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How Arjun Mohan, upGrad's CEO checks for internal biases

The CEO of ed-tech platform upGrad, on thinking fresh and helping colleagues plan their career trajectory

Arjun Mohan with the ed-tech company's co founder Ronnie Screwvala (left).  
Arjun Mohan with the ed-tech company's co founder Ronnie Screwvala (left).   (upGrad)

Arjun Mohan took over as CEO of upGrad’s India operations last year. An alumnus of IIM Kozhikode, Mohan began his career as a Tata Administrative Services manager. He worked with various Tata Group companies like Tata Motors, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, before moving to the ed-tech sector, where he worked with Byju’s and Think & Learn. Last week, upGrad acquired Talentedge, an Gurugram-based online higher education company, to consolidate the higher education segment. Mohan speaks to Lounge about the lessons taught by his mentors, which have held him in good stead, and how that's influenced his mentorship style as well. Edited excerpts:

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Who do you consider your mentor and why? 

A mentor is a person who pushes me to achieve beyond my limits. I have been fortunate to have accessed quite a few mentors at my workplace, who have not just guided me in my career but have been the reason for my self-development. I have had the opportunity to learn from leaders whose life journeys have enabled me to think differently and have inspired me over the years to become what I have today. 

One major insight/change you worked on with your mentor's guidance?

"You don't know what you don't know!" My mentor would say this to pull me out of my biases and force me to think fresh without rooting on the successful past experiences. We all have the tendency to make decisions basis our successful earlier experiences. His advice was not to do that since the problems of the present are unique and there is hardly anything you can use from the pre-pandemic world experience. With this, he [guided] me to work with new people rather than working with the people I am comfortable with. 

How do you mentor your colleagues at work? 

My mentors have definitely set the bar high for me. Today, when I have to mentor my colleagues at work, the best way forward is by helping them set a career trajectory for themselves and also, by helping them develop the skills to reach where they want to reach. This is also supported with a review of the development from time to time and all along, we do make some tweaks to help them improve and enhance their journey.

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What time do you wake up and what's the first thing you do after waking up? Basically, what's your morning schedule after waking up?

I believe in investing some time for myself every morning in order to have a productive day ahead. I usually wake up at 7 am and love to go out for morning runs, which in a way helps me align my thoughts and to-dos for the days ahead.  

What's the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?

I developed newer/ faster ways to communicate well on Zoom calls and honestly, the impact has been positive — things that took longer initially have now become smooth and efficient. However, there's a flip side to it too, the process is quite taxing and it drains a lot of energy from you. 

Any book/podcast/app/videos you would recommend about mentorship and workplace growth? Why?

Recently, I read Skill It, Kill It: Up Your Game by Ronnie Screwvala. The book shares interesting anecdotes from his life, including his failures and successes. It gave me an insider's view of the invisible skills, which can surely cut years off your learning curve.

Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.

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