Tryst with an Icon
Updated: Sep 29
Leadership interaction with Mr. S.D. Shibulal, ex-CEO and Co-founder, Infosys
“S. D. Shibulal better known as Shibulal was the chief executive officer and Managing Director of Infosys.”
..boasted the Wikipedia page about the founder of the company whose representatives had flown down to our college for recruiting the best of us into their team. It was the placement season and being a fourth year student, I was trying to feed my tired brain with as much information as possible about the companies that were arriving for recruitment. Infosys was one of the first ones. It was the mother of all companies who caught the fantasy of many a youngster like me. The story of the company that took the IT sector in India by storm and its seven founders was the fairy tale that my generation and the generation before us grew up hearing.
Fast forward three years, life had taken a different trajectory and I chose to be in the education space. During the first few weeks at Mantra4Change, the NGO I work for currently, I discovered the very man I had googled three years ago is the man who is funding the organisation I work with. He however still remained a mysterious figure in the shadows that I could never approach. I mean, how could a twenty something nobody meet a man who led a blue-chip company.
This was until I saw a Google invite pop up in my mail asking me to either accept or ignore dinner with Mr. S. D. Shibulal & family and Mr. Murali Krishna (ex-CIO, Infosys). “Ignore? Are you joking”, I asked out loud to my innocent laptop! I was beyond excited and the several text messages on our team’s Whatsapp group confirmed that, so were my team mates.
Mr. John Prakash and Mr Ansal Scarria, principals of two of our partner schools waited graciously along with us to meet the team. As we trooped our tired yet excited selves into the brightly lit conference room, it was clear that we were at loss for words. I remember Khushboo’s voice ringing through the room as she made the initial introduction and a pealing silence that followed. This however lasted for a just a few seconds and then, when Mr. Shibulal had broken the ice himself, Team Mantra (including the school principals) couldn’t stop reeling question after question at the man.
The discussion started with challenges in scaling an organisation like Mantra, moving onto policy changes in education and eventually closing off with setting up organisational culture. The man was crisp and to the point, typical characteristics of a CEO.
Here is the wisdom chronicled for the aspirant entrepreneur who happens to read this piece, go ahead the world is at you feet when armed with knowledge and wisdom. Mr. Shibulal spoke about the three hurdles any organisation would face when scaling namely, finding the right talent with commitment to the cause, maintaining consistent quality throughout (Standardise, he said) and finding the right leadership group that can take the organisation forward. To paraphrase Mr. Shibulal,
“For any organisation, especially the one like yours that focus on social impact, three points are of immense significance:
· Practice your idea. Go to the ground and work damn hard to show the feasibility and impact of your idea.
· Policy changes can take your idea to every place in the country and make it sustainable. Once you have the proof points, influence the policy makers, get the policy amended.
· Papers will help you spread your idea. Spread it. Let others use it as a model, for now you have proof and there is policy backing. Nothing stops you now except yourself.”
The discussion moved onto various challenges faced by the education sector and the lustre and romance that the field, once held in high regard, has lost. It was rightly pointed out by the team of mentors before us that the respect needs to be brought back to the teaching profession. Once called “the backbone of the country”, the typical teacher of this era has to survive a rather thankless society.
As we touched upon the topic of setting up organisational culture, Mr Shibulal was again crisp and short. Here I am, again, quoting the man who brought an entire organisation of thousand odd employees into the company on time every single time.
“The culture has to be penned down and articulated, the leader has to lead by example and finally appreciate the rule advocates and penalise the rule breakers. This induces the network effect which capitalises on the mob mentality of human beings. Nobody would want to be the black sheep and be singled out for being the culture wrecker.”
As we took our places at the dinner table, the glutton in me took a break when Mr. Shibulal elaborated on the various endeavours his family had ventured into and how much the family has contributed and continues to contribute to the society at large. On being asked what keeps him going, Mr. Shibulal answered, “When you gain from the society, you need to balance the equation and give as much as you can. When you consume more resources, the bigger is your responsibility to serve the society.”
Memorable, indeed that night was with great food, a warm company and wisdom beyond my age and of course the tryst with an icon.
– The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who used to work as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.