Normally, one thinks of CEOs as men dressed in grey suits, locked away in plush offices, either holding meetings or tapping away on their laptops. The image is hardly one of people that are creative, interesting, arty or sensitive.
Yet, 26 CEOs from India’s top leading companies, including HSBC India, Tata Sons, Shell and Wipro, have debunked that myth and put together an exhibition, not of their business plans, but of their art. It’s called Painter CEOs and is on display at the National Centre for the Performing Art’s Piramal Art Gallery till Friday.
Some are abstract minimalist stripe art, others are splurges of random colours and yet others, are representative of trees, human faces and beaches. Each has the name of the CEO beneath it.
The idea was conceived by Shombit Sengupta, 55, founder of Shining Consulting, also a painter. He wanted to get India’s top brass to do the opposite of what they usually do – dream, use their right brains, escape, be sensuous, and go back to being kids. He explains, “In business, you look at numbers and it’s all about logic. But when you have a canvas in front of you, you have unlimited thought processes and it can help you think more imaginatively. I think the paintings were quite good.”
He adds that in the west, there have been many art movements, such as cubism, but he does not think there have been any in India, and has, possibly unrealistic hopes, that Painter CEOs will become one such movement.
He wrote to the CEOs and asked them for an hour of their time, then turned up at their offices or homes in December with acrylic paint, brushes and canvas, and told them to draw whatever was on their mind.
Most of the CEOs, that included Keshub Mahindra, turned up at the inauguration at the gallery on Saturday. None of them had painted since school. They agreed that the experience had been stress busting and enhanced the thinking of right sides of their brains.
Nayan Mani Borah, chairman and MD of Oil India Limited, who painted a man looking at the sun, says: “I just told my secretary to make sure no one came into my office for 40 minutes. And I just painted. I was thinking about my personal life, and was thinking how life is a series of puzzles and challenges, but you must never leave hope behind, which is what the sun represented.”
Vineet Taneja, CMO of Nokia India, who drew a beach scene, says: “I have never painted, besides the time I was in school when I was forced to. I was thinking about my life, my future and my children’s lives and what they will be like after I’m gone. There are times when you need to dabble in something different and put yourself in some discomfort. In today’s world, you will constantly find yourself in unique situations for which the solutions are not obvious. This breaks the mould of thinking in a regular and prescribed way.”
This matched Sengupta’s aims, to help CEOs think laterally to differentiate their products in an increasingly uniform world. But while most CEOs appreciated the opportunity to think in a right brain way, they were not fooled into thinking they had created great works of art.
Subroto Bagchi, vice chairman of MindTree Ltd, sums it up with: “If we ran our companies the way we painted, they would be in bad shape.”
The exhibition will also tour India.