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'SELL yourself at every stage in life'

Last updated on: April 11, 2012 19:09 IST

Image: Jerry Rao
Divya Nair

From books that will inspire you to dreaming beyond the obvious, read on for life lessons from these successful IIM alumni.

Jaithirth or Jerry Rao, as he is popularly known, is a man full of wisdom.

From playing an instrumental role in founding MphasiS, an IT services company, to being declared Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year 2004, Rao has contributed in ways that have inspired many.

Even as his dream of building affordable homes in Bangalore is yet to materialise, one can't dismiss the verve of this 60-year-old when he talks about the virtue of being patient and advises young Indians to nurture their hunger for knowledge for success in life.

Kindly recommend five books that you think today's young Indians must read.

Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, Waiting for the Mahatma by RK Narayan, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, Samskara by UR Anantha Murthy and Gora by Rabindranath Tagore

Can you outline why you have recommended these books?

I think it is very important for Indians to develop a sense of context. Otherwise, we are very much into day-to-day life problems -- 'how do I get promoted', 'how do I move ahead?' We do not understand the historical, social, anthropological context in which we are working. That's why I recommend these books.

What are the common mistakes that young people make when it comes to careers?

I think the biggest mistake people make in their careers is being in a hurry. People are asking for quick resolutions, quick answers, promotions, fulfillments.

Patience is a virtue each one of us must pursue. Lack of patience often precipitates to crises, which can be avoided.

Can you share an incident from your career that inspired you and changed your outlook towards success?

Years ago, I used to work with an American boss, a guy called Alan Williams. He was known to take very tough and difficult organisational decisions. He was brutally honest and had superior intelligence. But he lost out on his career, because he did not know how to handle organisational politics. I've always remembered that incident -- I learnt that doing the right thing doesn't always make you a winner.

Should Alan have learned critical lessons along with doing what's right (because I think doing right is important)? I don't have the answer, but this incident is left with me as an enduring event that I keep revisiting all the time.

What are the important lessons you learned at IIM?

  • You have to write well. There is no way you can become a good manager if you can't write well.
  • You have to speak up. This whole thing of class participation was important, because it forced people to speak up. The idea of being strongly silent is good, but it's wrong. It might work in Hollywood movies, but it doesn't work in real life.
  • Most of my classmates at IIM were intelligent. But IIM teaches you that intelligence is not everything. There are issues of character, communication, friendliness and lateral networking which are more important, or equally important.

What career advice would you like to share with the batch of 2012?

  • Don't pursue what is the most fashionable thing to do. Today, the most fashionable is private equity. I think you need to look at something that's contra-intuitive.
  • If you want to do something different, think of the steel industry, everybody has given up on steel -- or you may consider pursuing your career in manufacturing.
  • I think it is important to be useful while trying to do something different. You want to get into private equity because the best go there and you want to compete with the best. So why not go into steel and be the best in that field? So doing something that's contra-indicative is what I would suggest.

What's your advice to young Indians?

I would like to tell the youth that if you want to be successful, you have to be broadly-skilled.

You have to learn how to learn. Don't just learn Java or derivatives for the heck of it, because these things will go away in ten years. You must know how to unlearn a particular computer language or a financial instrument, given the need.

I have seen that many young people choose a niche field of interest and learn the skills pertaining to that field. Rather try and pick up the skill to learn how to learn. To my knowledge, if you are going to develop this skill over a period of 20 or 30 years, you are going to do well in life.

Click here to watch Jerry Rao's video.

'To attain salvation in life, you have to be contented -- I am so against that philosophy'

Photographs: Wikimedia Commons

A banker-turned-author from Ludhiana, Ravi Subramaniam's bestselling books If God Was a Banker and I Bought the Monk's Ferrari, talk about different ways of pursuing success in life.

Here, he tells us about the challenges he faced in the first one month while pursuing his MBA at IIM-Bangalore and why it is important to move beyond corporate politics and more.

Kindly recommend books that you think today's young Indians must read.

I can tell you about two that young people should read. One of them is Robin Sharma's The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. You must read it simply because it's one book I just don't agree with. It says that to attain salvation in life, you have to be contented. I am so against that philosophy that I wrote a book I Sold the Monk's Ferrari, which documents the characteristics that are essential for success in one's life. The Ferrari is synonymous with success and these are character traits that allow you to achieve success it.

What are the common mistakes that young people make when it comes to careers?

Lot of young people have warped expectations. For instance, they step out of IIMs or any graduate school for that matter and expect that life will be a cakewalk for them.

They feel that the minute they graduate, they will find a job and the pointers mentioned in the job description will tell them everything they should do in life. They think the appraisals, promotions and bonuses will decide how they move on with their lives and careers.

Guys, get real. Life is not fair at all times. At some point, you will come across someone who is better endowed or favoured than you. You will have to make your way around it, rather than whine about it.

The day you accept that life is not fair and equal to everyone, you will be at peace with yourself. And you can deliver better on the job than you are able to today.

Can you share an incident from your career that inspired you and changed your outlook towards success?

I am a small town guy. I was born and brought up in Ludhiana. When I joined IIM-B, I was amidst students who studied at IITs in Bombay and Delhi and almost everyone was flamboyant.

Seeing them, I went into a shell -- at that time, not being from a big city and a big institute was perceived as a negative thing. I saw that people avoided me because I was not one of them.

Later I decided that if I wanted to overcome the situation, I should change myself. I also knew that I would have to probably work harder than them to achieve what they had, but I was willing to do it. That first month at IIM changed me as a person.

Since then, I have learned to aspire for more. I started working harder and today, I believe, I have achieved a lot more than if I not been in that situation.

What are the important lessons you learned at IIM?

First and foremost, I learnt that nobody loves you more than your family; not your friends, your colleagues, peers or boss. Everyone will do what suits them, rather than what suits you. If you ever want to be sure that what you are doing is right, you must either call your parents, your partner or your children. Because they are the only ones who can give you an honest answer.

The second lesson I learnt at IIM-Bangalore was that at every stage of life, you will have to sell yourself. By selling, I do not mean that you will have to sell your soul, but you have to tell people what you are capable of. Similarly, if you want something in life, you have to ask for it. That's how people become successful. You must understand that nothing comes to you for free.

Another lesson I learnt at IIM was how to communicate my thoughts. Like if you think of something, say it. If you think something is right or wrong, state it. That builds your reputation as an honest individual. This virtue will help you make friends who will stay with your for life.

What career advice would you like to share with the batch of 2012?

My advice for the batch of 2012 is very simple. Folks, you've learnt enough in your respective MBA colleges. But all of that knowledge is theoretical.

When you go out for a job, you will realise that life in reality is different from what you have learned in your textbooks. Branding is not going to work the way you learned in your MBA; product positioning is different from what was taught to you at the London school and human resources is not what you thought it would be like.

Real life is full of corporate politics. The problem with most individuals is that when they make the transition from a college graduate to a working professional, they feel disillusioned, because nothing in life is what they learned in college.

My advice to them is: Get real. Politics will permeate all levels of an organisation. Don't whine about it, learn to deal with it. That's the only way you can move ahead in your career.

What's your advice to young Indians?

Work hard. But party harder. If you work hard and you have a passion outside your work life, it makes work life a lot more interesting.

I have observed that people who have an active social life outside work perform and deliver better at work.

Besides, they have a rounder personality compared to those who do not have a life beyond their work. So go out, explore and develop a passion outside work. You will see that your work life will improve magically.

Click here to watch Ravi Subramanian's video.

'You must learn to fight for yourself'

Image: Amish Tripathi
Photographs: Prasanna Zore/

An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Amish Tripathi quit his 14-year-old financial career to pursue his passion for writing.

From being rejected by publishers to becoming the bestselling author of The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas, Mumbai-based Tripathi has come a long way.

Here, he tells us why it is important for young Indians to stay rooted in their culture and not migrate to the West.

Kindly recommend five books that you think today's young Indians must read.

India after Gandhi by Ramchandra Guha is a must-read for every Indian, especially young Indians. It describes the miracle of the birth of our country and the great men and women who made it what it is today.

Among the recent books, I would recommend Arun Shourie's Does He Know a Mother's Heart?, MJ Akbar's Tinderbox and of course The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas which I have written, which are good enough as well.

What are the common mistakes that young people make when it comes to careers?

I haven't conducted much research among young people, but I can tell you of a common mistake that I made when I was young. I have realised that most of the time, we are in too much of a hurry.

After graduating from college, we are impatient in our first jobs. For instance, many of my batch mates have jumped organisations within the first year itself. Perhaps our expectations were too high. If you are an impatient person, you should probably be an entrepreneur and start your own business. Impatience is a great attitude to have if you're running your own business.

Can you share an incident from your career that inspired you and changed your outlook towards success?

This incident occured when I was young and involves my elder brother. My brother had gone to a nightclub and I was at home with my family. A guy who was much older than him hit him and he came home crying, and complained to my father. He expected my father to go back and fight with the guy at the club.

Instead, my father slapped my brother and said, "You are my son and you came back crying. You must go back and fight back." My brother refused, saying that the guy was much bigger than him. To which my father replied, "It doesn't matter if he's elder or bigger than you. You have to learn to fight for yourself."

My brother obeyed my father and went back to the club. He fought back and landed a few blows, although he was thrashed badly in return. But that day I learned an important lesson -- we have to learn to fight, irrespective of how big or powerful our opponents are. You must never allow anyone to bully you.

What are the important lessons you learned at IIM?

Work hard. Compete and have fun. Do not take life too seriously. Things usually work out in the end. Even if they don't, it doesn't matter much. It's more important to have fun.

What career advice would you like to share with the batch of 2012?

Don't migrate to the West. Stay in India because this is the economy to be in.

What's your advice to young Indians?

I don't know if I am big enough to give them any advice, but I believe we have a really smart generation growing up. I am confident that they will turn this country around. They will take the country where it deserves to be. I wish them good luck.

Click here to watch Amish Tripathi's video.

'Give back to society as much as you take'

Image: Rashmi Bansal
Photographs: Rashmi Bansal

Better known as the co-founder and editor of JAM Magazine, Rashmi Bansal is an economics graduate from Sophia College, Mumbai and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad.

She has authored books like Stay Hungry Stay Foolish and Connect the Dots,which were widely received.

Here, she tells us why it is important to be passionate about your goals and why it matters in life to do something good for society.

Kindly recommend five books that you think today's young Indians must read.

I strongly recommend the book What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson. It can help those who are searching for an answer to the above question.

Another book I always recommend whenever I go out for career seminars is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell -- it talks about success and what makes people successful.

One of the most interesting biographies of entrepreneurs that I have read is Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson.

I would like to recommend all books by RK Narayan. His books are so simple, yet the thoughts and ideas are universal. His books may be old, but they are worth reading.

Another of my favourite authors is Alexander McCall Smith. He has written a whole series of very interesting books starting with the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

What are the common mistakes that young people make when it comes to careers?

I think the biggest mistake that young people make is doing something for the sake of money. So if you are only pursuing a salary or a placement offer, you don't really love what you're doing.

I think you must find what you love and if you can't do that, you must fall in love with whatever you do. You have to be passionate and involved in what you do.

You also have to learn to be patient. Things may not work out for you in one, two or three years, but meanwhile you have to dedicate yourself to something -- a skill, career or profession.

What are the important lessons you learned at IIM?

I think the biggest lesson is that what you learn in the classroom doesn't matter much. Be involved with activities outside the classroom as much as you can. Marks don't really matter. It's what you become -- the sum of all your experiences -- that matters.

Relationships matter a lot -- the friends and network you build at IIM will last you through life.

It also taught me that you can be different from the crowd. For instance, I opted out of the campus placements and still ended up being successful in my own way. So, you can step out and do your own thing. You don't have to necessarily follow the herd.

How have these learnings helped you become a successful entrepreneur?

We are inspired by various people we meet in our lives. These are people who shape and mould you and make you who you are. I am very grateful for the opportunity I got at IIM where I met some of the people who've inspired me.

Although I hope in time that everyone gets similar opportunities, I also feel that it is not really important to go to a particular institution. You can be wonderfully successful irrespective of where you study -- you may be from a lesser-known college, you may not even complete college.

As long as you are a lifelong learner -- learning things from everything you do, see and experience -- you can be successful in life. So IIM is an important part of me; but it's just one part of me, not everything.

What career advice would you like to share with the batch of 2012?

I would sum it up in the line 'stay hungry, stay foolish'.

You've got the degree. You have to go out in the world and prove yourself. It's not that you've achieved something and you can now sit back and relax.

Life is about finding new challenges and pursuing them. Always be passionate. Don't be satisfied with the ordinary. Look out for what's extraordinary within you.

What's your advice to young Indians?

All of us have the opportunity to serve the nation in some way or the other. I would like to tell them that running after placements and salaries will not satisfy you.

You must look out for what you can do for other people. See how you can serve others. Even if you can't do it on a fulltime basis, make that a part of your life.

Always give as much as you are take, or even more than that. That's the secret of having a wonderful life, career and a deep sense of satisfaction.

Click here to watch Rashmi Bansal's video.