1990, I was at HBS. Back then, it was a totally different place, with exactly three Indians — Jayant Sinha, Tarun Khanna and me — in a class of 900. We had a fantastic time and remain very close friends.
During summers, most students would intern at McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Unilever or wherever they hope to work eventually. I thought I would write about a question that had been bugging me. It came from my experience at the manufacturing unit; we had turned it around but the unit was closed down anyway, with production outsourced to suppliers. So, the question was — what should a company do by itself and excel at? And what should they outsource to a network of partners or suppliers?
After visiting six companies, such as John Deere and International Harvester, and working with their CEOs, I formulated my answer. I sold the research three times to three different companies and became the only one in my class to graduate with no student loan. When most students ended the course with a $60,000 debt, I sold my research for $20,000 a pop and it became another best-selling article in the Harvard Business Review!
I passed out as a Baker scholar, almost at the top of the class. Although I had my pick of companies including McKinsey, Microsoft and Goldman, I decided to go back to Cummins. The Cummins CEO wanted me to decide what to outsource and help the company get out of all the legacy businesses. At 29, I was working for the chief operating officer, driving this. It was very, very energising.
In 1996, I decided to come back to India for multiple reasons. One, India had started liberalising, and we were hearing interesting stories from the country. Two, both my parents had terminal illnesses and I wanted to be around. Three, I wasn’t meeting the right woman there!
How I met Sonali was unusual. One of my junior colleagues, Ajay Kumar, was traveling on a train and happened to chat with a very talkative lady. Her daughter was living in Japan and refusing to meet guys for marriage. Ajay talked about his 33-year-old boss who was finding it hard to make a match. That boss was me. They teamed up and in