2016 Nirma University Convocation, Ahmedabad, India
Remarks by President John A. Fry
April 18, 2016
It’s an honor and a pleasure to be here with all of you. Thank you for giving me this privilege. For today’s graduates and their families, this marks an important milestone on your life’s journey. From here, you can look back at your significant accomplishment and draw strength from knowing what you are capable of achieving. You can also look forward to a successful future in which you’ve given yourself the tools to make a difference for your families, your community and your society.
For the esteemed faculties of the Institute of Management and the Institute of Law this is a day when you can reflect on the positive impact you have through your teaching as well as your scholarly work.
And for the outstanding administration of Nirma University, you can take pride in having built an institution, in a short period of time that promises a bright future for Ahmedabad Gujarat and all of India and the world.
In light of all those achievements, I bring greetings and congratulations from your colleagues at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Like Nirma University, Drexel is dedicated to preparing students for lives of professional success…but just as important, lives that are steeped in social responsibility. And like you, we are committed to harnessing research and innovation to solve the problems of our societies and we want to create stronger connections among academics around the world. It’s in the spirit of that goal that I am proud and excited to be here with all of you.
I salute the great leaders of Nirma University. It would take too long to name everyone who deserves recognition, but let me single out Dr. Anup Singh, director general, Shri D. P. Chhaya, director of academic and general administration…and Shri K.K. Patel, vice president and chief operating officer.
I want to acknowledge the trustees of the Nirma Education and Research Foundation…and in particular Shri Hirenbhai Patel. Shri Patel received his MBA from Drexel University’s Bennett S. LeBow College of Business. He is one of our most successful graduates and a role model for today’s Drexel students. They would do well to emulate how he balances professional leadership, as one of India’s most innovative executives and community leadership, as a driving force in improving education and health.
Shri Patel, thank you for representing Drexel University so wonderfully here in your country.
Finally, I offer greetings and my deepest respect to Dr. Karsanbhai Patel, president, founder and driving force behind Nirma University and the Nirma Education and Research Foundation.
There’s an energy that’s created when a great leader believes passionately in a place and its people, when he identifies a pressing need in that place, and when he brings the best minds of his community together to meet that need and unlock the potential of the people. That energy makes impossible things become possible. Things like building a world-renowned university in less than 25 years, with beautiful campuses, outstanding academic programs and research and most important, the best professors and students.
I know that yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of official recognition for Nirma University, and I congratulate you. At Drexel University, we’ve been at this for 125 years…so to see what you’ve accomplished in a single generation is remarkable. Dr. Patel, your legacy in this city and state is secure. Now, let me turn to today’s graduates.
Congratulations! I am so proud of you, and grateful for the opportunity to be with you on this special day. Advanced education is often the process of learning how little we actually know…but also of proving to ourselves that we have the capacity to learn and to make a difference. It’s about building a body of knowledge in our field and also a body of experience and a set of personal skills that will help us be effective in our careers…our personal lives…and our service to others.
Those skills include collaborating with others and honoring their perspectives, understanding how technology is changing the way people work and innovate, realizing that our work must benefit not only ourselves but our communities, including those less fortunate than us…and seeing how each of us fits in to an increasingly global and interconnected society.
The graduates we celebrate today have acquired those skills through your own efforts and those of the faculty and staff of Nirma University. So please salute yourselves and everyone who helped you reach this place of achievement.
Let me begin with the graduates of the Institute of Law.
To Dr. Purvi Pokhariyal, dean of the faculty of law, congratulations on helping another outstanding class reach its potential. The next generation of legal professionals will play a critical role as our societies tackle the challenges facing us. The law makes our way of life possible. It provides the foundation for productive relationships among people and businesses. It helps create incentives for innovation. And it protects the weakest among us. And so, the law and those who practice it should play a role in preserving that way of life, and improving it…making it more fair, more inclusive, more sustainable. At my university in America, I constantly challenge our students to use their skills and knowledge to fight global threats to health, prosperity, and the environment. I’m talking about terrible consequences of industrial disasters…the cumulative health and ecological effects of pollution……far-reaching public health crises like the lack of access to clean water. A wide spectrum of disciplines must work together to find solutions and the legal profession has a key place in that spectrum.
I implore each of you to bring your talents and your education to bear on the big issues of your time. Use the personal connections you have built at Nirma University…the insight you have gained through your studies and experiences and the keen sense of justice that brought you to study the law. You can improve lives in India and around the world. I’m confident that you’re up to the task.
The graduates of the Institute of Management will play no less critical a role in the future of this society.
Congratulations to you…and to Dr. Somayajulu Garimella, dean of the faculty of management. From Dr. Garimella and his exceptional faculty, you’ve learned about finance and strategy. You’ve learned how data informs the right decision and how productivity is measured and improved. But most important, you’ve learned about people and how we get the most out of ourselves and others. Business is one way in which humanity organizes itself to harness everyone’s talents and ideas. It provides a path to creating innovation, improving lives, and expanding our impact far beyond the individual.
Peter Drucker, the teacher and writer who helped shape the modern idea of management, once wrote… “Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance…to make their strengths effective…and their weaknesses irrelevant.”
The kind of growth that will give more people meaningful work and a higher standard of living can be driven by businesses and especially by entrepreneurs. And even more important, the ideas that change the world…that cure diseases…or open new horizons…or bring us closer together are as likely to come from businesses as they are from governments or universities or inventors working by themselves.
Today’s Institute of Management graduates, if you keep sight of the fact that you are working not just for yourselves but for your community and your society you can and will change the world for the better.
For the remainder of this address, I want to speak briefly about what I think it takes to become a leader in the modern world. Not too long ago, it would have been much more difficult for me to offer any insight into your future as leaders. Our societies were still so different, and so separate, that our experiences might not have been relevant to each other. That has changed, rapidly and completely. The requirements for leadership in all parts of the world have become more similar.
We are all living and working in an environment where the pace of change has accelerated remarkably. We are making, as a global community, decisions that will affect our ability to prosper and even survive. There are a couple of key perspectives that leaders must have… not only to succeed in business or the law…but to contribute to those critical global decisions.
First, you must be prepared to live in a truly global society and economy. Global collaboration, and especially healthy competition, is critical to solving the world's pressing problems, such as climate change and need for clean energy, green technology and industry. Your generation must build an ecosystem of global partnerships to facilitate productive, mutually beneficial opportunities for innovators around the world to connect. Global engagement has been a strategic priority at Drexel for the past 5 years. I know it’s also critically important at Nirma University.
Second, you must embrace “entrepreneurship.” We associate that word closely with starting and leading new businesses. But I have in mind a broader definition. Entrepreneurship means the ability to champion new ideas — to take them out of the theoretical realm, and use them to make real impact in the world. For instance, new discoveries must translate into new technologies that help us live better lives. New data about health, or education, or transportation must inform policies that make a difference for people. This is the mindset we all should have as academics, as professionals, and as leaders. And you’ll need it whether you work for yourself or someone else, in business or in public service, even as a student.
There are three main aspects to our definition of entrepreneurship. Number one, entrepreneurship is a habit of mind and attitude. Just as you’ve learned through practice to study effectively, write well, and think critically in order to succeed in your classes, you can also learn a set of lifelong skills that will help you pursue innovation in everything you do. These skills include resilience — the ability to weather and reverse a bad outcome, collaboration — the ability to bring out the best in the people around you… negotiation — which is not the skill of getting what you want…but rather the ability to help parties understand each other’s needs and find common ground…and finally, the critical skill of communication.
Number two, entrepreneurship is an approach to life. That approach is built around innovative thinking, which means finding the solutions no one else has thought of…taking calculated risks, because risk and reward go hand in hand…and always thinking and acting ahead.
Number three, entrepreneurship is a process through which you create…or recognize…an opportunity to pursue something of value, regardless of the resources available.
That something can be a new business. It can be a new product for the company that hires you…It can be a new way to serve others or a new educational or personal goal. If you develop your entrepreneurship potential, you’ll be in a position to help India solidify its leadership position in the global community. Because entrepreneurship is as important to India as to any nation in the world.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor is an ongoing study of entrepreneurship data led by Babson College in the U.S. In the most recent global report, for 2015 and 2016, a few things stand out about India. India ranks 7th in the world for innovation among its entrepreneurs. More than half describe themselves as having innovative products or services. As that spirit is backed by more confident and widespread entrepreneurship…you can see the potential for a real boost to worldwide innovation.
And there’s more good news when we look at expert ratings of India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. India ranks among the best nations for entrepreneurial finance and supportive government policies. And, bringing us full circle to the academic celebration we’re sharing today…India is ranked 10th for entrepreneurship education at the primary and secondary school level and 14th at higher levels.
I know that Nirma’s Institute of Management supports entrepreneurship at its highest levels with Dr. Garimella involved in research, teaching and consulting for entrepreneurs for many years. And the Institute of Law includes several top researchers in intellectual property law, which is critical to any entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Coming out of a school with a focus on entrepreneurship is a big advantage to graduates…not to mention the unparalleled example of the Patel family and the entire leadership of Nirma Limited…a company founded by one man, one innovator…Dr. Karsanbhai Patel.
From Dr. Patel, we can all take the lesson that the spirit of entrepreneurship is critical for advancing society today and must be a part of the education that universities offer to our future leaders.
At Drexel, we’ve taken steps toward integrating innovation skills into the experience we offer to all of our students including the creation of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, which we launched two years ago out of groundwork laid in our LeBow College of Business. Why did we prioritize entrepreneurship? We did it because research universities around the world are pretty good at coming up with new ideas about how the world works, and how it could work, and testing those ideas. But there’s a critical next step where our track record is mixed. That next step is to harness the potential of an idea to change the world, or at least some small part of it. This is an area where we have to do better. It’s a moral responsibility for the modern university to add value both economically and in terms of quality of life. And that’s where the skills of entrepreneurship come into play. Our faculty and students need to be able to recognize and evaluate opportunities, to be nimble in thought and thoughtful in action.
Entrepreneurship is now part of how our university teaches…part of the research we do…part of how our students prepare for careers through real-world experience…even how they live on campus.
The ways in which we encourage creativity… interdisciplinarity… and experimentation are making us more productive and impactful as a university. Drexel students have responded to that encouragement. They want to be as entrepreneurial as possible. And I know that you do as well.
So how can you maximize your potential as global entrepreneurs?
First of all, continue to learn about entrepreneurship, both formally and informally. Classroom education is important, and so is the experience of meeting successful entrepreneurs.
Number two, seek out other young entrepreneurs, especially among your fellow graduates. You’re not competitors. Rather, the power of a group of people dedicated to pursuing innovation, together, can be much more than the sum of its parts.
Finally, go ahead and start new ventures, as soon as you can. Like any skill, you only get better at entrepreneurship by practicing. Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from pursuing your goals. The world’s great entrepreneurs usually have a track record of false starts before seeing success. In fact, many say that they couldn’t have succeeded without the failures.
Just today, I’ve met faculty and students whose work has the potential to change the world. The tools of entrepreneurship will increase your chances of realizing that potential. I’m proud to work for an institution that has recognized that fact…and I’m proud today to extend our friendship with another such institution, Nirma University.
Once again, I am grateful for the chance to visit with you and honored to have been invited to speak today. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. And congratulations on a wonderful achievement.