June 2006 | Candida Moraes

A man for all seasons

Harsh Jha, MD of Tata Metaliks, is a manager with the heart of a poet

Harsh Jha

"I am an actor and I consider my office a stage where I perform daily." Shades of Shakespeare? Not quite; this actor happens to be Harsh Jha, managing director of Tata Metaliks, now one of he world's largest pig iron manufacturers.

A man of many talents, he declares that he is somewhat of an introvert — rather difficult to believe when one sees him interacting with people in his office, from the office peon to senior managers. Mr Jha explains that he is not comfortable baring his soul to people he does not know on a personal level, though he has great working relationships with colleagues.

The other side
An engineer by profession, Mr Jha conceals the softer aspects of his personality beneath a business-like exterior. "I could have been a poet or even a writer, but I am an engineer first. One day, I would love to take up a creative writing programme and write a regular column for a daily," he says.

Mr Jha has never really sat down to wonder whether any particular incident or accident influenced his life path. "When my school results were announced, I found out that I had equal marks in both arts and science," he says. The two areas have been an equal passion with him since. Through his engineering studies at the Birsa Institute of Technology, Sindri, and his business management specialisation from Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur, Mr Jha's love for the fine arts has continued.

Apart from cracking deals and motivating his team, Mr Jha enjoys reading books, visiting art galleries and, hold your breath, reciting poems aloud when he is alone at home. "I have a large collection of books on subjects that interest me." His collection ranges from biographies to management tomes, from bestsellers to technical engineering journals.

What's inside?
It turns out that he is also a closet interior decorator of sorts, and is very particular about room layouts and aesthetics. Mr Jha has personally selected all the paintings that are displayed at the company's Kharagpur guesthouse and office, and also at the Kolkata head office. "I am very clear about what I want in a particular office or room. The office at the Tata Centre is being redone, and it's the effort of an architect and one particular artist whose work I first saw and admired in a gallery." People who visit the office now comment that it looks very different from other offices in the centre. "This kind of work gives me tremendous pleasure," Mr Jha says with a smile.

He has a unique way of listening to music. "I like to lock the doors of the room, switch off the lights and put on music in the dead of night, when everything around me is quiet. That's when I can really immerse myself in it," he says. Mr Jha believes this is the best form of relaxation and intellectual rejuvenation. His choice of music varies from Indian classical to soft pop, but never hard rock.

For better or verse
When selecting music, Mr Jha does not bother about the language of the songs but lets his ears dictate the choice. "I remember once I was in Dubai and I happened to like a particular Arabic song that was playing. I bought the CD and some others with the same kind of music. I also have some Japanese music that I bought in Tokyo." He adds, rather candidly, that he has a weakness for songs that bring out the softer but sadder aspects of life that so many of us have gone through and can identify with.

Then there is Mr Jha the poetry buff: "I love to note bits of poetry that appeal to me, and then recite them aloud," he smiles. And there is the budding poet: "I also write poetry occasionally, and I'm toying with the idea of putting down some verses in the form of a book," he admits.

Work and play
How different is the managing director from the man? "Very different," avers Mr Jha. "Left to my own devices, I would be happiest reading in a corner or just sitting quietly by myself. But in the office, I have to do so many things I otherwise wouldn't. For example, I can't dance at all, but at office parties I gamely shake a leg — it's a part of my duty to spend quality time with my colleagues." He is a much friendlier person in the office than at home, feels Mr Jha, because at work he needs to communicate with a large cross-section of people.

As a rule, he doesn't carry any work home. Whenever he has free time in the office, he prefers to sit and plan for the days ahead. When he sees underperformance, it gets him energised, as he takes up the challenge of changing the scenario. Similarly, closed plants and underperforming assets goad him into action and he determinedly sets out to improve the situation.

Back to school
At home Mr Jha is a different person. "I am very happy sitting outside in the open, doing nothing. I am not the outdoors kind," he says. Mr Jha likes places that are relaxed and soothing; especially coastal areas like sunny Goa, the backwaters of Cochin and the beaches of the Andamans.

He hopes to someday start a school for children between the ages of three and eight years, with a different learning environment. Mr Jha says that this particular age group is critical, when children are completely open to new and different ideas, and do not pass value judgements. "I would like to give back to society in a manner that is much more meaningful than what I have done so far, especially in my hometown, Jamshedpur," he sighs. And, when Mr Jha grows silent and distant, you know his mind is working overtime, planning far into the future.

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