The man who sold his BMW

Disenchantment with mainstream business and love for Ayurveda prompted Siddhartha Sengupta to quit plum multinational postings to start Samskrt, which sells a holistic lifestyle

March 16, 2016 06:58 am | Updated 12:16 pm IST - Mumbai

This could be the story of another monk who sold his Ferrari. Except in this case, he sold his BMW, chucked a high-profile multinational job, cut back on a lifestyle that included holidays abroad every year and visits to high-end restaurants every week to fulfil his mission to teach people about a holistic lifestyle. And he chose business as the vehicle for his message.

Siddhartha Sengupta (45), spent over two decades living the corporate high life. He worked in various functions like operations, project management, strategy, sales and marketing across companies like BASF, Clarion and Merck. His last job was as managing director at a French chemicals company, Arkema, before some deep soul-searching changed the course of his life. He is now working on Samskrt, an Ayurvedic wellness brand, and plans to unveil it by the month-end or early next month.

In every way, Sengupta was living a dream. A chemical engineer and MBA by training, his career graph was smooth. “When I was 26, I wanted to be a managing director. I became one when I was 42,” he says. But the stirrings of his new venture came a year ago, when, as Asia-Pacific head at Merck, he was put in charge of a huge business that had clients from the automotive industry, plastic, printing and cosmetics and textiles. “Food and cosmetics are really where you see what the end consumer is getting. I was pretty disillusioned,” he says. The disenchantment, combined with a passion for Ayurveda, fuelled the change. “I was poisoning the world for the last 23 years with chemicals and then I moved on.”

The idea took shape steadily. On a trip to Delhi, he caught up with a friend and “over the next two hours and a glass of wine,” a rough business plan was ready. “I don’t know how it happened. I guess it was the wine,” he says, with a laugh. “We were sure the company would be about taking an ayurvedic lifestyle, not just products, to every home.”

Plan in hand, he embarked on a quest to understand the healing science. In the process, he began looking for consultants and doctors across the country, Googling them, calling them and spending time with each of them. It wasn’t easy. “Ayurvedic doctors are themselves moving to an allopathic way of life. So that was one big struggle for me: to get doctors who believe in the concept.”

It helped that Sengupta had been a serious yoga and Ayurveda practitioner for six years. The suryanamaskar, oil abhyangams (massages), dinacharya (a routine based on nature’s cycles) are part of his routine. His family too, has been roped in. “My wife and I wake up every day at 5 am, and by 10 pm, the lights are out in our home. We lead a very disciplined life. People might find that boring but that’s really the way to much better health and happiness,” he says, adding no one in his family has fallen sick in six years.

Sengupta intends to take his way of living to people everywhere. “We will be the first to take an evolved lifestyle — we’re calling it that because it is based on the 5,000-year-old sakalya (holistic) concept of Ayurveda.”

Samskrt will take this time-tested lifestyle to homes using a mobile app. The customer can fix an appointment with a doctor, who Sengupta calls a ‘lifestyle coach’. “Coaches have been trained to talk to, guide and support every person to change or get what they need. We’re basically trying to empower you. And then, we’re going to let you go. We make you responsible for your health,” he says.

The coaches will also create a support system by encouraging the family to “evolve” together. Nearly seven doctors and six masseurs have been enlisted so far. Besides this, the company has medicines, oils, nutrition products, food supplements and cosmetics that Sengupta says are “100% natural.” The doctors will recommend yoga exercises, and packages range from a month to six months.

Sengupta is beginning his venture in Mumbai because the city, he says, needs the healing touch the most. Eventually, he plans to take the concept to Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Kolkata as well as tier-II cities. Sengupta has put in Rs 40 lakh of his own into the venture.

He realises that getting people to change their lifestyle won’t be easy. So he’s used some introspection and self analysis tools to help with the process. Every night, before going to sleep, the customer has to answer questions, such as, “Am I my own friend or my enemy?”

The introspection is part of the process of giving up deeply-embedded habits. Yoga and introspection helped him quit smoking; something he’d done for 20 years. “We’re trying to get people away from psychosomatic diseases, all kinds of mental stress, trauma and emotional problems. Once those go away your channels open up. And you manifest a completely different world,” he says.

At the root of his strategy, he says, is love, even as his multinational counterparts harp on financial statements, margins and return on investment. “With love, we will guide people to go the right way. Make the customer happy and do everything honestly, with love. Do that and the money pours in. Love is something people respond to.”

The realisation didn’t come overnight though. Neither was it without its costs. At many points, Sengupta felt he was plodding alone. His wife gave him two years to prove himself in his new venture or else, return to his old life. “There was a point of time when I thought, ‘Am I making a mistake? Should I return to the corporate world?’ You have to throw away everything for something you believe in.”

But he knew deep down that it was too late to go back. Sengupta’s questions were existential — they involved why he was here, what his purpose was and so on. “Maybe after 40 you turn a different leaf. I was travelling 220 days a month, I was abroad most of the time, living in five-star hotels, travelling first class. But that was not my idea of who I wanted to be,” he says.

His biggest jump was moving out of his comfort zone. Everyone around him thought he was going crazy, that it was a mid-life crisis. “Merck wanted me to settle in

Germany. But I quit my job and did all this. Because this is what I want to do, this is what I was born for.”

The ‘old life’ was still up for grabs, and he could have chosen to go back at any time. “I still get offers. But I chose the difficult path. I have given a lot of pain to my wife and daughters as well. But I’m doing that for people because I want to heal the world, that’s all.”

The entrepreneur-monk still has a long journey ahead of him. But as author Wayne Dyer says in ‘The Shift’, “We cannot live the afternoon of our lives according to the programme of life’s morning.”

In Sengupta’s case, it’s a quantum leap.

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