Devesh Gupta

Profile: Rishi Piparaiya - Leveraging Time

The only phenomenon that Piparaiya has applied to his life is how to differentiate himself from others.

Business and finance are not just Rishi Piparaiya's merits but also the first lessons he got from his father, a Mumbai-based stock broker. Piparaiya spent his teenage days feeding stock prices into a computer that his father used for equity analysis. He also did a couple of stints at the BSE as a summer intern. The experience stayed with him for the rest of his life.

Profile: Rishi Piparaiya - Leveraging Time
Never too fond of the Indian educational system - he found it too narrow - Piparaiya decided to go to the US after Class 12. He joined the University of Rochester and, in the first three years, managed to finish 40 courses such as poetry, fibre optics, lasers, biotech, maths, philosophy and physics. His resume, however, modestly states that he graduated in electrical engineering and economics. In the last year, he went in for an independent study on financial derivatives, a course less understood and less chosen in those days. Interestingly, Piparaiya has also submitted one paper on gangster films between 1940 and 1996.

After the degree, when most of his batch mates started their professional careers, Piparaiya decided to take up MBA and managed a seat at Cornell University with a well presented case at the interview. What he didn't know was that a bigger challenge was waiting for him. He was now competing with students who had 4-5 years of experience. So the immediate plan was to devise a survival strategy that he calls 'Differentiate Yourself'. He chose a risk management course, for the simple reason that not many opted for this.

He worked hard and Banco Santandre, a Spanish bank, recruited Piparaiya for risk management for a summer internship. Accepting the offer, Piparaiya landed in Madrid where the bank put him alongside the think tank who were devising a strategy to expand in Europe and Latin America.

In Spain, Piparaiya was introduced to the concept of Siesta (afternoon nap). But he used this free time to learn Spanish. Impressed, the bank offered him a full time job and he worked there for a year before moving back to India in 2001.

In India, Piparaiya tried stock broking but quickly abandoned it. He then launched a digital venture, producing multimedia versions of mythological and religious scriptures for international and Indian audiences. But the venture folded up in a year, teaching him important lessons - do something that you are passionate about, never start anything alone and always begin something when you have enough funds to back it up.

Piparaiya then moved to New York without a job. Five frustrating months later, and thanks to his risk management experience, he got a job in strategy planning with Citibank, a profile that gave him insights on how business runs in different countries.

By 2002-03, he foresaw that the banking sector would pick up strongly in India and requested a transfer back home. He was made the strategy head for Citibank, India. His role now included doing HR work, events, press releases, as well as communications. Soon after, the multi-tasker turned his attention to insurance.

Within three years, Citibank became one of the biggest 'assurers' in India. Piparaiya got into insurance because it means protection and keeps the family safe. Today, he enjoys selling insurance. In 2008, when he decided to join Aviva, the distributor turned into a manufacturer. Earlier he was handling 40 branches, now he has a 1,000-member team and several bank partners.

Citi was more metro-focused, but Aviva required him to understand both rural and urban markets.

Pipariya has other talents too. He has written a book on his air travel experiences. Titled 'How to Book and How to Fly', he finished the book in five weeks working late nights and weekends.

Pipariya's leadership philosophy is uncomplicated - put the right people in the right jobs. "There are no wrong professionals," he points out, "it is only that people are in the wrong jobs." Second, the vision needs to be laid out clearly. Third, give people the freedom they deserve and intervene only when required. Simple.