In November 2009, after Ashutosh Garg concluded his talk at a conference on entrepreneurship and new business, he was flanked by young aspiring entrepreneurs who wanted to share their business plans with him. Over small chats and scheduled meetings at his office, Garg realised that there were several lessons from his eight years of experience at Guardian Pharmacy, which could help give direction to a larger audience. This set off his journey as an author. “For many first generation entrepreneurs like me, there is no real mentor we can turn to when setting up our own business. We had to make mistakes and learn on the job. I decided to share my learnings through this book with the hope that a reader can find some words of wisdom and not stumble as much as we did,” he opines.
From ‘The Buck Stops Here’ and ‘The Corner Office’ to the yet to be released ‘Don’t Retire: Reinvent, Reboot and Rewire’, Garg has alternated between fiction and non-fiction to keep his passion for business and writing alive. In this interview, he shares some interesting and honest views about his journey as an author and what he attempted to convey in each book
In ‘The Buck Stops Here’, you’ve shared with reasonable amount of detail some self-critical experiences from your career. How much is too much information to share in a book?
First of all, the book didn’t require much research because it was a mere recollection of my journey in the past eight years.
With respect to being candid, how much you share in a book is directly proportional to how secure you are as an individual. While people did come and tell me that I have been unusually candid and self-critical in this book, I believed that it was important to share as much as I could. I want my readers to know that I didn’t have a eureka moment to reach where I am today. I took some good and bad decisions and that’s what made the company what it is today.
What did you unlearn from your professional stint after you founded Guardian Pharmacy?
One, entrepreneurship is a very lonely profession. (Laughs)
Two, I had taken to entrepreneurship when I was at the peak of my career. So, when I started on my own, I had to partake in every role from being a janitor to a CEO, and adjusting to this proved to be a big challenge. In fact, I’ve always felt that my biggest challenge was to keep myself motivated and look ahead, especially on days when things didn’t go as planned.
Lastly, the key learning is actually the title of my book, The Buck Stops Here. During my stint as a professional CEO, I used to think that the phrase meant the final decision and the responsibility of me and my team ends at my table. Later, when I became an entrepreneur, the phrase took another meaning; at the end of every month, it is my responsibility to pay salaries to my employees and ensure there is no delay in doing so. It is actually as simple as that.
Please share five key takeaways from your book.
Write a business plan that you believe in and write it yourself. The first line I wrote on the first page of my business plan was, Build Boots in India. (Boots is a pharmacy chain in UK and Ireland). I am a great admirer of this brand and several other brands and I have spent many hours walking through the aisle of these stores, to understand, observe and learn from their staff. Writing this statement helped me outline the boundaries I wished to work within from day one.
Second, try and keep your funding requirements as little as possible. Understand that once you seek external funding, your whole organisation changes. Even before I founded Guardian Pharmacy, I set aside some money, which I called drop-dead funds. Aside from this, I made some savings, which I invested in my startup. When I reached a stage where I had to seek additional funding, I turned to my family, then friends, and ultimately to PE/VC investors.
Third, whatever HR policies you put in place, ensure that you are also willing to live with it. For example, some of the HR policies we designed at Guardian and followed by me as well were, marking my attendance on the biometric fingerprint reader every morning and evening, paying for all my purchases at a Guardian store without claiming any discounts, flying economy class and staying at hotels listed in the company manual and so on.
Fourth, since retail businesses are primarily cash-driven; how you manage your money is very important. Good cash management involves daily reconciliation (ensuring sales proceeds of the company are banked correctly and on time) and knowing when, where and how your cash needs will occur and knowing what the best sources are for meeting additional requirements.
Lastly, a brand defines your value as a company. So select a brand name, logo, tag line and colours that will convey the correct meaning of your business to
What next, for you?
My second book, Corner Office, took the fictional path and attempted to convey my learnings in the past 35 years. The book is about five individuals who join a company at the same time and their journey through friendship, differences, their personal lives and their relationship with their family. When we are young, we run behind our career and take our family for granted. Later, when we enter our 50s and find the time for family, we realise that they have moved on and we start to go through a process of self-realisation. That’s what I try to bring out in this book.
The next one is titled ‘Don’t Retire: Reinvent, Reboot and Rewire.’ The book talks about how we need to break away from perceiving retirement as a taboo, and channelize our energy and thoughts in the right direction.
What is your advice to other professionals and entrepreneurs who aspire to write but don’t have the time or means to?
I don’t believe anybody who says I don’t have time to write. It’s all about the mindset. When it comes to means to write, if we know what we want to write but don’t know how to structure our thoughts, we can always seek guidance from an expert or a friend.
The key success to being an author is having the determination to start writing and finish it.
A moment of self-realisation
I often used to tell my wife, I work so hard that I tire myself out easily. And she would ask, why are you doing this? And I would tell her, I do it for you and our children. And she would say, no, don’t carry that false notion. You are working for yourself. In fact, we would be happy if you spent more time at home. This was a huge realisation for me.
A memorable moment
Once, when I was travelling in a flight, a co-passenger next to me was reading my book. I turned to him and asked if he would like me to autograph the book. He didn’t believe me at once. He turned to the last page, saw my photo, confirmed that I was saying the truth and then agreed to one. That incident remains etched in my mind!
About the author
Ashutosh Garg carries over 25 years of experience in the corporate sector. After seventeen years with ITC, he quit as the managing director of one of the Group companies and took the entrepreneurial route with Guardian Pharmacy. He is a regular contributor to publications such as Business India and Economic Times. Till now, he has published two books; The Buck Stops Here and The Corner Office. His next book, ‘Don’t Retire: Reinvent, Reboot and Rewire’ is scheduled to be released in 2015.