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Why Acer India's Harish Kohli thinks empathy is a skillset

Harish Kohli, president and MD of Acer India, talks about his mentorship style and why he likes taking short trips

Mentorship is a responsibility I take very seriously, says Kohli.
Mentorship is a responsibility I take very seriously, says Kohli. (Acer India)

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If there's one thing that Harish Kohli, president and MD of Acer India misses about remote work, it is having multiple cups of tea with his wife. Just having her around, even through work hours, felt like they were spending time together, he recalls. However, Kohli is now happy to be back in office. With work routine having come back to how it was pre-Covid, Kohli says decisions can be made much faster with most of the second rung leadership available physically at one place. 

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Kohli has had over three decades of experience in the computer hardware industry – he has worked with HCL, Pertech Computers, and Tata Elxsi among others, before joining Acer India in 1999. Bengaluru-based Kohli is also a fan of solving Sudoku. He talks to Lounge about how he has built honesty into the organisation's culture, why mentors need to nurture their emotional quotient, and about taking short weekend trips to relax.  

Who do you consider your mentor and why? 

It is difficult to choose one person but one of the people who inspired me is Arun Sinha, former MD of Acer India. He worked in the same company that I did earlier. I learnt a lot in the two years I spent with him – for instance about what it means to be in the number one position, and the challenges you face. All of it helped me when I took over. One of my biggest challenges was to deal with peers becoming subordinates overnight. Thankfully, none of them left the organisation. 

One major insight you worked on with our mentor's guidance.

I have lived by the principle that being honest to yourself and to the work you do, makes all the difference in the world. I picked it up from various people who inspired me over the years. 

What it means is that mentors and leaders are responsible for building the culture of a team or an organisation. You must be honest if you want your employees to be honest. As leaders, we are the ones who set the tone for our company culture; all the change we expect to see starts with us. Also, we tend to review team members with emotional point of view. We (shouldn't) forget that they are part of an organisation, and the organisation’s need comes first. 

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

A good mentor is your supporter and challenger at the same time. Being open to various view points and harnessing it in the right direction is very important. Empathy is another strong attribute to have in a mentor. I encourage (colleagues)  to develop emotional quotient (EQ) as strongly as any other skill. Being a mentor is a privilege and also a continuous process which can really shape your mentee’s professional career. It is a responsibility I take very seriously.

What's your morning schedule after waking up?

My day begins at 5 am with meditation and yoga for 45 minutes. This is something I have been practicing for a long time. I enjoy the quiet and peaceful time I get to myself in the morning. This helps me organise my thoughts and activities for the rest of the day. After this, I catch up with my daily dose of news updates and enjoy a wholesome breakfast. I avoid checking on work emails during this time.  

What are some of the productivity principles you follow?

Getting up early helps me plan my day in peace without any distractions. That's the time I write a ‘to do’ list for both work and personal things that need to be done that day. I enjoy striking them out, most often with great force that the paper tears. It gives me happiness to do that, as it means I have done the task well. 

Another thing I firmly believe in, is to not lose control of timing. While quality of work is important, one should keep track of the timing of the said work.

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

One thing I did was to not break my routine of getting ready for work. I also ensured there was an end to my work day, which is usually around 5.30 pm. It gave me time for my evening walk and relaxation. This helped me to stay focused, positive, and complete my work on time. 

How do you unwind?

By taking short weekend trips. The place doesn't matter, it could be in the outskirts of the city but it gives me a break from the normal routine. I catch up on my reading and Sudoku. In fact, I collect difficult Sudoku for such breaks. 

Any book/ podcast would recommend about mentorship and workplace growth?

When I get time, I prefer to read a book. One book that I always enjoy coming back to is Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven. Like the name of the book suggests, if you want to change the world, start by making your bed. Small things you do contribute to bigger successes in our lives.

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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