Dean Gopinath, Members of the Faculty, Students, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for your hospitality. I appreciate your warm welcome. It is a privilege and honor to be asked to deliver this address.
It is my distinct pleasure to be here with you today because like you I was born in India. So I feel a common bond and a personal connection as we are linked by shared history and shared heritage and shared background. Let me take one step further, as I look around, I see me in you, I see the future of India, and indeed I see the future of the world.
I’ve been asked to share my thoughts with you today on leadership – and I will. But, let me begin by saying that I have titled my talk – 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 home land, 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 get to my thoughts on that in a minute. Before, I do, let me begin by citing an example of an organization with leadership that is committed to doing the right thing.
It is my good fortune and honor to be standing at the podium speaking at that organization right now. It is of course, the O.P. Jindal Global University.
The leaders who are most responsible for elevating Jindal Global University to world class status in an incredibly short period of time, are Naveen Jindal, the founding Chancellor and Professor C. Raj Kumar, Vice Chancellor. I must say I am humbled to have been invited to speak about leadership to an institution with such exceptional leaders. Their vision and values have shaped the history, the character, and the destiny of this distinguished institution. All of us owe them a sense of gratitude.
Founding Chancellor Jindal and Vice Chancellor Kumar in conjunction and collaboration with you faculty leaders and student leaders are building a world class institution here in Haryana. I don’t need to go into the specific accomplishments to date because those associated with the success story that is this University know what all of you are doing together far better than I.
What I do have to tell you however, as someone who serves on a number of university boards in the United States and around the world, is that I see this enterprise called the Jindal Global University as one of – if not the most – singular and distinctive endeavors in the field of higher education. The vision for this University is a transformative one not only for India but for the potential it holds as a model for the world.
This University is being built do the right thing by leaders at all levels who are committed to doing the right thing. That brings me back to the question, what is required and how does a leader do the right thing?
I would like to 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 contributing to the construction of 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. Let me repeat that 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 what the 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.
A key business concept is that of “core competence.” Core competence is the “distinctive capability that a company has that differentiates it from its competitors and allows it to win in the market place.” Core competence is important in the virtuous organization but of equal importance is the concept of “core consciousness”.
Core consciousness brings the organization’s values and beliefs such as integrity, quality and excellence front and center in the organization’s psyche and its way of doing business. Let me give you an example of this, in Norfolk, VA in the United States during World War II, there was a sign above the entry to a shipyard that said “We build good ships. At a profit, if we can. At a loss if we must. But we always build good ships.” A navigator imprints messages like these on the organization’s employees and by doing so makes sure that they are oriented to doing things right and doing the right things.
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. Let me explain why intellectual capital and spiritual capital are so important to organizational success.
Let’s begin with intellectual capital. Think of it this way – every organizational nit has what I would call its organizational IQ. That is the combination of all of the IQ’S of the employees in that area. For example, if we had a business with 100 employees with an average IQ of 120 its organizational IQ would be at a minimum 12,000.
The challenge for a leader in a virtuous organization is to ensure the organization is structured to allow the employees to use their individual brain power in order to achieve that minimum IQ. The opportunity is to create collaboration and teamwork that results in synergy thus creating intellectual capital that exceeds that of the average of all the individuals in the business. That’s what successful information technology companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have been able to do and why they are so successful.
It’s not just about intellectual capital, however. Creating spiritual capital is just as important – and in some ways more so. Spirit is the invisible force that moves individuals and organizations. You can have all of the smartest people in the world in a company or one of its business units but if you can’t get them to cooperate and work together then their collective intellects don’t matter.
A leader in the virtuous organization recognizes the interdependency among the business model, and intellectual and spiritual capital creation. That’s why he or she focuses on SOS – Spirit on Our Side – and IBM – Intelligence Building Maximization – in order to create financial capital 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” 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.
It all begins with leaders whose vision and values shape and define the company’s culture. If those values include concern, caring, compassion and commitment to making a positive difference in society, those values are reflected in everything that the organization does – from the manner in which it operates, treats employees and customers, to its community involvement and philanthropic initiatives.
Think of it this way, a leader is a person who drops a rock in a pond and as the circles ripple out they reflect his or her image and likeness.
It’s not just enough for a leader of the virtuous organization to talk a good game. The leader must be able to walk the talk. That’s true because people both within and outside the organization learn and make judgments based upon observation and not conversation.
That’s my perspective on leadership in general. Let me now shine a bright light on a type of leader that is near and dear to my heart because of my own life and business experience – that is the entrepreneurial leader.
Because of the slow down in the Indian, American and world economies we need more entrepreneurial leaders to start new businesses and to launch and manage entrepreneurial initiatives that create jobs within existing ones.
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 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, you can be an entrepreneurial leader in an existing organization by developing new products, services or business lines that meet customer need and exceed their expectations.
The good news is that I am seeing many of today’s companies committing to fostering entrepreneurship within the organization’s to redefine their business models and discover new ways of business. Amazon and Apple have always been known for their evolutionary forms of innovation and pushing the outer edges of the envelope to stay one step of the competition.
The most recent example though has come from Microsoft who selected one of its foremost, young entrepreneurial leaders to be their new CEO. That person is Satya Nadella, who was born in India and educated in engineering at Manipal University.
Nadella was heading Microsoft’s fast-growing cloud computing initiative and had over 22 years with the company when he was chosen for this position. According to The Economic Times, he is known for his “questioning nature”. His choice is testimony to the fact that entrepreneurial leadership within existing companies is rewarded. His story reminds us that future belongs to those who can envision and create it and not those who can define themselves by limits rather than potential and possibilities.
I am confident he will apply his already considerable skills as a navigator, capital creator, and value generator to help transform Microsoft over the next several years. I don’t know him personally. But, I am also certain that he will bring the defining traits of the ethical entrepreneur – which include passion, commitment, laser-beam focus, discipline, honesty, integrity and humility – to this task.
Some one I do know personally is Frank Islam. 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 with strong values and beliefs but no business background or experience. I attended Aligarh Muslim University. I went to the United States from India when I was young 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 they way I saw it – an opportunity to define myself in America, the land of opportunity.
The process of defining myself in America had five stages:
- Getting a good education
- Doing my apprenticeship
- Becoming an entrepreneur
- Building a strong and talented team who shared my vision and values
- Moving on to other things
I graduated from the University of Colorado. That gave me the knowledge I needed to go into business.
I always wanted to start my own business but I knew that I needed experience first. So, I worked with two major information technology firms in the Washington DC area for a number of years. That gave me the skills and real world grounding that I needed to be a business owner.
Within 13 years, along with my management team, we took that firm from a workforce of 1 employee to several thousand employees and approximately $300 million in revenue per year.
The team of talented managers was central to everything. Success in business is a team sport. So, when you ask me how I became successful, it was not me but we who made it happen.
Finally, I sold my company to Perot Systems in 2007. That sale allowed me to establish a private foundation that supports educational, cultural and artistic causes in the United States and around the world.
I share the story of my journey with you not because I expect your journey to be the same as mine – but because I know that each of us has a journey to take. There is one overriding lesson that I would like you take from my journey, however.
There is an old adage which goes that leaders are born not made. Take it from me, contrary to that old adage, the truth is that leaders are made and not born.
No one comes out of the womb a leader. You may be born more or less advantaged or disadvantaged socially and economically – but to become and be respected as a leader, 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 your to earn that recognition and to begin your leadership journey. In closing, let me leave you with two thoughts regarding that journey.
Stay true to you. Steve Jobs in a commencement address at Stanford advised the graduates, “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
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 writes, “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 in the world.”
We live today in a world that is morally, ethically and spiritually challenged. That is why we need more virtuous organizations with leaders 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 Jindal Global University and those of you here today are committed to “being that change” and applying that “metric.” I hope that the ideas that I have shared with you today will assist you in your ongoing efforts.
I wish all of you continued success in the future, look forward to when our paths cross again. I am sure you will rise to the challenge. I am confident you will achieve your goals.
Good luck and god speed. Thanks for the privilege of speaking with you today.
God bless you.