13th Convocation of EDI Post Graduate Diploma Programme (Post Graduate Diploma in Management - Business Entrepreneurship (2010-2012)
Tuesday April 03, 2012
Convocation Address by
Dr. Sam Pitroda
Adviser to the Prime Minister, Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations
Dear Mr. Malla, Dr. Awasthi, my friend Dr. Alagh, Dignitaries on the dais, Members of the Governing Board, Faculty, Students, Members of Media, Families, Friends, Ladies & Gentlemen, Good Evening!!!
It is indeed a privilege for me to be here at the 13th EDI Convocation. I thank the organizers for this opportunity and I wish all the best to the graduating students. I liked your energy and I can feel it. I must tell you that I graduated just about 50 years ago. I got my first degree in 1962. It is good to be young and it is good to have such energy, enthusiasm and excitement. Go make something happen. You are lucky because you have been trained as an entrepreneur, which is a very special skill. You have been trained to create jobs. We, in India, need lots of jobs. We need to create 15 million new jobs every year. We have 550 million young below the age of 35.
Huge population, big work force for the world and they need to be trained, skilled and need to be given opportunities to build the future, for themselves, their families & for the country. I believe you will play an important role in creating new jobs in the country. I have had a very interesting journey. A little boy from Orissa, born in 1942, where there was no electricity, no water, no schools, no teacher, no pharmacy, no doctor. It is a journey of an ordinary man but certainly a very extraordinary journey. And, I want to share with you the entrepreneurial piece of that journey.
I still remember, reading in the newspaper in Baroda that President Kennedy had decided to send man on the moon. I was young, energetic and stupid. I decided that I have to go to the U.S to start a new life but I had no money. Somehow, however, went there in 1964, changed my degree from physics to electrical engineering because I had a girlfriend and it was going to take seven years to get a Ph.D. in physics. My priorities were very clear and I asked my professor as to what I could do to get a degree in one year? He said go and get a degree in electrical engineering. It took me nine months, got a degree, called my girlfriend to Chicago, got married and started life.
Worked for about ten years, for a company called GTE. It had lots of patents. In the meantime, my father who had 4th grade education, came to the U.S. and one day asked me "Son, what did you study?" I said, "Dad, I graduated in Physics". So, his next question was, "What is physics?" And, I realized that he had done a great job in not interfering with his son. I learnt a great lesson from him. Leave your children alone. Don't bother them, just love them, trust them. Then, one fine day he said to me, "You work very hard, you go to office at 8.00 a.m., you come at 6.00 p.m. why don't you quit?" I asked, "What do you mean?" He said, "Quit working for somebody, start your own business". Here was a man who had 4th grade education, he did not know what physics was and he was insisting that I must become an entrepreneur.
I paid a little bit of attention and then, finally one day, I quit. Everyone in the company was shocked. I decided to start a business of my own with two American friends. They had the money, I had the talent, we started a company called Wescom Switching in digital communication in 1974. By 1979 we had 2000 employees. We were doing 100 million then. It was lot of money in 1979 but then my partner started fighting. Everything works well in business till you are not doing well. Things fall apart and people start fighting when you do well. Camaraderie works when there is no cash, when there is cash priorities change. So, we had to sell the company. Sold it, made little bit of money. For an Indian who had never seen several million dollars then, this meant like unbelievable amount of wealth and I said, "That's the end of it; I am not going to work any more."
So, in 1979-80, I came to Delhi for the first time to visit and I tried to call my wife but couldn't make a phone call from Taj Mahal Hotel. I tried again and then little bit of arrogance and lots of ignorance said to me, "Go fix it." I went back home and told my wife, I have found another enterprise but this is a social enterprise. I want to go fix India's telephones. If I had known everything I know today, I would have never tried it. Ignorance is a great asset. Finally then got a meeting fixed with Mrs. Gandhi.
I met with Mrs. Gandhi, gave a presentation and my message was very clear. I told her, "I believe India can change the destiny by focusing on telecom software. We have young talent. All we need is political will". She agreed. That was the time when I met Rajiv Gandhi for the first time and then I spent about 11 years in India working on telecom technology, technology missions on literacy immunization, edible oil, dairy development, etc. I also had privilege to work with Dr. Yoginder K. Alagh. He and I used to go to Soviet Union together. I spent some time with Gorbachev. I had the best time of my life in those eleven years. Worked long hours, learnt a lot, never took salary but the romance of working in India for larger goods that were bigger than the money I had made in the U.S. was thrilling. In those days there were three of us who slept just 3-4 hours a day. Jayram Ramesh used to work with me. We were possessed with ideas and enthusiasm. And, then in a series of events-Finally I had a heart attack, went through a bypass, Rajiv Gandhi died and I ran out of money. All the money I had, I had already spent in India. All of a sudden I realised that I have two children ready to go to college in the U.S. and I had no money to pay for their tuition. I decided to go back to the U.S. but I didn't have visa to go back, because I had given up my U.S. Nationality. I took a tourist visa and went to the U.S. But, I couldn't work on a tourist visa. Started a business and then realized that I used to earn a patent on an electronic diary. I had filed that patent in 73, valid in 75 but had totally forgotten check about it. Every one in the U.S. was using electronic diary. So, I wrote to Toshiba, Casio, Sharp and Texas Instruments etc. I told them that they were using my patent, and, must, therefore, pay some royalty. Naturally they thought I had lost. I had got my patent in 1975 and was asking for royalty in 1991-92. They didn't pay much attention. So, one fine morning I decided to sue all of them in the cook county court. In 2 months they all came back, paid me several million royalty and I restarted my life. Then I built a business in Milvowke, started a company called MTI. I had a company called Ionix. But building business didn't interest me any more because the romance in India of building huge things was much more attractive. So, I decided to build a global bank out of London. I built a bank in London, lived in London for 7 years, put both my children through College. Then, once again the question was, "What do I do next?" I even had cancer in 2000. I decided to come back and work on National Knowledge Commission. Spent 4 years on it and now I work on Knowledge Networks, Public Information Infrastructure, Railway Modernization, Power Grids, Smart Grids, Innovations. All of these are huge assignments. All of these are great challenges, romantic projects, which could have far reaching implications on a country. But all the experience I had as an entrepreneur has played an important role. I have learnt to take risks. I work 24x7. In 47 years I have never taken a vacation. Because everyday is a great vacation. The joy of doing things is absolutely fantastic & when you do multiple things there is never a dull moment. If you are doing 50 things, five will definitely work, 10 will give you lot of pain, 10 will dissolve. You just keep pushing things. I also realized that the key to all these projects is, 'people management'. You get to learn to live people from your heart. You get to trust them, you get to build them, you get to work with them. People are your biggest asset, without people you can't do a thing. You also need to learn in business. Money coming in has to be more than money going out. Positive cash flow is happiness. Business models mean everything. First question that you ask in business, Who will pay?, Why will they pay?, How much will they pay?, Will they continue to pay? If the answers are all positive and clear, you get something. There are lots of great ideas. How do you take those ideas and convert into those viable businesses is the challenge. Risk is the key. My life has been a roller coaster. My highs have been very high and my lows have been very low. I had another by pass in 2005. But, life goes on, you get into trouble, you get it fixed, you move on next morning as if nothing has happened. It requires inner strength. These are some of the lessons related to hard work, business models, people management, financial management, risk taking abilities. These things don't come easy. I also learnt on the way, the discipline is the key. You have to have things to do. I have been keeping diary for the last 50 years. Everyday I note down things to do. All of the dumb things that we take for granted matter in business. I have learnt that honesty is the hallmark of good business. On one hand discipline, on the other hand ability to analyse, innovate, respect for ideas from others and ethics. I can tell you that in the last 45 years of my business life, I have never paid any body dime and I have never taken dime from anybody and I had a great journey. It can be done. Don't let anybody fool you into saying that I can't do business without bribing somebody. In India, corruption is a big issue. Everybody wants to talk about corruption. If you are firm, if you are clear, nobody will bother you. But, as an entrepreneur, if you want quick fixes, if you want shortcuts, if you are only after money, you will have enough opportunities to do wrong things. Business is not just about making money. Business is about making a contribution creating jobs, prosperity, not just for yourself, but, for your family, for your workers, for your community and for the nation. Unfortunately, everyone world over today is focused on US based model which is pushing consumption. More cars, more clothes, more roads, more energy, more money. General thinking is if you are smart, you have to be rich and if you are rich, people automatically assume you are smart. This model based on consumption is not steadable, sustainable or desirable in India. In India, we need models from the bottom of the pyramid which are affordable, which are accessible, scaleable and sustainable. When I entered in telecom, we had 2 million telephones in India. It used to take 10-15 years to get a telephone connection. Just in a short span of 20 years, the young talent in this country has been able to deliver to all of us 800 million telephone connections. We are a nation of a connected billion and now, we have new set of opportunities to do things differently.
Broadband will change the way we educate, the way we bank, the way we conduct new business, the way we provide health services. This is the opportunity to build new India and you all will play an important role in building new India. New India will be built with new technology, new talent and new opportunities.
Once a young business man was on the same flight as mine. I had a seat next to me empty so, he came and sat with me. He had a lot of interesting questions. He said, Sir, "I bribe everybody, I cheat, I don't pay tax, I don't treat my employees well, I harass my children, I fight with my wife, I always have stress, what should I do? We started talking. He expressed his wish to change and to make money by honest means. To his anxiety, I treated with a simple statement, "Why don't you then start doing so?"
I said why don't you start doing it? He replied, "How I can do, if everybody else is bribing." What I am trying to say is that we have created a system, where we cannot function the way we want to.
I feel, in India, everybody has fragile self-esteem. They all are ready to be hurt. If you don't say hello to me, and you say hello to someone, I feel bad. In India, 'Maan', 'Apmaan', 'Abhimaan' and 'Swamaan' are very important words for us. We don't have the Gandhian Self Esteem, which makes us strong, which makes us feel good about ourselves. All modern work requires team work. Remember, there is nothing that we can do without good teamwork & support of lots of people like; family and friends. The lesson to learn for me, from the conversation with the gentleman, was that there are lots of people in India with good intentions.
It is upto you, the young generation, to create new systems, new processes and stand up to old guards. And, only by being a change agent you will be able to bring about change. If you live into the old system, if you get something into the ways of doing things that we have today, India will not be able to grow at the rate it ought to grow. To continue to grow at 10%, we need new processes, new blood, and new mindset. I worry when our young mind up doing same things what their parents did. Young must rebel. Incremental change is not good enough. You must bring about generational change and generational change is difficult. You must rise and take on a fight which is to be taken on everywhere. Every sector in India needs a big fight whether it is political reforms, judiciary reforms, administrative reforms or business reforms.
Finally, I want to leave you with this thought that you are the agent of change, you must change. If you don't change, there are millions and millions who will pay price for it. You are fortunate enough to have the education, understanding and the tools to fight.
I wish you all the best and I hope that your journey also winds up being as interesting as mine.