Sunday, July 08, 2007

Five Things I learned at IIT 2007 Alumni Conference

Jeff Immelt addressing IIT 2007: "GE loves the IIT product- its graduates"
picture by PAN IIT 2007

I just spent last two days at the IIT 2007 Alumni Conference. I spent 4 years in the 90's, the best 4 years of my life, in a small college town of Kharagpur. Although it does not have the quiet charm of a Chapel Hill (my graduate school town) or the romance of Austin - it did share some of the same qualities. Secluded from civilization, around 100 miles from Calcutta, Kharagpur is a town with very little except a very long railway platform and the IIT. The advantage of being so far away from civilization (and women - only 5% of the class - to our great dismay), the seclusion makes you bond closer with your classmates. Much like any great college in the US, IIT attracts students from all parts of the country, creating a small microcosm of India - with kids of all languages, religions, castes (yes, that too) and economic classes. The conference and speakers like Arun Sarin (CEO, Vodafone and fellow alumnus) sent me back to those golden years. In the short span of two days, I learned a few things about myself, careers and life that I would like to share.

  1. People love to help people: Yes, its not a revelation but in the cynical world we live in - we often forget how many people go out of their way to help each other. I heard stories of alumni coaching and reaching out. Delip Andra, CEO of Minekey, went back to his alma mater Kharagpur to incubate a startup and help students get a lesson in entrepreneurship. Arun Sarin of Vodafone used his influence to make India an important part of his company's growth strategy. As he said and I paraphrase - I made it clear that I wanted this deal done. He mentioned how he often takes calls to refer his friends and alumni to VC's. Raj Jaswa, Vish Mishra and Raj Mashruwala of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) shared tips on coaching and mentoring - and described how they have been helping young entrepreneurs.
  2. Adversity is the door to success: As I mingled with the alumni who have varied levels of success in their careers and personal life - this theme emerged again and again - what seemed like adversity at one point, in retrospect, turned out to be a blessing. A hedge fund manager from New York recounted this story: After graduating from IIT in mid-80's with a degree in Naval Architecture - he joined the industry but the oil price collapse led to widespread recession in ship building and offshore platforms business. He did not loose his job but was forced to reconsider his options - opting to go to business school. Not only did that lead to a successful career as an investment professional, he now leverages the knowledge he gained in the lost years spent in oil & gas. As Steve Jobs, said in his commencement speech at Stanford University, the dots sometimes connect only in retrospect.
  3. No one regrets taking a risk, not even the 'failed': People that take chances, especially entrepreneurs, fail. Some of these people have become wildly successful over the years and as you would expect they don't regret having taken a risk. The interesting and somewhat unexpected learning for me was that the people that never went on to be multi-millionaire successes also don't regret having taken a chance. Almost universally, they told of how the experiences made them happier.
  4. Talk to the quiet ones: I am a pretty extrovert person (hence, the blog!) and as with most people I find it easier to approach co-workers and friends that are extroverts - its a lot easier. I learned this is not the best strategy. By way of example, I met a professional acquaintance I have known for over 2 years but who is rather quiet and I never took the opportunity to get to know him better. I got a chance to talk to him and I learned that we shared interests in value investing, studying human behavior and love of Warren Buffett. He had an extremely intelligent, deep and analytical understanding of the market. I met a few other people that were quiet but when I approached them and talked to them had some very interesting life stories.
  5. iPhone is popular: Don't laugh. It may not seem like a learning but I found that the easiest topic to approach anyone at the event was to make a remark about the iPhone. It made people light up and talk - the ones that loved it and the ones that hated it. Standing in the queue or waiting for a talk to start, all I had to do to spark a conversation or get to know someone was say Did you get an iPhone? or Do you think iPhone is really that good? And three minutes later I was having an interesting discussion, unrelated to iPhone, about something we mutually cared about be it software, India or entrepreneurship.
Also: ZDNet's Dan Farber has a couple of very interesting posts on the IIT 2007 conference including GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt's keynote on Globalization, India and IITs and MR Rangaswami's panel on Web2.0 with Google and WebEx panelists.

Bonus, 6th: Not related to IIT conference, check out this post, by Jason Corsello. As Jason says,
Just because a talented individual doesn’t look the part and lacks confidence doesn’t mean they can’t be a top performer..

Are you ignoring what true talent looks like? Can you tap into the unexposed skills of your employees?

Learning: Don't judge too soon.


Dennis Howlett said...

Sweet. If these are the 5 lessons of life then it ain't a half bad education.

Anzy said...

Its great to give something back to your alma mater..
btw , the last video was too good..

Anonymous said...

Very true. I also attended the conference and had kind of similar experience.
I enjoyed reading your posts..Keep writing!!!


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