I compliment EDI and its Governing Board for conducting these crucial programs. EDI has been spearheading entrepreneurship development movement throughout the nation with a belief that entrepreneurs need not necessarily be born but can be developed. Being an entrepreneur myself, I highly appreciate this noble task amidst a time when globalization and technology are transforming our economy. I feel so proud to be here today and wish I would have got such unique opportunity of learning entrepreneurship in my college time, maybe I was born much earlier.
Dear students, today is your day and a very special one indeed for you and your dear ones. I am truly happy to be with you to share your joy and excitement. As you cross this important milestone in your life and embark on the journey of entrepreneurship, I am sure all of you will contribute significantly in bringing economic prosperity to our beloved country.
India has been the land of entrepreneurs from ages; if you see our Vedic culture you will find the shades of entrepreneurship there by means of trading and all. From spice trade to sea craft, Indians excelled in all the components of business and consistently demonstrated innovation, much ahead of others. Tata's, Birla's, Mahindra's, Vedanta are numerous examples of entrepreneurship in the best. They are acquiring sick businesses and assets across the world and with their so called 'entrepreneurship' are turning them around into profitable companies.
The evolutionary process of Indian style of leadership is being studied as a success story in the leading business schools of the west. Entrepreneurship is the only way to alleviate poverty. And, I am so glad that EDI is creating beautiful entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Well, people see me as a very successful entrepreneur; however they do not know that my last four decades of journey which started from zero base has been full of adversities which threw up challenges all the time. I strived hard to do my best overcoming the situations and turning them into opportunities. Learning's from those adversities have been phenomenal and has shaped me what I am today. In fact, this helped me build GMR Group what it is today.
I want to share with you my journey of last four decades. I started without any political support, any financial support in a very limited environment. I had a burning desire to do something. If you have Passion, Patience and Perseverance you can create success in your lives.
I was born and brought up in a remote village Rajam of Andhra Pradesh in Srikakulum backward district. At that time the population of the village was merely five thousand or so. My family had a very weak background of the lower middle class strata of the society as my father was a small time trader in the village; he used to trade in jute, pulses and oil seeds among many other items. Our business community was considered to be very timid in the society and often we were bullied and scared by the powerful people of the village. To overcome that general perception and stand against those people was itself very challenging in those days.
My family did not know the world; they were just into small time trading confined in a very limited atmosphere. Those days, my father's opinion about education was that it is enough if you know addition, subtraction, and multiplication to run the business.
However, I wanted to go for higher education so that I could become somebody; hence I pursued my father to pay the fee, which was fifty rupees at that time. He refused as he believed that education is not required for trading. I pursued hard through a local village doctor who was close friend of my father. He persuaded him to pay the 50 rupees fee.
My dear friends - that is the humble background I came from. Why, I am sharing all this is to let you know that I always had the burning desire to do something irrespective of the insignificant background; I had no financial support and no political support. It was that fire in me which kept me moving from one success to another. Hence, nothing is impossible, you can achieve whatever you want if you have the burning desire in you.
After completing my engineering I wanted to do something. My burning desire kept on constantly motivating me, instead of blaming the environment, parents and social situations, I developed a positive attitude.
I was in a big confusion whether to go for a job, to join family business or to do something else. By that time, my father divided the properties among all his sons and I got Rs. 3 lakhs and a truck. My father forced me for a job, and I started my work life with a shift engineer job in A.P. Paper Mill. But working in a paper mill and thereafter in PWD did not satisfy me.
I quit the job and came to Vizag where I tried doing some small business and getting a scooter agency. But with months of hard work and efforts, nothing comes through.
I was desperate. I came back to my village and joined as a partner with brothers in the family trading business. I was the only engineer in the village and people looked at me differently. I started understanding the fundamentals of the business, dealing with farmers, etc. It was not a big business, trading pulses, jute and oilseeds. People used to heckle me a lot that an engineer wants to do trading business. I had to overcome the challenges of the village mindset of the people.
That was the learning of fundamentals of business acumen. It was not easy for an engineer to sit down with farmers and small traders, negotiate and convince them for selling their products. In the process, I learnt a great deal of humility from them.
During the process of seeking opportunities, I got brewery license.... sugar factory license. I started another Jute Mill after acquiring it, started Ferro Alloys, Rolling Mills and what not. You name it I was there in that business...including trading of timber, IT company, ear buds manufacturing. That was a time when I started different businesses simultaneously.
I was able to operate so many businesses simultaneously because I used to go deep into details of the businesses, understand the nuts and bolts, formulate the operational strategy and quickly delegate to the management so that I can work on the bigger picture. I call this as 'Helicopter View' because of deep dive into details and quickly moving upwards on the surface for the big picture.
It sounds easy but believe me all these mills and businesses were very complex. But, I was able to successfully run these businesses because I used to simplify the complexities in order to make the right judgment. Also, I always think out of the box, some innovative solution, though I used to listen everyone and take everyone's opinion; however I try thinking independently altogether in a different way.
I tried almost 28 businesses and knowingly or unknowingly became the 'serial entrepreneur'. I call this as an opportunistic phase, where I was just grabbing whatever came my way.
We came across a huge opportunity of Chennai Power Plant requiring investment of Rs. 800 Cr. My team was initially very apprehensive of this, however I was very confident and fearlessly went ahead. Then we signed an agreement for 200 MW of Power Plant to set up in Chennai. I brought the world best technology in the Power Plant and with great difficulty successfully implemented it.
At this stage, my children after finishing their education joined the business and they said we should not do business like this. We had several businesses...28 businesses... spanning jute manufacturing, Ferro-chrome manufacturing, sugar and so many more.
The children were of the opinion that we should not be doing so many unrelated businesses and hence we brought in a consultant for advice. Consultant said we must have a strategy, should have vision and mission. If you ask me, I don't know the meaning of the words Vision and Mission at that time and thought I built the businesses and now they are teaching me such fancy words. However, children persisted saying that since we went into opportunistic mode earlier, we should now go into the strategic mode.
Moving into strategic mode, I divested all the unrelated businesses. Even my most profitable ventures at that time I divested. We were following our vision "we should build entrepreneurial organizations making a difference to the society through creation of value" and whatever was not fitting into it we divested. Because brewery was not creating a value to the society, we had to disinvest.
I call this 'emotional detachment' by managing the portfolio which is very important to scale up strategically. Entrepreneurs need to follow their vision and strategy without any emotional attachment.
In 1999, we participated in global bidding of the Greenfield Hyderabad Airport. The government proposed giving 5000 acres of land and said would give the bid whoever will ask the least grant but maintains standard in all 32 services of airport operations listed by the International body of airports.
The whole team went out and travelled world-wide, visited some of the best airports, discussed with some of the global experts and roped in best professionals available. That is how; we built the first Greenfield airport of the country which has been consistently ranked second best globally in its category. The key to our success was our willingness to learn and get into details. More important, our attitude of embracing the change, quickly adapt and implement made us successfully built this world class airport.
In 2005, came the opportunity for Delhi and Mumbai airports as both the airports came for privatization. We submitted our bid for Delhi and Mumbai airport privatization amidst stiff competition. It was a great challenging experience with heavy passenger and airline traffic which could not be interrupted as we went about constructing Domestic Departure Terminal ID and thereafter the giant Terminal 3, the world's 8th largest terminal, which we built in the record 37 months of time ahead of Common wealth games.
We faced many challenges but we had established strong and respectful relationship with all stakeholders. We had to interact with over 58 government departments on one side and on the other side we had to manage a peak of 40,000 workers and engineers from 19 nationalities. To add to it, we have to work with three thousand airports authority employees with a government mindset. It was a very challenging project but very satisfying too as we built the 'Gateway of India' which has been consistently ranked second globally in its category. When we took over the Delhi Airport, it was ranked 101 out of 126 and today it is being ranked fifth best out of 199 airports globally. This is how we adapted to the change quickly and executed the project successfully.
Also, whatever I do my thinking is that it should not only add economic value but should also contribute towards social value. I think that mindset has tremendously helped me in building the national assets which are contributing significantly for the social and economic growth of the country. For example, according to the economic research wing of government NCAER, Delhi Airport in 2009-10 has contributed more than 13.5% to Delhi State GDP and 0.45% to National GDP. Not only this, Delhi airport contributes 1.6 million direct and indirect jobs which is about 26% of the total Delhi's employment.
After the foray into Delhi Airport, we entered into creating power plants with gas assets, thermal, solar and recently hydro power plants.
GMR Group, true to its vision of 'Creating Value to the Society', ventured into businesses of nation building, it was the first mover - first for the Group, first for the industry, and first for the country. We unknowingly chartered into 'Blue Ocean' and enjoyed the uncontested market space.
But sustainable growth cannot be achieved without institution building; hence we are now focusing on four pillars of Institution Building - People, Process, Technology and Governance. Family governance is also part of our Institution Building process. Actually, Corporate Governance and Family Governance are inter-linked blocks completing the cycle of Institution Building.
Over a period of nearly 8 years, we developed a formal family constitution, which has been agreed to and is binding upon all members of the family. It covers areas like compensation, conflicts resolution, media policy, succession planning and so on. Very importantly, it is agreed upon not only by the family members working in the business, but their spouses as well.
I strongly believe in the philosophy "Run the business like a family and the family like a business". The idea is that our employees feel part of a family, which also develops their emotional bond with the Group. At the same time, we cannot take family members for granted, and must ensure their views and aspirations are taken care of just as we would do for our employees. Ultimately, this is what helps the business to prosper. Institution building is a continuous process and we are working towards it.
Only running the business has never been my thought process, I always believe that it is my duty to give back to the society in whatever way I could. 'Inclusive Growth' has always been my philosophy.
Since beginning, with 2-3% of profit every year being earmarked for social entrepreneurship, I set up GMR Varalakshmi Foundation, a not-for-profit, professionally run, independent company, present in 23 locations focused on education, healthcare, vocational training for jobless youth, and community development for the under-served.
Recently, I endowed the entire portion of my personal wealth to the Foundation, so that it does not suffer from lack of funds, even beyond my life time and should go on for perpetuity.
If I look back at my journey and think about what made me successful. I found out few important traits from beginning helped me:
Our seven values and beliefs which are Humility; Teamwork & Relationships; Respect for Individuals; Learning; Deliver the Promise; Entrepreneurship; and Social Responsibility.
The foundation of our seven values is Humility. Our humility helped us succeed in ventures, where we had no prior experience. Humility helped us gain the trust of our stakeholders, even in situations of high stress and anxiety. And, humility kept us open for learning, learning all the time from everyone and everything.
These 7 values have been the bedrock of our growth trajectory, despite various challenges. Other one is our 'Can-Do' Positive Attitude - Positive attitude is the foundation of courage and fearlessness which are so essential for achieving success in one's personal and professional life. Let me tell you a simple story to depict the same.
A poor man lives with his two sons in a one-room apartment. His wife had died many years back. Every night he comes home drunk and creates nuisance. The elder son quietly leaves, settles down under a street lamp and studies. The younger son also leaves and does not return the whole night. This becomes an everyday routine.
With the passage of time the two boys grow up.
One day, the elder son is given the 'best citizen of the town' award; on the same day his younger brother is caught stealing, and is put in prison.
Media asked the younger son "What made you like this?" He replies "My father was a drunkard, I had lost my mother at a very young age, no one was there to take care of me, and I lost my way. My father is responsible for my failure."
Same media asked the elder son "What made you successful?" He replies "The secret of my success is my father. He was an alcoholic and we were very poor. I decided that I should not be like my father so I studied hard to make a better life. I am ever grateful to my father for showing me not to be like him."
Now as you can see, the same situation viewed differently depending on your attitude. Let us not blame or make excuses. We always have a tendency, to blame others for our shortcomings. When we do that we make someone else responsible for our lives. The moral of the story is, we have to take responsibility for our lives. We must learn to use what life gives us, and not blame our families or our circumstances. Secondary influences may come from anywhere, but the primary influences are primarily our own attitudes. Attitude gives altitude.
Positive attitude coupled with the seven values helped me, in accomplishing whatever little I could till now, which I thought of sharing with you. Though, my journey is full of adversities but I sailed through it successfully learning from my failures. Always, remember that-
'Success is a great Motivator and Failure is a great Teacher'
My dear friends, in conclusion I would like to say that India is a perfect place for your entrepreneurial journey. Two decades back, westerners visiting India thought what they could do for this country. Now the attitude has changed. People visiting India are asking, what India can do for them. With great pride, I can say that no multinational company can afford to be absent from India because of its enormous intellectual manpower. Today, India has become the hub for Research & Development with more than 750 R&D centers established in India, employing over 400,000 professionals. Not only this, many Fortune 500 companies have already started their Centers of Excellence in India and many others are in the process of doing the same.
India is a young country with 50 per cent of its population being under 30 years of age. It is estimated that India will add around 11 million to the workforce every year for the next 5 years and will account for 25 per cent of the global workforce by 2020 which essentially means every one out of 4 people on this planet will be an Indian. These are indications of the demographic dividend the country enjoys, creating a consuming class and human capital to drive growth.
India has become the testing ground for budding entrepreneurs and we are experiencing increasing trend of innovation and creativity thus producing numerous successful entrepreneurs which is growing every passing day. Traditional entrepreneurial practices and systems are fast getting blurred by new knowledge and understanding, and in that sense you are fortunate to have been educated to pursue entrepreneurship from a guided perspective. I am extremely confident that you people will create enterprises bigger than Facebook and Google.
However, my dear friends remember that in this volatile, uncertain and complex environment, anxiety levels are going up rapidly. It is affecting work - life balance very badly. In order to sustain through such stress and strain of life, 'Work-Life Balance' is must. You read in the newspapers, successful executives dying of heart attack at a very young age. You hear about very talented corporate executives suffering from depression. You also hear about fast rising managers and CEOs addicted to alcohol. We are seeing many people chasing material success, but spending all their savings in medical expenses after the age of 40. This is a terrible tragedy in our society today. Success at the cost of the health is no success.
If you have to lead a sustainable growth, you have to manage yourself first. And to manage yourself physically and emotionally you need spirituality and yoga, which is irrespective of any religion. Universities today are doing excellent job in imparting education for learning to earn. But they are not able to teach life's complexities such as work life balance, how to live happily, and do self-management. Any small unpleasant incident happens in life, they crash. Unfortunately, circumstances are controlling their emotions and behavior.
Spirituality and Yoga help in coping with these challenges and provides a perfect harmony of body, mind and soul. It reduces stress and brings clarity of thoughts and greater focus in whatever you do.
My dear friends what truly matters, is how you evolve as successful human being. No matter what business you are engaged in, be it small time trading or a multi-national company, I strongly suggest that it should be purpose-driven and value-led journey. If your means are value-based, the end is always heartening. Always remember, all of you are the authors of your own destinies.
There is a beautiful saying that -
"Managers Preserve Wealth, Leaders Nurture Wealth and Entrepreneur Multiplies Wealth"
With this, I wish each one of you all the very best in your journey of entrepreneurship.
I am immensely Grateful to you all for giving me this opportunity to share my learnings and experiences with you.
Enjoy the evening!