Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ram Charan: Most Influential Consultant

According to Fortune magazine, Professor Ram Charan is the most influential consultant alive and powerful CEOs love to meet him. He has written (or coauthored) over 11 books and is a globetrotter who is always on the road crisscrossing the world. When I accidentally met him in the Singapore airport he was going to Bangalore on a personal visit before heading off to Zurich.

Yet, such a highflier was very approachable and a charm to interact with. When Sid, a colleague of mine and I approached him, Mr. Charan was engrossed on his Vaio, but he quickly put aside that to join us for what turned out to be an wonderful interaction that I will remember for quite some time to come.

Our initial conversation started with several open ended but interesting questions from Ram Charan on what Sid & I do and about business & SOA. He quickly distilled through our rambling expositions on SOA and came out with simplified statements on technology and SOA which really floored me. I was awed by his understanding of technology and its application to business, though he claimed to be far removed from technology. After that exchange, I could appreciate why Jack Welch would say Ram Charan has the ‘rare ability to distil meaningful from meaningless and transfer it to others without destroying confidences

Though Ram Charan declined my request for an interview, he patiently and politely responded to my queries on a wide range of topics and here it comes:

What drives him?
Ram Charan prefaced his response by mentioning that he has been asked this question several times before. He said that he is lucky to be doing what he likes and that naturally drives him. His philosophy is if you love what you do, it automatically drives to be very involved in whatever you do and everything else falls in place. Regardless of where he is on any given day, he gets up by 5:00 AM and is at his desk by 6:00 AM because he enjoys it.

About risk taking and how he decided to quit his secure tenured professorship to become an independent consultant?
Citing his Indian origin, Ram Charan mentioned that his upbringing and the Sankrit slokas he learnt over the years, kept him rooted on the purpose and minimized his wants and needs. His take is that it not as much about risk taking but very much about doing what you like. He made it clear that when he did that switch, he was not going to be penniless and was content with the safety net he had secured by then and felt it was the natural thing to do as it allowed him to do what he likes.

About being spiritual
For this query, Ram Charan said something interesting that I don’t quite follow. According to him, he is spiritual on what he does and doesn’t practice any of the rituals. However, he did sound deeply religious as he citied his upbringing and Sanskrit slokas many times during the course of our brief chat.

About SOA and Business
Ram Charan believes SOA has the potential to transform business but it is still in the nascent stage and the companies competing for the SOA market share will succeed only by focusing on distinctly differentiating their services and not by just coming to the market with a basket of services. His view (and I fully concur) is that, it is not as much about technology but about the ability of the business to adopt and benefit from SOA.

About finally getting a home
Ram Charan didn’t have a home until very recently. Even now, he doesn’t know where his apartment is in Dallas but acquired one anyways as people kept asking him about it.

About his rare interview
Ram Charan said he rarely gives interviews and that is by design. Even the Fortune interview happened only years of persistent persuasion.

Key takeaways from the interaction

  • Do what you love (or love what you do)
  • Rise Early
  • Be a life long learner


We were on a roll and I would have loved to continue the interesting conversation but he had to rush to catch his flight to Bangalore so our conversation kind of ended abruptly. But before he left, he kindly obliged our request for autograph and photos.

Ram Charan Autograph
I would have liked to get his autograph in one of his books, but all could lay my hands on in a hurry was my note book.
Ram & Ram Charan
Here is yours truly with Ram Charan. This rare and accidental opportunity to interact with the much sought after consultant in a small group left me highly thrilled, energized and made my day without a doubt.
Ram Charan & Sid
Ram Charan and Sid. I am little envious of Sid as he will get to be Mr. Charan for an additional 4+ hours as they travel to Bangalore together and might have more opportunity to interact with Ram Charan.