Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Ethics of Winning

I feel honoured to address the Fifth Convocation of the O.P. Jindal Global University. I am given to understand that this University is unique in many of its programs be it the multidisciplinary Masters of Arts program in Diplomacy, Law and Business or the Bachelor of Arts programs in Liberal Arts, Humanities and Global Affairs or the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy which is the first exclusive public policy school in India.  
It is these differentiated programs that have, in a very short time, become hallmarks of innovative excellence and thereby done its alumni proud.  I congratulate the founders and all the stakeholders of this great Institution.

Standing before you today, against the backdrop of the Rio Olympics, I can’t help but use the analogy of looking at the graduating Class of 2016 as qualifiers for Life’s Decathlon, an arduous race of guts, grit and endurance.  In fact the gold medallist of an Olympics Decathlon is often described as the ‘World’s greatest athlete’ because it is about the combined performance of an athlete across track and field events.  Just qualifying to get to this point is a proud moment but the course ahead is about competition and winning and above all, fair play.

Jobs and the Jobs Market

So let’s start with the first race the 100 meters sprint.  Every one of you is making a dash to get yourself employed, to find a job so to speak.  Some of you will find dream jobs in dream companies, some of you will be daring and join start-ups and some of you will even be gutsy enough to start your own companies and become entrepreneurs. Many of you will be disappointed and opt for what is available knowing that this is only the start of your life’s journey and that there are no winners or losers at this stage of the race. 

When I reflect on my own aspirations when I graduated from Ballarat University in Australia as India’s first woman Brew Master in 1976, I sprinted across the country to get a job in any Brewery that would hire me but that was not to be.  So I decided to be self-employed and start my own enterprise. In hindsight, I converted my failure into a hugely rewarding entrepreneurial success.

Today, the job market for young men and women is vast and varied.  Perhaps the most disruptive change is that of a shift in the societal mind-set that no longer seeks job security but job opportunity. Start-Ups have revolutionized the job market for young people whether they are techies or just entrepreneurial. Today India boasts of 25,000 start-ups valued at $75 billion employing nearly a million people.  India ranks third among global start-up ecosystems with 4 to 5 start-ups being born every day.  The Government, in its wisdom, has rightly come out with a policy for Start-Ups to make it that much easier for young enterprises to start, scale and endure.

Building expertise: Converting Knowledge to Wisdom

The next event in the Decathlon is the long jump, which is about immersing yourself in your chosen job by applying the knowledge that you have acquired at this great institution to gain experience and eventually expertise. This is what skilling and competence building is all about.  Computer education has created an enviable cadre of coders who have assumed global scale and competence and earned our country worldwide leadership in software services. Likewise, our biological scientists, chemists and pharmacologists have built global expertise in developing generic drugs and vaccines that have made a huge difference to global health.  India has earned the rightful title of “The pharmacy of the world” where one in three children in the world are immunized with a ‘Made in India’ vaccine and Indian generics account for a third of the global market.   Building on this success, the Indian Pharma sector’s “Make in India” strategy must be driven by a mantra of “Highest quality at the lowest cost” which will make a big impact on global healthcare.  In my own case, I am committed to making a difference to Diabetes and Cancer by providing affordable access to life saving drugs like Insulin and Biological Cancer Drugs.  I hope that over the next decade, one in five Diabetics around the world will use one of our Insulin products.  I have always believed that Blockbuster drugs are not about a billion dollars but about a billion patients.

Goals and targets

The third leg of Decathlon is the Shot Put. In context of your career path, it is about making intense efforts to achieve targets.  Credibility is built by achieving stated goals and as an entrepreneur, I have well understood the importance of overcoming credibility challenges.  When I started my company Biocon in 1978, I had huge credibility challenges.  I was a 25 year old woman entrepreneur who was trying to build a business based on an unknown field of Biotechnology. Banks were unwilling to extend credit or even lend to me, people were nervous of working for me and even traders were reluctant to do business with me.  I had to overcome a gender barrier, a genuine concern about being young and inexperienced and above all the lack of understanding of what Biotechnology was all about.  I went about overcoming these challenges by setting myself goals and with each intense effort I managed to obtain Bank credit, recruit people and make my first export sale of an enzyme which also was  the first for the country.

Aiming high, raising the bar

The next competition is the high jump which is all about raising the bar and aiming higher and higher. Unless you are willing to push yourself into this realm of excellence, you cannot win.  More importantly, you have to try over and over again to realize success.  Inability to jump the bar the first time is by no means a failure.  Every entrepreneur knows that nothing works perfectly the first time.  It’s only after several attempts that you finally realize success.  Steve Jobs was a perfectionist and it always took several versions before a Mac or an iPhone or an iPad was launched.  Just like it took Elon Musk several iterations before he brought Tesla to a waiting world.  

Success is an endurance race

The next is the 400 meters race which is a stamina test. Every one of us faces periods of fatigue, lack of job satisfaction and even serious doubts of whether it is worth pursuing one’s efforts. Endurance is the name of the game and those who endure come out stronger and more confident to rise to greater challenges and greater heights. This part of life’s journey or a career path is critical and whilst it’s easy to jump ship and escape stress, it’s tough to endure, overcome challenges and thereby build self-confidence, the traits of true leadership. Far too many young people are lured by the temptation to switch jobs to make an extra buck or to escape work related stress and data will tell you that these job hoppers never make meaningful impact as they fail to develop both experience and expertise.  As the saying goes, failure is temporary but giving up is permanent.

Overcoming obstacles – confidence building

The 110 meters hurdles is next.Every  career path is fraught with obstacles but overcoming obstacles is a confidence building exercise.  My own entrepreneurial journey has been an obstacle race which I have successfully overcome time and time again to build confidence, quell scepticism and drive leadership. This must also be your resolve as you step into your life’s journey.

Values and ethics – strategy for leadership

The next three events, the discus throw, the pole vault and the javelin are about lofty aims and higher goals.  There will come a time when you will need to have long term, strategic goals. Your responsibilities will shift from being task and activity oriented to problem gauging and problem solving.  This will call for strategic thinking that will enable you to create enduring value for you and the organizations that you serve.  This is what builds great companies and great leaders.  Integral to this is an uncompromising code of values and ethics.  Today’s sporting world is mired with doping controversies that have dented the ethos of fair play and sportsmanship.  In the context of business, whilst performance enhancement by leveraging new technologies is imperative, corrupt practices that provide surreptitious business advantage are akin to performance enhancers that are unethical and illegal. India ranks poorly in the ease of doing business which has led to speed money and high levels of corruption to deal with an over regulated economy.  The advent of the digital world has now brought focus on e-regulatory reforms that will deliver both transparency and traceability which will hopefully mitigate this malaise.

Sense of Purpose

Great companies and great leaders are driven by a deep sense of purpose. Elon Musk is driven by a mission to reduce global Warming through sustainable energy production and consumption thereby reducing the risk of human extinction!  Bill and Melinda Gates established their foundation on the belief that every life has equal value and have therefore focused their efforts to help all people lead healthy, productive lives by eradicating the world of infectious diseases, hunger and poverty. My own company Biocon is on a mission to make a difference to global health by providing affordable access to life saving drugs for Diabetes and Cancer. I urge every one of you to be guided by a sense of purpose and a spirit of challenge.  It will go a long way in building character and thought leadership. Remember, our country cannot aspire to economic greatness as long as India remains home to one-fourth of the world’s poor and a third of all malnourished children across the globe.

Hallmark of champions

The final lap is the 1500 meters run which crowns the champion.  At your career’s end or retirement, you will have run a long and fulfilling race, overcoming hurdles, crossing high bars and striking tough targets.  You would have competed with the best and won some races and lost others.  In the end it’s about how you ran the race.  Did you finish the race with a winning mind-set or did you simply give up mid-way because you lacked the stamina to endure?   As the saying goes, it’s not about winning or losing but about how you ran the race.

Beyond Decathlon: Team sports

Up until now, I have spoken about the individual but my message would be incomplete without stressing on the importance of team sports and team spirit.  The Olympics celebrates champions at the individual level but more importantly, at a team level and at a country level.  All of these resonate with the business world.  Whether it is synchronized swimming and organizational alignment in attaining stated goals or scoring winning goals in Hockey or smashing the volley ball to triumph, it’s about working together as teams with a shared vision to succeed.  When I reflect on my own success as an entrepreneur, I can honestly confess that I would be nothing without my incredible team at Biocon.  It’s people who steer organizations to greatness.  OP Jindal Global University’s success depends upon all of you to be its best global brand ambassadors.  As the great Brazillian saying goes, “When you dream alone it’s only a dream but when dream together it becomes reality.”


Today, we are at the cusp of a huge transformation. We are engulfed in a digital world where technology is disrupting our lives in unprecedented ways.  Uber and Ola are the new norm in public mobility. Flipkart and Amazon have displaced the Bricks & Mortar retail space with click and buy E-tailing stores. Wearable devices and smart phones have radically changed the way we manage our calendars, navigate our travel, watch movies, or buy tickets for anything from theatre to airlines. Today start-ups are capturing data, curating databases and monetizing information in a manner that was never thought of before. Robots are assembling automobiles and even performing surgeries. We have driverless cars and soon I suppose pilotless flights. We have 3D printing technology that can print bespoke organs or blood vessels or bones and joints.  The possibilities are endless but it will take painstaking efforts to build enduring businesses in this exciting virtual world.  Remember, no longer is value creation linked to scale but to the power of the idea.  We are today witnessing the birth of the “ideas economy,” where the value of a company is measured by its “innovation quotient” rather than traditional metrics such as revenue, profit, physical assets etc. The potential of the WhatsApp messaging platform to change the way the world communicates led Facebook to pay an “innovation premium” resulting in a blockbuster deal value of US$19-billion. The power of the idea is being reinforced by the dizzying valuations being commanded by companies like Snapchat (US$20 billion), Uber (US$65 billion) and our own home-grown companies like Ola 
($5 billion) and Flipkart ($15 billion)

Go out and innovate a bright future for our country by taking breakthrough ideas to the market, ideas that will end poverty, hunger and unemployment and provide equitable prosperity for all.

Ms Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw's Commencement speech at the 5th Convocation of O P Jindal Global University

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