Rajagopalan Menon, beter known as Raju Menon, was 29 years old when he boarded his first ever flight– from Mumbai to Dubai in 1991. Armed with a degree in Chartered Accountancy and a year’s work experience, he arrived on a visit visa with hope and courage to seek a life and livelihood in the UAE. ‘I was unsure of what the future held even though I had very clear visions of what it should be. There was no apprehension, just excitement,’ says Raju, who hails from a tiny hamlet called Edavilangu in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
Over three decades in the UAE, he would go on to found and helm the Kreston Menon Group, a leading audit and business consulting firm with operations in UAE, India, Qatar and Oman; gather a long list honours; be named one of top 100 Indian Leaders in the Arab world, and pen an autobiography that is eliciting rave reviews.
Released late last year at the Sharjah International Book Fair, The View From My Perch chronicles his story of consistency and perseverance. Neatly demarcating his life into different phases, each represents a struggle and a step towards his destination and dream.
What led him to pen this story?
‘I never thought of writing a book and I felt I was too young to be writing an autobiography,’ says Raju, with a smile. However, the seed of a book was first sown by Sudhir Kumar, his senior partner Kreston Menon. A book, Sudhir was sure, could inspire students and young entrepreneurs.
‘Whether that happens or not, the thought convinced me to give it a try,’ recalls Raju.
The pandemic acted as a catalyst. Keen to use the free time that he had productively, he decided to pen his memoir. ‘To compile my experiences, thoughts and vision into this compendium of life, I remember spending hours and days in the office meeting room, aptly named Maydan, which became my haven for ferreting into the past to dig out nuggets buried in the deep recesses of my mind.’
Once he got going, he wanted to ensure that the book would be perfect in all senses of the term. To that end, he made a few trips to Kerala to relive and experience once again first hand some elements that had shaped his personality, and meet a few key people who in some way had had a bearing on his life.
Insightful vignettes of all of these feature in his book giving it a deeply personal feel.
‘Like everything else I do, I just gave it my very best,’ says the man who started out life in the UAE as an audit manager in a modest firm in Dubai.
What motivated him to set up Kreston Menon, a company that has bagged the Super Brand status for nine consecutive years? I ask.
‘To excel and never to be content with the ordinary,’ says Raju, with a smile. It is a mantra that pushes him to make his choices. It is a lesson, he says, he learnt the hard way.
Need to think big
Forced to pursue higher studies in a privately-owned educational institution after performing poorly in his Grade 10 board examination, Raju watched with envy his friends heading off to vibrant, exciting environs of reputed colleges.
Realising that his lack of focus at a crucial juncture of his studies had cost him the opportunity to continue education in a well-known college, he resolved ‘never to settle for the mundane again.
‘Even today, I hold that character trait dear. Think big, do big, execute big. You can break beyond the limits by thinking big. Once you think big and set your goals high, it will widen the horizon of your life, and bring you greater opportunities and greater success,’ he asserts.
Pursuing academics with a vengeance of sorts, he cleared his Chartered Accountancy exams in the first attempt, an achievement that made his parents proud.
Encouraged, he decided to set up an entrepreneurial venture in Kozhikode, Kerala. However, it did not take off as planned.
Not one to give up, he decided to look beyond the boundaries of his state to realise his dream of making it big in life. Heading off to Mumbai, he landed a job in a multinational company and earned valuable experience.
However, Raju’s dreams were big.
‘People get comfortable in their little successes and trapped in it for eternity, unable to realize their full potential. To succeed and achieve the maximum, one has to take risks and venture out into the challenging world... outside their safe haven,’ says Raju. Practising what he preaches, he decided to move out of his safe job and took a flight to Dubai.
Raju was aware that it is a new place where he would have to put in long and hard hours to make a mark in his field. But he was willing to do that and more.
‘Upskill yourself and stay competitive. A successful entrepreneur needs to be a constant learner,’ he advises before adding, ‘Hard work is the cardinal principal for me.’
Is it not - work smart, not hard? I ask.
‘Hard work is the base. It is that first step that you must take before you work smart,’ he says.
It was Raju’s mother, Susheela Menon, a midwife, who had a strong influence in shaping him into who he is today. ‘She was hard working, willing to help people at any hour of the day or night and was empathetic.’
The first job he got was in a company named Mak&Partners, in Dubai. For close to a decade here, he worked 14 hours every day. ‘I was never a clock watcher but used the flexibility given to me by my boss, Khalid Bhai, as an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience.’
In 1995, he set up the Kreston Menon Group. From a small team of three people, the firm today has grown into an enterprise employing more than 400 Chartered Accountants, internal auditors and accountancy professionals. Raju’s wife, Girija Menon, is a senior partner at Kreston Menon and a certified internal auditor.
Even today, he believes in working hard... and smart. ‘Now, I head an organization that is structured and runs like a well-oiled machine. All I must do is manage it well.’
Delegation, he believes, is the key to effective management. ‘I have learnt that micromanagement of people and business is self-defeating. When given the freedom, people bloom,’ he points out.
Trusting, empowering, incentivizing and giving employees the freedom to creatively develop the business in their own style could work wonders, he says.
As an entrepreneur he stands by the management principle of People First approach and values work-life balance for all employees. ‘If you do not empower your leaders (partners, directors, managers) and give the freedom to operate, you won’t be successful,’ he says. ‘I am supported by a great team that shares the same objectives and strives for a common goal.’
Raju believes that there are no shortcuts to success. ‘My success will definitely be counted on how effectively I am creating a unique experience for each of my clients by providing them the right and timely business advice.’
Upskill yourself and stay competitive. A successful entrepreneur needs to be a constant learner.
Timely decisions. Trust your instincts, once you are convinced, never shy away from taking bold steps. Timely decisions and quick actions make the difference.
Have a macro view. The entrepreneur should have a macro view that examines the huge array of external processes and factors that are sometimes beyond the control of the individual entrepreneur, such as the market trends, financial markets and the economy.
To stay ahead of your competitors, be always innovative. To stay relevant in the market, be adaptive and open to change.
He goes on to explain that in an ever-evolving business environment his success also lies on how effectively he leads his team to stay relevant, updated and ahead of competition.
The going– and growing– however, was not easy.
A legal issue in 2011 threatened his firm’s survival but Raju fought the case and won it.
The pandemic too affected them, but that was a great teacher, says Raju. ‘The lesson that it left in its wake that had to be put into practice was to be prepared for unpredictability and rework on short-term and long-term planning and strategies.’
The first break
Over the years, Raju says that he has witnessed and experienced that getting that first break is the most difficult task. He has noticed that once a person gets the right break, they move up very fast, provided they are willing to work hard.
‘Wiser by having undergone such ordeals, I believe in giving the first break to people who are known to me or have been referred even if they may not be up to par in their qualifications but have the fire in them to do well and succeed.’
One initiative that he is extremely proud of is partnering with the Expo 2020 team, as early as 2013, to support their bid to organize the world-renowned, unique and historic event, the Expo, in Dubai.
A firm believer of women empowerment, the father of three mentions that 45 per cent of the total workforce at Kreston Menon are women.
‘Life has been very kind and generous to me. Now, in turn, I try to spread happiness in people around me,’ he says.
To give focus to their philanthropic efforts, Raju and Girija have started the CA Girija & CA Raju Menon Foundation in Kozhikode, Kerala, providing support for education, marriage and healthcare for individuals who approach them for help.
To empower women, they conduct training courses to enhance their communication and public speaking skills, that will give them the confidence to contribute to the society.
‘Both of us wholeheartedly believe that all human beings are equal and equally capable of achieving and contributing to the community, society and humanity,’ says Raju.