IIT Delhi, Department of Management Studies
I am greatly honored and thankful to have this opportunity to speak to the graduating class today. Congratulations to you on your accomplishments. Congratulations to your families who are proud to see your progress. And kudos to your faculty for all they have done to prepare you for life ahead.
To get a business degree, whether an MBA or a PhD, at IIT Delhi is very special. I too received my master’s in management from an institution that was rooted in technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. I must say that being surrounded by engineers and scientists was exhilarating. The rigor that scientists and engineers bring to the thinking process is even more applicable to management now.
I heard an MIT President once say that a student related to him, many years after his convocation, that the two most important words he learned were what he had been told at the degree granting ceremony. The two words were, “keep moving.” The President had said, as he gave him his degree, keep moving, keep moving……For there was a long line behind waiting to get their degrees.
It is in fact an important lesson and the first one I want to share today. Keep moving.
Receiving a degree, even from IIT Delhi, does not mark the end of a journey. The journey of learning has to continue.
When I say keep moving, it is not about moving physically or about changing organizations. It is primarily about moving intellectually, developing new knowledge and expertise. In fact, it is about moving beyond the comfort zone of what you already know. It is about constantly taking on new intellectual challenges or working in new domains.
Many of you here have moved beyond your comfort zones physically, having come to Delhi from smaller places. You came here to study a field that was new to you.
The injunction to keep moving is one that, in retrospect, marks my career. I have found it fulfilling to work in a large company, then be an entrepreneur, a consultant, a company leader, serve in a senior position in the Obama Administration and now to be in India leading KPMG.
Each one of these moves took me out of the comfort of what I had known before. I recall when I joined the Obama Administration, every evening I would have a voluminous briefing book to prepare for the next day’s meetings. For the first six months, it was like going to an exam every day!
Also, there were physical moves, from Trivandrum to Bombay to Boston to the Bay Area to Washington DC and back to Mumbai. Every move has been enriching – new experiences, new places, new friends, new knowledge.
My second lesson is about the importance of relationships. People in business circles talk about networking but I prefer the term relationship as it is more substantial. A relationship is built when you give of yourself, when you share, when you invest in another person.
There is a saying that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Relationships come from people knowing that you care. They are strengthened when you share without the expectation of immediate reward.
My rule for a successful relationship is that I should help first. And I should know what the other person wants, how the other person will benefit and help accordingly. A good relationship does not start with what I want for myself but with what the other person wants.
I have numerous examples of relationships that began by my giving first, most of the time not even thinking that I was doing anything special. In one case, one of my team members wanted to leave my firm and take up a job where she would not have to travel. I helped her do so and forgot about it. Several years later I saw her as a senior executive in a large firm in San Francisco where my firm was bidding for business. She was very helpful.
Relationships have resulted in great value for me. I would not be where I am without so many people having opened doors for me because they cared for me in some way. Every job change I have made, every opportunity that has come my way, has come from a relationship. These were not family or social relationships but professional relationships that grew from working together or interacting together on topics of mutual interest.
Indeed relationships are the life-blood of business and the source of the most significant opportunities.
Relationships have a way of deepening with time. That is why it makes good sense to be conscious of developing relationships right from now. The person next to you may be the CEO of a company some years from now, whether ten, twenty or thirty. And relationships must be nurtured; one must take the time to keep in touch – which has now become easier with tools like Facebook.
The next message I want to leave with you is a key word: opportunity. You never know where opportunity comes from. You have to get around, don’t just stay in your office, and get known to people across the organization where you work or the city where you live. I will give you just one example. When I first went to Silicon Valley, I was the controller of a company. But I did not just stay holed up in Finance, I got to know the engineers by sharing with them the work of the Finance department. One of them, in fact a renowned computer scientist, came to me and asked if I could be his business partner to launch a new venture. That opportunity would not have happened if I had not got involved with areas outside my own.
You have a responsibility to seek opportunity. When you find that your company is embarking on an important initiative, raise your hand and express interest. Don’t feel shy about raising your hand.
And place yourself in places where opportunities will find you – by getting involved in company activities and voluntary organizations and generally cultivating your interests where you will meet other people.
So, as you graduate, the lessons I can share from my career are three and are very simple: keep moving, nurture relationships and seek opportunities. These actions are interrelated and create a positive virtuous spiral. The more you keep moving, the more people you will meet and develop relationships with and those in turn will provide new opportunities. Those will be opportunities to move out of your comfort zone and the circle will begin again.
As you step out into the world, I would like to conclude with a few lines from Constantine Cavafy’s poem, Ithaca. The lines are about Odysseus, the Greek epic hero who bravely and relentlessly sailed beyond his comfort zone.
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Pray that the voyage is long,
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
visit many cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
I wish you adventure, learning and success.