We meet at a very practical Udupi-style eatery in downtown Bengaluru at 8 am on a weekday. The location choice is hardly surprising; Rajiv Mehta, the CEO and whole-time director, StoveKraft Ltd, is a practical and no-fuss person. Though work doesn’t start for at least another hour, calls have already started. The calls continue while we talk over idlis and coffee and before he embarks on the hour-long drive to his factory-cum-office he has already tackled a fair bit of work. Thankfully, he starts really early and goes for his runs and workouts first thing in the morning, so he is already wide awake to tackle work even before work actually begins.
Mehta, who was among the youngest to head Puma in India, loves running and scuba diving. He considers his former boss at Puma, Martyn Bowen, as his biggest mentor and values discipline above everything else.
The 44-year-old INSEAD management graduate, who took Stovekraft public, speaks to Lounge about being trigger-happy, his favourite podcast and the adventure of listing a company.
Who do you consider your mentor?
Martyn Bowen, my ex-boss at Puma. He was there as a guide and as a shoulder to lean on when it got lonely, chided me when needed, was a motivator when required and, above all, a cheerleader who quietly encouraged me from the sidelines.
One major insight you worked on with your mentor's guidance?
I used to be trigger-happy, sending emails that I’d regret later. Bowen taught me to write emails without a “To” or a “CC,” and re-read them. More often than not, I don’t send those emails after re-reading them. I also used to take offence over how people thought of India and Indians. Bowen opened my eyes to how the West was ignorant of the change that India had witnessed and that their perception was based on a few poor experiences.
What does being a mentor mean to you?
Mentoring is about supporting, guiding, and enabling. If I am able to bring out someone’s potential and if I am there for my colleagues at any point of time in their careers, then I feel that I have been a good mentor.
Describe your morning schedule.
I wake up between 5 am and 5:15 am. I have a litre of water, play Wordle, get ready for my gym or run and I am out of the door by 5:45 am or 6 am. The workout usually lasts for 45 to 60 minutes. After that, I see the kids off to their carpool, have my protein shake, and a small bowl of nuts, shower and leave for work by 8 am. The weekends are for recovery when I either wake up late or stretch and foam roll.
What's the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?
Given the number of calls we used to be on, I have become disciplined in three things: starting a meeting on time, taking notes myself while in a meeting, and also asking someone to record the minutes. This has led to more efficiency just because you do not end up missing the smaller details that might have been discussed.
Any book/podcast you would recommend about mentorship and growth?
Deepak Jayaraman produces a podcast called Play to Potential. It’s a series of interviews with great coaches, business leaders, authors, scientists and experts from various fields who talk in-depth on topics related to unlocking one’s potential as a leader. The format is one long episode with shorter recaps which he releases later, helping you to only listen to relevant parts as well.
How do you unwind? Do you pursue any serious hobbies?
Running and scuba diving are two passions that help me unwind. I take a solo diving trip once a year. That helps me completely recharge. I am a Level 3 rescue diver.
Running has always been about zoning into my thoughts and zoning out the noise.
What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have improved your professional and personal lives?
Discipline and time management. I am very clear that I have to be disciplined in all walks of life, waking up, exercising, dieting, and working. Without discipline, the day gets ahead of you and you lose control. There needs to be a finite time for everything and depending on the impact on personal and professional life. If you are unable to conclude your tasks on time, you have to re-plan the rest of the day to be able to still stay ahead and manage.
Is India a quality-conscious market or a price-sensitive market?
In India, the price-value ratio needs to be lower than 1. This means that no matter what price I have paid for a product, my perceived value has to be greater and thus the ratio is less than 1. A person buying a Louis Vuitton bag takes back status as the perceived value. A Pigeon customer buying a cooker will look for quality and features, both being value, and a person buying a branded pair of sneakers will look for status, performance and quality, all three being value. The moment the perceived value is lower, due to low quality, no performance or any other issue, there is dissonance and the consumer is unhappy.
What is it like to take a company public?
A great adventure. You go through tests every day when you are pitching to potential investors. You have to look deeply inwards at everything that you stand for, everything you have done and all that you want to aspire for. The whole process takes you through highs and lows and eventually you realise that this is like sharing your company with others, but still responsible for not only the company’s well-being but indirectly the financial well-being of several others.