“Focus On What You Know Best”: Ajit Kohli, MD & CEO, Thieme Medical and Scientific Publishers India

Ajit Kohli comes across as a man with clear and staunch principles. It is perhaps this clarity that has aided him to switch seamlessly and rather comfortably from the world of advertising to medical and scientific publishing. Mr Kohli, the managing director and chief executive officer of Thieme Medical and Scientific Publishers India, is a chartered accountant by training.
With extensive and successful leadership expertise of over 35 years, he has spearheaded and managed startups, profit-centre operations and business expansions and set up foreign collaborations and helmed equity dilutions.
He started Thieme’s operations in India, based out of Noida in Uttar Pradesh, under the global Thieme Group. Mr Kohli has successfully built up the company and its brand in India, where Thieme is now considered one of the most respected brands in the medical publishing industry.
Sharmila Chand meets up with Mr Kohli and gets to know about his management principles and practices that have helped him build successful brands and businesses.

What are the five management mantras according to you?
1. Connect with empathy.
2. Lead with compassion.
3. Create a sense of belongingness among colleagues.
4. Do not compromise on honesty and integrity.
5. Create a friendly work environment.

Do you play any game which helps you in your work?
I was an avid Hockey player and dabbled in other games, like Cricket and Badminton. I still play a bit of Table Tennis with colleagues in office. Playing with colleagues is essentially a part of bonding and team building. Games generally lead one to a more disciplined approach to life.

Would you share with us the turning point in your life related to your career?
A shift from a long career in advertising to a short stint in the social sector looking at some hard realities of life changed my outlook to work completely. I now see myself as a totally different person with more compassion and empathy, and I am not in the rat race.

What is the secret of your success?
Participative leadership, working with teams and being honest to my work have perhaps helped me in my professional life. I believe in a quote by Vince Lombardi (an American football coach and executive in the National Football League): “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilisation work.”

What is your philosophy of work?
Direct, guide, and advise.

Is there any particular person that you admire who has inspired you?
My father often told me that any action or inaction which takes away peaceful sleep is not worth doing, whatever the financial gains may be. All my decisions and actions are still guided by this principle. 

What is the best advice that you have got?
What if I told you that your competitors are not your biggest competition? No, when you look in the mirror, that’s your competition – your REAL competition. This is not to say that you should ignore your outside competitors. It’s to say that you must conquer yourself before you can conquer anything else.

What is your sounding board?
My conscience – a clear conscience gives me sound sleep.

What are your favourite books, and why?
I read all kinds of books. The one book which I can’t forget even though I read it 40 years ago is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It is my favourite novel for its treatment of human potential. It is a brilliant exposition of the things that are made possible by the rational, thinking human mind.

What is your fitness regime, and how do you keep yourself fit?
At my age, it is more about keeping control over your diet and regular walks.

What would you list as five mantras for success in business?
Focus on what you know best: In a rapidly-expanding and growing global economy, it is important to concentrate on your strengths with long-term goals and not burn your fingers in what is unknown to you but better known to others.
Lead from the front: Show your leadership – be visible, active and supportive, express a clear vision, show confidence and determination – and develop buy-in for your business plans.
Build a strong brand: Brand is everything! Strong brands stimulate desire. Build a compelling and valuable brand, and work tirelessly to promote it and maintain its value.
Focus on quality, service and value and not the lowest price: Don’t concentrate on price. The customers you really want are the ones who focus on quality, service and long-term value. Make sure that your brand value supports your proposition.
Finally, always remember the 2 C's: Without these – Customers and Cash – you don’t have a business!

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