Shaping the Sustainable Future: A Decade of Corporate Responsibility and ESG Evolution

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Key Note Address by Ms Apurba Mitra, Partner-ESG, KPMG, India

For those of us who have been working in the field of corporate sustainability for several decades, it’s a privilege to be here at this particular time. Looking back a decade or two, we can realise just how far we’ve come in terms of corporate governance and other stakeholders becoming more responsible, sustainable, and value-driven. The world was very different not even a few decades ago. The Global Risk Report released by the World Economic Forum a decade back highlighted the top three risks as asset prices, de-globalization, and oil price spikes. However, today, the top three risks are climate action failure, extreme weather, and biodiversity – something that was unheard of a decade ago. Risk perceptions have undergone a sea change during this decade, with eight out of the top 10 global risks now related to environmental and social factors.

ESG is the Talk of the Day

In recent years, sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) issues have become mainstream topics in boardroom discussions across companies. When I began my career, only a handful of companies were investing in ESG, primarily focusing on disclosure and reporting, as well as some clean energy projects due to the potential financial benefits. Today, we are moving beyond these early stages. While there is still a long way to go, as a society, we have become more aware of these issues, acknowledging them and working together as a global community to address them. The role of regulation has been and continues to be a major driver.

I remember when corporate social responsibility (CSR) was first introduced in India within the framework of the Companies Act in 2013. It was a groundbreaking regulation, as it was the first time any country had introduced a CSR mandate. Since then, positive developments have occurred not only in India but worldwide. The regulatory landscape for sustainability is continually evolving, and companies are now grappling with a range of new issues that they may not yet be well-equipped to handle.

A Defining Decade

Nevertheless, this is an exciting time, as this decade is a defining decade. It is crucial in deciding whether we can stay on our temperature pathways, thereby avoiding irreversible damage to our planet and society. Science demands rapid and urgent transformation in every sector of the economy-the way we produce, the way we live, the way we communicate, the way that we function-  to meet our sustainability goals. To achieve sustainability, we must find ways to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and excessive resource use. That is the need of the hour.

This calls for achieving material efficiency, energy efficiency, and resource efficiency to a degree we have never achieved before. We must harness and store clean energy on a scale we have not done in the past. Innovations like hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, although currently economically challenging, are critical to the decarbonisation transition but are not economically available today. Unprecedented transformations are needed across all sectors and that is what science mandates. Sustainability also depends on influencing individual behavior, changing our lifestyles, consumption patterns, dietary choices, waste management, and more.

Accountability for the Value Chain

Each country is developing regulations and frameworks to address these challenges, including India’s Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting (BRSR), the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), and the European Green Deal. These regulations are aimed at forcing companies to consider not only their direct operations but also the entire value chain, including their supply chain partners. Companies are being held accountable for their indirect impacts on supply chain partners, both upstream and downstream.

However, while regulation plays a significant role, the momentum for change is not solely driven by legal requirements. On the voluntary side, over one-third of the largest publicly traded companies have already set Net Zero targets. More than 200 Indian companies have committed to their net-zero goals. Investors are also exerting pressure on companies, and they are now evaluated based on various parameters, such as worker well-being, biodiversity conservation, climate change efforts, and human rights. This shift reflects a significant change from the past when companies were primarily assessed based on profit. A number of rating agencies have mushroomed which compare one company with the other.

Towards a Green Premium

Demographics are changing, and so are consumer preferences. Millennials, in particular, have a growing demand for sustainable and climate-friendly alternative products. This shift may lead to a green premium – a price difference between green and conventional products. In areas like textiles, there is a price differential that exists between cloth made of sustainable cotton and conventional cotton. But for a lot of building blocks of our economy like Cement, Steel and fertilisers, we must be able to build the price differential. Such a premium presents opportunities for innovation and potentially higher returns on investments in green products. 

At the same time, geopolitics plays a role, as witnessed during supply chain shocks related to international conflicts. Companies are working to create resilient supply chains capable of surviving these shocks. They are also making strategic choices to engage supply chain partners who align with their own ESG vision. Companies today are not just responsible for their direct impacts but are held accountable for the impact they have across the entire value chain, both upstream and downstream. This is an emerging challenge – how to engage with supply chain partners to ensure alignment with ESG objectives. Furthermore, access to finance is increasingly dependent on a company’s ESG performance. Other factors, such as employee retention, show that millennials prefer working for organizations with a strong commitment to sustainability. Having a solid foundation in ESG and incorporating it within the organization’s culture can lead to significant gains.

Need for Balance

Nonetheless, achieving sustainability goals is easier said than done. It involves navigating multiple, sometimes conflicting, development imperatives such as energy security, economic growth, food and water security, biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, and more. Prioritising these imperatives while achieving economic growth and environmental and social sustainability, is a challenge. For instance, transitioning to clean energy sources while addressing the impact on coal-dependent communities is a complex task. Similarly, we must find out how we can transition to electric vehicles without impacting the traditional automotive value chains and employment. Decisions regarding land use, for agriculture or renewable energy installations, are challenging. Manufacturing sectors must keep pace with technological advancements, especially in clean energy. A balance must be struck between bold clean energy targets and ensuring that growth in technology exports is not the sole story for every technology sector.

In today’s world, it’s crucial to take a holistic and sustainable approach that encompasses not just a few parameters but the entire spectrum of the economy, society, and nature. This presents one of the biggest challenges today. One of the solutions at our disposal is digitization and technology. Companies worldwide are expanding their data analytics capabilities, harnessing the power of machine learning, data mining, and what we refer to as big data. You might have heard the phrase that “data is the new gold,” which holds true in today’s context.

Technology –The Key Enabler

Digital technology plays a pivotal role in this transformation. Many manufacturing industries are leveraging artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to optimize processes and enhance energy efficiency. Even in agriculture, remote sensing technology and AI are proving to be critical enablers, offering timely and actionable insights to farmers and agribusinesses. For instance, AI is enabling precision agriculture, guiding farmers to use just the right amount of inputs to increase yield and reduce costs, contributing to sustainability. We’re already collecting real-time data in agriculture using drones, embracing innovations that make the world more sustainable.

In the industrial sector, numerous startups have emerged, focusing on automation, IoT, AI, machine learning, or sensor-based systems that capture real-time data, allowing companies to optimize processes, utilities, and reduce downtime through predictive maintenance. The concept of digital twins is emerging, offering a real-time visual representation of operations or assets, crucial in a world where operations are becoming increasingly complex and data-driven.

The realm of smart building management systems is also making strides, optimizing ambient air conditions and energy consumption while enabling remote facility management. These innovations are essential because they align with what science demands: a transformation to stay on the right temperature pathways that can help us avert the devastating impacts of climate change and protect the vulnerable sections of society worldwide.

As young individuals, I hope you learn from the experiences of the past decade and contribute to carving a more sustainable path for the future. These are defining times, and you, as young visionaries and future decision-makers, have a unique opportunity to innovate, create a lasting impact, and make a significant contribution to the world.

Innovate for Tomorrow: Embracing Responsibility and Sustainability in Management

Inaugural Address by Mr K V Ramani, Founder and Chancellor, SAI University

Management is all about managing people, materials, money, and time. These are the four dimensions of management that I learned in my early years, and I believe they remain relevant. However, the entire paradigm of management has evolved. I want to emphasize that management is no longer confined to overseeing these four dimensions: people, materials, money, and time. It extends beyond these dimensions into new frontiers, particularly in the context of sustainability and responsible innovation. As emerging young managers, who are the leaders of tomorrow, you will face the challenge of innovating for a responsible future. The three key words, namely Innovate, Responsible and Future contain significant meaning.


Innovation encompasses various connotations because, without innovation, we would continue performing the same tasks today and in the days to come. As part of India’s population of youth, you belong to a group of over 50 million next-generation Indians, making us the world’s largest population of young individuals. The youth population of India today surpasses the entire population of the United States of America. You are the opinion leaders, thought leaders, and change-makers of tomorrow. Our generation is passing the torch of awareness of ESG practices to your generation, and you will carry the responsibility of implementing them. Innovation, by definition, signifies progress and moving forward. Without innovation, we will not witness any meaningful change.


Next comes responsibility. How do you define responsibility, and how do you define tomorrow? In the context of sustainability, responsibility entails leaving the world in a better state than when we arrived. It’s about contributing to making our planet more sustainable during our lifetime, in every sense. The underlying message is to innovate and contribute to a more sustainable planet for future generations.

Innovation is essential as it removes obstacles for future generations. Innovation is about doing things better, faster, and more cost-effectively. It also involves using natural resources more efficiently because we understand that these resources are finite. The concept of “net zero” is central to sustainability. It aims to ensure that we leave the Earth with as many natural resources as we can reproduce, ultimately reaching a net-zero balance.

As an example, my university, which I founded, has operated for three years as a net-zero campus. Our entire 103-acre campus is powered by solar energy, and we’ve implemented comprehensive waste management systems. It serves as a model for green and sustainable practices. If each of us takes on the responsibility of sustainability, we can collectively make a significant difference. Unfortunately, sustainability is not always taken as seriously as it should be. Governments and corporations worldwide often preach sustainability but don’t practice it. Sustainability is frequently deferred to the future rather than addressed today.

Development Vs Sustainability

In the business world, we’ve seen instances where economic development and sustainability clash. For example, the growth of the IT industry created significant employment opportunities in India, but it also had environmental consequences. Every computer consumes energy, which comes from sources that harm the environment. However, the IT sector has innovated to balance economic development with sustainability. While it has generated numerous jobs, it has also focused on making the planet greener and more sustainable. There is a trade-off between business and sustainability, as well as between employment and sustainability. We need to strike a balance to achieve both goals simultaneously.

In the quest to conquer outer space, we’ve created debris and pollution, which threatens the sustainability of space itself. We must balance our exploration of other planets and the protection of our space environment. These are the challenges that humankind faces. We acknowledge the issues and are becoming increasingly aware of them, but we have yet to find comprehensive solutions. We must recognize the responsibility to ensure that the planet is not destroyed and that natural resources are not depleted during our lifetime. We should leave the world in a better state than when we arrived.

Innovate for a Green Tomorrow

Innovation is the key to addressing these challenges. Without innovation, we cannot progress. Innovation is the mother of success, and it has led to the technological advancements we enjoy today. But innovation also comes with a cost. We must create an innovative atmosphere that promotes sustainability. Sustainability must be integrated into every new project.

Entrepreneurship combined with innovation is the catalyst for progress. Entrepreneurship brings innovation to the marketplace, benefiting individuals, corporations, and society as a whole. This combination is the cornerstone of progress and innovation is the future of humankind.

In conclusion, we have a responsibility to promote sustainability and innovation. We must ensure that we leave this planet in a better state than when we arrived. Sustainability is essential, and innovation is the key to achieving a more sustainable environment. I leave you with a simple message: Innovate for tomorrow. Otherwise, we will perish.

Innovate, Transform, Thrive: India’s Journey Towards a High-Tech Future

Mr Ravi Viswanathan,

Managing Director, TVS Supply Chain Solutions

India is standing out like a beacon. In the midst of a lot of economic chaos, there is this one shining light showing tremendous economic prosperity. More importantly, I think the economic activity one sees in this country is just amazing. You are entering India with enormous potential and an incredible amount of economic activity is happening in the country post-COVID, aiming to recover and achieve a 6% GDP growth. We have the opportunity to reach a double-digit GDP, leading us to our destined position of leadership in the next decade. We are excelling in various industries. If I look back to where we were just a decade ago and where we stand today, the country’s infrastructure has grown tremendously.

Incremental Vs Disruptive Innovation

I represent the supply chain industry, and, in many ways, I’m a significant beneficiary of this growth. Whether it’s manufacturing or services, I see enormous development and opportunities in India. The theme for this year’s convention is very fitting because it’s all about innovation for the future. Technovation drives many aspects of our world. I remember the late Professor Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School, who wrote extensively on innovation, distinguishing between disruptive innovation and incremental innovation. Disruptive innovation doesn’t happen every day; it occurs occasionally, disrupting industries, ecosystems, and our daily routines, creating tremendous growth momentum.

India’s IT outsourcing industry, for instance, disrupted the service delivery methodology in global information technology by introducing the concept of remote offshore work, boosting efficiency multiple times and offering services at a significantly lower cost, which qualified as a disruptive innovation. Companies in the IT sector continue to engage in incremental innovation daily, improving processes, technology solutions, and adopting new technologies to benefit end customers. This type of incremental innovation is essential for an organization’s growth and can be considered a hygiene practice, while disruptive innovation is often a stroke of genius.

When Steps did not Count

Therefore, organizations must invest in incremental innovation continuously, encouraging initiatives like hackathons to invite young minds to rethink processes, find efficiencies, and explore new ideas for doing things faster, better, and more efficiently. I recall a hackathon we organized 15 years ago in my previous company, where a young participant proposed a novel idea for a phone app to measure daily step count. At that time, we dismissed it as a strange concept, not realizing the future potential. Yet today, almost everyone has a device that tracks steps and calories burned, illustrating the power of differential thinking and the impact of youth. Innovation is about thinking differently and utilizing that creativity.  

From an organizational perspective, we should foster innovation continually. Moving back to disruptive innovation, India is currently at the forefront of it. India’s digital payment infrastructure has completely disrupted payment systems, not only within India but globally. The QR code has become so prevalent that you can use your phone to pay for a variety of services and goods, from a tender coconut vendor to a plumber. You can buy groceries, pay hotel bills and purchase luxury items in a mall—all via UPI. It’s a groundbreaking disruption that many initially underestimated.

What’s exciting is the simplicity of the interface. Whether you’re buying a tender coconut or paying for services, it’s the same interface. My 86-year-old mother uses her phone to pay the telephone bill every month via UPI. It’s incredible what this has accomplished, and it’s a prime example of disruptive innovation. We can expect to see more innovations like this in India, and India will lead in this area. As management students, this is what you should embrace.

Innovations in Supply Chain

In my industry too, we’re witnessing substantial disruptions in the global supply chain. In India, similar to the digital payment infrastructure, we now have a digital supply chain infrastructure. Significant investments in road infrastructure have been made across the country, dramatically reducing transit times. GST has streamlined the process further. We can now track shipments in real time and access information from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways through our systems. We now have the capability to tap into the Vahan database, providing real-time information on vehicle fitness, driver ratings, and more. This allows us to engage with our partners in a more proactive manner.

Today, all the Fastag stations across the country are accessible through an API interface. Our application tracks every vehicle that passes through these Fastag stations. For example, if you consider the Delhi-Chennai route with its 50 or even 100 Fastag toll plazas, we can precisely determine between which two Fastag stations our trucks are located.  This capability allows us to predict delivery times with greater accuracy, ensuring that materials are available to our customers in a more predictable manner. This, in turn, enhances the efficiency of the manufacturing sector. There’s a significant amount of opportunity and digital disruption occurring in our space right now, and it’s all unfolding here in India. Each one of us is actively participating in this ongoing disruption.

Visual Computing Technology

In terms of engaging with our employee community, we have 18,000 employees globally. We convert their inputs into opportunities to enhance our customer services. Let me provide two examples. We work closely with several two-wheeler manufacturers in the country. For one manufacturer, we manage their entire CKD (Complete Knock Down) kits, which they export to dealers outside of India.

When we took over the operations, one of the ideas that a young person brought up in the field was to address a common issue. There were parts for different models of bikes that appeared very similar to the naked eye, but they had subtle differences. These subtle variations were leading to errors, resulting in incorrect inventory sent to dealers overseas. This posed a significant problem as it hindered bike assembly. We implemented Visual Computing Technology, which is a camera-based system that carefully examines each part included in a kit, ensuring that the correct parts are included 100% of the time. Within just six months of deployment, we managed to reduce errors to 0%. This meant that every CKD (Complete Knock Down) kit shipped was free from errors. This highlights how incremental innovation occurs within the workforce daily. We need systems and processes in place to capture these innovative ideas and transform them into opportunities to better serve our customers.

Smart Way to Deliver Smart Meters

I’d like to share another example from our operations in the UK. We are involved in delivering smart meters to utility sector customers, allowing their field engineers to deploy these meters daily. Typically, a technician completes five or six smart meter installations in a day. The process involved the technician receiving a daily work order, going to the office, collecting all the necessary materials from the warehouse, loading them into their vehicle, and driving to the installation sites. In the evening, they returned any surplus materials to the warehouse.

Our UK team proposed a simple idea: eliminate the need for technicians to come to the office altogether. They suggested sending us the work orders, allowing us to prepare all the smart meters. We installed digital locks in the technicians’ vehicles and operated at night, placing seven or eight kits, depending on the work orders, in their trunks. We also collected any materials to be returned from the previous day and transported them back to the warehouse for refurbishing. The next morning, the technician could check their phone and see the eight orders and addresses they needed to visit. They already had the kits in their trunk. This small change significantly increased productivity and efficiency, enabling technicians to complete seven or eight installations daily. This exemplifies how incremental innovation enhances efficiency. Therefore, technovation is crucial and should be embraced by every organization.

Need for Skilling

You can’t avoid the role of technology; it must be at the core of every business. I work for the TVS Mobility Group, and we take pride in being a company that generates profit for a purpose. Our purpose is to give back to the community. Prior to TVS, I worked in the Tata Group, another organization dedicated to giving back to the community through initiatives like hospitals, schools, skilling and retraining programs, and employment generation. TVS Supply Chain Solutions is no different. We operate a skilling school outside of Chennai, where we work with villagers to provide training in warehouse operations. The school resembles a driving school, with lanes for young people to get certified in operating forklifts and reach trucks. What’s most gratifying is the strong diversity and inclusivity, with 12 young girls being part of this training program, trained in forklift and reach truck operations.

Learning is a Necessity

I’m a big cricket fan, and with the World Cup around, I follow Ravi Ashwin, one of the world’s top spinners. Recently, he posted a thought-provoking message on Instagram which goes like this: The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; but the willingness to learn is a choice. Despite being considered one of the best, he visits the National Cricket Academy to sharpen his skills. He emphasized the importance of the willingness to learn as a choice. This choice is before all of us, and it’s essential to embrace learning throughout our journey. My 86 year old mother serves as an example; At 84, she learned how to use a cell phone to be self-sufficient and pay her own telephone bills. The willingness to learn isn’t just a choice anymore; it’s a necessity. We don’t have the option to let it go. You must ensure that you have the willingness to learn, a choice that’s entirely within your control.

To conclude, technology is inevitable, and technology-led innovation will shape our future. India is at the forefront of technological disruption across various industries. We’ve made significant investments in infrastructure, and our economic indicators are promising. You’re graduating at a time of exceptional opportunities. Your focus should be on executing exceptionally well and ensuring incremental innovation daily. In my nearly 40 years of working with two remarkable groups, the Tata Group and the TVS Group, I’ve learned the importance of adaptability. Practices will change every day, but principles should remain unwavering.

Unconventional Journeys: Three Inspiring Stories of Success through Attitude and Opportunity

S V Nathan, Partner, Deloitte India

Story No 1: From 36% to the Top 0.001%

Years ago, I was General Manager (Human Resources) in an Indian company. I had just moved from a British multinational. I had schooled in one of the finest institutions in the country- XLRI and I was feeling very proud of myself. Although I’m about five foot, I always thought I was an Amitabh Bachchan. It was the first week in my job. I was working a little late till about 10 o’clock at night. As I stepped out of my cabin, I found in the far corner of my office, there was some singing going on. At 10, people don’t sing. They all want to be at home. But this guy was working and singing. He was a very tall guy, almost six foot.

I went up to him and asked him, “Hey, what are you doing?” He was doing something called cyclo-styling. Many may not know what is cyclo-styling.  It’s a copying machine that was widely used before Xerox came. He said, “I’m making payroll slips.” “Payroll slips!” I quipped, perhaps sounding judgmental about his job. He picked it up and said, “Aren’t you happy about my making payroll slips? It’s a very important job. If there is one extra zero, somebody is extremely happy about the compensation. One zero less, somebody is very unhappy. Therefore the job that I’m doing is very important.” In that moment, I learned something about this gentleman. Then he looked at me and said, “Sir, if you don’t mind, can I meet you tomorrow?” That was his polite way of saying, “I have to get on with my job. Please move out from here.” I said, “You can meet me 10 o’clock tomorrow,” and left the place.

Bragging about 36%

At 10 am, the next day, he came and knocked my door. “May I come in, Sir?” I asked him to come in and be seated. It was a pretty large room. The first question that I asked him was, “What is your background?” “I have done my MBA” and named a School of Management. “I’ve never heard of such a school,” said I. “How will you hear about it, Sir? In about a year after I joined, they closed in that place.” He was laughing at himself. I continued, “You seem be very happy about it. Tell me, what was your undergraduate course?” “B.A. History,” He sounded as if he had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Hearing the name of his college, I realised it was one of those colleges, where students who could not get admitted in other colleges, would seek refuge in. I now asked him, “What was your percentage?” He said, “36% Sir,” again sounding so happy, as if he had got 96%.  

When I grilled him, “Why are you so happy with just 36% marks?” he said, “If they didn’t give me 36, they had to suffer me for one more year. So they cleared me and here I am.” In all this, I recognised that sitting in front of me, was a very interesting gentleman and I quite liked this guy. Despite all his achievements or the lack of it, he was a person that I could relate to. I was a topper in my class, a gold medalist. It’s very difficult for me to stand second. I was speaking to somebody who was a 36%. But he was so full of himself.

The Best Bet

At that moment, there was a call, “Mr. Nathan, I’m calling from Bombay. I have been looking for a Regional Manager (Human Resources) for the last six months and you have not given me even a single guy. I told him, “I’ve been in my job only for a week.” “I don’t care,” he said, “I want somebody by the end of the day.” In that instant, I said, “I have a man who is the very best. But you must be nice to him. He’s my best bet.” The man at the other end said, “Fine, no problem.”

I kept the phone down, looked at the gentleman sitting in front of me and asked him, “Do you think you can go to Bombay and take on the job as a Regional HR Manager?” He said, “Oh yes.” Then I asked him the last question. “Do you know Hindi?” He said, “Thoda, thoda.” (Little, little). It generally meant that he had no clue. Anyway, I liked this guy, and told him, “Okay, off you go and take on this new role.” Before he left, he asked me one question, “You asked me a number of questions. I’m going to ask you a question. Do you know that I’m just a payroll clerk? This job you now suggest is five levels senior to the job that I’m doing. Won’t you get into trouble if somebody comes and asks you?” I said, “Who can ask me? I’m the boss. It’s okay.” I took a chance. I forgot all about this guy. It turned out that it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life. Fast forward. I have no idea what happened to this gentleman. 

Annoyed with Miami Trips

About a year ago, I got a call. The person on the other end says “Mr. Nathan. I’m really annoyed that my company is asking me to go to Miami, for the third year running, all expenses paid for me and my wife. They choose the top 0.001% performers in the world and bring them to Miami. Miami is a nice beach resort.” “Then, why are you annoyed with that?” He replied, “Can’t they find a better place than Miami? How about Switzerland?” I said, “You should ask your management. But don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Go and enjoy yourself.” I put the phone down and I was smiling to myself.

Almost 18 years ago, this gentleman who makes fun of going to Miami for the third time, was a payroll clerk. I will never forget, Mahi- Mahender Reddy, who is an amazing gentleman. He was a Director of Human Resources, the highest one could get in the country in one of the top most multinationals that had come to town. He was there for a fair number of years. He taught me a lesson. It’s not the education that we get. But what do we do with the education that we get is more important.

Story No.2: The HR Odyssey of a Stenographer

I was in Hyderabad. I wanted a stenographer. This is a job that has gone into extinction today. A stenographer takes notes in Pitman’s shorthand of the dictation that he/she gets, types and edits that. The best stenographers in the country are from South India. Most of them are from Chennai. They migrated from Chennai to Calcutta or Bombay or Delhi and did exceedingly well in their lives. 

My team said they considered three people from Chennai and shortlisted two of them. “What about the third guy?” I asked and they said, “He is very short and plump.” I said, “Don’t make these remarks. It’s not right. You should look at the talent and not at the person. So bring him to me.”

The Winner on Hand

The moment I started speaking to him, I realized that I had a winner on my hands. In 15 minutes, I could make out that this person sitting in front of me was an outstanding professional. He had all of what we had wanted on his resume. He had done B.SC Physics from a college of repute but failed to mention his marks. When I asked him his percentage, he said, “86%.” It was such a high mark in those days. Yet, for 20 years of his life, he had been a stenographer. I told him, “I will take you as a steno but I’ll make sure that in 18 months, you’re out of the job.” He got worried. I reassured him, “Don’t worry. I will move you out to some other job.” 18 months later, I moved him to operations.

Time passed. Ten years later, he comes home on a Sunday morning, when you least expect visitors. He says, “Sir, I want to resign from this company. And you must bless me.” I sounded upset and said, “You want to resign from this company for all the good things this company has done for you!” “No Sir. You have been very, very kind. The company has done a lot for me but I would like to leave. Before you change your mind, would you please read this letter?”

He gave me a letter and it reads, “Dear Mr. So and So. We are pleased to welcome you on board as General Manager (Human Resources).” That company happened to be a multinational. Today, Mr Nagaraj is the Vice President- Human Resources of that same multinational in Hyderabad. It’s an amazing story. He scored 86% in physics and look at what happened to him much later. It doesn’t really matter what you do with your percentages. It’s what you do with what you want to do on the job.

Story No 3: The Gym Instructor’s Journey

Let me go back to one of the companies that I was working.. I was the Head of Human Resources. This was a company called Sterling Holiday Resorts. I had moved from a company, which chose only the best. When I joined Sterling Holidays, I couldn’t find anybody with a background from any of the top notch colleges. But they did something that no company would ever do. They chose people very carefully for their attitude.  This story is all about that attitude. If you’re looking at success, the most essential part of what you should be focusing on is attitude. 

The Sinking Car

I was in Kodaikanal. We have Sterling Resorts at Kodai. It so happened that one night, somebody in an inebriated condition, drove his small Maruti 800 car so close to the lake, that it almost sank into the lake. It was almost midnight. He came to the reception. There was a person who was nearly asleep. The man who was drunk says, “Listen, I think my car is going to drown. Can you help me?” There is nobody around. The receptionist comes out, looks all around and he finds that there is a light in the gymnasium. In the gym, he finds a person doing workouts with weights in his hands.

The receptionist explains the problem of the customer to the person in the gym and asks him, “Can you help?” He immediately says, “Of course.” He gets out, puts on some clothes, calls four or five of his mates who are in the kitchen sleeping. They run out, drag the car out, take it to a garage, make sure that the garage operator opens up the engine and get it cleaned of all the mess and have it ready. At 7.30 the next morning, he meets the guest with a cup of coffee and presents to him his car keys. He tells the guest, “Sir. Your car is working and it’s fine. The bill will be at your door. But don’t worry about it. It’s not something which is very high. Enjoy your day. Thank you very much. Thank you for staying with Sterling Holidays.” He gives a big smile and then he walks away.

Rs 2000 is not enough

I happened to be in Kodai resort on that day and heard about the story in the morning. I was swept off my feet. I called up the resort manager and said, “We got to do something about this. We must recognize this man. Let’s do that.” That evening, we organized a very special event inviting all the staff. In front of all the staff, I presented him a very nice handwritten appreciation note. But more importantly, I gave him a cheque of rupees 2000, which was a lot of money then.  We had organized a very special dinner.  I thought he would be very happy. But he looked at me, thanked me and walked away.

Then later, he came up to me and said, “Sir, I just want to tell you, that I am highly thankful of what you’ve given me, but this is not enough.”  I was shocked and asked him, “Rs 2000 is not enough! Doesn’t it hold any value for you?” “No Sir. 2000 is a lot of money. But that’s not what I want. I want a career. I don’t want to end up as a gym instructor all my life.”

I asked him, “What are you willing to do for it?” “Whatever you tell me. Can you find a way of having me on your team, perhaps even as your assistant. I just want to be with you.” I said, “Fine.” This gentleman tagged with me for a few years. During those years, he did correspondence course and finished his B.Com. Then he enrolled into Master’s in Business Administration, again through correspondence. He did well. Many things happened and I lost sight of him and he lost sight of me.

As always, the one that I really love are those telephone calls. I got a telephone call one day just before Covid and it said, “Sir, I need your counsel. I have got two job offers from two retail chains. You must help me decide which one I should go for.” I asked the person who called me a lot of rhetorical questions and discussed his strengths, goals and such other things. After a few minutes of our discussions, he had decided on one particular job offer. He went for it. Today, Venkatesh is the retail chain’s Vice President (Human Resources) and who was many years ago, a gym instructor.

These are the three stories. A payroll clerk, a stenographer and a gym instructor.. The story of Mahi, Nagaraj and Venkatesh. The story of attitude, staying in the moment and doing the best of whatever you can do. Amazing guys they all are.  

All you need for success are three things. One: Do you have the passion? Two: Will you do what it takes to get to the top, whatever it is? Three: Will you look at adversity or anything which is painful, in the eye and say, “I shall yet win.” This is what all these three people did. That’s how you lead a life. That’s how you succeed and this is what I have learnt.