Chairperson's Message

Fresher's Welcome address, IIM Calcutta
Jun 19th, 2021

Chairperson Shrikrishna Kulkarni, addressing the MBA 58th batch students during the Fresher's Welcome 2021.

Convocation Speech, IIM Calcutta
May 15th, 2021

All our teachers are here and it is appropriate that I start by invoking and prostrating before the Supreme teacher, the "teacher of teachers".

ब्रह्मानन्दं परमसुखदं केवलं ज्ञानमूर्तिं
द्वन्द्वातीतं गगनसदृशं तत्त्वमस्यादिलक्ष्यम्
एकं नित्यं विमलमचलं सव॔धीसाक्षिभूतं
भावातीतं त्रिगुणरहितं सद्गुरूं तं नमामि

In English the rough translation is:

  • The one who is Bliss of Brahman, the one who is supreme happiness and who is knowledge absolute;
  • The one who has no duality, who is expansive like the sky and is the goal indicated in great Mahavakyas of the Mandukya Upanishad like "Tat Twam Asi";
  • The only one – pure, unchanging who is the witness of all
  • The one who embodies the 3 gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
  • To that Supreme entity, I prostrate myself and bow down;

Respected Chief Guest Shri Krishnamurthy Subramanian, distinguished and honourable guests, our dear graduating students, their families, Director in-charge, Professor Subir Bhattacharya, Deans, Program Chairs, our loved and respected Faculty colleagues, dear Staff members and the IIM Calcutta community.

My pranams to all of you.

My dear graduating class, today you graduate from IIM Calcutta and enter the world of professionals. All your hard-work and toil is being recognized and culminating in you becoming the newest members of the family of the IIM Calcutta alumni – an incredible distinction and a coveted privilege. Please accept my heartfelt congratulations and admiration for all of you.

You are the best of the best of this nation, and today is your day. Ideally, we all should have been at our beautiful campus in Joka celebrating your happiness together – in person.

This ongoing pandemic is unprecedented. This 2nd wave is testing our resolve even more fiercely. By now hopefully it should be clear to all of us that each one of us, you and me, is the frontline defense against this pandemic. It is "our", individual and collective responsibility to keep our community safe by exercising civic responsibility and social discipline through exercising self-discipline. It was in keeping with this spirit that this convocation is being held in the virtual non-physical format. I must convey my gratitude to all of you, for accepting this.

My thoughts and reflections that I wish to share with you today, are nothing new. These thoughts continue to add much needed perspective to my life. It is in the belief that these thoughts may also add perspective to your lives and that good things must be shared, and therefore can be repeated, that I allow myself the privilege to speak my heart.

This pandemic is having immense immediate implications for economies and businesses. And so I allowed myself to contemplate on the future?

  1. What is it doing to "economic inequality? Has it opened our heart? Do we feel it?"
  2. I wondered what kind of resources would be required if every human being in this world was to claim the average living standard of a citizen of the developed nations?
  3. Is this possible in a finite world?

Today we have with us, one of our own, an IIM Calcutta alumnus, Prof. Krishnamurthy Subramanian. He is presently at the helm of Economic Affairs of our nation as the Chief Economic Advisor.

Thank you Prof. Krishnamurthy for accepting my invitation to be our Chief Guest today.

It is his presence that encourages me to wonder:

  1. What role does "human greed", play in economic, financial and social problems?
  2. Is this focus and our need for perpetual growth of GDP driven by "human greed"?
  3. In the garb of globalization, has there been unbridled individualism – GDP of nations being fueled by consumerism to support a "lifestyle", as against "a life"?
  4. Can our demand be less greedy and the supply be more broad based with a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources over the entire supporting business ecosystem?
  5. With Technology and the networked world breaking down "silos" in society, will organizations be forced to "collaborate" and not just "compete"?
  6. And therefore closing the loop on my own thoughts by asking the fundamental question – "is competition driven by greed?"

These are difficult questions and in your lifetime they will probably take on critical dimensions.

I wondered if you would be happy by my just posing questions. But quickly reminded myself that as Chairperson of the Board I am traditionally expected to say something.

Therefore, it would be correct to admit, that at best I can share some of my own experience based learnings with you – which you may accept or discount at a discount rate of your choice:

  1. In this new networked world, beyond the functions and domains of my own specialization, I progressively felt the need to equip myself with some very important skills:
    1. To be effective I felt the need to have the ability to create new networks of partnerships for my organizations, so that they may be sustainable, scalable and most importantly survive disruptions and failures;
    2. I had to be comfortable in comprehending the impact of data, artificial intelligence, cyber-security etc.;
    3. Culturally I learnt to accept multi-stakeholder networks and have a mindset for collaboration. This is the only way I could hope to overcome the complexity and interconnectedness across sectors;
    4. Ability to respect diversity and display empathy were key to building personal credibility. Personal credibility is now a non-negotiable attribute to lead people;
  2. So, what can you do with what you have learnt?
    1. While knowing is important – all knowledge refers to what we have learnt, stored in our memory and can access it at our will. By definition knowledge is always of the past and hence it relies heavily on facts and theoretical frameworks. It is humanly impossible to know everything?
    2. Is therefore "Leadership" about successfully managing unfamiliar situations? I think it is.
    3. Ask yourself, why do different leaders see the same problem in different ways? Why do some succeed and some fail miserably?
  3. Let me share with you my observations and I should not claim that they are wholly correct. Please use them if you feel attracted and motivated to explore them:
    1. In your professional as also personal life, you will encounter many battles. They are all, in one way or the other, leadership battles – the most crucial will be those, which are the "unequal battles" – unequal assets, unequal power, unequal influence etc. In such battles, in my experience:
      - The two most important qualities that help me progress are: be brave, fearless (शौय॔) and be patient (धैय॔) Most such battles are lost due to impatience;
      - Your own strength (of character) and intelligence (विवेक) will give you the "Will power" that is needed to endure such battles;
      - And finally, you will need to have on your side, "Truth (सत्य), humility and modesty (शील, विनम्रता), selflessness (निःस्वार्थ). But here I will use the unusual meaning of selflessness which is "doing good for others" (पहि॔त).
  4. To make these qualities, your own, requires (साधना) – which can be loosely translated in English as – deep, introspective, disciplined, relentless long duration study. If you have these qualities, there is a very high probability that you will not lose these unequal battles. Battles which are between साधना versus साधन(assets, power, influence etc.).
  5. Remember this powerful Sanskrit shloka:
    • अमंगलम् अक्षरं नास्ति नास्ति मूलमनौषधम् ।
      अयोग्यः पुरुषो नास्ति योजकस्तत्र दुल॔भः॥
    • There is no letter which is not auspicious, there is no root which doesn’t have medicinal property;

There is no person who is thoroughly useless, but rare is the one who knows how to properly use/manage them.

If you are with me till now, then I am going to go ahead and take the risk of requesting you all that from this point on in life pay attention to the development of the most important management skills – of humanity, which I shared briefly. It is these skills that will equip you to work in the "gap" between what you know and what your environment will expect from you.

But for this to happen, you must have a vision for your life. Not just "goals for your life". What is the difference?

  • Your actions that do good "through you", and not "for you", would be what I would define as a vision for your life.
  • In the pursuit of such a vision – have the courage to make mistakes. A mistake that makes you humble is better than an achievement that makes you arrogant.

Let me change gears a little bit here. Very quickly, you all will be leaders of your own families. But today, I want to share with you my thoughts on our parents. A parent child relationship is Divine – at any age in your life it is Divine – they gave us life! They therefore deserve that stature throughout our lives.

Over the past few years, I have had the luxury to spend time with my aged parents (93+ and 91+). And so I probably tilt towards a wisdom that all elders uncannily exhibit – something unequivocally makes them realize how little we know – or putting it more bluntly, "that the universe doesn't need the sanction of our beliefs to function". It is as if they were acknowledging the limitations of human knowledge?

As my parents see the end of the runway coming closer, I notice their wisdom expand beyond the realms of logic and thought. As I serve them, the arrogance of my logical brain questions their approach. But astonishingly I am now acutely aware of how limiting are both human logic and thought. Both tend to narrow our existence down to "our individual self". But I also notice that as the physical body starts surrendering the (elders) operate more and more from their hearts. It is this "operating from the heart", that allows their existence to expand so far beyond the puny limits of their own physical selves.

This makes me wonder – are they being prepared to merge with the infinite, the awareness that permeates everything. This then makes me wonder – can the finite me, ever comprehend the infinite? Is it possible? After all I am a finite product severely limited by what I perceive through my 5 senses – which as I have come to realise from studying science – cannot be trusted. Example we "see" the sun set and rise – but it's not how the reality is. So, what is "real"? Is there such a thing as "reality? Therefore, does, anything that is unchanging deserve to be defined as real, as "the reality"? Such an unchanging reality is probably:

  • Not a "thing"
  • "Nothing"
  • "No thing"!!

We are the only species that has in its arrogance (of our logic and our knowledge), forgotten our place as just another inhabitant of nature. Please invest your time to be in closer connection with nature.

Finally, before I stop, the world will celebrate your razor sharp intelligence, your being global citizens, your being tech savvy etc etc etc.

The world may celebrate you by putting you on a list of the "most powerful persons", OR the "most influential persons", but, I would feel deep satisfaction, if you strive and expand your heart – and learn to operate also from your heart and as a result the world celebrates you by recognizing you among the "most loved and respected" persons.

Prayers for the good health and safety of your loved ones and you, always – every one of you.

Have a beautiful life – every one of you.

Jai Hind.