Ram Charan: India’s no-nonsense management guru

Published: November 7, 2011
Indian-born management guru Ram Choran makes his headline speech at the three-day AdAsia conference at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi. PHOTO: AFP/HANMER MSL

Indian-born management guru Ram Choran makes his headline speech at the three-day AdAsia conference at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi. PHOTO: AFP/HANMER MSL


Indian-born Ram Charan, known as one of the world’s most influential management gurus, has a simple take on the globe’s mounting financial troubles.

“Until people face some constraints, they’ll keep pushing the boundaries and creating chaos,” the 72-year-old Charan said, shaking his head ruefully as he sits in an armchair at a five-star hotel in New Delhi.

“We’ve got to make the (financial) system more transparent,” he told AFP, after giving the keynote address at a global advertising conference.

“Even the regulators don’t understand what’s going on,” he said.

Described by Fortune magazine in 2009 as “the most influential consultant alive,” US-based Charan criss-crosses the world, dispensing his no-nonsense counsel to bosses and boards of some of the globe’s biggest firms.

Charan, who lives out of hotels and never takes a vacation, has advised among others GE, Microsoft, Ford, Bank of America and Dupont, and is author of 16 management tomes including “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.”

“I’m happy with what I do. I sometimes feel I’m the luckiest person around,” said the bachelor, whose nomadic life and desire to travel light means aides at his Dallas office courier clean clothes to whichever hotel he is staying in.

What makes Charan – who by his own account flies around 800,000 kilometres (500,000 miles) a year – unhappy is what he sees as corporate irresponsibility.

He was outraged about the downfall of US securities firm MF Global Holdings, which went bankrupt last week after its chief, Wall Street star Jon Corzine, made multi-billion-dollar bets on risky eurozone debt.

“He (Corzine) should have known better,” Charan said, his seamed brow furrowing in disapproval. “The company was leveraged to the hilt.”

One of seven children, Charan grew up in the poverty-hit northern state of Uttar Pradesh, helping his family run a small shoe store where he counted the takings at the end of the day.

It taught him the basics of business and gave him a particular respect for cash flow – which he calls the “life blood of a company” – needed to meet day-to-day costs such as wages.

“You have to know the guts of the business to be successful,” explained Charan, who says he lives by the Hindu motto “Purpose before self”.

He won a place to study engineering at India’s prestigious Banaras Hindu University despite as a youngster being “thrown out of school for not having any books” and then went on to get a doctorate at Harvard Business School.

He taught at Harvard and the Kellogg School of Management before deciding advising companies was his real calling.

Some critics consider his advice – such as “listen to others’ viewpoints”, “get the right talent” and “communicate, communicate, communicate” to be simplistic business bromides – but others value his practical counsel.

Charan refuses to talk about what he does for his clients, except that he summarises company strategy into a single page. He believes global economic clout is clearly tilting in favour of developing nations and says companies in advanced economies will have to adjust rapidly. “It’s a tectonic shift,” he said. “Countries like India, China, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Indonesia – these markets have the momentum,” he says.

His advice to Western firms? “Get to know these markets, spend time in them – this is where the future is. The world as we know it is changing – don’t miss the boat.”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Tamil Arasan
    Nov 7, 2011 - 1:54PM

    India rocks and even the Indian professionals, Mr.Ram Charan great attachment from a poor family background to one of the worlds leading Management Guru …


  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 7, 2011 - 7:54PM

    @Tamil Arasan,
    Its called brain drain our very highly educated peoples from india and pakistan vasting these
    energies in Europe and America my cousin did his PHd in electrinic chip and now working
    in europe so i think nothing back to home land they are giving…. what u think


  • optimist
    Nov 8, 2011 - 4:18AM

    Isn’t it better to have ‘brain drain’ to Europe/USA than brain waste in homeland?


  • Has
    Nov 8, 2011 - 5:33AM

    @ TAMIL and all indian writers……Yeah Indian rocks on 45 percent poverty rate and all the economic model is based on interest rates, whole European and american economic theory is cut down interest rates or increase it. Europe and American management theories have failed because they sure be studying Indian gurus of piyaj interest rate management.
    wake up guys IIM and your so called institutes from fortune 500 companies are getting your brains are just about interest rates and shares…stocks and fake man made paper wealth. Its has proven Islamic way of banking and managements is the safest way for all world.
    This gurus of yours just work and lecture big corps casinos worldwide.
    Think read and research TAMIL


  • omg!
    Nov 8, 2011 - 10:12AM

    @Tamil Arasan
    if indians are so awesom.. why india is not awesome.. a guy dictating Microsoft and GM.. how come his own country only produce tata nano’s? western people only admire indians just as they admire indian food — the change of flavor.. and not because its awesome.. the situation of subcontinent is not under veils form the worlds eye..


  • anup
    Nov 8, 2011 - 3:29PM

    Day is not far away….


  • Tamil Arasan
    Nov 10, 2011 - 1:09PM

    @Has: this shows your state of mindset and how ignorant you are!!!, can’t you guys think anything beyond religion??? you are a Islamic republic for the past 65 years and what you have achieved compared to west or even India?? – “Its has proven Islamic way of banking and managements is the safest way for all world.”!!! – if so then why Pakistan is competing in all the parameters of development and human development index with Somalia not with west or even India..
    What do you know about IIM and IIT??? – out of the total start-ups in Silicon valley 1/3 of the start-up companies are owned by Indians and many of them have common credential I.E IIT background!!! – watch this below video made around 10 years back and you will know the truth of IIT and then respond me…


    I hope people like you are in fraction in Pakistan or else even after 1000 years Pakistan will be the same!!!


  • Tilopa
    Nov 14, 2011 - 12:44PM


    I wonder why still pakistan is one of the failed state of the world which has no bright future(Atleast in the next 10 years) and why India is one the fastest growing economies which according to World Bank will cut poverty by half from 1991 to 2015 and will become the biggest economy by 2050 ?
    Any explanation?


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