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An executive finds his calling in coaching scaleups

By Verne Harnish

Scaling Up Certified Coach Ajay Hiraskar knows how difficult it is for an entrepreneur to run a business without the right knowledge, processes and tools to scale. Growing up in India, he helped his father run a variety of businesses, such as an electronics retail shop that sold TVs and a travel agency. “I used to see him struggle as an entrepreneur,” says Hiraskar. “He was a very nice, kind person but he didn’t really have the tools or the processes that could help to really build the businesses to make them bigger.”

From corporate executive to startup mentor

Determined to avoid his father’s struggles, Hiraskar entered the corporate world, armed with an economics degree and MBA, rising to run a large IT services business for Dell with a global team. “I learned in my corporate years what independent systems and processes power business growth,” he says. “That is what gave me a scaling up mindset.”

Toward the end of his tenure in the corporate world, Hiraskar started mentoring startups on a pro bono basis as part of the Pune chapter of The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE), a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship. He found he loved guiding the entrepreneurs and within two years had quit his job to become a mentor and coach. “This is something that seamlessly feeds into my drivers,” he says. “I love to handle new challenges, new situations, new industries, new markets.”

Discovering the tools that support startup growth

Hiraskar initially started using the Business Model Canvas to work with his clients but found as they scaled, he needed other tools to help them grow. He was introduced to Scaling Up by a company he advised as a board member—and soon found the platform offered exactly what many clients needed–a framework to help them master People, Strategy, Execution and Cash.

Hiraskar got certified in the Scaling Up platform. Based in Pune, Maharashtra, India, he today works with middle-market clients, including IT and manufacturing firms, two universities, and the biggest chain of bookstores in India. He built his coaching practice, Success Alchemists, through word-of-mouth among businesses in Western India.

“What is really essential in any situation in business is that you are able to isolate out the core levers right that are blocking them and what are the things that can accelerate their success and growth,” says Hiraskar. “The success really lies in identifying the critical stuff to make the change.” 

In many of the companies he coaches, his focus is on helping the leaders get the right people in the right seats on the bus. Often, they have experience in hiring and firing people but not developing them, so he helps the founders to build the right learning systems for their teams.

“In the Indian market, large corporates spend a lot of money investing in trainings but in midsize businesses there is zero investment,” Hiraskar says. “Right from the start, I insist on founders investing in building their people because it takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Building trust 

Often in working with a company, Hiraskar finds he serves as a de facto coach to the CEO. “We don’t do the full nine yards of executive coaching but automatically we become sounding boards,” he says. “We become the people who are asking them the question because nobody else in the organization can ask them those questions, challenging them and pushing them,” he says. 

That can be a gradual process. “It doesn’t start from month one,” he says. “What really happens is that you go in as a Scaling Up coach and you’re helping the organization. Now, very soon in about three to six months, the founder starts seeing the value of the input that you’re giving and that is when you build the trust and the credibility.”

Giving back

Hiraskar has continued his pro bono mentoring—a personal passion. He also played a key role in launching Toastmasters clubs for entrepreneurs, which have grown to 10 chapters.  He personally launched the Toastmasters for Pune entrerpreneurs. “It’s a community of entrepreneurs who come together, learning from each other and growing together,” he says. It’s all part of his mission of bringing entrepreneurs the tools they need for success. 

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.