The ICF Coaching Conclave 2021, India had a series of accomplished leaders sharing their most valuable insights covering a vast range of topics revolving around coaching. I also got an opportunity to listen to some of the brilliant minds of the Industry.
I attempt to capture some of our collective key takeaways from the talks. The first session commenced with a powerful address by Mr. Sridhar Vembu, the co-founder and CEO of Zoho Corp. In the last 25 years, Zoho Corp. has emerged as the largest software product company out of India. Mr. Sridhar is well known for taking software development functions from urban to rural villages in India, setting up Zoho schools that provide vocational software development education to rural students. In the world where most chase success, Mr. Sridhar chose to pursue excellence and purpose which was subsequently followed by success.
“Pursue Excellence & Purpose. Success will eventually follow”
A profound expectation from a good leader is that s/he must have a clear vision; s/he should know where s/he is heading in order to achieve the true purpose and to stand out as the best in the world. Mr. Sridhar supported this with an example; Indian steel, for example, isn’t the best choice for many foreign producers, though India started manufacturing steel even before Japan, which is now considered the best in the world. Indian products need to aspire to be the best. India produces great talent in the world, yet the absence of aspiration to be the best puts India at the lower ranks.
I share his belief that we have to empower the academic system to bring awareness among the students, the future citizens of the country must ask themselves “Why is India still behind?”
Most of the capital goods are imported into India. They embody the detailed knowledge of the production process. These technologies are used in many industries in India, but we lack the aspiration to understand the technical know-how, which increases dependence and restricts India’s self-reliance. “Only when we understand the processes well, we can resolve any problem and upgrade to advanced technologies”, he opines.
India is perpetually behind when the production processes come to a halt at uncertain times or when there is a breakdown of machinery. Mr. Sridhar says basic products involve sophisticated industrial ‘Know-How’. It is crucial for us to understand the know-how, to become self-reliant. Self-Reliant Individuals create Self-Sustaining businesses which in turn fuels Self-Reliant Economies.
An eye-opener for me, during the session, was when Mr. Sridhar outlined the belief of Zoho Corp. He said, that the company functions on the belief – “Making the code rather than Running the code”. Zoho Corp. runs independently all by itself. It makes the code, runs, and upgrades itself to match the standards of the advancing world. When the European Data Protection Regulations needed European data to be kept in their country, the Zoho Corp came to the fore. I believe that it is an incredible ability of Zoho Corp. to be able to dynamically incorporate multifarious changes and it was made possible because they controlled the entire value chain. This is a critical step that made Zoho Corp. self-reliant.
Companies that progress and blaze the trail are the ones that embrace the culture of Innovation. Mr. Sridhar clarifies the bedrock of Innovation is Failure. Zoho as an organization allows and accepts failures. He adds, “I understand how crucial it is to adapt to the culture of accepting failures as a pathway to success, in order to create confidence for building “Writing the Code” behavior. R & D cannot succeed without failure.” As Mr. Sridhar puts it aptly, “It’s not like a train running on time. Rather it’s laying the track on an unknown terrain”.
Another key learning from this session was how leaders inspire confidence in the teams. The essence of leadership is to get down to the floor, meet the production workers, understand the problems and provide solutions, from mere lecturing to actually demonstrating how to do it. Mr. Sridhar has exemplified this, visiting the cubicles of his employees, having candid conversations with the coders, and no need to mention the story of the watchman, who became a coder at ZOHO Corp. And all of this was made possible because of inspired leadership
It’s tough to believe how Mr. Sridhar, though a successful business person, has been living in a village of Tamil Nadu for over 2 years, only to understand the lives and the problems of rural people, which has helped him in being rooted and finding his true purpose. It was a wise decision to start a business to solve those problems. He personally felt, in order to create jobs, being in business was necessary. He is an engineer but was not a natural-born businessman. He taught himself a business and created a tech business. The prevailing problem was that the agricultural incomes are low in India. He desired to boost the income and add more value by understanding the pains of the farmers by himself, which he shortly calls “Learning by Doing”.
Our country has a renowned heritage. Therefore, as its citizens, we must look deep into the Indian heritage, which has a lot more wisdom than the management textbooks of the world. Quoting Swami Vivekananda Mr. Sridhar added, “India can be the light to the world”. India teaches contentment and humility, the core of our heritage that is visible in the villages. The “enough mindset” creates excellence. Excellence, that provides better solutions to the problems. That is when leadership gets transformed into Servant Leadership – leadership for the sake of service, something that Sridhar Vembu embodies. In his address, he mentioned this, “Mr. Srinivas Ramanujan solved innumerable mathematical problems not to earn awards but because he was interested in providing solutions to problems, which was his purpose. When we aspire for the best from the world, we also need to give the best to the world.”
Apart from making an outstanding presence in the field of business, Zoho Corp is actively involved in a lot of social works. It has established schools for building self-reliant citizens of the future nation. The focus is on preparing students to be confident to face the future and not feel insecure about obtaining a job. They want to create a Job creating mindset rather than Job seeking one. The education system followed at Zoho Schools is as per the National Institute of Open Schooling. They are not pressurized with exams, but the students develop projects. Zoho schools are placed in a rural setup; the students are taught farming, handling equipment, and using surroundings as a way to learn.
I have had the pleasure of looking at and experiencing the Education system of India from the grassroots level – the real Indian Education System, the Government schools, the amenities, and the implementation of schemes. After hearing Mr. Vembu, I feel the Indian Government must take a leaf or two from the success stories of Zoho schools and replicate the same to improve the status quo.
Mr. Vembu concluded his address with this quote,
“Beginning of wisdom comes from eagerness to learn”
A leader should be humble to learn even if it is from the subordinates. Unfortunately, in the world today, we put leaders at a level above all and expect them to know everything, and unfortunately, the leaders too pretend to know everything, while the reality may be different. Humility is the key to remaining rooted and serving society to the best.
Finally, I will conclude this reflective post with this! The root word of ‘Business’ is actually ‘state of being busy’ or so we were taught. But hearing about Sridhar Vembu sir’s daily schedule in the village offices has changed the philosophy of business. For me, it has become prioritizing purpose over profits, and that would mean, being happy over being busy! Yes, he shared his daily schedule, and one day I aspire to have a similar schedule and mindset:)