The CACTUS Way #3: Do what is right even if it is hard.
This incident dates back to over 10 years before I joined CACTUS.
It was the summer of 2009—the first summer after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The world was reeling under a financial recession. A batch of 25-odd interns from the top business schools in India had assembled in a meeting room on what would be the first day of their internship at a prestigious consulting firm. An HR coordinator entered the room and made two announcements: one, the firm was struggling and would be able to offer only a four-week internship (as opposed to the eight-week internships that were the norm); and two, there would be no final job offers at the end of the internship.
You’d expect murmurs in the room or some squirming in the seats. Instead, this enterprising batch of interns was already thinking ahead—on what they would do in the remaining four weeks, and how they could use the time to network outside the firm and improve their chances of getting hired elsewhere in the final placements.
I was still thinking about how I could make the most of the internship period and learn more about the consulting world. I had heard many enamouring stories and wanted to experience it first-hand. I started talking to a lot of people at random places—the cafeteria, vending machines, the taxi-stand outside the office, everywhere! And rather fortuitously, I managed to get an exciting project to work on. The catch was that I had to juggle it with the already assigned project. The solution was straightforward but unattractive: work beyond office hours and manage both projects. While all my co-interns felt that I was being foolhardy and slogging with “no real benefit,” I was simply doing what my heart wished.
In 2010, I was preparing for my final placements when I received a call from one of the partners of the consulting firm, and he mentioned that he wanted to meet me before making a job offer. I found out that I was the only one across all business schools to have received a call. I was over the moon! I happily accepted the offer and joined them immediately after completing my MBA. I was reminded of a verse from the Bhagwad Gita, the holy book of Hindus: “You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.” Hence, the expectation of rewards should not be the motivation for your actions.
In 2012, I met one of my co-interns at an alumni event. He asked me what motivated me to exert myself on the additional project even though we were told that we would not be getting the complete consulting experience and mentorship. This got me thinking. I wasn’t distracted by the lack of any apparent benefit probably because I believed I was DOING THE RIGHT THING! And I realized that you have to believe this to reach the state the Bhagwad Gita refers to. It was an epiphany!
I joined CACTUS in December 2019. CACTUS was planning on acquiring an AI company based in Denmark and I was put in charge.
In March 2020, one month after we had concluded the acquisition, integration activities were in full swing. A team from India had travelled to Aarhus, Denmark, in February, and it was the turn of our new Danish friends to come down to Mumbai. A lot of planning meetings, culture collaboration sessions, and fun events had been planned. The pandemic hadn’t been declared. And India was not under a lockdown.
The evening before the Aarhus team was going to board their flights to Mumbai, I got a call from Nishchay [Shah; Chief Technology Officer]. “Should we ask them to cancel their trip and risk delaying all integration activities?” he asked me. Calling everything off could be negative for CACTUS. Any failure at this point could defenestrate future M&A deals. We called up Anurag [Goel; Co-founder], and his message was simple and clear—“You guys already know what the right thing is. Just go ahead and do it!” And the trips were cancelled in the next 10 minutes.
Our integration plans were affected and there were delays in some crucial decisions. But did we ever second-guess the decision we took? Have we ever regretted the delays that this decision led to?
Probably because all of us believed that we did the RIGHT thing. And when you have this belief, it doesn’t matter what the consequences are or whether we’ll reap the benefits!
This writeup is part of a series called The CACTUS Way Leader Stories. The CACTUS Way is what we collectively call our 8 guiding principles. We asked the senior cadre at CACTUS to share personal experiences where they practiced or identified with these guiding principles. These stories of struggle and reinvention, despair and hope, conflict and collaboration, and self-doubt and self-discovery make for an interesting read.
Learn more about The CACTUS Way here: https://cactusglobal.com/about-us/culture-and-values/