Surprise is too mild a word to describe the way Daryl Sheldon's former school buddies react when they see the 28-year-old zipping around the city in his swanky Honda City. "Academics was not my biggest strength," laughed the director of Seventy Seven entertainment, a 35-person company that specialises in corporate events.
When he was still in college, Sheldon - whose biggest passion is music - started out as a DJ "to make some pocket money". But his talent for thinking up unique concepts for events he was merely supposed to be providing music for shone through quickly, and soon he was being asked to organise events. But even then he did not look at event management as a career option.
"My family didn't know anything about events or DJing; they were skeptical of me doing anything different," said the large-framed commerce graduate who took up the job of an administrative executive at a large telecom major. It lasted all of one day. "I'm too much of a people person to last in a corporate set up," said Sheldon.
That was in 2001. He then opted for a freelance career in event management and a year later, decided to start his own firm with two friends. "Manoj, Aditya and I pooled in Rs one lakh and decided to go for it," said the boy from Malad. "It was easier because we were young and had fewer responsibilities."
All they had to show for their company was one computer, a lone printer and a little money left over for rent. But six months later, when they had grown to 13 employees, the trio realised they were "here to stay". "In hindsight, I've realised the importance of following your dreams. Forget what the world has to say," asserted Sheldon, whose old clients remember him showing up for meetings in shorts and spiked hair.
Today, Seventy Seven generates a nine-figure turnover (he refused to tell us how much he takes home), and works with biggies like JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Sony Entertainment Telvision.
The work he is most proud of is the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) awards they organised for Sony television. "It was only in our second year of operation. It was our first televised show and we had only four days to put it together," he recalled.
This year, Seventy Seven will start two of its own shows -- film awards and a reality show. Sheldon also plans to shift the firm out of the Andheri office to a place three times its current size.
According to his colleagues, Sheldon's personality is perfectly suited for the event industry. "He is great with people. Managing an event requires immense co-ordination - between vendors, clients, your own team - and Daryl does it seamlessly," said Manoj Gopalani, one of the directors of Seventy Seven.
It's not all rosy, though. The fast-paced industry forces you to compromise on your personal life, said Sheldon. The fact that he was working long hours two days before his wedding (which was the day we interviewed him), is testament to that fact. "You don't have a friend circle and you rarely see your family," he warned people wanting to enter this industry. "It's not as glamorous as it looks."
Still, the foosball table at the Seventy Seven office, the flexible work hours and the casual camaraderie between colleagues prove that event management is a rare profession where fun goes hand in hand with work.
When he's not working, Sheldon catches up with his close-knit family and tries to make time for his passion for music. He also travels often with his co-directors, flying to expositions and fairs across the world, because "keeping up with international developments is the key in this field".
According to Sheldon, finding his way up the career ladder has given him much more than material wealth. "There has been a huge transformation in my attitude as well. I'm more committed to the company and its growth than I ever thought I would be."