Why this CEO took a sabbatical after 33 years of working. Tells CXOs to plan it out before doing the same.
Bhavesh had to struggle a lot to go from being a sales executive to CEO. He took a sabbatical after 33 years of continuous working, to cope with a personal loss.
- Hi, I am Bhavesh Sanghvi. I started my career as a sales executive in 1989.
- After almost 13 years of grinding, I joined Aditya Birla Sun Life Insurance.
- Losing my wife to cancer put the whole ‘career’ thing in perspective.
- I decided to take a sabbatical after 33 years of continuous working.
From being a Sales Executive in Mumbai to working in Oman
I have an extremely humble background. My dad used to work at the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) to take care of our family. We had some toughest days but I never lamented over it.
From the age of 16, I started working, be it as a summer trainee at Housing Development Finance Corporation Limited (HDFC), doing market research, selling aerosol sprays on a commission basis, or even acting while doing my B. Com.
The money helped me pay for my college fees.
In those days, if you wanted to get a good job, you just needed a graduate degree. I was fortunate to present myself in front of the right opportunities.
I became a sales executive to sell yellow pages. In 1989 it was extremely tough to sell those, but somehow I did it. In 1990 I also got a job to sell photocopiers in a territory that was mostly barren, but I was successful in that role as well.
In 1992 I got an opportunity to go to Oman and join Bishara Establishment LLC, a distributor for Xerox in Oman. I took it, and my salary increased from Rs 2000 to over Rs 12000 (approx. 147 USD). It was a huge deal for me.
Becoming a CEO...after years of hard work
I joined Aditya Birla Capital in 2002.
The lesson of putting teamwork in place, helped me greatly when I joined Aditya Birla Sun Life Insurance as the Head of Group Business in Mumbai. Eventually, I went up the ranks and started leading the Group Business & Direct Marketing. The group pensions business had 55-60 team members, while the direct marketing team had almost 400-600.
We as a team took that business from Rs 340 crores (approx. $42 Mn) of Assets Under Management - AUM to Rs 4000 crores ($483 Mn). It was a tough business to turn around.
How was I able to do it?
It was all about how we approached it and executed the strategy. It’s very important to get everybody together and align them with your thoughts. I had a great team that stuck with me for all those years.
In 2016 I was made the Executive Vice President & the Head of Wealth Management. In 2 years we took the business from Rs 7000 crores ($850 Mn) of assets to Rs 15000 crores ($1.82 Bn) of assets. We turned the loss-making company into a profitable one.
After all those wonderful years with Aditya Birla Capital, in 2018 I carved out a different path and joined Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd as the CEO of Wealth Management.
Taking a sabbatical after 33 years of working
As much as I was grateful for where I had come in my career, things started to collapse on the personal front.
The last three years have been very challenging. In July 2020 I lost my youngest brother who was very close to me. I am a triplet, so imagine losing your sibling with whom you grew up in the womb. My spouse was also battling cancer at that time. She contracted breast cancer in 2019 and dealing with the whole thing was tough.
In 2021 lost my spouse.
Upon coming across these life-changing events I had to pause, and contemplate. I concluded that no matter how much money I have it doesn’t matter, because I couldn’t save my spouse.
Now I had the entire responsibility of managing the house and my daughter who was in 10th standard at that time. For a 15 and a half-year-old girl, losing her mom was not easy. I needed to let her know that I was and will always be there for her.
Then it struck me, that I had been working for nearly 33 years continuously, and I really needed a break. It wasn’t a difficult decision to take a sabbatical.
My MD at Emkay Global was extremely considerate and sympathetic about my situation. We had a chat about my sabbatical and we parted ways on good terms. I am extremely grateful to them.
During my sabbatical, I just read a lot of books, looked at markets because that’s what I do day in and day out, went on a trip to Dubai with my daughter and used this opportunity to bond with her. I had a good break over the last 5-6 months.
For a lot of people, it’s a difficult decision to take a sabbatical. Thoughts like “How am I going to fend for myself?” may come up. But it wasn’t the same for me.
Today I am fortunate to have a very large house in Mumbai, I’ve created an ecosystem of nice support, be it monetary or otherwise. But if I am told, “You have to live in this one room. Will you be able to sleep peacefully?” I would be able to manage that because that’s how I have built myself up.
I have a lot of confidence in myself, and I know what I do well and don’t do well.
Life after sabbatical…starting on my own
In terms of what I was planning to do after coming back from my sabbatical, there was no thought process such as “I won’t come back.”
People in India have money, and they will always need somebody like me who has 20 years of experience in advising or managing money, gathering assets and looking at markets and so on.
During my break, I found out that I get immense joy and excitement when I do something good for other people. At some point in life, I did want to start something of my own, when the day comes.
And it did, right after I went on a sabbatical.
My batchmates from Columbia Business School had started a small organisation some time ago, and they asked me if I would like to be a part of that journey.
I got on board. In November 2022 I joined Growthfiniti Wealth Pvt Ltd as a CEO with a stake in the business. I am bootstrapping it and set to build a boutique private banking outfit, which will help individuals (mostly mass affluent & HNIs) to invest their capital efficiently. We just inaugurated our first office in Mumbai recently.
Plan thoroughly before taking a sabbatical
I see a lot of CXOs taking a sabbatical but why they want to take it, is personal. It’s all about what you want to achieve next.
You could be in a situation where you have to support your family, kids, and their education, thus cannot just say “I am taking a sabbatical and I am not going to work from tomorrow.” You have to plan for it.
But you’d not be able to do it unless you are extremely confident about yourself. If you are good at your job you’ll always be needed. Everybody is indispensable.