Understanding 'Money'

5th July 2018

   Recently, I came across an interesting question on Quora: ‘How much does Tarun Sharma, CCO of BMC Software earn?’

   Although the question was valid, I believe that the person really wanted to ask; “How do I make as much money as Tarun Sharma?”. The answer to the second question would have really helped them out whereas the answer to the first question would have just caused severe depression. But jokes aside, I am sure you all must be eager to know the secret to making a lot of money. And to begin answering that question, you must go to the end.

What do I mean by that? Most people do not understand where they are going in their careers. Let me ask you today, “Hey, tell me, how would you want to retire? Give me your retirement day speech!” 

What is it that you are going to say?

   Let us assume that you want to be the CEO of a company. That’s your end goal. But there are many questions unanswered. Do you want to be the CEO of a small business which is your hobby? Or do you want to be the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world? Do you want to be the CEO of a software company or a manufacturing company? Just wanting to be CEO is like saying, “Hey, I am going to drive to a city!” But which city? Pune, Bombay, Delhi or New York? When do you want to get there? Today, tomorrow or ten years from now? How do you want to get there? By car, bike, bus or a truck? 

   What most people really associate themselves with, is the title, not the job. You should want to be a CEO of something that you feel good about and know extremely well. Defining that end goal as precisely as you can, is the first step!

 

You will need to make a lot of choices between now, and when you reach that goal. And these choices will determine whether you get there or not. If you want to be CEO, that basically presumes that:
 

  • You have run operations at some point in time.

  • You have been a line manager at some point in time. 

  • You have been a sales guy at some point in time. 

  • You are good at managing blind spots. For example, if your strength is in sales & marketing, you still need to have a really good understanding of other functions like HR, Finance, Legal, Product Development, Professional Services, Customer Support etc. 

  • And the MOST important of all is the moral compass; it is presumed that you have zero tolerance for unethical and immoral activities. 

 

These are a bunch of prerequisites you need to fulfil, in order to be a CEO. And as you go through your career, you will have to make choices. For example, let’s assume that you are a programmer right now. You intend to be a CEO someday. And you love being an individual contributor because you dislike people management. Then that effectively means you can never become a CEO because understanding people, understanding selling and understanding the psyche of the buyer are skills which as programmer, you might not have developed to the adequate levels. So, if you want to be CEO, a course correction is required. You will need to get into a managerial role. And when you decide to do that, if your expectation is that you will get a 50% pay hike because money is important, you will never be able to make that switch. Therefore, you may have to make that switch at the cost of financial gain. You might even have to take a salary cut. And I have done that many times in my life. Let me give you an example:

 

   At the beginning of my career, I used to teach programming at NIIT. I loved programming, and so getting into teaching, was seen as counter-intuitive by many people. But I knew that as I leader sometime in the future, I needed to have the skill of being a good presenter. Presentation skills are extremely important for a leader. And which job gives you the ability to present every day? It’s teaching! Hence, I took up the teaching job primarily to sharpen my presentation & communication skills. Being comfortable in front of crowds, being able to simplify concepts, engaging students to create better things than I could, were all skills I learnt while teaching. As a teacher, you must make your students better than you are. Most of my friends were programmers. I shifted to teaching because it gave me a skill which I needed sometime in the future.

 

   Later, when I wanted to get back into programming, it was difficult to find that opportunity. So, when I went to work for a consulting company, I had to take a pay cut. Later when I went to work at a startup, I again made no money. The point I am trying to make is that in the context of your end goal, you will have to make many career choices, based on skills which you don’t have now but will need in the future.

   And you can’t build great skills in a day. You can’t say, “Hey, I am a great presenter because I learnt to do Power Point presentations at a seminar”. You must stay at a job for a prolonged period in order to build those skills. And often you will have to make choices which would not give you more money now, but would give you the skill for ‘big money’ when you are ready for it.

  If at that point, I had chased more money and got into the wrong job, then the money I would have made at the time would nowhere be close to the kind of money I make now! I wouldn’t have had the skills to get this job.

 

   An investment in a skill required in the future, pays far more returns. A lot of people make the mistake of going after ‘small money now' and sacrifice the larger opportunity for it. You should not look at money in isolation. You should always look at money in the context of your end goal. And sometimes, taking a pay cut is the best investment you can make for your future. Money should be nothing more than a side-effect of doing the right things and doing them well. 


 

   There are two unique goddesses in Indian mythology. One is Lakshmi (goddess of wealth, fortune & prosperity) and the other is Saraswati (goddess of knowledge, art, wisdom & learning). There is a saying in Hindi that when you chase Lakshmi, Saraswati runs away from you. But when you chase Saraswati, Lakshmi comes after you. When you focus on skill, the money will come. But when you focus on money, the skill won’t come.

   By focusing on low hanging fruits, you might make more money in the short term and lose in the long term. But when you chase skills without worrying about money, then the money automatically comes in the long run. 

   And that’s my answer to how you can make money like Tarun Sharma. 


 

P.S. Time is money, and in order to live a balanced lifestyle, you may have to trade money for time. Nobody thinks they make as much money as they deserve, including me. But all my choices have been thought through - and I HAVE traded money for time - time to spend on my well being and with my family. But that is a blog for another time. :)