ASHOK JAIN: A LIFETIME OF GOOD WORK

Submitted by admin on Mon, 09/04/2017 - 12:35

A tribute to Jain, founder of Lifespan Clinics and former MD & CEO of Cadbury Schweppes, who passed away in Mumbai on August 31, 2017

 

BY KOREEL LAHIRI

It is with great discomfort that I write this tribute. I was introduced to Ashok Jain as late as 2012, and I definitely don’t consider myself to be the one best qualified to pen down these thoughts. But I must. Because some people leave a lasting impression on you and they teach you many values in life. Ashok was one of them. The three-year period that I spent with him in the early stages of his new venture, Lifespan Wellness, gave me a window into what it meant to be an aggressive entrepreneur and a good human being.
 

My first memory of Ashok was a completely unassuming person introduced to me by my then boss Rajesh Sharma at Brand Capital, a part of Bennett Coleman & Co. Limited (BCCL). We were sitting in a sparingly furnished room that was BCCL Vice-Chairman Samir Jain’s designated office, whenever he was in Mumbai. Ashok hung on to every word I had to say, as I went through my usual pitch for a new investment model called Springboard that we were launching. I still feel quite embarrassed that I tried to preach business scaling and brand-building to a person who was one of the pioneers of aerated beverages in India at Cadbury Schweppes.
 

Thinking ahead of his time was his hallmark. After Schweppes, he had made a successful transition to healthcare marketing (Oxygen Healthcare) and was perhaps the first to monetize the idle time spent by patients waiting in a doctor’s clinic through his Oxygen TV. His passion for healthcare was palpable and it passed on to his team to create custom content and marketing solutions for large brands, punching much above their weight from a bungalow nestled in the corner of Worli seaface in Mumbai.
 

Did I mention a bungalow? It is called Seagull Villa, a quaint, rambling little bungalow, with enough nooks and crannies to make Enid Blyton proud. It was here that Ashok held court in a room filled with books. He was a voracious reader and a gracious host. We would invariably set up our meetings in such a way that lunch was inevitable. Ashok’s office caretaker was known to dish out really mouth-watering fare on the premises, while Ashok himself would eat his own healthy salads. Cheese toast sandwiches, simple aloo sabzi, chicken curry – you name it, we’ve had it.
 

Ashok Jain, founder of Lifespan Clinics and former MD & CEO of Cadbury Schweppes, passed away in Mumbai on August 31, 2017. Jain had joined Cadbury in 1980, when it was still run by Schweppes, and worked across several departments of the company before becoming CEO of their soft drinks business. After 20 years at Cadbury Schweppes, Jain – diagnosed a diabetic - left to set up Lifespan Wellness, a chain of specialized clinics for treating diabetes, and Oxygen Healthcare, a pharma strategy and advertising company, which spread health education via television in doctors’ waiting rooms. He has done stellar work in the area of diabetes care.


 

It was in this office, over innumerable cups of tea and coffee, that we brainstormed a completely new business idea with him. A national chain of clinics that would help patients to negotiate their tryst with diabetes, it stemmed entirely from Ashok’s own challenges with the ailment. Well into his fifties, Ashok was willing to take a huge financial and reputational risk to set up what he saw was a completely new way to standardize diabetes care. He faced a lot of challenges from the established doctors and scepticism from his would be clients; but he stuck to his guns and expanded Lifespan to over 35 locations in 15 cities within four years.

 

Very firm in his own conviction and single-mindedly focused on outcomes, Ashok was also a compassionate leader. He was willing to give up control and trust his team to the ends of the world. He trusted us to do the right thing with our investment in Lifespan and it ended at that – there was no second guessing and bickering over contractual terms. He was equally generous with help. Once when Rajesh was in sudden and dire need for a health issue in his family, Ashok was the one who went out of his way to help. He made sure that his access to doctors across Mumbai could be of help to a person in need.


 Ashok’s pearls of wisdom and his insights in franchising business will be missed. He would constantly ply my team and me with such fundamental knowledge that I rely upon to this day. Ashok even lent me a book, ‘Behind The Arches’, that chronicled McDonald’s rise to fast food stardom. Though I read a lot, this was one book that I returned unfinished, thinking I would borrow it once again when I meet Ashok the next time. But life is fleeting and next times are hard to come by. Now, I can only wish him peace and happiness where he is. In his memory, I plan to revisit the book and finish it this time round.
 

(Koreel Lahiri advises young companies on strategy and business growth. He was the founding COO at IPS Media Foundation. Earlier, he held senior roles at Springboard, BCCL’s strategic venture investment arm, as well as Bloomberg TV India and CNBC-TV18. These are his personal views and not those of his current or past employers.)

Category: 
Volume No: 
14
Issue No: 
13