By Parveen Chopra
Ashish Somani,Managing Director, Somani Swiss
We make our way into the conference room of Ashish Somani and ease ourselves into the chairs, glancing around tentatively. The room is free of clutter and has an organized air about it. A few items are placed on a side table across the room, but what makes its presence felt is a small replica of the Indian tricolor that seems to indicate that he is nationalistic.
A few minutes later, the young bespectacled businessman with a well-trimmed moustache walks in, striking a convivial air of informality. Surprise! Surprise! The business veteran with 17 years’ experience under his girdle is all of 34 years young.”I got into business at the age of 17,” he smiles disarmingly.
Before we get down to brass tacks, Somani recounts how he finds it difficult to spend some quality time with his 8-year-old daughter when he returns home late. The little lady, is too busy watching her favourite programmes on the telly! The personal anecdote makes it clear that although he comes from a Marwari family of Rajasthan,India, chanting business mantras 24 hours a day isn’t his cup of tea.
He is the Managing Director of Somani Swiss Industries Ltd, a steel-making and re-rolling enterprise that commenced operations in 1974. Incidentally, the Somani group of companies is one of the oldest business families of India that ventured into business way back in 1696.
But we are here to discover the other side of Ashish Somani. Has he always been spiritually inclined? ”Since I come from a Hindu family, religion and spirituality are in my genes. However, I’m religious more in terms of sanskar (culture). I believe in the philosophy, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’. My family laid great emphasis on character, discipline, integrity, a sense of purpose and in dealing with people in a dignified manner. Dignity of labour is important. Even a mali (gardener) should be addressed as maliji.”
The son of Mahendra Kumar Somani, Ashish was born in Kanpur, schooled in Calcutta and did his B.Com from Delhi University. What are his interests? ”I’m interested in Indian mythology. I have a fair amount of knowledge on mythology and history.”
What’s it about mythology that so arouses his interest? He pauses, taking in the magnitude of the question. ”If you read it with a sense of philosophy, Indian mythology answers millions of questions. When one reads about the adversities the Pandavas faced, it puts life’s hardships in proper perspective. For instance, Arjun had to live as a hijra (eunuch) for a year.Whenever adversity hits me, I think about what the Pandavas went through. We usually tend to think, ‘Why me?’ The exile story itself is a big answer to all questions. It also teaches you that everybody is accountable.”
”I’m impressed by Rama’s sense of idealism. When I’m asked whether Rama or Krishna has been more of an inspiration, I say, ‘Krishna is beyond my comprehension.’ In the Ramayana, the prevailing ethos is ‘Ye tumhara hai’ (this is yours). In the Mahabharata, everyone says ‘Ye hamara hai'(this is mine)! But there’s lots of teaching in the Mahabharata, a lot of neeti (strategy).”
Does he have a guru? ”My guru is from Mathura, India—Dr Vasudeva Krishna Chaturvedi, who’s written several books on various subjects. In Hindi and Sanskrit.”
In what way has his guru helped him? ”Well, one sees a lot of people in high positions succeeding with very little values in life. I once asked my guru about this. He replied that many of these people succeed because they are aggressive. But are such people genuinely happy? While they may be rich, their family life is invariably poor.”
Responsible corporate citizens like the Tatas took over a century to get where they are, whereas some others have achieved the same success within a couple of decades by breaking every rule in the book! Any comments about such disparate role models?
Somani’s response is quick: ”You have to be God’s gifted child to succeed while breaking the rules. It’s like Sachin Tendulkar hitting a perfectly good-length ball for six. If another batsman tries it, he could be back in the pavilion. To that extent, hats off to somebody who can succeed by creating his own rules. However, I wouldn’t like to do the same thing.”
”A good person may or may not get a fair deal in life. But at the end of the day, these things balance out. For example, the biggest problem for a dishonest person is lack of credibility. And the worst punishment for a liar is that he cannot believe anybody else! Honesty counts. A gentleman had once fixed an appointment for me with the Finance Minister. On that day, I completely forgot about it. The next day I called up and told the gentleman, ‘Sir, I’m sorry. I completely forgot about it.’ He said, how’s it possible to forget an appointment with the FM? Couldn’t I give a better excuse? I told him that was the truth. Two months later, he called up and we continue to be friends. To err is human. If you make a mistake, fine. If you repeat that mistake, that’s not good.”
In what way does his spiritual outlook impact on his business life? ”I try to look after the needs of people in the office, believing that if God has given me the means to do something, I should.”
What’s his wife’s outlook on issues of social concern? ”My wife, Shefali, runs an art gallery called Art ‘n’ Soul, which promotes young artists only because she feels anybody can sell big names.”
How does he beat stress? ”I go to the mandir (temple). After a dialogue with God, I always emerge stronger, wiser. I also do the Hanuman chalisa (invocation to the Hindu god of strength Hanuman) in the mornings. And repeat Rama’s name 108 times before sleeping. Yoga and a brisk walk or jog in the morning also help.’
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