Mind Without Fear – A Book Review

I finished listening to Mr. Rajat Gupta’s [photo credit: Wikipedia] memoir ‘Mind without Fear’ in just two sessions. It is a compelling story of the Mind and the Times of an exceptionally accomplished person. He had the good luck to be the right person in the right place to become first non (white) American managing director of McKinsey & Co, when the firm was ripe to go global. He was the wrong guy at the wrong time when he entered the financial markets with the wrong guy, and got the wrong overzealous prosecutor thus getting jailed for two years. He draws inspiration from his father who was an Indian Civil Services officer during the British rule but resigned Mahatma Gandhi’s call for freedom and was jailed and beaten mercilessly with permanent damage. He also draws inspiration from the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose beautiful poetry threads the book and gives it the title of Mind without Fear. He also draws solace from his strong family and the many friends who stood with him and believed his story. He however deeply regrets not taking the stand and testifying in his own trial, as he received overwhelming advice from his lawyers and his loving family that allowing the prosecutor to question him directly will be too risky. At the end of it all, he comes out of the ordeal with his head held high, without much bitterness for those who deserted him including the McKinsey firm who dismissed him summarily and took his name off their alumni list.

I believe Rajat Gupta’s story, as I have done over the years. He is a fellow IIT-Delhi alumnus ten years my senior. I met him at Pan-IIT meets in 2007 and 2009. He looked handsome and seemed very honest and a good listener. I do remember some of the stories of the next few years as the attorney Preet Bharara with political ambitions set his sights on a fellow successful Indian. There was a story in the Indian press about Preet Bharara and Dr Sanjay Gupta, whose moms knew each other from India, about whose son is doing better in the US. I recall a feeling of a certain revulsion at that approach to achieving success by beating down an iconic fellow Indian. Some of my well-meaning friends however felt at that time that greed and power had gotten the better of Rajat Gupta.

Rajat Gupta has done much good work including seting up Indian School of Business and starting the Public Health Foundation of India. He also started the Global Fund against three major diseases. These inspirational stories are laid out in great detail in the book. That alone makes the book worthy of attention. What the book does not tell is that none other than Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys, compared Rajat Gupta with the first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru for having started two world class organizations in India. I also salute Rajat Gupta for his great work. May God grant him strength to continue his good work. He wants to work on the American penal system which he observed from the inside and found deeply lacking. He should also write a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, the book that he read during his incarceration and which helped him come out stronger, with malice towards none and with his head held high!

Age and Happiness

I did data analytics for a long-term project on family businesses, while at Case Western Reserve University a little over 2 decades ago. Using survey data from hundreds of respondents across dozens of companies over several years, we tried to analyze predictors of success at family firms. The astonishing finding was that the biggest finding was not about usual factors like ‘Succession Planning’ and ‘Clear Strategy’ etc. The biggest amazement was that across almost all dependent variables, the age of the respondent showed the greatest impact. We found what I used to call a bucket curve. For respondents under the age of 30 and below, their perceptions of their company was good. Similarly, for respondents of age 50 and over, their perceptions of their company was good. In the middle age, the respondents’ perceptions were not too good, across all variables. No other independent variables, like gender and education level and years of experience and even whether the respondent-employee was also a member of the owning family, made any difference. The AGE variable ran away with the whole variance, and thus the whole story.
We went to the retired dean of the school of business to express our excitement, amazement as well as trepidation at such a result. This old wise man looked at the results, asked some questions, and said that it all makes sense. The younger employees are glad for what the company has given them. The older people are looking back with pride at what they have achieved. It is the folks in the middle who are nervous and frustrated  as they have half their career behind them and want/expect the company to give them more opportunities to do better.
The paper was sent for publication on the strength of this finding. It got published at Family Business Review, the top journal in the field, in 1997.  Twelve years later I accidentally discovered that this paper had been included in the authoritative Handbook of Family Business all these years (there are less than 30 papers in that handbook). This paper was significant for just this insight, that age changes perceptions like nothing else. At our age, we are mostly happy as we have accomplished a lot!