You can make anything by writing – CS Lewis
They say behind every successful man, there is a woman. However, in Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s case there is a little bit of man’s contribution. That person is Arun Pandey, his friend cum manager and business partner. On that, they used to play together first class matches for Jharkhand. An interesting personality so is his office, who on earth will call his office White House? “Yes, there are two White Houses, one in Washington DC and one here in Vasant Kunj (Delhi),” says Arun who owns Rhiti Sports Management.
Going back to the initial days when Mahender Singh Dhoni and he was just a player, “We played for Jharkhand together for two-three years. In those days I used to stay in Delhi and my room was the meeting point, doors were open for everybody. There was no connection for Ranchi from anywhere, so Dhoni used to come and stay with me after Duleep Trophy or Indian matches. We never thought in our wildest dream that we will be like this today.”
What really happened to his cricket, that he is not playing but managing it? “I used to be a left arm spinner. I tried playing for Delhi and then Railways but it did not work out so I ended up in Uttar Pradesh. But there also I was not in regular eleven, so I went to Jharkhand. If that was not enough, I was having fitness problem. Finally, when I started playing first class matches, I was already twenty-six years. On the other hand, I was getting good business opportunities. Sometimes one needs to take a call in life and in business I saw better opportunities for me. I quit playing in 2007-08.” Indeed, it must have been a tough call.
“I launched my company in 2007; initially I was into film distribution and music albums. All these really helped me in the latter part of my career, here I got the brain for business. Then i got two deals for Mahi before signing him officially. 2007 to 2009 was hard time for me, I worked really hard. I was really lucky that there were some true well wishers in my life who helped me in achieving my dream.” After every rainfall must come a rainbow, so was in his career. “I started managing Mahender and it was a totally game changer for me,” says the entrepreneur from Banaras.
Now he got his kitty with some good names. “We started manging players like RP Singh and Suresh Raina. Then Ravender Jadeja and now we have roped in Saina Nehwal. We also take care of Chennai Super Kings. Nevertheless, telling you the truth, handling MS Dhoni is like handling 90% of sport celebrity management. I am lucky to have that kind of brand,” with a sigh of satisfaction. But it ain’t getting over here, he continues, “As a cricketer Mahender Singh Dhoni has acheieved everything one can think of. There is nothing much left for him to achieve. Therefore, now my job is to make him an industry, he is a brand.”
“Now we have taken up the challenge to promote other sports also, so we brought in Saina Nehwal. If you see our country’s sport awareness, it is just 5 to 7%, out of that most of them follow cricket. We are going to promote other sports like hockey, boxing, football, badminton and we have lots of other plan. Rather I should say it is not just a plan but we will deliver it.” Indeed, there is some genuineness in his words as they are already into motor-sports, e-commerce and fitness chain. With an excitement like that of a kid, “Motorsports was not a random decision. There were options infront of us like motor GP, F1 or super bikes. We chose super bikes because we can relate to them. We grew up watching and admiring daredevils riding bikes in well of death. That was why we chose cricket also, its something that we dreamed of and can be made reality. I agree that it is all business, its like 80% we are gaining commercially and 20% we are into development. But that 20% will be bigger than anything”
That bring us to a very important topic, does endorsement affect player’s game or not? “How many sportspersons do get endorsement these days, except few top players or who are performing well. It never effected their game, they balanced it well. They have their fixture/schedule and do it only when they are free. Rather it’s like a stress buster, taking away their mind for a change. These days cricketers are playing 200-250 days a year. They also need a break,” says Arun with a witty smile, afterall its his source of bread and butter.
So how it is really like to handle the most wanted guy in the country? “I am not saying this because I am managing him or he is my friend. Mahi is the most humble person I have ever met. He has no air that he is a star player. Dhoni is just unbelievable no matter where he is, hotel, home, on tour or any where he is same everywhere. On that, he is very honest, he never listens to anyone, but do what he thinks is right and best for all.” On the second breathe he says, “It is not easy to be a celebrity. Though they stay in 5 star hotels and best of everything but their life is in four walls of the room. They can’t just have a normal life.”
In fact Arun was so much into his friend that we had to ask him to say something about himself. “I lost my father when I was very young. That’s why for me my mother is everything. For me nothing was served on a platter, I had to earn it. My mother was not that happy about me playing cricket but I couldn’t hide it anymore when my name was published in the newspapers. I promised her that I will maintain balance between my studies and sports. I did but destiny had in store something else for me.” What about starting his own family? “Who will marry a guy who works eighteen hours a day? Jokes apart, I will but right now I am in the peak of my career. Let me finish some work as I have lots of things in me,” says thirty seven years old bachelor with full hopes in his eyes.
(Published in Society Feb ’13, Page No. 124)