A Story on how to manage your career & your expectations by
Mr R.Gopalakrishnan, Director, Tata Sons
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 responded
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 Oz!
har , 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 Despatch
Clerk in the Company Depot and an Invoice Clerk in the Accounts Department.
Several years later, I realised 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 gowth, 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, 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 Coubert in 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 the 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 organisational 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 humour 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 eatrich 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
Despite ones 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 bottomline of the film is that “No Man is a Failure Who Has
Friends”. Conclusion 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 realising 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