‘We are in the best of times’ – N Chandrasekaran addressing AIMA Award Ceremony

Mr N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons addressing the JRD TATA award ceremony

Mr N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons addressing the JRD TATA award ceremony

It is a unique privilege and honor to share a few thoughts with all of you this evening. It has been a great privilege for me to receive the AIMA JRD Tata Corporate Leadership award for 2016. I want to thank the Jury for selecting me for this honor. It is special for me because it is named after JRD. Even in our group the highest award given to our group companies that excel at highest levels is named after JRD.

Today we are going to talk about leadership and JRD has exemplified leadership in multiple dimensions. One area that was close to his heart is excellence. His famous quote that everyone probably remembers, I quote “One must forever strive for excellence, or even perfection, in any task, however small, and never be satisfied with second best”. All of us who run businesses know how true this statement is. if you want to build world-class companies. And how hard it is to achieve this level of excellence and to survive competition and continue to succeed.

Talking about leadership, there are many facets of leadership one can talk about and Leading Excellency is one of them. Setting up audacious vision or rallying people towards that vision or driving people towards a larger purpose and the list goes on and on. But to me, the most inspiring thing about leadership is that aspect which I call as aspiration. If you look back at history, anything that has been achieved very significantly is because someone thought that something special must be achieved and set an aspiration or a goal and made people believe in that aspiration; when something like that looked totally impossible. In our own group, if you look at Jamshetji, he set some amazing aspirations. He thought that India should produce steel and he aspired that we should produce electricity from the falls in the Western Ghats and light up his own city Bombay. And he wanted to set up the most advanced science and technology institute in the county. All this when any one of this would have looked totally impossible. In fact, I have heard that the British viceroy Lord Curzon asked him, “Who would go to this institute and what jobs will they do?” But all of these became reality because he not only set this aspiration but he convinced his two sons and family and all the people around him so that they carried forward his vision to make it a reality. And there are other examples, John F. Kennedy. In 1960-1961, he challenged the American people to put a man on the moon. And on the face of it it looked very impossible but within that decade in 1969, it did happen.
So I think if you want to do extraordinary things, you need to believe in the power of aspirations. If you take India, I think we are in a very unique place. I think we are in the best of times. Our growth rates are probably the highest ever in several decades and probably we are going to have one or two decades of exceptional economic growth. I would say that we have the best talent and we have the best demography. We have many challenges but we have many advantages. And I would even say that we have the best entrepreneurial spirit. We have some outstanding businessmen in this country who have created exceptional businesses, world-class companies, competing on the global stage whether it is competing against multinationals coming into India or taking businesses outside and establishing themselves as leaders. But if we ought to achieve what we deserve, I think we must aspire in every dimension. The power of aspiration is within everyone. Fortunately, we have an outstanding Prime Minister who is extremely bold and aspires to see India as a developed nation.

If you look at every field, we must provide the best education for all children. Why can’t we have, at least, 20 best institutes of learning in the top 50 campuses in the world? We have demand and we have the student. An institution flourishes not only because of the infrastructure but also because of the students. We have the best students and if we create the right infrastructure and the right environment, we can attract the best students. We must have the best healthcare. And we have an opportunity. I may be called as biased but coming from the IT industry I would say that we have the best software talent in the world. Why can’t we have the best software written for every industry? We talk about industry 4.0 and we talk about best healthcare. We want the best analytics to determine every particular disease and the best medical access to be available. Our problem is access. We are never going to solve the healthcare problem for example by creating more doctors because the estimated number of doctors that we need is huge. And we are not going to have the best specialists scale up. If you take the number of doctors, the number of specialist per thousand people, we will never meet that metric in short term. So the best way to solve the problem is to provide the access to the specialists. If you want to provide access to the specialist we should be able to create jobs which the specialist is doing today by less skilled people so that the specialist can focus on the real specialist activity. And that kind of productivity doesn’t happen because it’s not there today. Every specialist wastes a significant amount of time doing things, which can be done by lesser skilled people. And the same thing is true in education. The same thing is true in every industry.

We talk about innovation. I think innovation and R&D is not about only pure research. Pure research has to happen as it is very important to find the next drug for the most complicated disease. But it is even more important, for the country like India to cover the innovative models to ensure that what we have is accessible to everybody in every nook and corner of the country. That is a different type of innovation. That is totally focused on access. And if we do that we will suddenly create several hundreds of millions of people who will come into the mainstream. It is not only banking, financial inclusion but it includes in every sense. And so for that in every field, we need very high aspirations. We cannot settle for just aspiration in one level. So we need people at every level aspire. Leadership is not just at the company chairman level or CEO level or the head of state. Leadership is at every level. It has to be there in every city, it has to be there in every region. It has to be there in education, it has to be there in science and technology, it has to be there in healthcare. And we need to create a talent pool.

Believe it or not, we will have the best talent not only for the country, but for the world, for the next 20-30 years. Just because of the youth we have in our country. So how do we look at transforming all these people, not only skilled, but develop some leadership qualities in them so that they aspire for bigger things. And I started looking at dictionary definition for leadership versus transformative leadership. But fundamentally it is about creating that spark in people so that they come up with ideas, come up with goals which are not normal, which are extraordinary, which will have a larger purpose. If you can create that, I think all of other problem will go away. I think we are not going to solve the jobs problem by saying we are going to create more jobs. We are going to solve the jobs problem by creating leaders who will aspire at every level because they will create businesses and they will create initiatives. And initiative can be started as social businesses but they will produce money eventually. And it will create jobs. It will kind of feed into each other. So that kind of ecosystem is what we need. It will require innovation, innovation in the area of access, I keep repeating it. Not for a minute I am saying that we should not invest in PhDs or pure science research etc. but we need to focus on a larger scale in creating these, access based innovation. And that will solve many problems. So I think that is the power of aspiration I wanted to talk about. I think if we do that, we will achieve what our prime minister is aspiring to achieve. And not only that we will achieve success but we would have to create momentum that will take this country beyond this decade, beyond the next 20 years and the momentum will carry on to make India the most innovative place. A place where everyone will want to come, which will attract people from all over the world. And that is the opportunity we have.

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