Thursday, July 2, 2009

A brand in public life

As Nandan Nilekani takes up his assignment with the Government, our columnist recounts the many positive qualities that this Infosys leader brings to his new role..

Nandan Nilekani: A personal brand that could ensure success for the new project.

One of the most profound statements that I have heard in recent times is by Nandan Nilekani, when I went to interview him for my first book One land, one billion minds.
He said, “You become a brand not when you talk about yourself, but when others talk about you.”

Today the whole of India and one suspects other parts of the world too will be talking about Nandan as he takes charge of the prestigious project on giving every Indian a unique number.

When we were young the joke used to be, “Yes you may know Richard Nixon, but does he know you?”
I can say with a fair degree of confidence that not only do I know Nandan but he too knows me! (If I may add along with a thousand others I am sure). For, not only is Bangalore a “one horse town” where everybody knows everyone else, but also because Nandan by nature is an extremely friendly person.
One of our common friends describes him as a “role model in networking”. I know that the word networking does sound a bit suspicious, but not in the case of Nandan.
He has referred me to several of his friends very, very graciously as “an expert on brands in India”. Now how can anyone be critical of a person who links you with friends and prospects in this manner?

Disagree without being disagreeable

Today many corporate leaders in India are brands in their own right. Media loves them or hates them even, on occasion. They do not hold back on the Government or the bureaucracy. They criticise the poor infrastructure or the Government’s policies, sometimes unfairly.

Fairly or unfairly they certainly raise the hackles of a few people. I am sure successful people are entitled to their opinion and media too would much rather publish the views of celebrities than those of ordinary people like you and me.
Nandan has a point of view, he feels strongly about the country and the need for its development and yet his views have never been really controversial or headline grabbing, a philosophy that others who might have ambitions in public life would do well to remember and even try to emulate.

When I was young, I used to be more hot blooded than I presently am but I always remember my uncle’s words, “You can disagree, but don’t be disagreeable!”

Only when you give will you get

The poet Kannadasan who represented all my literary knowledge at one stage of life, wrote “there are crores of people who are worse off than you, take heart from that”.
But people like Nandan have quietly turned that around by not merely feeling glad that they are better off, but by actually giving back to society by way of contributing time, money and tremendous guidance to a number of causes that are close to their hearts.

I know of enough organisations that are doing noble work which have benefited from his largesse and, as always with the founders of Infosys, all of whom have large hearts, they have donated generously as individuals while the company has got the mileage.

Courtesy demands acknowledgement

I have worked with several busy executives who seem to be caught up in their own tangles of time management.
They never answer their mobile phones, are almost always in meetings and never acknowledge mails.
Of course, being the polite individual that I am, I do not let it pass and keep telling them that it is easier to get through to Dr Manmohan Singh.
They grin sheepishly but continue in their self-centred, inconsiderate ways.
Nandan is a wonderful exception and serves as an example, responding promptly to mails and calls.

I wonder if there is something that we who claim to be busy all the time can learn from the likes of Nandan.

No personal agenda

A few from corporate India have made it to public office.
They are visible in the media and often talk about serving the country and how India needs more talented people from the corporate world.
I agree wholeheartedly with this principle. India has a paucity of talent, particularly young talent, where it matters, in public life.
Yet I wonder if some of these self-styled leaders have anything other than the interest of the industries they serve or the companies they still own.
Half the time they are lobbying on behalf of their own industry category.

Nandan’s prompt resignation from the board of Infosys, a company that he helped found, led and guided for several years is indication that he has a larger agenda, the development of India.Challenge, opportunity or both While it is a tremendous honour, there is no denying that this job will be no bed of roses. India is steeped in red tape. The red tape in other countries may only be a pale pink in comparison. It will require patience, man management and the ability to get people on to one’s side. Many in Government could have personal agendas that conflict with the general good. Nandan has the qualities to succeed in this environment and demonstrate that running a project in government can be as successful as running it in the private sector. I am sure that the personal brand that is Nandan will ensure that brand India succeeds in this ambitious project.

(The writer is CEO of brand-comm and the author of Googly — Branding on Indian turf.)


Sundaram said...

Hello Sridhar:

It is nice to read and reflect on your articles. Hope the following comments will find favour of the author so that it can be shared with other readers; it may trigger actions for common good.

Ordinary people do extra-ordinary things, goes a saying on the streets in the Western part of the world. One may expand on this saying that this thought may not get milage or publicity in India. There are exceptions, indeed. Some who have been extra-ordinary in life feel they are ordinary and continue to do common good, enter NN. A great asset for the current Indian Scene.

Hope NN will make a fundamental difference wherever he goes.

Some thoughts of the Indian situation for your and reader's consideration and reflection in the current context:

There are so many inequitable tax laws (tax excemptions, tax freedoms), unusual industry preferences and treatments, etc., that inundate the indian economy and living. This makes life inequity more glaring and sad. This makes people with less information and access, less clout, caste disadvantages, and already poor....poorer beyond imagination and in perpetuity more distant from the ideals of INDIA SHINING, the permanently forgotten masses. Some forces by themselves and in collusion perpetuate this situation, may be unknowlingly some times. Nevertheless, the consience of each of us must investigate and come up with an honourable approach to equity for one and equity for all and work and arrive at a just society.

There is a very small percentage amongst us who have been "the kitchen workers" all along, who are the doers, who do not take credit and remain in obscurity, taking the heat and toiling in labour, when vast majority of us are in the dining rooms enjoying the fruits of the labour revelling in vain glory completely detached and disconnected fron the predicament of those in the kitchens.
i beleive, yourself abnd NN will approve this thought.



Ram said...

The entire infy top management come across as a group of totally unselfish people working with a larger agenda in mind and they have an excellent succession plan within the company. And they seem to time their exit to the T. I have a great innate respect for first generation entreprenurs who make it big since they generally start from a zero base with no god fathers or should i just say no fathers around. Hats off to the infosys top brass for the way they have portraied themselves to the general public. I guess Mr. Narayanamuthys values have percolated right through to one and all at Infosys. And best wishes to Nandan in his new role.