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Balancing Emotional Intelligence with Creativity- An Interview with Dilip Chhabria

Posted in Uncategorized by Rashmi Datt on February 29th, 2012

(Dilip Chhabria is the founder of DC Design, internationally recognised for quality services in vehicle customizing and modification)

The first thing that strikes you about Dilip Chhabria as he walks into the restaurant where we are meeting him for dinner is his utter ease with himself, as he laughingly explains why he wife couldn’t make it.

The legendry car designer, among the world’s most creative automobile designers, has under his belt  the Aston Martin designed for the James Bond film Die Another Day, vanity vans for  film stars like Ahmitabh Bacchan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Ajay Devgn, and vehicle modifications for political bigwigs like the top ruling family of India.  He carries no airs about himself, he is too focused on pushing the envelope of his own creativity and jumping conventional walls to be overwhelmed with his achievements or client list.

Emotional Intelligence has two main components:

Personal Competence (self-awareness and motivation), which enable congruence between what a person is experiencing internally with what is expressed outside. The ability to be your ‘natural self’ creates authenticity and trust.

Social Competence (empathy and ability to relate to others), which enable good listening and respect for others.

Dilip Chhabria is clearly one of the few creative mavericks who possess both in equal measure, which is apparent from the conversation that flows.

We are sorry to have missed your wife, the inspiration behind your creativity.

Oh no, its not my wife. (with a chuckle). You know, when I was young, I was dumped by my girlfriend, and it left in me an insecurity, from which arose a desire to prove myself to the world. That’s what drove me to leave my mark as a man, to create what no one could.

Wow. There is clearly a positive (productive) side of rejection!

Tell us about your new venture, the first Indian designed sports car which was unveiled at Auto Expo Delhi 2012

Well, from designing cars for people with deep pockets, we have come a long way. We have done buses, motorcycles and even helicopter interiors. In 1993, when we set up DC Design, the company had eight employees on its rolls and came out with just two cars. Today, we have over 500 people working for us, who churn out 250 unique cars a year. I thought it was time to move outside the zone of our comfort, and progress to designing a car from scratch, and making it available for the mass market.Secrets of success

The DC Avanti is a big deal for India considering that this is the first sports car to be made by an Indian firm. It will be released in the next two years, and we aim to make 200 cars a year to start with, increasing to 2000 cars a year in the longer run.

Your staff is known for their commitment – working 70 hours a week, resulting in quick project turnarounds with high quality deliverables. What is the secret to their motivation?

Do you know in the last 19 years since we started the business, not a single person has left DC Design, apart from some girls who left to get married, etc. I have personally groomed my people who understand the company ethos, our creative process, and  have grown to be independent division heads.

I push them and empower them to take their own decisions- whether it is the designing, or the colour of the car to be painted. There is a lot of mutual trust and respect, and I can say with confidence there is no mediocre performer in my team.  In 2005, an investor sent a team to study our people processes, towards helping us reduce costs, and I challenged them to find 3 mediocre performers, and they couldn’t find a single one!

Yet, retention of people I have trained remains a challenge. The Middle East offering hefty salaries is an undeniable attraction.

I believe in distributing wealth- we are paying four or five times that of Indian salaries. While our work environment offers excitement as we work in cutting edge design work, good salaries also communicate to employees their work is valued.

You are known for your prolific work, not only in creating automotive accessories, but also as an accomplished painter and sculptor. You have also started DYPDC Center for Automotive Research and Studies to nurture the next generation of Indian automotive designers. How do you find the time and bandwidth for all this creativity?

As I mentioned earlier, I used to be a very shy and introverted person, preferring to be by myself while others partied. This time I invested paid off in my having an indepth understanding of both engineering and art. But today, I would never go to a party, not because of being shy, but because I would much rather be spending the same time drawing or thinking or reading.

I have no interest in reading fiction or watching movies. Why should I allow anyone to hijack me with their imaginary world, when I can create my own?

Similarly, I would go to the extent to say that any person who drinks can never be successful or creative. Imagine wasting the time and psychic energy in first getting drunk, then in recovering from a hangover. If your work is an obsession, its not work, and you are at it 24/7.

You have a very relaxed and candid way of interacting, does ‘being nice’ get in the way of being a hard-nosed business man?

I find it much more comfortable to be completely transparent. Young people these days have a different way of doing business these days. They won’t take calls for example, which makes the caller insecure, which is leveraged while negotiating business terms. I don’t follow that style, as I find being totally transparent has its own benefits.

For instance, my staff knows exactly where I stand on things, and find it easier to take decisions along lines of my thinking. Moreover, it’s lonely at the top. I want people to like me, as that’s what keeps me going. If I am affected and artificial and not myself, how will they like me?

And flooring you with his disarming honesty, Dilip is off to catch his flight back to Poona from Gurgaon.

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