Why he matters: Anand, the professional, is charming but equally frustrating, whereas Anand, the friend, is empathetic, witty and proper to a fault. Recalling endearing anecdotes, Suhel Seth puts on display the billionaire businessman’s admirable, yet rare, quality to listen and not just hear—also explaining why he nicknamed him Anand Lincoln.
It’s been two decades since I first met Anand Mahindra at some usual, boring dinner. But he stood out because of his quirkiness. The ability to be witty and, at the same time, come across as a man who’s an automatic listening device. There are very few like Anand who, at their level of corporate arrival, have the innate ability to listen and not just hear. Every year, when we were in Davos together, he’d be childlike when discussing a play or a film. And given my Calcutta antecedents, this is what I began to admire.
Davos used to be an eternal party, made so by the likes of Mukesh Ambani and Anand. Every evening was a celebration that had music at the heart of it. Once, driving in their car, I pretended that Mukesh-Nita and Anand-Anu were VIPs, so that we could escape getting off way before the Congress Hall and having to walk on ice. Literally. While Mukesh was quite comfortable, Anand was all appropriate.
Many years hence, the late Arun Jaitley and I were at Jaitley’s home, when Anand’s name came up. Jaitley was quick to dub him “Dandy-Raaja.” But that’s how Anand is—proper to the last blade of hair on his head. Always smiling and always waiting for the next big idea.
It was in 2014, I think, that he asked me to work on some elements. of the Mahindra brand, and I got to see Anand, the professional. Charming but equally frustrating. He ran the Mahindra empire like a confederation, and everyone’s opinion mattered, which can be quite frustrating. It was then that I began to call him “Anand Lincoln” because his entire leadership style, to this day, remains Lincolnian, which is telling of the kind of man he is…
The other admirable quality in Anand is one of empathy. There’s no genuine cause he’s unwilling to fight for, no great idea he won’t back. Few know how much he supported the advent of the Indian Kabaddi League, or more recently, the Global Chess League.
Here’s a personal anecdote: this is one man who takes equal delight in discussing the vagaries of King Lear, as he does corporate strategy. He’s more at home with Kurosawa than with rudimentary politics. I still remember how childlike he was when he invited me to see his new office at Gateway House. It was as though you were walking into a memorabilia store littered with antiquities and some rare books.
But that’s not all… I’ve seen first hand his love and respect for his late uncle, the legendary Keshub Mahindra. He’d always tell me to go down to Keshub’s office and have a chinwag with him. So one day, when I asked him why he never came down with me, he said, “I can’t be as irreverent as you are about the world.” And that’s who he is. Always encouraging and always allowing others to build their own relationships.
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