Subroto Bagchi: The Moral Dilemma

With no regard for ethics, Indians may well succeed, but India will not. Is that what we want?

The Man: Up until March, when he was made the chairman of MindTree, Subroto Bagchi had one of the coolest job titles in the whole of IT industry—gardener. His role was to nurture the top 100 leaders of MindTree, a company he co-founded with eight others in 1999. He says the only way you can get obedience and compliance is on a platform of morality.

The Moral DilemmaThe Oeuvre: Wrote four books, each one of them spelling out rules for success, drawing on the lessons from the lives of professionals and entrepreneurs. He also writes the hugely popular column Zen Garden for Forbes India.

X-Factor: Imagination, confidence and communication.

The Message: We should stop being blasé about integrity in public life.

The Hypothesis

If a society and its government fail, can business succeed? There are no easy answers. After all, in failing societies and poorly governed countries, business does take place. Sometimes it may even flourish.

So What?

The right to govern is a moral right. It cannot be demanded, it is merely given. You cannot govern anyone by force; not even your own child. The only way you can get obedience and compliance is if the child sees you on platform of morality, not a platform of force. Physical power does not resurrect a failed parent. That precept is true of any political system as well. When politicians and bureaucrats choose to abdicate moral ground, business simply loves the concomitant result.

I want to start with a very basic question: If a society and its government fail, can business succeed? There are no easy answers. After all, in failing societies and poorly governed countries, business does take place. Sometimes it may even flourish. In a country like Rwanda, there are people buying and selling items of everyday living as much as medicines and armament. In bombed out Iraq, where the government vanished, there remained a currency and trade; people did business with each other. In Afghanistan, business continues because people must live. Business, by its very nature, seeks out opportunities in everything. The larger question really is whether we want to be in a situation where societal and governmental failure need not worry us business folks because we will be there like roaches after a nuclear holocaust; whether we want to be amoral because the job of business is not to lay down the moral code.

Last year, I spent four weekends with a group of sixteen-year-old school students. I sought them out while writing my latest book, MBA at 16, to get a sense of what they thought of the world of business and what they wanted to know about it. The most important question they had for me was whether business could exist without being corrupt? Later, when I was exchanging notes with the vice chairman of the school, an educator of great vision and capability, I told her about the question and asked her if teachers came across such questions from young people as well. She told me about a very serious debate that was going on among a group of students on morality and a few of them, tenth graders all, asked—what was the big deal in going to jail for a few months for making a few crores? The debate was taking place during the height of the 2G scam. The view that a jail trip was a rite of passage unsettled me hugely and I have not yet come out of my anger and sadness that we, the present lot, have led the most promising generation in Indian history, to come to such reasoning.

Many years back, after coming back from office, I found my two daughters, both school girls then, fighting bitterly. The younger one levelled a complaint of bad behaviour against the older girl as the two came fighting down the staircase. I was standing at the bottom. As I intervened, I firmly asked the older girl to apologise. She said no, she wouldn’t. In a moment of misplaced anger, I slapped her. She looked at me in the eyes and screamed, “NO”, turned her back and stormed up the staircase and locked herself in her room for the rest of the night. So here was my 12-year-old daughter who had openly disobeyed my instruction and the physical punishment did not deter her from rejecting my authority. I was distraught all night. It was a miracle that the next morning, she did not hold it against me. But in slapping her, I understood for the rest of my life, a fundamental precept: The right to govern is a moral right. It cannot be demanded, it is merely given. You cannot govern anyone by force, not even your own child. The only way you can get obedience and compliance is if the child sees you on platform of morality, not a platform of force. Physical power does not resurrect a failed parent.

That precept is true of any political system as well. When politicians and bureaucrats choose to abdicate moral ground, businesses simply love the concomitant result. As a nation, the problem before us today is that society, bureaucracy and politicians see nothing wrong in what they are doing and in that context, today’s 16-year-old is asking what is wrong in going to jail for a short time, if the return-on-investment is lucrative enough?

Last month, I went to a private engineering college to understand the challenges faced by the industry in getting right talent. A very transparent young administrator gave me the run-down. The qualifying marks for an engineering seat is 45 percent. There is a test, albeit to determine how bad the student may be so that the amount of donation can be inversely settled. Once the matter is settled, whoever has referred the prospective student to the college gets a cash-back of anything from Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 20,000. It could be a tout or fellow villager, a school teacher, whoever brings the kid, gets the cash. On the spot. This is not one-off; this is standard operating procedure for 90 percent of engineering colleges. What happens when the kid cannot subsequently cope? No issues, large companies come with fishing nets and take them all and if someone gets left behind, he/she has to pay the placement officer some money and that person slips the weakling in to the next large fishing net. After a few months, the employer sacks the guy and he goes wherever but the family is happy that the kid got “campus placement”. The placement officers are not forgotten by the fishing net folks; they are taken on junkets to places like Dubai and Thailand! Students in their high school and college begin to build a world view and then they enact it. If we are blasé about the issue of integrity in public life, as we are today, what would happen to the nation?

Earlier, I talked about the cathartic example of my slapping our daughter. My show of force had failed to achieve anything. In reality, it turned against me. That night it occurred to me that if a spurned parent were to repeat the violent act, such an action, instead of getting compliance, could lead the child to seriously deviant behaviour; she could run away from home, take to drugs or kill herself. The entire night, I was sleepless and remorseful.

Today, when we see governments fail in the forests of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and the North East, it is a slapped child turning away. My daughter returned to me the next morning, forgiving me for the indiscretion, because at some level, I still had a moral right over her. But the lesson for me was not to take that for granted and not to push my luck.

So parliamentarians wave currency notes on the floor. A chief minister files a Rs. 40-crore income-tax return and the tax authorities just accept the explanation about her source of income; that she was given the money in small change, as tokens of affection, five rupees and ten rupees at a time by her followers. Serving generals usurp housing meant for war widows. Assembly men watch porn during a debate in the house. A spokesman for one party gets filmed on tape while fornicating in his office and the army chief accuses his ex-deputy of trying to bribe. Indians may well succeed, India will not. Would that be good for us? Do we want our children to be citizens of a failed state?

Link to original article

Comments
Mangesh More Says
Thursday May 24th 2012

We have reached a state of moral Bankrupcy in Political and Goverment Admin field. Corporate world is still much better compared to them.
System needs to be more transparent. Effective lokpal could help in getting things bit better.
Hope we get good lokpal bill and its implemented well.

    TAPAS K. DUTTA Says
    Monday June 17th 2013

    Terror corporate rob openly the luck of common Indians and the politicians, media leave no stone unturned to coceal nudity of fraud corporate to keep their power of cheating alive.

suryanshu goswami Says
Thursday May 24th 2012

Talking about corruption I would site an example. We normally think that an immoral behavior where small amount of money or small favors are involved is not corrupt enough to use the word corruption! Only where we deal with large enough sum under the table, it should be called corruption.
I was part of recruitment team of an IT company and we went to one of the biggest colleges in south India. We stayed for 2 days and recruited around 800 on zero slot. There was standing instruction not to reject anybody until the candidate is too bad, as we got zero slot beating others. And talking about the hospitality of the college, it was larger than life. 5 star accommodation with open menu for lunch dinner, unlimited alcohol at night of the highest cost and quality. We can always argue that it was the college’s responsibility to provide us hospitality. But I never imagined that it would be of this scale! My moral self was all the time tickling me with this uncomfortable thought, that all this outrageous expense on us from college’s side was to push more students into our organization. It was almost like a kind of bribe, in a different form!!

Akash Mohapatra Says
Friday May 25th 2012

This article is really splendid. It reminds me a lot of such moral lesson taught by my parents & as a child my reaction to them. This article allows us to know where the root cause of these problems lies which we find day to day in our lives & societies. But, yet to understand how can we tackle the same at various stages of human life. Whether it is really a matter of concern to give our children the required type of nurturing during their childhood & youth so that external bad impact will be less on them from being influenced.

Akash Mohapatra
Rajgangpur, Orissa

Sunday May 27th 2012

We all see the truth in its nakedness. We are frustrated and feel helpless. We want an Anna or an X&Y to come to the streets & fight for the cause. But then what is stopping us from doing anything about it? We are all somebody or someone within a society or a nation and we do not want to come down on our positions. The conflict is very clear. It is between India and the Indians. When there is a situation wherein each one of our activity is directly associated with the PRIDE of the NATION, then the sense of NOTHINGNESS within us will allow us to set apart all our other positions as Individuals of this Nation and stand by it as INDIANS. Are we prepared for it? This is the question of conflict before us. If each of us can find an answer to this, then it will not take long before the NATION reemerges as per the Dreams of those who gave their lives for its cause.

Sunday May 27th 2012

The day the women folk at our homes – mothers and wives – will stop accepting the money brought in by sons and husbands that they haven’t ethically earned, corruption will start falling and shall die its own death.
Till then, all is good talk.

Shantanu Das Says
Tuesday May 29th 2012

Thanks Sir,for such a nice explanation citing the example of your daughter. It’s real difficult to clean this dirt, though its not impossible. If everyone of us atleast follow some kind of principles and moral directives, our society can go through a major change . But, the biggest question is whether are we ready to unearth the Hard or easiest path in our everyday life..Thanks Sir, this article has really made me to think and re-consider few things of my life..

Friday June 1st 2012

A very well written article, Mr. Bagchi!

Prasenjit Says
Monday June 4th 2012

India will not definitely and so also will be its citizens, poorer in thoughts and in acts. Individual integrity one can nurture, one can also try and lead by example; however, I feel that the rot is too deep. An individual may not want to stray, but there are lots and lots of examples where society, the economics of the prevailing environment have forced them to take a break from their ideals. I have seen such individuals suffer mentally for the rest of their lives for that small little transgression that they did not wish to commit but were forced to. The cost of integrity in a society thats rotting can be huge and yes, I mean the monetary cost. Ordinary people have limited means and they plan accordingly. The cost of a lost opportunity, the cost of undue delay can ruin the finances of entire families and generations too. The rot needs to be stemmed, try and be honest but having seen some financial ruins, I would say being prudent and applying your mind to the occasion is as important. Going to jail to get rich! I am sure the thought has crossed the minds of many – not may be for personal gain, but just rueing the fact about how corruption is getting rewarded. But I am also sure that there are many there who would like to stop the rot. But how? As individuals, I think we can practice the small things that we have control of. For example, do not litter the streets, do not honk on the road unless absolutely necessary, follow road rules while driving, when approaching a government body for some work – try and approach the officers first rather than approach the tout, follow up a grievance as far as possible and as long as there isn’t a threat of physical or financial harm, look for alternatives rather than bribing. I think sane, like minded individuals should get together to create a framework of transparency – not by taking the establishment head on, but debating and charting out processes that can be a win-win for all sides. History says that revolutions have sometimes been successful, but it has also taught that all revolutions can be. So, if a revolution is not possible, it would be good enough to take one step at a time. I am not advocating anything, but wondering aloud, whether patience may just be a virtue that we keep forgetting.

Subramanian Sankaran Says
Tuesday June 5th 2012

Very evocative writing. Democracy in India today means freedom to misbehave, cheat, vandalize, usurp, violate others rights, deny rightful service, adulterate, short change, exploit, extort, break rules, flaunt political connections and the list goes increasing with every passing year of our so called freedom from British/Mughals etc. India may be great….Indians are not!

Srinivas Says
Wednesday June 6th 2012

A majority of the present day society has become materialistic and egoistic. Hence so much cheos and unrest. There is need for a drastic revamp of societies order. For this we need new education system with more focus on values. Atleast the next generation will have life without corruption and violence.

Sunita Seth Says
Wednesday July 4th 2012

Really a good piece of writing .Inter-relation with usual case of most of the Indian parents or to rightly say parenting..Everybody wants to live in a place that is hygienic in all ways..No one wants unwanted dirt in and around..But i feel its the tendency of mankind that has led to such a chaos..I cannot forget one of my neighbours(when i lived in an apartment) who believed in keeping her house absolutely clean ..absolutely over here means actually in the state of shining floors ,tidy desks an well draped living room etc..but what make me remember her is something ridiculous and thoughtful every morning she used to come out on the terrace with two big dustbins and throw the “kachra” of her house right at the beginning of the staircase..This is what has led to such unwanted dirt all around..I wish we all grow up and give a better place to our future generations ..

Niladri Sircar Says
Thursday July 12th 2012

Sir, I read your Book “MBA @ 16” and I would like to share my thoughts on the subject. Last Monday (9th June) did not keep me away from my office due to Monday blues but for a nasty back ache. I had no choice but to stare at the roof or relax in a wooden chair with a waist belt the only medication recommended. The other option was to turn on the TV and watch the political bickering debates of Bengal or at the stock market updates. I neither did any, but started reading your Book which I picked up from a store during my recent visit our corporate office in Mumbai. I read 120 pages on the first day and finished rest the following day. I would like to honestly admit that a retiring banker has become a virtual MBA without certification. I will repeat reading and has recommended to many of my known acquaintances. I will also pick up rest of the books authored by you. It was aptly written and subject covered well which otherwise would have taken few semesters in any B schools. This willful endeavor will stand in a good stead indefinitely.
And now something about MBA, the Indian billionaire in Mr Bhargav in some kind of energy drink business in US, a drop out from a B School ,termed MBAs as theoretical plumbers. I feel surprised when great institutions in India, mainly Banks are recruiting academically intelligent MBAs with fat packages but with zero experience. They are great in software skills but what future hold for those Banking companies is a hard question to answer.
Finally your discourses in the above books is pertinent for business and manufacturing companies or consumer good selling unit, although basics are similar , would these be applicable for banking or financial industry. The conflict is because for the simple reason, in a manufacturing industry any product not meeting standards fall out from the assembly line and are recycled. A beginner in an assembly line can move up to floor managers rubbing shoulders with young engineers. If a finished product does not move out or slow moving off shelf, an innovative sales exercise is undertaken. What about banks or a Banker. A rookie in a Bank can move up to Branch Manager and beyond any error results in pecuniary or reputational loss. A banker has to be aware of at least 18 laws and acts and deliver. Can a HR policy practiced in FMCG or a manufacturing unit be applicable in banking business? Or sales methodology in Banking differs from former. A debate which students of NPS Bangalore can ignite for a fruitful and yet another lovely Book of yours.

Sreedhar Says
Monday August 20th 2012

Rightly said, Sir. I could relate all my thoughts and views to yours; especially your views expressed in The Professional which touches all aspects of human life.

Given the huge potential and population that our country has, it is definitely possible to make India a Developed Nation within a few years. All that is needed is some alignment of our mindsets.

The main problem lies in our liberty to interpret the ground rules. Rules are meant to be followed as-is, not to be interpreted. This kind of mindset allows each individual to move in a direction, that he feels is correct, and this eventually allows the others to take advantage of the situation. This is one major root cause for increasing corruption, incapable politicians and hence the indiscipline.

Raghu Says
Sunday September 30th 2012

IMHO –
Change should start from ME.
Are we a good living example of the change we are looking in others?
If we expect change, we should lead the change.
I was a mindtree mind, i still keep following Subroto Bagchi blogs. We need people like Subroto who can make an impact in the society and can be a good living example to follow.

Thanks, Subroto, for your thought provoking blogs.

“Blindness in a leader is unpardonable”- Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Bijayananda panda Says
Thursday November 8th 2012

Hi subroto

I am Bijayananda panda.I was with you in B.J.B College.Do you remember me?I am in Bhubaneswar now.If time permits,do contact me on +919437073696

Regards,
Bijayananda Panda

ashokan Says
Sunday January 20th 2013

i have gone through your
The Professional

excellent

all business class should read it and accept the facts.

great service to humanity

Malla Bhaskara Rao Says
Friday February 15th 2013

Dear Mr. Bagchi,
Please allow me to introduce myself.
I am Dr.Bhaskar, Professor of Neurosurgery at NIMHANS. I have listened to your story.
I have a similar story and hopefully will share with you at some point.
Regards, Dr.Bhaskar

muki Says
Sunday July 28th 2013

I see several of my peers growing their wealth by illegal means and I sit here watching them grow thinking an honest guy will never make that kind of money in India. I often wonder whether it is the moral principle that stops one from crossing the edge or the greed of earning that extra bit which makes one forget about morality. To watch others grow in material magnitude while I remain steadfast with my honest decisions is an internal decision I have taken, because success for me is competing with my conscience.

I am brought up in a culture where the elders in the family are strict disciplinarians who question the means of making wealth. Unfortunately today many families are happy to live in extravagance without questioning how that wealth was made. The same moral void is passed off to the next generation who quite naturally feel it’s okay to go to jail for a few days if they can make a quick buck.

Brilliant article Subroto. I throughly enjoyed.

rhea bhandari Says
Monday September 16th 2013

Great service to humanity..

sasidharan Says
Friday December 20th 2013

Dear Subroto Bagchi:

i was told about to read your book “Go Kiss The World” in my post graduate. but i didn’t do that time. Recently i got an opportunity to read that book. Seriously am not a person who always with book. but your book changed my attitude. Really awesome, there is no word to express my feeling. Really, it influence a lot in my attitude. The way which you express is beautiful. it help to forget my dinner and sleep. its be a great opportunity for me to thank you. Thousand thanks for you.

Friday January 3rd 2014

Greetings Mr. Bagchi!
What has happened in Delhi & is happening tells us, “……subah to ayegi, kal bhi subah to ayegi……”. This decade is going to be transformational for Indians & India, is my belief.

Balu Says
Tuesday April 15th 2014

Very Nice Article

mohans Says
Tuesday April 15th 2014

Regarding Moral it’s a very good article

Anu Says
Monday April 21st 2014

After a long time i read a book , that i thought i’ll write,seriously so nice to see a book,need of the day for all of us!!I thought honest Professionals are very few but i was happy to know so many through this book.BUt it is very painful when we are very honest in our work and some unprofessional out of greed or jealous blames us and i have recently started my own training & Consulting firm at jalandhar working honestly and one of my candidate who agreed for all terms and condition later went to my client and started telling all false stories as to how i am with HRD head of the company trying to get him placed which was so untrue as i work hard alone and hardly know what he was saying and later when i tried correcting him on moral grounds as i also give seminars to college students on value education he abused me so very badly on emails and not just that even involved my family memebers my hubby using such an indecent language…since then it is so hard for me to work every second his bad emails are paining me making me angry shall i lodge a compalint agaoinst him for using filthy language or shall i leave him and keep focusing ….never any decision has been so difficult for me Iam to be frank scared as he can do anything which i sensed from him emails he also involved my 4 yr old son…threatening…..so is it better to forget or as a women entrepreneur i shall file case..plz suggest!!

Ramchender Hiring Says
Wednesday July 2nd 2014

I have been a constant follower and a true admirer of Mr. Bagchi’s thoughts. Be it business, social responsibility or simply about living life right he has a flair for communicating things in an extraordinarily effective fashion. No matter who reads his articles it is bound to have a positive effect. Wish someday he goes beyond mindtree and gives people like us a chance to work with him. Thanks for one more inspired article, sir.

    Samitza Says
    Monday July 14th 2014

    I took it out of the Valley. Was in Pioneer Square in a tight parking space. We notiecd 4 homeless guys standing around, smiling and talking. They actually helped us get the truck parked without hitting a pole. We bought their breakfast! So simple goal is to follow my heart and look for opportunities to give a little every day. Nancy

Tuesday July 15th 2014

Everyone needs to pitch in and contribute to governing bodies in India and the state instruments as well, in whatever capacity they can. There is not much use in writing and talking about, and I’d really like to see an awesome person like Mr. Bagchi taking up a better position in administration of the state to effect his brilliant views, not just in the corporate sector or Mindtree but in the overall governance of the state and the country. With that, Indians may well succeed, and India will. And this is what we want.
Best,
Dheeraj Kumar

A.R.Banerjee Says
Sunday August 31st 2014

Seems like the author has had a larve to pupa metamorphosis – from “My Mother is an Ugly Woman” to pompous pontification or shall we call it “intellectual defeacation” about Indians morality!

arathy a menon Says
Wednesday September 17th 2014

i need a job in mindtree…what should i do now??im not geting any responses…

Saturday February 21st 2015

Hearty Congratulations for receiving D. Litt Degree from Utkal university on 21.02.2013. You make us PROUD. We look forward to your guidance in future.

LARIX MOWNTAIN Says
Friday May 15th 2015

Dear Mr. Bagchi,

Are you aware of the controversy regarding the NEXUS building at UF? As a fellow gardener, I ask you to please use your influence to ask the College of Engineering to use its innovation to save the 150 year old Bluff oak tree that they claim stands in the way of their building you have so graciously supported. Thank you…

http://www.wuft.org/news/2015/05/14/berts-fate-still-has-to-wait/

Anil Thomas Says
Saturday May 16th 2015

Bagchi Sir,
My Nephew – Kevin Binoy is studying in Anand Niketan School, Satellite Branch, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Anand Niketan is one of the leading schools in the City imparting quality education. Kevin is in the 7th Standard. As part of the Vacation Project he had to do research on famous personalities. He has done research on you and is impressed by your achievements. it would be an honour if you could send a motivational message to the School Kids.
expecting your kind reply with message for the young minds which are molded looking at inspiring personalities like you. the email id is thomasanilp@gmail.com
Yours sincerely
anil thomas

B.V.Raghunandan Says
Sunday June 28th 2015

The unpleasant events are nothing but black spots in a white sheet. Though they make us angry, frustrated and sometimes impotent, we should realise that there is a wide moral world which is not reported. Among the younger recruits, the percentage of corruption and bad work culture is coming down exponentially in most of the government offices. Partly it is due to technology absorption and partly due to new legislation like RTA. More prominently it is due to lesser compulsion to make money characterising the youth than the previous generation. It is also due to greater attachment and awareness for societal well being and charity.

Sunday September 13th 2015

Dear Subroto Bhai,

As usual, excellent article.
When I first listened to your arguement in your winning debate competition in 1976 in CLT-1,I knew I was seeing a visionary and leader.Since then I never missed a talk by you while in college, BJB or Ravenshaw. I was one yr jr and studying in Ravenshaw and used to speak in Odiya debate with the late Prafulla (Dash) bhai.

Your hairline might have receded, but it’s the same razor-sharp mind and morally upright demeanor. The other day I listened to your interview in CNBZ AWAZ and was really proud of you. May God fulfill all your dreams for the society and yourself.

Since you went to JNU and I went to Vani Vihar, could never had an opportunity to meet you.
I can feel proud that like my father, I have never given /accepted any bribe/undue favour.

It will be a worthwhile noble cause to work for you in any capacity on your terms, if you wish , I can mail CV which includes a sincere blemish-less Army Career, a Ph D, MBA,Indep Director(MDI), leadership & team mgt from UNITAR and a host of others.But what is prime is the reverence and passion for you.
At present work for GoI at South Block, but can leave any day as I hardly work 5% of my potential and the devil of immorality can be found around here too.
Why don’t you try out ?
With regards,
Purna Patnaik
9868053209

Pushpak Chakraborty Says
Tuesday September 22nd 2015

As a nation and as a society, we’re facing moral bankruptcy; be it in our Government, our offices or in our homes. Parents are teaching their children to be shrewd and clever rather than to be kind-hearted. Being kind and generous is being termed old-school. Children are taught to be selfish; to think about oneself while being selfless is termed as an attribute of the fool.

Everyone is corrupt. The idea of youth is flawed. Our young students are corrupt then how can we expect our Government to be pure!

We require a moral revolution today. Important people from our society need to take responsibility to spread good moral values.

Saturday September 26th 2015

Well written article. It will be beneficial to anybody, including me.
Keep up the good work. I can’t wait to read more
posts.

C D Nayak Says
Saturday April 30th 2016

I am really proud to announce that . Mr Bagchi is not only a great professional , states man , he is a great human being . he is joining , Odisha Skill Development Authority (OSDA) as chairman on 1st May which is a cabinet Minister Rank in Govt Of Odisha . He will look after all, the skill development activities
He has agreed to serve his mother land with a salary of Re1/- PA(Rupees one only Per Annum) Head up to the great son of the soil

C D Nayak , Bhubaneswar

    jatindra prasad panda Says
    Sunday July 10th 2016

    details about osda

Neha Garg Says
Friday October 14th 2016

Hi, Mr. Subrato Bagchi. I have read your book The Professionals for number of times and i really loved it. I have also read one of your speeches given by you at XLRI. Your writing really influences the readers. I really want to read more of your writings because your writing changes the vision of the things.

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