Rajat Khurana was the first employee of ASICS in India in 2012 and he launched the brand the next year. A graduate from a textiles college in Bhiwani in Haryana, Khurana started his career with the Tatas in the textile machinery division at Voltas and after about 9 years joined the Japanese trading giant, Marubeni Corporation, before moving to his present employer, ASICS, another Japanese brand.
Working with Japanese organisations is different, says Khurana, 48, the managing director of ASICS India and South Asia. “I have spent two-thirds of my career working with Japanese companies. The Japanese way of working is ethical and there is a certain strength in the products they put in the market. Japanese brands put in a lot of effort in the designing of a product, so much so that it is more about engineering and R&D to deliver a strong product to the consumers.”
Khurana, who grew up in Faridabad near Delhi, ran his first 10km race in Bengaluru after joining ASICS, because performance and sports shoes is what the brand is associated with. He continues to lead his young team by example as he regularly participates in marathons and shorter races.
“The average age of our organisation is 31 and being active is promoted throughout the organisation. We ask everyone to bring an athlete inside them when they join ASICS,” he points out. Now in its 10th year in India, both the brand and the team have grown manifold with 76 employees and 83 stores pan-India. One such tie-up was initiated even before the brand was launched when in 2011 ASICS partnered with the Tata Mumbai Marathon (then the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon). “It was the right platform for our entry into India as our strength is running products and 50% of our business comes from this category,” he explains.
Khurana speaks to Lounge about drawing inspiration from the ASICS Corp CEO Yasuhito Hirota, how he overcomes that lazy feeling to go on a run, and why buying the right pair of shoes is important.
Who do you consider your mentor?
That one person who has been my true mentor in the recent past is Yasuhito Hirota, Chief Executive Officer at ASICS Corp. I admire how he keeps the teams motivated, finds a balance between personal and professional life as well as has an undying passion for sports. He has given me invaluable advice at different stages of my life which I’ll always be thankful for.
One major insight you worked on with your mentor's guidance?
Under Hirota San’s mentorship, I have learned how to be humble, passionate, and hard-working.
What does being a mentor mean to you?
A good mentor is both a supporter and a challenger at the same time. As a mentor, it is important to be open and welcoming of various viewpoints and harness them in the right direction. Empathy and the ‘Eagerness to Invest’ in others are two important attributes that make a good mentor. I try to encourage my colleagues at ASICS to develop these attributes as strongly as any other skill. Being a mentor is a privilege and a continuous process that can shape a mentee’s career.
Describe your morning schedule?
I’m an early riser. I wake up at 6am and kick off the day with a cup of hot water and a newspaper. Each morning I try to set a fitness goal for myself. This can be a 7km run or a cycle ride… anything that gets my body moving. Sometimes, on a really cold or extremely hot morning, I feel lazy but then I tell myself that I have to run no matter what. After the first kilometre, the runners’ high is incomparable. After the workout, I still have enough time to construct my thoughts, activities, and ideas to achieve my goals. I also make an effort to spend as much time as I can with my family before I start work.
What’s the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?
The pandemic taught us how teamwork makes the dream work. Our meetings and huddles are more streamlined thanks to technology that helped us connect with everyone without worrying about geographies. Interacting with teams on a daily basis has kept up the energy and also allowed an inflow of fresh ideas, and new insights that helped the business grow and thrive.
How do you unwind? Do you pursue any serious hobbies?
I make sure that I get some running miles in my schedule. If time permits, maybe a yoga session or a game of tennis during the day. These hobbies are to rejuvenate and get ready for the next day or week, staying true to the motto of ASICS of having a “sound mind in a sound body.”
What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have improved your professional and personal lives?
I am a goal-driven individual, both professionally and personally, and I like to keep things realistic. When I’m at work, I like to give my undivided attention to the businesses’ needs but once I'm off I make sure that I keep some time aside for myself or my family. Health remains a priority for me, and I believe that sports and movement can lift spirits, and help people feel better… so a workout/sport a day remains non-negotiable. All I require is my long run and a pair of headphones. With this discipline, I can better manage my time.
Running is widely described as an affordable sport; how is it justified when shoes could cost as much as ₹20,000?
Running is indeed an affordable sport, but you can also achieve your goals if you invest in the right pair of shoes. Also, it is a well-known fact that running on hard surfaces without a suitable shoe could lead to back pain, knee pain, and joint pain, which is going to have an adverse effect in the long run. From the beginning, ASICS has continued to develop cushioning technology to improve your performance on the move. Investing in innovations and developing technologies is paramount for us.
Also, not everyone needs to invest ₹20,000 in a pair of decent running shoes. You can pick up a budget pair that can still help you achieve your goals.
Does the Indian market have an appetite for performance products or price-sensitive products?
The Indian customer is sensitive to quality and fitting that is functional — we see the consumer mindset changing from being price-conscious to picking performance products that last long. As a brand, we value both sets of consumers.
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.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness