The inspiration behind SOIL comes from the basic idea that India has immense resources but poor leadership
As a college student, I dreamt of India becoming a strong economic and spiritual power and wanted to contribute to that. Through my journey from Tatas and Eicher to the creation of SOIL (School of Inspired Leadership), I always followed a cause which consistently provided the energy to make the impossible, possible.
The first part of my life was about creating role model companies. The second was about helping other companies do the same and the last part has been to work on building next-generation talent through education. The inspiration behind SOIL comes from the basic idea that India has immense resources but poor leadership. And wherever there is leadership, it is of a singular kind focusing on making money rather than running a business while contributing to improve the country. So instead of blaming all our problems on poor leadership we thought about starting a new program for education which teaches responsible management. Our offerings have a deep commitment to making a difference and turning India into a role model.
In all the companies that I have built, the team has been a combination of a few experienced leaders who share the same vision and fresh passionate graduates open to learning. This has been a very successful combination which has worked for SOIL as well. From every passing class, we choose some students who share our values and are capable of working within our team.
When SOIL began, we identified top faculty across the world who had taught at Harvard, Stanford and other global business schools and were independent consultants. There were also top industry leaders who had the passion of giving back to the students. We invited them to come and teach at SOIL. My own network established across years of work also helped me in choosing the right people for different roles.
If I look at the mistakes we have made from the talent perspective, most have them have been because of a mismatch in values. There were people who came with a different set of ideas about the education sector. People sometimes choose academics because they assume this will give them a lot of leisure time to work on other aspects of their life. At SOIL, however, we have a high-speed and rigorous entrepreneurial culture. We also have the highest standards for research. Traditional notions of some people, therefore, were belied.
Also — and this, I am happy to say, has been rare for us — someone might not have been as keen to join our organization as he was to leave his last one. I never consider it wise to hire somebody unhappy with his last employer and willing to join my company on the rebound. Our biggest business challenge was that we chose not to get government approvals and opted to create a completely different kind of educational institution. We associated with some of the best companies across different industries to form a consortium.
Rather than a degree, we provide a co-branded certificate to our students with our industry partners. It was a very high-risk situation of not affiliating with any government body, as most Indian parents are uncomfortable with the idea of their children not getting a degree at the end of an education course. Also, we have had a very tough time trying to find the right faculty on a full-time basis. We are even contemplating to solve this in the near future with a comprehensive training program for industry leaders who are interested in moving to the education sector.
Finally, I would say that there is great joy in starting out as an underdog and moving on to compete with the best names in the industry and making a difference in the way companies do business.
(As told to People Matters)