Coca Cola India President T Krishnakumar talks to graduating students of Rajalakshmi School of Business

I am honoured, privileged and overwhelmed to see so many students before me. It’s a double bonus to see parents seeing their children graduate, because education is the biggest asset one can give to anyone else. Education stands you in good stead from the day you start educating yourself to the day you leave the world. It’s always good to go back to a college and it’s a privilege to talk to students. I congratulate every student graduating today. I know it’s a moment of pride, fulfilment and achievement. And this should be the starting point of many great things in life, not just for yourselves, but also the communities around you and for our great country.

When I graduated, almost 34 years ago, the world was a different place, very simple, linear. There were only a few companies competing with one another in any field. There was one television channel and the government model sufficed. In the process, the consumers suffered. They had to wait for a long time to get what they wanted. I came from a pretty humble background and, because of education, life was easy. Now, life has become complicated.

VUCA environment

Today’s world is a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. Some 34 years back, when I was started working, once could go to sleep for 30 days, wake up and start afresh, as nothing would change. Today, when you go to sleep and wake up the next morning, you realise the world has changed; you understand its volatility. You could work for years, quit and be assured of another job in a few days. Now it’s not so.

The world is also extremely uncertain today. Laws can change overnight. When I graduated, the British had implemented a set of laws 50 years earlier that still held good. Today’s community wants everything to be continually renewed. Even if you get into NGOs, there is a lot of competition. Everything is complex too. Today, you cannot manage work with a paper and pencil, which is what we did for many years. Today you need a system which can process terabytes and enable you to take complex decisions in a complex world.

The last definition of today’s world is ambiguity. This means you’re going to experience adventure from Day 1 of your career, soon as you step out of the college.

The challenges

In my view, there are two serious challenges the world is facing. The first one is poverty. We may choose to ignore it, but it’s real. One-third of the world is struggling, while some of us are really privileged. The second big issue is climate change. Some people may say it’s not real but the climate has changed dramatically, especially in the last 35 years.

These challenges fall into three buckets:

The first bucket is that the world has finite resources. Thus, environmental management is key.

The second bucket is the society or community.

The third bucket is the economy. When I graduated, there was only one bucket we all learnt about — the economy — as seen in textbooks by Philip Kotler and others. As practising managers, and economic value creators, our jobs are not complete unless we integrate with the economy we are a part of. I believe each one of you will make a difference to the world, which is why you should keep this in mind.

Accountability, responsibility

As you embark on this journey, keep in mind that it has to be an accountable and responsible one, in relation to the two buckets I told you about. The one mantra I also implemented was relevance. The world is constantly changing, and for one to be successful, one has to stay relevant. The reason I keep going back to the three buckets is because it’s changed our business model, a model on the basis of which institutions were built. The older model was simple. It comprised promoters, shareholders, and so on. You ensured they received returns, everyone was happy with you and you were successful at your job.

Over the last few decades, the very concept of satisfying one set of people, which includes promoters and shareholders, has moved to a larger set of stakeholders. Today you cannot satisfy your shareholders without satisfying the other people involved in your business. Strangely, these people may have nothing to do with the day-to-day business. The stakeholders include employees, co-workers and communities. Today, every community understands that it has a seat at the table. It’s a virtual seat. You may think you have nothing to do with them, but they think they have everything to do with you, because they believe you operate in their space.

The second stakeholder who questions everything you do is the community. The third stakeholder is the government, as it represents community. After you ensure that all these parties believe you are doing the right thing, you can satisfy your shareholders. As a result, what was described as the single goal of a business — economic profit — has now become economic profit with social value creation. While I haven’t had the opportunity to look into the curricula of many management courses, most of them don’t bring these concepts into the learning space, so that they become a way of life.

Economic value creation

Whatever we do, in terms of economic value creation, should be directed towards the challenges the world is facing. We are not adding value to what is really expected of us, because we are the privileged lot. Having said this, I will give you some guidelines that have worked for me in the last 34 years.

Most of the solutions we need are in the realm of what we don’t know. But most of us search for solutions in the realm of what we already know. Hence, learning is important.

The first principle is that one should develop the ability to look at everything from outside-in. We tend to look at things inside out. You are part of a larger system, and you must understand it better. Kodak is a classic example; they were successful, but they continued to look inside-out. They stuck to conventional cameras instead of upgrading to digital. The problem was, even as they died, they still held 90 per cent of the market share, though the industry had ceased to exist!

The second most important trait is integrity. All of the world’s problems are worsened by the lack of integrity, especially if your institution deals with business and the environment.

Third, we face tough situations many a time, when we end up believing that this is the end of the road. But, to succeed, one needs to face the challenges, because that’s where real learning happens.

The fourth point is empathy. The business world is brutal. But, if you want to do justice to your job, always put yourself in the shoes of others, be it the community or the government.

Once you enter the corporate world, life becomes all about responsibility. It’s important to be aware that every decision you take has innumerable consequences that affect people/ parties directly and indirectly.

The next point has not much to do with business. We must be very proud of our country. Each one of you, irrespective of what happens, will be representing your country in your work. You will get opportunities to move abroad, but never forget that you are where you are because of the country you are in. I believe that everybody who is educated is a change agent, who can make change happen. Because of all the people you have been associated with in your journey and the learnings you’ve received, you have the power to change the world. All the very best!

This article originally appeared in Business line on Campus