Address by Mr. Deepak Parekh, Chairman HDFC Ltd. on ‘Mantra for Life and Success’ @ IGTC Convocation 2010


Members on the dais, students, ladies and gentlemen: It is indeed a pleasure for me to be here today at the Convocation ceremony of the Indo German Training Centre (IGTC). I would like to convey my heartiest congratulations to all the students of the IGTC Batch 2008-2010. Today marks a special milestone in the lives of 42 young graduating students. Convocation ceremonies are always special for ironically, they mark both, an end and a new beginning. It is an end academically, but a beginning of unlearning, learning and relearning in the real world. The German Dual System, which I understand IGTC follows is unique as this system integrates theoretical learning with hands on practical experience.

I am confident that many of the students here today will make significant contributions in further strengthening the Indo-German relationship, which for India is one of the strongest bilateral relationships. Trade, investment, finance and technology transfers and collaborations form an important basis for this partnership. Due credit has to be given to the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce for its role as a catalyst in forging economic and trade relations between the two countries. Indo-German trade touched 13 billion Euro in financial year 2009. Germany has also consistently ranked amongst India’s top investing countries in terms of foreign direct investment. One is confident that Indo-German ties will continue to flourish. Needless to add, the IGTC is a solid platform for strengthening this relationship through training and honing skills of young individuals. And as they say, there is nothing better than catching them young!

Students, you all are graduating at a time when the world is slowly limping back to normalcy. The crisis has been devastating with far reaching implications. Evidently, we are still not quite out of the woods. The crisis has triggered a rethinking on various issues beyond the realm of finance. What is the role of people and leadership? Who drives ethics and values in an organisation? How did the greed factor become so overpowering? What happened to the moral fibre of individuals and institutions? These are answers you need to find as you step into the workforce. Having said that, what is most welcoming, especially in these times is that fresh graduates are like the much-needed adrenalin being pumped into the workforce.

This evening I have been requested to talk about the ‘mantra for life and success.’ I just wished I had one, but honestly I don’t. Mantra in Sanskrit means a sacred formula repeated in meditation or prayer and capable of creating a spiritual transformation. A similar philosophy has been reiterated by the author Malcolm Gladwell, who in his book ‘Outliers’ has said that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Of course, there are various other formulas for life. Success as we all know differs across individuals and is based on their experiences. It is true however, that the age old maxim of integrity, honesty and transparency will stand the test of time. On a lighter vein they say, “Success is relative, more success, more relatives!”

As you move ahead in your professional life, you will realise that to drive towards one’s goal, one treads upon different paths. But during this journey, one has to constantly check oneself, and often pull oneself back on track. Mistakes are inevitable for a certain type of people. Let me explain:

People who do no work make no mistakes…..
People who do less work make less mistakes….
People who do lots of work make lots of mistakes….

I need not emphasise which category one must strive to be in. Making mistakes, but learning from those mistakes will enrich you. And no experience is more enriching than learning by doing. The sheer value of learning everyday is what will keep you going. Life is based on seeing, listening and experimenting. But experimenting is the most important.

In fact, Warren Buffet has said that his almost incredible long-term success can be traced down to a handful of decisions. Take away his 15 best decisions from amongst hundreds that he’s made so far, and his long-term performance would be no better than mediocre. You should concentrate on finding truly great opportunities. Since those come along rarely, you don’t find them through frenetic activity. You find them through careful study and then through exercising patience.

That is why it is important to learn to follow your heart. The brain can do many things but only the heart can give you meaningful answers in life. It is my firm belief that if you commit yourself to following your heart then you will always take the right decisions in life. But to be able to do so you must first learn to overcome fear. This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks that prevent us from achieving success. We are constantly in fear – fear of failing, fear of not living up to expectations of others, fear of not being accepted or fear of being different. Unless you overcome this, success will always dodge you. So be fearless and have the courage to listen to your heart. To quote the great German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Always be yourself. This sounds easy but in fact, it can be difficult. Others often push us to think and see the world as they do, wanting us to fulfil their notion of what is important and what counts. But if you are yourself and if you do not try to imitate or be something that others want you to be, life is both simpler and frankly a lot more satisfying. There is little meaning if one goes through life pretending to be someone else’s image.

You will also meet many people from various walks of life at work. How you treat people is extremely important and therefore, you should strive to build and maintain relationships. Devote some time during the day to interact with people. While dealing with people one needs to be courteous and humane. Let the trait of humility stick to you like glue. Stay approachable and accessible to people.

We have to bear in mind that the business environment around us is constantly changing. That is why we have to raise the bar for leadership. Some qualities will always be essential – like discipline and integrity. A number of deficiencies that were tolerable in the past, such as the inflexibility to change rapidly no longer holds.

To my mind, two leadership traits have become indispensable today. The first is business acumen, more commonly called ‘being business savvy’. The second is adaptability. You need keep pace with the ever changing needs and preferences of customers. To do this, you have to be well-grounded, you have to be a good listener, constantly seek feedback, both positive and negative and improve upon your product or service based on their inputs. If you don’t listen to your customers, you run the risk of becoming defunct. Many organisations have burnt their fingers by their lack of foresight or their inability to adapt to change. For instance, the chairman and founder of the now defunct Digital Equipment Corporation had famously said in 1977, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” No wonder very few have ever heard of the company.

A bit of advice to those of you entering the workforce is be a good team player. It is not always possible to run the whole mile alone. Remember that being able to get along and work with other people is a great asset in the corporate world. People are important and nothing can happen without them. It is people and your colleagues who help make things happen for you – who give you the chance to prove your worth. Any organisation is only as good as its people.

You also have got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work, imbued with as much passion and perfection you can muster, is to love what you do. If you have not found it, keep looking. Do not settle for the next best. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it. In the trajectory of this search, you have to trust in something – your instinct, your destiny, life, karma, promise whatever. This approach has never let me down; it has been the single-lane bridge from mediocrity to excellence.

You will be tested to keep your ethical and moral fortitude and it is very easy to get carried away. It is up to you to stay alert and not get sucked into disreputable conduct, business practices or anything else which has even the slightest whiff of impropriety. It is true that your sound education will definitely give you the upper hand at the beginning. But in the long run it is your reputation which will determine how much success you ultimately achieve. The more successful you get, the higher the chances of being pulled into unethical and immoral business practices. And the most common excuse for such unethical behaviour is, “everyone is doing it”. Always bear in mind that your reputation once lost, is almost impossible to earn back. There is no such thing as a temporary breach of integrity – you cannot make amendments later. So do not stay in any place where doing the right thing is not an option. Work honestly, make people trust you and let them depend on your integrity.

At a recent strategy meeting at HDFC, I shared with my employees what I believe are the principles for ethical business conduct. To remember them, I called it the “HORICA Principles” which are:

  • Honesty – There is no substitute for the truth;
  • Openness – Be frank and straight forward;
  • Respect – Value each individual and treat them with dignity and respect;
  • Integrity – Say what you will do and do what you say;
  • Care and Concern – Show it for all stakeholders and;
  • Accountability – Be personally responsible for all your conduct and actions.

Let me conclude by saying that the great adventure of life lies ahead of you – so seize every opportunity you get and achieve all that can be yours. May you be blessed with instinct and intelligence to make the right choice, in the right way at the appropriate time. May you be the mantra the world will follow. Thank you.