The Hidden Potential – M.S. Srinivasan

(This story is woven around a real episode from the biography of a well-known and highly respected business leader of India)

Vineeth was a young man fresh from the college, looking for a job. He was delighted when he got the call for an interview from a new venture, an airlines, from the Huta Group, a large and well known business house of India. Vineeth prepared himself thoroughly for the interview by reading extensively books on business and economics. On the day of the interview, Vineeth was well-prepared and confident to face one of the most important events in his life, which will determine his future.

Vineeth belonged to the youth of 1950’s in India, the early days of Independent India. Sunil Huta, chairman of the Huta Group, personally interviewed all new recruits for his new airlines company, Huta Airways. As Vineeth entered the chamber he was expecting a large interview panel with many senior executives. But he was surprised and also overawed to see the sole and august figure of Sunil ji, the well-known and highly respected business leader of modern India. Sunil ji smiled warmly at Vineeth and asked him to be seated. After a brief glance over a file, Sunil ji looked up and looked straight into the eyes of Vineeth for a few minutes, as if looking through his eyes into his mind and heart. A few preliminary and formal enquires followed, which made Vineethh comfortable. “I see from your papers you are a postgraduate in economics” said Sunil ji. And then came the most unpleasant part of the interview. Sunil grilled Vineeth with a barrage of questions on economics. To his dismay, Vineeth found all his extensive preparation for the interview was worthless. Sunil ji asked precisely those questions for which he found no answers in the books he had studied in the college or the library. For every question, Vineeth replied meekly “I don’t know Sir”. After a few moments of silence, Sunil ji said with a sigh and a shrug of his shoulders “Look here young man, your certificates tell me that you are an MA (Hons) in economics with a good academic record. But you are not able to answer a single question on the subject. What do they teach in your college? Is this the type of education you people are getting in our universities”. Vineeth kept quiet and hung his head. At the end Sunil ji said “I think that’s enough. We will let you know the results.”

Vineeth came out of the office totally frustrated and shaken. However, he felt rather vaguely or half-consciously there was no censure, condemnation or scorn in the tone and tenor of Sunil ji during the entire interview. Even though he repeatedly said “I don’t know”, Sunil ji seemed to be not put off or offended by his ignorance. He put the blame more on the education system rather than on Vineeth. But Vineeth was too much overwhelmed by his failure at the interview to appreciate these positive elements. The last words of Sunil ji “We will let you know the results” appeared too formal and almost hypocritical to Vineeth. After such a dismal display of ignorance, what result there can be except a curt rejection letter?

After two weeks, when Vineeth received a letter from Huta Airways, he felt like throwing it in the waste-paper basket. But some irrational hope impelled him to open the letter. He blinked his eyes in utter unbelief when he read the first sentence of the letter “We are glad to inform you that you are appointed as trainee officer in our marketing division.”

Many years passed. Vineeth became one of the most successful executives and star-performers of Huta Airways. His highly innovative and humorous ad campaigns for the airlines became famous all over India and the world and won many awards.

As part of a tradition in the Huta Group, every year Sunil ji had personal meetings with each star-performer of the year. When Vineeth met Sunil ji, and the meeting was about to end, Vineeth asked “Sir, may I ask you a question”

“Yes, you can” said Sunil ji. “But be brief and precise. I have to rush for another meeting”.

” Vineeth said “I don’t know whether you remember it. Many years back when you interviewed me I was not able to answer any of your questions and for every question you asked I said ‘I don’t know’. But still you have selected me for the job. May I know what the basis of your judgment is?”

Sunil ji laughed and said “Yes, I vaguely remember you looking so dump in the interview. But to me, when I interview young men like you, what you know, especially your book knowledge, is not very important. What I look for is character. When you frankly admitted you ignorance and hidden potential repeatedly without trying to bluff it off, it showed you are honest. Secondly I intuitively perceived you have the potential I saw a shining glint in your eyes which I always see in the eyes of creative and talented people. Even now I see that glint in your eyes, perhaps much more manifest. Am I right?”

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