Go BIG or Go Bust! Journey of Manas Dewan a Passionate Traveler

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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.

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 wide world.

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 western philosophy.

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?

Fact file

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 Wheels.”

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 genre.


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 around you.

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 ride.

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 lifetime.

 

 

18 countries, 20000 kilometers and traveling alone as a couple: this must have been a life changing experience for you?

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 mental resilience.

“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 received.

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.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Brand Kiln Strategy division mentors corporate leaders and SMEs in building their business vision

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Brand Kiln Brand Solutions offer world class digital positioning and branding for clients across the globe

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·       <!--[endif]-->Brand 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.

 

 

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