The question to ask of Rajita Chaudhuri isn't what she's done, but what she hasn't done.
The honorary dean of enterprise management and professor of business communications at The Indian Institute of Planning and Management in New Delhi is also a consulting editor and columnist for 4P's Business and Marketing Magazine, the bestselling writer of Thorns to Competition and Orangutan As Your Brand Ambassador, and the founder of the Great Indian Dream Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on health, education and the environment. Oh, and she also runs Planman Marcom, an integrated communications, advertising and promotions company.
We talked with the very busy Chaudhuri about the power of teaching, what makes Indian advertising unique, how women lead differently—and how she manages to balance it all.
Of all your occupational hats, teaching seems to be the most traditional one—what does teaching mean to you? What are its challenges and rewards?
Teaching has been an integral part of me for 20 years. There can be no greater pleasure than seeing an enlightened mind, a motivated individual, a student whose perceptions you have been able to change, who now feels more confident and ready to take on the world. I see teaching not just as a process of imparting knowledge; I feel it’s my responsibility to also take care of my students and, when they fall, to pick them up and guide them back to success. Most importantly, if I can make them a friend, I feel my job as a teacher has been successful.
A good teacher is one who never stops being a student. I learn so much from my students. That helps me to find out new ways to reach out to them and help them. Not just this, but it keeps me young and energetic as I learn new things from them.
The most challenging job is to remain relevant. As a teacher you need to find new ways to connect with your students. If you are not well-prepared you will be ripped in class. They may not say it in words but their actions, expressions and questions will give you a very accurate idea of how you have done. A class for me is a mission. At the end of each class the reaction of the students is most critical for me. It’s a feedback for me to assess if I am doing my job well or not. Though the fact is a teacher’s job never ends after a class. You remain their teacher all your life and they look up to you always—and that is what makes my world go round. The satisfaction of changing someone’s life and lighting up the dormant fire within them is most motivating.
You have been a student of the Indian Institute for Planning and Management (IIPM), and are now a professor and dean at the same institute. How does IIPM seem to you from these varied perspectives?
It was love at first sight with IIPM, and somehow I still remain love-struck—as a student, as a faculty and as a dean.
IIPM has been a learning ground for me and to this day I find myself learning new things everyday—from my students, my senior faculty members and my mentors. IIPM has changed the way I look at the world and I have realized that business is not just about profits but about people, and as businesspeople we have tremendous power to change lives, people, countries and even the whole world. This is the philosophy of IIPM that attracted me toward it when I joined it as a student. This is the same knowledge that I try to impart to my students and help them become better people, better businesspeople and better citizens.
How would you advise others to realize their professional dreams? Do you believe one needs luck to succeed?
There is nothing more important than hard work. Believe in yourself and your dreams and every day before going to bed ask yourself “What is it that I did today to reach closer to my goal, my dream?” If the answer is “nothing,” well, you will reach nowhere.
I don’t believe in luck or think about it much as it’s something beyond my control.
Thomas Jefferson once said “I am a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work the luckier I get!” I believe this is the key to realizing one’s dream.
I also believe you can create your own luck. It’s a simple trick—always tell yourself you are the best and the best will happen to you. This keeps your outlook positive. Positivity gives you the strength to carry on even when the going gets tough. This simple thought makes you feel happier and optimistic. Happy and optimistic people tend to be luckier than others.
My son narrated a story to me of a king who wanted to feel happy all the time and asked his wise men to create something for him so that he would never get depressed. After days the wise men returned with a ‘magic ring’ and told the king that every time you are sad or depressed, look at this ring and read the magic words written on it and you will be happy again. The king looked at the ring and read the magic words 'This too shall pass.'
Keep the faith—most importantly in yourself—and keep moving on. That’s the only secret to success and being lucky!
Who are your personal and professional icons? Have you met any of them in person?
The people who have influenced me are actually many. My parents and my husband have been the biggest influencers. My parents always told me to go ahead and do what I wanted and never even once to think that being a girl was a disadvantage. My husband has always encouraged me to be myself and live my life my way, and to aim for the highest. Their belief in me is what makes my world go round. My son is now 13 and his opinions have started influencing me too. His appreciation for my work, my writings, even my cooking (I just recently I started experimenting with cooking) makes me want to do better and better.
We have been lucky to work with some of India’s biggest celebrities—Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, and Sachin Tendulkar. I must admit working closely with them made me appreciate them much more.
Amitabh Bachchan showed me the importance of hard work and punctuality. Always on time for his shoots, he is the man who works the hardest before each scene, practicing and rehearsing until he has perfected it. No other star puts in so much effort, and the difference in the results is out there for all to see.
Shahrukh Khan, a man with a voracious appetite for reading, showed me how readers are leaders. He is a great speaker and when he talks he has everyone in the room mesmerized. He taught me one more lesson: Always give more than you promised. No wonder he delights everyone who works with, for he puts in so much effort, he leaves you spellbound.
Sachin Tendulkar is the biggest legend of cricket and yet so humble, so simple and so honest.
Yes, interactions with these people has definitely influenced me and the way I work and think.
There are some who I have met only in books or on TV, but they are people I admire deeply—Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Bono, Bill Gates, Muhammad Yunus. They have showed how one person with a vision and a crazy desire to do something can change the world.
What was your experience like writing and publishing the books Thorns to Competition and Orangutan As Your Brand Ambassador?
It was a dream come true. All that I had been teaching and researching about, I got a chance to share with a larger audience. The appreciation for my book Thorns to Competition gave me the confidence that I could write, and I am now working on a new book about the power of speaking.
I have always been fond of writing. As a child I used to write stories and poems, and some even got published in a newspaper. As I started teaching I started writing a blog so I could share my thoughts with others. We also started a magazine named 4P’s Business and Marketing and I was asked by the team to write a column for them. That’s how I started writing regularly. Me and my husband (who is also the co-author of Thorns to Competition) came out with an interesting marketing model and we together decided to put it in the form of a book, and that’s how this book happened.
Orangutan was written much earlier. While teaching my students the concepts of advertising, I realized that there was hardly any book which spoke about Indian advertisements and the unique emotions that guide our ad makers. So I wrote the book.
I sincerely feel our Indian advertisements have such beautiful emotions which make us a unique country with unique consumers. Our culture is expressed so beautifully in so many of our advertisements, and that is what motivated me to write this book.
Why did you found the NGO "The Great Indian Dream Foundation"? What's the organization's mission?
A society where no one goes to bed hungry—I guess that is what I would hope to work toward. My NGO works in many areas, but our primary efforts are in the area of training. We feel knowledge can remove the barriers between haves and have-nots. Our aim is to provide education to as many people as possible so that more opportunities are open to them and they have a chance to change their lives. One educated person can change the course of entire generations to come. Education is the fastest way to remove poverty.
It was started in the memory of my brother-in-law, who at 18 was teaching village youth is his free time so that they could do better for themselves. Unfortunately he passed away in an accident. My husband started this in his memory so it’s very close to my heart.
'You can have it all. Just not all at once,' says Oprah Winfrey. Do you agree? If yes, what would you say is the missing element in your life today?
My wish list is very long, but I wish I could spend more time with my parents, my son. I wish I could read more. I wish I could paint more often.
Do you think women bring something special to management? What is your management philosophy?
Yes, definitely women bring a different dimension with them. They look at things differently from men. So it's no surprise that organizations with more women in their work force are today doing better than those which are dominated by men.
Google in its initial days realized that all its engineers were males and decided to recruit female engineers so they could bring in a different perspective to the business. Marissa Mayer (now with Yahoo) was one of the first female engineers that they recruited.
Women have been slowly but surely making their presence felt. They have proved that when it comes to things once considered male domains, be it cars or technology, they can run them as well as if not better than men. IBM is headed by a woman, GM is headed by a woman, the COO of Facebook is a woman. Women bring in a more nurturing environment and that creates a happy workplace.
My management philosophy is simple: I believe a motivated employee is your strongest asset. In my dealings with people, my aim is to find out what they are good at and appreciate them for it. This motivates them and charges them up and makes them excel and strive to do even better.
Charge them up, give them a little space, do not micromanage and voila—see the results!
What are the set of skills you believe young women should focus on, in order to succeed?
The first lesson I teach in my first session with my students is 'You are a product. So like a product is of no use, if you cannot tell the consumer what good it can do for him, similarly you are of no use if you cannot tell the world what you are good at.' So go ahead and find out what you are good at and through your words and actions never leave an opportunity to showcase your strongest assets.
The crucial point to remember is that no one will ever market you. You need to market yourself if you want to be noticed. Most women shy away from marketing themselves. Men do not.
My advice to women: Be more aggressive in the workplace. Also do not try to be 'super woman.' It's not possible to do everything, so do not hesitate to ask for help. It's OK!
Most importantly, do not put yourself as a last priority. You need to give yourself that respect—otherwise no one else will!