I really enjoyed my conversation with Vineet Mehra who is the Global President of the Baby Care business for Johnson & Johnson (J&J). As a fellow Canadian, it’s always a nice bonus to hear the story of someone who started their career in Canada. Vineet now oversees a massive global business at J&J. There’s a ton of practical and useful advice in this conversation and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. These are just a few of the highlights from our chat:
Grew up with a Tiger Dad (not mom). Strict upbringing where his parents had incredibly high expectations of him.
- Got into the packaged goods industry in high school when his entrepreneurship teacher told him about a company called Procter and Gamble. He then went to the high school career services office to look for the Universities where P&G hired.
- One of his first business endeavors was selling candy in high school at an 80% margin. That was probably one of the first signs that he was destined for business and the packaged goods industry.
- Never planned to be a lifer at P&G. P&G was an incredible training ground but he always had the curiosity to look at different points of views.
- Lived in 11 different homes in the last 13 years. If you have plans to run a global company, you have to be willing to work in multiple regions and it’s incredibly important to have a life partner who is willing to support that.
- Vineet and his wife lead a dual track career and both incredibly busy but they keep their life organized using a shared calendar. This is something I’m hoping to get my own wife signed for but she never accepts my calendar invites.
- Bloom where you’re planted.What this means is, wherever you land, make sure to kill it. Accept the challenge that you’ve been given instead of always thinking three steps ahead.
- Curate the village – you can’t do it alone and it’s important to build the right team around you in order to be successful.
- On giving advice to his 25 year old self, he would recommend learning to live with losing from time totime. Lose with grace and don’t take those losses so seriously.
- On rituals or routines, if he’s in town, he will make sure that he has dinner with his family.
- He lives in a clutter free life – no filing cabinet and doesn’t keep paper around him both in the office and at home. This enables him to think clearly.
Hope you enjoy listening.
Ray Cao is the CEO of Exact Media. We’re transforming the world of direct mail by enabling advertisers like P&G and Pepsico to distribute product samples and coupons through a vast network of e-commerce and omichannel retailers.
Vineet: He actually took $50 out of his pocket out of his pocket one day and said, “Vineet, I want you to go and start a business with this money”. And this is where the next day I literally…there happened to be a candy convention happening at the Metro Convention Hall in Toronto that weekend. My mom sort of took me in her car. I had 50 bucks, she added 100 bucks to the total because I had no money. I was an Indian kid that wasn’t allowed to get a job. I had to just work hard in school. And I had 150 bucks and I literally went and bought this lollipop from a lollipop vendor, all these piña colada, strawberry daiquiri-type lollipops. I bought the whole stand, I came to school the next day and literally put that in the hallway beside a desk and sold them for, like, an 80 margin.
Today’s guest is Vineet Mehra, President of Johnson & Johnson’s baby care division. Vineet’s story is pretty interesting. He grew up in Canada and got his start in marketing and sales, just as you heard, selling candy at his high school in grade 10. Vineet covers a lots of important points in this interview, sharing some of the tactics he used to raise a family in a household where both he and his wife have equally demanding careers in marketing. My biggest take away from this interview was his point around success being independent on giving more than you take. This aligns closely with my personal values and one of my favorite parts of the discussion. There’s so much he covers here, so might as well get to it. Without further ado, here is Exact Media’s CEO Ray Cao interviewing Vineet Mehra.
Ray: So, Vineet, thank you so much for doing this interview with us. I’m just gonna kick it off with something pretty easy and dating back to probably a few years ago, but what do you remember your childhood being like? You know, what were your parents like, how do you remember growing up?
Vineet: Yeah. So, my childhood was the classic sort of first-generation Asian childhood in Canada. So, I was actually born in India but family immigrated to Canada. My dad was a doctor and had the classic sort of journey back to Canada, re-doing medical school and kind of finding his way back into practice in the hospital as a pediatrician. And so, I was raised, you know, with very sort of mixed ideals. At home, it was an Indian home with Indian cultures and values of working hard, you know, getting great grades, putting as much effort into everything as you can. And then you get out of the home…and actually didn’t spend most of my life growing up in Oshawa, Ontario, which is a very blue-collar town, going to school with a bunch of kids that didn’t really look like me or came from the same place that I did. So, a really fascinating dichotomy of a childhood of that sort of classic sort of stereotypical Asian first-generation home. And then you leave the home and then you’re in Oshawa, Ontario, you know, in a school with a lot of people that don’t look like you. And it’s constantly bouncing and navigating that dichotomy as a child is what I really remember.
Ray: Do you remember how that childhood of being in Oshawa with people obviously looking different from you, how that defined or left imprints in you that have probably shaped who you are today?
Vineet: I mean, it forces you to be sort of agile. You know, I’m sure as we go through the conversation, you know, I’ll tell you a little bit about my career and how international it’s been. But I think it forces you to be agile, to adapt to whatever environment you’re in. You know, when you’re at home, you’re playing the role of that sort of good sort of Indian son. You go to school and you have to now integrate and amalgamate with a totally different set of people. And so, you know, you take the…you develop agility and you take the best of all the worlds that you live in. And I definitely feel like it shaped a lot about what I believe, you know, my values, the agility and sort of the mix of ideals. I don’t think there’s one right way to do anything per se, you know? I think there’s many ways, you just got to pick one that deals the best for you. And it’s really kind of figuring out in all that who you authentically are, what you believe. It sort of forces you to that place because if you don’t have a good sense of yourself, the different worlds will really take you to different places.
Ray: Vineet, you know, I had a tiger mom. I guess it’s something that they call a Chinese family, so I don’t know what they call the Indian family, but certainly… I guess my question is, what was it like telling them that you were going into the world of marketing instead of, you know, engineering or being a doctor or a scientist?
Vineet: Yeah. Look, I definitely didn’t have a tiger mom. I had a… You know, my mom was the heart of the family. I guess I more had a tiger dad. And you know, all of these things really shape you. So, my story was interesting. I remember it vividly. I was in grade 12 or 11, choosing my grade 12 courses and at that moment, I chose not to select sort of advanced physics in my electives in my course curriculum. And in that moment, my…that’s sort of when it became real for my parents that I wasn’t gonna go the route of, like, the doctor or the engineer, because that was basically one of the required courses to get into those kinds of programs in university. And so, on one hand, you know, I think they were extremely disappointed, didn’t quite sort of understand because of where they came from. But on the other hand, you know, I think they’d seen me through my sort of high school life experimenting with businesses, loving my entrepreneurship classes, things like that. And so, I don’t think they were totally surprised. But it definitely, let’s say, wasn’t an easy day when I was choosing those elective courses for grade 12 in OAC in Oshawa back then.
Ray: Did you have any siblings to take off that pressure?
Vineet: Yeah. So, I have a… So, you know, adding to all this, I’m the oldest member of our family. So not only was I first generation, I’m the oldest out of my siblings but also all the cousins. And so, you can imagine that when you’re the oldest one, you’re sort of breaking a lot of the ground, choosing everything first, you know: first girlfriend, first one to not choose physics in OAC, first one to go out with friends for a late night out, you know, all of those things. And so, I didn’t necessarily have a sibling to sort of break the ground for me. I guess I was the ground-breaker. But I did have a sibling following me who actually became a surgeon at Yale today. So let’s just say my parents don’t exactly understand what I do for a living but they definitely understand what my brother does.
Ray: And so, what did you end up doing in college?
Vineet: Yeah. So, I actually ended up going to Wilfrid Laurier University, you know, a great business school in Waterloo, Ontario and had a great experience. So, I did a business undergrad. I minored in psychology because I was always kind of fascinated by the, you know, psychology of people, of humans. And that probably had a lot to do with how I grew up and trying to understand different things all the time. But had a great experience over four years of my undergrad at Wilfrid Laurier.
Ray: Is that what led you to P&G, is the place where you first started after school?
Vineet: Yes, it’s an interesting story. When I was in high school, that’s sort of where my love of business started. I had this entrepreneurship professor. I remember him to this day, his name was Mr. Zuli [SP]. And you know, he just absolutely got me into the realm of entrepreneurship and then later, I had a marketing class with him. And he had always told me about Proctor and Gamble. When he saw I loved this, you know, he used to tell me about P&G. I’d never heard of P&G, you know, I was a grade 10 kid sitting in Oshawa with parents who knew very little about this space. And you know, as I started to go through school, basically, the way I selected my university was instead of selecting it based on, like, rankings and things like that, I actually went to the career services departments of all the universities I was selecting and literally went through the hiring stats of which companies hired who out of which, you know, school. And P&G had a huge hiring program at Laurier and I essentially chose Laurier based on career services stats for that one company, is what I really did.
Ray: I didn’t realize that people actually [inaudible 00:11:19]. So, it sounds like it actually came in handy.
Vineet: Yeah, I’m not sure many people do. But you know, it’s amazing how the right teachers have the right impact on your life, you know? This one teacher actually… I’ll never forget. So, I was in grade 10 taking an entrepreneurship course. He saw my love of the course, he saw my love of sort of the program and business and how it worked. He actually took $50 out of his pocket one day and said, “Vineet, I want you to go and start a business with this money”. And this is where the next day I… There literally happened to be a candy convention happening at the Metro Convention Hall in Toronto that weekend. My mom sort of took me in her car, I had 50 bucks, she added 100 bucks to the total because I had no money. I was an Indian kid that wasn’t allowed to get a job. I had to just work hard in school. And I had 150 bucks and I literally went and bought this lollipop from a lollipop vendor, all these piña colada, strawberry daiquiri-type lollipops. I bought the whole stand, I came to school the next day and literally put that in the hallway beside a desk and sold them for, like, an 80 margin.
And that store just grew and grew and grew to the point where, you know, I had a Costco membership card, I had like a candy store in the school and it became a profit center for the high school and was a big part of, you know, starting my love of business. But this is the guy who sort of founded that love, put it in me, kind of saw that skill I had, told me a little bit about P&G and from there, I chose a university and off we went.
Ray: What do you remember about those first few years at P&G?
Vineet: You know, P&G is an amazing place in that very, very early in your career, you…at least at that time, right, that I can speak to, you got great accountability and ownership, right? So, I remember I actually started as a rep. I was on the roads, right? I had my little territory. It was a time when independent drugstores still existed. Everything wasn’t consolidated. One of my first accounts… And I think these guys have closed down. One of my first accounts was Honest Ed’s in Toronto and my job was literally to go and meet the buyer of health and beauty at Honest Ed and sort of grow my business. That was my company, that was my business, you know, through our brand. And I think my biggest success came…I don’t know if you remember, Honest Ed had that birthday party he held every year where he, like, had crazy sales in the store. I basically got our brands, like, all over Honest Ed’s birthday party and killed my sales targets. And you know, from there we went. So, I guess I owe a little bit to Honest Ed in some way.
Ray: Was the plan always to go into marketing after sales, or did that just happen sort of naturally and opportunistically?
Vineet: Yeah, it was all sort of the plan. But you know, I just felt like you had… Ultimately, marketing is about selling something and you know, in markets like Canada… Remember, at this stage, I had no idea where my career would take me. I was starting out, I didn’t really have a plan at that stage. But I just knew that starting in sales could never do me wrong. You know, the retail environment in Canada is always such a big part in being successful. It’s so consolidated and you know, that was the plan. But I always knew that at some point, I was gonna shift my focus into marketing. And frankly, I’m glad I started sales, because I think that’s sort of the foundation of a lot of what I learned today.
Ray: One of the things that I find interesting about your career is, you’ve not only been at one company, you’ve been in multiple and you haven’t been in just one geography, but you’ve worked all over the world. Why has that been something that you’ve done throughout your career? Was it, again, opportunity or did you always just have that curiosity of being, you know, that doing business all over the world?
Vineet: Yeah. You know, it’s about a couple of things. I mean, I think it’s multiple companies, but what you have to do is make sure that you know, it’s…you’re not moving through them too quick, right? And so, I was at P&G for about almost eight or nine years and so got a really strong grounding there in both sales and marketing. You know, with P&G, I worked in Canada, India and then Singapore and so, got a really sort of broad experience that, you know, thanks to P&G and sort of the belief they had. But you know, those were the very early years of my career. And then from there, you know, family life starts. You start to make career choices not just on career, but you know, you get married, you think you wanna start a family, so you move back to Canada. And sort of, you know, I’d say it’s been not entirely by design. Sometimes your personal life dictates your career choices and sometimes your career choices dictate your personal life. But I’d say the common thread has always been, as you said, just wanting to learn, willing to take risks, you know, willing to take the assignment no one else was gonna take because it was because it was either too tough or too hard to move or all those kinds of things. I think last I checked, I think my wife and I have lived in something like 11 houses in the last sort of 13, 14 years between us. So, it’s… You know, you have to be willing to do that. But I guess there wasn’t one reason, right? It’s sometimes the personal life took you somewhere and sometimes the career took you somewhere. But it’s about making sure that each move is accretive to the last and that’s something we were able to navigate pretty well throughout the career.
Ray: You mentioned that you were at P&G for nine years. And when you look at a lot of the people who start off at P&G and spend that much time, they typically become lifers. You know, I noticed that you’ve changed from P&G to General Mills and Novartis and obviously a number of other opportunities and places. Why did you decide not to become a lifer at Proctor?
Vineet: Look, Proctor is an amazing company. It’s obviously got some of the best leaders and people in the world. But for me, right… And everyone is different, so to each their own. But for me, Proctor is a place that is a promote-from-within company. And at some point, you know, for some people, you start to realize that there’s got to be also other ways of doing things that are really right. And so, that’s what it really was for me. It was just this curiosity to just keep learning, not just from Proctor, but at other places, how other people think about things, what are different ways to solve problems. So whether that’s in a company or geographically or in a category. You know, I think each category had a different way to solve a problem. Each country I lived in, you know, people approached problems differently and team building and leadership differently. So, I think it’s…it was never a question about being a lifer anywhere for me. I don’t think that was gonna happen for me, no matter where I started, because I think just that curiosity to just always figure out different points of view and ways to do things differently was something that I valued. And so, I guess it was written in the stars that I’d have a career like that, no matter where I’d started.
Ray: I’m going to change channels a bit, just on the personal side. You mentioned that you and your wife had lived in many places throughout, you know, the many different places you’d worked in. How do you manage that, you know? Was it an easy conversation to convince your wife to move from place to place? Was she also looking to move from place to place? What was it like to make those sorts of decisions as you switched from city to city?
Vineet: So, look, it’s…these are never easy decisions. And I can tell you that, of course, it’s important to find the right life partner in general, in life, as a rule of thumb. But if you’ve got aspirations, right, to have a truly global career, to be a worldwide leader one day… And you know, that can change throughout the course of your life, but if that’s something you have, finding the right better half for yourself is absolutely critical. And I can tell you, I don’t think I did it consciously, you know, I wasn’t smart enough. But you look back in hindsight and you go, you know… The kinds of conversations my wife and I, or girlfriend at that time, were having about how we wanted to live life, our goals, our personal goals were something that were really foundational to establishing a relationship for us. And because we sort of kind of started that, you know, as we formed our relationship, as we kind of have gone through life, that part of it has never been a surprise, that we wanted to live on the global stage, that we wanted to experience the world. These are just commonalities that we had foundationally, from the start.
And so, a lot of times when people ask me for advice, you know, having the right second half as your partner through life, not just sort of emotionally but also sort of to achieve each other’s long-term goals and visions, are absolutely critical. And so, that’s sort of a foundational element that we had, number one. But I’ll tell you, the other complication was…is that, you know…and I don’t think we’re so different than many couples in our generation, which is, we’re a true dual-career couple. And careers are equally important to both of us. There is no difference in sort of what we expect out of ourselves, in terms of our careers, and the part of our identity that it forms. And so, that does even make it tougher, right? So, you can have someone that’s supportive and all of those things, but then the second aspect comes in and it you know, you’ve got to create moves where both of your career identities and goals are fulfilled while you’re moving. And that’s actually the toughest part. You know, probably a conversation for another day, but I think there’s a lot of talk about, you know…about sort of career challenges.
I think the one thing that’s not talked about enough right now…and my wife and I are desperately trying to become a model of this, although we’re not all the way there yet, is how to build dual careers in a generation where that’s absolutely critical. And I think so far, we’ve been successful at that. So for example, I actually met my wife in Singapore. We’d both worked at P&G. We came to Canada and my wife was able to get a great role in Canada at GSK. We moved to the US, GSK transferred her to the US. You know, we went to Switzerland and my wife got a great global role at Logitech, which is a consumer electronics company. And it’s just sort of fortuitous, right? She got a global role in a consumer electronics company because she had lived all over the world, so it kind of set her up for that role.
And then, you know, we moved back to the US and she got a great role at Samsung and she’s now, you know, leading a part of the wearables business for Samsung here in the US, but that’s because of her consumer electronics experience in Logitech, combined with her packed goods experience. So, it’s just like… And again, I wouldn’t say we were totally deliberate in exactly how that was planned, but what we definitely ensured was that no move, you know, was orchestrated without a clear plan of attack for the trailing spouse. And that was very deliberate. That was a very deliberate choice. The last thing I would say to you is, it helps to have a brilliant wife or spouse or partner. I mean, Lila, my wife is just absolutely a brilliant marketer. She’s one of the best at what she does. You know, anyone who meets her instantly says, you know, “I wanna hire you”. And so, you know, that also works in our favor, which is we have the right networks. If we can get her together, work to get her the right kind of interview or meet the right people, there’s a good chance that she’s gonna sort of land a role that’s accretive to her career. And so, again, none of this is on purpose, but a lot of those perfect elements have to come together. And we’ve been really fortunate, we’re very thankful, you know, that we’ve been able to collectively build our careers.
Ray: It sounds like a set of shared values is crucial to that, right? I mean, if you wanted to travel and she wanted to stay put, that would have created a conflict that just would have made hard things harder to work out, right?
Vineet: That’s exactly right. It’s about those principles and values. And having that as the foundation of our relationship is the starting plan because without that you can’t do anything. And then the rest is about network, skills and capabilities. And that builds off of that.
Ray: In your role today… I mean, I think in the last few years as well at J&J, you have a global mandate. And I think you and I have talked a bit about this in Canada earlier this year with the amount of travel that you have to do. And now that you’ve got, you know, a family and wife back at home, what sort of regimes or what’s sort of the way that you use to manage your travel schedules so that you can do things you need to do on the road and while you’re away but also still try to make it work back at home?
Vineet: Yeah. And I’ll tell you, this is something that I’m definitely learning. This is the next stage of my sort of career and personal life sort of coming together, you know, and also with a family unit. I’ve got a two-year-old boy. And I definitely wanna be deeply involved in this life, you know, wanna be at all the right events and things like that. And I think so far, so good, but it’s taken a lot of changes. So, just the way I work has really changed. So, let’s talk about even when I’m at home. You know, I’ve really shifted my schedules, right? So, I used to be a night hawk, you know, stay out late, go to work a little bit later and just work all night if I had to to get things done and to kind of achieve the goals that we had set out for ourselves.
You know, I’ve actually shifted my schedule. I’m now a morning person. I’m out of the house by 6:15 or 6:30. I’m sort of sitting at my desk before everyone else because now, I’ve got a dinner date at home that I absolutely have to make with my son and my wife. And you know, those are sort of the… The whole schedule just shifts left if you know what I mean, to be much more kind of early, because you know, at three years old, he’s got a pretty diligent bed time that I I’ve got to get home at dinner time for. So, that’s pretty clear. In terms of global travel, you know, I tell you, it’s underestimated, but our sort of executives, sort of assistants, the people that help leaders organize their lives at work are absolutely critical. And you know, I’ve just got someone with me that is absolutely amazing, plans out my travel calendar 12 months in advance. So, it’s really about sort of integrating calendars. So, I’ve got such a detailed travel calendar for 12 months, I look at how those intersect with, you know, my son’s key events, when’s a parent-teacher night, when are those kinds of things. I’ll, like, be shifting those around.
My wife and I often work off of one calendar, right, that’s connected to this whole… It’s like an equal system of calendars, I would say. And so, getting really good at sort of your family management routines, right, at 12 months in advance, as you would at work, it’s a very similar skill to the family life that you then apply, especially when you’ve got a pretty aggressive dual-career family like my wife and I do. There’s no other way around it. You just gotta plan and have great routines. And calendar integration is the only way to do it and a great, you know, team of people behind you that help you and support you with it.
Ray: Sounds like you’ve got a good system. My wife won’t accept any of my calendar invites, so I’ll have to find a way to just get some advice from you. Just switching back to your career. I mean, I look at everything you’ve done up until now. You know, looking outside in, it looks as if you’ve had a pretty perfect career and haven’t really messed up on anything and you’ve, you know, climbed up very quickly. But were there any moments that things didn’t work out? You know, for example, you didn’t get a promotion that you thought you should have gotten, or you royally screwed up on a project and thought, “Oh my goodness, I’m gonna get fired for this?” Is there a side to Vineet where he’s actually struggled a bit?
Vineet: Yeah. I mean, look, one of the biggest pieces of advice I got pretty early in my career was sort of being responsible for your failure. And sometimes, those failures are personal failures, right, that impact your work, sometimes you’ve made bad choices. And sometimes, you’re at work and you know, sort of made a bet that didn’t pan out. And I think we’ve all had those. You know, in terms of career planning, there’s probably a company or two where you kind of go, you know, “I chose that company on a certain premise that actually ended up being incorrect”. And sort of, you go, “Okay, how do I turn this sort of dilemma into an opportunity?” And I think being responsible for your failure doesn’t mean you sort of wallow in the bad choice or the bad decision you made. I think it means… being responsible for a failure means you on the failure and you go, “Look, I made a bad call, but you know, being responsible also means what am I gonna do about it?” And so, you know, some of those kinds of things have happened.
You know, in other situations, you go to a new culture or a new country and you’re a 29-year-old VP of Marketing for Europe, you know, on a leadership team with grizzled general managers of their clusters who’ve been working and grinding through Europe for 25 years. And you sort of…you take your first three months and you learn, you figure out how to relate in that situation and you just pivot. So, I’d say I don’t look at them as giant failures. What I’d look back at and go there’s just been sort of micro failures all along the route. And being responsible for those micro failures means you sort of make sure they stay micro, right? You catch them, you sort of pivot out of them and you turn it into something that’s good.
I think where sometimes where people go wrong is, they don’t feel responsible for it or they don’t recognize it and those micro failures just become, you know, macro, giant failures. And so, I think that’s why I really look back, is so bad choices, bad business decisions, bad hiring decisions, things like that that I’ve made. You own it and you just quickly address it and don’t sort of sit on it and let it become bigger than it should be, is really the way I’ve looked at it.
Ray: What role, or maybe even city…because you’ve mentioned the whole clash with European culture and such, would you say was most challenging as you look back?
Vineet: Yes. Funny how the most challenging roles actually become the ones that you know, you… end up becoming your favorite roles, right, in the end, as you start to navigate through it. You know, the most challenging role for me so far was definitely, I had a leader that really believed in me. She took a chance on me, sent me to Switzerland and said, “Hey, create a, you know, a marketing function for Europe. Move to Switzerland and go make that happen”. Meanwhile, you’ve got like a 29, 30 or almost kind of 30-year-old kind of kid moving to Switzerland, you know, being asked to create and integrate a 300 or 400 person marketing organization across, you know, 50 countries and turn it into a legitimate consumer function for the business.
And you know, that was super challenging, right? That hadn’t existed before, I didn’t know the markets, I didn’t know the culture, I didn’t know the people. I had actually basically been asked by the CEO to sort of land there, but… you know, they’d interviewed me but none of them really knew me very well. And it was an internal move so it wasn’t a totally new company for me, at least. And I think that’s what sort of got me through it. I understood how the company worked, I understood how to get things done. But a lot of challenges in terms of establishing the need for, you know, a marketing function in Europe that was sort of regionally driven, proving that there was value to be had. So, not just creating a regional function for the sake of it because you were told to, but creating a regional function because it’s gonna add value back into the markets and into the business where, you know, our consumers are. And then, you know, lastly, just building those relationships, right, with people that…and just sort of in a team that are 10, 15 years, you know, along their career further than you. And making sure that you stay humble and willing to learn along the way because, you know, you never know anything and making sure that you’re very open-minded about that was key to overcoming some of those challenges. But that was a tough one, definitely a very tough one at that time.
Ray: So, that was at Novartis, right? Was that your role there?
Vineet: Yeah, it was. Novartis Consumer. Yeah.
Ray: You know, you talked about challenge and people and such. If you were to look at, maybe even the original class of people you started at Proctor with and the people who you’ve hired and worked with, would you say…what would you say would be some of the common traits of the people who’ve done incredibly well and advanced quickly in their careers? And what would you say are some of the common traits in people who may not have moved as quickly?
Vineet: You know, for me, it always comes back down to a few things. And let me just caveat this by saying that, you know, not everyone…everyone’s sort of quick and everyone’s sort of goals are different. And so, I think…you know and the career that I’ve had, living in so many countries, in so many houses and all this kind of stuff may not actually be aspirational for everyone, right? But it’s first getting a sense of… I think the people that have had really successful careers kind of first start with defining what a successful career means to them, right, that they don’t just take the path that everyone else took. Because I think one of the things I’ve learned and observed is that the people who have really successful careers have a pretty good idea of what a successful career means to them. And they don’t try to sort of totally emulate everyone, they sort of learn from many but then integrate that into what they want their success to be. So, people who tend to have a pretty good sense of what success is to them. And that’s one thing that I find, they’re really grounded in what they want, right, whatever that is.
That doesn’t mean you have to be in a fast career. It can mean a horizontal career, not a vertical career. There’s many ways to navigate that. So, I think that’s number one, is having a good sense of what they want. I think the second piece is sort of this unteachable I look for in people, right? While you assume positive intent in everyone… And that’s something that I’ve really learned is…I don’t think anyone comes to work every day thinking, “Hey, I really want to screw up today”. I think everyone comes to work, you know, wanting to win, wanting to do great. But I’d say that there’s this group of people in any company or in your life for people around you where sort of, you know, failure’s not even sort of an option. We may fail and we have to own those failures, as I said earlier. But you know, you go into everything thinking that, “You know, I’ve got this. We’re gonna nail this.” There’s a sense of sort of, not arrogance but confidence that you know, you can navigate your way through this.
And that’s a little bit of a…sort of an unteachable sort of desire to just have that confidence and that desire to win that, you know, I think a lot of people who have, you know, careers that are successful have in them…they have this trait of just, you know, putting in the work, the determination, the hours, to just be the very best at what they do. I had this poster once in an office that I worked in that said, “Bloom where you’re planted”. And what that really means is this notion of wherever you’re planted at that moment, you know, kill it, go for it, make it happen. You know, do it the right way, do it respectfully, but sort of make it happen. And there’s that sort of unteachable thing about being present. You know, blooming where you’re planted is about being present, accepting the challenge the company has given you, not thinking three steps ahead about your next role but just doing what you gotta do now to the best of your ability and the rest will take care of itself. So, I think that’s sort of… That second notion around, “Bloom where you’re planted,” is the other part.
And I think the last part is really around, you know, as successful kind of leaders move up in their career, they realize that the people and the teams they have around them is sort of the key to success, right? No one reaches great heights without a team and a community around them. You know, it takes a village to have a great career. And you know, that’s about the hiring decisions you make, the diversity of your team. So, everyone is not just sort of in your kind of vision, you know? You want people that are different than you, that challenge you, that think perpendicular to you. So that becomes important. And then you want people that, you know, absolutely…there’s trust both ways.
There’s… You know, as a leader, you’re gonna have ups and downs, you’re gonna have good days, you’re gonna have bad days. And you need a team that kind of understands that, that you can have that kind of dialogue with and support each other through all those times. So for me, it’s that sort of community, that village you’ve sort of built around yourself. And I think that people who have successful careers take a lot of time curating that village, kind of curating that team around them, realizing that, you know, really, no one can do it alone.
Ray: Fascinating. I am curious. I mean, if you were to go back and talk to your 25 to 29-year-old self about…you know, just giving you some advice, what would that be? I mean, would you have done anything differently? Would you have done more of something, less of something? What sort of advice would you give?
Vineet: Yeah, it’s… You know, you sort of… I look back and actually, a lot that I’m sharing with you is stuff that I didn’t know when I was going through it, stuff you reflect back on and you go, “Wow, I guess those are some of the themes”. And I think some of those themes are, you know, number one is, as much as you wanna win, I think, you know, I would’ve told my 25-year-old self, sort of, “Learn to live with losing from time to time”. You know, it’s a really hard thing. When you’re someone who’s sort of done well, you’ve got sort of…whatever you put your mind to, it seemed to come, you know, not without work, but it seemed to kind of go your way. Once you hit the corporate world, there’s so many more variables than there were in school or any other thing, that not everything is gonna go your way. And just learning to live with losing, you know, losing with grace. That humility in loss is something that you look back on and you go… You know, I would have told my 25-year-old self, like, “Don’t take those losses so seriously at that moment”. I always found a way to get myself out of it, but you know, I probably stayed down a bit too long at times. And you know, learning to live with that and accepting that as part of the journey is one thing, for sure, that I would say.
I’d say the second thing…and to be totally honest, this is something I’m learning more in the last few years than I had before, was give more than you get. You know, I’ve started to learn about the power of sort of giving back. And giving back can mean different things. You know, I sit on the board of a non-profit organization that’s all about giving first-generation, sort of high potential kids, a chance at a real shot, you know, in the US and in Canada. And you know, I’ve started to put at least, you know, 15% to 20% of my personal time into endeavors like that. And what I’ve started to realize is that you know, you’re going up in your career and you’re sort of…you know, you’re sort of all about, “What am I gonna get out of my career?” or, “When am I gonna get my raise?” It’s all get, get, get. What I’m starting to realize as I sort of get mature and older and sort of more well-rounded, as we all do as people and as leaders, is giving more than you get actually returns a lot more to you, sort of spiritually.
And ultimately, as you’re a leader and leadership’s quite lonely, that sort of spiritual sort of… I don’t mean that in a religious way. I mean that in sort of a genuinely a soul [inaudible 41:23] or spiritual way. That really becomes an important part of who you are and your character. And I’ve started to learn the power of building that through giving. So, I’d probably tell myself 25 years ago to have started that much earlier, that’s for sure. And I think the last thing is, you know, again, something I learned along the way, assume positive intent in people. You know, you go back and you go, is there moments where you might have thought someone was up to something when they weren’t. And I think I would’ve told my 25-year-old self to approach every situation, every moment, you know, assuming that person has positive intentions. And I think I probably would have handled a few situations very differently.
Ray: Powerful. Powerful advice. I’m gonna finish up with just a couple of quick questions. Do you have any rituals? You know, do you meditate, do you run before a big meeting, do you have anything that you do to get yourself set up regularly?
Vineet: Yeah. So, a couple of things that…and I guess you could call some of them rituals, but a couple of things that I’m sort of very…kind of very prudent about. Number one is, you know, if I’m in town having that dinner with my family, right, spending my time with the family, it’s one of those things that, for me, is uplifting, it feeds my soul. So, if I’m in town, it’s… I know it sounds obvious, but in the throes of a career and when you get lost in that, you know, I’ve seen people lose track of that and kind of forget how important that is. So, one ritual…and it sounds obvious, but actually, it isn’t, when you look at a lot of people’s careers is, just have dinner with your family. Turn off the TV, sit down, put your phone away, have dinner and just talk and hang out, you know, just connect. I think that’s one thing that I do. The second thing is, you know, live an absolutely clutter-free life. So, I literally have no filing cabinet. I don’t have any paper, I don’t keep anything. Everything is… You know, my home and my office, you look at anything and it’s absolutely clutter free.
And you know, some people need to exercise to clear their mind, some people need to, you know, go on a run to clear their mind or whatever it is. For me, if I have clutter sort of around me, it doesn’t allow me to think clearly about the problems and the things I need to do. And so, just absolutely, I’m sort of almost religious about, you know, the clutter around me and just ensuring that anything I don’t need sort of isn’t filed in my brain, if you know what I mean. Because I feel like I have, like, this finite capacity and like, that’s all I’ve got. I’ve got a hard drive that’s worth X amount of megabytes and if I fill it too much, I start to run slow, like, the system starts running slow. So, I think that’s something that I definitely do.
And I think sort of the last piece of it is really around, you know, I’m a big believer…at least for me and again, everyone’s different. For me, it’s about deep friendships. So, I’ve probably got, I don’t know, six or seven friendships and mentorships… you know, probably in two different categories like that where, you know, I invest deeply. You know, as you have a global career, your life gets busier, you have a family, it’s just so hard to keep in touch with absolutely everyone. It becomes harder and harder and harder. And so, while I appreciate all of my friendships, there’s probably five or six, you know, friendships and probably three or four mentors that I disproportionately invest in, that I feel give a lot of sort of food to my soul and my spirit. You know, there are places where you can just be you, you don’t have to be something you’re not. And, you know, just religiously investing in those relationships is something that’s absolutely critical and something I kind of overtly do on my calendar, right? I make sure I’m doing enough of it.
Ray: Final question. What’s still left on Vineet’s bucket list of things to do and accomplish?
Vineet: You know, you’re catching me at an interesting time on that question. I mean, you know, you get to a point and you know… I’m still pretty young, there’s a lot to do. And at some point, I have a very… It’s funny, you know, in all of this, I’ve actually got a very simple life goal, which is one day, I just wanna open a pizzeria and a coffee shop. And you know, that’s really my goal. And it sounds strange, you know, when you’ve had a career that’s been really kind of worldwide and driven. But I think what’s left on my bucket list is just to simplify. You know, pare it down. One day own a pizzeria, a great pizzeria, a coffee shop, you know, the world’s best coffee shop where the craft of making great coffee is celebrated and it is indulged in. And just sort of pare it down and simplify. I don’t know when that is, because the reality, right, of paying bills. By the time my son is in university, it’ll probably be like $100,000 a year. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. But you gotta sort of do that the right time. But that’s definitely on my bucket list, is just own a couple of little shops and call that a day.
Ray: Awesome. Vineet, thank you. Thank you so much for your time.
Vineet: Thanks so much. Ray. It’s been great talking to you and look forward to connecting with you soon.