My family and I built up a rather large and highly reputed automotive components manufacturing business. In the early years our dependence on the domestic market and a few key customers made us vulnerable to cyclic demand which had bad consequences for our organisation.
So we began to explore export markets.
One day in 1984, thanks to the Chamber of Commerce, we hosted a small delegation of prospective American buyers. At dinner that evening, me a very young man, tried rather too hard to impress a very senior, highly experienced delegate, Ms. Helen about our capabilities as an organisation and me as an individual.
We chatted for quite a while about a wide range of matters, and I sprinkled our conversation with American business jargon.
After about an hour, Helen who was a senior executive in her organisation, asked me. "Apparently you are well informed GS, from where are you getting all this information and these perspectives?"
With my chest puffed up , I replied that I read all the top American magazines in routine, including Time magazine, Business Week, Forbes etc.
Helen responded "That kind of figures. You sound just like people back home"
I thought Helen was paying me a compliment, but it was not, as I soon discovered.
She asked me, "Don't you have any Indian perspectives, you know, information, philosophies and views that are Indian?
Do you think, I travelled half way around the world to come to listen to an Indian Industrialist who thinks and sounds just like an American?"
"Rather than merely correspond, I chose to come to India personally, with a hope to understand and experience the depths and greatness of an ancient civilisational culture and people. I am convinced, many of you are still trapped in a Colonised mindset."
"Unfortunately you are all thinking and acting just like Americans without being American.
You can be at best be a second or third grade American clone.
Why don't you think about and aspire to being a great Indian individual and organisation? When will you stop following, and start leading?"
"GS, I am sorry to tell you that I am disappointed by our conversation. From our interaction, I learnt very little that was new or refreshing.
Now if you will excuse me, I need to find someone else to converse with."
Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
That really hurt. Her statements were brutally honest, as is a typical American trait. I was not only crestfallen, I was devastated, I wanted to strangle Helen.
Helen's opinion and harsh comments haunted me for months, before I realised that there was great merit in what she told me. Though I never interacted with Helen again in my life, I remember her often and always with gratitude, for she positively changed my perspective on life for ever.
Rather than be a first class copy of someone else, I have focussed on understanding myself and my world. By being true and honest with myself, I have tasted great rewards professionally, socially and spiritually.