Every morning, Naveen Jindal spends two hours running, rowing and doing cardio exercises and weight training, making sure to burn at least 750 calories. His morning routine and careful diet aren’t just about keeping fit — it’s also about being able to stay in the saddle, and play his favourite game, polo.
The chairman of Jindal Steel and Power Limited, and a former Lok Sabha MP, plays polo four times a week at his farm outside Delhi. Polo is more than just a pastime. “Polo is a team game. It teaches you teamwork and how to strategize and organize,” he says. The game has taught him patience, collaboration and strategy, all attributes that have served him off the field as well. “What you do on the field matters, but your off-field preparation is equally important,” explains the 49-year-old.
Jindal began playing polo 30 years ago at the age of 18. “I was always very fond of horses. When we moved to Delhi, I joined the President’s Estate Polo Club just to ride. I saw people playing polo and was fascinated by it. I started playing and got hooked,” he says.
Jindal has also played polo in the UK and the US, when he studied at the University of Texas. He’s now a regular in the major tournaments in Delhi and Jaipur during the October-March season, recently picking up the ‘most valuable player’ award after his team won the Maharaja Jiwaji Rao Scindia Cup 2019 in Jaipur in February.
Jindal started his own polo team, Jindal Panther, in 1995 as the other local teams told him he was not good enough to play with them. He proudly says he’s built Jindal Panther into one of the country’s top teams over the last 20 years. “This is a game in which you don’t try to excel as an individual but get everyone involved. Everyone in the team contributes and you create a team that works in coordination, plays in a disciplined matter and respects each member. This is a huge learning,” he says.
Polo is a complex sport, requiring good horses, a good team, large grounds and high levels of fitness. The game is also a great leveller, he says. “When you play, you realise that a horse only respects you if you are a good rider; it doesn’t care if you are an MP or a chairman of industry,” he says, laughing. Hubris will leave you face down on the polo ground. “The horse and players only respect somebody who is good at the game. And to be good, you have to spend long hours in the saddle,” he says.
That lesson in hard work which he learnt on the field is one he applies to his professional life as well. “You have to ride a lot, you have to work hard and prepare well,” he says. “Just like one has to in the world of business or politics.” Polo can be risky if you are not well prepared, much like the world of business, and Jindal says he always makes sure his team is ready for any game.
Though he’s always played to win, playing and participating in polo tournaments are not only about lifting the cup. “You have to enjoy your sport. We enjoy the game, even when we lose. It’s a great game, and you make a lot of friends for life through it,” he says.
Jindal is well aware that he’s a role model to many young people both within and outside his company. He encourages his employees to take up the game as well as supports them when they play other sports. He says he also invites employees to watch matches when Jindal Panther is playing.
“A leader should be fit because people do what leaders do, not what leaders say. If you are fit, you inspire others around you to be fit,” he says. “When you are fit you can achieve more, you feel better,” he says.
Pursuit of Adventure profiles CEOs with exciting hobbies that feed into their work.