Interview: "I am ambitious and I want my country to be ambitious" - Viren Rasquinha, CEO, Olympic Gold Quest
In our new Business Interview series we talk to Viren Rasquinha, CEO of Olympic Gold Quest about his role at OGQ, Sports Business in India and India’s medal prospects at the 2016 Olympics. We also try and understand how a not-for-profit organization like OGQ helps Indian athletes win medals at the Olympics. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Q: As a former Olympian and the country’s former hockey captain, please tell us a little about yourself and how you got into sports?
A: I went to St. Stanislaus high school and sport was always encouraged there. I mainly played football and hockey, and incidentally, I am the last boy from St. Stanislaus to represent the country. In Mumbai, school hockey is very popular and I guess I made a mark while representing the school, and the moment I finished 10th standard, I started playing for Tata sports club. Then I went to Air India and then finally went to Indian oil. At each of these places I played for two years, so the progression was very steady.
Q: What made you pursue sport as a career? Did you face any opposition while doing so?
A: I never really thought about taking up hockey as a career. I just took it one step at a time. I never knew as a kid I would play for India at the Olympics. For me, the big realisation that I could actually play at the highest level came during the junior nationals in 1999 at Bangalore where I captained the Mumbai team.
And then, I was immediately put into the junior India camp and I started playing for the junior Indian team. This was the main turning point for me after I realised I could play at such a high level.
As far as opposition goes, I never really had any as my parents were really supportive and always encouraged me to do whatever I loved doing. From that point of view, I never had any opposition and it was only encouragement from not only parents but my school as well. That is most important in a career like this.
Q: After completing your management degree at Indian School of Business (ISB), why did you choose to join OGQ and turn down other lucrative job offers from MNCs?
A: I actually signed up for a conventional job towards the end of ISB and it was a very good offer. I was supposed to come back to Mumbai after ISB when I had a three month break. The very next day after reaching Mumbai, I met Prakash Padukone, Geet Sethi and the rest of the OGQ board, and they told me what they were planning. At this point, OGQ was barely an idea.
What attracted me was the whole concept of winning Olympic medals for the country. It was something I always dreamed of doing, but unfortunately I played the 2004 Athens Olympics and I could not win an Olympic medal there. This was a second opportunity for me to help top athletes, and help them win a medals for the country.
The second thing that attracted me was the team of OGQ. You have people like Geet Sethi and Prakash Padukone, who are legends on the field, and it would be amazing to work with them. It is not just them; it’s also the corporates involved and are on the board. It is a great blend of people of excellence, and there is so much credibility in these people. I thought it would be a great opportunity.
Q: Do you think a general management degree is ideal to carry out your current role or would a specific sports management degree be more relevant?
A: I think both are equally important. I think, for me, I’m a blend of both. All the athletes respect me and understand what I’m saying because they know that I have also been through the grind and they also know that I know what is required for them to become Olympic champions.
The fact that I went to ISB and got a management degree helped me more from an organisational perspective, in terms of developing OGQ from scratch, as it was just an idea. To be able to creatively raise funds, especially at the least possible costs, considering that fact that we are an NGO, things like online marketing, etc., help you look at things in a much broader perspective.
I think, when I was a sports person, all I thought about was just myself and with a much more micro view of things. I think ISB has helped me be much more analytical in my approach, that made me think with my head and not only with my heart.
Q: Can you give a brief about your roles and responsibilities as the CEO of OGQ?
A: OGQ has a very small team in place. We are only six of us, but we have a big team of doctors, physiotherapists, nutrition experts, mental trainers, who are like consultants. Now, my role is basically to do everything from getting water to heading the company, and I am not embarrassed by it at all, because I think if you want to get something done you need to be willing to roll-up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
If impact has to be made, everything must be done. Right from selection of athletes, monitoring of athletes, to supervision of medical checks of athletes, visiting them regularly at tournaments, staying with them at camps; only then will you know the problems they actually face. When you do the above properly, only then will the trust between the athletes and you build, and hence make it easier to understand what they go through and need.
Off the field, we do fundraising, meeting the funders, running on the administrative side. Also, when you’re a section 25 company, there is a whole lot of compliance issues to deal with, as well as dealing with the marketing side, audit side, etc. The key part, I think, is to build relationships with potential funders, engaging with all OGQ supporters.