Note to readers: Fit to lead is a series of interviews with business leaders on their approach to fitness, leadership and navigating the new normal.
Suhasini Sampath used to be a poster girl for a fitness studio in Bangalore back when she was in college. Her routine was something like this: college-swim-gym-home and repeat the next day. Now, 39, mother to a toddler born just before the pandemic and running a healthy bars brand in India, Yoga Bar, with her sister, she is easing herself back into fitness with yoga and lots of running behind her two-year-old. “Fitness to me is not just about pulling off planks for a long duration. It is taking care of one's self, and thoughts. Both help connect me to my true inner self,” she says.
A chartered accountant with an MBA from the London Business School and Wharton, Sampath handles the sales, finance and fund-raising part of Yogabar, a name that the sisters came up with after attending a yoga class in Manhattan. “After the yoga class, we walked across to the store and picked up a health bar because we were hungry. That’s when my sister said if we ever launch a health bar we’d call it Yoga Bar. That’s how the idea of the brand was born.”
Sampath, who used to play kho-kho in school, believes resilience is an indispensable trait in a leader and one needs to put full trust in their team. This year is full of excitement and challenge as Sampath and her sister aim to grow the business by more than 100% to Rs 300 per annum.
How do you achieve your health and fitness goals?
I usually spend an hour a day on fitness activities like yoga at home or training in the gym. Lately, it has also been a lot of running around behind my toddler.
Favourite fitness activity…
It’d be really difficult to pick between dance, which helps me set free, and yoga, which ensures I am grounded.
Planks. I keep pushing myself to do planks for longer… it gets tough.
Your new normal…
Despite Covid, we mostly need to work from the office as there is a lot of back and forth between the factory, office and home. We shut the factory for 45 days, and despite the revenue losses, we didn’t want to take any risks.
More than Covid, my new normal has come in because of my two-year-old daughter. I look forward to spending some time with her every evening. It has helped me create a healthy work-life balance. Being an entrepreneur can be quite consuming, but she makes sure that I keep my personal and family time in check.
Has your fitness routine, in any way, helped you navigate the uncertainties of the current times?
Covid is definitely one of the most uncertain period our generation has seen. I had just had my baby and the pandemic had also hit the market. Yoga helped me get clarity and keep my energy high to also be the mother that I wanted to be.
One change you would encourage your teammates to make to deal with the challenges of current times…
Beyond fitness and work, there is empathy. For everything that I do and all that I wish to incorporate within my team, empathy would be the greatest key.
Leadership lessons in your fitness journey…
Resilience. Fitness is all about consistency and believing in the best even if you don’t see a drastic change every day. I take that with me to work every single day.
What impact does your image of a “fit leader” have on your team?
“Fit leader” is an interesting way to put it. However, seeing someone take on each day with energy, zeal and spirit definitely ensures that the team feels the same way. It is all about motivating them to be better versions of themselves.
Has being fit helped you become a better leader?
It has made me a more active person at work. That surely reflects in the way I interact with my team.
Your leadership style…
There are two key things I keep in mind while leading a team. First, it goes a long way to place your trust in them and allow them to take full ownership and accountability of their work. While stepping in and guiding where required is instrumental, more often than not, you also have to let the team learn from their mistakes and grow. Second, work does not always come first. Each individual has their own journey and I believe in respecting that journey. It is also important to understand and respect the personal lives of the people you work with.
Goals for the year…
On the business front, we want to grow the brand by more than 100% to Rs 300 crore per annum. And as far as fitness goals go, I want to be able to improve my plank times.