The fearless factor: Ajai Chowdhry, Founder, HCL on entrepreneurship


Starting today we bring you a series of articles on entrepreneurship from one of India’s foremost business leaders – Ajai Chowdhry, Founder of the $6 Billion IT conglomerate Hindustan Computers Limited (HCL). As founder of one of India’s first true-blue start-ups, he has written the book on entrepreneurship in India. Ajai is Chairman of the Board of Governors at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Patna & Chairman of Confederation of Indian Industries’ (CII) National Committee on Technology. In 2011, the Government of India awarded Ajai Chowdhry with the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award, recognizing his consistent contribution to the Indian IT industry. 

In his first article, Ajai says that to be successful in the entrepreneurial space, it is important to rid yourself of fear

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By Ajai Chowdhry

In today’s sound byte world, the word ‘entrepreneur’ gets bandied about like any other business school jargon. We are constantly selling the merits of entrepreneurship to our youth—throwing at them words like ‘initiative’, ‘risk’ and ‘innovation’. There is no doubt that these concepts are essential in the pursuit of business excellence, but I want to ask an important question: What is at the very core of entrepreneurship? To answer this question‚ I would like to tell you a story. A story that started with a dream and grew to become HCL. I embarked on my exciting entrepreneurial journey in the 1970s, when I was a raw 25-year-old. I made the daring decision to leave my stable, reliable job at DCM, the fifth largest company in India at the time, to create what would become HCL, with five other hungry upstarts. We were the textbook definition of entrepreneurs—young men with little more than an exceptional idea, passion and a desire to succeed.

Failure not an option

I could tell you countless tales of those first few breathless years when we laid the foundations for the HCL you know today. About how our first office was a tiny barsati with no telephones, about the endless hours on the road in buses and trains and autos—finding ways to constantly keep the cash rolling in so we could stay afloat. I could tell you about the thrill of the first small deals we made and the elation at the breakthroughs we were making in the industry. But what I really want to tell you is why we were able to do all those things. We were hungry, we were focussed—but most importantly, we were operating in an atmosphere devoid of the debilitating effects of fear.

I am not advocating recklessness and I am certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t ensure that your strategy is airtight. What I am saying is that as entrepreneurs, our success was in our ability to face all the obstacles and hurdles in our path without the fear of ‘what if we fail’.

entrepreneurship one year mba in indiaFailure was simply not an option, which made fear redundant. If you recall HCL’s 2005 ‘Fearless’ campaign, we used dynamic statements such as‚ At HCL, there is only one thing more important than brains—guts‚ and‚ You don’t have more courage when you are young,  you have less fear. We wanted to encapsulate the essence of what made us successful and by doing so, provide a roadmap for other young people starting out on their own business journeys.

When we started HCL, we wanted to foster the dreams of young people and set their minds on fire. So when we created the first-time user market for computers, we crafted six to eight frontline companies in all the major cities of India, fronted by fearless youngsters and co-invested with them. This model was a resounding success and HCL has been an avid incubator of entrepreneurship ever since.

Hungry for more

Today the trend is moving towards entrepreneurs embracing fear and using it as motivation to achieve even greater success. This is what I call ‘the optimism in pessimism’, where leaders develop a healthy fear of what can go wrong and do everything in their power to pre-empt these disasters. Remember MS Dhoni succeeded mainly because his unassailable self-belief created a ‘can-do’ attitude‚ which drove India to championship in the first ever T20 World Cup. So my message to you is this: Be fearless. Be bold. Take risks, set audacious goals for yourself and motivate yourself and your team to deliver. And most importantly—do not fear failure, because failure is not an option.

The article first appeared in Entrepreneur magazine and has been republished with the consent of Mr. Ajai Chowdhry 

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