Rest in Peace, Dr. Kohli

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Dr. Faqir Chand Kohli passed away today at the age of 96.

Founder & 1st CEO of Tata Consultancy Services (India’s largest software consulting co.), he is considered the ‘Father of the Indian Software Industry’ due to his significant contribution to the field.

Oftentimes legends like him are simply names and a string of achievements, for us humbler mortals to look up to and read or talk about. And many of them remain just that, achieving success and fame via their work, retiring, and receding into oblivion. But Dr. Kohli was very different. Which is why at least I will remember him for a long time, and aspire to be like him.

Two instances come to mind that showed the wonder that was Dr. Kohli.

Apart from consulting companies in the areas of innovation and growth strategy, every once in a while, I do think up either some way in which I can help a particular company, or a service that I can offer to a particular sector. Of course, most times the companies I write to are too big so I don’t expect a response, even though I almost feel like I’m the only one who could help save the company (in the past, I’ve written to & offered my services to Yahoo, HP, a bunch of VC’s, etc.; all in my blissful ignorance and confidence).

Anyway, one such exercise, to a broader audience, was when I sent out letters (the paper in envelope kind) to probably over a 100 b-schools and engineering colleges across the country, offering to help them create or shape their entrepreneurship ecosystem. I think three or four at best responded to the letter, all being top institutes who were already actively building their entrepreneurship cell. One was NITIE, Mumbai, and I had the privilege of visiting and checking out some of the work they do there.

Another response was an email asking me to get in touch with the Director of the institute I had written to, with the Director’s phone number on it.

A little flashback – After having selected those 100 institutes to initially write to, in the mundane task of finding the top person and address, what I didn’t realize, is that one of the people I had addressed a letter to, was Dr. Kolhi (Chairman of the Board of Governors of College of Engineering, Pune). And that email I had received with the Director’s phone number on it, was from none other than Dr. Kohli!

Can you imagine a 90ish year old god of industry emailing you to acknowledge a letter you had written, and guiding you on the steps forward?!

To give you some context to it. From the time my book was published, I have couriered over 60 paperback copies of it to various industry leaders with a letter addressed to them. These are people I felt whose businesses might benefit from the book. About 4-5 of their secretaries responded, acknowledging and thanking me for it. So, a 90+ year old gentleman responding to a letter from just another charged up chap who hopes to change the world could have at best landed in the trash. But that was not who Dr. Kohli was. And it also tells us that we have a choice on the kind of leader we want to be.

The second instance was a year or two after that. I was at an industry awards function with my folks, and I spotted Dr. Kohli. My mother was bored and feeling out of place all evening, so I tagged her along as I went to speak to Dr. Kohli. As I introduced myself and my mother, he complimented my mother on her purse, and my mother was beaming all evening. Just like that, in an event where everybody’s busy talking work and accomplishments and potential business, he made a homemaker feel comfortable and at home. I mentioned to Dr. Kohli about him being kind enough to email me, and he brushed off like it was no big deal, inquiring what happened with the meeting.

There are plenty of industry creators, company builders, the rich and the famous. And there are those that simply thrive under the legacy of those before them. And then there are those rare individuals who are so grounded, that they singlehandedly reinforce the idea of humanity and take it forward.

Immortals like them are never forgotten.

Rest in peace, Dr. Kohli. Until we meet again.

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