Dipak C. Jain shares business insights, emphasizes value of diversity and says to ‘dig deeper’ to tap analytical skills required for success
3/7/2008 - Addressing nearly 200 Northwestern University undergraduate students on March 5, Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain delivered a lecture that inspired and informed.
Speaking in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum, Jain offered his perspective on the education required for leaders in a marketplace being reshaped by the forces of globalization. The event was sponsored by AIESEC
, an international student-run organization founded in 1948.
Part personal narrative sketching his own leadership journey from a small town in India, part insightful discourse on marketing and management in a hypercompetitive global context, Jain’s remarks offered students an outline of the skills he believes necessary for success. Chief among these is the ability to “dig deeper” to pursue the analytical data to support good leadership decisions, rather than relying on “hearsay and opinion” to drive change.
“This is a very important leadership lesson,” said Jain, which is why Northwestern and Kellogg have recently launched two undergraduate certificate programs
. These offerings, he said, give exceptional younger students at the university a chance to learn from Kellogg professors.
In a presentation titled “Globalization and Your Future,” the mathematician-turned-marketing scholar said it was important that students push themselves harder in their academic efforts so they can discern the larger implications of their classroom efforts. Endeavor to learn “not merely what happened, but also why it happened,” said Jain.
Such analysis is demanded by what Jain termed a “nanosecond” culture, where technology and demographic shifts force increasingly rapid change. In this environment, he noted, uncertainty rules but leaders still must act effectively. To do so, they should “anticipate” rather than“predict” the changes that can impact their industries, said Jain. The difference, in part, involves thinking beyond the boundaries of one’s narrow market to consider alternative threats and opportunities. Jain cited the example of the airline industry: Traditionally, airlines considered their competition to be other airlines, and so placed predictive bets governed mostly by this framework. However, by anticipating broader disruptive possibilities the airlines would have understood the potential implications that technologies such as video conferencing might have on air travel.
“Resist the temptation to define the competition exclusively in your own industry,” Jain said.
Similarly, leaders need to think broadly about the talent they recruit, since “the future of value creation will come from an investment in people,” an emphasis he said the Kellogg School’s team-oriented culture has long discerned. Importantly, this talent can come from anywhere around the globe: “Some have said ‘geography is history,’ Jain noted, and that the world is now boundaryless. As a result, leaders need to embrace the power of diversity and have excellent cross-cultural management skills.
“Tolerance for diversity is a strength,” Jain said, citing a recent book — Day of Empire — that argues the point. He noted his own experiences, coming from Tezpur, India, to study in the United States, where he said he could then work hard to build a successful career in an environment that values diversity.
Jain encouraged students to pursue their own journey to success, advising them to be prepared to be diligent and patient. “Consider the elevator to success to be out of order: take the stairs,” he said.
Taking the stairs includes making efforts to cultivate expertise, said Jain. He recommended what he called a “two, two and two” strategy: Find two areas of interest, then make a point of regularly reading two journals that report on those areas. Finally, identify two specific examples from those fields — whether two companies, two classical composers or two philosophers — and study them closely. “Do this, and you will soon be an expert,” said Jain. “Many people work on the surface, but you should dig deeper to gain competitive advantage.”
Jain told the audience that three areas would likely present ongoing career opportunities: customer well being (healthcare and financial advisers offering “wealthcare”); customer engagement (media and entertainment); and customer hospitality (tourism, hotels and restaurants). But career choices, fundamentally, should be driven by personal passion, not over-calculation, said Jain, adding that success should lead to “significance” as a person strives to make a contribution to the larger community.
“Significance does not come without success, but your mission in life should be to think beyond yourself,” Jain said.
Jain spent two hours speaking with students and answering a range of questions about management and leadership, including providing strategic insights about how competitive pressures today are forcing universities to find ways to “monetize knowledge,” in addition to their traditional functions of knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination and knowledge certification.
The lecture was followed by a networking reception that included a chance for undergraduates to interact with Kellogg students.
Said Northwestern senior Alejandro Luciano, AIESEC local community president: “This was certainly one of the best, most inspiring lectures that I’ve heard as a student at Northwestern. Dean Jain is one of the foremost experts in the Northwestern business community.”
Manu Jain, AIESEC vice president added that the Kellogg dean was the ideal person to address issues of globalization. “If you could put an image to the concept of globalization, it would be Dipak Jain,” he said.
But he said students also were impressed by the dean’s ability to talk about values as well as business.
“As Dean Jain described in his address, one man can mean the world to another person, and he meant the world to an auditorium full of undergraduates last night,” said Manu Jain.“He was truly riveting and inspirational (moving some to tears), and he went above and beyond anything AIESEC could have ever dreamed of, which is a true testament to his ability to engage and inspire.”
Students continued talking about the event the following day, said Jason Wang, AIESEC president.
“Students came expecting to hear Dean Jain’s suggestion on how to specifically plan our careers,” Wang said. “I think the dean surprised us all by telling us how to think about the future and how to carve out our own paths to success.”