Cycling Executive Officers

Three times a week, at around 5 am, V Rajgopal (55), chairman and managing director of Indian Terrain, a premium men’s wear brand, goes cycling. He clocks an average of 20-30 km but on weekends, pushes to reach anywhere between 150 and 200 km.

He gets his high from feeling the breeze on his face, hearing nothing but the sound of the wheels whirring on the tarmac, and focusing on his legs peddling away in a rhythmic pattern. “The mind relaxes,” says Rajgopal, who is gearing up for his next big adventure, Tour of Nilgiris.

The international cycling expedition, now in its eighth year, will see a host of corporate honchos, including Rajgopal, test their endurance, temperament, mental and physical limits as they navigate through the lush green landscape of the Nilgiri hills at roughly 870 km on cycles. To be sure, Indian Terrain is also the title sponsor of the event for the next five years.

At least 110 CEOs from all over the world would already have started their week-long expedition, crisscrossing and traversing to view some of the most spectacular sights of flora and fauna in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The tour will also pass through three wildlife sanctuaries — Bandipur in Karnataka, Wayanad in Kerala and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu.

Clearly, a growing number of CEOs like Rajgopal are firmly coursing the direction of their hectic lives differently and switching roles by getting out of stuffy boardrooms.

Globally, the workplace wellness market is a growing sector. Media reports suggest it’s between $3 billion and $6 billion, growing at a healthy rate of 15-20 per cent. Numbers are hard to come by but in India, where the overall wellness market is pegged at Rs 1 lakh crore, the growth could be due to senior executives gradually giving health a priority.

Interestingly, many feel a good leader should first be a fitness enthusiast. “It’s only through fitness that I inspire my colleagues. Navigating through hairpin bends is essentially about finding a solution (just as you would in a boardroom), making sure you keep moving ahead with alertness no matter how tough the terrain (or problem),” explains Rajgopal.


While Rajgopal combines a mix of strength-training and cycling to keep fit, he follows the high-fat, adequate-protein and low-carb Kietogenic diet to ensure his well-being and build endurance.

Mumbai-based Hrushikesh Kar, 44, managing director, head of global real assets, JP Morgan Asset Management, confesses to having tried a range of sport-based activities but zeroed in on cycling as the “best way to keep fit”. For someone who took to fitness seriously in New York where he lived for a few years before returning to Mumbai, Kar wondered which sport to take to for fitness back in India. He didn’t enjoy gym sessions and took to cycling last year with a group of friends, enjoying the sport thoroughly.

Kar cycles daily early mornings for roughly two hours, clocking anywhere between 30 km and 40 km on a daily basis. On weekends, he cycles close to 150-200 km. For someone who has integrated sports like golf, squash, running and cricket in his daily life, cycling, says Kar, is his favourite sport in that it’s meditative, calming but thoroughly intense as a cardio vascular exercise.

Kar explains how the “corporate mind” is apt for cycling tours like the one held in the Nilgiris — the target of kilometres is set, you need to navigate through the route with apt strategies to reach the final goal. “You need to be physically fit but eventually, when you see the steep road in front of you, it becomes a mental challenge. You tell your mind and heart, you will achieve your target. Giving up is no option,” he says.

It’s the “boardroom application to solving” in sports that’s getting CEOs — quite literally — to climb mountains, peddle along, run faster and emerge stronger.

Urban governance expert and IIM Bangalore alumnus Sridhar Pabbisetty has been involved with Tour of Nilgiris since its inception. “Twelve of us, including techies, software experts, corporate honchos, spread in different parts of the world started a mail trail and before we knew it, we had conceptualised a cycling event,” he says.

New Perspective

Cycling allows CEOs to take the key characteristics that help you succeed in the workplace -- discipline, ambition, determination -- out of the office. Pushing yourself and achieving targets are what top-level business is all about; cycling is a natural extension, only with great scenery and fresh air rather than drab office surroundings.

A mountaineer, Pabbisetty says the tour involves intense behind-the-scene preparation. “We are mapping routes, creating emergency responses, ensuring safety procedures, getting logistics support and doing intense GPS tracking for our riders’ safety,” he explains. Four to five months before the actual event, all the preparations get underway. “It’s heartening to see these busy CEOs taking time out to pursue fitness,” he says. Once participants sign up (the fee is approximately Rs 38,500), the organisers allow them to take all the tips and chart out diet plans specifically for the event.

Gaurav Bathla agrees that cycling – or any sport taken with tremendous grit and passion – does change the perspective to good living. Like many other C-suite people, Bathla struggled with weight issues. Long working hours, careless eating and a poor lifestyle forced Bathla to review his life. “When friends joked about my weight, it was a tipping point for me,” he says. Four years ago, he took to cycling with utmost seriousness and today, Bathla feels lighter and better. Cycling tours complete with a challenging terrain, he says, allow him to compete with himself.

Kamlesh Sajnani, managing director, IMS, a management training institute, pedals to his workplace every day in Mumbai. While he’d take close to 30-40 minutes in a car to reach, on cycle, he makes it to his office in 10 minutes. The motivation behind riding to work has mainly do with health and environment concerns. Cycling is a great workout, and an environment-friendly one too. “I did it one day, then the next, then the next and enjoyed it,” he says, adding that on weekends, especially, he wakes up at 4 am to pedal for eight long hours before coming home, eating a good brunch and spending time with his family.

Sajnani’s last tour was “kissing the coastline on the cycle” from Mumbai to Goa, soaking in the picturesque Konkan route and meeting interesting people along the way. Sajnani is going a step further this time: travelling from Mumbai to Bengaluru in a bus and riding on his bike to the five-star hotel from where the event will be flagged off. “Fitness aside, cycling allows you to experience India at 20 km per hour,” he adds.

(The writer is a freelance journalist)

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 2:00:26 PM |

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