Friday, September 16, 2016

Surging Ahead Thoughtfully: An essay on the professional side of my father

It was with the unfettered excitement of a toddler that I started reading “Surge," a book written by Sushila Ravindranath, on the course of industrial growth in Tamil Nadu, India.  As I turned the pages feverishly to the chapter on the TVS group, I saw that my father Murali Sundararajan was quoted at length in this chapter.  As a son, my heart swelled with pride for the same reason why the late Randy Pausch was thrilled to see his name in the world book encyclopedia (as an expert on virtual reality).  Mr. Suresh Krishna, Chairman of the TVS group, had personally recommended to the author that my father be interviewed since Appa had been instrumental in the growth of the exports division of Sundaram Fasteners (a TVS group company).  I saw this gesture by Mr. Krishna, and Appa being quoted in the book as a just token of recognition of three things that defined him as a professional – his extensive world knowledge, his fearless enterprise and his carpe diem attitude.

Appa studied mechanical engineering at Guindy Engineering College.  After graduating in 1975 at the age of 21, he entered the industry and made meaningful strides in the area of marketing.  He never studied marketing in school; he didn’t have to!  He was born to be a marketer.  Friends, relatives and former colleagues of Appa who knew him then are amazingly consistent in how they describe him – that he was extremely enterprising, spirited, with an abundant gift of the gab but also warm, generous with his time and very giving.  As I have progressed in my professional life, I have not only understood and appreciated his gifts better.  But I can also see how he has continually honed his talents and has been proactive when it came to his professional development.  Be it in simpler things such as poring over the newspaper every morning to other things such as expanding his knowledge network, learning from his professional mentors and being actively engaged in professional societies (such as heading a trade panel in CII and serving as the VP of the Indo-ASEAN Chamber of Commerce), he left no stone unturned in maximizing his potential as a professional without losing sight of the people factor. 
As Appa tells the author of “Surge,” he was entrusted with taking initiatives for the development of the fledgling exports division of Sundaram Fasteners (in India) in the 80s.  He quickly realized that products from developing countries like India and China were frowned upon by countries like the US and the UK because there was an inherent safety (or lack thereof) bias towards those products.  Since he was keeping himself abreast of the latest industry trends (mind you, this was in the pre-internet era), he realized that the ISO 9000 certification was something that Indian firms had hardly invested in.  And, he saw that as a chance to make a statement.  And, what a resounding statement it was!  Thanks to him pushing his management to invest more in quality control and getting international accreditation, he lowered…scratch that…broke barriers and shifted the inherent biases of the global purchasers (of his company’s products), favorably.  As a result, the exports department of Sundaram Fasteners flourished.  So, the person that was making meaningful strides in his career up until now was now making giant leaps!  And, to make those leaps across continents, he required dollops of help from several airline pilots!  Because as part of his work, Appa traveled to North & South America, Europe, Africa and pretty much every key market in Asia.  (As an aside, while all this travel certainly furthered his professional ambitions, it has taken a toll on his health.  And hence, I keep policing him, to stay healthy!  He listens to me…sometimes!)

As I had written in an earlier blog post about Professor Robert Kelley, the core components of the Star Performer model (one of the most meaningful outputs of Dr. Kelley’s research work) are (1) taking initiative (2) building one’s knowledge network and (3) engaging in self-management to assess one’s strengths and areas for development.  Dr. Kelley describes these as three of the key things that make stars shine brightly.  As you can see from what I’ve written about Appa, he clearly nailed the star performer model.  What amazes me is that he did all of that instinctively, much before the star performer model came into existence! 

The speech that I gave at Appa’s 60th birthday celebrations back in 2014:

As I think of the myriad ways in which he has inspired me, I must say that apart from his professional smarts, the seamless, natural manner in which he has weaved in people into his world is what truly sets him apart among the seasoned professionals that I have seen.  He remains to this day, extremely grateful – in a vocal, demonstrative manner – to the people that have helped him develop in various stages of his career.  And I have also seen him help a lot of people across various levels, climb up the corporate ladder, with his extremely thoughtful gestures and generous advice.  As I look forward to reading the rest of “Surge,” I will do so with a sense of gratitude thinking of how Appa has surged ahead in his career, thereby giving me several comforts that I used to take for granted in my youth.   But it is one thing to surge alone but it’s another thing to help other people soar together with you.  By continually and generously paying it forward, he has given the greatest gift that any of his mentors could ask for.  And that, by itself, is reason enough to give an ISO-type certification for remarkable quality, to this exemplary marketer!  


Anonymous said...

Very nice write up Ram. I see how proud you are of Appa and what better reward would a man want from life than being acknowledged so profusely and openly by his son - that his father is someone he looks up to very much! He imbibed people skills from KVR thatha and he has now passed it on to you! A generation of people with good marketing skills! You have to mention here Appa's incredible ability to remember the relationships between people - how he can even tell the queen of England who her relatives are or the Prince of Bel Air who his "Shaddagar" is! :))

Nandini said...

Brilliantly thought out and very well written. It is amazing to read the different types of stuff you write about- nonfiction, movies, inspirations and so on. This write up clearly brings out your genuine admiration and happiness after reading your dad's contribution to the book "Surge". As usual, great job!!!

Veena Venkatesh said...

Hi Ram- what a beautiful write up about your dad! Your dad is a wonderful human being and he truly deserves all that is being said about him. As for your writing skills, Kudos!!

Ram Murali said...

Anu, Nandu and Veena - thank you all for your comments!

Anu - "how he can even tell the queen of England who her relatives are or the Prince of Bel Air who his "Shaddagar" is!" -> And, what's even better is that he will help a relative of the queen of England find a job working under the Prince of Bel Air!

Nandu - thank you! I am glad you liked it.

Veena - so nice to hear from you. Yes, I do think he's a marvelous human being and that personal touch that he blends in with his professional side, is something that I truly admire. Hope you are all doing well.

saradha said...

Vow very nicely written da! I am sure Uncle's heart swelled with pride reading this article than reading the few pages in Surge.

Raghavan S said...

Superb Ram. Traits of your father brilliantly noticed,captured admirably and presented well. Indeed it is his traits and character that made him sweep all hurdles that came in the way and move the mountains. That he could achieve results easily in tasks which even products of elite management institutes could not or found it difficult in itself proves that he is not to be regarded as a "marketeer" but a "pioneer or genius" in the field of marketing to have achieved results that could not be imagined during concept stage. Hats off.

Anonymous said...

CT would have been excited about this, Ram - and claimed that it was because of all this that he chose Murali as his son-in-law! I find it a moving tribute from a fine son to a colourful father. You are a good lad -


ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : Very interesting and insightful article on your father. Kudos ! You must be mighty proud to be his son.

There are two aspects to this.

First, as you very aptly put it the way your father nailed the star performer model. It warrants close reading and study and probably a few sessions with the man himself.

Second, and equally important, TVS group's nailing of identifying a star performer and giving him the stage to perform.

I've been an indirect beneficiary of this since I was the very first student of The School KFI in Madras for which the TVS group first donated land and lent support.

But all this wouldnt have been possible without their harnessing of the phenomenal ability of leaders like your dad.

Lakshmi Narayanan said...

Manoj uncle and I were so moved to read your blog honoring your Dad. Your admiration, love and respect you have for your Appa seemed to reflect in your writing.What a true blessing it is for a Father to receive the adoration of his son. The qualities that contributed to Murali’s success in all of his ventures -cheerfulness, patience, dependability,enthusiasm in many things-i wonder when he sleeps? best of all the incredible memory he has about people , what they do, where they are from,how to connect friends and family has earned him many ,many friends like Manoj uncle and I who applaud his energy and persistence to get a job done regardless of how difficult or time-cosuming. .We always tell him he will make a good politician.I am certain that he is a credit to Memphis, and the Indian community here in Memphis.We are proud of him, and we wish your father a wonderful,healthy and happy life in the years to come.

Ram Murali said...

Charu - thanks for the comment! Yes, I hope Appa enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it :)

Mr. Raghavan - thank you! As you wrote, I am continually amazed how instinctive he is as a professional. Seems to always know how to do the right thing and how to do things right!

Geetha - absolutely! CT would have been mighty proud even to read this, saying that I should have added a section on Appa's health and how that always gets short shrift in his quest for professional satisfaction!

Ravishanker - thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I am so glad to see what you wrote about The School. That's wonderful. I am sure that seeing your growth as a humane, successful professional, they sure did invest right. :)

Lakshmi Aunty - I really, really appreciate you taking the time to pen your thoughts about Appa. I am sure he will love reading it. You, Manoj Uncle and others in Memphis welcomed us with open arms in 1998 and gave us a home away from home. I am always grateful to all of you...

Sruthi Mahadevan said...

Very beautifully written Ram. I still remember the evening Aunty and uncle spent with us in Bay Area. There was never a moment when I felt that I was meeting them for the first time . I'm sure uncle must be on top of the world after reading this write up! Great job !

Ram Murali said...

Sruthi - thank you so much for your comment!
"There was never a moment when I felt that I was meeting them for the first time."
--> :) That's so true! I think he finds a way to 'connect' with people in ways I can seldom emulate as well.
Thanks, once again!

Uday Senan said...

Brilliantly written Ram. This post really moved me.
And your speech on his 60th birthday was superb.
"Except his family is huge"
Truly heart touching moment!

Ram Murali said...

Thank you so much, Uday! Really appreciate your kind words & encouragement.

Kalyan Santhanam said...

Ram ... Very well written blog filled with pride, joy and admiration highlighting your Appa Roger Raghavan :) who shaped your life and career. Very proud son about his dad. Hope all is well with you, Nandini and Amit. Keep in touch Ram. Regards ... Kalyan

Preetha said...

Dear Ram,

What a beautiful post, it is so easy to take parents for granted, so it is inspiring for me to see your love and admiration for your father~ not only in his parental role but in his core personality and business pizzazz! Thank you for sharing.

I am always touched by your father's generosity and enthusiasm. Whenever i visit Memphis, no matter how busy he may be, he makes all efforts to come and visit me! and he always offers to open other doors or link me to his bigger network in order for me to reach my potential. I'm grateful for his enthusiasm, support, and of course... his big smile!

Congatulations to you both!

Ram Murali said...

Dear Preetha - thank you so much for a lovely comment. I am sure Appa will be delighted to see this!
All of you in your family have been so warm, kind and generous towards us that it makes me happy that you feel the same way about Appa.
Thank you, once again, for your note.
And, wish you the best in your musical endeavors.

Ganesh Viswanathan said...

Ram - exceptional writing on the life/career of your dad - well captured and complete. The greatest admiration of mamma for me is his generosity- especially his generosity with his time for others - with so much love and genuine care. He has certainly shown my siblings and I (all of us are huge fans of mamma growing up) how to surge ahead in our career with the leadership skill that helps ever everyone along the way. Clients, competitors, subordinates, superiors are all treated with so much love and care equally. A rare quality to find which you have beautifully captured. The Viswanathan family is for ever indebted to the love, affection and countless blessings we have received in our lives from mamma. Thanks for sharing this great piece.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ganesh Viswanathan : That was very well put.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the excellent write up about your father. Very few millennials do it. What India lacked based on it long lasting colonial survival is Marketing. Your father is the quintessential example of someone who specialized on Marketing. God bless him and all his family.


Ram Murali said...

Ganesh, Ravishanker, Jaya Aunty & Ramanathan Uncle -- Thank you all so much for your kind comments and thoughts. Appa feels truly blessed to have all of these wishes and thoughtful words from all of you.

Anonymous said...

Very nice article! I too felt very moved by my father & father-in-law. It is wonderful when our parents can be role models. Nicely done!

Ram Murali said...

Anonymous - thank you so much for your comment! Yes, it's great when our inspirations can be so accessible!

ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : Its been quite exhausting and nerve wracking at work and at home last few months.

Didnt buy any crackers and both wife and I were too tired and just crashed the whole day today (Deepavali).

Overall....depressing with a Capital D

Didnt feel like doing anything but in the afternoon did nothing else but just going through all your comments on my blog.

I was astounded to find how different each comment was from the previous one and the energy which came through each comment.

I'm not entirely out of the woods but going through your comments was the best therapy I've ever had in a long long time.

Being a Marketing professional is fine.

Being a writer is fine but then lots of writers kottikidakku.

A higher calling awaits you.....

Ram Murali said...

Ravishanker - thank you for your uber-kind note. Nandri Solla Ungaluku Vaarthaiyillai Enaku :)

Cheryl Donnelly said...

Really enjoyed the honest rendering of your father Ram. I feel that I know him and you much better. It is amazing to have such a wonderful role model in your life for you to surge forward and impact not only your life, but the lives of others.

A leader knows the way, goes the way and shows the way and your father embodied that.

Ram Murali said...

Thank you, Cheryl, for promptly reading the article and for your kind, thoughtful comment. I will pass on the compliment to the Senior Murali :)