RT and Ajay Piramal – Seeing Past Their Differences



R Thyagarajan’s (RT) biography, ‘I am not an entrepreneur’ provides some fascinating insights into one of the foremost organization builders of India. One of the many passages that stuck with me was in the chapter on RT and Ajay Piramal. Here is an excerpt below -

Piramal is candid on the issues where the two differ in thought. The first is about religious beliefs. “RT is an atheist. I go to the other extreme in saying I am a strong believer in God”, Piramal says, with emphasis on ‘strong’ and ‘God’. Next, he talks of RT’s opinion about MBAs. While RT does not think very highly of the degree, Piramal does. “In my family, I am a MBA, my kids are MBA holders and if I thought badly about them, we would not have been where we are. Thirdly, I think we differ on our political views, but that is fine”, he says, his voice laced with laughter.

Basically, RT and Piramal disagreed with each other on their opinions on religion, education and politics.

Since quite early in his life, RT was a firm atheist. He was quite against meaningless rituals of any kind- imposed either by religion or by society. On the other hand Mr. Piramal is a strong believer in God, and considers the Bhagwad Gita to be the best business book. As described in this post, Mr. Piramal was beset by a series of tragedies early in his life and it is his deep belief in spirituality and the Gita that contributed to his success today.

In education as well RT and Mr. Piramal differ enormously. RT built Shriram from scratch by hiring local talent who were not necessarily brilliant academically. He did not set much store by academic qualifications and in fact, felt this qualification was a hindrance. As described in the case study on RT, RT’s approach was to find a person with entrepreneurial capabilities and to back them to the fullest. On the other hand, Mr. Piramal is Harvard educated, and his wife Dr. Swati Piramal has a Masters Degree in Public Health from Harvard. Encouraged by the parents, the son Anand Piramal is a Harvard MBA graduate while the daughter Nandini Piramal did her MBA from Stanford. Mr. Piramal is in fact on the Harvard Board of Dean’s Advisors and is a strong believer in the importance of quality education.

The reason the passage above fascinated me was that for most people religious beliefs, political opinions and education form a major part of their identity. Many friendships and relationships today are impacted by the differences in opinion on the above factors. And here we have two independent, strong minded individuals who built world class organizations, come together despite these seemingly fundamental differences.

So what was the thread that brought together these fine individuals? Here is what Piramal says in RT’s biography -

Piramal and RT converge on their views about the underprivileged. “That was one of the reasons that attracted us to Shriram. According to me, each business has to make a contribution to society. Shriram has done that. And RT, all his life, whether it is through insurance or lending, all his products have been for those who never had access.

In its website, Piramal Enterprises defines its purpose as ‘Doing Well and Doing Good’ and believes that individual success and organizational growth cannot be mutually exclusive from responsible and ethical business practices. Similarly, Shriram Group’s motto is ‘Empowering People Through Prosperity’. RT has practically devoted his life to serving the society by supporting entrepreneurship. He is a self-confessed socialist who believes in wealth creation for the poor.

At the time of the Shriram-Piramal deal, reports indicated that the deal happened due to the ‘personal chemistry’ between RT and Mr. Piramal. Thus, despite the seemingly huge differences RT and Mr. Piramal joined hands as they were connected at a deeper, more fundamental and spiritual level. They were brought together by a shared mission that was greater than both men’s individual political and religious beliefs. They were aligned in their belief that companies should make a positive difference in the lives of the communities they serve.

I admire both Mr. Piramal and RT immensely, and for me this coming together of these exceptional individuals despite seemingly considerable differences in opinion is an important lesson. They show that serving the community effectively and making a positive difference to the people around us transcends most considerations.

We wrote an intelligent fanatics case study on R Thyagarajan. Members can read it [HERE].

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