever you do, do it with passion and interest,” he tells them, almost on a daily basis. “Transparency in deals is another thing I insist on. Dishonesty never pays in the long run. At the end of the day, I don’t expect miracles from them, nor can I deliver them myself. I keep my feet on the ground and perform to the best of my ability. And that’s what I expect from my team. Slow and steady progress is the only way forward. There are no shortcuts – in business or in life.”
Neelesh attributes this attitude to his boss, Micky Jagtiani, chairman of the Landmark Group of which Emax is a part of. “He gives his staff the leeway in choosing the path they want to take, and that is a reason for the group’s success,” says Neelesh. “Managers are encouraged to think like entrepreneurs in the sense that we’re encouraged to take calculated risks and experiment within our domains. While Micky has been an excellent mentor, my colleagues taught me a lot, too.”
Learning the fundamentals
Trained as a chartered accountant, Neelesh decided to move into management because he wanted to run a business.
“I studied accounting as I wanted a good foundation in finance,” he says. “You can’t really be a good businessman unless you know your numbers well.
“Also, legal and taxation issues take up a good part of running an independent business and my training provided me the basis from which to address them. These are the fundamentals of a sound businessman.”
Neelesh moved to Dubai from his native New Delhi, India, in 1986 to work for Xerox. Stints with Inchcape Shipping Services, MMI and TNT followed, but with each year his desire to launch a business grew.
He got his chance with the Landmark Group. “My first business assignment was in Saudi Arabia to kick-start the group’s foray into retail in the country in 1997,” he recalls. The business did so well that Landmark is among the largest retail groups in Saudi Arabia today.
“That gave me great confidence, and when I moved back to Dubai in 2005, I chose to launch Emax, the electronics arm of Landmark,” says Neelesh. “I picked electronics retailing as it is a very challenging category and something that Landmark had not yet entered.
“It served two purposes: launching in a new direction, and also doing something I was
personally interested in. Electronics is a fiercely competitive field. The dynamics of the business are manifold and the margins narrow. There is little scope to make mistakes in this business and you have to be spot-on to get it right where pricing is concerned. I enjoyed such challenges and was looking to make it a success.”
Neelesh had always been interested in technology. “I get bored very easily, which is why technology that’s constantly evolving fascinates me,” he says. “I’ve moved house 20 times in my 25 years in the Gulf. I thrive on change. I don’t like to lead a routine life.”
It’s amazing how electronics changes so fast, he says. “It changes the way people live their lives and that’s what is most interesting about this field. You have to keep running just to keep up with the changes.”
He attributes his success to his management skills. “I don’t lose too many of my team – that should tell you what kind of a boss I am,” he says. “I’ve lost hardly any members from the team I had when we launched.
“Rather than tasking people – I am in charge of around 100 people – I facilitate them to perform. I enthuse them and encourage them. I hardly ever take a hard line. I allow them to choose their goals and guide them.”
Neelesh creates an environment where his team members can perform to their potential. “This attitude goes down the line; each person helps the other to achieve their goals,” he says. “I am more like a captain of a team.”
His cabin is positioned at a vantage point on the office floor where he can see everything. “It’s like a control tower,” he says. “I know exactly what is happening.”
But he’s not a control freak. “I am quite lenient and take everything vvery patiently. Even iif a person does not hhave the capability to perform, I’ll guide him and give him time to acquire the skills required. What I look for is the right attitude, honesty and ethics.”
A knack for identifying opportunities and utilising them is key for Neelesh. “Be it a territory, a showroom location, a business model or a partnership, I look for opportunities in everything,” he says. “Even on a holiday, or while socialising at a party, my mind remains attuned to spotting opportunities.”
It is a quality that Neelesh cultivated from childhood. “My father, Jagpal Saran Bhatnagar, who was a civil servant in India, had the same attitude,” he says. “He was very savvy with people. I too am easygoing and enjoy spotting an opportunity to further the business.
“I have five brothers,” he says. “We had a decent middle-class upbringing. A lot of emphasis was on education and money was secondary. Three of us are chartered accountants, the other two are engineers.
“Our father told us instead of building a house and having us five brothers fight over it in future, he’d rather educate us so we could earn and build our own.
“That attitude influenced me very much. I am trying to do the same thing with my children, Nikita, 19, and Rushab, 18. I hope to give them clarity of thought, sound ethics and not hanker after the material things in life. My wife, Rachana, is my pillar of strength.”
Neelesh is the same in his office as he is at home. “My children get the same treatment that my team members get – flexibility and patience. I try to influence and facilitate rather than tell them what to do,” he says.
Flexibility is important when managing people. “Rather than expecting people to change, I will change to fit into the environment, even while retaining my own individuality,” Neelesh says.
“I don’t have very strong likes and dislikes. There is nothing without which I can’t survive. I don’t allow others to judge me and I don’t get influenced by what others think about me. I trust my gut feeling.
“While I believe in working out strategies for business, I also lay great stress on having a tight time-bound plan to implement them.”
Neelesh relaxes when he’s with people. “I can’t relax when I am alone, he laughs. “You won’t catch me with a book or listening to music alone. I am usually with my family or friends. They help me destress and relax. Going out and meeting people is not a chore for me. I need to be with people to relax.”
Perhaps the most telling reason for Neelesh’s success could be his realistic outlook on business. “I don’t dream, I have objectives,” he says. “I’ve never dreamt of becoming a big businessman, earning huge packets or building palaces. I’ve always set objectives and worked towards them… I take life as it comes.
“It’s not a dream to take the company to the level I want it to. It’s an objective that I have set and will achieve in time.”
Passion for your work is crucial for success according to Neelesh