Published: 22nd February 2021
You have the power to create a world that's fair and peaceful: HUL's Sanjiv Mehta at XLRI
Mehta also spoke on the importance of inclusivity, diversity and empathy while addressing students at the 64th convocation ceremony of XLRI
Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Unilever Limited Sanjiv Mehta was recently awarded the Sir Jahangir Ghandy medal for industrial and social peace at the 64th convocation of XLRI, Jamshedpur. Addressing the graduating class, he said, "This is a moment of celebration and joy for all of you who are at the threshold of realising your potentials and aspirations. All of you are the chosen ones. You hold the power to create a new world. One that is inclusive, safe, equitable, sustainable, peaceful and fair. One where no one goes hungry. One where the planet doesn't suffer. One where children don't die of preventable diseases."
Sir Jehangir Ghandy Medal for Industrial and Social Peace, instituted by XLRI in 1966, in honor of the Late Sir Jehangir Ghandy, former Chairman of the Board of Governors - XLRI is awarded to Heroic Leaders who have contributed towards the growth of their respective organizations and also impacted the growth of our nation in a significant way.
He said that while 2020 may have sown the seeds of doubt for many, he believed in human ingenuity and the capacity to change and survive. "We have the intellect, we have the financial capacity and the visceral instinct to survive. The world may have been marked by uncertainty, but it is temporary. On the other hand, it has also opened a whole new set of opportunities and possibilities for all of us. So for the young and educated, the word 'crisis' when written in Chinese has two characters that refer to both danger and opportunity. Today marks a new start to the ups and downs of the real world, away from the confines of your university. The degrees that you earned are not a passport to a fulfilling life. You are entrusted with the responsibility of making the world a better place to live in," he said.
Encouraging the students to have focus and balance, he said, "With the world changing at a pace faster than ever, finding a purpose and working constantly towards it gives you an anchor. Purpose needs to be coupled with a set of values that are non-negotiable. Some of the key values I imbibed from my parents were integrity, ethics and love for the nation. At Hindustan Unilever, we would be willing to pay huge costs, but not pay a dime as illicit money to get any benefit. Throughout life, you will come across situations that will test you to take the easier way out. However, always tread the path that's right."
He added, "You may not have had many lucky breaks in life. But so what?That will not stop you from doing what you want. How you face your fears will determine the road ahead. If you're following your heart and not breaking the law, don't be afraid to challenge societal norms or make a new path for yourself. The biggest fear is the fear of failure. In fact, when you fail, you learn. It does not matter how many times you fail, what matters is your resilience."
Speaking on the importance of staying rooted, he said, "Ambition gives you wings to fly. Humility keeps you grounded. Putting yourself out there can be tough, but remaining authentic is tougher. Do not waver." Mehta then urged the students to keep learning. "The only way to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world is to be a student all your life. If you don't keep learning, how as leaders are you going to reinvent your businesses or institutions or enterprises you will be running?" he asked them.
Life often throws ugly surprises and Mehta had his fair share of those. He described how at 24, he was made a member of the crisis team of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. While being chairman of Unilever in Bangladesh, he had to face the backlash of locals. And as chairman of Unilever in North Africa, he had to lead his team through the Arab Spring.
Mehta also spoke on the importance of inclusivity, diversity and empathy. "Whether you're leading a team or part of it, complementing each other and working towards a common goal is the only way to move forward. The past few months have also shown us the importance of empathy and kindness. The world needs more equitable sharing of wealth and resources. The concept of capitalism and the winner takes it all has to change. The aftermath of this pandemic is much more on the poor. We must not forget our responsibility towards them. The rich must live simply so that the poor can simply live. You are all blessed with world-class education. But think of the migrant workers, the resilience of our government, the sacrifice of doctors and nurses, policemen who have been selfless. Embrace the responsibility to strengthen our nation," he concluded.