Yi Coffee with leader series, Aroon Raman

Coffee with Leader Series with Aroon Raman

Hotel Quorum, 17th June 2015

Report by @vikasceramics

Picture courtesy: @pontsdoulatram

Aroon Raman, Chairman, CII Karnataka 2010 is an entrepreneur, author, and a brilliant story-teller. He has done his masters in Economics and MBA from Wharton. He believes the MBA of life teaches your more.

He recollected his childhood as carefree and joyous. He lost his mom at a very young age. Grandma and aunts raised him, and he was always their favorite.

His dad, who used to work for ITC, Kolkata and was his first guru.

An interesting incident about the origin of his name:

His dad attended a lecture on Purandaradasa by a sadhu. One of the messages in the lecture was how to give positive energy and stay away from negativity. So the sadhu recommended, name your kids after your enemies. In that way, you can get away from negativity. Hence, his dad named him after Aroon beedi, back then the biggest competitor to ITC.

(Side note: In the movie Gandhi, there is a cameo appearance by Om Puri. The Mahatma is fasting at Kolkata against the religious clash there. Om Puri throws a roti at the Mahatma, telling him to eat it and break his fast. Om Puri comes and confesses to having killed a kid. Gandhi recommends as a penance, adopt a kid of the opposing religion and take care of him/her. It is hardly a 2-minute sequence in the movie, but one of the best in it. Profoundly powerful. Watch it.)

He also recollected how his dad used to tell him a story every night on the condition that Aroon has to come up with his own the next day. This set his imagination soaring where nothing was impossible.

Leadership is storytelling. Leadership is a leap of faith. Leadership is belief.

Stories spark the imagination. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. It is very important to be grounded, to be comfortable across all strata of society. The sparking of imagination is powerful when we are young. Gradually, as we grow up we restrict ourselves to being too logical.

He recollected how until class 6 he was consistently in the bottom of a class. But his dad was cool about it. His academics improved only after his class 10.

We humans are constantly worried. Starts with exams as kids, good marks for 12th class, admission to a good college, good job, find a suitable spouse, then worry about the admission of kids. Hence, our life has become like a road with traffic jam. We need to stop worrying and make our minds like a high-class traffic free highway. We shouldn’t sandbox. Putting limits on us damages our creativity and creative intelligence.

Curiosity is the key to creativity. – Akio Morita, Sony

In 1983, he was a part of Freethinkers party during his college days in Delhi. The students agitated against the suspension of their leader and gheraoed the Principal. They were put into Tihar jail for 9 days. He lost 12 kilo in those 9 days due to horrendous food, high temperature (48 degrees Celsius) and lack of water. But he came across a section of society to which he had no access. He even met the notorious, Charles Shobharaj. He realized, that under extreme circumstances, the real, true character of a person is revealed. Circumstances make the person what s/he is.

One pickpocket guru used to tease him, your Masters, is just two years. To be a good pickpocket, you need at least 5 years. One and half years go just in observing and understanding the psychology of the victims, that too under the guidance of a master pickpocket.

Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has something to teach us. But it is obvious only to an observant and open mind. Don’t be judgmental. He narrated how Karsanbhai Patel’s cleaner, Jithu Bhai, gave an out of box idea to transport Nirma washing powder in the empty Sintex tanks. Creativity can come from anywhere. You don’t need a Ph.D. for it.

Create an exciting life. Know what you are passionate about. What makes you tick? Look to improve your inner landscape (A K Ramanujam). Make it rich. See the funny. Look for the bizarre. Connect the unconnected. Narrate the stories around you. Write a word. Write a sentence. Write a paragraph. Write something. See it through the eye of a child.

Micheal Faraday, an ordinary book binder’s assistant, went on to read science books and developed a fascination for it. What a great inventor he became. Achievements come from adversities.

We need to differentiate ourselves, have clarity, what it is PQCDS (product, quality, cost, delivery, and safety). ABB and other huge power equipment manufacturers had a lead time of 6 weeks.  Raman boards decided, we will deliver in 1 week. All resources were aligned according to this vision. This became the axis of differentiation for Raman Boards, so much so that finally ABB had to acquire them as they started eating into their market share.

His team of SSLC and Diploma guys from the interior towns of Nanjangud and Chamarajanagar could stick with a problem longer than PhDs from IISC. Their work ethic, never-say-die spirit, is there in all of us. We just need to persevere longer with the problem. Attack it from multiple sides. Be open to role reversal. Work relentlessly. There is no other way. Keep the window open.

To lose from a pupil must be the aim of a teacher. Be that kind of a teacher.

He then recited a couplet from Sant Kabirdas, the greatest management thinker of all times:



Keep your critics close by, they will correct you to the right path.

Find out what you want what difference you can make. Achieve the extraordinary. Don’t look linearly. Break the monotony. Be disruptive. Read, understand, implement.

Srinivasan Sir, ex-Widia, questioned Raman Boards, Why you are not in the top three in the world. He said, don’t answer me now, and think.

He then explained how this translated as a clear goal, to become a Siemens approved vendor. It was a 3+ year exercise, wherein the journey transformed the company.

While setting up a unit in China, they visited an interior town. The chairman of the company they were visiting drove them to the plant. He had the humility to accept he is a good driver/mechanic, but not a good engineer.

Ask the right questions. Develop capabilities, not excuses. Don’t just raise the bar, change the bar. Think hatke. Put in the effort in a focused direction. Results are inevitable.

Thanks to team Yi for organizing this series.

It was one of the most inspiring sessions I have attended. I have not even been able to capture 10% of the passion with which he addressed us.

Please send your feedback to rajeshgoutham67@gmail.com

Excuse my limited ability to articulate.

I am an SJCE alumnus, worked for AT&S and Infosys. Now I run a tiles and sanitary ware business based out of Mysore. I strongly recommend, you invest in a good commode, that’s where you get your most creative ideas. 😉


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