Ironically, a great part of my business inspiration comes from Mahatma Gandhi because most of my management principles are drawn from him. He was not a politician, nor a general, nor was he a businessman, nor was he a prophet espousing any particular religion. His life was his message and when he left this world, he created an impact. He created a crater in the mind of man that no other man has been able to do since. And not many have been able to do before. Also, I find it very practical to apply Chanakya’s principles of arthashastra when it comes to running business. I can also draw my business inspirations from people like Martin Luther King or Mandela!
If you are looking at specific business idols, then I would have to mention some individuals that I’ve had the good fortune of running into, albeit accidentally. I find Sam Walton founder of the Wal-Mart chain, at one time the world’s richest man in the world, very inspirational. I ran into him when I was working after graduation in Arkansas in the United States. I was visiting Clarksville, Arkansas, where my brother was studying in the University of Ozarks. Sam Walton was a patron of the University and would very often visit the campus and just sit down and watch the young people walking around. What struck me most was his simplicity and how down to earth he was. He was very approachable and I had at least two or three conversations with him over a few weeks back in the early 80s…more than 20 years ago. Those conversations continue to inspire me till today.
On another occasion in 1982-83, when I was studying in London and driving a cab to pay my way through school, I picked up this gentleman from the airport. We had an interesting conversation of no particular significance, about everything under the sun for more an hour, before it hit me just 20 minutes from the destination, that my passenger was none other than the legendary JRD Tata. He was just so simple. I admired and continue to admire this approach to life which he exemplified through his demeanor, his simplicity.
What I recall from these fleeting memories which continue to stand out is how very down to earth both these men were. On both occasions, I got a glimpse of their vision. In today’s business world, Richard Branson evokes and inspires me in the way he continues to prove the world wrong. He appeals to the maverick in me. Also, recently, after watching the movie Guru, I have been inspired by the life of Dhirubhai Ambani. Closer to where I live, Li-Ka Shing is another business mogul I look up to. He is a man who made his mark only at the age of 58! Until then, he was a nobody. And now, the wealthiest billionaire to come out of China.