A Special Officer

His book is called “Bankruptcy to Billions”, and when he came on stage, he asked us what we want him to talk about. Leadership, change management, resource management, public sector management, or all of the above.

He is Sudhir Kumar, the Officer on Special Duty in Indian Railways, man on Lalu Prasad Yadav’s personal staff, and widely recognized as the man behind the transformation of Indian Railways from near-bankruptcy, deep in debt and loss to billions in profits and reserves (How does the figure of Rs90,000 Crores grab you?)

He was the latest in our seminar series, a unique feature of EPGP where some eminent personality talks to us about his life experiences. Will try to talk about the previous ones when i can, but I HAD to talk about this right now.

Mr Sudhir Kumar is an IAS officer of Bihar Cadre, and has been doing fascinating things for last 27 years as a civil servant. But this has to be the feather in his cap. He did what Rakesh Mohan Committee said couldn’t be done, what Lalu wanted done, what the oppposition is finding hard to poke holes into, and what any business leader should be proud of.

Humble, and brutally honest, he refuses to take more credit than he thinks is due. Even though he was no fan of Lalu before joining him, Lalu gets more credit from him than anywhere else. He quotes Drucker & Welch with as much ease as scriptures, and he is in his element having a back and forth. For hours after the seminar, we basked in the glow of a brilliant intellect, who is a brilliant doer as well… the rarest combination.

A few takeaways, relevent in business and beyond:
1. Ethos. What helped him achieve was staying within and leveraging the ethos of railways.
2. Look for changes in structure, they will outlast you, and will change the opportunity for corruption/other undesirable activities. A simple example will illustrate this. It was found that the freight bogeys were carrying more than permissible tonnage, with the extra being skimmed off. Mr Sudhir Kumar persuaded the railway board to increase the permissible amount. lo presto, not only is the railways earning more, the scope for corruption is now almost negligible.

Most Importantly, he emphasizes that honesty is appreciated in this age more tha it ever was, but it has to be delivered with politeness and humility, not arrogance. He says people who pick fights want to be like Shaheed Bhagat Singh, show that they died for a cause. Whats needed are people like Gandhi, who work within the system, never getting corrupted, and win not only the battle, but the war.

This interaction was over several hours, and will leave a lasting impression on all of us. We talked of theory v/s practice, politicians and democracy, moving towards light in a bleak scenario, and much much more. We will always remember this evening for the insight into this brilliant and humble man. By the way, the book is supposed to be fascinating (reliable reports, not read personally, yet.)and Mr Kumar asks us to read the Chapter 2 especially well, its about politics and democracy, and feels has special relevance if we want to progress as a nation.

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