By CHARLES KUMOLU
You will either find him classy or cerebral in the first 10 minutes with him.Those early moments won’t go without you taking note of any of those distinguishing attributes, if not all. The encounter doesn’t just need to progress further before knowing that you are face-to-face with someone whose knowledge of events, issues and trends are not just generic, but authoritative.
With a multi-disciplinary background that includes medicine, law, insurance and business administration, Dr. Harhhajan Batth has an enriching story any day and you can’t help but feel entertained, informed and reformed as you read his story that began in the land of his birth, India.That was the scenario as this chat lasted at his office, Chellarams Plc. a leading Nigerian conglomerate with interests in many industries. Dr. Batth, who is the President of Lagos Business School, EMBA7 was the Executive Director of Prestige Assurance Company; Chief Manager, The New India Assurance Company. He also trains entrepreneurs for the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
My father was the first graduate in his district in India in the ’30s. Coming from a family of highly educated people, I had no option but to continue on that path of acquiring knowledge. My father used to say that whatever wealth anyone acquires can be stolen, but knowledge acquired cannot be stolen. I started walking in his footsteps of acquiring knowledge right from India. I have four brothers, who are on that path. My children have also acquired multiple degrees in different disciplines and I have told them that they had earned a place at Harvard Business School. Having come from that kind of environment, I am creating such environment within my area of influence in Nigeria and Canada.
I told my immediate staff here when they joined us that they needed to upgrade their qualification. I told them that I was willing to support them if they are starting any project. I also promised to support them financially and provide the time required for the acquisition of knowledge. They all have MBA. I made it clear that I wanted them to acquire knowledge and pass on to others. That is just the best way we can empower people.
Challenged to seek higher knowledge
I’m into selfless service, because of my childhood experience. I had mentors while growing up. My elder brother was my foremost mentor, while my father was the second mentor. I had a distant uncle, who was a very senior civil servant in India. Having learned so much from their mentorship, I decided to repay the society anywhere I find myself. In Canada, where I have a home, I have a Non-Government Organisation, NGO, that assists people.
In Ryerson University, Canada where my son graduated, I am always invited to deliver speeches any time I am around. I do that without charging any fees, because empowering people gives me happiness. I owe a lot to Nigeria. Before coming here, I had a master’s degree and I used to work at Afro-Asian Insurance Company. It is the largest insurance company in India. I rose to Scale Five on the corporate ladder and the highest point is Scale Seven.
While studying for the interview for Scale Five, I was going through a balance sheet when I stumbled on paid-up capital. I didn’t know the meaning and there was no internet at the time for me to have searched for it on Google. I asked and no one could give me an answer. I was challenged by that to seek higher knowledge.
Nowhere in the boardroom
Fortunately, I was seconded by the government of India to work at Prestige Assurance Company in 2001. The first thing I told my Assistant General Manager, AGM, who was studying for his MBA at Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT, Business School was that I wanted to enroll for an MBA. I said I was not just comfortable with my science background ,because I read Vetinary Medicine and Law.
Fortunately, the Lagos Business School had just announced vacancies for admission that year. I sat for the examination and passed. When I was asked why I wanted another degree after the ones I had earlier obtained in different disciplines, I simply said that I just wanted to understand all about the Balance Sheet.
People will find this surprising but as one is growing up in the hierarchy and if he does not know certain things, he will end up nowhere in the boardroom. I was preparing myself for a major position in the boardroom.
I needed more knowledge to understand the economics of the business and sociopolitical environment and how to run the business on commercial lines. After finishing the programme, I just felt like other degrees I had were obsolete. The school opened my brain to new ideas. After that, I enrolled for a number of courses associated with the school. It was an eye-opener for me that there is a lot for everyone to learn. After that, I started the journey of sharing my knowledge with everyone just like Bill Gates said that you don’t become powerful by just keeping your knowledge to yourself.
Currently, apart from the people on my mailing list, there are many entrepreneurs who come to me for mentorship. As they are running their businesses they come to discuss their fears and challenges with me. I don’t just give answers alone. I do that after brainstorming with my colleagues, because it’s always good to have a wide perspective on issues.
Business and life
I have many mentees, who feel I have something that could transform their lives. One of them is Omawumi. Having met Omawumi, I told her to come to my place where we discussed issues and challenges.
After sometime, I discovered that she started implementing whatever generic discussion we may have had in her business and life and there was growth from the point where she met me and where she is today. Whenever she told me about a project she worked on, I always asked if she made money. If she said no, I encouraged her to make money with her projects, because she had not gotten to the level where she would be offering services for free. As for me, I have been so blessed by God that I stopped charging for my services many years ago.
As someone, who mentors people, I don’t just teach people how to prosper but how to improve their lives. Having achieved what people may call success in life, if I fail to pass on what I had achieved to others, that means I am not successful. Bill Gates once said that power does not come from knowledge but from sharing it.
It implies that if I’m a little bit knowledgeable or powerful, I will become more powerful if I share my knowledge with people. Anything I do is free , because God has blessed me. I don’t have to make money with my knowledge. Instead, I use it to perform my personal social responsibility.
There was a time I was approached to speak to students who enrolled at Poise Graduate Finishing School, Lagos. The school was established to give skills to graduates. I went there a couple of times. After delivering my lectures, so many students in the school became my mentees. They were impressed because I shared every valuable experience they needed to grow with them. Every opportunity of growth that I have, I share it with my mentees. Last year, I was approached by the Tony Elumelu Foundation to be a mentor. Perhaps, they got my contact from Linkedin or someone made the referral.
It was on the heels of a report where I was listed as one of the 10 distinguished alumni of the Lagos Business School. Ever since that publication came out, so many people and organisations always contact me for training, which I offer free. Of course, it’s time-consuming but I am passionate about sharing the blessings God has given to me. I dedicate my Saturdays and Sundays to helping people. Many people go to the church, mosque and temple on any of those days, but I dedicate them to answering questions from entrepreneurs and individuals who desire growth. As someone who has received much from Nigeria, I am duty-bound to give back. Also, I’m someone, who believes that if you don’t train people, don’t blame them for not doing things according to your expectations.
I believe in the training and development of my colleagues. I have a staffer here who read Banking and Finance. When she applied for a job, which is not relevant to what she studied, I encouraged her to enroll for MBA three years after. I got old MBA past question papers and gave them to her after which she sat for the exams and passed. I also encouraged her to continue reading books. I buy books not to keep in my library but to donate. If a visitor comes to my house and I am impressed with our discussion , I give the person a book that will be relevant to him. When I donate a book, I tell the recipient to read the book three times, because I believe that anyone who has not read a book three times has not read the book at all. I also encourage people to pass on the books I give them after reading, so that other people will benefit from them. By doing that, we would succeed in empowering many people.
Why I upgraded my skills
When I joined Chellarams, I was needed as General Manager, Operations. I had to upgrade my skill-set. I did a six-month course at the United Nations and that empowered me so much that I changed so many things about the company. I was later upgraded to the Chief Group Information Officer, which implies that I will relate with suppliers and investors. I had to do another course at the School of Media and Communication on Strategies for Optimising Corporate Communication Skills. The point is that when you get to certain assignments and you are not perfect, you would not be able to deliver. As I was getting assignments, I was upgrading my skills, because I believe there is no place for generic skills in the boardroom. Every organisation looks for a specialist. Now that I have the knowledge, I’m not hesitating to share it. My model is that one must give back to a society that empowers him much. If I fail to empower my friends, colleagues and other people in my sphere of influence, it will be unfair. That’s why I believe in teaching people how to fish instead of giving them fish. As we speak, so many people have my pictures in their households, because they feel I have done something that influenced their lives. For instance, whosoever approaches me for a job, I try as much as I can within my sphere of influence to assist.
Acquiring required skill set
Even if an unsolicited application comes, I don’t ignore the person. I tell my friends in other companies, who could possibly be of help. I feel happy when the person gets a job and if the person doesn’t get a job, because of not having the required skill set, I help the person to acquire skills. For instance, one of my security guards informed me that his wife’s nephew was looking for a job. I interviewed him and saw so much gap in his skill set. I recommended some things for him to do which he did. The first thing was for him to enroll at Poise Graduate School which he did. I asked him to use my name to get a discount of 20 percent on the fees, because I do things free for the school. He did other small things I asked d him to do and I got him a job at Woolworths which we have closed down. He called to tell me that he no longer had a job, I got him employed in KFC, Enugu. There is a level he could grow in that company and he kept telling me about it, adding that he needed to leave the job. His thinking was natural , because in a pyramid if someone cannot get to the ceiling, the person just has to leave for a place where he can grow. I gave him some links and he eventually got a job at Chicken Republic. I also recommended him to a new company that just came in and they employed him. Today, he is on a salary of N175,000. His is a journey of four years which started with N45,000 salary. He has not left me since then, because he discovered that I’m very instrumental in his growth. I’m qualified to offer solutions to people, because of my different skill-sets and the different environments and organisations I worked. I often share my experiences with my mentees so that they will learn from my mistakes and triumphs. There is something to learn from every failure. Nobody should crucify himself for failing, rather, it should be seen as a platform to learn and to be careful not to fail again, if a similar situation arises.
However, people should drop the idea of looking for a job of N40,000 or N50,000 after graduating. Instead, they should try to discover what they can do for themselves. All the stakeholders have to play their parts, but an individual must contribute his own quota before asking what the government had done. Nigerians are well blessed, all that is needed is to be patriotic and have confidence in anything about Nigeria. I’m an Indian who lives in Canada and Nigeria but all the clothes I wear are made in India. That is my own way of contributing to the economy of India.