He is a corporate veteran who has worked with some of the best known brands across the world. And yet, in the midst of his flourishing career he put a pause to his life- to chase his dreams. Accompanied by his wife, he motor biked solo across 18 countries on his Ducati Scrambler (breaking a Limca record in the process). Today he runs his own company Brand Kiln Pvt. Ltd. which ranks among the handful of firms globally that offer full-suite Strategy, eLearning & Brand Solutions.
Go BIG or Go Bust! Journey of Manas Dewan a Passionate Traveler
They say that Child is the father
of man. Is it true in your case too- did your childhood shape you to become the
person you are today?
Indeed, it has been so.
You see, I was born and raised in the North Eastern city of Guwahati. My Dad
worked with the State Bank of India; my mother is a teacher who gave up her job
to look after me and my younger brother. And just like many typical middle
class families growing up in the Indian hinterlands in the early 80’s I was
raised on a staple diet of inspirational books and strong values. My parents
always hoped that I could in some way contribute to society- and in a sense
that seeped into my aspirations too.
Our home was a veritable
farmhouse despite being in the midst of Guwahati. We had several generations of
cows, dogs, ducks and hens- we planted our own vegetables and fruits and in
short forged a strong connection with the earth while being wise to the ways of
the city life. I think it is this childhood connection with nature that made me
realize that the earth is not ours to exploit- it is home to all species that
inhabit this planet and as fellow inhabitants we must explore as much of this
beautiful blue planet, as possible.
As a child I had to
battle significant health issues. You see I was physically challenged and required
much medical intervention- and the side effects of those treatments made me
very weak and prone to frequent illnesses. I think that was one of the most
defining moments- because my mother never allowed me to patronize myself. So in
spite of extreme physical issues, I was never allowed to miss exams nor to
compromise on any responsibilities because of ill health. In a sense the
attitude of self pity, despondency and the feeling of being a victim was
eradicated from my consciousness in my earliest childhood- thanks to my mother.
She taught me a valuable lesson… face every adversity head-on and fight your
way through. True enough, I overcame my physical limitations before I stepped
into my youth… and the lesson about never backing down from challenges has been
the biggest gift from my parents that has shaped the course of my entire life.
How did the boy from Guwahati
turn into the man we know, today?
I finished my schooling
from Don Bosco and also my early college in Guwahati. This was the early 90’s
when the winds of change were blowing across the nation. Those were the days
when Manmohan Singh talked of globalization- and introduced India to the big
In a small way I too went
through a similar motion- I realized that there was a big world out there that
existed beyond the safe confines of my home, my hometown and my home state. I
wanted to see that world, to test myself there and find my own feet in that
world. That is how I came to Pune with two friends, completed graduation at Fergusson
college and later my higher studies at Symbiosis.
Money was a sparse
commodity in those days- and it taught me the value of frugal living. Soon
after college I took up my first real job- as the editor of Better Photography,
a magazine published by Tatas. While I immersed myself in the world of visual
arts, deep within there was still a hunger for doing more. And so a couple of
years later I joined up Times of India as a journalist and features editor.
There I was exposed to the wider world- and the various currents and trends
shaping industry, commerce and fortunes of nations. In those days I had the
honour to write my own column called “Top Speak” where I interviewed corporate
veterans about their success mantras. I distinctly recall how, at the end of
each interview I would mutter to myself “Manas you are just writing about
people doing great things- you are not doing anything great yourself”. And so
when I completed 50 such interviews, I decided to take matters in my own hands-
I quit the world of newspapers, magazines and journalism- and I stepped into
the dynamic world of corporate life.
Take us through the journey of
your corporate world. How did you achieve much in such little time?
In all honesty I have
achieved little- and 22 years is a fairly long time. But my corporate journey
has been truly enlightening. I learnt the ropes of business while I worked with
Indiacom as product manager. What do customers need and how do I best offer it-
this was the essence of my role. Later I went on to handle the marketing
function at Bajaj Allianz Life insurance.
Then came a decade long
stint with Mercedes-Benz where I was the General Manager for Corporate
Strategy, Product Management, Communications and Business Intelligence. I owe a
lot to Mercedes- it is here I learnt the value of perfection. The best or
nothing was the company motto- and in my own way I tried to live up to the
brand promise. It also exposed me very closely to the German culture- the
values of timeliness, commitment and attention to detail… these are lessons I
have imbibed from those experiences. But most importantly Mercedes offered me a
very close and personal exposure into European culture- and over time I grew to
appreciate its nuances and values deeply. I was thus on my way towards becoming
a global citizen, thanks to Mercedes. After a decade at Mercedes, I felt that
old urge once again- to discover new experiences and not remain content within
my own safe little world. So I made my next corporate move.
This time I joined Dow
Chemical Company- the world’s largest chemical company- responsible for comms
and marketing at their head office in Mumbai. A new industry, my utter
unfamiliarity with chemistry, a completely different working style and the
turbulent oil pricing- all added to the excitement of those early days. It once
again challenged me to dig deep and not let go… and so I did- and bit by bit
things started taking shape. I had a strong team and supportive colleagues and
together we made much progress. By the end of that year, our concerted efforts
helped Dow India cross 1 billion $ annual revenue- a record that remains
unbroken till date. I was kindly offered the highest global award- the Dow
Diamond award in my very first year with Dow India- a marvelous brand with whom
I spent a better part of 2 years.
My next assignment took
me to the Middle East where I joined as the Chief Marketing Officer of a 5
billion $ group based in Oman. Yet another terrific experience- managing the
business marketing for a very diverse group that had interests across
automobiles, FMCG, mining, hospitality, logistics, etc. The diversity of brands
was further compounded by my unfamiliarity of the market, culture and language.
Looking back, it was one of my most exciting experiences indeed. My last “job”
per-se was for the British AJP group where I was the Chief Operating Officer
responsible for entry of iconic brands like Shelby Supercars, Scomadi scooters
and other performance products.
You have worked across categories, geographies and brands. What according
to you is the mantra for corporate success.
Well the question assumes
I know the mantra which in all fairness I am not sure I do.
However I believe the
energy and enthusiasm you bring along plays a large part in how people perceive
you. While one would find the new colleagues to be friendly and accommodative,
it is we as the newbie who have to take the first step to say hello and extend
our hand. That is often the start of a great working relationship. Couple that
with sharpness, grasp and willingness to go the extra mile to bring yourself up
to speed- and you have a winning combination.
However, I do believe
that the initial weeks and months are very critical in shaping the perception
that you hold in the eyes of your colleagues. Being friendly, accommodative yet
upright is a quality that is called for as you edge up to the seat at the table
which others already occupy. Sometimes it may call for you to elbow your way to
make room at the board table- but as long as that is aimed at the greater good
and aligned with the company vision, it is a step in the right direction.
The initial weeks are
times when people are making-up their minds about you- become a pushover and
folks will walk all over you; become a hardballer and you will be branded as bully:
the art is in balancing the fine line.
The appetite for risk- is this what urges you to take on challenges in
the work arena and does it extend into other aspects too?
Perhaps appetite for risk
is an important factor. But I’d like to believe that it is the desire to learn
something new- to challenge oneself with new areas and to resist stagnation…
that is the real reason behind that quest for something new.
I get bored easily- and I
tried to turn this into a strength by making sure I explore a variety of
possibilities- workwise and otherwise. I am lucky to be married to Anu who also
shares my attitude. Together we have explored various passions- from kitesurfing,
martial arts and kalaripayttu till yoga, meditation as well as Indian and
Last but not the least,
we are both avid travelers and motor bikers.
Your motorbike trip has made national headlines- every major Tv and newspaper has talked about it. How did the idea of this audacious adventure start- and was it tough to choose your dreams over the cushy corporate life?
Using their own resources, Manas and his wife
Dr. Anuradha Dewan travelled on their Ducati Scrambler Motorbike across 18
countries and 20,000 kilometers over 4 months, a project they call “Dosti On
Their motorbike ride started from the port
city of Valencia in Spain. They rode to Portugal, France and thereafter covered
Switzerland, Germany, Czechia, Austria, and Liechtenstein before riding into Italy
and Vatican. From there it was the Eastern European countries of Slovenia,
Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia until finally
they travelled into Greece. They then entered Asia- they spent a month
exploring the beautiful land of Turkey. They shipped their bike back from the
port city of Istanbul into Mumbai to conclude their odyssey.
Manas writes about his experiences and
reflections on DostiOnWheels.com; his blog has been ranked among the Top 100
Travel Blogs of 2018 while his book Dear Journey has been published by
Crossword Bookstores and ranked prominently among the best loved boos of its
We had a long cherished dream- to
explore this beautiful world, to experience the wonders of nature and to bond
with people from all over the world- in short to understand humanity and learn
from the book of life. It was a dream to travel. And we felt that this could be
best done on a motorcycle because you are always in the midst of the world
The year was 2017 and we
were based at Muscat in Oman. We had a beautiful villa by the sea, a great
life, and good friends. But there was a vague restlessness within… we did not
want life to slip by without realizing this dream. In March 2017 Anu and I took
a call: to chase this dream. We gave up the good life, put a pause to our
careers… and decided to pursue our goal.
It was towards end of
March 2017 when we returned back to India. First things first, we had to get
ourselves a motorbike for the trip. We chose the Ducati Scrambler and after
first service, put it on ship to Valencia in Spain where we planned to start
Our initial idea was to
ride from Europe to India- but there were some very volatile geographies on the
route- so we settled for a slightly shorter journey- we decided to travel
across 18 countries… from Spain till Turkey. And thus begun the ride of a
18 countries, 20000 kilometers
and traveling alone as a couple: this must have been a life changing experience
For us, the journey was
not about covering distances or riding from a place to another as fast as
possible. It was about seeking out the real experience of a place- to feel it,
hear it, taste its foods, savor its smells- to connect with people and share
their lives. What we experienced on the road was a collage of warm and kind
people, the enticing aromas of cuisines and the rich blend of cultures.
Our idea was to sample
the lives and worlds of people along our route… so we decided to stay with
local people in their own homes. For that, we used websites like AirBnB and
others where homestay options are offered- this was how we lived with locals
and integrated with the local fabric.
Ours has truly been a
journey of friendship and bonding and towards that we were truly blessed- every
host we stayed with made us feel welcome. Each one of them went out of their
way to give us an insight into their tradition and culture. Some took leave from work, many hosts cooked
their special delicacies, some introduced us to their favorite places and
friends to help us experience their culture and way of life. Some hosts even
prepared Indian food to make us feel at home, a few even learnt Bollywood songs
to surprise us… it was truly a meeting of hearts. Goodbyes were hard- because
though we spent a short time together with our hosts, we bonded as close
friends- and often ended-up staying longer at places just because we could not
tear ourselves away from our hosts. Even today we are still closely connected
with many of our friends from the trip… it makes you realize that underneath
our skin, we are all the same humans!
Tell us about some of the unforgettable moments- I am sure there must
have been so many!
This trip turned out to
be the adventure of our lives- but it was also the hardest project we had ever
tried out. At some point it goes beyond just physical endurance- it is about
“Not possible” was the
most common word we heard. From customs officials- in India as well as in
different countries, border crossings, ship schedules and motorcycle export,
everywhere we heard people tell us how it is not going to be possible. But we
kept at it till we found a way.
Europe experienced its
hottest summer in the last decade- perfectly timed during our road trip. We
motorbiked in temperatures of 50 degrees plus. We have battled extreme fatigue
and exhaustion but self-discipline and fitness helped us come through.
We faced forest fires in
Spain and Portugal. Most people believed there was no way to pass through but
in the end we managed to find a way- but this was another very tough section.
We have been through
rains, storms and hail storms and have been in cold of near zero degrees when
our fingers and face would turn blue from riding long in cold… but at the end
of such days you appreciate even more the hot shower and a warm bed!
We faced vehicle
breakdown at Turkey border which was 350 kilometers from our nearest help. And
there were daily battles with body aches, pains… and every passing day we
learnt about us and the road!
In hindsight, the journey
made us realize that even very tough challenges are possible to overcome-
drawing upon our own inner well of mental strength, and backed by the good
wishes of friends. It is a humbling experience… one that leaves you more
connected with the world and people around.
Your blog DostiOnWheels.com ranked among top 100 travel blogs of the
world. How different is it from your book “Dear Journey”?
My blog was written while on the
road. Each day during the daylight hours, our rides would bring a myriad of sights,
smells, experiences and memories. Every evening we stayed with a new host in
their homestay (never a single hotel stay during the entire trip) where we
would learn about their lives, hopes and worldviews. The blog was an attempt to
document this daily deluge of experiences and I am gratified that it was well
The book shaped up after our
return and is more reflective. Titled ‘Dear Journey’ it is a collection of 2
novellas, where travel narratives and mystical fables come together. During my
wanderings, we experienced situations- comic, turbulent and inspiring. The
lessons from the road and inner transformations find place in my first novella
titled ‘Dear Journey Freewheeling’. The second novella, also contained in the
same book is called ‘Dear Journey Within’. It consists of 25 Fables for
Grownups with abstracted learnings from the book of life.
You mentioned often about your wife. She must have been a strong
enabler in your journey?
Anu (or Dr. Anuradha Bhonsale
Dewan) is my soul mate, my best friend and also my muse. I am a Bengali and she
is Maharashtrian and we fell in love and married 20 years ago. These have been
amazing years- and we have lived, loved and matured together. In hindsight,
marriage is magical- provided you choose the right partner, hold on to the love
as if every day is your first date- and never lose the foundation of mutual
respect. I have been very fortunate.
Our motorbike trip was a test of
our relationship too- as we experienced many challenges together but despite
the ordeals we never took each other for granted… that, as we realized, is the
key to a beautiful relationship which last long and grows stronger with time.
What does the future hold?
Another big adventure?
Well, adventure, I believe is
anything that takes us beyond our comfort zone. So as far as adventures go- my
entrepreneurial venture Brand Kiln Pvt. Ltd. Would certainly count as my latest
adventure. It combines all my professional experiences accumulated over the 23+
years of corporate life.
Kiln Strategy division mentors corporate leaders and SMEs in building their
Kiln Brand Solutions offer world class digital positioning and branding for
clients across the globe
Kiln eLearning division creates custom learning modules for firms which is
a much needed service in current times of remote workforce management
We are just over a year old but
already have global presence, a growing list of global and local customers.
Business and entrepreneurs today need well informed advice from folks who
understand global mindsets; this is the essence of Brand Kiln and everything we
do- Strategy, eLearning and Branding brings the global essence to our brands,
helping them become more relatable and growth oriented.
The Covid-19 has wreaked havoc
upon global businesses and economies- yet it has also created significant
opportunities across various business areas- we are helping businesses identify
such opportunities to turn breakdowns into breakthroughs.