Rohtash Mal (70) From: Executive Director & CEO of Escorts. To: Founder, EM3 Agriservices, a pay-for-use service for farmers
Rohtash Mal (70) From: Executive Director & CEO of Escorts. To: Founder, EM3 Agriservices, a pay-for-use service for farmers

India's senior workforce: From corporate titans to entrepreneurial trailblazers

Senior professionals are enjoying second careers and lucrative passions as a new work trend sweeps India and the world.

If reincarnation in real life has a candidate, the vote would go to Rohtash Mal. For 40 years in the shark-eat-shark corporate world, he created innovations, steered companies, drove growth and was the treadmill champ among his peers. He accelerated the revenues of Maruti Suzuki. He spread Airtel’s net far and wide as the CEO of its agri machinery group, and turbocharged the sales graph of Escorts tractors and machinery as its Executive Director & CEO.

For any corporate rainmaker, it would be time to hang up his boots, lean back in a well-upholstered chair and read Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson with a dram of Lagavulin by his side and a Cohiba shouldering in a crystal ashtray. The 70-going-on-30 Mal is all for it, but has other ideas too.

“I wanted to challenge myself and break the monotony of a retired life,” he says. It was easier said than done. Learning and adapting to new ways of functioning, and unlearning the corporate way of life was the challenge when Mal set up EM3 Agriservices, which he describes as “an Uber for farmers”.

It is a pay-for-use service for farmers, providing them help as and when they require—land preparation, sowing, transplanting, crop management, harvest and post-harvest farm management, charging the farmer on a per-acre basis. The IIM-C alumnus recalls, “From calling the shots, I entered a universe where I had to work from scratch to establish my startup. It is a different world altogether. I was fully grounded,” he says.

A second career is not a new phenomenon; the difference is that the trend has picked up speed in India faster than an IMPS transaction. Army officers, who are well trained and disciplined, retire in their 50s to start security agencies, work as advisors to big companies, or like retired Colonel Hunny Bakshi, become consultants for Bollywood producers making war films. Real estate professionals start Airbnbs. IT professionals turn design architects.

Shaifalika Panda, 52
From: Importing high-end luxury products into India
To: Trustee and Founder CEO, Bansidhar and Ila Panda Foundation
Shaifalika Panda, 52 From: Importing high-end luxury products into India To: Trustee and Founder CEO, Bansidhar and Ila Panda Foundation

There is no dearth of choices when it comes to seconds at all levels, in all dimensions. From the world of high finance, with leadership roles at the World Bank and Citibank, private equity expert Dipak Bagla now rallies global changemakers for a net-zero world in his role as CEO of The Global Sustainability Alliance. Rajeev Talwar, who left the IAS to join real estate behemoth DLF, offers his networking skills and strategies, gained over three decades, to corporate clients.

Like Robert de Niro in The Intern, you can be a temp in customer servicing or data processing. You could blend professions like Sanjay Arora, who continues to lead Shells Advertising Inc while engaging 276k Instagram followers with his delightful insights. While ageism persists, India Inc appears to have recognised the value of experience and skills that transcend the traditional 9-5 employment template. “Organisations have begun to see that senior talent brings a wealth of experience and stability as strategic advantages,” says 54-year-old Neeraj Sagar, the driving force behind Bengaluru-headquartered WisdomCircle. He was a senior partner and headhunter at global HR firm Egon Zehnder, where he recruited for top-tier companies in a career spanning 15 years. WisdomCircle matches senior professionals with roles that leverage their lifetime of experience; from project management and finance to specialised sectors like textiles. In the last year and a half, WisdomCircle has bagged 200 organisations and 50,000 professionals as clients, proving that senior professionals want to continue working and that there’s a significant demand for skilled senior talent. The Indian workforce demographic is undergoing a course correction, which comes with its advantages and disadvantages.

Pros: Seniors provide a fresh perspective gleaned from their long experience in formulating corporate strategy and administration. Older workers with valuable track records are quick to learn new skills because their existing knowledge already provides the base.

Arun Nanda, 75
From: Chairman, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd
To: Founder, Blossoming Hope, a service platform dedicated to
senior citizens
Arun Nanda, 75 From: Chairman, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd To: Founder, Blossoming Hope, a service platform dedicated to senior citizens

Cons: “A survey by PwC found that 40 per cent of older professionals feel they need additional training to keep up with the latest tech trends,” Kunal Sen, Partner and Practice Head—Technology at Executive Access India, points out. A study conducted by talent company Randstad found that 42 per cent of employees aged 55 and above encountered ageism at the workplace. Women were discriminated against the most: 42 per cent compared to 37 per cent men. Despite these hurdles, the Second Innings List reads like a Who’s Who of Indian business elites and adept professionals setting out on new ventures.

There is SV Nathan, who recently announced his departure from Deloitte after an illustrious 19-year-tenure. He is turning entrepreneur to build India’s first HR digital global platform, designed to serve a diverse community of people managers, students, faculty and vendor partners. In posts on LinkedIn, Nathan has described this transition as a delightful experience filled with excitement.

Then there is 52-year-old Shaifalika Panda. She started her entrepreneurial journey in 1995, importing high-end luxury products—one of the first of its kind in India. Twelve years down the line, she changed gears. “I was drawn towards the developmental space and wanted to put my business management background to use. I sought to work on social impact at the grassroots and joined the CSR branch of Indian Metal and Ferro Alloys Ltd, Odisha, in 2011,” says Panda. Today under her leadership, the organisation has spread across five districts of the state, impacting over 400 villages.

Vineet Nayar, former CEO of HCL Technologies, who led HCLT’s transformation from a $0.7 billion company in 2005 to a $4.7 billion global technology services powerhouse by 2013, set up the philanthropic organisation Sampark Foundation to drive large-scale innovation in education.

Dinesh Arya, 75
From: VP - India, Broyden Gobal Executive Search
To: Executive Director, AST Consultancy Services Private Limited
Dinesh Arya, 75 From: VP - India, Broyden Gobal Executive Search To: Executive Director, AST Consultancy Services Private Limited

Vipin Gupta, a 63-year-old who spent 35 years as a petroleum reservoir engineer, says, “It wasn’t my decision to leave; I touched 60 in 2021, and during the pandemic, many companies were downsizing,” He saw it as an opportunity rather than a setback. Currently, he wears many hats: writer, blogger, life coach and mentor. “It’s important to be prepared. Problems appear when people are not prepared,” says Gupta.

Problem-solving, the most valued talent in the corporate ecosystem, often comes from years of experience. In the 1980s Radha Daga was a travel agent, but soon she realised that working for someone else was not her cup of tea. “I wanted the freedom for self-expression, and being employed did not allow that,” she says. It was this desire that prompted her to come up with Chemise Indus Pvt Ltd in Chennai in 1988. That was, however, only the beginning. She had always wanted to do something around food. She finally realised the dream at 69 by founding Eze Eats, which introduced the concept of dehydrated meals. “I had the desire to be in the food business, but before that I had to save up money. I did not want to depend on anyone else for capital,” she says, adding that soon after its launch in 2012, it was noticed by Indigo airlines, and she has not looked back since.

However, today’s dynamic work environment, with its evolving technology and new assessment methods, requires fresh solutions. Long-standing leaders may risk stagnation if they remain in the same roles. London School of Economics alumnus Ashish Guha, who moved from being an investment banker to chief of a global cement company in his 50s, recounts, “It was a chalk-and-cheese move. While there was learning, relearning and unlearning, I also brought in a different perspective.

Vipin Gupta, 63
From: Petroleum reservoir engineer
To: Writer, blogger, life coach and mentor
Vipin Gupta, 63 From: Petroleum reservoir engineer To: Writer, blogger, life coach and mentor

That, I think, is the advantage or edge that most people like me have.” After almost a decade-long career in the cement industry, he returned to investment banking. “What you learn along the way never goes to waste. So, my stint in the cement sector added a completely divergent angle to my perspective when I re-entered investment banking,” says the 68-year-old, who believes any industry shift adds an edge to the CV, which goes beyond a lateral move.

“This is happening more and more nowadays. People are cutting across all kinds of lines. It, of course, poses challenges. You have to move out of your comfort zone,” says Guha, who believes that such shifts are a win-win for employers. They are getting people not only with more experience, but also a diverse portfolio.

Diverse portfolios are a magnet to success, however you define that in this phase of life. Sonal Sood has done it all. She started her career as a banker in the US, before changing countries to move to India. While in India, and managing two small children, she decided to move from the fast-paced financial world and follow her passion—fashion. While the two are universes apart, Sood says she had the right training.

“I took up brand strategy and marketing. My years in sales in the banking world came in handy. Fashion make easy to me,” she says. But Sood had more dreams. She co-founded a jewellery brand, which is now being phased out, and ultimately started helping marginalised women become entrepreneurs. “I want to give back to society now,” she says.

Likewise with Srikanth Batni, who at 57 has a spring in his step while he navigates the busy streets of Andheri, Mumbai in the morning with a camera. Formerly a director at HUL and CEO of after-sales at Eureka Forbes, Batni spends his days coaching, mentoring and enjoying photography—a stark contrast to the high-pressure corporate roles that once defined his career.

Starting fresh out of college, Batni put his suited shoulder to the corporate wheel at 22. However, by 55, fatigue set in, nudging him to leave his job. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” confesses Batni. He highlights his three main advantages: “First, the diversity of assignments is interesting and refreshing. Secondly, the return on efforts is high—I earn much more per hour than I did in my career.

Third, I get a lot of free time to pursue my hobbies and spend time with the community.” Working for around 30 hours a week, sometimes even on weekends, Batni enjoys his balanced lifestyle. Looking ahead, he plans to spend more time inspiring and coaching professionals. “I see that as the genuine purpose of my life,” Batni reveals.

Sonal Sood, 55
From: Banker
To: Brand Strategist
Sonal Sood, 55 From: Banker To: Brand Strategist

The success of Batni, Nayar, Nathan and Bagla also shows that while India is ageing rapidly, it is not growing weaker. Elders could surpass the child population by the middle of the century. According to the ‘India Ageing Report 2023’, the United Nations Population Fund in collaboration with the International Institute for Population Sciences, one-fifth of the Indian population will comprise people above 60 by 2050, and by the end of the century, this demographic will constitute over 36 per cent of the country’s total population. Hence, employers across sectors are preparing to meet the change.

The IT industry has showed the highest level of optimism towards hiring seniors, followed by transport, logistics, automotive, healthcare, and life sciences sectors. Why are HR teams looking in this direction? For one thing, only 4.7 per cent of India’s workforce has formal skill training. Alarmingly, a Mumbai research firm pointed out that the majority of India’s 900 million workforce has stopped looking for jobs because they can’t find employment that fits their profiles. The Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) in 2022 was just 55.2 percent in 2022. Hence, the demand for senior, experienced professionals to fill the breach is one of the reasons. The wealth of experience, critical thinking and extensive knowledge that older workers bring sets them apart from Millennial and GenZ employees.

In a Columbia University study, a manager of a non-profit explained. “Young people have a can-do attitude—and make mistakes; old people know what questions to ask.” Their work ethic is solid compared to today’s work attitudes involving quiet working and quiet quitting. Older employees are the first ones to arrive at work out of habit, stay focused throughout the day even in tough jobs that require precision and speed. Their instincts are sharper because they have retained knowledge of how a business works. Another reason for the preference in hiring senior employees is their lower absenteeism compared to younger staff. Older workers value their jobs more and are often motivated by both job satisfaction and financial stability.

Mentoring is a major advantage: older employees can train the younger generation. They also enhance the company’s image as they symbolise stability and reliability. A global survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in 2019-2020, which included nearly 6,000 employers across 36 countries, found that 83 per cent of global business leaders recognise that multigenerational workforces are key to the growth and long-term success of their companies.

The survey also showed that many employers are taking steps to support older workers, including promoting unbiased recruitment practices (70 per cent), providing training and lifelong learning opportunities (74 per cent), designing mixed-age teams to leverage the advantages of both younger and older employees (68 per cent), and offering flexible work arrangements, including teleworking (54 per cent).

This proves that companies have realised that hiring experienced pros who are driven by a desire to contribute, rather than just earn money, adds immense value to their teams. As Mal puts it, “The skills that you gathered along the way, are always there stored in some corner of the brain. They never go away. So when you begin a new venture, they often come in handy. It works for employers too.”

Maintaining social respect is crucial for many senior professionals, for whom retirement once meant resigning themselves to a life of watching TV, looking after grandkids or playing golf. But this isn’t the case today. As 75-year-old, Dinesh Arya, Executive Director of AST Consultancy Services Private Limited puts it, “The satisfaction of using your knowledge and experience to make a difference is immeasurable.

It keeps you young at heart and in the mind.” His motto is “I am retired, but not tired.” Arya’s son, an entrepreneur, had invited his father to join his newly established company. “It has completely rejuvenated me. The respect from society and the ability to stay intellectually occupied and active are very rewarding,” Arya says.

Ajay Sood, 55, Managing Partner of Gilbert Tweed International, emphasises the importance of self-belief, courage and conviction when embarking on an entrepreneurial journey later in life. “One of the major factors in taking this journey was the ecosystem in which I have thrived for many years—mentors, employees, colleagues, business supporters, well-wishers and friends,” he shares. Sood’s extensive experience in managing budgets, financials and client relationships has been invaluable in his new role. “My commitment, client-first approach and being genuine have been my most valuable experiences from the past. All this has led to creating and maintaining a robust network and ecosystem in the corporate sector,” he notes.

Work-life balance, a term often associated with millennials and corporate jargon, significantly influences HR policies today. However, many retired professionals have actually embraced this concept. They view retirement not as an end, but as an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery, with the added benefit of extra income. Take Ardhendu Pathak, 60, who spent decades in leadership roles at Airbus and General Electric.

He believes “stopping work should not be the end of a career but just the next phase.” He spends quality time with his wife and son, who lives in the UK, and travels frequently—his last holiday was to Scotland in February. He is also the co-founder of KOINVENT, a research-based training and consulting organisation primarily focused on management and leadership training. Additionally, he works with European consulting firm, Management Alignment Partners.

These multiple roles allow him to stay engaged emotionally, intellectually and financially. Pathak has worked as guest faculty at MIT in the US and at Thiagarajar College of Engineering (TCE) in Madurai as well. “I recognised a need for scalable educational models and am developing an industrial product design course with other faculty members. A dozen colleges have shown interest in it. Teaching lets me share my knowledge and give back to the community,” he says.

Not all top executives take up second careers for the sake of remuneration. After an exciting run in advertising where Mishti Bose handled strategic management for Nestle’s business India between 1994 and 2007, she wanted to jump over to the client side. That led her to American Express, but two years in she found herself hankering for the creative experience she had during the early years of her career. “Back then, the agencies were smaller with a creative bent of mind, but most of all, advertising teaches you to be entrepreneurial. I suppose I was yearning for that,” she says, adding, “So, a bunch of us from Amex decided to get together, and in 2010 we brought the UK-based Quintessentially—a members-only luxury lifestyle management service—to India.” Bose is currently the CEO of Quintessentially, India.

Senior citizens and professionals aged between 45 and 64 are often regarded as the ‘wealthiest age cohort’ globally. The silver economy business, products and services involving people over 50 years of age in India is poised for significant growth in the coming years. According to the World Data Lab, India’s expenditure in the silver economy is anticipated to surge from $100 billion to $1 trillion by 2030. By 2050, one in every five Indians will be a senior citizen, creating a substantial ‘silver economy’ equal to the population of the US.

One such silver citizen is philanthropist Arun Nanda. After working for 50 years in various roles within the Mahindra Group—including CFO, Company Secretary, Head of Legal and Executive Director—Nanda stepped down as Chairman of Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd last July. The 75-year-old veteran began preparing for his second innings as soon as he turned 60. “Initially, I set up Adhata Trust to bring dignity and purpose to the lives of senior citizens. We established about 25 community centres and one daycare centre. This year, through my other trust—Blossoming Hope—we built a home for about 100 senior citizens,” says Mumbai-based Nanda, who finds this phase of his life satisfying and fulfilling. “I couldn’t have found anything better to keep myself occupied than to give back to society,” he says.

Gurugram-based Samik Biswas, who retired as a partner at Boston Consulting Group on the last day of 2023, shares a similar sentiment. He found fulfilment in teaching and capacity building. “Procurement and supply chain management were underrepresented in the curriculum of business schools. At BCG and McKinsey, I did a lot of capability building for clients and enjoyed it immensely,” says the 60-year-old Biswas, whose goal is to train at least 1,000 people in procurement and supply chain by 2024-25, with a specific focus on the government sector.

Focus and expertise notwithstanding, a thin wallet can inhibit professionals from starting their own ventures or pursuing passion projects, says Biswas. “Not everyone has the financial cushion to take a risk in their second innings,” he says, adding, “It’s important to plan ahead and save for this phase of life.” Batni also has a piece of advice for younger colleagues: “Move out of a regular job by the time you turn 40 to try out new opportunities.

Explore entrepreneurship and fractional CXO roles. Do diverse assignments simultaneously.” He emphasises the importance of planning for the future and lays out a time scale. The first 23-24 years of life are for studying, the next 24 to 60 years go to building a career and family, and post-60, if you’re lucky, doing things you wanted to but didn’t have time for. “That will only be possible if you already start thinking about how you want to spend this last phase of your life and planning to make it possible.”

One of the oldest clichés in the English language is ‘Age is just a number’. However, this saying is proving true as senior professionals climb the corporate ladder and venture into new careers in agriculture, entrepreneurship, HR and emerging industries. These seasoned professionals are blending traditional values with fresh, innovative approaches, making businesses more profitable and forward-thinking without compromising their core principles. Not even for a second.

Advantages

● They provide a fresh perspective

● Boast valuable track records

● Quick to learn new skills

● Existing knowledge provides a strong base

Hurdles

42 per cent of employees aged 55 and above encountered ageism at the workplace

Women were discriminated against the most

40 per cent of older professionals feel they need additional training to keep up with the latest tech trends

Why the Shift

India’s expenditure in the silver economy is anticipated to surge from $100 billion to $1 trillion by 2030

One-fifth of the Indian population will comprise people above 60 by 2050

By the end of the century, seniors will constitute over 36 per cent of the country’s total population

Only 4.7 per cent of India’s workforce has formal skill training

A majority of India’s 900 million workforce has stopped looking for jobs because they can’t find employment that fits their profiles

The Labour Force Participation Rate in 2022 was just 55.2 per cent in 2022

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