The Sunil Handa Guest Talk

Sunday mornings on campus are like desultory conversations. There is no saying when they’ll begin, where they’ll end and what track they’ll follow. This Sunday morning was a little different. Of course, we all woke up groggy-eyed from the night’s revelries. Unlike the other Sundays though, we woke up at the ungodly hour of 10:00 am. Somewhere amidst the stupor, we’d realised that Sunil Handa was coming to campus for a guest talk and we were acting with this never-before sense of urgency. By, 10:30, an eager auditorium was nearly filled with students. Normally it requires dire threats like compulsory attendance and other draconian laws to fill the auditorium. This time the students came on their own.

Sunil Handa is a familiar name in the B-school circuit. All of us have global gyaan on him, associate him with entrepreneurship, know that his motivational speeches are highly regarded. Few of us really knew anything substantial about him, until today. Just like many of us have a latent dream and nebulous plans of starting our own venture, articulate them in our B-school interviews but rarely have the motivation and wherewithal to take the plunge.

He started speaking, about entrepreneurship – his own experiences and those of his students. One had expected in his speech, a very polished, almost stilted English style of a Professor talking to his young students. Instead, the professor frequently ditched formal for vernacular, eschewed pompous English sayings for simple Hindi aphorisms, and replaced jargon with plainspeak. Here was a self-made gujjubhai, cut from the same cloth as most of us, with an authentic nasal twang to boot.

Three or four things came out clearly from his talk. The first was about taking the plunge – the urgency and the ease of doing it. He used the CAT as an example to show how those who had risked everything, resigned from their job and devoted themselves full-time to crack the CAT, enjoyed a better chance of success than those who tried to minimize their risk by holding on to their job and hoping to scrounge into the IIMs simultaneously. Similarly, or to an even greater extent, it is difficult to have a job, dream up an entrepreneurial venture and then leave the job when the venture becomes successful, he said. Because, when you’re doing a “Lallu job”, you can never think beyond its narrow confines and do what you were meant to do. To make you realise how eminently doable this (starting a business) was, he told you that nearly all his 300 successful student entrepreneurs had started with a capital investment of 2 to 8 lakhs.

Another theme was perseverance. Most of his students  had succeeded with their seventh or eighth venture. He himself had bit the dust with several failed businesses including a management consultancy, a ceiling fan distribution agency, a TV distribution agency before finally coming good with a pharmaceutical venture.

He then went on to obliterate a few myths , starting with job security. What security does a job in this cut-throat corporate world provide, he asked? According to him, today if you are above forty and without a job, you’ll be condemned to be jobless for the rest of your life (convenient friend’s example cited). A small mom-and-pop store in the corner of your locality, a self-owned business, is what provides true job security. Another myth busted was about the need to have specific personality types to succeed as an entrepreneur. He gave the example of Raghavendra Rao, owner of Orchid Chemicals, one of the most anonymous and introverted of his batch-mates at IIM Ahmedabad batch of ’79.

And so on and so forth he went, occasionally fielding questions from the participants, buttressing each point with anecdotes and driving them home with witticisms. Some of the stories were as amusing as they were inspiring. He talked about the way he forced one of his subordinates to resign from a routine salesman’s job, because the fellow had potential as a sculptor.

It all ended on an inspiring note. Insights on “What your parents really want from you”. The answer was, “They want you to be successful, reasonably well off, and most importantly, respected in society.”. If a stranger meets your parents and says that they are fortunate to have a child like you, then yours is a life well lived. And perhaps, entrepreneurship is the best way to leave that imprint on this world, across the sands of time.

The simplicity of his message was truly poignant. And there were lump-in-the-throat moments for some in the audience. What better compliment can be paid to a speaker than the fact that complete strangers in his audience were moved to tears.

@ E-Cell of IIM Indore : Thank you for bringing Sunil Handa to campus

3 thoughts on “The Sunil Handa Guest Talk

  1. Nice Post!
    To add to it, the amazing moment for me in the ‘Laboratory for Entrepreneurial Motivation’ talk was Prof. Handa stressing that it was actually all about being self-motivated than anything else – we’ve got to find our ‘murtikars’ within ourselves!

  2. It’s good to see that you guys also had a chance to meet him and be inspired by his thoughts. Hope it goes a long way in ensuring that many fulfill their true dreams. Did he interact one-to-one with any students post the talk??

  3. @Ravi

    Yes he did, he discussed individual B-plans with students (one-on-one) and also had an LEM (Learning Entrepreneurial Motivation, I’m sure you know it) session in the afternoon. RJ was privileged to attend it.

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