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What Wonderchef's Saxena learnt from Southwest Airlines' founder

The co-founder of Wonderchef talks about how mentorship helped him in expanding his horizons, and on embracing new technology

Saxena with his mentor and Wonderchef board member Jose Busquets.
Saxena with his mentor and Wonderchef board member Jose Busquets. (Ravi Saxena)

Ravi Saxena is the co-founder and managing director of Wonderchef Home Appliances, an omni-channel premium kitchenware, cookware and appliances company. An alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad, Saxena was former CEO of Sodexo in India, Citymax Hotels, Gloria Jean’s Coffees and Managing Director in Landmark Group. Saxena talks about mentors who shaped him as a leader, and his mentorship style.

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Who do you consider your mentor and why? 

I have been fortunate to have worked with a number of great managers and leaders over the last 30 years. One of the mentors, who stands apart is Jose Busquets, one of the directors of Wonderchef board. Just as I had started working on the idea of creating Wonderchef, the 2008 global financial crisis hit us. In that critical phase, Jose gave me confidence and support with his business insights, and more importantly his belief in me. 

My co-founder, chef Sanjeev Kapoor, has also been my close friend and mentor throughout this journey. Whether it’s a business problem or personal matter, his brilliance, world-view and strength of character has always guided me on the right path. 

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

In 2014, e-commerce was beginning to find its feet in India, with the advent of large platforms and logistics solutions. My co founder and I were in Barcelona with Busquets at his farmhouse for a strategy meet. I was confused whether we should stick to our strengths as a retail brand, or risk going into the digital arena, knowing it would agitate our large distributors and retail partners. But eventually, it became clear that it was important for a progressive brand to be present on digital platforms as well. Not only did we become successful in the digital world, we retained and strengthened all our relationships in offline segments too.

What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work? 

I have been fortunate that I have led as a CEO ever since I was 27, having personally recruited thousands of people. Over 40,000 professionals have worked in the businesses I built. This would not have been possible if I had not learnt the art of mentoring from my first mentor Albert George. He was the global head of Sodexo at the time I joined them in France as a young rookie. He used to say that mentoring begins right from the time we interview a candidate, not even knowing whether we would work together eventually or not.

When I came back to India to set up the business, he advice that I must personally coach every single member of the team till such time there were a 100 people in the team. Now these people have became mentors and leaders in their own right, and created legendary work over the next decade.

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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 wake up at 7 am and do a a mix of weight training and stretching exercises. Then I walk for about 20 minutes, and make sure I do 10,000 steps at a brisk pace over the course of the day. I have put up certain exercise equipment and treadmill on my terrace, as I am not regular at attending gym. Even while travelling, I make it a point to hit the hotel gym every morning. After that I interact with family over a relaxed tea and breakfast, where my daughter, who has her own start-up, often tires me out with a million questions she has about business.

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

My meetings are far more structured ever since the lockdown began last year. I realised the best way to keep the energy going was to interact a lot more with the teams. We began to structure our meetings not only with my direct reportees, but also teams down the line. This helped me share my thoughts and visions more effectively with all levels in the organisations, and also gave us many new ideas and insights from the field. 

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

I have found the ideas shared by Southwest Airlines' founder Herb Kelleher in his book Still nuts after all these years pragmatic, non-preachy and full of practical wisdom. It talk about the process of creating an endearing iconic airline over the years. I have also love the book I had a lot of fun: The Sodexo Story written by Sodexo founder Pierre Bellon. In the book he says, ‘I surrounded myself with people who were smarter than me, and let them do what they do best’. 

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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