By Siya Aggarwal,

This piece is part of The Ascent’s Series “Human Library”

To kickstart the first session from the human library program we had a fantastic Sunday morning with Mr.Ajay Srinivasan. He is the Chief Executive Officer at Aditya Birla Capital Limited (ABCL), the holding company of all the financial services businesses of the Aditya Birla Group. Mr.Srinivasan has been in the financial services industry for 3 decades, has worked in India and Asia and has been a CEO for two-thirds of his working life. He has a wide range of interests from sports to reading to music. He holds a B.A. (Hons.) in economics from St Stephens College, University of Delhi and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. 

His session revolved around answering his most asked questions and went as following : 

Q: What was your journey like and what was the role of carer planning in that journey?

A: “My journey is a mix of some destiny and some conscious choice, while I was studying economics in college I was quite sure I wanted to be an academic and in fact dreamed of doing a PHD in economics. That was of course after I decided that I didn’t want to pursue a career in cricket because for a while, I must admit, that was quite an active choice in my mind. 

While playing a cricket match in college some friends were talking about the IIM’s (Indian Institutes of Management) and I somehow decided to appear for the entrance exams and got admission. Having gotten in, all these equations in my head started to rapidly change and from going to the USA to study economics, I entered the business world. I believe that it was destiny that brought me from the world of academics to the world of business. However, when it came to choosing a job after my MBA, I was very clear and I consciously turned down opportunities for jobs in foreign banks and consultants, which were the top choices then, to choose a job in ICICI. I think that particular conscious choice shaped my career quite differently to other people in my batch. 

Overall, I do believe that there are times where luck and destiny plays a role and other times it’s an active choice that impacts where you end up and those choices present themselves at many points throughout your career. When people ask me is it luck or choice I like to answer by saying it’s both. 

Q: What makes people successful 

A: “I must admit, my view of success has changed a lot over the years. When I started out and was a part of the rat race I judged ‘success’ by the parameters of external world status for us things like money, possession, status, etc. Then, when I became a CEO at 34 and moved to a pan Asian role at 36, I started really asking myself ‘what is success?’. Eventually, I realized that these measures that I was looking at earlier were both transitory and extremely focused, it was then that I realized that success is a very individual concept. I have met all kinds of people in my life and the most successful by these external measures I mentioned are sometimes deeply unhappy and don’t think of themself as successful and I have also met people who are exactly the opposite. I then realized that success in many ways is not a destination and that too determined by others for you, but it is a state of being, a mindset. Success to me now is figuring out what your heart wants and doing it well. I have also come to the realization that this success does not come from taking it comes from giving, of yourself, of your resources, your time, and your commitment. I think that’s what in my mind makes everybody possibly successful when you look at this definition as opposed to traditional definitions which creates a divide between few who are so-called ‘successful’ and those who are not.

One of my favorite quotes from the American poet Maya Angelou, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and how you do it” is a philosophy I wholeheartedly embrace.

My perception of success has changed over the years and I am now much more comfortable with different definitions of success because I do think that it is so personal. Though, I strongly believe that achieving whatever you want as your own definition of success requires hard work and dedication, I truly believe that there is no substitute for that and honestly there is nothing more than an individual can do. You can not control what happens extremely nor can you control the outcome so all you can do is control your own actions. My advice to all the youngsters is just do what makes you happy and immerse yourself in it and give it everything you got, you often need luck in addition to hard work for you to get there but I have always said the harder you work the luckier you get”.

Q: Time management and how to balance work lives 

A: “The next question I get asked revolves around Time management and work-life balance. This question mostly comes from people who know that I oversee eight businesses and I still find time for my exercise, my family, and many other interests that I have because to me that is a very important part of what I do. Let me start by saying to me time is the most important asset, as human beings all of us ultimately only have time. we don’t know how much we have, and therefore it’s all the more important that we should know that every moment is invaluable. Time management to me is key for feeling in the flow, I know everybody must have their own approach to this but let me share what I do: I’m very fond of making lists because it gives me a sense of what I need to do and gives me control over my own actions. 

Additionally, I know the things that matter to me, wellness, spirituality, work, family sports, and several other interests such as music, social life et cetera. So I have these categories that are important elements that make me who I am that I want to build into my life. I decide my goals for each of these areas at the start of the year like I would do in a business plan at work, and then every once in a while I do a self-review to reflect if I am on track or not. because I know if even one of these categories is lacking I don’t feel in the flow of content with what I’m doing. 

I have another message for all the youngsters out there, know that time management is key and always, in short, make time for the things that matter to you. I love this line from John Lennon – I’m very fond of music – it says “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’ ‘. with the modernized social media world that we live in today and all these external distractions it’s very easy for life to take over and for you to lose control and therefore if you want to retain control it’s very important for you to make time to do things you’re passionate about. so when people ask me about work-life balance I really struggled to answer that question because I believe that as many parts of my life and work are just one of them.”

As one can clearly see; Mr.Srinivasan is a prime example of a knowledgeable, successful, and eminent persona in the field of finance. I personally have taken all his wise words to heart and have tried to adapt many of his philosophies in my life as his journey has been one requiring commitment and hard work and he continues to set an outstanding example for all.