Monthly Archives: January 2005

Managing Career & Expectations

There is a Thai saying that experience is a comb which Nature gives to
man after he is bald. As I grow bald, I would like to share my comb
with your people, about their career ahead.

1. Seek out grassroots level experience

I studied Physics and Engineering at University. A few months before
graduation, I appeared for an HLL interview for Computer Traineeship.
When asked whether I would consider Marketing instead of Computers, I

negatively: an engineer to visit grocery shops to sell Dalda or Lifebuoy?

Gosh, no way. After I joined the Company and a couple of comfortable
weeks in the swanky Head Office, I was given a train ticket to go to
Nasik. Would I please meet Mr. Kelkar to whom I would be attached for
the next two months?

He would teach me to work as a salesman in his territory, which
included staying in Kopargaon and Pimpalgaon among other small towns.
I was most upset. In a town called Ozhar, I was moving around from
shop to shop with a bullock cart full of products and a salesman’s
folder in my hand. Imagine my embarrassment when an IIT friend
appeared in front of me in Ozhar, believe it or not! and exclaimed,
“Gopal, I thought you joined as a Management Trainee in Computers”. I
could have died a thousand deaths.

After this leveling experience, I was less embarrassed to work as a
Dispatch Clerk in the Company Depot and an Invoice Clerk in the
Accounts Department. Several years later, I realized the value of such
grassroots level experience. It is fantastic.

I would advise young people to seek out nail-dirtying, collar-soiling,
shoe-wearing tasks. That is how you learn about organizations, about
the true nature of work, and the dignity of the many, many tasks that
go into building great enterprises.

2. Deserve before you desire

At one stage, I was appointed as the Brand Manager for Lifebuoy and
Pears soap, the company’s most popular-priced and most premium soaps.
And what was a Brand Manager? “A mini-businessman, responsible for the
production, sales and profits of the brand, accountable for its
long-term growth,etc.,etc. I had read those statements, I believed
them and here I was, at 27,”in charge of everything”. But very soon, I
found I could not move a pin without checking with my seniors. One
evening, after turning the Facit machine handle through various
calculations, I sat in front of the Marketing Director. I expressed my
frustration and gently asked whether I could not be given total
charge. He smiled benignly and said, “The perception and reality are
both right. You will get total charge when you know more about the
brand than anyone else in this company about its formulation, the raw
materials, the production costs, the consumer’s perception, the
distribution and so on.

How long do you think that it will take?” “Maybe, ten years”, I
replied, “and I don’t expect to be the Lifebuoy and Pears Brand
Manager for so long”!

And then suddenly, the lesson was clear. I was desiring total control,
long before I deserved it.

This happens to us all the time – in terms of responsibilities, in
terms of postings and promotions, it happens all the time that there
is a gap between our perception of what we deserve and the reality of
what we get. It helps to deserve before we desire.

3 Play to win but win with fairness

Life is competitive and of course, you play to win. But think about
the balance. Will you do anything, to win? Perhaps not. Think deeply
about how and where you draw the line. Each person draws it
differently, and in doing so, it helps to think about values. Winning
without values provides dubious fulfillment. The leaders who have
contributed the most are the ones with a set of universal values ¡V
Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King for example. Napoleon inspired a
ragged, mutinous and half-starved army to fight and seize power. This
brought him name and fame for twenty years. But all the while, he was
driven forward by a selfish and evil ambition, and not in pursuit of a
great ideal. He finally fell because of his selfish ambition. I am
fond of referring to the Pierre de Coubertin Fair Play Trophy. It was
instituted in 1964 by the founder of the modern Olympic Games and here
are two examples of winners. A Hungarian tennis player who pleaded
with the umpire to give his opponent some more time to recover from a
cramp. A British kayak team who were trailing the Danish kayak team.
They then stopped to help the Danish team whose boat was stuck. The
Danes went on to beat the British by one second in a three hour event!

What wonderful examples of sportsmanship! Play to Win, but with Fairness.

4 Enjoy whatever you do

Sir Thomas Lipton is credited with the statement, “There is no greater
fun than hard work”. You usually excel in fields, which you truly
enjoy. Ask any person what it is that interferes with his enjoyment of
existence. He will say, “The struggle for life”. What he probably
means is the struggle for success. Unless a person has learnt what to
do with success after getting it, the very achievement of it must lead
him to unhappiness.

Aristotle wrote, “Humans seek happiness as an end in itself, not as a
means to something else”. But if you think about it, we should not
work for happiness. We should work as happy people. In organizational
life, people get busy doing something to be happy. The more you try to
be happy, the more unhappy you can get. Your work and career is all
about your reaching your full potential. Working at one’s full
potential, whether it is the office boy or the Chairman, leads to
enjoyment and fulfillment.

A last point about enjoyment. Keep a sense of humor about yourself.
Too many people are in danger of taking themselves far too seriously.
As General Joe Stilwell is reported to have said, “Keep smiling. The
higher the monkey climbs, the more you can see of his backside”.

5 Be Passionate about your health

Of course, as you get older, you would have a slight paunch, greying
of hair or loss of it and so on. But it is in the first 5 – 7 years
after the working career begins that the greatest neglect of youthful
health occurs. Sportsmen stop playing sports, non drinkers drink
alcohol, light smokers smoke more, active people sit on chairs,
starving inmates of hostels eat rich food in good hotels and so on.
These are the years to watch. Do not, I repeat do not, convince
yourself that you are too busy, or that you do not have access to
facilities, or worst of all, that you do this to relieve the stresses
of a professional career.

A professional career is indeed very stressful. There is only one
person who can help you to cope with the tension, avoid the doctor’s
scalpel, and to feel good each morning – and that is yourself. God has
given us as good a health as He has, a bit like a credit balance in
the bank. Grow it, maintain it, but do not allow its value
destruction. The penalty is very high in later years.

6 Direction is more important than distance

Every golfer tries to drive the ball to a very long distance. In the
process, all sorts of mistakes occur because the game involves the
masterly co-ordination of several movements simultaneously. The golf
coach always advises that direction is more important than distance.
So it is with life.

Despite one’s best attempts, there will be ups and downs. It is
relationships and friendships that enable a person to navigate the
choppy waters that the ship of life will encounter. When I was young,
there was a memorable film by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart and
Dona Reed, and named IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It is about a man who is
about to commit suicide because he thinks he is a failure. An angel is
sent to rescue him.

The bottom-line of the film is that “No Man is a Failure Who Has Friends”.


My generation will never be twenty again, but when you are older, you
can and should be different from my generation. Ours is a great and
wonderful country, and realizing her true potential in the global
arena depends ever so much on the quality and persistence of our young
people. Good luck in your journey, my young friends, and God be with
you and our beloved Nation.

These are the personal view of Mr. R. Gopalakrishnan, Director – Tata Sons.