About the Guest Transcript

Harish Bhat

What does it take to become a Brand Custodian at the Tatas, who better to answer than the Brand Custodian himself. We have Harish Bhat with us who has spent almost 31 years with the Tatas. He speaks to us on a myriad topics, right from what does a marketer or rather everyone needs in life to grow and succeed. He also shares about his fiction novel about the love of coffee and his tryst with coffee in his life. This is a deep yet fun conversation with a veteran and there is loads to learn from him.
Harish Bhat is a Brand Custodian at the Tata Group, has spent 31 years taking care of multiple portfolios at the Tata Group. He is an avid coffee lover and brews it himself with a hint of citrus.


Shubham(00:02) -
What is Tata as a brand stand for you, it stands for trust for me. After all "namak khaya hai humne unka", from Jokes apart, even if you have not interacted or consumed any of the Tata products, which is really difficult being an Indian I think, regardless You see, Tata is a very trustworthy brand. Now, we have someone who is at the core of the brand custodian and Tata with us today, Mr. Harish Bhat, who has been with the Tata's for more than three decades now. He has authored various books around marketing saga's from inside the organization, and the latest one being simply for the love of coffee. It is really an honor to have him on Secrets Of Storytellers. Namaste I'm Shubham Aggarwal, and you're listening to SOS Secrets Of Storytellers. Welcome to yet another episode. Today's episode is sponsored by IBS Hyderabad club prayers the official interview school and corporate event club of IBS Hyderabad they organizing C-Suite 4.0 by skilling India. Lots of fun, lots of contests and prizes to be won. Check out our website for more details. Hello, Harish sir. Welcome to Secrets Of Storytellers. How are you? doing? Well,

Harish(01:15) -
Shubham. And thank you for having me here on the session. It's my pleasure to narrate some secrets of storytelling, for sure.

Shubham(01:22) -
Great and honored to have you here, sir. So you say you spent 31 years at the Tata's and still counting started as a task manager, which is one of the most sought after roles for almost every MBA in the country, I believe, to now as a brand custodian. How would you describe this journey?

Harish(01:40) -
It's been a fascinating journey Shubham. The Tata Group is I think one of the finest places to work in. I started as a young manager at the age of 25. And here I am 33 years later, I've part of the period I've worked with our tea and coffee company, Tata tea, which is now Tata consumer products, for a good part of the journey. I work with Titan, which is a watch and jewelry company. And now I am brand custodian at Tata Sons, I think across these roles, something that I've enjoyed doing is building brands and contributing to building strong brands like Tata tea, or Titan or FastTrack or Tanishq. And now, of course, managing the Tata brand as well, it's been fascinating because I got to see different industries and categories, right from tea and coffee to jewellery and watches, right. But it's also been fascinating, because, you know, the Tata Group is such an inspiring place to be. With over 152 years of heritage in history. There are so many stories within the Tata Group, which inspire you to do so much better every single day.

Shubham(02:50) -
Great. That's really wonderful to hear. So coming to your, your, your book, The Curious marketer. Now you remark curiosity as the most important trait in the book, if I'm not wrong for a marketing professional. Is it true only for a marketer or just about anyone who intends to do something new and creative?

Harish(03:09) -
I think curiosity is important for all of us in life. Yeah. If you want to do something creative, if you want to learn something new, and to make something out of it, and how can it happen with it without curiosity? curiosity is what prompts you to learn. It's what it's what prompts you to ask questions. It's what makes you go out into the wild world and experience something new and learn from new people that you meet, learn from books that you read. Without curiosity, learning stops, and you'll agree with me Shubham, that learning is very, very important if you wish to create something true. So it's not just for marketers, my book, The Curious marketer focuses on curiosity looked at through the lens of a marketer because that's what I am. Okay. But, you know, if you're a management consultant, or you're a doctor, or you're, let's say an engineer curiosities as important in each of these professions, in the sciences and the arts, without curiosity, I think life also gets very boring, you don't get intellectually stimulated because curiosity brings so much more new knowledge in your mind. And in the curious marketer, I have narrated, I think, more than 40 stories, Wow! of curiosity, and how they have actually helped awaken my own mind the stories about places the stories about people and their stories about books, their stories about other stories that have heard the stories about product pricing and there are stories from all parts of the world that I've visited. And I can tell you this Curiosity has helped me greatly in my own career as a monk.

Shubham(04:49) -
Oh great. Well, so you you, you have lived that trade and not just you know, written about it.

Harish(04:55) -
I would say I am a very curious person Shubham by nature. I am curious in some areas, and now I am also trying to become curious in other areas. So

Shubham(05:08) -
That's great.

Harish(05:09) -
Curiosity is also, you know, not just in one single domain, it's in multiple domains, right?

Shubham(05:16) -
But then is curiosity going to be enough to swim through these difficult pandemic times? From a marketers perspective? Since the book is about a market? Do you know because marketing branding are rapidly changing? Or is it something else that the marketer needs to be conscious about as well?

Harish(05:33) -
See curiosity is a necessary trait, but not a sufficient tree. Okay. And I'll tell you why I'm saying this, because whether it's during the pandemic, pre pandemic, or post pandemic, I think what helps a marketer greatly is consumer insight. What is it that consumers want, and curiosity helps you to identify what consumers want? Yeah. But thereafter, you still have to develop the product or service, you still need the determination with persistence to get it out to market, the business model needs to make sense. And in today's pandemic driven times, you have to find methods of accessing the customer and understanding the customer's current anxieties of problems and finding products to service those needs. So curiosity is a good stepping stone to reach that, but it's not, it's not entirely the be all and end all of a market. So

Shubham (06:27)
- I think that will be really helpful for the marketers who are listening. So moving on your your latest book is a novel titled An extreme love for coffee, which is very different from your previous books. I'm curious what inspired you to write this one?

Harish(06:43) -
The story was bubbling up in my mind Shubham. It's the story of a young couple. Okay. Yeah, Rahul and Neha who follow their passion for coffee. And they go into the coffee plantations of Coorg where strange, but beautiful things happen to them. They actually meet a coffee ghost. Okay, they go on a coffee adventure, which takes them all the way from Coorg to the graveyards in Japan, to many other parts of the world. But at every step, there is coffee, which guides them. And at every step, there is coffee, which excites. So I don't want to spill the beans in this interview, but but it's a very, very coffee inspired story. And I was inspired by coffee. And I was also inspired by the art of storytelling. There are so many stories to be told about Indian coffee in particular. And I wanted to write a book which brings to life many of these stories of Indian culture. So that's that's why I wrote the book and

Shubham(07:40) -
Are you yourself a coffee lover, then,

Harish(07:41) -
Of course, I am a very, very avid coffee lover. I buy my own coffee beans. Oh, wow. I powdered them, I brew them every morning. And it's such an exciting feeling. Shubham always an exciting feeling to brew your own fresh coffee and sit down. Look out at the sea, which I can see from my apartment here in Mumbai in the distance and, and sip that very flavory mug of coffee, with that hint of citrus in it or sometimes they into fruits in it and feel the sweet aftertaste on your tongue. That's, I think the kind of a feeling that you die for. And that's how I like beginning my day virtually every single day. That's what inspired me to write this novel.

Shubham(08:25) -
I can really feel that love while you were describing it. Wow. Great. So did you explore storytelling in a completely different way with this book? How is how is your experience about?

Harish(08:37) -
I did, I explored storytelling in a very different way in this book, compared to say business stories that I used to write earlier, or stories about the Tata Group that I used right earlier? Okay, I realized that to narrate a good story out of fiction, there are two or three things that happen first, the characters keep growing in your mind, you don't flesh out the character on page one, the character grows with you through the pages of the story. And you have to let it grow. And you have to let your to let the lead characters grow. And take shape in your mind as you're writing the book. You know, both Rahul and Neha and the coffee ghost, and there's a monk in the book, they all started breathing in my mind, and I had to permit them to breathe and and as you the kind of shape that they had to see, so that that was one thing that I found. The second thing is, you know, the plot has to be gripping. And people have to feel completely engaged with the plot. Yeah, it needs to have those few twists and turns which keep you always waiting for what would happen next. And that, again, was a new exploration for me, because the plot keeps revealing itself as you move through the book. It's not that on page one, you know exactly how the book is going to flow through all its 250 pages.

Shubham(09:55) -
That'll be no fun, I think.

Harish(09:57) -
Yeah, and sometimes you're like a dictator because you can dictate The way the story flows, either one way or the other, yeah. Which is also a nice feeling to have, versus writing a business story by you have to be true to true to what has happened. And then of course, I had great fun writing the story. Because I was able to invent characters, I was able to talk of the places they went to, I was able to create exciting adventures for them in each of these places. And I found that eventually a story has to be great. So you need a gripping plot. You need lots of fun in it, you need characters who people start emoting with and liking really well. So those are some of the those are some of the things I learned as I wrote an extreme love of coffee. And I can tell you that, you know, in the very first page where Rahul decides to go to a Starbucks store to sip his cup of coffee, I did not know how the book was going to end. Oh, is it? Okay, that happened as I was writing the story. Wow. So I thought it was very nice. You know, it's like the story of our lives. We don't know what's going to happen next in our lives, or what's going to happen at the end of our lives. We discovered that as we are moving along, and I think writing a novel was very much like the story of our lives. I discovered it as we went along.

Shubham(11:11) -
Wow, that's that's beautiful that you didn't know the ending began with a book. So interesting.

Harish(11:17) -
I knew the story is all about coffee. And I knew the story would be all about the excitement and inspiration of coffee, and two young people who are following their love for coffee. And they will get drawn into this huge adventure, which would, which would excite them and energize them. But I didn't know how the story was going to end for sure. And I guess I also learned a little bit about myself as I was writing the story, because the things which were exciting to me also came flowing out on every page.

Shubham(11:51) -
Wow, that's, that's beautiful. Did you visit those places yourself as well, that you have witnessed, portrayed in the book.

Harish(11:59) -
Some of them Yes, Shubham, I have visited the coffee plantations in Coorg. And they're such beautiful, lush green locations. With these old bungalows set amongst to walk through a coffee plantation, with coffee on both sides, a few. The tall shade trees with pepper growing on them, listening to the birds, listening to the sounds of nature and watching a flying squirrel, or maybe catching a glimpse of an elephant in a distance. There is so much romance in the coffee plant. And and I've tried to depict some of the romance in this book, many, many people have read an extreme love of coffee, the novel that I've written, I've written back and told me that one of the things they feel after reading the novel is they want to go to Coorg and visit the coffee practice.

Shubham(12:47) -
I must tell you that I have been too Coorg. And I want to go again and experience because I've been too Coorg. But I've not experienced it the way that you just described. It's beautiful.

Harish(12:57) -
Yes, indeed it is. It is the coffee plantations are out of this world. And I have been associated for some time with one of our Tata Group companies Tata coffee, which has extensive coffee plantations in the Coorg. And that's how I first visited the place. But soon, the splendor in the romance of the place kind of overtook me, which is why I decided to base the story, at least the start of the story, input, but then the story travels to many other places after Great. Okay,

Shubham(13:27) -
So has this approach, you know, of writing the book of a storytelling way, impacted in any way you operate as a brand custodian because, you know, things do have there effects on each other.

Harish(13:40) -
What are your thoughts about it? That's a very interesting question. Shubham. I think it did, I think the writing of the novel kind of helped whole my own storytelling skills. Okay, I realized that the art of telling a nice, gripping, tight story, which is very exciting, requires a fiction like approach. Okay? The story needs to have its ups and downs. Okay, the story needs to have its moments of excitement. And you don't write it like an essay, you write it like a story, which kind of envelops your imagination. So even post that when I've been writing stories about the Tata Group, and I write them very often on LinkedIn these days, I have followed that approach of keeping the story, gripping and exciting with the protagonist right in front. So I think the retelling of the story in you know, an extreme level of coffee, as definitely added to my storytelling skips the writing of a book of fiction. The other thing that I've realized while writing the book of fiction is you don't need to figure out the story from beginning till end. You can figure it out in Pieces one after the other. And that also has, I think, been a lesson that have taken away from the writing of the next big level. That is one more lesson I've taken away from an extreme love of coffee, which is that not all of life is logical. Sometimes there is need for a little bit of magic in life as well. This is what the coffee ghost represents. So, I have taken away with me this lesson in my mind that you know, a story need not always be full of logic. A story is very emotive, and there has to be a touch of magic for a story to really come alive. And and engage the mind

Shubham(15:36) -
Correct wow, it gives me some hope, positive hope that you know, even at this age, you're exploring so much stuff in you're still looking at life with such interest is a very motivating way to look at it. And it motivates me to, you know, look at your life,

Harish(15:53) -
For that matter. But but but equally Shubham I'm so I'm so impressed with the way you conduct these podcasts, and you're interested in recording people like me, so we have a lot to learn from each other Actually, yeah. Because I would not know how to record a podcast like you do. Right. But having said that, I think, you know, the ability to remain curious. And the ability to learn new things through life is very important for everyone, it's important for you important for me, that's what keeps life so interesting.

Shubham(16:26) -
Great, I think a curiosity is definitely one of the most important traits anyone can have in life, I believe

Harish(16:32) -
No doubt about it. If I was not curious, I would not have written an extreme love of Coffee, because I also had to research all the types of Indian coffees where they are available, what their taste profiles are. And that that bit of curiosity, you will find, as the story flows, you will find all this rich detail about types of Indian coffee, which readers just freak out on readers love it. And many readers have written back to me and said, You know, I loved your novel and extreme love of coffee, because I learned so much about coffee by reading. So that's wonderful feedback.

Shubham(17:08) -
Right, Great. That's, that's wonderful. So Harish sir said, Are you curious to further develop this new style of writing or storytelling, as you put it, with your upcoming books as well?

Harish(17:20) -
Of course I am. I'm in the process right now of writing a series of Tata stories, which I am publishing on LinkedIn.  And those please, in many ways, I think the storytelling experience from an extreme love of coffee, I have brought into many of those things. And I think, you know, if you're a marketer, if you're a person with name, the branding fraternity or or even if you're, you know, engaging with your colleagues in an office, I think storytelling is such an important arch. Because sometimes, you know, as we do our studies, we go through our engineering or our MBA or any other course of studies that we do, our minds are full of concepts and frameworks. Yeah, but let me tell you, a concept and a framework is good. But there is nothing as memorable as a story well married. That's why we remember the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, we remember the stories of all the movies that we see. We don't necessarily remember all the conceptual frameworks, which our, you know, business schools or colleges have thrown at us. true. So I think that's why everyone, every manager, every professional, should, in my view, learn the art of narrating a good story, whatever you're presenting, or whatever you're talking about, punctuating what you're saying, with a good tale, it's probably a real life tale, or which could be a fictional tale always has been

Shubham(18:51) -
Great. Harish sir, while we're on this topic of storytelling, and you know, because there's a lot of buzz around storytelling, right? How do you develop this trait of storytelling, if you could shed some light upon that?

Harish(19:02) -
First and foremost, I think you have to learn to be very simply a story to be gripping, has to be narrated in a manner which is very simple and can be appreciated by the reader. The characters may be complex, the flow of the story could be complex, it could leave behind complex emotions in your mind, but the story itself should have a certain simplicity. So I would urge all storytellers or all aspiring storytellers to keep that simplicity in mind. The second thing about a good story is a good story needs to have excitement in it. It needs to have emotion in it. And it needs to have a certain connect with the reader. In my novel, an extreme love of coffee that connect with the reader was coffee, because so many people love coffee, you love coffee, I love coffee, so many people so Have coffee kind of created a natural connection? Okay, yeah. So as a storyteller, you should also apply your mind to what creates the connect with the reader. And the more connects you the more threads of Connect you're able to develop with the reader, the more the reader is completely engaged and engrossed in the third, of course, Shubham, I believe that a story should always have enough, it should not answer all the questions in the readers mind. It should leave a few question marks for the reader to think about. Wow, nice. That's what good literature always does. And a good story always does. And if you read an extreme love of coffee, you will find that it leaves a couple of questions, at least in your mind. Okay. That's my insight into what I think I get out of a good story. Because if you close all the questions in the readers mind, then that's just a narration. But if you leave a couple of questions open after having provoked the reader to think, yeah, then the story lingers on in the readers mind. So add that a lot of good literature does that it doesn't close all the brackets in the readers mind, then there is no need for you to do. Yeah. Because the reader has to take the story away with her or him. And then think about

Shubham(21:25) -
Great. I think these are great. Help for becoming a better storyteller.

Harish(21:30) -
Thank you. Yeah. Because you know, one of the most famous scenes I remember in, you know, if you have seen Gone with the Wind, yeah, the last scene is actually that of him walking away. Right? And the hero in of the story saying, well, tomorrow will be another day. But who knows what happens tomorrow therefore, when I wrote an extreme love of coffee, I didn't try to close every question in the in the readers mind. I let them up to a question. And then I left the reader with that question for a little bit of time to think about it themselves.

Shubham(22:08) -
Okay. To be consciously doing that is a great piece of art in itself.

Harish(22:14) -
Yes, because if you if you read Indian ethics, if you read Mahabharata, for instance, Mahabharata leaves a lot of questions in your mind.

Shubham(22:22) -
Tons of questions, I guess. Okay, well, was

Harish(22:25) -
It right, what you district? Or was it right, what Karna did, or you know, the manner in which Krishna conducted himself during the war? Correct. There may be many opinions about about what, Lord Krishna did, or they were the dilemmas in Arjuna's mind, which is the Bhagavad Gita, throws up, there are so many questions which keep coming through the pages of the Mahabharata, which have become really intriguing. Their questions of morality, their dilemmas of action, they are questions of loyalty versus duty versus what is right. So I think the best stories always do that. And that is why they live on in our minds, right. So I will also urge storytellers, you know, spin a good pace and make it an exciting story and find your connect with the reader. But also leave a couple of questions for readers. Great. Don't try to answer all the questions yourself.

Shubham(23:24) -
Great. There's a lot of insight for myself. I mean, I'm trying to be a storyteller. So with the podcast, I mean, so thank you.

Harish(23:32) -
Yes, Shubham. And I wish you all the best with your storytelling.

Shubham(23:35) -
Thank you. So Harish sir , This brings us to the last and concluding section of the podcast. It's a very interesting section. And something which is common across all the episodes, I want to ask you one secret about the book all about, you know, your journey as an author, which you probably have never shared on any public platform till date.

Harish(23:53) -
So one secret about the book An extreme love of coffee was that, you know, one of the things I did is when I went to Coorg, I picked up a couple of coffee beans and brought them back with Okay, and for inspiration. I kept those coffee beans in a small box on my writing team. Oh, wow. And every time I used to get stuck a little bit, I used to look at those coffee beans for inspiration.

Shubham(24:24) -
Lovely. So those were your coffee ghosts.

Harish(24:28) -
And I used to tell myself if there's so much life in so much flavor in the coffee beans. Of course I can move on to the next chapter or the next part.

Shubham(24:36) -
Oh, lovely. That's, that's beautiful. That's that's beautiful to hear.

Harish(24:41) -
Yes, those were my beans of inspiration. I still have them with me

Shubham(24:45) -
Okay. That's lovely. Thank you so much for sharing that. That's a very personal secret.

Harish(24:51) -
Yeah, that's just an experiment method of inspiring myself.

Shubham(24:55) -
That's a really survey. Very curious, very interesting way to do that. I think

Harish(25:00) -
Yeah, I just thought that, you know, every time I looked at the coffee beans, I transported myself into a world of coffee into the plantations. So they were a way of leaving my existing world in Mumbai and going into my fictional world. Each time. Those coffee beans were on the table and I started hammering away on my laptop and writing the next part. so they were your portal, right? to the fictional world. In a way they were Portal that's what I told you earlier, Shubham, there has to be some magic. Yeah, life is not all logical. Okay. And maybe those coffee beans did have magic in them, because eventually, they inspired me to complete a very good story and an extreme love of coffee has been doing extremely well as a novel. So I owe something to those coffee beats for sure. Right.

Shubham(25:48) -
Lovely. Thank you so much for sharing that once again. It was a lovely discussion with you. And I hope you enjoyed this session as well.

Harish(25:56) -
I did enjoy this session Shubham, you know, storytelling is a passion with me. And I also hope that the viewers or the listeners of your podcast, will decide to pick up an extreme love of coffee and will enjoy this coffee inspired adventure. But thank you so much for doing this podcast. I have also thoroughly enjoyed this discussion and all the best with your own story.

Shubham(26:19) -
Thank you so much. And thank you to all the listeners this is Shubham, signing off until the next secret and the next storyteller.

Curious Marketer & The Love for Coffee with Harish Bhat


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