CEO At work — Leadership Lessons from my Co-founders (Part II)


CEO At work — Leadership Lessons from my Co-founders (Part II)

Rahul Das, CEO, Fourth Ambit

[We use the words Leadership and Management quite interchangeably at work. Frankly I believe one without the other is not much use in the long term. And while you may not be a born leader or manager, with observation, you can learn a lot about being a good leader. I started this series in august to note down the things I have learned about Leadership from my fellow Co-Founders. You can read Part I here]

As the CEO of a Startup, life is challenging at best. Hardly a day goes by when you don’t have to make decisions with 40% (or less) facts in order to salvage the whole company from the brink of some random, new and absolute disaster even while you keep everyone motivated. In addition to all this, what if you also had the unenviable task of being the “Boss” to 3 co-founders who are your friends and classmates? As CEO of Fourth Ambit, this is what Rahul’s life is like day-on-day, every day!

From day one, Rahul managed us with a lot of elan and finesse. The 3 of us (Shyam, Jikku and me) are as different in personality and temperament as chalk, cheese and charcoal. That means any feedback, criticism, or censure needs to be packaged differently for each one. The effortless manner in which Rahul does this is verily an art in itself.

As we celebrate his Bday today, allow me to share a few lessons that I learnt from the man himself:

1. Process is EVERYTHING

Sheethal is Rahul’s beautiful wife. Together, they raise two beautiful children — Akku and Annu. Rahul being the doting father and responsible husband loves his family a lot. After Sheethal and the girls, what is Rahul’s true love? Yup…. Excel sheets it is!!

Rahul Das, CEO, Fourth Ambit

Now my style of working is to jump right into the task and figuring out life as I go along. This is often a reason for clash between us (and by clash — I mean his knuckles making contact with my head often), but after 3 years with the man, I concede. Process is indeed everything.

Entrepreneurs are notorious for sacrificing process and planning in the name of Innovation. But what we then learn the hard way is this — if your start-up needs to go into the growth phase, if you need to scale up into a large operation, you need to have someone at the helm who is the King of Operations.

Fourth Ambit’s journey from being a start-up with a client base of 300, to a firm running an online community building platform supporting 1200+ clients without significant increase in team size — that became a reality only due to the sheer operational brilliance of the man at the helm!

2. The Secret to Successful Delegation

“Review, review and more review”

Everyone thinks they know this. But 90% of the managers fail in delegation because they don’t review at the right frequency.

Assume you are a mid-level manager and you have to groom someone junior. First step is to ensure that skills gaps are covered by training. Chances are you will either end up micro managing OR cutting them loose, only to do a review once in a month and come to a conclusion that the person is no good.

I have been guilty of this. I have seen this being done around me once too often.

Once you have successfully completed Step-1 (Training), follow up with a daily review for the 1st week. If things are going well, decrease the frequency to 2 or 3 times a week. Progress to 1 a week and after the 1st two months, you can even reduce it to once a month.

Sounds simple enough right? But here is where everyone goes wrong. You are not just a Boss. You have individual responsibilities, fires to put out… and despite the best of intentions, you end up skipping one review after another and before long, you are back to blaming the team member for incompetency.

Rahul has a solution for this. Every single one of his team’s reviews is in his google calendar. So they come on like a nasty reminder every day till you learn to delegate successfully

3. Beer solves most problems in life

Yup it’s true… 😉

I have heard more than a few freshers who joined us, later recounting how intimidating they found Rahul in the initial days (at 6’3”, I can’t say I blame them). I have also seen their eyes widening in surprise when an impromptu “throw ball” fight breaks out on a Friday evening and the CEO jumps across the cubicles to escape from retaliation.

When you join an engineering college, there is a rite of passage everyone needs to go through: The infamous ragging. Rahul and I first met each other when we were getting ragged by our seniors while awaiting the college bus (Yup… we were being ragged in a bus stop). Over the next four years, we worked together in various projects (read extracurricular activities that let you cut class). And now we have been working together for nearly 3 years in building the brand Fourth Ambit.

20 years since that fateful day, there are 3 things that still baffle me about him:

  • How does he maintain his optimism in the worst of circumstances? And this is not just “head in the cloud” optimism…it is of the kind that inspires people around him to see a silver lining to every cloud; believe that this is a task we can accomplish; that this is a disaster we can turn around.
  • How does he manage to never lose him temper? Now Rahul is an old hand at FMCG sales… which means that more than a few distributors and sales guys would have seen the “angry young man” version. But in the 20 years I have known him; I have seen him being irritated a few times, but never to the point of losing his temper. Working in a start-up is often like being in pressure cooker which is about to explode. To have the man at the helm hold it together at all times…. It really makes all the difference
  • Does he have a time turner that lets him have more than 24 hrs at work? (No, seriously….)

For many it is an aspiration to be a leader who walks that fine line of being a tough taskmaster and being a buddy you can hang out with while nursing a chilled one. This guy walks that line every day, in style! Cheers Rahul!!

Your Team is always in awe of you.

Happy Birthday!

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Ruby Peethambaran

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I have enjoyed reading and writing ever since I could read and write. I have been told that my words inspire and help people. That gives me the courage to write more.
If my words help you in any way to better your life, I will consider that a blessing.