The lecture from Mr. Satish Pai, Dy. MD, Hindalco Industries on “Principles of Management”, delivered on 26th September 2014 was an inspiration to say the least. Here is a transcript of his speech.

The speaker is a very familiar person to IIT Madras. A distinguished alumnus coming to deliver a lecture for the leadership lecture series drives a lot of excitement. And when it is someone who has risen to the very top, by a long career in a company where he was placed, through campus placements, almost 30 years back, the excitement reaches even greater levels, particularly in this placement season.

Hence the ambience was full of expectation, as Mr. Satish Pai stepped onto the dais to give his lecture. The mood of a carefully prepared monologue, with lots of serious advises in the form of do’s and don’ts for a successful career etc. quickly vanished, as he transformed the lecture more into a light-hearted conversation, drawing on all the experiences of his long industrial stint. It was clear that the audience was going to be mesmerized by this great speaker.

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There was one term that kept getting repeated both in the pre-lecture publicity and through the speech, and it was “Schlumberger”. As Mr. Satish Pai put it, a true multinational with revenue of over $45 billion, 130,000 employees and its presence in over 71 countries, Schlumberger is the true leader in oilfield services. And as he delved into his rise in the company spread over 28 years, the audience was as awe-struck as excited by the growth prospects which companies like this offer to talented individuals.

Mr. Satish Pai was gracious in his acceptance of the fact that he was lucky to have had the opportunity to sit for campus placements in Schlumberger when they came down to the institute, as it was very odd-timed, sometime in January. He had taken extra classes and had managed to finish his courses by December, which put him in the list of the few eligible candidates for placement. His performances in the sports scenario put him ahead of the competition, and the rest is history.

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Over the course of his career, which he started as a field engineer in 1985, the same post to which students get placed to this day, he rose to the position of Executive Vice President of worldwide operations. During his tenure in Schlumberger, Mr. Satish Pai had tasted all sectors, from human resource to research and development and had stints in countries all over the world, like Thailand, Oman, Paris and UK. And so he comments that Schlumberger is a true meritocracy, where anybody could rise all the way from the bottom of the tree to the very top, judged only on the basis of capability and nothing else. He then goes onto give a definition to multinationals as those which follow this basic rule first besides the common accepted norms of the same. The statement was indeed thought provoking.

The lecture was slowly yet steadily moving into its actual domain. But the build up was only completed once he laid out the various lessons he learnt from his life. And mind you the lessons were more interesting, for they weren’t being read out from the text book of another author, it was the author himself revealing his life story. The first and foremost advice was to think ahead. He cemented the fact by stating that had he not thought and planned ahead, and completed his courses in advance, his whole career might have drifted off along another path. Obviously the lesson was imprinted into the minds of the listeners with this catchy reference. He then went onto draw experiences from his time at Schlumberger. Each of his roles were given a unique picture, such as human resource having taught him the value of team spirit, R&D, the value of patience and endurance, and his operations and software stint, the value of unconventional thought process. Even as he observed the audience straining to grasp every word, he turned the tables by stating that the most important message though remains that one mustn’t be over analytical. The role of techno-managers will require taking risks and thinking unconventionally, but one mustn’t think too much and put unnecessary stress on oneself. The message was clear, “take things lightly.”

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There came upon the screen an integration sign and we could literally see several members of the audience driven to attention by the same. “Management is an integration of people, technology, finance and communication”, our speaker put forth. The statement was cleverly planned for it seemed to bring the entire topic into one line. And so he went onto elaborate. The ‘people’ section comprised of managing the recruitment scenario, followed by training, compensation and teamwork. He clearly conveyed that it was the most important and tricky part of the whole management scenario. “This is also the reason why companies like Schlumberger send their best people for the recruitment process”, he said.

Next came managing technology and here the focus was more on safety and quality processes. The best companies always have great focus on the safety of its employees and operations. And to be a driver in this scenario, theoretical knowledge had to be supplemented with hands-on experiences. At this point he once again went back to his early life. With that characteristic smile whenever referring to his early career, he narrated as to how when he first joined Schlumberger, he was asked to repair an engine, which he couldn’t. His first instructor had given him a manual, and asked him to find some 300 odd points in the engine and grease them within a specified amount of time. The example also paved way for understanding how important it is to supplement our college lessons with real life applications.

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Managing finance was not touched upon much, for any manager first learns the principles of finance before anything else. Yet he stated that a good company would eventually make good profits, for whatever it might state outside, without profits, there won’t be investment and consequential growth. The fact was reflective indeed. And he summed up the principles by talking about “communication”. He was clear as to how important he considered this last term to be. He was of the view point that to be successful, you should be able to communicate well, lead from the front, convince others in arguments, and manage resources effectively. He also commented on how important it is to give honest feedback, which might hurt in the short term but do great good in the long run.

Having put up a very brief but complete analysis of “principles of management”, he had three lessons to give for the audience. He attributed his success to these three lessons and further stated that he felt these will be among his most important assets, as he planned to have a complete makeover and lead from the front as CEO- Aluminium sector of Hindalco. And it is these three lessons which the audience indeed took home from this inspiring lecture of a true visionary.

Firstly, it is all about handling issues in the grey zone. There are no strict black and white zones in life. There may be more than one option and neither might be a wrong one. Take risks and chose one, and stick by it. Life is a game anyways. Secondly, get control over stress. If you are less stressed, all tasks will feel easier and also your output will be much improved. Lastly, be accountable for the results. A true leader never blames his team for the failures. Success might be sweet, but life is never served on a silver platter. The willingness to accept failures and learn from them is the only way true success can ever be tasted…