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Address by Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla


Good afternoon everyone! Class of 2021, Prof. Errol D’Souza, members of the faculty, ladies and gentlemen. A very warm welcome to all of you.


When  Bob  Dylan  penned  the  iconic  song  ‘Times  they  are  a  changin’,  which  became  an anthem for change  across  generations,  I don’t  think he  would have  remotely imagined the world that  we  are  living in today.  In the  last  12 months, we  have witnessed and embraced change of an unprecedented magnitude. While we have all been robbed off the energy and intimacy of doing this convocation ceremony at the Louis Kahn Plaza, like every year, I am sure all of your digital avatars aren’t complaining.   As political scientist Ivan Krastev put it, “It  might  be  only  for  this  weird  moment  in  history,  but  we  cannot  deny  that  we  are currently experiencing what it feels like to live in one world.”


Hidden behind the stories of loss and valour; agony and awe; ruin and revival; is the power of the human spirit. A collective spirit that has enabled us to wrestle with this pandemic for over a year now. A spirit that has been tested, again and again. But a spirit that will triumph, no matter what.


The  class  of  2021  will  be  like  no  other  before  it.  The  young  people  of  the  World  War  2 generation were  witness to  the  massive  increases in industrial productivity that  came  with ramping up automobile, aerospace, and other production to meet the needs of the war years and the demand boom that came post that. Classes graduating in the dotcom bubble years of 2000-01  took  away  lessons  about  the  husbanding  of  capital  and  the  need  to  build  more sustainable  businesses  that  transformed  what  it  meant  to  be  an  internet  company.  This pandemic has again stimulated innovation as a broad swathe of companies and consumers have embraced ‘digitization’. In the 4 months of 2021, the startup ecosystem in India added over 10 new unicorns whose mix represents everything from interest in financial services to business enablers and our need for human connectivity.


This class is in a unique position. Having had the ability to take a student’s dispassionate look at a world in turmoil, you are now stepping into it, to leave your mark as a young leader whose intellectual appreciation of business problems is balanced by a compassionate understanding of the people involved.


The convocation ceremony today marks the culmination of a glorious chapter in your life. This glorious chapter has been defined by three hallmark traits, that I assume are common to all of you – strong academic record, all-round skills that go beyond the classroom, and of course the great hunger to succeed. I call this the trinity of records, skills, and attitude.


Congratulations on successfully completing Chapter 1 of what is going to be the book of your career.  Getting  to  IIMA,  completing  your  course,  and  finding  a  marquee  job,  which  is  a springboard to new horizons and new opportunities.


Today  also  marks  the  beginning  of  an  entirely  different  chapter  in  your  life.  Chapter  2. Success  in  this  leg  of  your  career  is  entirely  predicated  on  the  investments  you  make,  the risks you take, and the learnings you garner over the next 10 years.


Today is perhaps a good day to pause and consider what could be that X factor which will make the difference between just ‘coasting along’ and ‘taking off exponentially’ in your life and career. Let me share my thoughts on what could make that difference.


First  and  foremost,  define  your  North  Star:  The  pandemic  and  the  last  12  months have again shone a spotlight on not just the role of governments but of societies, companies, and  individuals  in  creating  better  outcomes  for all  of  us. This  is  a  period  of short  forecast horizons and amplified ups and downs. And therefore, a more important time than ever to define your principles and set your heading. Where do you fit in, and what do you want to be known for? Now is a good time to mull over and define the answer.


Second, Experiment in your 20s: While your North Star is clearly in your sights, in the short  term,   the   20s  should   be   the   discovery  phase   of   your   next   chapter.   As   a   wise businessman  once  said,  “Risk  taking  is  inherently  failure-prone,  otherwise  it  would  be called sure-thing-taking.”  I feel that  too  many management  graduates enter the  corporate world with a ‘this is what I want to do’ attitude. When I say experiment, I don’t necessarily mean  start  your  own  business  or  company.  Rather,  Work  in  a  factory, work  in  a  different country, work in diverse sectors, work across unfamiliar functions. The opportunity cost of experimenting rises sharply as you grow in your career. So, start early and experiment. Be impulsive.  But  temper  your  impulsiveness  with  creativity  and  positivity.  Be  thoughtful  of what  you  want  to  focus  on  and  what  is  the  common  thread  that  strings  together  your experiments and experiences. Which brings me to my next connected point.


Third, Build your personal flywheel: It was legendary artist Vincent Van Gogh who had remarked that “Great things do not just happen by impulse but are a succession of small things linked together.”


Your personal flywheel is nothing but your own set of cumulating personal experiences. Think about experiences as units of learning. The more units you can accumulate in a year the more valuable you become. The sooner you start accumulating, the more you accumulate as you go along, as the power of compounding kicks in. Remember, your ability to learn is elastic by nature.


Units of learning should guide your career choices. If you are ever wrestling with a career choice, the defining factor should be the units of learning. Always, make a choice that accelerates your own learning curve and improves your understanding of the world.


Let me illustrate this point on building a flywheel and experimenting, using the example of an  unconventional  entrepreneur.  At  the  age  of  20,  he  opened  the  first  record  shop  and turned a millionaire in 3 years. He went from running a small record shop to starting up a record  label  to  launching  music  megastores.  In  his  early  30s,  when  a  flight  he  was  set  to board  got  cancelled,  he  hired  a  plane,  sold  tickets,  and  filled  it  up  with  fellow  stranded passengers.  This  experience  set  in  motion  the  idea  for  his  successful  airline  business. Aviation was the fount on which his current conglomerate is built, spanning diverse sectors from travel, transport, entertainment, media, and telecoms.


His name is Richard Branson. He was always restlessly entrepreneurial, something that you too can be, even within the boundaries of an organization. Remember, you don’t have to be a start-up entrepreneur to turbo charge your flywheel.


And finally, add emotion to IQ:  I know all of you have burnt the midnight oil over the last  2  years  solving  complicated  business  problems.  The  reality  is  that  you  can’t  build businesses  with  spreadsheets.  The  most  detailed business  plans  this  year  unraveled  in  the face  of  factory  workers  falling  sick.  Supply  chains  came  unstuck  as  the  migrant  labour silently powering them retreated to their communities.   Therefore, don’t get unidimensional in the way you think. You need to add other dimensions to your thinking, most importantly, of   empathy   and   humility.   I   don’t   see   IQ   and   EQ   as   binary   qualities,   but   rather   as complementary traits that make a personality wholesome.


The  irony,  perhaps,  is  that  even  AI  is  now  starting  to  hold  up  a  mirror  to  ourselves. Microsoft’s Socio chatbot- Xiaoice boasts of having both IQ and EQ. It has social skills and understanding of human emotions. It writes music, sings, paints, and has a fine arts degree. Xiaoice  has  had  a  29-hour  conversation  with  a  human  being!  In  total  it  has  had  over  30 billion  conversations  with  100  million  friends.  Just  pause  and  think  about  it,  a  chatbot  is learning social and cognitive skills to build EQ.


The times they are a changin!


To summarize, what I have said is – have clarity on your North Star, but then be adventurous and experiment, use these experiences to build your flywheel and compliment your IQ with EQ.


A  decade down  the  line, you  will  be  confronted with  a  question:  How  do  you  measure  this journey  that  kicked  off  through  this  virtual  convocation  ceremony?  The  Chapter  2  that  I referred  to.  What  benchmarks  should  you  hold  yourself  accountable  to?  Is  it  the  pace  of promotions? The salary you draw? The designation you hold? The companies you float?


I think it’s a simple answer.


You must ask yourself just one question. Did I make a difference? It doesn’t matter whether you are a marketer or a consultant, an entrepreneur or a techie. Have you advanced progress in your field and added to the cumulative repository of knowledge and wisdom? If the answer is yes. Then you have done justice to the education you have received and lived  up to the rich legacy of this iconic institution.


IIM-A isn’t just a B-school. It’s more than just an institution or a badge of honour. It is now a permanent part of you. You have enhanced your life with education; now enrich it with meaning, purpose, and the thrill of being part of a shared endeavour. The quest for which commences today.


Godspeed to all of you. Thank you very much!



AUTHOR: admin
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