May I begin by thanking the Vice Chancellor and the deans of the business school and faculty of Health and Social Sciences for giving me the honour of participating in today’s function and giving away the certificates and awards and congratulating the graduating students.
I have been asked to say a few words and I have chosen to address briefly the question: what makes one a good professional? And, as I do not believe I am qualified to answer it myself, may I draw from the greatest boss I worked for and from an ancient book of wisdom. The boss I am referring to is one Prakash Tandon, the first Indian to be appointed a manager by any multinational – in this case by Unilever India in the 1930s. In time, he became their first ‘Indian’ chairman. Many regard him the greatest Indian manager of last century. He was also the founder chairman of India’s best known business school - Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He was therefore eminently suited to answer the question – what would make management a profession, like chartered accountant, doctor or a lawyer.
His answer was - three things.
- In any profession, first, there are entry standards: you need to acquire a specialised body of knowledge and practical expertise. Indeed this is what Bedfordshire University has given you. But, it is only the beginning.
- Second, a professional has to adhere to high standards of professional conduct - in particular, display a competency called ‘self confident integrity’. The self confidence comes from diligent professional work. Once you have done that, you need to say your piece and stand your ground. It is about, both, professional standards and personal ethics and courage.
- Third, a profession is about practice - best practice, contemporary practice. When you go to a doctor, you want an advice not on the basis of what he or she read when they qualified but on the basis of current best knowledge. This is possible only if the members of the profession collectively, constantly, upgrade the knowledge and practice base and continue to update themselves.
Interestingly, what my one time boss – by any standards a highly westernised one - said, much the same thing has been said in what must be the earliest recorded convocation address. It is in an ancient Indian work ‘Taitriya Upanishad’ and was delivered by a rishi, or sage, to graduating students, some thousands of years back.
I will first say it Sanskrit and then explain.
‘Vedam anucyacharyo ante vasinam anusasti:
Swadhyaya pravachanabhyam na pramaditavyam.’
The sage starts by saying ‘having taught you the Vedas, which literally means knowledge, let me give you this final piece of advice as you set out on the rest of your life’s journey.
- First, satyam vada: or speak the truth. Saying the truth does not simply mean you do not lie; it means in the first instance you find out what the truth is and then say it. Although we are in the sacred premises of a church, I am not ordained or qualified to speak about the moral aspects of what this means. I am looking at it in an organisational context: it calls for diligence, humility, openness of mind, an inquiring disposition, application and effort to figure out what the truth is; and of course, the courage and conviction to speak it.
- Second, ‘Dharmam Chara’. The word Dharmam is too profound to be translated into one English word: it encompasses being righteous, doing one’s duty, adhering to fundamental values etc. It basically means, not just talk the talk, but, as we say these days, walk the talk.
- Third, the sage says, persevere with ‘svadhyaya’, or self learning, as well as, ‘pravachana’, teaching and contributing to others learning. These have to be lifelong missions.
You will notice that amazingly, not surprisingly, what has been said millennia ago by purveyors of knowledge in India is very similar to what my 20th century boss, educated in England and socialised in a leading western-world multinational for over 30 years, said – now that you are qualified and about to set on your career, be clear about your professional stance, speak up and stand up and back it up, adhere to professional and ethical standards and contribute to your and others’ continuing learning.
So, to the graduating students: I congratulate you. And, as the Vice Chancellor said, even as you embark on your professional career, may I pass on to you two pieces of advice that I received and have benefited from:
- First, live up to impeccable professional and personal standards of conduct – satyam vada and dharmam chara. Some of you, I expect, will work in parts of the world where standards of public conduct may not be very high. All I can tell you is I worked for 30 years for an enormously successful organisation, most of the time in one such country: neither I nor anyone else in the company ever made compromises on ethics or probity.
- Second, this is only the beginning of your learning: continue to equip yourself professionally and contribute to its growth. You owe it to yourself and your profession.
Once again: congratulations and all the very best.