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About the Interviewee: Pavan Desai

Pavan is an Enterprising leader, Value creator, and Senior Executive, with over 24 years of experience with leading MNCs, known for setting up and scaling shared services operations. His role includes Devising strategy, Target operating models, managing change, process transformation, system implementation/re-engineering projects, business development, and client relationship management. Coming from a CA background his expertise is in Finance and GBS setup.

He brings a combination of process mindset/thinking and financial acumen to the organization. With expertise in navigating organizations through transformational changes leading to better efficiency and effectiveness, Pavan also has a good understanding of differences in operating environments and culture across different geographies and companies.

In his years of service, Pavan has demonstrated capability in building and managing large high-performing cross-functional teams at multiple locations. He has been restructuring through effective organization design, change management, and capability building. Mr. Desai is also an effective and articulate communicator with the ability to establish rapport with people at all levels. He is a strong believer in a collaborative approach and teamwork and spends considerable time in developing & mentoring team members.

Read this insightful conversation with Pavan Desai, his journey, his interesting approaches towards solutions to contemporary challenges, and his message to the coaching fraternity.

“If you closely observe your emotions and your breath are very highly connected. The very highly connected if you observe, if you are very narrow in a state of emotion where you have, let’s say you’re angry about something and if you observe your breathing pattern, it’ll be very heavy. If you’re pleasant, and you’re calm, your breathing pattern will be very smooth. So your emotions are driving your breathing pattern. But the reverse is also true. So when you control your breathing pattern, you can control your emotion.“                       -Pavan Desai

Tell us about your journey till now. Your professional background and how you came up in this field.

I grew up in Hyderabad, you know, I come from a middle-class family. We were three kids who grew up there. My father used to work for a Central University and I finished my chartered accountancy in 1994. Then I started off my career in finance, in a typical controllership role. So I did that for about 5-6 years, I was also in the Middle East. I was in Dubai, in Beirut. So most of my job at this time was finance-related. Controllership, making financial statements, and all of that. So that’s, that’s how I started my career. In early 2000 I came back to India, and I joined the GE at the time. So GE, you know, as you know, is a pioneer in setting up offshore service centers. I spent about five and a half years with them. I grew with the organization because that organization was growing very rapidly at the time. A good part of the time I spent looking at what could be moved to an offshore service center in India. So I used to work with various GE companies identifying roles that could be moved to the offshore center and bring them here and then I moved on to become the head of operations for GE for the financial assurance of the insurance business and when GE was becoming Genpact. There was a little bit of confusion at the time, and then I decided to move out. 

It’s a decision when I look back, I regret it sometimes because there were stock options and things like those on offer. But nevertheless, you know, I moved out, then I started with JP Morgan. And then put the last about close to 20 years I spent with banking. So I worked with JP Morgan with Deutsche Bank and with BNP Paribas. So I worked in Mumbai, I’ve worked in Bangalore. So broadly, you know, I have been in a senior position setting up a shared service center. With GE, I was also certified in six sigma. I was in a CXO position last with BNP Paribas before I decided to move on, to pursue something that, you know, that I’m very passionate about. So that’s how you know the career journey has been with you know, various maternity knees and then now I’m into consulting and in coaching,

Yeah, I have worked with, some very good companies and they’ve all been very, very good in shaping my career in giving the experience, exposure, and all of that. I think it’s been quite wonderful. I have managed large teams as part of my experience in different locations. So I think it’s been one thing I could say, I don’t remember having had a conversation at any point in time regarding voluntary resignation with any of my directors. So a lot of people moved on to different roles. But, you know, I can’t remember having had that conversation with anybody. So it’s been, yeah, it’s been, it’s been a very good experience.

How did you decide to get into coaching? After such a diverse, and satisfactory career, how did you decide to go into coaching?

Yeah. In my career, I’ve been a CFO, I have been a CEO, I’ve set up services organizations, scale them up and out of that, but one thing that has actually stayed with me throughout is everything that you do involves around people, okay, so you have to work with people, you know, make sure that you’re getting the best from them. Get them to do their best, I think that is what really counts. So if you want to get something done, and as long as you’re doing it with people, unlike any other resource, human resources, very different, because it is about human potential is not, you know, other resources have a finite potential when it comes to humans, I think it is finite, so. So you need to work with people to understand because, you know, humans have their own thoughts, emotions, and, you know, good days, bad days, all of those kinds of things. So I have what I’ve been doing, whether, you know, not realizing I was coaching if I’ve been coaching for a very long time. And the interest has always been, you know, the well-being of the other person. So even in my, amongst all my directors, by focusing when I’m having discussions with them, is obviously the goal on hand. And the second one is how best the other person can get this. Okay, so I think it happened over a period of time. So you know, even now, a lot of my direct reports and people from the organizations I’ve worked still continue to be in touch with me, they reach out to me, you know, for, for a discussion for guidance, and all of that. So, I’ve been doing this for a long time. So formerly, I got certified only last year. So I think as far as I can remember, I’ve been doing coaching, whether I knew I was doing coaching or not, but I think the formal certification with Erickson really helped put all the foundation and you know, to know all the different tools and you know, the different aspects of coaching. 

I’ve been officially coaching for over a long time, maybe 20 plus years, ever since I’ve had teams so I would say probably 20 to 23 years. My direct people from other organizations have reached out to me more formally as a certified coach from last year onwards, 2020 onwards. 

How did you come across Erickson?

Well, when I was I was looking to get certified. I did a little bit of homework and then you know what, somebody, a friend of mine recommended Erickson to me. I looked up, I saw some videos of Gaurav, and I got very good feedback. And, and I think Erickson is probably one of the best things that happened. I did get my certification with Erickson. And it’s been great. I think the journey with Erickson has been very great. I’ll be ever thankful to have got to thank Erickson and association with xMonks and not with some other organization because I think with Gaurav, you can see you know, he kind of lives and breathes coaching. What he’s trying to do now is really phenomenal. He is trying to create an ecosystem for coaching. He does the annual International Week of Coaching, Monthly Coaching Matters sessions with different people. All of those I think are phenomenal. 

Why were you looking for certification? Do you think certification is important to be a coach?

Yes, I think certification is important to be a coach because of what comes to you naturally. I think with the tools and the techniques and you know, the entire horizon expands when you go through formal certification. With an organization like Erickson, I think it’s been very, very helpful. So the tools, a lot of things will start falling in place. So you’re, you’re dealing with pieces of the puzzle, and they all fit in when you go through certification. And then also, I think it’s a continuous learning experience. So with everything that is happening with Erickson, you know, I, I kind of continue to learn. So it’s, I think the formal training and certification certainly does help and it motivates you, you know, it gives you the network, you get to meet with different people, you learn a lot of things, a lot of tools, you get a lot of access to a lot of different resources, which then now helps you to, to kind of further enhance your role which in practice killed because this is every day you got to keep learning with coaching. And I think Erickson and performance certification does help you with that.

How has coaching or being a coach has made you a different person? How has it been transformational for you?

I think it has been immensely transformational. Because when you put the other person’s well-being in mind, it naturally transforms you. I think a few things have been happening. So my own view of the world, things has been ever-changing. Since I formally took up coaching, I have probably taken up coaching, and you know, what I have also done is I’m actually a yoga practitioner for about 8 to 10 years. And what I’m now looking to do is to look at how ancient wisdom can actually be used or tapped into to meet contemporary challenges. So I’m pursuing a Ph.D. on that. So, my topic for Ph.D. is Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Challenges. To give you one example, for executives in their day-to-day lives, decision making is a very important aspect right. We have different decision-making models, and most of them have come from the west.  A model helps you analyze and make a decision. You have different options, you make a decision, you have a model, where you look at the brain and you look at different parts of the brain. We have the reptilian brain, which is kind of used for survival and make fight-flight kind of decisions. Then we have the mammalian brain, which has to do with the emotions and the and social aspects of our life. Then the neocortex, which is, which is the most latest in evolution, has to do with all your analytical capabilities. So, right, wrong, and all this stuff. Similarly, that’s one aspect or if you’re aware of that, then you make better decisions. If we go back and look at our own culture, looking at yoga and Sankhya, you actually look at the mind in different aspects. You call it Mann, Buddhi, Ahankar, and Chitt. Mann, I’m kind of generalizing this and then trying to adapt it to the aspect of decision making, because it’s a very complex topic, and I’m kind of simplifying it. So just to take that aspect of this and see how we can use it for our contemporary challenges. 

So Buddhi is your intellect. Okay, with Buddhi, you differentiate between right and wrong. How do you know, it’s a little bit like discrimination that you derive. So everything that we do is in relation to something else. Everything that we look at is in relation to something else. So when we look at life in relation to darkness, Buddhi helps us to dissect it. And Ahankar as we know, is about self-identity, it is the eye sense or the pride, okay? So, when we look at this model, for any decision to be made, it is a combination of, you know, using all these three planes, and there is Chitt, which I’m not going to get into at this point. So, suppose if you’re in a shopping mall, and you see something on the window, you make a very impetuous decision to buy. It is your desire. At the same time, if you’re making the decision evaluating your pros and cons of buying a house, or something like that, you go through different options. You want to look at how you finance it and all of that. You make those decisions, very analytical. And a lot of times, corporate executives make decisions purely out of their Ahankar. So between these three, which one is actually more dominant, that drives that decision that way? I’ve seen several, several people making wrong decisions purely because they were driven by pride or ego. In addition to all the different decision-making models that we have, could actually help you to make better decisions. So it’s one of those examples where we can use ancient wisdom for contemporary challenges. So that’s kind of, the topic for what I’m pursuing right now.

Have you broken any old patterns, which you were not aware of before? Did something new come up on the surface after the course from Erickson?

There are several of them. In fact, coaching is all about breaking barriers or going beyond the barriers. In fact, there’s a little-known word in Sanskrit called Aditya and my firm is known as Aditya, which means to transcend. We have to ask coaches every day to challenge the old patterns and learn something new because some things that I have kind of learned from the certification and otherwise also through all the different sessions and all of that is one thing is all human experiences are from within. Right. There is what you have within you, and there is what is external to you. So, what is external to you can be controlled only to some extent, and not it is not completely controllable. The best example right now is what we are going through COVID right. Nobody ever thought of it and it has been, you know, suddenly struck thrust upon us and we are all dealing with it, right. The important thing is that you see awareness and understanding that you do not control everything, but within your experiences from within and you control that, irrespective of whatever is happening with a purse with you, which is outside external, but you can control your madness, right? That is what forms the basis of coaching. You’re constantly transcending barriers with awareness, and things like, awareness about what has already happened in the past, you cannot change it. But however, you can start from where you are, and you can shape your future, your craft your future from where you are, I think these as a coach, you have to be not only aware, but you should be, you should, you know, you should be completely living breathing these because otherwise, you, you know, one thing for a coach is you cannot be not authentic. You have to be authentic. 

I would say that is the first thing, if you’re not authentic, then you cannot be a coach. So, I think those things do come across and sometimes you know this, but when you go through certification, you come across these concepts, they’re actually reinforced within you, and then you see them in a new light because it comes to you. You have probably been looking at it from your rose-colored glasses, and then you come to know, it’s a new direction, it’s a new view. So yeah, you’re constantly challenging and transcending your boundaries. Yoga is all about transcending your boundaries, right? Yoga is about union, it is about transcending the boundaries. There’s a lot that we can take for the field of coaching from the ancient wisdom, yeah.

This is very passionate. Is there something that drives you every day, a key element in your own mind or a key code that you wake up with? 

To be better at what you’re doing to become better every day. I think that if you have that in mind, and the other thing is an understanding that, you have choices to make. All those choices have consequences. So as I earlier said, not everything is in your control, but your choices, your desire will lead to your deeds and actions will decide your destiny, right. So what you do is within your control, your choices are in your control. But sometimes the consequences are not so but having that awareness and keep getting better at what you’re doing. I think if you keep doing it day in and day out, you will get better. 

So with these years of practice and after having a certification course, how have you evolved in your coaching practice?

What I do is certainly the first one or two meetings is to understand the person. I have a questionnaire. I go through a value center questionnaire or any other if the person has already done an MBTI or one of the personality assessment questionnaires, all of those will help. And I also set the context in terms of what you know how to expect? What to expect? What will I bring to the table? And what am I expecting from the other person so that I think we kind of make it clear at the beginning and what I have realized is when I coach me, I try not to follow this urge to offer a solution, which I sometimes do, but I try not to do that and get the person to, to think about it? When it comes from the client, or the coachee, the ownership for that is much higher. I use a combination of some of the tools, from different philosophies, from ancient wisdom. I tell the coachee, that I’m going to use a combination of these. So going back to your question, in the initial first meeting or two is to understand the perspective, set the context. So that the both of us are comfortable about how we are going to go about and then we go about. Whatever it takes, but clearly, the focus is always on the coachee. 

Meeting clients is obviously exciting, but because you have been coaching before and after the pandemic, which one do you like, Go-To-Meeting Mode offline or online?


With coaching, it is always best to be in person. That’s my personal experience. Meeting the person in, in flesh and blood, makes a big difference. At the same time, I think as coaches and everybody we need to adapt. Things are changing. Some of the things I think going to work will never be the same again. It has changed with the pandemic, in a way it has been a kind of an event. It is once in a lifetime event that changes scores of things. So I remember one more that I have gone through–was 911. I used to work for GE at the time and I was when 911 happened. I was in the US and I remember before that when we went to the airport in the United States, you know, people could come to see you off. I was actually visiting a relative of mine, and he came to see me all the way up to the gate. 911 happened, things changed. With security and everything else, things change. So, these are one of those kinds of events that change the course. This pandemic is probably one of those because it is going to change a whole bunch of things. So we need to work with, in the changing world. One thing, I can clearly see as I’ve been coaching a lot of people, I’ve been talking to a lot of people to help them recover. I think what pandemic has done is it has made it very clear to people that nothing is permanent. Life is so transient, unpredictable, uncertain. You have to make friends with that uncertainty and move on. So, I think for coaches, also, this has been increasingly new, because the entire environment has become so uncertain, so unpredictable. The ability to actually deal with that uncertainty is important for coaches as well as for coaches and move on.

And with my formal training in yoga and certification, I’m actually helping people to improve their breathing and all of those. So in a way, and I realize how that whole thing can be a tool. It’s not in coaching. I would prefer a personal meeting, but I think even with WhatsApp, with Zoom calls, we can do a lot.

How do you envision yourself as a coach in the coming years?

Two things, I think when it comes to coaching. When we look at any activity, you could be doing an activity to make a living or you could be doing an activity to make a life or transform a life. Right. This is probably one of those which brings both of them together. So that way it is so phenomenal. So how I see myself is, you know, using coaching to help as many people as possible to touch as many lives as possible, to help their transformation. I’m at the stage where I want to focus on the second part, and the first part will happen, that I’m confident. The second aspect is how we can tap more and more into ancient wisdom to address contemporary challenges. I think that’s how I see progress.

Lastly please share a message to all the coaching fraternity, that how they should be on this journey.

Be authentic, be authentic. For some inner people who want to get into coaching, I would say get into coaching. Not because, you think it is fancy or something, but because you want to touch another life, help transform another life. I think if you make that the first priority, the rest of the stuff will follow.