Sunday, July 14, 2024

“Challenges Are The Biggest ‘Change And Improve ’Points In Life”

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“Challenges are important to move ahead in life. The choice to take on a challenge is always personal. The question of whether I will be able to overcome it or not will always
be there. The best we can do is to face them head-on and not worry about the result,”
says the man who has become one of the most prominent leaders in India’s
automotive components and lighting landscape.

Vineet Sahni FIEM Industries

He learned the distinction between “people giving respect to a position and people giving respect to a person” while studying in the sixth standard. He then challenged the top student in his class (ninth standard) to surpass him academically within a year and succeeded by topping the tenth Board. He later took on the challenge of elevating his company to become one of the most respected automotive electronics and components companies in India. Presently, he is working towards establishing FIEM Industries on the global automotive lighting map while concurrently fostering self-reliance in India across various sectors where he plays a role. This is Vineet Sahni’s story, as narrated to EFY’s Mukul Yudhveer Singh!

Born in a family of three siblings (including him), he is the youngest in the family. His father, V.P. Sahni, was a highly respected Indian Police Services officer in the Madhya Pradesh cadre, and his mother, Uma Sahni, was an excellent homemaker. “Being the youngest, I was the one blessed with everyone’s love. I also had to work for everyone, bringing them water glasses and running small errands,” he laughs.

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However, belonging to an IPS family, life was not easy for him. Frequent transfers resulted in changes in schools, friends, etc. As his father served in the MP cadre, there were instances of transfers to remote areas, exposing him to challenging conditions!

“In seventh and eighth standards, I attended a school with no student desks. We all had to sit on floors, sometimes covered with cotton rags. There were times when teachers didn’t show up due to fear of Naxalites,” he recalls.

While these were challenges for Sahni, he observed the local population facing even more significant problems. The economically disadvantaged area had people struggling to make ends meet, some even without proper clothing. Ration shops lacked supplies but were crowded with people. Incidents of militants attacking cities and villages, looting whatever they could, were on the rise.

“Such challenges make you realise what you are going through is nothing. There are bigger problems to solve in the world,” he explains.

Like many of us, Sahni considers his father his first idol. However, his father’s actions to help him understand the difference between respect for a position and respect for a person are truly remarkable! Recognising Sahni’s tremendous inclination towards the IPS officer’s uniform and the number of salutes he received, his father had a police uniform stitched for Sahni on his birthday during the sixth standard.

“My father said, ‘Let me take you for a drive in an IPS officer’s official car today.’ We went, and the moment the car left our home, we received salutes from police personnel and regular citizens. We went for round two, this time in our car, but the official car leading us.

Surprisingly, the salutes continued for the empty official car, and no salutes and recognition to them in the personal car. When we reached home, my father asked, ‘What did you learn?’” Sahni was confused, and his father helped him understand the complete practice.

“He explained that people salute the official car because of its position, not because of who’s inside. But our personal car received no salutes because people salute positions, not people,” he said, adding that this was his first lesson about respect, positions, and people.

Furthermore, he advises, “As a CEO, MD, or another CXO, you must learn to keep your head straight and hopes high. These positions are not permanent; but the connections you build will always endure.”

Vineet Sahni’s professional journey
1987 to 1995: Tata Motors, Campusselection via DCE
1995 to 1999: Minda Group
1999 to 2001: Brigtax Motherson
2001 to 2011: Uno Minda
2011 to 2013: Varroc
2013 to 2023: Lumax
2023 till Today: FIEM

First P&L lesson in college

Among the many lessons Sahni learned during his academic life is one where he realised that a person who prepares for success through hard work will always be the most content at the end of the day. He arrived at this insight through an analysis with schoolmates who topped the class on one occasion.

Vineet Sahni with his father IPS VP Sahni

He explains, “There are three types of toppers: those who topped through year-long preparation, those who topped because exam questions came from specific chapters they studied, and those who topped by cheating!”

“The first ones will be the most content because they know hard work has no substitute. The second ones will fall when their luck runs out. The third ones will always resort to cheating, and a day will come when they will be caught, and the world will stop believing in them,” he adds, noting that employees in corporate life and other segments of life are no different!

The knack for prudent financial management is one of the first things every manager needs to master to become a leader Sahni reflects on his early college days, where he made his first profit and loss decisions.

He shares, “There were times I had only ₹10 in my pocket with two to three days left for money to come from home. I could ask friends or family for money or manage with those ₹10. I always, and I mean always, chose the latter. Even if it meant skipping a meal or having cheap roadside food—that’s the choice I made.”

Vineet Sahni sharing his thoughts

Sahni adds, “In the business context today, that ₹10 sometimes becomes ₹200 crore, and those two days become three years; the thought process to overcome the financial challenge remains the same.”

Nothing substitutes hard work—early lessons in life

A lesson he learned when he was 15 years old: Due to the mid-term transfer, he had to change schools when he was in class 9. He could not cope with the change. His rank in class 9 was 35 out of 38 students, and he was given extra classes for being weak in mathematics. It was the feeling of humiliation. Determined to make a difference, he challenged the 9th class topper to beat him in class 10th Boards.

Determined to succeed, he made extraordinary efforts. He studied for an average of 12 hours a day, with no TV time, no outings, and no socialising. This focused and determined approach, coupled with extremely dedicated hard work, made him top the Boards in class 10 with a significant margin. “My name is still on the honours board in the school,” he says.

When asked whether it was just the focused hard work or some other factors too, with a smile, he says, “With hard work, you need the blessings of your elders and a dash of luck on your side.” “I still remember how my mom wore the same saree every day during the 10th Board exams. As the first day she wore that saree, I did very well in the exam. Those are the blessings and luck I was speaking about.

“However, luck and blessings follow efforts!”

Lesser known things about Vineet Sahni
Fav actor: Amitabh Bachchan
Fav movie: Trishool
Fav music: Bollywood Instrumental
Fav singer: Kishore Kumar
Fav actress: Konkana Sen
Fav cuisine: Indian
Fav dish: Yellow dal and rice
Fav drink: Single Malt
Cars or bikes: Both
I drive today: Audi A6, Range Rover, Bimmer
Next car: Yet to decide
Next motorbike: A sports bike

14 clubs in a golf bag

While he played a lot of table tennis and badminton in his school and college days, now his favourite sport is golf. Introduced to him by a close friend during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Sahni is a regular across various golf courses in Delhi-NCR.

(R to L) Vineet Sahni, Rohini Sahni, daughter-in-law Rhea, and son Vyom

“I started playing from my friend’s lawn, and I am a member of the Teri golf course today. This sport, to me, relates best to my professional and personal life,” he says.

Very early in golfing, he had a ‘hole-in-one!’ The average number of years of playing golf for a player before making a hole-in-one is 24 years. Therefore, the lesson: ‘When luck meets efforts—resonance happens!’

He explains further, “As golfers, we carry 14 clubs in our bag. I view this as similar to the skills we want to master to live our lives best. For a typical situation in life, we use our skills to overcome the challenge. Which skill and what combination of skills to use for a particular life challenge depends on the individual (very much like in golf), and hence, the results for each individual vary as per the choices made. There is no perfect formula!

“In a game of golf, you pick a club out of the 14 as per the challenge being faced.” He adds that it is the experience and the knowledge gained by spending hours that help one decide. “Isn’t it the same with the team we pick?” he asks.

“In golf, similar to life, there are good, bad, and lucky shots. Sometimes, you will work the best you can and still not get results. In some cases, you will get results even if the ball hits a tree or lands in a bunker,” he adds.

Sahni’s management and leadership style are not based on the ‘last book he read or the last person he met.’ Instead, he believes that no two individuals can be led in the same manner. “We are all unique, and nature has made us like that. One does not weigh gold, diamonds, and coal on the same scale. That said, gold, diamond, and coal have their unique properties.” “There is nothing so unequal than giving equal treatment to unequal,” he quips.

The dark horse theory is also something he believes in a lot. He has seen more than enough dark horses working in his experience and is sure that these are the “champions” that turn the fates of organisations. The best way of identifying a dark horse, he says, is by looking for individuals who do not say much but are always trying to do more with passion.

He highlights, “I have never let anyone in my management team touch these dark horses. I tell them to let them work as they want to, and not once have they put down my faith.

One more critical experience shaping Sahni’s life is understanding power’s true meaning. Though his dad had taught him how power commands respect, he has, with time, learned all this respect is not ‘true’. “People around you become extra sweet when you are in a position of power. It is always good to go by the gut. Keep yourself grounded and surround yourself with people who are true to you,” he says. Change your course if the people around you are negative.

Sahni adds, “When wanting to explore the truth about an organisation, always speak to people who work at the lowest levels of designations. They will, most of the time, speak the truth. Some people in management positions learn to manage truths in ways that are comfortable for them.”

A touchwood family!

During 1989-90, while working with Tata Motors, Sahni was posted in Jammu. Despite the incidents of terrorism he witnessed, there are some things he did not want to discuss, but he credits that tenure for making him a man of principle and discipline.

“We were working on some projects with the Indian defence forces and hence made many friends in the army. How small things matter and are of the greatest relevance is something nobody other than the Indian army can teach you,” he says. He explains instances where he would talk to his friends in the army and ask them if they wanted him to bring something for them from Delhi.

They would request that I bring fresh vegetables, post a letter on their behalf to their families, and bring some Bollywood CDs. They used to live in subzero conditions, and access to these small things was a luxury,” he explains.

He also credits everything he has achieved so far in life due to his wife’s role. Rohini Sahni, a PhD in Biotechnology, and Vineet have had an arranged marriage. There was a time when Sahni wrote his wife a 10.7 metres (35 feet) long love letter packed in a heart-shaped box with a cassette full of romantic songs.

Sahni sent that to the university hostel his future wife was residing in, and a professor opened the same. “That’s a story for some other time, but we still laugh about that incident!” Rohini runs an educational centre in Delhi where students are taught skills like fashion design, web design, interior design, and more.

He adds, “Rohini is my backbone. You will witness a lot of positive energy if you enter our house. This is all thanks to the chanting of mantras she does and the environment she has created. She has always been my biggest strength.”

Though the couple has one son, Vyom, they recently got blessed with a ‘daughter’ in the form of their son’s wife, Rhea. A professional corporate lawyer, Sahni says his daughter-in-law has come as a blessing in their life. Vyom has followed his father’s footsteps and is working in India’s automotive industry with one of the biggest OEMs in its cost engineering and optimisation team.

Man of many firsts!
Also known as a “man of many firsts,” Vineet Sahni, through his sheer vision and determination, has achieved many things in his career for the first time in the industry. He has led by example by creating a wonderful team.
• Starting self-reliance journey in technology
• Opening international design offices in Asia and Europe
• Global acquisition of two-wheeler and four-wheeler lighting company in just one year
• Localisation of products through greenfield and brownfield manufacturing facilities in record time
• Bringing in new technology to India and many more

Making India self-reliant in lighting

Though many leaders have spoken about India becoming self-sufficient in what it consumes, only a few have given weight to why it should be done. In the latter class, Sahni shares an incident from one of his previous organisations describing why India should be self-reliant. He and his team went to a potential European client for a project, and the timeline given by this company to develop a prototype for this project was four months.

Sahni, understanding what the client meant for his organisation and the nation, hired a European design house to develop the design and prototype of the project. On his flight back to India, he recalled and shared something that struck his mind, and he said to himself that this project’s success should not depend on one single design house. Hence, he told his team to start working on the same and also requested a professor from one of Mumbai’s premier institutes to work on the prototype.

“Four months later, we were at the door of the European client. At the last minute, this design agency told us the prototype was incomplete due to a last-minute glitch. None of us knew what to do at that moment,” Sahni says.

This professor that Sahni had met during a train journey in India had developed a prototype, and Sahni was carrying the same with him. He handed over this prototype to the European design agency and asked them to show this to the potential client as their work (European design housework).

“We got the project, but, more importantly, what we got was a lesson that though we could develop a lot in India, we still lacked the courage to present it as developed and made in India. We started the Self-Reliance Cell in 2008-09 in our organisation and have not looked back since then. I do not think there is any further example required to prove why we need to be self-reliant and, more importantly, confident about what we can achieve in India,” he says.

Today, his present organisation, FIEM, is making India self-reliant in lighting, but Sahni says there is much left to be achieved on that front. The thoughts of retiring had crossed his mind once, but not for long.

“Retirement thoughts crossed my mind, and stayed there for about 24 hours before I was working again,” he says, adding that there is no retirement for him! Next, he wants to help India develop talent, especially in engineering and new technology.

Also, he has set a new goal for himself, on completion of which he intends to invest in a sports motorcycle. Though he drives an Audi A6, a Bimmer, and a Range Rover, he also sees himself investing in a superior car pretty soon (as a reward for himself on completing a goal, probably)!

Mukul Yudhveer Singh
Mukul Yudhveer Singh
Mukul Yudhveer Singh is an Editor at EFY. He’s an experienced business journalist who is both an enthusiast and a cynic of technology. Believes in data, as well as hunch-based journalism. He defines journalism as- reporting facts which help the audience take their own decisions, not ones that influence them!

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