Boston Chai Party
The Power of Parity
It is nice to meet a star, even if it is for a fleeting moment. Such encounters leave us starry-eyed and moon-struck. Even the most conceited amongst us will invariably steal a glance at the footprints the star leaves behind. Now imagine what would happen if you were to hold the hand of this star and walk together for a couple of days? You will probably remember those walking tracks for a couple of decades! At least in my case, it’s over half-way mark and the tracks haven’t yet faded from my vivid memory… It has been more than a decade since I had that Boston Chai party with the richest Indian on the Forbes list at that time, and came back enlightened that being unpretentious is not just about being a good human being, it actually makes an awesome business sense! To reminisce about those two days, we need to join Mahesh GB back on the journey we embarked in the preceding blog.
As our US trip entered its closing week, Mahesh said that he would like to take a detour through Boston so that we can visit his “mama” (maternal uncle). I protested since we didn’t have any clients in Boston to warrant this expense. Mahesh improvised that we could stay at his uncle’s place so that won’t cost us any money. I was still irritated by his insistence—if this uncle was indeed so special, how come Mahesh had never mentioned him before? Mahesh elaborated that his uncle’s name was Gururaj Deshpande and he headed a very large Internet infrastructure company. My heart thumped loud… was he referring to ‘Desh’ of Sycamore fame? Mahesh nodded in approval.
Sycamore had just gone IPO in those days, skyrocketing individual wealth of Desh in a zone that gave him the tag of “richest Indian” on the planet at that point of time! I relented, doing a miserable job of hiding my excitement. “Fine, let’s go there since it means so much to you …”
Desh came to receive us at the Boston Airport. As we drove towards his home, his mobile phone stayed glued to his ears—nonstop interaction with Wall Street analysts. I was very impressed—this was my first interaction with a larger-than-life czar—so this is what life in the fast lane of corporate expressway must be like!
Then we reached his house, and in the next couple of days, I underwent a close encounter of a different kind. Desh and his family turned out to be more genuine hosts than any affectionate mamas that I know of! Desh’s kids were several fold more cultured than the present crop of the new desi generation (the two eventually followed their father’s footsteps as they acquired MIT doctorates and went beyond). Both mornings at his place found us sitting around a small kitchen dining table while Desh would wear the cook’s white apron and prepare hot dosas for us! He gave us an elaborate tour of Sycamore and took the effort to explain us his business in minute details.
Then our last evening before we were to fly out of Boston, he decided to host a chai party at a fancy Indian restaurant. And he did something remarkable that evening. He asked me about our baby Cybage and very attentively listened to each word interrupting with many questions. I talked and talked. And he listened and listened. The flight departure time drew closer, but I kept talking, and he kept listening without reminding me that it was getting late. Even when the meal bill came, he didn’t bother to pick up the bill—waited for me to make the move. I requested whether I could pay the bill to reciprocate his hospitality. He smilingly conceded with a statement “nothing will give me greater pleasure”. He ensured that gigantic Sycamore and timid Cybage were peers that afternoon! The incident was tiny, maybe of inconsequential value from a reader’s perspective. But I remember it very well. For Mr. Deshpande bought a friend’s loyalty that afternoon—he extended me a mark of respect by ironically not paying for the meal! If CEOs were to imbibe the same thought process in a non-negotiable spirit when treating their employees, I am sure they will have the honor of commandeering the unflinching loyalties of a finest army.
Several years later, I discovered that Desh was visiting Pune, and requested Mahesh to get him over to Cybage for motivation talk to senior folks. Desh was accompanied by his wife—not too many people know Jayshree Deshpande and Sudha Murthy are real sisters, which makes Narayan Murthy and Gururaj Deshpande co-brothers! When I was introducing Desh, I made relational references about Narayan and Sudha Murthy, and realized that I skipped saying anything about Jayshree. Witless, I made a rather awkward comment on whether the two sisters ever fight about whose husband drives a bigger car?! She laughingly quipped that these co-brothers actually compete on who drives a more beat-up car! I understood her laughter. It is never about the car. It is about the driver who is able to look into the rear-view mirror with a smile without even realizing the timeless marks of the tracks he is leaving behind!