Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Rules and tools for leaders - Anil Dhirubhai Ambani

• Dhirubhai’s down-to-earth guide to effective managing

• The enormous success of Reliance was built on a set of core human values: mutual trust and respect, enduring relationships, self-belief and faith

• In any situation, Dhirubhai would say, there is only 1% which is owed to luck, fortune or god’s will, the rest is up to us

AMONG my earliest management lessons from my father, there was one about the meaning of ‘ownership’. I remember asking him the question — during one of our numerous discussions on management ‘theories’ soon after my return from Wharton in 1982. At the time, Reliance was not a household name and Dhirubhai was yet to acquire his legendary reputation as Independent India’s greatest creator of wealth. “A modern enterprise”, he said, “is not about ownership, it is about trusteeship. It is not about amassing personal fortune, but about enhancing the collective wealth of millions of shareholders.” Long before corporate governance became a fashionable buzzword, Dhirubhai had grasped the foundational principle. For Dhirubhai, creation of wealth was only one part of the equation — the minor one. Far more important, was the sharing of this wealth with others. Building great businesses, he said, requires putting the interests of other stakeholders before one’s own. Throughout his life, the father of India’s capital markets thought of Reliance shareholders as one large family, to which he was forever beholden. Not for nothing is Dhirubhai remembered as a great visionary, a dreamer. “All of us”, he would say, “have the capacity to dream. It is the human condition. But for me a visionary is one who has the God’s gift of dreaming with his eyes wide open.”

In his inimitable way, Dhirubhai had underlined the single most important strategic attribute of leadership, namely, foresight — the ability to think many steps ahead of time, to sense opportunities where others see only hurdles. He had foreseen, long before anyone else did, the true economic potential of our great nation. Being a visionary meant rejecting safe, incremental thinking. True growth, for Dhirubhai, came from giant leaps of imagination. Dhirubhai would urge people around him to challenge conventions and think in multi-dimensional ways. An example of this was his refusal to accept the dichotomy between life and business. “What is good for life is also good for business”, he would say, “Never ever compromise on values.” The enormous success of Reliance was built on a set of core human values. Mutual trust and respect. Enduring relationships. Self-belief and faith.
Humility seems an unlikely candidate for a lesson in high management philosophy. But it ranked high on Dhirubhai’s list of virtues. “I am a humble school teacher’s son”, he would say. “But I have thousands of extraordinary people working with me.” Most of us feel threatened by those more gifted than ourselves. But not Dhirubhai. He went to great lengths to find the best people. “A leader never feels small. He is never afraid to say, “I don’t know. You don’t become tall by standing next to someone shorter.” Hence, his life-long mantra: “Do what you can and delegate the rest to the best.”
And once he had identified the ‘best’, he would back them all the way. He abhorred micro-management and believed in empowering everyone at Reliance: “Don’t shy away from taking tough decisions. The success of your decisions will be yours, the failures mine.”
Dhirubhai, to his eternal regret, never went to college. But this didn’t prevent him from reflecting deeply on the most important questions in life. I remember asking him once: “What is the definition of a true leader?” His reply was so stunningly simple that it seemed, at first, to be banal. “A leader”, he said, “is one who attracts followers”.
But, as with most things Dhirubhai said, the apparent simplicity of his answer hid a kernel of great truth. What he had indicated, in his characteristically earthy way, was that leadership is not a matter of inheritance or right. Nor is it an off-shoot of power or wealth. Leadership is a function of merit. It lies in the ability to inspire others to put their faith in you. It is only by the strength and force of personality that one becomes a true leader.
It is in this light, that he told me at the time of my joining Reliance: “Today, you have a choice to make. You can either demand respect or command it.” A leader, for Dhirubhai, commanded respect through his actions, values and character. Dhirubhai was a devout man. Yet, he believed that destiny was a matter of choice, not chance. “What we are, is a given, but what we become is a matter of hard work, motivation and perseverance.” In any situation, he would say, there is only that 1% which is owed to luck, fortune or god’s will, the rest is up to us. Life, for Dhirubhai, was an open-ended journey, full of possibilities. He always insisted on looking to the future. “Learn from your mistakes but don’t let them bog you down. Because in life, there is no ‘rewind’ or ‘fast forward’. We have no option but to keep playing till God presses the ‘stop’ button.”

(The author is vice-chairman and managing
director of Reliance Industries Ltd)

This article was published in the Economic Times dated 07-12-2004

Sunday, December 05, 2004


THE SPEAKING TREE: Father, Lead Me from Sakam to Nishkam - Anil Ambani

Karmayogi was my father Dhirubhai Ambani's other name. He was a man of action. But as a true follower of the Bhagavad Gita , he acted not for himself, but for humanity. In the true spirit of nishkam-karma , he remained free from attachment to the fruits of his action. Like a true bhakta , he attributed his good actions to the Lord of all souls.

The Gita is the essence of Krishna's message. Its wisdom and fundamental truths are eternal, guiding man through life by revealing the purpose of human existence. The timelessness of its teachings applies to all beings, helping them lead a divine life. The Gita , imparted directly to Arjuna by the Lord himself, calls for virtue and glory, truth and character, but, above all, for an unconditional surrender to God. "Come unto me for refuge", says Krishna. But the discerning have always realised that such an attitude of trust is only possible if it is not limited to the relationship between the human and the divine. Since the divine is an aspect of all of us, trust has a central place in all our relationships.

Among the many human failings, the one that is most destructive of trust is arrogance, which is rooted in the illusory reality of 'I' or 'ego'. The source of human ignorance and error lies in not being able to recognise that the individual atma or soul is but a part of Paramatma — the Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient. There can be no 'I' or 'ego' in atma , because that will set it farther apart from Paramatma . There is scarcely another human weakness that Krishna focuses on with greater urgency or insight.

Ego is the source of all our troubles. It is, as the divine text puts it, the feeling of separateness, the sense of duality, the idea of being distinct and different from others. It is an arrogant and obsessive sense of ownership, the passion of sakam , that has lost touch with dharma. Humility then is neither a sign of human weakness nor just another polite virtue. It is the essential foundation for building everything that is just, lasting and permanent. "Of creating without claiming", as the Tao Te Ching puts it, "of doing without taking credit, of guiding without interfering". This was the abiding truth which guided the life of Dhirubhai. He never saw himself as an owner.

I have often asked myself if humility and trust are matters of individual temperament — an aspect of our samskar and karma — or, in today's parlance, genetic coding. And, every time, I have come to the contrary conclusion. It's not easy, I admit, but we can all learn to be humble and trustful, as long as we have the ability to love all beings as one's own self. That is the quintessential first step in a long journey of individual, social and spiritual evolution.

All spiritual insights depend for their conviction and sustenance on a profound sense of faith. Without faith, there can be neither trust nor humility nor indeed respect — which is always commanded and never demanded. "The ignorant man, without faith" as the Gita puts it, "goes doubting to destruction... For the doubting self there is neither this world, nor the next, nor joy".

My thoughts are today focused on performing my duty or nishkam kartavya . To act without attachment or the desire for fruits. For that path alone, as the Gita says, would lead me to a purity of mind, and to attain Param Dham — the supreme realm of God when Jivatma drinks the nectar of eternal bliss. May the eternal prakash guide me, ever humble, towards manushya kalyan .

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