Dean Speaker’s Series–Gurcharan Das

My name is Melanie, and I’m in my first year at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. I grew up in Seattle but chose to go out of state to UC Berkeley because it has always been my dream school. I entered Cal as a determined pre-business student but quickly heard word-of-mouth of how competitive it is to get into Haas. I became a little fish in a big sea and had to learn to navigate through the immense opportunities at Cal. In Haas, I was a still a little fish but the sea got smaller. Yet, I still had to learn how to navigate through all the opportunities Haas offers.

Last Thursday, I took advantage of the Dean’s Speaker Series opportunity and attended the evening talk with Gurcharan Das, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble India and world-renowned author of India Unbound. The Dean’s Speaker Series provides Haas students with an invaluable opportunity to capitalize on Haas’s well-connected network and listen to prominent business leaders from around the world.

When I entered the Wells Fargo room, I saw a mixture of my peers, MBA students, and professors. I felt in awe of my Wells Fargoaudience but also nervous of what to expect. Should I have read his book before attending the lecture? Should I have prepared insightful questions to ask about current reforms and political parties in India?

As soon as Das began speaking, his charm and charisma shone through and I immediately became at ease. He began by lightheartedly commenting on Robert Goldman’s, South and Southeast Asian Professor at UC Berkeley, introduction of him as a “management guru.”

Das’s speech outlined India’s economic history and discussed his view on India’s economic future. He summed up India’s economy in the last century by the numbers 1, 3.5, 6 and 8. India’s economy grew steadily at 1 percent until independence in 1947 when the growth rate picked up to 3.5 percent. The economy gradually increased until liberalization in 1991 when the growth rate boomed to 6 percent.  By 2011, India was the fastest growing economy at 8 percent. However, today the growth rate has fallen to about 5 percent.

Gurcharan DasDas contributes this growth rate decline to the trade off between growth and equity or “inclusive growth.” In 2004 to gain rural electorates the Congress Party advocated for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which guaranteed one hundred days of work for every rural household at minimum wage. The Congress Party created a “dream team of reformers” led by Sonia Gandhi who believe that social welfare is more important than growth.

While social welfare is important, Das claims that more than fifty percent of social welfare programs are wasted because of lack of state infrastructure. He argues that a country has to reach a certain level of wealth before they are able to spend on social welfare.

Das also provided his viewpoint on the heated debate of whether India or China will rise first. India and China both believe that their destiny is to reach a U.S. average of $40,000 per capita income. Contrary to popular belief, Das argued that the race between India and China is not about who will be wealthier first, but rather who will have the most conducive structure to grow and maintain their economies.

One of Das’s most famous quotes is “India grows at night when the government is asleep” meaning India has risen India Grows at Nightalmost despite the state.  India has a bottom-up success structure with a strong, democratic society and a weak political state, while China on the other hand, has a top-down structure with a strong state governed by the elite and a weak, disempowered society. The race for whether China or India will rise first will be about who finds the optimal balance between an effective political and societal structure. Das’s perspective brings awareness to the fact that economies are not in a vacuum, but rather are subject to the political and infrastructural context in which they operate. His perspective on finding the balance between politics and society reminds me of a quote from Bill Gates of Microsoft: “I built Microsoft in the U.S. rather than in a third world country as the educational, staffing and political-societal infrastructure was in place to allow and expand upon innovation.”

Despite a poor educational system and infrastructure, Das is hopeful about India’s economic future because of Jugaad. Jugaad is a Hindi term that describes the ability to turn adversity into an opportunity to innovate and create more value at less cost for people. India thus far has produced 25 globally competitive companies and has a second-tier of such companies. Das believes this spirit will keep India moving ahead despite the apparent obstacles.

For me, one of the most impactful messages from Das’s speech was what makes a leader. Das said, “the two things all great leaders have in common is not intelligence but rather determination and humility.” As I thought about these qualities, I realized they aligned with Haas Business School’s defining principles. Determination relates to “Beyond Yourself” in that a leader must be able to look at the big picture and work towards growth for the right reasons. Defining PrinciplesHumility relates to the core principle “Confidence Without Attitude” in that we have to be able to accept when we are wrong and build an atmosphere of trust. Das said we often over-prioritize intelligence when it is attitude that truly matters. We can always train people in skills but changing attitude is difficult.

After his speech ended, I was able to walk up to Gurcharan Das and shake his hand. In that moment, I realized the immense value behind the Dean’s Speaker Series. The perspectives that worldwide leaders of industry have developed over decades are personally delivered right to us. Haas provides us with access to powerful resources and an incredible infrastructure for our growth.

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