Ravi Chaudhry: Realistic Fish eating Unrealistic Fishavtor Natalie Cvikl Postružnik in Danaja Postružnik 8. januarja, 2021
Ravi Chaudhry, Chairman of CeNext Consulting from New Delhi, India, inspires with simple solutions to complex problems. Not to be mistaken with easy ones, though. His heart is full of gratitude; his recommendations are filled with wisdom and integrity. Ravi attributes this to the values he inherited from his parents. Formal CEO of Tata Group companies, his life changed after the release of his book “Quest for Exceptional Leadership: Mirage to Reality” in 2011, when he presented the first copy to H.H. the Dalai Lama. His views on possible future developments (he calls it “Realistic Fish eating Unrealistic Fish”) and his deep sense of commitment, make him a rare species. Not to mention his views on Slovenia, Slovenian leaders and their role in the future of the world. Ravi speaks of his wife as the greatest inspiration for his thoughts. They live in New Delhi, and love spending quality time with their children and the two grand-children.
Books started being my best friends
We can find a lot of information about you as a leader/consultant and your company on the internet. But we are a bit more interested in who Ravi is personally; can you share some insights into your childhood, your adolescence, your personal life? In our experience, behind great men and women, there is always a great personal story – how we got where we are. Would you share it with us?
I always feel nostalgic as well as inspired whenever I recall my early days, spent in a district town in North India where my father was a Professor in a leading post-graduate University. Both parents were deeply spiritual; honesty and character were anchored as non-negotiable family virtues. We had meager resources and we led simple lives. Yet we were happy and content. My fondest memories are of unrestricted access to the wonderful University library where I could borrow as many books as I wanted. That is how books started being my best friends. For decades after, I was never far from a library – till such time as I had one of my own.
Our father was acknowledged as an exemplary teacher with unquestionable commitment to his work. His personal example created a sort of family meta-story which was related something like this: “There are three things whose power is unlimited – an earthquake, a raging fire, and an earnest person at work.” I presume this also played a significant role in what I grew up to be.
Keep learning as if you will live for ever
Can you describe a usual day for you?
When I was studying for my engineering degree and living in the campus, I would often recall what my school teacher used to tell us: “Live each day as if this is the last day of your life, but keep learning every day as if you will live forever.” I can look back and say that this helped me a lot to focus on my studies, while being good. That there were hardly any distractions in early sixties (no TV, no phones) made it easy.
Over the years, as I realized the enormity of wisdom in this twenty-four word daily dictum, I continued to expand it, in alignment with my ever-evolving beliefs. Now, the following thoughts also stay with me every day:
- What you think and say during the day, is as important as what you do every day.
- The quality of your thoughts and the efficacy of your actions are never static day-to-day. They either improve or deteriorate every day – often imperceptibly.
- Therefore, the endeavor should be to structure the day in such a manner that the quality and efficacy today are better than the previous day.
- With such a conviction, you are on a path of perpetual improvement and progress.
Personally, I do have a mental or written list of priority tasks to accomplish every day. I must admit it is a daily struggle to ensure that what is easy and pleasant does not get precedence over what is urgent and important. When there is a dilemma, recalling Thomas Edison has been helpful, “I never did a day’s work in my life, it was all fun.”
Presence of three C’s and absence of two A’s
If you should pick your most determining five characteristic features for you, these would be …?
The first book I wrote starts with these words from Isaac Newton, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” All my traits and characteristic features, in fact everything I know, is derived from what I have learnt from others, over the decades.
After an in-depth study of Indian Vedantic scriptures and world wisdom traditions, I realized that “the more you know, the more you discover what you do not know.” Providentially, the works of Ramana Maharshi, and inspired sermons and insightful conversations with Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Tejomayananda, and Mooji Baba helped remove the cobwebs of entrenched unawareness, leading to a glimpse of that rare experience, so subtly described by Sufi saint Rumi: It was as if “someone had gifted me to me. Inside me there is enormous wealth and wisdom.”
If I was to choose five traits that made it possible for me to experience this inherent resource of dormant wisdom and wealth, or for anyone else, who chooses to embark on this journey, these are presence of three C’s and absence of two A’s: Presence of Compassion, Curiosity, and Clarity, and Absence of Arrogance and Anger.
Gratitude for who we are and the life we are able to lead
What are you proud of the most and why?
I am quite conscious that the moment I feel or say I am proud of something I have done; it is bound to have a diminution in whatever good impact it may have created or could create. In any case, for anyone to assume the role of being a judge of one’s own work or deeds is unlikely to be a fair assessment. It is always for others to appraise the value or otherwise of anyone’s actions or writings.
I must, however, concede that there are moments when I reflect upon the consequences or effects of what I think, say, or do. For that, I do take cognizance of whatever feedback my work has generated, in particular, responses from those who never knew me before. When so many of them voluntarily share how interacting with me or listening to me or just reading my work, has so radically improved their lives, I feel a sense of quiet, inner satisfaction, accompanied by a natural outpouring of gratitude to the Almighty or the Creator or whatever name you give to That which enables a human being to be able to do so.
In this context, I feel eternally grateful for having been able to write my book: Quest for Exceptional Leadership: Mirage to Reality. When I presented the first copy of my book to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2011, I never ever imagined that it would touch so many hearts and change so many minds. In a way – the reviews and the reactions to the book virtually changed the trajectory of my work and life thereafter. I spoke all over the world at numerous seminars, conferences and summits, interacted with students and faculty at many universities, and had conversations with many thought-leaders, writers and professionals. Each interaction was an opportunity to evolve, be better and live better.
Since then, my wife, who has been the greatest supporter and inspiration for my thoughts, and I start every day of our life with perpetual gratitude for who we are, the thoughts we live by, and the life we are able to lead. We often feel it fosters a virtual seamless cycle of inner joy, peace and contentment.
It is possible for business to do well and be good
Why the leap from being a CEO of TATA companies into consultancy? How did you choose where you wanted to be active professionally, how did the revelation on your leadership approach emerge and develop?
Working with the Tata Group helped me catapult my erstwhile beliefs in to convictions that it is absolutely possible for businesses to do well, and be good, at the same time. In fact, it is easier than otherwise. The transition from a career with the Tatas to my own consulting practice was driven by my eagerness to be entrepreneurial as well as to spread widely the message of how business should be done.
My consulting practice was, therefore, based on the unequivocal premise that we do not lobby with governments, and we do not try and interpret laws to determine how one could go round them. Our advice and our recommendations were based on how to establish successful businesses within the framework of prevailing laws and regulations.
In consulting business, as in medical profession, you never really go and seek clients. They just come to you. We think we were fortunate in getting clients we were comfortable with. Paulo Coelho corroborates this as the central theme of his fable, The Alchemist, “When you really want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. People are capable of doing what they dream of, anytime in their lives.”
The parable of Strong fish, Big fish, Fast fish, Intelligent fish
You believe in profits with conscience, growth with equity and compatibility with nature. Can you explain these principles a bit further? How do they manifest in the workload of a CEO/managers/leaders?
I have explained in my book that I discern the evolution of a new phase of human enterprise that is redefining the criteria of success and re-contouring the routes to success. Even the skills required to succeed are undergoing re-configuration. There have been four phases till now:
1. Phase One was Strong Fish eating Weak Fish. This was the law of preservation for most of recorded history till the early days of industrialization. Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Turks, the French, the British, all pursued the path of ruthless domination. The majority of the human race helplessly accepted the rule of the mighty, as the privilege of living.
2. Phase Two: Big Fish eating Small Fish – started with the concept of “joint stock company”. The British East India Company was set up in 1600, and Virginia Tobacco Company in 1606, creating ingenious financing model while lowering risk. The State acquired revenues through these ‘big fish’; in return gave them protection, giving birth to ‘crony capitalism’.
3. Death of Distance and Birth of Internet led to Phase Three: Fast Fish eating Slow Fish. Apple was incorporated in 1977, Microsoft in 1981, Amazon in 1995, and Google in 1998. They created more wealth for shareholders every year, than the old enterprises created in decades.
4. Early 21st century, we witnessed the dominance of Phase Four: Intelligent Fish eating Dumb Fish – Indian trio of TCS, Infosys and Wipro, Alibaba and Haier in China, Samsung in S.Korea, Hon Hai in Taiwan, Embraer in Brazil, and many others discovered a new era.
New realism: increased demand for Social Consciousness & need to function in sync with society and environment
For institutions that failed, the change of a phase was often the trigger. But those that prevail have an eclectic mix of all these traits. They are strong, they are big (in substance), they are fast (in responses), and invariably intelligent. The defining moment in the commencement of each new phase is the inevitable need to imbibe the new trait.
Now, we discern the emergence of a new Phase Five: Realistic Fish eating Unrealistic Fish, driven by increased demand for Social Consciousness & need to function in sync with society and environment.
Those who are “realistic” enough to acknowledge the new ‘realism’ will emerge as winners in this new phase. This is not philanthropic talk. Business and political leaders have only one choice: accept the new realism willingly or grudgingly. We can see the writing is already visible, on the wall, in the sky and on the water. A company that makes only money will be considered a poor company hereafter.
This is basically a process of transition. Life is not a matter of “having more”, but ‘being’ more.” That is why we are called Human Beings, not Human Havings! As you accept the new ground realities, you naturally start believing that profits with conscience, growth with equity and compatibility with nature, are no longer an option, this is the only route to survival and sustainable profitability.
Every disaster eventually leads to a better world
You work with several well-known, high-end brand companies around the world. Are there any common denominators of the leaders and leadership styles in the companies you work with/for and do you think they will survive the big shifts due to corona, IoT, AI and other trends? Can you elaborate on that?
I have conveyed an unambiguous message to all my clients. While the present time may be considered volatile and dangerous, a look at the arc of history across centuries clearly shows that every calamity or catastrophe eventually leads to a better world. From formation of small kingdoms to nations, and after World War II, to the formation of EU, ASEAN, and the great phenomenon of globalization that enabled strangers in different countries to become friends and collaborate. But it takes time, and it feels it is the darkest before the dawn.
Now also, the world will move on. As always, the aftermath will inevitably lead to a new set of winners and losers. To win beyond COVID-19, the first imperative is to challenge all your biases and beliefs and make sure you ask the right questions. Past success is no guarantee for success hereafter. Readiness to understand and accept the new ground realities is an essential pre-requisite to create a new viable business model and unveil new strategies. Whether they succeed or not is entirely up to them. One thing is certain, let there be no doubt on that – everyone will not survive and succeed.
We will never return to pre-COVID era: either we all grow or we all perish
But you work also with governments, how and what is changing there? Can you pinpoint one collaboration as especially fruitful? How should governments adapt to current situations? Will they? What will happen otherwise?
My work with governments has been primarily in the domains of promoting the right type of Foreign Direct Investments, Research and Development alliances, Trade Promotion and Facilitation, and strategic collaboration options in specific niches. I am happy to say that my work with all governments has been most meaningful and fruitful.
The challenges Governments face today are far more complex than ever before. I often remind them of what Lenin once said, “There are decades when nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen.” We have all been through one such period. We will never go back to the world we inhabited in the last two decades.
The leaders in governments have also to understand the new realities, and accept that their agendas hereafter must singularly focus on substantive issues of equitable growth and skills upgradation within the country, and more collaborative stances with other nations on climate change and nuclear safety. The destiny of the human race is incredibly inter-linked. Small, big, or very big, no nation can grow and progress on its own; we all live in one world, we will all grow or we will all perish.
In the current global rivalries, it may appear to be difficult to create global accord. But my belief is that since the present discord is man-made, a man-made accord cannot be ruled out. A few great leaders are enough to change the mind-set and heart-set of the entire political leadership globally. The driving force behind this possibility lies in the fact that there is more that unites the world, than what divides the world.
“United Planet of Nations” – justified optimism ahead
What will be different because of Corona? How will the future look like? How do you explain, that 2 % of people hold 80 % of wealth in their hands, and growing? What has to change so this inequality changes? Do you see the shift coming?
The future of the human race depends not on a few who are excessively rich and powerful, but on the billions who comprise the lower half of the heap. Day by day, they are gradually losing, first the meager savings, then the confidence, and then all hope. It is still within our capabilities to reverse the downfall, and chart a new trajectory to usher in a safe new world, a “United Planet of Nations”. The potential upside for both the leaders and the masses is enormous.
You look back – you will be swamped in pessimism.
You look forward – you sense justified optimism.
The sunlight emanates from a rapidly-growing mass of civil society and business leaders, and new groups of volunteers miraculously sprouting in every nation. They no longer perceive inequity or inequality as mere destiny. There is no room to exclude anyone on basis of color or creed, caste or nationality. The global unity we saw in Greta Thunberg’s green campaign earlier, and in “I can’t breathe” campaign in 2020, provide an unassailable confirmation of the new big wave of togetherness, comprising people who are all beginning to look inwards in their renewed quest for values. The pause provided by COVID-19 has been a rare occasion for all actors to reignite their noble imagery.
Dive into yourself – and create new worlds
What can each of us do to support the needed shift?
If I was to choose one thing each of us can start doing today, every day, everywhere, it is to start looking inwards to reflect on issues that face us, and make choices that support actions to create a better world for all, a safer world for all – in my community, in my nation, and well beyond in every nation in our beautiful planet.
My wife used to volunteer for teaching nuns at Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of the Charities in Kolkata. We had many occasions to seek her blessings; I distinctly recall Mother’s response to our questions, “You may feel what you are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. So keep doing whatever you can, whenever you can.”
I am convinced that looking inwards within oneself can help us all to conquer new frontiers and create new worlds – where the only competition between corporations and nations will be for becoming more just and more equitable than others.
Slovenia – moving towards collectively realizing its potential
You were also a guest lecturer in Slovenia (invited by Public Scholarship, Development, Disability and Maintenance Fund of the Republic of Slovenia). How do you see our leaders/managers you have met? Perhaps you are familiar with the eco-civilization principles/system that Violeta Bulc has been developing, could that be the answer to our current situation?
I wrote in an article in MQ, in March 2019 that “There are three types of nations in the world: one – those that are blissfully unaware of their potential and are still struggling to discover it, two – those that are aware of their potential and have pretty much achieved it, and three – those who have a good idea of their potential but are somehow unable to collectively realize it. I sense a consensus that Slovenia would figure in the third category.”
There is another group of Slovenians who believe that while so far is so good, the country has enormous untapped potential that can be leveraged to set the achievement benchmarks much higher than hitherto conceived. Based on my own analysis, I tend to agree with this small, visionary group of Slovenian women and men – who represent all ages and backgrounds, and all professions and regions. I applaud their vision. While every citizen can support the process by being a responsible citizen, the greater onus lies on how responsibly the leaders in business and society exercise their choices. In this context, I cannot help re-emphasizing that every responsible leader – whether in politics, education, business or society, must keep in mind two self-evident truths:
- A responsible leader firmly believes that progress does not come from removing obstacles that others set for you: it comes from removing those you set for yourself
- A responsible leader is responsible not only for what she/he does – she/he is also responsible for what she/he does not do.
I am a great supporter of the pioneering initiatives launched by Violeta Bulc, Sonja Klopcic, Ladeja Godina Košir, and you, and many other brilliant thought-leaders. I am glad their work is gaining traction. I have no doubt that as it envelopes a critical mass of people – Slovenia will inevitably pull off its tryst with the destiny it deserves.
Are there any other insights/thoughts you would like to share with us?
As we give shape to our vision and our plans, let us always remember the famous words of Michelangelo: “The greater danger is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.“
Spletni portal Navdihni.me pripravlja in ureja Insights d.o.o., družba za odkrivanje in razvoj potencialov
Foto: osebni arhiv Ravija Chaudhryja