A corporate leader reminisces on issues ranging from leadership to the economy
A professional manager traversing upwards through stages of leadership roles across four decades of his life has a unique vantage position to detect broad, common strands in economies and societies. R Gopalakrishnan enjoys this advantage, and to his credit, consummately leverages it in his book Doodles on Leadership: Experiences within and beyond Tata.
Although the chapters in the book are largely drawn from the author’s columns and papers written over a period of time, the book is a breezy read that deftly sews together disparate themes to knit a coherent picture. For instance, Gopalkrishnan compares the journey of the United States over a period 250 years. He points out how the country learned from chaotic experiences earlier, and evolved a system where entrepreneurship came to be valued and merit could thrive. He uses his own reading of India’s landscape to posit that the country would also reach a similar position in half the time (125 years).
The book presents a contrast of how the socialist India of a couple of decades ago perceived businessmen and the gradual evolution it has gone through. It also provides an insider’s account of the innovation that the two companies – HUL and Tata – have been able to achieve on the back of having a better understanding of social norms of different eras.
Another striking part of the book also reveals insights the author has gathered over years of travel to obscure corners of the country, which throw up startling revelations, and reaffirm the mind-boggling diversity the country possesses.
For instance, Gopalkrishnan mentions the ‘Hussaini Brahmins’, a community that straddles the seemingly contradictory beliefs of two faiths — Hinduism and Islam. He also says that Sunil Dutt, the famous movie star, belonged to this community. Similarly, the ‘Siddis’ of Karnataka are descendants of an African tribe, brought to India by the Portuguese. They still observe their ancient practices while being steeped in Kannada culture.
He also recounts his own extensive experience with the Parsi community — another element in the melting pot. The stories on a Gujarati community which migrated hundreds of years ago to Tamil Nadu, and a Tamil group’s migration to West Bengal are fascinating and revealing.