Wednesday, May 11, 2011


It's cyclic!

There is a sadness in air. There is nothing wrong with any of the conventional parameters. All are doing fine and moving in the right directions. But I am having a job at hand. This is to make calls on various works / issues. The judgemental role never suits me. I try my best to avoid it. It is the toughest job to please all and meet or beat expectation of each, many of which are irrational to the core or highly emotional in nature. The role played, I remain prepared for the 'I-am-not-happy' faces. Probably people find me too puritans / conservative / idealistic / perfectionist (I have often heard these terms and the speaker was not actually praising :-)) in dealing with issues. I respect the right of everybody to feel the way one likes. I do not feel too much surprised to see little bit of selfishness in the demands made. In fact, most of us belong to that category and thus it does not disturb. It saddens if that selfishness becomes out of proportion and denies existence or right of others.

Shared sorrow, half the sorrow!

It is said, shared joy is double the joy and shared sorrow is half the sorrow. I infrequently, may be once a month, talk to an elderly relative over phone. This family is going through some difficult times over last two years. It came all on a sudden and apparently from nowhere. It is very difficult for one to establish a cause-effect relationship. They are a kind of losing faith in themselves and the virtuousness of the world, that it is all about being good and doing good. If honesty, truthfulness, service, dutifulness count, which they have adhered to all the time, then why such a fate is met out to them? While I talk to them, I try to say a few things which I read or heard from wise people; not sure at all how much I have digested that myself. All that I try to say, it is important to hang on and have faith.

Healer, heal thyself!

Last night as a bed time reading I was going through the selected works of Swami Vivekananda. Interestingly, one page in the section called "Inspired Talks" opened. This was a note taken by a disciple on 25th June, 1995. And behold! isn't it 'the issue' I am facing right now? I reproduce at bottom a selection from that notes. The whole of it can be found here(Link).


I may say that now I am better placed to talk to myself and the elderly relative. For that I looked for the Bengali translation of this note, to read out directly from Vivekananda to the relative. Checked the central library database. It is there. In the evening, I got an opportunity to visit the library and found one very old edition published in 1965. This article was there in Vol. IV of Bengali Complete Works under the title "Debbani". The most interesting part of course comes next. The book in the rack already had a page marker. It pointed to exactly the same place where this specific write-up was there. It appears that the previous reader also found the article very useful. The person in the issuing counter said that he occasionally visits Belur Math and brings Vivekananda literature from there for his family.

Vivekananda Speaks:

After every happiness comes misery; they may be far apart or near. The more advanced the soul, the more quickly does one follow the other. What we want is neither happiness nor misery. Both make us forget our true nature; both are chains — one iron, one gold; behind both is the Atman, who knows neither happiness nor misery. These are states and states must ever change; but the nature of the Soul is bliss, peace, unchanging. We have not to get it, we have it; only wash away the dross and see it.

Stand upon the Self, then only can we truly love the world. Take a very, very high stand; knowing out universal nature, we must look with perfect calmness upon all the panorama of the world. It is but baby's play, and we know that, so cannot be disturbed by it. If the mind is pleased with praise, it will be displeased with blame. All pleasures of the senses or even of the mind are evanescent but within ourselves is the one true unrelated pleasure, dependent upon nothing. It is perfectly free, it is bliss. The more our bliss is within, the more spiritual we are. The pleasure of the Self is what the world calls religion.

There is no possibility of ever having pleasure without pain, good without evil; for living itself is just the lost equilibrium. What we want is freedom, not life, nor pleasure, nor good. Creation is infinite, without beginning and without end — the ever-moving ripple in an infinite lake. There are yet unreached depths and others where the equilibrium has been regained; but the ripple is always progressing, the struggle to regain the balance is eternal. Life and death are only different names for the same fact, the two sides of the one coin. Both are Maya, the inexplicable state of striving at one time to live, and a moment later to die. Beyond this is the true nature, the Atman. While we recognize a God, it is really only the Self which we have separated ourselves from and worship as outside of us; but it is our true Self all the time — the one and only God.

The world for me, not I for the world. Good and evil are our slaves, not we theirs. It is the nature of the brute to remain where he is (not to progress); it is the nature of man to seek good and avoid evil; it is the nature of God to seek neither, but just to be eternally blissful. Let us be God! Make the heart like an ocean, go beyond all the trifles of the world, be mad with joy even at evil; see the world as a picture and then enjoy its beauty, knowing that nothing affects you. Children finding glass beads in a mud puddle, that is the good of the world. Look at it with calm complacency; see good and evil as the same — both are merely "God's play"; enjoy all.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

CEO : Aaram Se

This is a quick follow up of the previous post (Link) after reading Mukesh Ambani (MA) interview in Economic Times(ET) (Link). I cannot but resist myself from quoting three answers of this interview that dwells on the human resources, being responsible in investment considering shareholder's interest and philanthropic activity at personal level. I have emphasized certain parts of the answers that struck me a lot and want readers to take special note of.

After completing previous post I was thinking, were it all philosophical / theoretical? We may accept that there is truth for the sake of argument but feel skeptic if they can be practised! After reading this interview I feel more convinced about its applicability to corporate houses. This reminds and reinforces what we hear from Viveknanda, "That society is the greatest where the highest truths become practical."

I have included 'Aaram Se' from 2nd ans. of MA interview in the post title as I find it very interesting. Bhagabad Gita says that the mark of a wise man / Yogi is intense activity in intense rest or calmness and intense rest or calmness in intense activity. Let me quote this part from here (Link)

"He who sees in the midst of intense activity, intense calm, and in the midst of intensest peace is intensely active [is wise indeed]. (GITA IV, 18.) ... This is the question: With every sense and every organ active, have you that tremendous peace [so that] nothing can disturb you? Standing on Market Street, waiting for the car with all the rush ... going on around you, are you in meditation — calm and peaceful? In the cave, are you intensely active there with all quiet about you? If you are, you are a Yogi, otherwise not.

---- I think that enough ground has been prepared to hear what MA said. Let's read it Aaram Se :-) ----

ET : Are you looking at grooming talent in-house ? Or getting new fresh talent?

MA : We are doing a combination of everything. Fundamentally, we think it requires re-engineering or regenerating the whole human resources architecture. It's very difficult to do. When you think about performance, it's not only people architecture or talent but people performing in a growth-nurturing ecology. You really have to regenerate the environment. It's like colleges. I have been on the advisory board of Stanford and a few other colleges where we change the environment every 10 years. At this stage, we are going through a project where we will have a process whereby we will take everything we have learnt and really mentor and train our 30-34-year-old guys to be better than us. It's a regeneration of the 4-5 pillars we stand on...and not only our existing talent but also welcoming fresh talent. We want our people to be internally happy, because happiness and success should go together. I want everybody at RIL to achieve their true potential . We want to create a new culture in which you will be reasonably transparent to yourself, your peers and your team. That, in my mind, will lead to true innovation . This is the most important and exciting project of my life: How do you really transform and reengineer 40,000-50 ,000 people, most of them professionals, most of them ambitious, most of them very successful, and then tell them to mentor and train 30-34-year-olds and make them better than us. This, according to me, is the sign of a truly New Age business organisation. 

ET : Many speculate you will make a big-ticket acquisition and in your last AGM, you had said that you will plant the tricolour in many parts of the world. Any progress on that front?

MA : We look at these things on an ongoing basis. There will be a lot of volatility and uncertainty in this world. But, I'm a wildlife fan. I love the leopard. The leopard sits on top of a tree. It doesn't take any great risks. Whenever it sees that it can make a kill, it's in no hurry whatsoever to make a kill. It makes the kill so rapidly, you don't even know. And I've actually sat with leopards for hours in lots of forests. It just happens in a flash. And, again, the leopard goes back and sits there aaram se. So, as I tell all our guys, let's not get too much carried away. It's important to keep the balance sheet capability to do this stuff but we shouldn't be in a hurry. We should be watching , we shouldn't be ignoring anything. But unless we feel absolutely safe that we are not going to hurt ourselves, and we are going to go down there, kill 100% and bring it back, we won't do anything funny. We are in no hurry. And we'll never do it for ego's sake. Our watchword is: does it generate value for our shareholders on a sustainable and long-term basis? 

What do you think of the giving pledge?

There are different points of view. My own view is that it's important that one should create sustainability and compassion. My view is that giving must be anonymous. Even if I did whatever I did, I wouldn't brag about it. I would do it for my own satisfaction . It is important you do it straight off your heart you don't talk about it.

Monday, May 2, 2011


"Life is short. The vanities of the world are transient. They only live who live for others. The rest are more dead than alive." - Swami Vivekananda


This morning I was reading the post-departure scenario of Mohandas Pai after his resignation from Infosys. I vividly remember the way he defended Infosys numbers year after year in front of live camera. He departed because he was not elevated to the post of CEO which he thought he deserved more than others. He complained about discrimination and lack of transparency and retracted that later. To this Narayana Murthy, Infosys Chairman and Chief Mentor said, “We must be very kind to him (Pai) because at times we all lose our rational thinking and make an emotional statement. After all, we have to be very kind and forgiving,” He added, “If there are two people who are as capable as each other, how will you choose one of them? Both are equal in all respects. So, you have to choose the experienced one, and that’s what we have done,” (Link)

Wipro, Reliance, ICICI Bank

While Pai's CEO ambition was not fulfilled, we found summary exit of joint CEO of Wipro three months ago. And we heard this from Girish Paranjape, one of the joint CEO. "For the last 24 years every day, I have been busy thinking about what to do for Wipro tomorrow. Now I will have to start thinking about what to do for myself.” (Link) The bitter succession struggle of Dhirubhai Ambani empire is well known. Even the mother failed to make mends between warring brothers. Finally, there appears to be a work level understanding but the scar is still visible. The ICICI Bank succession  was less bloody. The deft handling of K V Kamath, the outgoing CEO had a containing effect. It is great to see Chhanda Kochhar emerging as a great leader at ICICI Bank in her unassuming, 'yours-in-service' style while the contender Shikha Sharma leading Axis Bank to new heights.

Lessons from a prince

Everybody needs a space. Everybody wants to excel. Everybody wants to reach the top. In the famous Satyajt Ray movie (today is the birthday of this legendary film maker) 'Nayak (the Hero)', the lead character says, "I want to go to the top, to the top, to the top."

While the above is true, there are few more fundamental truth that eludes us. Rather we want to pretend as if they do not exist. I am talking about what occurred to the young prince when he saw three different scenes in three different trips. On the first trip, he met an old man, on the second a sick man, and on the third he met a group of people carrying a corpse to the cremation ground. He realized that age will catch up with us (capacity will decrease and we have to make room for others), diseases are inevitable (the best hospital, treatment not withstanding - the instruments are to fail someway or the other) and finally, we have to leave everything behind, all that we loved, cared and built. The anecdotes including a fourth scene are nicely described here (Link1, Link2, Link3, Link4).


Is there a reconciliation anywhere? Does one renounce everything and become a monk then? Is that prescribed for all? Will not one try to go to 'top'? Of course, one will. But what is the motive behind? Is it self-gratification or to flaunt vanity? The truth is that they are transient. Or is it because I get a greater opportunity to serve others? If one looks at the constitution, one will find that the job of a CEO is to protect shareholder's value and serve shareholder's interest. The 'trusteeship' is embedded, implied in all top positions. Is it all philosophical?

TATA Group : TCS, Tata Motors, Tata Steel

TATA group shows a more matured response in CEO succession plan. Be it change of guard at TCS with Ramadorai making way for younger generation or Muthuraman from Tata Steel, Ravi Kant from Tata Motors - commoners like us did not feel any tremor. Perhaps the group could instill a value system that does not believe in going at top and remaining there 'at any cost' or Ratan Tata factor is there. It is to be seen how Ratan Tata is succeeded at Tata Sons. However, they are making enough noise to sensitize people, two steps forward - one step backward etc. to get a new leader accepted by the community.

Test of time

The test of time is the real test. The founding members of any organization (Corporate, NGOs) who create usually have a lot of fire, zeal, passion in them. It is not necessary to get people who share the vision and one needs to groom them. These days 'DNA' (Link) is the buzzword for corporate houses which is directed towards this and also the perpetuity. Not so easy though when it comes to taking big decisions. There is fight within oneself while one passes the baton and relinquishes the power and with it all the limelight. Often one tries to float with the thought - newcomers does not have as much experience, will make 'mistake' and I must hang on. What happens if no space is given? Vivekananda says that if you do not allow one to become a lion he may land up being a fox.

3 'H' and HCL Technologies

If we consider 3 'H' - Heart (emotion, feelings), Head (rational thinking), Hand (Hard work) as parameters, are they in same proportion in founding members who 'create' and the next generation who take it forward? Left to itself, Heart component may be more in the former and Head in the later while both can be very Hard working. What is required is a balanced development of all the 3 'H's amongst all and leaders are expected to lead by examples. Besides this, whatever DNA we talk about are phrases which are useful at a particular point of time and not DNA as such. DNA is something to be inherited and replicated.

These phrases however, can be very useful and may help an organization to tide over a situation. About 4 years back I was going through Annual Report of HCL Technologies. It had just started turning round its businesses which had been going through a bad patch. They used 'Focus, Lead, Dominate' a three worded phrase to remind themselves of the task ahead. I am happy to say that I could easily connect to it myself because of the ground situation prevailing then :-) 


When you talk about corporate houses, equity, shareholding etc. there is a standard disclaimer. I do not think that this post has anything to do with financial investment or investment decision of any individual. Rather it is more of a philosophical note directed towards youth to make them aware of facets of life, help them take informed decision and develop character qualities which in turn may help them, their organization, nation going forward.

Still to be on the safer side let me declare the following. The corporate houses mentioned above as a part of case study are jewels of India. Information used is taken from media - television, web and print. In early nineties I worked in Tata Steel for about 4.5 years in a junior position and have no relation since then. I do have small equity investment in most of the companies named above and would like all of them to be successful, stand the test of time and enhance the worth of my little share holding :-)

Warren Buffet

Let us get back to the context. Some students in Google Buzz shared some interesting aspects of Warren Buffet's life few days back. Buffet is the Chairman & CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is one of the most consistent among the wealthiest in the world and has donated more than USD 30 bn to charity. He still lives in a 3 bed room house he bought 50 years ago. He says that he has everything he needs in that house. It does not have any wall or fence. He drives his own car and does not have any driver or security. He never travels by private jet though he owns world's largest private jet company.

Buffet asks top executives of 63 companies under his command to follow two rules.
Rule 1 : Do not lose any of your share holder's money.
Rule 2 : Do not forget Rule 1.


What does Buffet advise to young people? The five points I like to reproduce are as follows.

1. Money does not create man but it is the man who created money.
2. Live your life as simple as you are.
3. Do not do what others say, just listen them, do what you feel good.
4. Don't go on brand names, just wear those in which you feel comfortable.
5. Don't waste your money on unnecessary things, just spend on them who really in need rather.

Graceful degradation

Everything that has a beginning, has an end. This is one axiom of life that has stood the test of time. One may need to have a graceful exit plan. The exit plan is nicely written down by saints of this land. This starts as soon as a baby is born and not left pre-retirement ages. It goes like this, "Jab Tum Paida Hue To Jag Hansa Tum Roye / Aisi Karni Kar Chalo, Tum Hanse Jag Roye." (You cried when you were born and the world smiled. Lead a life such that when you leave, the world cries and you smile.) For institutions, a graceful degradation means giving enough warning signals in advance to help the boarders take another ship and not get drowned mid-sea. Requires a lot of courage but it comes when one finds himself in many. I have seen tears in the eyes of colleagues for individuals leaving an institution. Love, selflessness are very much practical and one has to practise it to get a taste of it, it is much tastier than everything else in life (Link) !!!

"Unselfishness is more paying, only people have not the patience to practise it." - Vivekananda