The Future of Tomorrow by Mr. Manoj Kohli, Softbank Group

 
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Corporate Shiksha Insights Forums was held on 21st June 2019 in association with JIMS and UIncept as Academic and Startup Accelerator partners respectively. Mr. Manoj Kohli (Executive Chairman of SoftBank’s Renewable Energy Sector; he was previously the Chairman and Joint Managing Director of Bharti Airtel) shared insights on renewable energy, disruptive technology, and life, that participants took back to reflect upon. Mr. Manoj Kohli has over 40 years of experience in dynamic industries. 

The address started with an introduction to Mr. Kohli's early life, career path, and his learnings along the way. He talked about how he started with a small sugar plant close to Meerut and gradually climbed into renewable energy. His journey has been one of the most dynamic. Starting from 15-20 years in manufacturing to about 15 years in telecom, he has come a long way and has spent the last 5 years in renewable energy. Living in multiple countries, experiencing cultural and social diversity- Mr. Kohli has learned lessons along the way that he imparted to the participants in this keynote.

He went on to talk about the importance of learning. He said, “I have completed 40 years of my experience and I’m ready to work for the next 20 years. That Is life- life is about learning, working, and contributing.” He believes that learning is something a person should pursue every day, but so is unlearning. He talked about how important it is to leverage your own skills to learn rather than depending on someone’s already existing knowledge. 

He emphasized that when a person goes out in his pursuit to learn, the situation can either seem threatening or exciting. It can seem like there is a lot of discomfort in the knowledge that is not spoonfed, but he firmly believes that this is the kind of learning that is bound to stick with a person forever.

Many a time, people are skeptical of a person’s motives and goals. It is at that moment, a person should hold strong ground and believe that his direct approach towards learning is the way to go. He should not let others’ judgments get to his mind. 

After a brief conversation on how his learning and approach impacted his life, he went on to talk about the future and what are going to be its key drivers. From Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, and Big Data to Drones, Robots, and Machine Learning- he talked about it all. Mr. Kohli believes in the fact that domain skills would still be required. Expertise in these fields will be an added advantage. What will be eradicated is the need for physical labor and clerical thinking such as calculations and analysis. He said, “The only word I can use for the future is disruption and that word is completely dichotomous with the individual state of mind or a company’s state of mind. Companies or individuals think that everything is stable, but the actual reality which will dawn on us in the next 10-20 years will be completely opposite of that. This is why you see today so many industrial groups which were doing well 20-30 years ago are dead.

He especially talked about how Artificial Intelligence is replacing human thinking and how there are disruptive market drivers that are about to change the economy and the world in the coming years. 

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I have completed 40 years of my experience and I’m ready to work for the next 20 years. That Is life- life is about learning, working, and contributing.

He believes there is going to be a large scale disruption in every industry as new ways are being devised to do things and industries become more open to new ideas and information. As a country, India is much more ahead than it was 10 years ago when technologies came in much later compared to the West. Now, we as a nation do not lag behind in terms of growth as much as we did. In fact, he said that in the near future, there might be innovation that is introduced to India before some of the Western countries see it. 

In the renewable energy sector, he talked about how, currently, it forms only 5% of the total energy industry, and how in the next 5-10 years, renewable energy is going to make up almost 80-90% of the total energy resources around the globe. With fossil and nuclear power gradually declining, renewable energy is bound to pick up pace in the future- making this industry grow by leaps and bounds. He then went on to talk about a few seasoned disruptive startups that have emerged and what sets them apart. For example, OYO has come up in recent times and has changed the way people look at hotel accommodation. A platform built to connect hotels across cities to people looking for them- OYO has established itself as a key player in this industry. What makes them stand out is their innovation and drive, and the hunger to learn and grow. Their thought process and brilliant problem-solving drive have led to the success they witness today. Another prime example is Ola, which is a ride-sharing application that connects riders to drivers. With these business models like Ola and Uber, the number of privately owned automotive vehicles is going down globally.

He explained that any idea that wishes to disrupt an industry has to first disrupt old patterns and consumer choices. Then only it can bring about a revolution in the industry itself. An organization’s ability to adapt to change can become one of its key elements of survival. If the management is not ready to adapt to change, a business can go in a serious threat of dying out. There are so many companies that get sick and fizzle out every day, and if an organization wishes to play the longer game, they must adapt to change quickly. Another challenge organizations face is not just incorporating change, but having teams to work together in harmony as these changes come into effect. Now, people have started working remotely, there has been a rise in employee flexibility and freedom. It is important to bring collaboration and corroboration across teams and departments as, without it, companies cannot succeed. Creating employee experiences that facilitate a sense of belonging to an organization is important as well. If employee experiences are not improved and the employees are not given the right tools to learn and grow- people would never want to work for an organization. 

Communication across organizations is very crucial. He said, “If the last employee of the organization cannot get a message clearly, then organizational communication has failed. Management has to work much harder. Technology has helped in message transmission across sectors widely.” When machine learning and AI take over, what is left for employees? Passion cannot be taken over, inspiration cannot be taken over, and leadership styles cannot be taken over. Thus, softer issues will become far greater.  He said, “Skills will still remain uppermost, your skill if you’re an HR/IT/AI/Manufacturing expert will always be important. Go down to the depth of that expertise, become the best in your industry and in that expertise because then, nobody can touch you.

The physical and mental activities might be taken over. What will be left will be passion and drive.
Personally, I feel that professionals like us should be passionate. Passion is a positive, optimistic and hopeful way of thinking with a rational mind and not emotional mind

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Personally, I feel that professionals like us should be passionate. Passion is a positive, optimistic and hopeful way of thinking with a rational mind and not emotional mind

Rationality has to be the foundation of passion. You can’t have passion on top of emotions- that is destructive. Passion has to be on top of on a rational thought which is logical and data-based

Despite disruptive technologies, skills will still dominate. “Whatever you do in life, balance is very important.” If there is discipline, the loss can be brought down and victory can be stretched out. He shared an insightful story that his grandmother told him about how we are defined by our character and not others’ actions. He said these stories have stayed with him for over 5 decades and still guide his decisions.  He talked about how sustaining balance is crucial in any aspect of life. It goes hand in hand with upgrading your skills consistently. Being successful and unhappy is not a good situation to be in, and neither is the opposite very viable. A person has to find his balance between his priorities and it can be very subjective. For someone, success can be more important while for another, the work-life balance could be of value. There is no one size that fits all, a person has to find their own balance.

He talked about how his first 10 years working were his biggest learning years. How he did things that scared him and how pushing himself outside what was comfortable brought about fantastic learning. The mantra he swears by is devoting your mind to finding a solution, not thinking about the problem, and robust physical activity. He believes in loving what you do and believing what you stand for. After a career ranging for over forty years, he believes true satisfaction comes from finding joy in what you do, and not living for vacations. 

An audience member asked Mr. Kohli if he always dreamt of being a CEO or was it passion, drive, and serendipity? He very candidly answered, “I didn’t have that. I just had a dream that I should do very well in the corporate sector. I am the only black sheep in my family. The only professional. I didn't have that CEO dream, but by the time I was 30, I clearer on the vision, and then I became the CEO.”

 
Nayan Khemani