Dr. Ganesh Natarajan, Founder- 5F World, former Vice Chairman and CEO, Zensar Technologies, delivers Higher Education Forum (HEF) conducted the first Dr. P. N. Singh Memorial Talk on Leadership
Higher Education Forum (HEF) conducted the first Dr. P. N. Singh Memorial Talk on Leadership last week at the SEIS College of Management Studies (SEISCOMS). The talk was delivered by Dr. Ganesh Natarajan, Founder- 5F World, former Vice Chairman and CEO, Zensar Technologies, and Founding Member of HEF, in his own unique style. After the ceremonial lighting of the lamp, as Dr. A. K. Sen Gupta, founder and convener of HEF set the context of the talk, he spoke of how Dr. P. N, Singh devoted his life to the cause of education, and said that the talk was established by the HEF to remember the legacy that he left behind. At the same time, it was an opportunity to bring forth leaders to the students, for them to share thoughts and principles.
“There are people who talk on leadership, and there are people who practice leadership. The thirs type of people includes those who talk on leadership and practice it also. Dr. Ganesh Natarajan is one of them,” Dr. Sen Gupta said when introducing the speaker. “In his entire career, you will see an embodiment of leadership. He is a person who has studied leadership, who has practiced leadership, he person who has influenced the lives of several people in every position that he has worked,” he said.
“It is always a pleasure to be a part of every event that the HEF conducts. I am a little worried, about what Dr. Sen Gupta said. He said that among those he speaks to, he gets about 97 to 98% of the people talking positively about me, so who are these 2 or 3% who don’t like me? I really have to find them!” Dr. Ganesh started his talk in his inimitable jovial style, and set the mood for the evening.
“I must tell you my favourite story about introductions, because nowadays, everybody makes long introductions.. Shashi Tharoor has a wonderful story of the time when he was in the United Nations. He was one of the deputy secretary generals. And he said one of his friends was visiting Beijing University to deliver a speech. As most of you know, the person who downloads the resume for the speech and the person who reads it are normally two different people. So this person went to Beijing University, and the lady, a student who had done the research on him had actually found that this gentleman’s grandfather was actually arrested and executed by electric chair at some institution. Normally, you would quietly hide this information when you have to introduce a person on an occasion like this, but she didn’t. She wrote is down, at least for the reader to know. The person who was reading it had not done the research, so he read it out, and it sounded something like this – ‘And by the way I must tell you that our distinguished gentleman who is speaking on the dais, one of his ancestors was at a very well known institution and occupied the chair of applied electricity.’ Everybody clapped. The moral of this story is that never believe everything you hear,” Dr Ganesh began as he engaged the 200 plus audience.
“Let me tell you a few stories, and at the end I can conclude what can you learn from these stories – perhaps in leading teams, leading business, leading ideas. I had no intentions in becoming a leader, because when I grew up, my father was running a small factory a few kilometeres from Ranchi. I still remember till the age of 13 or 14, I was blissfully unaware of anything known as the IIT. Suddenly, in class 9 somebody told me about IIT Kharagpur and how I should aspire for it. I still remember talking to my vice principal, and he laughed for five minutes when I told him I wanted to get into IIT, saying that I was studying in this small school, I would be lucky if I passed the Indian School Certificate. Is it my fault that I am here? He said that there is one thing that can take you far in life if you are good at it, and that is English language. I wondered what has good English got to do with being successful in life? He said, from next month onward you participate in every elecution and every debate. I botched up my first written speech at an event – and he said, first lesson in life – never write a speech. And that is why I hate Microsoft PowerPoint, since that is what the audience looks at, and you only end up reading. So, throughout my life I have never written a speech to save my life. If I look back at the 36 years of my career, that little message that my vice principal gave me – that if I had the confidence to stand up and talk with an audience and make eye contact and communicate, has always helped me. I have never regretted that,” he told the young aspiring management students.
LEADERSHIP MANTRAS IN THIS WORLD – THE 5FS
#1 Fast – this world has no place for people who cannot move fast, act fast, think fast
#2 Focus – when you have focus, you go get it!
#3 Flexible – it is too early in life to freeze in on anything. Flexibility to take any ideas that come to you.
#4 Friendly – This world does not want rude people. Your mind has to be open. Be humble and willing to listen
#5 Fun – not the number of parties but how much you enjoy what you do!
“Moving on, when I graduated from NITIE in Mumbai, I joined in a function called computers in Crompton in the 1980s, and at that time nobody had a clue what to do with computers. My general manager asked me asked me to design the computer system to implement to keep stock and inventory. For four years I met cynicism after cynicism on the usefulness of computers. So I left that place, and did a little start up in Mumbai in 1985, got 50 lakhs of funding, and set up a company with 15 people to build computer systems for companies like Hindustan Lever, Lakme etc. Three years later I realised that I had done it too early. I was way too young to run a start up. That’s the problem I have with the start up ecosystem even today, when somebody set out to do it because of the hype, rather than saying here is a great idea, let me make it happen. But it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, even though we were making a profit,” Dr. Ganesh narrated, adding, “Fortunately I got a chance to work for a new company, NIIT. A few years later, I got a call from a head hunter to for the position of CEO of Aptech and I took it. While building the company, (where the attrition rate dropped from 400% to 3% by introducing a weekly Friday night rain party) I discovered one mantra – that unless you are having fun, there is no way that an institution can be built, whether it is an education institution, a company, a society whatever. People must really enjoy what they are doing. We then went ahead to build a vision. Fortunately we didn’t write the vision, because by the time I left the company we had surpassed the vision beyond all imagination.”
“When I moved to Zensar, the story was very similar. It was just after a big global meltdown had happened, and the dotcom bubble had burst. The industry we were in was obviously the IT industry. We wanted to break one myth – we wanted to eliminate programming, which led to us having a great marketing story. We work hard on working it without programming and delivering automated systems. We didn’t want to run after small businesses, so we made sure that every client of ours was a fortune 500 company.
This was a result of the collective effort of the staff members.
That led me to understand how teams succeed, or how leaders succeed. What do you expect from a leader?” he threw a question at the audience.
After listening to all the answers, Dr. Ganesh offered his two cents: “I will give you a simple definition of the expansion of CEO that I have always used. The C stands for clairvoyant – somebody who can think a little beyond today’s problem. The E stands for evangelist – one who asks for change. The O is what my vice principal taught me in school – oratory – the ability to communicate. I believe that is what leadership is all about. You have to develop that if you want to be a leader of people. Of course it needs integrity and passion and many other things, but at the end of the day people have to believe that this is one person who we can listen to. Leadership is getting people to believe in themselves and saying we can discover our passion and make that happen,” he concluded, empowering the students to think about a few aspects of their own talents.