The Latin saying, “Mens Sana In Corpore Sano”, which translates to, “a sound mind in a healthy body”, summarises the philosophy of Dr Wido Menhardt, CEO of the Philips Innovation Campus, Bangalore. “I believe in physical activity. What the Romans said has not changed in 2,000 years.” Dr Menhardt himself is an avid and skilled skier, surfer and hiker. His interest in outdoor adventure has taken him across a varied range of continents and places like Lhasa, Maui, Italy, Greece, Ladakh, Peru, Holland, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Israel, Mexico, Taos and Baja.
Growing up in Austria, skiing is something he has always done. “There’s a ski resort in Lech where my parents have been going since the 50s. This December, my dad turns 80 and the whole family is celebrating his birthday at the resort.” Back in India, he went skiing in Gulmarg, Kashmir, recently. And he is going back this February. “Gulmarg is a place where people think it’d be a suicide mission to visit. There were military personnel present, but the people were sweet and I really enjoyed myself.” He even became a ski instructor there. “I met the person in charge of youth sports for the state. He had brought some 10 to 16 youngsters, and I gave them tips and tricks about skiing.” Dr Mendhart likes how he can feel close to nature in places like Gulmarg. It is also relatively closer to Bangalore. “Other place I can go to is Iran but with my American passport, that is probably not a good idea,” he jokes.
His mode of travel includes both simplicity and luxurious. He adds, “It is more about value for me. There are ski trips I go with the guys like the Gulmarg one, which may not be so comfortable for my family ” He recounts a camping trip with his friends in Sierra Nevada, California. “We did not even put up tents, and instead used sleeping bags. We’d build campfires in the forest and cook – I am a good breakfast cook.” When he travels with his wife and two children, he prefers to stay in a nice hotel. But he points out. “I do not like to pay a lot for something that is not worth it.” He is still kicked about the `300 daily rate at a hotel he stayed at in Tiruvannamalai, where Philips Innovation Campus had organised a CSR activity.
The businessman has also gone hiking in Leh and Ladakh. “I recently went on a hike to the nearby Madikeri Fort with my family. Everyone told that it would take two hours to reach the summit. We were worried that it would get dark by the time we went up and came down but we ended up making it in just an hour.”
His love for the outdoors is brought about by his love for open spaces, he says. “I like open spaces, and the ocean provides that.” He began to ride the waves when he moved to Los Gatos, California. He skies once a year but it has been hard for Dr Menhardt to find a place where he can surf often. “I recently went to Thailand beaches though, which is relatively not so far away.” These adventures have brought about its share of scary moments too. “Some years ago, I was in Costa Rica. The sea looked calm outside the surf, and I put my then-10-year-old son on the body board and told him to paddle.” But there turned out to be an offshore wind and when Dr Menhardt turned away and back, his son was far away in to the sea. “Nobody else was there. My wife and daughter were on shore but they thought I was waving at them. They just waved back and went in. I swam nearly 15 minutes against the current to reach my son, and then we had to swim back. That incident put me out of my comfort zone.”
But the Menhardt family have not lost their thirst for travel and adventure. They go to Nicaragua often, where they have a home on the beach. They find it very similar to India. “When we first came to India, the kids thought we were in Nicaragua,” recalls Dr Menhardt.
The way to find time to indulge in hobbies and interests, he says, is to make the time. “I make the time by having clear priorities and improving efficiency.” His priorities, he says, are a trade secret but the philosophy is deceptively simple. “Whatever is important and urgent, you do that. You delegate. I trust my colleagues and employees. And also, not everything seems so important is urgent after all.” His strategy has clearly worked. Since he joined Philips Innovation Campus in March 2010, engineers there have begun developing products across sectors like lighting, consumer lifestyle, healthcare and corporate technologies for the Indian market in earnest. “Before that, the campus was supporting global Phillips products, and outsourcing engineers. Now, several products are being developed for the Indian market.” He is also excited about changing the business model of the Philips’ lighting division. “Philips, which started in 1891, was originally a lighting firm. This has remained a core business though everything has changed with CFLs and LEDs. Earlier, bulbs had a short life span because its filament ran out, and customers had to come back. However, CFLs and LEDs live for a long time.” Owing to this, Philips intends to work on the fixtures and design space with sophisticated lighting control systems that can be used in homes, buildings, streets and even parking lots. Within a year, the Philips Innovation Campus will also be the largest software site for Philips lighting, added Dr Menhardt.
He is an advocate for the positive effect of leisure on productivity: “I hardly work on weekends. The mind needs a break to process what’s going on. When I was working in the technology sector (he holds a PhD in Computer Science from Hamburg University, and an MSc in Physics from the Technical University of Vienna), good ideas – if I had any, came when I was lounging on a beach. You need time and space to step back and get a perspective on what’s going on.” For Dr Menhardt, an average day begins at 7:00 am. “I reach the office at 8:15, usually before anyone else. That’s when I work – look at mails that have come overnight from the US and prepare for the day. Then, I have global and local meetings, and meetings with employees – have cut short meetings from one hour to half an hour, though. Couple of days a week, I leave at 5:30 pm for my power yoga class. Otherwise, I leave at 7 and have dinner with my family. At 8:30, I put my 10-year-old daughter to sleep, and we tell each other the best and worst parts of our day.” Dr Menhardt reveals that he doesn’t have a TV at home, though he “watches half of a movie sometimes”.
Another interest of his is reading. “I know three languages – English, German and Dutch. I read historical fiction – fictional story set in geography of the past.” Right now, he is reading a set of profiles of Austrian public figures like politicians and socialites who lived in the era between the end of Napolean War and the revolution of the mid 1840s, which saw the downfall of the last emperor. “Before this, I was reading ‘A Fine Family’, written by an Indian author (Gurcharan Das).”