Interesting, but only in parts

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on August 29, 2021

Title: The Pilani Pioneers: Inspiring Success Stories of 25 BITS Pilani GraduatesAuthors: Gaurav Mandlecha, Durjai SethiPublisher: Pan Macmillan IndiaPrice: ₹399

The profiling of 25 BITSians follows a templated style

Increasingly, a lot of books have a templated feel to them. The Pilani Pioneers is one of these. Ever since Rashmi Bansal wrote her runaway bestseller Stay Hungry Stay Foolish, which profiled 25 MBAs from IIM Ahmedabad, there have been many collections of entrepreneurial success stories.

Bansal herself built on her success and followed up with quite a few such anthologies — a set of profiles on people without an MBA (Connect the Dots), a collection of profiles of successful executives in jobs (Shine Bright), and so on.

Gaurav Mandlecha and Durjai Sethi are a bit late to this party, though one thing going in their favour is that the institution from which they pick the success stories — BITS Pilani — is refreshingly different from the usual B-School formula. Mandlecha and Sethi are young BITSians themselves.

It’s quite an eclectic mix of profiles — there are seasoned businessmen like Baba Kalyani and Gulu Mirchandani, dynamic professionals such as Harish Bhat of Tata Sons, Ajoy Misra, former MD and CEO of Tata Consumer Products, Sunil Duggal, former CEO, Dabur India, Mahesh Babu, MD and CEO, Mahindra Electric, and entrepreneurs like Hari Menon of Big Basket, Abhishek Humbad of Goodera and Phanindra Sama of redBus.

However, just four women — Tulsi Mirchandaney, MD, Blue Dart Aviation, Shivangi Nadkarni, co-founder and CEO, Arrka Consulting, Sandhya Prakash, founder and MD, Beacon Energy Solution, and Nandini Chopra, MD, Alvarez & Marsal — figure, a comment on how skewed the business world still is when it comes to gender.

The genesis

In their introduction , the young authors try to answer why they featured these particular 25 BITSians — the strand that connects these disparate people they say is the moral fibre, the giving back to society, adding value to lives, traits they share.

The genesis for this book, say the two authors, was a BITS Leadership Summit they planned in which they wanted to call the trailblazers from the institute — that never took off, but from the ashes of that rose this book.

So far so good. But the problem is in the execution. The profiles follow a templated style. There is a short summary of the trailblazer, followed by a longer account of their journey, their passion, their philosophy and then a “Back to BITS” section where the person profiled shares some vignettes about life in the campus.

This could actually have been the best section — after all, who doesn’t love a bit of nostalgia, and one would have loved to see the evolution of BITS Pilani over the years through the eyes of the alumni. But sadly, this section is too short.

Also, while some like Gulu Mirchandani have packed it with colour pointing out the lack of non-vegetarian food in the days when they studied, many others have given stereotyped answers or been very sketchy.

Take Dabur’s former CEO Sunil Duggal’s Back to BITS section. There is just one line about the institute and the memory shared is mostly about his desire to pursue management from one of the top three IIMs, post his engineering.

Looking for more

This is true of the larger profiles as well. While they are all very breezily written and a good read, most of them leave you wanting more.

A more experienced writer might have drawn the subject out and brought out quirky anecdotes and harder lessons on combating business challenges. For instance, the profile of Mirchandani is conspicuous by the absence of talking about the internal conflicts that led Onida to the brink, or how it has come back again now.

On the other hand, I must admit that it was fascinating to learn about newer entrepreneurs like Sagar Yarnalkar, co-founder and CEO, Daily Ninja, or Abhishek Nayak of Appsmith.

This book may be useful to students or appeal to future engineers but lacks the depth a business reader might seek.

Published on August 29, 2021

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