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

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