SPEECH GIVEN By
FRANK F ISLAM
Jamia Millia Islamia
Empowerment, Leadership and Entrepreneurship
Mr. Vice Chancellor, Students, Members of the Faculty, friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I sincerely thank all of you for coming and for your hospitality and warm welcome. I want to express my deep gratitude to the Vice Chancellor for giving me an opportunity to address you today. Thank you Mr. Vice Chancellor for your leadership, your service, and your commitment in educating the next generations.
It is truly a pleasure to be with all of you today, and to share my thoughts on empowerment, leadership and entrepreneurship. I will talk briefly about empowerment and devote the bulk of my time to discussing leadership and entrepreneurship. (Pause and look around the audience.)
As I look at you. I see me in you. I see the future of India. I see the future of the world. You are the promise of India and the world.
When I was invited to speak with you and asked what I wanted to talk about, I immediately said empowerment, leadership and entrepreneurship because these topics are near and dear to my heart.
More importantly, I knew those were appropriate topics because this institution – Jamia MIllia Islamia – exists because of the entrepreneurial instincts, leadership capabilities, and empowerment provided for Indian Muslims and others by its founders. When they came together in 1920 they envisioned a whole new system of education that contributed to the progress of society in general and that of Muslim education in particular.
We are here today in this auditorium because those founders had the foresight and the courage to start something new; the driving desire to dare to make a difference; and, the tenacity to persevere until that difference was made. We are also here because the institution is not resting in its laurels.
Vice Chancellor Talat Ahmad puts it this way in his welcome message on the University’s web site, ‘While the University has come a long way since its inception, it has to keep pace with the changing needs and expectations of the society. It has to successfully perform the multiple roles of creating new knowledge, acquiring new capabilities and producing an intelligent resource pool for the promotion of economic growth, cultural development, social cohesion, equity and justice.”
That is a powerful statement and commitment to empowerment, leadership and entrepreneurship. I was pleased to see, as I did my research to prepare for my time with you, that one of the steps that JMI has taken to translate those words and that commitment into action is the establishment of a Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
As I looked at the information on-line regarding the Centre’s vision, I was even more pleased to see the following lines from Robert Frost,
Two roads diverged in a wood, and
I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
That has been true in my life because of my empowerment which began at Aligarh Muslim University and I know it will be true for you students at JMI because of your empowerment here.
You students regardless of your respective departments are in an educational empowerment zone. You are not only learning facts and figures. You are developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. You are being imprinted with the values, attitudes and beliefs that will shape who you will become and what you will do in your professional life.
In a phrase, you are receiving a purpose-driven education. That purpose is to make a difference. Each of you in your own way, can and will be a difference maker.
This thrills, energizes and gives me comfort because we absolutely need both more entrepreneurs and leaders who are entrepreneurial to address the problems in this nation and around the globe today.
My sincerest congratulations go to Vice Chancellor Ahmad, the faculty and staff of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and the faculty and staff of all of the other departments for ensuring that JMI’s students are empowered to take on transformative tasks. My sincerest thanks to you students for using that empowerment to advance your own careers and to take actions on behalf of others to help them become empowered themselves.
You are a powerful empowerment team at this esteemed university. I appreciate the opportunity to confer with you today and to contribute to making that team even stronger in the future.
Let me now turn my attention from empowerment to the concepts of leadership and entrepreneurship. While I will be addressing all of you, I will be putting a special focus on you students in this audience. .
The title that I have given to the remainder of my talk is: Doing the Right Thing.
Doing the right thing? You might ask, “What does that have to do with leadership?” And, my answer is everything.
Doing the right thing is the essence of leadership.
There is an old American saying, managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.
Leaders do the right thing. That should be true in all fields – business, politics, religion, health care, and yes – even education.
The problem is we have too many people in leadership positions that do not do the right thing. They are executives at the top of the organizational food chain whose sole purpose is to advance their own careers and earnings with little to no concern for the organization’s customers, employees, or the communities they should serve.
Without naming names there are executives in the United States which I now call home, here in India which is my homeland and in organizations around the world who seem to be specializing in doing the wrong thing. Consider the following:
- Financial institutions – that issue bad paper, intentionally make bad loans, foreclose unfairly on mortgage holders without due process
- Businesses – that pay extremely low wages, maintain hazardous working conditions, and produce products that are unsafe
- Governments – that are corrupt – where bribes or pay-offs for favors are the normal way to get things done, political chicanery is the order of the day, and power is used to suppress the progress of others who are different from those at the top or in control
- Religious organizations – that demand obedience and discipline from their faithful and followers yet do not regulate or reprimand their own clerics who engage in inappropriate personal behavior
- Health care organizations – that deliver substandard care, charge far too much for their services, and fail to serve those most in need
- Higher education institutions – where students don’t graduate or when they do don’t have the skills for their chosen careers or professions
I don’t know what percent of today’s executives are masters in doing the wrong thing. I do know that we need more – many more – doing the right thing.
What is required and how does a leader do the right thing? I will address that question in three parts:
- First, in a general or more theoretical manner.
- Second, by focusing on the entrepreneurial leader.
- Third, by sharing a little of my own journey
Before I proceed, let me emphasize that leadership is not the exclusive province of anyone or any level of the organization. A common mistake is to assume that the leadership mantle belongs only to the chief executive or the members of the executive management team. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Those at the top have special roles and responsibilities to play. But, in an organization committed to excellence, leadership can and should occur at all levels: at the business unit, in the division, at the department, in the team, in the work group, and down to the individual employee and entry-level worker.
Leadership should be a shared responsibility. That shared leadership responsibility should be concentrated on constructing what I call “the virtuous organization”. What is the virtuous organization?
Here’s my definition. The virtuous organization is one that has a strong moral compass and a compelling vision and mission that creates value for customers, employees, and the community.
In my opinion, in order to create a virtuous organization, leaders– no matter what the industry or at what level – a leader must play three critical roles. They are:
- Capital Creator, and
- Value Generator
Let me highlight the key requirements for each of those roles.
As a navigator, a leader must chart the course and shape the way the organization will sail the seas. He or she must ensure that their area of the organization always does the right thing.
The navigator guides the organization in the development of the core competence required to perform effectively and efficiently and the core consciousness to perform ethically. This makes for smooth sailing.
The second role of a leader in a virtuous organization is to be a capital creator. Probably the first thing that comes to mind when I say capital is “financial capital.”
Financial capital creation, however, is a dependent variable. It requires the right business model and other forms of capital creation in order to yield the appropriate ROI – return on investment.
A leader in a virtuous organization realizes that and concentrates on creating spiritual capital and intellectual capital in order to achieve the organization’s full potential and the appropriate ROI. .
Finally, let me turn to a leader’s role as value generator. Michael Porter of Harvard University developed a management concept called the value chain.
The value chain is comprised of primary activities such as inbound logistics, operations and outbound logistics and support activities such as human resource management and technology. Porter said that each element in the chain should add value and that when they all did it gives the organization a competitive advantage.
An “added-value” Chain is definitely essential for organizational success. In the virtuous organization, there is a matching concept and that is “value circles.” These are concentric circles that emanate outward from the leaders in an organization, to employees, to customers and finally to the community to add value by behaving in a socially responsible and ethical manner.
Those are the primary roles for the leader of a virtuous organization. Here are some of the behaviors that the leader must demonstrate in functioning in those roles:
- Establish a clear vision and build acceptance and commitment to it
- Create environment where people can be truly committed
- Exude positive energy and optimism and create a “can-do” culture
- Promote teamwork and mutual accountability and responsibility among team-members
- Inspire learning by setting the examples
- Give credit to others and take the blame when something goes wrong
- Celebrate successes —- and treat failures as opportunities for improvement
- Act with integrity in spite of difficulty
That’s my perspective on leadership in general. Let me now shine a bright light on a type of leader that I know best because of my own life and business experience – that is entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial leader.
There are entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial leaders in every discipline and field from medicine to engineering to business to teaching and technology. There is no where innovation and new ideas cannot make a difference.
That was proven by the Innovate for A Cause Competition that was held by the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at JMI in 2015 which had contestants from a wide variety of departments including engineering, architecture, management studies, social studies, and economics.
It was reinforced in November of 2016 when the Centre launched a new initiative called Livelihood Business Incubator – LBI for short. LBI is designed to educate and train prospective entrepreneurs. It includes a degree focus and short-term 6 week programs in areas such as Pet bottle making, bakery products, and computer hardware.
Because of the slow down in the Indian, American and world economies we need more entrepreneurial leaders at all levels and in all areas to start new businesses and to launch and manage entrepreneurial initiatives that create jobs and/or change the way of doing things within existing ones.
I know you JMI students, faculty and staff recognize this need because of some statements on the web-pages for your Centre on Innovation and Entrepreneurship such as:
- We seek to develop job creators and not job seekers by developing entrepreneurship skills of students.
- Whether it be an innovative product, service or business or an innovative solution to a social problem, or even innovations in terms of curriculum and teaching methods used, our objective is to provide valuable assistance and guidance in turning these ideas into reality.
Still, sitting here as a student today, you might be thinking it is unrealistic to be talking about creating a business enterprise from scratch or being a leader in transforming an ongoing enterprise. I say, set those thoughts aside –and think big.
Consider the following: Google was founded by students; Facebook was founded by a student; and Microsoft was established by Bill Gates as a student. A large majority of new business ventures in the United States over the past decade have been created by Indian and other immigrant students and recent college graduates.
The opportunities to be an entrepreneur are all around you right now – if you take the time to examine the challenges you or individuals here in India face today and filter them through a problem-solving prism.
You don’t have to go out on your own or do it alone, however. As I said, one can be an entrepreneurial leader in an existing organization. That is done by identifying and facilitating the development of new products, services or business lines that meet the needs of customers and exceed their expectations. .
Some people refer to that as “intrapreneurship.” I don’t care what label you give it. I know we need more of it.
The good news is that I am seeing many of today’s companies committing to fostering entrepreneurship within their organizations to redefine their business models and discover better ways of doing business. Amazon and Apple have always been known for their continuing focus on innovation and pushing the outer edges of the envelope to stay one step of the competition in addressing customer needs and shaping the market-space.
A recent example of this emphasis on entrepreneurship has come from Microsoft which had become somewhat stodgy over the past decade or so.
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, he is now almost three years into his new job and has already applied his considerable skills as a navigator, capital creator and value generator to push Microsoft into Cloud computing in a big way, place a much greater emphasis on mobile use of technology; and to acquire Linked In, the professional social networking giant.
I don’t know Nadella personally. Some one I do know personally is Frank Islam. (SMILE)(PAUSE) In the last part of this speech, I would like to share with you a little of my own journey to become an entrepreneur and successful business leader.
That journey started here in India growing up in a middle class, religious family with strong values and beliefs but no business background or experience. I was nor born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I went to the United States to pursue the American Dream.
At that young age, I wasn’t quite sure how I would achieve that dream. But, I knew even then that being a business owner would be part of it.
I also knew that it would mean being apart from my family and developing my own career track with little parental or professional guidance. This was a daunting challenge. But, it was also an opportunity. That’s – the – way – I – saw it – an opportunity to define myself in America, the land of opportunity.
My Aligarh education and the values instilled in me held me in good stead when I went to the United States to pursue and achieve the American dream.
Realizing the dream did not come easily. It required more education, learning the ways of business, becoming an entrepreneur, founding my own company, and building a talented team to work with me on the endeavor.
I will not go into detail on those stages in my development as it would be too time consuming. What I do want to highlight is that my success as an entrepreneur required passion and persistence because I believe it will be instructive to those of you who are ‘entrepreneurs in waiting.”
My success did not come immediately or without struggles. I needed the tenacity to “stay the course”. Let me give you some specifics.
During the early years, there were several issues to be dealt such as: will we win the contract, will I get the bank loan, will I be able to make payroll.
There were some 24 hour days and many sleepless nights. It was not always easy. It was dark days of my life. And, the final destination was not certain. For the 13 years I was in business, I worked seven days a week.
As my business grew, the biggest challenges were getting access to the capital required for expansion and finding the talented management team who shared my vision and values.
I solved the capital problem by finding a bank and banker where my business mattered
On the management side, I was originally looking for people who were technically skilled. After some time and the wrong hires, I realized that if they didn’t have communication and customer relationship skills and a commitment to quality and my world view, we couldn’t build the kind of business that I wanted.
If I had to do it all over again, I would place finding the right core team -4 to 6 – individuals at the top of my agenda. After I found them, my company took off in terms of growth, profitability and customer satisfaction.
My journey was not a straight line. Indeed, there were numerous twists and turns in my journey.
What enabled me to prevail on the journey was a belief in myself and those around me and the opportunity presented by the American dream.
When people asked me how I became successful, I respond that it was not me, but we who made it happen. My team of talented managers was central to everything. Success in business is a team sport.
Success taught me to move forward. As importantly, failure taught me to never go backward. From the time I started my business, I knew implicitly that you needed to move ahead and that if you did not you would be left behind.
I must emphasize that in spite of the difficulties that I have just described being an entrepreneur has been a completely joyous experience for me.
I love entrepreneurship. There is nothing like the excitement, glory, fun and sheer thrill of starting something from scratch and watching it grow into a large enterprise of astonishing proportions.
I say to each one of you and to all of you students, if you have the opportunity to be an entrepreneur – grab it. Find passionate and driven people who share your sense of purpose. Share your vision, set the direction, give them all the necessary resources, give them the space to operate, and then work together with them to make things happen. Revel in the endeavor.
There is an old saying which goes that leaders are born not made. Take it from me and my journey, contrary to that old saying, the truth is that leaders and entrepreneur are made and not born.
No one comes out of the womb a leader or entrepreneur. You may be born more or less advantaged or disadvantaged socially and economically – but to become and be respected as a leader or entrepreneur, you must do it the old fashioned way. You must earn it by doing the right thing.
Your education as a student at this great University is preparing and empowering you to earn that recognition and to make a difference in India and the world.
In closing, let me share some thoughts that I have seen or heard and leaven them with a few insights of my own. My advice are:
- Be a lifelong learner
- Never give up
- Be the leaders for the next generations
- Do not forget your heritage and roots
- Aim high, work hard, get the right education, and pursue your dream
- When you are successful, provide ladders of opportunity for others to succeed.
- Write your own legacy
Write your own legacy. At the end of an article for the Harvard Business Review titled, “How Will You Measure Your Life,” Professor Clayton Christensen states, “I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.”
Christensen then provides the following advice which he gives to his students at the end of every semester, “Don’t worry about the individual prominence you have achieved, worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.” Let me piggy back on Professor Christensen’s recommendation, Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you want to see happen”
We live today in a world that is morally, ethically and spiritually challenged. That is why we need more virtuous organizations with leaders at all levels and followers who “want to be that change” and to ensure that the metric of “making a difference in organizational practices, communities and society” is fundamental to their vision and mission.
I know without question that Jamia Milia Islamia and that you students, faculty and staff are committed to “being that change” and applying that “metric.” I hope that the ideas that I have shared with will assist you in your current and future efforts to doing the right thing.
Thanks for the privilege of speaking with you. I wish all of you continued success in the future. I am confident you will achieve your goals. I am sure you will rise to the challenge, and transform your passion into profits.
I wish you all the best
God bless you all