By the time he was a teenager, Sarbvir Singh had lived across the length and breadth of India from Shillong to Bhopal because of his father’s career in the armed forces. The first time Singh found some stability and continuity was when he joined IIT-Delhi in 1988 where he spent the next six years studying mathematics and computer science.
He continued with his studies at IIM-Ahmedabad and upon graduation in 1995, he got a job with and American electrical giant in Hong Kong. Fresh out of B-school and still in his mid-twenties he found himself setting up manufacturing units for his American employers at multiple locations across Asia from China to Japan. “I used to love living in Hong Kong. I was very young when I landed that job… perhaps a bit too young in hindsight… but it was great learning because I traveled to more than 30 cities in China at a time when it was still very raw,” says the 51-year-old who now lives in New Delhi.
His next move was to the CitiGroup in New York as an analyst and portfolio manager before moving back to India in 2004 because “India was at an interesting juncture and also due to my dad’s health.” Singh set up and ran a hedge fund, joined Network 18’s VC division which oversaw investments in Yatra among other start-ups and then moved to JP Morgan. Unable to enjoy working in big firms, he started a boutique investment firm and then his friend and junior from IIT, Yashish Dahiya, asked him to join Policybazaar.
“Yashish [co-founder, Policybazaar] and I are friends since college and he had plans to list Policybazaar. I have been involved in the listing processes of other companies and the most important thing during this time is to focus on the business,” says Singh, joking that his college junior is his boss now.
“When I joined Policybazaar in November 2019, they were already doing well. We doubled down and increased our retail business and started new lines of business which helped us grow our business by about a billion dollars from ₹3,500 crores in 2019 to ₹11,500 crores in 2022,” adds Singh, who says he is enjoying himself thoroughly even though he finds himself working with a big organisation with a headcount of 8,000-plus people.
Singh speaks to Lounge about why employee satisfaction is key to customer satisfaction, why a good mentor must act as a sounding board, and what he looks at while choosing his own insurance policies.
Who do you consider your mentor?
I have never had one person as a mentor but have learnt a lot from many people, including my father, Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and the many entrepreneurs that I have met, invested in and worked with.
One major insight you worked on with your mentor’s guidance?
Customer experience is a key factor that I picked up as being a predictor of long-term business success. I also realised the importance of setting a personal example and walking the talk. The key to achieving customer satisfaction is employee satisfaction, which means fulfilling the expectations of those who deal with our customers and putting their needs first. I strongly believe that our customers can only be happy if our employees are happy working with us.
What does being a mentor mean to you?
A good mentor acts as a sounding board and helps shape the thoughts and actions of the people they work with. It is a thin yet important line to influence but let the person drive their goals and own their outcomes.
At Policybazaar, as we are scaling our business, our leaders need to scale too. I work with them on their personal growth and on helping them create leaders in their teams. I also reiterate the importance of embracing differences in style and temperament with their colleagues yet ensuring that they work together to deliver common goals.
Describe your morning routine.
I begin my day at 5:30 am, followed by 45 minutes of yoga. My office commute is almost an hour so I use the time to plan my day, check the news and make some calls.
What’s the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?
My wife insisted on a daily gadget-free hour with my daughters during the lockdown months. This habit is something I continue to stick with.
Any book recommendations about mentorship and workplace growth?
I have read and re-read Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. The authors have used their rich experience and empirical evidence to deconstruct what really matters in the workplace, shattering several myths along the way.
How do you unwind?
I am a squash enthusiast, and play it with my friends and daughters on weekends or holidays. I am quite serious about squash and work hard to improve my game.
What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have improved your professional and personal lives?
One key principle that I follow is to focus on the important versus the urgent. I make a daily list (not more than 4-5 points) and attempt to cross off each point before I sleep. I am also learning to prioritise my personal goals better by including them in my overall goals. Too often, we end up ignoring those and taking them for granted.
How do you pick your insurance policies?
My objective is to pick the product that provides the best solution for me and my family’s requirements. I ensure that I have adequate protection on both the life (Term) and health insurance front. Given the rising costs of living and healthcare, it is easy to underestimate the coverage needed. I also ensure that the family is aware of all the policies that we have and how to use them. During the buying process, I ensured that I have made all adequate disclosures so that the claims process can be hassle free.
Why do you reckon it's important to compare policies before buying one?
There are a lot of products available in the market. Many of them are excellent products but with different points of emphasis and applicability. A proper fact-based comparison and conversation with a well trained advisor ensures that the most appropriate product is selected. The process also allows you to understand the terms and conditions and ensure that you are buying what you really need.
Monday Motivation is a series featuring leaders who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness