STORY OF PASSION
Prakash is a motivational speaker and corporate trainer. He established The Redwood Edge in 1997 and has conducted over 2000 sessions with 100,000 participants in over 25 countries – Australia, Bahrain, China, England, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, USA, UAE among others. And with each passing day, he scripts a new chapter in his amazing ‘Story of Passion’.
A poster which reads ‘The spotlight is on you’ is the first thing you will notice when you walk into The Redwood Edge, Prakash Rohera’s office in uptown Pune. And when you look around at the walls decorated with the fan mail and the accolades he has received from heads of organizations all over the world, you know that the man has made it.
It’s an amazing feat for someone as personal as a corporate trainer to transcend geographies and cultures, but Prakash seems to have done it with ease. How exactly did corporate training happen for him? Prakash’s career path was the conventional one – science and then a management degree which led to his career in HCL, Citibank and Bank of America till destiny and passion finally combined into a heady cocktail to take him on the path of training. “I think the career path in those times was very limited. Either it was medicine or engineering. Engineering wasn’t my cup of tea, and it was nice and glamorous to say “I want to be a doctor” so that was what I chose. But, those were only dreams and there wasn’t much of magic happening. I tried the medicine route but I didn’t clear the entrance exam and that closed that avenue for me. So I had to move on. But I didn’t want to move on to something other than science. So I chose to do chemistry from Hindu college.”
But, those were only dreams and there wasn’t much of magic happening. I tried the medicine route but I didn’t clear the entrance exam and that closed that avenue for me. So I had to move on. But I didn’t want to move on to something other than science. So I chose to do chemistry from Hindu college.”
Like many aspiring management graduates today, Prakash too grappled with the ‘Why MBA?’ dilemma.
“There was no major direction in my life and I was kind of drifting a little bit until some people said why not MBA? So I started looking at MBA seriously and got into Symbiosis. It was a tough journey, a very chequered one but I think the journey became more streamlined when I joined SIBM Pune. It taught me leadership and gave me an identity.”
The going, however, was tough. Prakash’s father was working with the RBI and his mother was a homemaker. And money was hard to come by.
“Doing an MBA was definitely a strain on the resources for my parents, and hence like any other middle class student, I had my usual share of compromises and there was a lot of pressure on me. I used to do a part time job while I was doing my MBA. I used to sell my voice on FTII, Pune and I would get something like 15 rupees for an hour. But that was important for me because I needed that money.”
“1996 was a crazy year for me. I am an asthmatic and I had a spate of severe asthma attacks. My lungs were down to almost 21% and I was in and out of hospital for 11 months. I couldn’t even walk. It was crazy. Pollution in Delhi was probably one reason. If that had not happened, would I have been an entrepreneur? I really don’t know. But I had to face the realities of life which were staring at me – No job, two daughters aged 3 years and 3 months respectively , housewife, retired father, so who earns the bread? “I had to start from somewhere…. It was tough and I learnt the 3 F’s in life – flight, fright or fight. My family and I chose to fight.”
It was sometime during this difficult period that Prakash came up with the name The Redwood Edge.
“I had gone to attend a workshop in California, while I was with Bank of America. Just after that I got this attack. I was on my hospital bed going through the photographs and saw this redwood forest in California. I remember I was told that they fight among themselves for oxygen. And whoever fights for oxygen grows taller. I remember being told that they fight among themselves for oxygen. And whoever fights for oxygen grows taller – so tall that they are the tallest trees in the world – and so broad that you can drive a tree through its trunk. That became my inspiration – strength, stability and growth.”
Back then, Prakash was into his third job at Bank of America after earning his stripes at HCL and then Citibank.
“HCL taught me how to sell, Citibank taught me how to train and Bank of America taught me how to run a business unit.
So now when he looks back at his career, everything falls into place like a neatly fitted jigsaw puzzle.
I joined the front line at the branch. The mistakes I made at HCL helped me bridge certain gaps when I joined Citibank. At HCL, I had to sell computers from day one. I struggled like crazy and I don’t believe a word when people say “You were born a sales guy.” It’s a learned skill and you learn with the inputs given to you, the experience and the involvement that makes you a true sales guy.
“I didn’t know what to do. Even if I go back to a job, there was always a worry of getting another attack. So it was a very uncertain period. I chose Pune – a city I had always loved while doing my MBA, bought a small apartment here and started life from scratch. I started calling up people and telling them that I was into training. It was tough to get my first client. My first workshop as an entrepreneur was at Indira Institute of Management. It took me a while to set the ball rolling and the family was right behind me…..in this journey..…
“Sangeeta has been like a rock. When I started on my own, I remember my wife telling me, “I didn’t marry Mr. Bank of America, I married Prakash.” Once I was doing a workshop for a client in Hyderabad and my daughter was in the ICU in Pune. I didn’t get to know. Because she said, “If I called you, the workshop would have got affected”. It was a leadership workshop for the client. And when I reached Pune they took me straight to the ICU. So who is the star? My wife Sangeeta”
“Yes, my work demands long hours and a lot of travelling but when I am back, I just have a ball. One option is quality time and the other is quantity time. You should focus on quality time. Yes, we have some rules. We take two vacations a year. So that is absolutely family time. Nothing else comes in between. And we are a very close knit family. We’ve got two daughters. The elder one is doing her BBA in Singapore and the younger one is appearing for 10th standard boards. So we are just four of us and my sister’s family. Parents passed away and we all became pillars for each other.”
“I think the best thing for us to do in this one life is to be able to see what your calling is and get the maximum out of it. That’s what my advice is to all the people – find out what you love doing. I am so happy because today we have moved away from conventional careers to so many alternate careers. Whatever you do, you have to enjoy it – then only will you be able to go beyond…..
Prakash has come a long way from selling computers at HCL. There was an instance when a client told him that dogs and salesmen weren’t allowed in his office. Even today after nearly 2000 sessions, Prakash is as nervous and charged up as he was when he started his training firm… He strongly believes each session IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN AND TRAIN BETTER.
“Can you see that glass door through which you entered? About four years back, in 2008 I just slipped and fell through the door and slit my arm. Blood gushed forth like a fountain – this was on a Friday but on Monday I was in a workshop with a plaster, after undergoing a 6 hours surgery on Saturday, in Jehangir hospital. Dr. Pankaj Jindal was the doctor and he told my wife, “Is your husband mad?” And she said, “Nahi thoda dewaana hai.” There are some beliefs that you must have. It can be tough. It can be lonely and it’s a test. It’s your Passion that will get you through. Like we say .. It’s your life and You are the STAR and the spotlight is on you.”
“This city has very good vibes for us. The city, the people, the culture – it is a warm city. We thought about moving to Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai, but I don’t think we will ever do that. The gains are far greater and whenever you have the mathematical equation saying greater than zero, you go with that decision.”
Being a speaker does take its toll and at times Prakash finds it hard to keep himself upbeat 24X7.
My dear friend Sanjeev’s father is 90 years old. He is a Doctor… And he goes to his clinic every day. . Once I asked him, “Uncle, how do you do it?” And he said, “When the patients call me doctorsahab, I know and feel alive.”
And it’s such things that keep me going. My motto is Walk Tall Throughout My Life. I can’t change the world, I know it. But I can change my corner of the world which is my work, my home. That is what I want to keep doing till I am alive. Train and motivate people, be a facilitator in realizing their potential and maybe help them achieve their goals ….and in the process just make a little difference. Because frankly that is all that I know… Training
We ended the interview by his quote…
PRAYER IN YOUR LIPS,
DREAMS IN YOUR EYES
PASSION IN YOUR HEART,
ACTION IN YOUR HANDS ….
WHO WILL EVER STOP YOU…