Big things usually come from small beginnings. I was born in a small town in Orissa to a junior level government worker. Being a small-town kid only made me more determined to achieve much more than anyone expected from me. The future of India lies in tier two cities.
Be adaptable. I changed five schools in eight years and have moved 14 houses in my life. Being accustomed to physical displacement has made me more willing to work outside my comfort zone. Everyone wants to move up in life, but to achieve that you must be able to move around as well. Not necessarily physically, but you must be willing to change fields and adapt to situations.
Make your imprint on people early. In 1975, I was up for selection as the best NCC cadet in the country. In the interview, I answered the first question extensively and thereafter, the entire process went smoothly and I was chosen. That taught me that when you make an immediate impression on people, it sticks in their minds.
You are less in control of your future than you think. A lot of young people fret over their careers and wonder what direction to take. Personally, I never really had a plan. I seemed destined for a career in the civil services, but instead chose to become a clerk. Thereafter I became a management trainee with the DCM group, and kept climbing the ladder all the way to Wipro and then MindTree. But I never really worried about where I was going along the way.
Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward. After a while at DCM, I found that I had stopped learning. In 1981, someone suggested that I get a sales job in HCL, which was a start-up at that time, but it meant a 40 per cent pay cut. I decided to take the job and since then computers and computer technology has been my life.
As a leader, it’s all about winning the mind game. In 1988 I took over the task of debtor management at Wipro at a time when the number of debtors was going through the roof. I realised that the problem was that the sales team was too shy to ask for the money. I personally met the area sales managers and changed their mindsets. Once I made them understand the problem, action followed.
It’s important to know when to call it quits. In 1985, I started a training company called Project.21 with two partners. After a slow start, we won a contract to handle Wipro’s training requirement. But I didn’t feel that the company was going anywhere, so three years after it started, I parted ways with the company. That taught me how to take the pitfalls that come with being an entrepreneur.
It’s not necessary for everyone to be an entrepreneur. If that were the case, then who would do all the work? At Wipro, though I was an employee, I treated it as my own company. It’s as hard to be a world-class professional as it is to be an entrepreneur.
Never rush your decisions. Often one feels pressured to make hasty decisions and ends up making the wrong ones. Never discount the importance of research and considered opinion in making an important choice.
Don’t be scared of your seniors. In life, you need to command your own authority and you will never do that by cowering in front of people with power. At Wipro, I used to argue even with Azim Premji if I felt I was right.