Abhishek Mishra is an HR Leader par excellence & a whistle-blower of the MW case. Undoubtedly, he is a man of character and ethics. The path that he has chosen is very less trodden and that makes him stand out from the crowd. And hence my curiosity to know more about the person behind the scene & bring it to light. Here’s the link to the recent news article that was published in The Wire, about his battle as a whistle-blower & the details about the ongoing case.
Also, find the links to the previous articles published in HR Katha & Hindustan Times.
Enclosed below is the interview excerpts that I had with him. The intend of publishing this excerpt is to help the budding & aspiring HR professionals to get inspired & walk the talk like a true HR professional, embodying the essence of the role & be powerful leaders with a commitment to making a huge difference to the community that they intend to serve.
As I started our conversation with Abhishek, I made it clear to him that I wanted to know that authentic Abhishek which led him to where he is. I wanted to know that HR hero who decided to take on the challenging path & the triggers inside him that made him do the impossible. Many advised him not to walk this path fearing consequences, but he chose to because somewhere his believe in himself & the cause was much stronger than the fears. The people for whom he had been fighting & a commitment to be a true Indian made all the difference. All these reminds me of a quote by Robert Frost: “I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference.”
The interview follows:
Me: How do you perceive your journey till now as an HR professional? What are your biggest insights about this experience so far?
Abhishek: I consider myself to be successful. At a young age, I reached a pinnacle where many people aspire to be. I scaled up to the position of a Head HR, worked with Business leaders managing multi bullion dollar corporations, earned a gracious lifestyle and everything that “success” would be defined in this societal world. However, to me success is contentment & peace. Success is the work that I do which brings about transformation & massive change in the way professionals operate.
My biggest insights from all these are:
Me: What according to you are the must-haves in an HR professional?
Abhishek: TRUTH and COURAGE are indispensable.
1. HR should have a basic understanding of the business of the organization. Since HR is an enabler, it is important to know what business management is all about. This knowledge will empower HR professionals & will be in a better position to influence decision-making.
2. Understanding of basic law is important.
3. Have an intent to contribute bigger than self.
4. Must have a high level of persistence.
5. Ability to articulate things.
6. Have aspirations & embrace the fact that HR too has developmental needs.
7. There is no HR to take care of HR. So, HR needs to take care of themselves & seek support from reliable sources. Ability to put across your needs clearly is an important skill.
8. Persistence, having an analytical bent of mind, ability to read & assimilate are all great skills to have & develop.
Me: In this game of life, going forward, which role would you like to play?(onlooker or player)
Abhishek: Undoubtedly the role of a player because that gives me contentment.
Me: Why did you continue to remain in a situation that is challenging & stressful?
Abhishek: Before I set my mind to fight this battle, I questioned my determination. I asked myself these questions: Would I be really keen on walking this path? What could deter me? What could be the consequences? When I found the answers to all these, I choose to plunge in. Once I decide to do something, I don’t give up. And if I give up, I would break the trust of the people that I am committed to serving. No denying that the path of a whistle-blower is stressful, but to me stress acts as a motivating factor. Unless you are sure of yourself & your commitment, never jump into anything for that matter. I was looking for authorities to take it up once the scandal was proven, or media could have played its part so that I can go back to a normal life, but no one took the step. So, I had to move on & not give up. I am an Indian who is not up for sale. I serve my country and the citizens therein by not giving up.
I always knew that even if I get killed in this battle then also there are some people in Government who would finish what I could not do. I knew my family will take it to conclusion.
Me: Did you ever regret your decision of choosing to walk this path?
Abhishek: Never. Whatever I felt is right, I did. I was told by many to give up this battle. I listened to their advice but always followed my heart after due analysis. I asked one question to those who asked me to give up: “ Did you dare to travel this path before? If not, then why let fear stop you from even trying?” When you let fear inhibit you from doing what you want, you let the same fear overpower you. You are more than your fear. You need to confront your fears and check if these are real or conditioned.
Me: When was the time in your life you felt most alive? What were you doing?
Abhishek: The time when I trekked. Playing badminton & even walking fills me with positive energy, makes me alive.
Me: What do you attribute your massive success to? You stood up against corruption, you fought your own case, you made an impact that not many even dreamt of doing? How did you do that?
Abhishek: As a child, I always wanted to get into Indian Armed forces. But due to my knock knee, I couldn’t qualify. I then wanted to be an IAS and I somehow dropped the idea after just an attempt. HR happened to me by accident and I was always inclined towards Business Management. One instance where I was told that since I did not belong to the Tier 1 Institutes , the salary that I was offered for a role would not justify what my counterparts from Tier 1 were earning. That’s when something inside of me triggered & I declined the offer. I decided to be graduate of world’s top ten Business school& finally IE Business Institute(top 10 globally acclaimed institute) became my alma mater. My learnings from IE helped me a lot. More than the learnings, it was the rigour & practicality that prepared me to deal with the realities of the professional world. There’s a diamond inside every person but the diamond needs to be cut and rubbed, allowed to go through a grilling process to shine out. My upbringing, experiences as a child, life-skills developed over time enabled me to do what I did. Growing up as an introvert, I learnt how to overcome my fears. I dropped anything that didn’t serve me. I kept learning, reading, developing myself always.
I fought cases against 8 – 10 lawyers in each of cases. These lawyers came from various cities having mastery in their own domain. I knew I cannot fight this legal battle with them so have studied thousands of judgements to at least understand what these lawyers were talking in court. I don’t remember how many nights I have not slept reading those cases to understand the legality. However truth has its own power & strength and army of highly paid lawyers could not defeat me even in a single case.
I am still here where I was, however people involved in this scandal are running here and there. Few have left India, some are not returning to India. Truth has become bitter for them.
I am hoping to get justice for those families who lost their men in the construction accident. Sad part is I don’t even know who these people are as this happened much before I joined MW. It’s not just my professional responsibility but it’s inhumane to dispose of bodies illegally for any reason.
Me: Is there a change in what Abhishek was then & who he is now?
Abhishek: I have evolved as a person & professional. Now I am clearer as to which Organizations I want to work for. I have dropped two offers that came to me recently because now I have a clear understanding of what I really want & where I want to contribute. I am more confident now & in a better position to influence. There was a time during my struggle period when people didn’t take action for various reasons. I was even told to leave all these and forget about people who died. Gradually people who were advising me to leave this, started supporting me. I am thankful to young IRS officers at Income Tax Hyderabad who were swift and incorruptible while discharging their duties.
The judges at Labour Court were so genuine that in spite of company putting lot of pressure through highly acclaimed army of lawyers , they still awarded justice.
Me: What is your success mantra?
Abhishek: Expose your weaknesses. People who love & support you will enable you to overcome your weaknesses. Make your weaknesses your strengths. This is simply being authentic & real.
Me: What is your dream workplace?
Abhishek: A place where we all work & don’t spend time massaging our egos, a place which is free from the culture of lobby bosses, a place where the suggestions & ideas of the lower strata of the employees are also given due weightages is my dream workplace.
Companies like Google, Facebook, InMobi, Practo, Flipkart , Tata etc. are the places if given a chance I would like to serve. Working for L&T’s great leader was also an experience for me and I will be glad to do that again. Even enterprising companies of Indian origin about to reach their break-even point appeals & intrigues me.
Me: What’s your message for the young HR professionals who want to become powerful HR leaders like you?
Abhishek: Cultivate a mindset that challenges the status quo.
Start challenging the notions & pre-conditioning if you really want to bring about a positive change.
Have the conviction of doing something bigger.
Do your groundwork thoroughly to lead.
Prepare, act & never stop learning
Having a backbone is important when you are practical enough to back up.
Go for something strong but do prepare for the same.
Organisations are made up of its employees and employees are responsibility of HR department. HR folks should have clarity on needs of the organisation so that business leaders can be guided on HR aspects. HR function nurtures people and people nurture business. We have bigger responsibility to ensure that companies have adequate profit so that all the families get their living, an EMI free house and car, best education to kids and health to everyone. If we fail then the system fails.
Me: What’s your challenge right now?
Abhishek: “Becoming a more lovable husband”, laughs Abhishek.
On serious note, to make appropriate people realize that despite of me having various evidences, I couldn’t get actions initiated. Things are happening at a snail’s pace. Certain legislations are formed in such a way that everyone knows things need to be corrected but rules prohibit actions. CBI can’t take cases from any. The only option available is “Suo Motu”. Suo Motu cognizance is when the court in India takes a case on its own.
Last but not the least, I want to get back to normal family life.
Me: How can we support you & help you?
Abhishek: Suo Motu way. When people collectively come together for the cause, sign a petition & submit it to the Govt., that’s when I would feel my struggle was worthwhile. HR professionals can come forward & render support to fellow professional like me fighting for a righteous cause. Having a common intent & courage to stand up is what I seek support for my cause.
I also wish for a stronger governmental support to everyone across country. The process has to be faster and effective. I am highly supportive of the idea of strong and ethical economic and business activities, however in this process we must not kill the weaker section of employees.
Business houses expect fair play by government and competitors so are the expectations of HR function, employees and their families from business houses.
As the interview concluded & as I was thanking Abhishek for his time & candid answers; I was also asking myself these questions which I even want all the readers to reflect upon:
I look forward to your feedback, suggestions & answers.
PS. This excerpt is published with due consent from Abhishek Mishra.
Coach to People Leaders, Start-up Founders & Transitioning professionals