INTERVIEW Best-selling business writer Subroto Bagchi explains his success mantra for young entrepreneurs to SHONALI MUTHALALY
Subroto Bagchi politely refuses to get on stage. “Maybe we can do this interview somewhere quiet?” he says, looking nervously at the crowd gathering for his book reading. Bagchi is unexpectedly self-effacing for a celebrity. And make no mistake, despite his low-key appearance, he is a celebrity.
In Chennai to launch his newest book, “MBA at 16”, Bagchi is one of India's best-selling business-book authors. But that's not why he's remarkable. He's inspired small-town India, guiding aspiring businessmen and young entrepreneurs. He's proved that success isn't always linked to inherited wealth, nepotism and fancy degrees. And ethics will never go out of style. In his ‘Kiss The World' speech, which went viral after he delivered it to the Class of 2006 at IIM, Bangalore, he talks of being the “son of a small-time Government servant” in Koraput, Orissa. He grew up with no electricity or running water and was home-schooled till he was eight years old. Today, he's the founder and Chairman of Mindtree, one of India's most admired software companies.
“When I started corporate life it was a shock to be in Delhi. To be in the corporate world. I was trying to make sense of it all,” he says. “Actually, I began writing at 16. But, at 16, you write poems about love and frustration,” he laughs. His first business articles were for Data Quest magazine, which was run by a friend. “Business and technology articles were in demand then, IT was booming and I found this was a nice way of not only learning new things but also connecting to the world.”
Then Penguin asked him to write a book, “The High-Performance Entrepreneur: Golden Rules for Success in Today's World.”
He went on to write two more books, triggering an outpouring of enthusiasm and gratitude from across the country, particularly the small towns. “They identify with me,” he says. “I'm not your typical metro rich kid: extremely well-qualified, from a good school…”
The other reason his first book struck a chord, he says, is because it's a practical narrative. “People tell me it was their first read before they started their own businesses. I also get an equal number of people who say the book showed them why they shouldn't get into business. It made them ask themselves fundamental questions…”
His books have been translated into Hindi, Marathi and Tamil. What surprised Bagchi were the Korean and Chinese translations.
“I suppose it's because there's a new curiosity about India. Fiction from India has always been available, but business books were not expected to come out of here.”
He defines himself as a business writer.
“My books are management books. Not self help. “Go Kiss The World” tugged at people's hearts. It was written for B town India, which has come to play a mainstream role in the country today.” He states his new book, “MBA at 16”, is completely different from his past three. “It occurred to me that today's 16-year-old is going to be part of my industry in four years. At 16, they have curiosity, imagination. They want to explore the world. But the world of business doesn't talk to them. And they're left to draw their own conclusions,” he says, adding, “They grow up believing that the business world is ‘Me, Myself and I'. All corporate jets and oak-panelled boardrooms. That business is selfish. And all business people are corrupt. That mould needs to be broken…”
Half-way through the manuscript, he realised he was out of touch with the world of teenagers. “The last time I had met a 16-year-old was 13 years ago, when my son was that age! So I spent four Saturdays with 31 school children, and then threw away my original manuscript and rewrote the book.” To understand him, you need to first understand that his idea of success isn't strictly conventional — i.e. money, power, fame. “I am a simple definition of success,” he says, adding thoughtfully, “Well, not so much a definition as a description. Success is not about what you consume. It's what you leave behind. It's a capacity to build a legacy. To achieve extraordinary things with ordinary people.”
He counters accusations of naïveté fiercely, convinced that the principled can, and must, survive in contemporary Indian business. “Good in the history of humankind has always been in a minority. The more non-believers there are, the greater the need is for people like me. Our job is not to battle evil. Evil cancels itself. You see that happening all around us. Our job is to keep doing the good stuff. Cynicism has never saved the day.”