Saurabh Verma, senior vice president, chief insurance officer at Reliance Industries, tells us about spooky hotels, working in a goldmine, a wine-stained shirt, falling out of a canoe and wishing he could swim

Saurabh verma

What are you thinking about right now?
How I am going to get home in crazy Mumbai traffic without a scratch!

What’s your greatest fear?
Those first two minutes before making a speech in public. I always feel more nervous than I appear, although knowing I will feel this way has always helped me to prepare well. The more I have practised, the more confident I feel when presenting. I also get nervous in spooky places. I used to travel a lot and stayed at different hotel rooms. During one of my stays, all the lights and the TV came on in the middle of the night. At first I thought I’d forgotten to switch them off, but then the next day it happened again. This really spooked me, until I found out that there was problem with the room switch, which had malfunctioned!

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I decided to have a glass of red wine over lunch one day. Of course I managed to spill it all over my white shirt… right before a business meeting. I made the most of a bad situation and buttoned up my jacket. I did mention it to my client, as I wanted him to know it was actually my shirt that smelled of wine in case he got a strong whiff.

What makes you happy?
Happiness is a state of mind and a choice that I make. I enjoy spending time with old friends, getting through a challenging day at work and going for a drive with my family during monsoon. The drive out of Mumbai is very scenic with different shades of green all around the Western Ghats mountain range, which has multiple small waterfalls. We do many short trips at the weekend, typically between July and August.

What makes you unhappy?
I have tried to learn to swim and I can’t even float. Even my trainer has given up on me. So every time I see a lovely swimming pool I feel terrible. But I plan to persevere and if all else fails, there is always the shallow end!

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I took a canoe ride with friends out to sea. We were all nervous and it capsized. Luckily, it was not far from shore.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
I am a geologist and during my degree I was a trainee in an opencast coal mine. It was the height of summer in India and the temperature would go up to 42C or over! In another college job, in a goldmine, I had to descend a kilometre. These were extremely tough workplaces, but I learned a lot and it has given me an appreciation for miners and heavy-industry labourers.

What is your greatest achievement?
I have nurtured some strong friendships and I have a beautiful family that I am extremely proud of.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
It is very important to maintain a good work/life balance so that you do not miss out on the more important things in life. I also appreciate how important it is to look after your fitness.

Who do you look up to and why?
People who are naturally creative, whether they are musicians, artists, actors or writers.

Tell us a secret
I make a very good breakfast! I like to cook Spanish omelette with fried bacon, served with Masala tea. I also bake my own bread.