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1931 ~ 2015

APJ Abdul KalamFormer President, top scientist, Bharat Ratna…. These are just some of the titles that come before the name of APJ Abdul Kalam who died today in Shillong, collapsing in the middle of what he loved doing most — talking to students. In this case, the students of the Indian Institute of Management. He was 83.

Born 15 October 1931 in Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu to humble parents – his father was a boat owner — APJ Abdul Kalam distributed newspapers at one time to support his family and his education.

He graduated with physics from the Madras University, went on to study aerospace engineering, wanted to be a fighter pilot but just missed that bus.

But there was no stopping him. The DRDO, ISRO, chief scientific advisor to the prime minister in 1992, the Pokhran 2 nuclear tests… Abdul Kalam straddled them all, till he was elected India’s 11th President in 2002.

It was the role he will probably be most remembered for — a president who brought Rashtrapati Bhavan to the people…. earning him the tribute of the People’s President.

“If you want to shine like a sun, first burn like a sun,” APJ Abdul Kalam had said in one of his inspirational speeches. He certainly did.


APJ Abdul KalamThe world in the 21st century will be a knowledge-based society with multiple opportunities. I was reading a book ‘Empires of the Mind’ by Denis Waitley, which reflects upon the type of new world we are experiencing now and throws light upon what was yesterday and what is today. I would like to share ten points with you. I have modified certain points of the author to suit our Indian conditions and added a third line in each point, which relates to the role of the universities or the institutions of higher education.

It particularly says that what worked yesterday will not work today. If we can work on these ten points, it would be fantastic.

  • The first point is that yesterday, natural resources defined power but today, knowledge is power. Now, who will give you this knowledge? Educational institutions, great libraries, and the internet would be the powerhouse of knowledge.
  • Second point is that yesterday, hierarchy was the model, but today, synergy is the mandate. Educational institution will be the enabler of intersection of multiple faculties towards the vision goals.
  • The third point says that yesterday, leaders commanded and controlled, but today leaders empower and coach. Potential leaders will be empowered through exposure to the needs of sustainable development.
  • Fourth point is that yesterday, shareholders came first but today, the customers come first. Education should inculcate sensitivity towards customers’ needs.
  • Fifth point is that yesterday, employees took order, and today, teams make decisions. Educational institutions can inject team spirit in the students.
  • Sixth point is that yesterday, seniority signified status, and today, creativity drives status, as a creative person is the best person. Educational institutions need to breed an environment for creativity.
  • The seventh point highlights that yesterday, production determined availability and today competitiveness is the key, which is powered by research. A university has to have the motto of teaching and research and where there is research, you will get good teaching.
  • Eighth point would be that yesterday, value was extra, but today value is everything. Today, value-based education system has to be introduced as part of the curriculum.
  • Ninth point is that yesterday, everyone was a competitor, and today, everyone is a customer. During education, industrial and entrepreneurship training is essential.
  • The tenth and the last point is that yesterday, profits were earned through experiences but today, work with integrity and succeed with integrity.

Home and educational places should become learning places.

The next dimension of knowledge society and economic development is the knowledge economy. The objective of a society changes from fulfilling the basic needs of all-round development to empowering the education system, which will be promoted by creative, interactive, and self-learning, formal and informal education with focus on values, merit and quality. The workers in the knowledge society, instead of being skilled, will be semiskilled, knowledgeable, self-empowered and flexible. The type of work, instead of being structured and hardware driven, the management style will emphasize on delegation rather than giving command. Finally, the economy will mostly be driven by knowledge. The emphasis of the knowledge society will be on sustainable development, which plays a very important role.

What will be the profile of the knowledge society?w Recently, I was in the University of Arkansas, USA for delivering a series of lectures. When I was about to leave Arkansas on Saturday morning, I got a phone call on Friday night from the Walmart chief. He requested me to attend a Saturday morning retail distributors’ summit where Walmart would address 3,000 participants. Since I had read about Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, I had the urge to see the uniqueness of the retail business and their partners. Sam Walton became the leader in retail stores; first by learning all, the rules of retail business and then breaking all the rules, which did not make sense to him, Sam Walton, did not become a billionaire because he was a genius. The real explanation for his success was that he had the courage of his conviction. He encouraged new manufacturing centers, new firms, new processing centers wherever the distribution is located and created a new business model, which reduced the transportation cost. As new graduates, you would go for employment, or if you become employment generators, you must know how with the retail business you can make a difference, which was one of the key characteristics of his career’s principles that he kept learning throughout his life.

Another business philosophy of Walmart is to work with integrity and succeed with integrity, which is very tough. When I entered Walmart store on Saturday morning at 7 a.m., the meeting of Walmart’s distributors was in progress. Before entering into the meeting, the Chief took me into two rooms, one room was Sam’s room from where he carried out his business, and the other room was a meeting room where a number of chairs and tables were placed. It was a small room. They explained to me that this is the place where billions of dollars of business are negotiated and carried out with total transparency.

For Walmart, each member of the organization is an associate ; they call them Associates. For every outstanding performance, there is a cash reward which is given without publicity; I was astonished to see how transparently they do business, and bring saving to the consumers; consumer is your customer. For example, in 2006, saving reported for the consumer was around 287 billion dollars, which is equal to nearly 2,500 dollars per household.

This is how Walmart fulfilled its corporate social responsibility, in a transparent way.

Now I would like to share the story of three leaders, one from the industry, one from the field of science, and the third from the space. I will talk about how these visionaries performed and what is the uniqueness of these visionaries. I would like to start by sharing with you India’s great visionary in space science technology, Prof. Vikram Sarabhai, who was my guru. I worked with him for seven years. Very rarely in life’s journey, great human beings influence one’s life in such a powerful way. I was fortunate to work with Professor Vikram Sarabhai for seven years. While working closely with him, I saw the dawn of the vision for space program, which is now a one-page statement. Witnessing the evolution of this one page from many years of ceaseless work by a great scientific mind was really a great learning for me. Also, I was thrilled to see the famous vision statement of Professor Vikram Sarabhai, made in the year 1970. It states that India, with its mighty scientific knowledge and powerhouse of young, should build its own rocket system, and also build its own communication, remote sensing and meteorological spacecraft and should launch from its own soil to enrich the Indian lives in satellite communication, remote sensing, and meteorology. When I look at this mission today, I feel overwhelmed to see the results of this statement. Today, India can build any type of spacecraft, any type of satellite launch vehicle, and launch it from Indian soil.

Indian Space research Organization (ISRO) has all the capacity with its mighty facilities and powerful human resources, because of the vision of Prof. Vikram Sarabhai. Consequently, India has been able to launch and place Chandrayaan, in the lunar orbit, which has completed its mission and found water.

This was a space visionary; now I am going to share an incident about Sir CV Raman, a Nobel Prize achiever for discovering the Raman Effect. Raman was in the first batch of recipients of Bharata Ratna,the highest civilian award in India.

The award ceremony was to take place in the last week of January, soon after the Republic Day celebration in 1954. The then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad wrote to Sir C V Raman, inviting him to be the personal guest in Rashtrapati Bhavan. When Raman came to Delhi for the award ceremony, he wrote a polite letter, regretting his inability to go. Sir C V Raman had a noble reason for his inability to attend the investiture ceremony. Sir C V Raman explained to the President that he was guiding a PhD student and the thesis was positively due for submission by the last day of January. The student was valiantly trying to wrap it up all and Raman felt he had to be by the side of the research student to see that the thesis was finished in time, signedby him as the guide and submitted. Now here was a scientist, who gave up the pomp of the glittering ceremony associated with the highest honor because he felt that his duty required him to stand by the side of the scholar student. It is this unique trait of giving value to science that builds science. This one experience shows how leadership can be given for the growth of science. We need be in the mind frame of Sir CV Raman.

The third example is that of an industry leader. At this point, let me share the meeting between Swami Vivekananda and Jamsetji (J N Tata) during a ship journey, in 1893. The ship was sailing from Japan to USA and there were hundreds of people in the ship including two significant personalities, Swami Vivekananda and Jamsetji Tata. Swamiji asked Jamsetji what mission he is travelling for, in response to which Jamsetji said that he wanted to build a steel industry for British India. Swami Vivekananda blessed him and suggested that steel technology has two components, one is steel science, and the other is manufacturing technology; what you can bring to this country is material technology to build material science within the country. Jamsetji thought about it and made a decision. When Jamsetji went to London, he asked for technology transfer for steel plant. Lucus steel manufacturers looked at Jamsetji and said that if Indians will make steel, Britishers will eat it. JN crossed the Atlantic Ocean, talked to the Americans and brought manufacturing technology for steel. And TATA Steel was established in Jamshedpur. Jamsetji was not there then, but 10 million tons of steel per annum steel was rolling out from the Jamshedpur plant.

The visionary Jamsetji gave one portion of his asset for starting a science institute, today known as Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore. The message from this story is “Dream gives vision, vision gives thoughts and thoughts lead to action”. Jamsetji brought two establishments to India, first one was steel plant, and the other was education research institution, based on the vision of Swami Vivekananda. A visionary with his blessings paved the way for a genius to establish Indian Institute of Science in 1899. The Indian Institute of Science born out of vision of a great mind is the foremost scientific research institution in India providing post- graduate education. This institution, as envisaged by Swami Vivekananda, has one of the best material science labs, providing the best of research resources for development and production of material; for research and development in various areas also, it has various areas for physics, aerospace technology, knowledge product, bioscience, and biotechnology. This is one institution where convergence of technology happens like Biotechnology, Information technology, and Nano-technology. The result will have tremendous influence in improving solar cell efficacy, health care, etc.

Let me also describe my visualization of the distinctive profile of India by 2020. In another eleven years’ time , what will be the distinctive profile of India by 2020?

  • A nation where the rural and urban divide has reduced to a thin line;
  • A nation where there is an equitable distribution, and adequate access to energy and quality water;
  • A nation where agriculture, industry, service sector, work together in symphony;
  • A nation where education with value system, is not denied to any meritorious candidate because of societal or economic discrimination;
  • A nation, which is the best destination for the most talented scholars, scientists and investors;
  • A nation where the best of health care is available to all;
  • A nation where the governance is responsive, transparent and corruption free;
  • A nation where poverty has totally been eradicated, illiteracy removed, crimes against women and children are absent, and none in the society feel alienated;
  • A nation that is prosperous, healthy, secure, devoid of terrorism, peaceful and happy, continues with sustainable growth path;
  • And finally, a nation that is one of the best places to live in and is proud of its leadership.

Now the question is, how do we achieve this vision? To achieve a distinctive profile of India, we have the mission of transforming India into a developed nation. We have identified five areas where India has core competence for integrated action: agriculture and agro food processing; reliable and quality electric power; surface transport and infrastructure for all parts of the country; education and health care; information and communication technology and self-reliance in critical technology. These five areas are closely interrelated and if developed, in a coordinated way, will lead to food, economic and national security.

This mission is visualized for the development and infrastructure, for bringing rural prosperity through Provision of Urban amenities in Rural Areas (PURA), through creation of connectivity of three areas, namely, physical, electronic, and knowledge leading to economic connectivity. The number of PURA in the whole country is estimated to be 7,000. Education institutions can participate in evolving a road map in development of PURA in their region. I have come across such example in Periyar PURA, Tamil Nadu, where students and teachers of Periyar College of Engineering and Technology, are working and planning for the development of a cluster of 65 villages involving one lakh population. It provides hands on experience for the students in taking up societal mission.

We should ask ourselves a question: “What willI be remembered for?”

I am sure that you would like to do something different, something out of the box. I can suggest some work that the nation and the world needs. Will you be remembered for a visionary action for the nation like Prof Vikram Sarabhai or Homi Bhabha or JRD TATA? Will you be remembered for creating a company, which finds a place in top 100 of Fortune 500 companies, from India? Will you be remembered for facilitating the creation of hundred PURAs providing for the urban amenities in rural area in your region? Will you be remembered for becoming a pioneer for finding smart water in the states and interlinking the rivers in the nation? Will you be remembered for revitalizing or revolutionizing the integrated primary health care center in public-private participation model? Will you be remembered for working and creating a validated system for the production of 340 million tons of food grain and add value addition through food processing by the year 2020?

Will you be remembered for modernization of 10 million small and medium scale industries and addition of another million by providing private equity ventures? Will you be remembered as a venture capital banker by introducing a unique private equity funding for the ideas that will bring new dimension to the society? Will you be remembered for bringing energy, independent for the nation? Will you be remembered for the action- oriented clean home, clean environment, clean state, and clean nation? Will you be remembered for developing one million enlightened youth in your region, who will participate in the accelerated societal transformation of the nation? Will you be remembered for establishing and nurturing five hundred billion dollar retail chain like Walmart, which will bring a revolution in Indian retail, keeping in mind the interest of all the petty retailers spread across the country, and the customers? I would suggest that you decide on what you will be remembered for as quickly as possible since that statement will act as goal post for you and facilitate for your systematic work of the realization of that goal.





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