3 years

second coming

Reinvention via Recession

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Meet this spunky bunch of professionals who used the recession as a springboard to better things.

How a spunky bunch of Indian professionals have used the recession as a springboard to better things.

How a spunky bunch of Indian professionals have used the recession as a springboard to better things.

The global meltdown has taken its share of victims in the past ten months. But for some, it has been an opportunity to rediscover themselves by responding to their inner calling. Here’s a story of four young people who felt the heat of recession, but saw it as a ‘golden moment’ to reboot their career plans. Of course, it takes courage to take the plunge and start afresh. But it does have its rewards. Switching has been a booster shot of enthusiasm for these young professionals. And guess what? They just have one thing to say, “Thank God! It was recession.”

SUMIT RAY 24

DELHI

Sumit Ray had just done his fifth month in his first job at a private English news channel in Delhi when he received his termination letter in January this year. At the time, he was working as an assistant output editor, and he knew that recession was in the air and the channel’s operations were being downsized. But still, nothing could have prepared him for the blow. “I was shocked to read the letter,” says the 24-year-old, “I never expected my first job to end so abruptly.”

Seven months have passed since. Sumit’s thinking has changed. “Now I thank God that it happened. Had it not been a crisis, I wouldn’t have found my true calling,” he says, with job satisfaction writ large on his face. The Delhi youngster now works as a research analyst and writer for a historical tourism website called goplaces.in. And soon, his tryst with history will also be part of a book that he’s working on.

A post-graduate in English literature from Delhi University, Sumit has always been fascinated by the architecture of the Medieval and Mughal period and characters of that era. “When I completed my post-graduation in English, journalism seemed to be the hedonistic option,” he says, “It is only when I lost the job that I realised that my heart actually lay elsewhere. So, I didn’t even try hunting for any jobs in media houses. Instead, I joined this tourism website. And I have rediscovered my love for history and the passion for writing.”

As part of the first phase of the project, he has been visiting Delhi’s historical monuments, such as the Old Fort, Red Fort, Hauz Khas, Qutab Minar and Humayun’s Tomb. “I love visiting historical places, but I never liked reading about them in books as most of them project history in a very mundane way,” he continues. “Visits to historical places have been ‘easy to forget’ experiences. But my work aims to fill this gap.”

The content that he is developing for the website will be a narrative piece—a mix of facts and fiction from the crinkly pages of history. The book will be a collage of ‘not so famous’ stories from the lives of famous historical characters, speckled with incidents that took place at these very sites over the ages.

Sumit’s pay, at Rs 15,000 per month, is not that much more than his previous job’s, but he’s not complaining. In fact, he says, he is “happy” and “excited” to invest his hours in a job that he is passionate about.

Family support is a big bonus. “I do understand that there is a fair amount of risk involved in this project,” he concludes, “as the website or the book may not do well in the market. Although both my parents had been in government jobs for years, they encourage me to do something unconventional. This gives me the motivation to move ahead.”

KANIKA SETHI 29

DELHI

Eight years ago, when she watched the Jennifer Lopez starrer, The Wedding Planner, Kanika Sethi got a glimpse of her dream job. She wanted to be Mary Fiore, the film’s protagonist, planning such grand weddings in real life. Fiore is a hard-working, beautiful, single woman who makes quite a career for herself as a wedding planner. “It was thrilling to see her handle such wealthy clients so professionally. I dreamt of a similar life,” says Kanika, who spent around 20 years in Muscat before moving to Delhi around two-and-a-half years ago. She had an early brush with the profession, having assisted a family friend cum wedding planner in Muscat on a couple of projects. Moreover, she also had a month’s internship with a local wedding planner in Minneapolis, US, under her belt—while at college, studying the all-so-job-assuring discipline of marketing.

After her graduation, though, Kanika couldn’t escape the logic of a conventional career, despite her inner motivation for something more dramatic. ldquo;After receiving the Bachelor’s degree, a conventional marketing job at Sheraton Hotel in Muscat was the best option that I could have thought of at that time,” she says.

Three years later, when her family moved to Delhi, she took up a corporate sales executive’s job with Wizcraft, an event management firm. “I enjoyed my work thoroughly, but somewhere deep inside, I felt that this is not what I plan to do in my life for long.”

Once the recession began to bite, her company lost a couple of clients, and she had to take a 15 per cent cut in pay. “I realised that this is the right time to take the plunge,” says Kanika, who quit Wizcraft in April this year to be a wedding planner. It wasn’t just a whim. There was a start-up strategy in place. “A wedding has an emotional string attached to it,” says Kanika, “There will be barely anyone postponing his or her marriage plans till the global economy recovers. In fact, this is the time when people would need a wedding planner—who would be able to offer the best deal at a restricted budget.”

Well aware of the risks, Kanika focused on keeping it simple. “I haven’t taken an office on rent and haven’t hired any staff as yet. I want to see how things turn out before I incur any huge expenses,” says the 29-year-old.

In the past four months, she has executed two engagement ceremonies. One of them was the engagement of well-known fashion designer JJ Valaya’s niece Ankita Ahluwalia. “They wanted an unusual ‘get-up’ for the event. So, I gave a European touch to the banquet hall with white and silver makeover ornamented by crystals and candles. Since the concept of a wedding planner is still in its infancy in India, people are ready to experiment with ideas.” Her service fee: 15 per cent of the wedding budget.

“I am extremely focused about my target clients, so I am confident that getting decent offers will not be a problem,” says she. And now that India’s grand wedding season is about to begin, Kanika has bagged five grand weddings already. She’s doing what she loves and has a shrunken pay cheque at her ex-job to thank for it.

SALIM RIYAZ KHAN 36

MEERUT

After playing with words and pictures for over 14 years as a copywriter in assorted advertising agencies, how much more lateral can you go? In April this year, Salim Riyaz Khan let his creative mind take a leap—one that dazed friends and shocked family members, especially his mother. He chucked up his job at Tangerine, an ad agency in Delhi, which was fetching him a monthly take-home of about Rs 50,000, and resurfaced 200 km from Shimla in Sangla Valley, Himachal Pradesh, to set up a coffee shop.

Kya tum ab coffee bechoge (Will you sell coffee now)?” Salim recalls his mother asking when he broke the news to her. She lives in Meerut and is dependent on his earnings. So is his 21-year-old brother, who is studying law in a private college in the same city. His father died four years ago.

“She was worried about my idea of starting a business on my own at a remote location, as there isn’t really any profit guaranteed for some time, or at all.” He invested all his savings of Rs 4 lakh to set up his dream coffee shop.

Salim’s former colleague, Iona Sinha, a director at the same agency, has also quit her job and joined hands with him in his new venture. “It is great to have her on board,” says Salim.

It was the recession that prompted the venture. “The advertising company started feeling the reverberations of the global meltdown, and the inflow of projects was badly affected. Although my own job was not at stake, I sensed a salary freeze and imminent job cuts. In fact, the leanness in work gave me the time to think, and I decided not to spend a single day more in this ad-mad world. The cafe was the only option that I could think of, as it was sparked off by my love for the Himalayas and my fondness for good coffee,” says the 36-year-old owner of Café 42, which is set to throw doors open anytime now.

The name, of course, is taken from Douglas Adams’ cult novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which super-intelligent, extra-terrestrial beings create a gigantic super computer to work out the ‘ultimate answer’ to the ultimate question about life, universe and everything. After millions of years, the computer announces that it’s ready with the answer, and it turns out to be ‘42’. In the meantime, everyone has forgotten the ultimate question.

“As I got more and more disillusioned with my work,” says Salim, “I was looking for a lot of answers. The idea to set up the coffee shop came as the ultimate solution to all those questions, hence it had to be Cafe 42.”

But this is not only about a sole coffee shop in the hills. Salim is already thinking big. “I hope to set up a chain of Café 42s in other offbeat and spectacular inner-Himalayan locations,” he says. Hitchhikers, doubtless, would be only too glad.

ABHISHEK CHAKRABORTY 27

DHANBAD

It was meant to be his big move upwards. Already earning about half a lakh monthly at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) as a business consultant, Abhishek Chakraborty took the bait dangled by Ernst & Young, another consultancy, that was offering him a 30 per cent hike in his take home salary.

“But I never got a date from them to join duty,” says Abhishek. He had already put in his papers and served his three-month notice period at TCS in July last year, ready to hop aboard his new company Ernst & Young in October. But things did not quite fall in place as planned. And Abhishek turned out to be one of the early victims of the global recession, left jobless as he was.

“I could not join TCS back again as they had also started laying off staff by then. But instead of going to pieces, I smelt an opportunity here. I forced myself to get out of the comfort zone, and sat down and revisited my goals,” says Abhishek, who decided to make the most of the crisis phase by launching his own knowledge consultancy firm, Nurture Globe.

But it was not an easy path to take. His father, who is a transporter in the mining town of Dhanbad in Jharkhand, was firmly against his idea of starting out on his own. “My parents thought it was a wild dream to chase. But I turned a deaf ear to them, and I deliberately didn’t scout for jobs. It took me three months to plan out my business and I was fortunate enough to get the support of four former colleagues from TCS who found the concept interesting,” he says, flaunting a business card with ‘Managing director and CEO’ against his name.

One of his company’s projects is to design e-learning material on vedic mathematics. Another is a joint project with BPOs to develop e-course material in foreign languages, including Chinese, French and Japanese.

Besides the newly acquired status of an entrepreneur, Abhishek is also enjoying the money his company has earned in its seven months since inception. “The company was set up with the paltry sum of capital worth Rs 2 lakh, but we are earning average revenue of Rs 70 lakh every month. We will use this money to expand our client base,” says Nurture Globe’s CEO, more than pleased with the way things have turned out for him.