“I love whatever I do and I do whatever I love”

‘The Happiness Road’ is a weekly Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!

This Sunday I feature industrialist Suresh Krishna, Chairman & Managing Director of Sundram Fasteners!

Suresh Krishna – Photo by Vaani Anand

Suresh Krishna’s office reflects his state of mind – clean, calm and content. A large wall-sized window behind him that lights up the room naturally. And a clean, squeaky clean desk – there’s nothing on it. The man himself is as happy and content as he was when I had last met him 20 years ago. I ask him if there’s a secret to his being able to manage his Rs.3150 Crore company Sundram Fasteners, and his Life, so efficiently. “Oh! There’s no secret,” he says smiling and waving his hand as if to dismiss any suggestions of a feat being accomplished, and adds, “I just delegate very well. I love whatever I do and do whatever I love.”

Krishna makes it all sound so easy. Sundram Fasteners will be 50 years old in 2016. In all this time, there has been no labor unrest in the company, and it is unequivocally regarded as a torch-bearer for world-class quality in Indian industry. Krishna, 79, however does not count either of these measures as achievements. He says, “When I look back, I feel blessed that we have been able to raise the standard of living of our 20,000 employees and their families. Our quality focus, our value system of transparency, our work culture – all these are mere tools. What makes me really happy is that our people are leading wholesome lives.”
Suresh Krishna – Photo by Vaani Anand

Some people go do what they love doing. Some start off doing stuff to earn a living and then drop it to go do what they love. But Krishna’s someone who simply finds a way to love whatever he does. He says he has inherited his mother Ambujam Krishna’s genes; he showed great interest in music, painting and poetry as a child. He was naturally inclined to the arts and humanities. So, when he decided to drop his Master’s in chemical engineering after the second semester at the University of Wisconsin in the US and instead opted to study German literature there, his family was not surprised. “I enjoyed literature for its own sake. I had no ambitions to do anything with it,” he clarifies. When he came back to India, he was drafted into the family business and was invited to independently set up Sundram Fasteners. “I knew nothing about nuts and bolts. But I learned fast. As I gained experience, I realized that what I loved doing until then – literature, music, arts – and the process of building a company – what I was learning to do – both were means to spiritual enrichment. Whether it is listening to music or reviewing manufacturing, the resonance from both sides to me is the same. There has to be quality in both. And being qualitative, I discovered, is my inner joy, my idea of happiness,” says Krishna.
To Krishna’s credit, he does not even count on his work and Life philosophy as something unique. He states, with evident humility and gratitude, “I have been so lucky. There are so many blessings in my Life. I have never experienced poverty, never experienced ill health, I never had to live in a refugee camp or be homeless; and I live in Chennai, where I feel secure and don’t have to worry about a terrorist attack. It is because of all these blessings that that I have been able to focus on what I have done as a business leader.” He then leans forward and adds emphatically, “You know what? If we stop focusing on the trivial problems that confront us on a day-to-day basis and start counting our blessings, we will all be happy – instantaneously!”

Krishna says his father taught him, early on, the value of being content. “He used to tell me that you can’t wear two shirts or ride in two cars at the same time. Besides, he helped me realize that we are born with nothing and will go with nothing. So, it was through his perspectives that I learned not to take Life too seriously. I don’t work for more than 10 hours a day. In fact, no one can work efficiently if they work any longer – it doesn’t matter if you are leading a small Rs.10 Lakh business or a large Rs.10,000 Crore empire. To be happy, you must work smart.”
Leading people, setting, achieving and maintaining stringent world-class quality standards, building an institution – all these evidently contribute to Krishna’s happiness quotient. But his greatest asset is his understanding of his happiness. For instance, he creates time in his schedules to immerse himself in poetry because he loves the art of “putting words together”. He has recently completed a year-long exploration of the poetic, linguistic and spiritual nuances of the “Thiruppavai”. He has also written 50 poems in English but says he will never publish them: “I wrote them because I felt happy writing them. That happiness is deeply personal. It is matchless and priceless.”

It is this ability to go do all that which makes him happy that makes Krishna so successful, so happy and so content. This ability does not come with age alone, it comes from a deep understanding of the true nature of Life.

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Good parenting is all about leadership

Learn to trust your children. If you believe they need direction, give them your perspective, but also allow them to make their choices. Good parenting is all about leadership.
The other day we met a young teenager who is in her first year in college. When she lit a cigarette, I asked her if her parents knew that she smoked. She replied saying her parents were very conservative and did not trust her to be ‘able to take care of herself’. She then, perhaps in an effort to change the topic, said a boy in her class had bought her a dress for her birthday. She pulled out a shopping bag and proudly showed the dress, a designer label, to my wife and me. We asked her how she would account for the new dress to her parents. She said she would tell them that one of the girls in her class had gifted it to her! I encouraged her to stop covering up and urged her to be open with her parents. I then advised her to quit smoking and educated her on the perils of addiction – talking from my own experience of chewing tobacco; I shared how difficult it was for me to quit the habit. The young lady said she would consider my advice of quitting smoking seriously. But she said “open” conversations with her parents would simply not work. “They are not that sort who will ever understand my desire to experience everything in Life and make my own choices. They are over-protective and untrusting,” she declared.
I felt sorry for that young friend of ours. Her parents were clearly missing the opportunity to mold their daughter’s Life and career.
Teenage and adolescence through to young adulthood is when parents and children have the opportunity to really bond. And it is entirely the parents’ responsibility that this opportunity is fully utilized. Children at this stage of their lives – from 13 years to 24 years – are very curious and adventurous. On one side they are exploring and experiencing their own sexuality. On the other side, they are experiencing everything in the world for the first time. Be it smoking a cigarette, tasting alcohol or watching an adult movie. They begin to understand politics, money, business, social and environmental issues. They start questioning religion, faith and rituals. And even as they do all this, they want to genuinely change the way things are. They have this “Why Not?” attitude towards everything that they touch, feel, see and hear. Which is why a parent has to, at the same time, be a child’s best friend and coach.
It is natural, given the impact that social media and advertising have on young impressionable minds, that children, by the time they enter their teens, are very well-informed. It is therefore a logical human urge to want to light a cigarette or have a drink whenever the first opportunity arises. Or even to have a crush on someone. There’s nothing wrong either if your child wants to go out on a date. As a parent, you must learn to accept and appreciate that your child is growing up and has a right to experience Life afresh and first hand. You cannot insist or demand that your child experiences Life on your terms. If you do, please know, as in my young friend’s case, your child will still go ahead and experience Life while covering up those experiences with you! In fact, your relationship with your child is a good one if your child comes up to you and shares openly. You must champion and encourage this by initiating open conversations. Please know that there is nothing “untouchable” about subjects such as masturbation, menstruation, pre-marital sex or marriage, relationships, homosexuality, divorce and death. It is a parent’s principal responsibility to bring a teachable point of view into every such conversation.
Good parenting requires that you educate your child on what matters to the child. And, believe me, there’s a lot more than pure academics that matters to children in their teens leading up to young adulthood. Always share your experiences and perspectives with your child and leave the choice to her or him. Chances are, especially when they are trusted, children will not make wrong choices. And if they do, there’s nothing to panic – simply work on educating them one more time. If the choices they make turn out to be duds – blowing up on their face – help them understand what they can learn from the experience than tell them how right you were all along!

Remember that when you don’t trust your own children you are puncturing their self-worth. The unstated message you are giving your children is this: “You are incapable, so let me handle things for you.” Ask yourself if you would like to be treated that way? Parenting can truly be an enjoyable experience if you lead well. Good leadership demands that you tell your children what’s right, what’s wrong and then, simply, let go – allowing them to learn from their own experiences!