Aparna Piramal Raje is comfortable among CEOs. It’s evident from the book she launched last week, Working Out of the Box, published by Penguin-Random House. Through it, she offers the reader access to some of India Inc.’s most prominent names, including GVK’s Sanjay Reddy, Aditya Birla Group’s Kumar Mangalam Birla and Kotak Mahindra Bank’s Uday Kotak, and their workspaces.
That she belongs to one of Mumbai’s distinguished business families, may have helped. Her father Dilip Piramal is chairman of VIP industries, and mother Dr Gita Piramal, is a business historian.
And yet, Piramal Raje, 39, has chosen to pursue writing, something she first dabbled in 2010 when she began writing a column for a business paper. After picking up an MBA degree from Harvard, she joined the family’s furniture manufacturing firm which owns the label, BP Ergo. That stint, she says, piqued her interest in design and the intersection of design and business.
“I wanted to explore what design could do for business and realised that people are at the heart of the office.” When she was pregnant with her first child, she decided to take up writing. “The idea was to visit office spaces across India and document them,” she says.
Which brings us to the question, which CEO had a slide in his office?
She smiles. “Rajiv Mehta. He was then CEO of Puma.”
Mehta sat on the first floor of his Bengaluru office while his team was scattered across the ground floor. “He said he didn’t want to walk up and down a flight of stairs. There was an architectural void too, and so, the slide fit in perfectly. Some members of the team who were athletic, would use it to climb up and meet him.”
Among others, the book takes you into the offices of Deepak Parekh, Natarajan Chandra-sekharan, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Kishore Biyani. It’s an enviable list. Access matters, accepts Piramal Raje, who knew some of her subjects socially, like Parekh, for instance. The HDFC chairman, she writes, uses an old Nokia phone, relying on it more than his iPad. Is that true in 2015 too? She laughs, “I don’t know. Maybe he has another model.”
The book, which took six months to put together, discusses how leadership styles are influenced by use of technology or space. For instance, Shikha Sharma, MD of Axis Bank, got a 10x12 ft cubicle made for herself, not a fancy cabin. “She wanted more open space so that people could meet in collaborative areas,” says the writer. Shantanu Khosla, MD of Procter and Gamble India, she found, didn’t have an office. He had a 6x6 ft workstation, surrounded by co-workers.
Have these ideas informed her own workspace? She shows and tells.
It’s a cosy room inside her Mahalaxmi apartment, with one section of the wall lined with books, where she works. The walls carry paintings in crayons and sketch pens made by her sons, Amartya, 7, and Agastya, 4. Everything here has a personal connect, including the carved rosewood desk with secret drawers that vintage furniture promises, gifted by her mother.
A photograph of book spines, by Sheena Sippy, she says, is reminiscent of London where she and her husband, Amit Raje, executive director of Goldman Sachs, studied.
And to unwind, she indulges in amateur filmmaking. “Mostly, I make short videos for family functions. Earlier this year, however, I made a five-minute film with Amartya and his friends. It’s about a toy train that’s zooms ahead fearlessly without worrying about the prize. It has voice-overs of him and his friends.”