If you can go beyond asking ‘what’s in it for me’, you can leave the world a better place than you found it!
Over the weekend we attended the launch of a biography in Tamizh of Apollo Hospitals Chairman, Dr.Prathap C Reddy. Titled Dheergadarshi – Dr.Prathap Chandra Reddy and the Transformation of India, the book is written by noted Tamizh writer Sivasankari. It is based on the original in English (titled Healer) by Pranay Gupte which was released a few years ago.
Dheergadarshi simply means Visionary. But there’s an intricate romance to the Tamizh word which the English one strangely cannot match. And Dr.Prathap Reddy is better described – wholesomely – by the Tamizh word.
We have known Dr.Reddy and the Apollo family for over two decades now. I had first met him as a journalist, when I was working for Business Today, in 1994. And then Vaani and I worked closely with Apollo Hospitals when our erstwhile consulting Firm (it went bankrupt in early 2008), in the space of Reputation Management, was engaged with the group between 1997 and 2002. Our practice as a Firm involved helping organizations holistically integrate strategy, organizational behavior, marketing and communication so that a sound reputation could be built and protected. Apollo Hospitals was our first client. The program we ran at the group was driven internally by Dr.Reddy’s oldest daughter Preetha. In those five years, I would meet Dr.Reddy every week. And in all the meetings, Dr.Reddy had only one agenda: he would seek my inputs and involvement in ensuring that Apollo took the initiative to communicate to the Government of India that healthcare as a sector needed impetus and support. Never in the years of spending hours with him on crafting strategies or writing white papers, or in the years of knowing him as a person, has he ever asked something for himself. To be sure, I was then quite widely networked in the Indian media (a skill that I have intentionally unlearnt and eventually have forgotten since we repurposed, retooled and rebranded our business model) and I was always sought after by CEOs who wanted their mugs in the media. But I can’t remember any occasion when Dr.Reddy asked me if he or his family could be featured anywhere.
My reading of Harvard Business Review over the years and my internalizing of the core idea of Jim Collins’ Good to Great may have helped me understand what Purpose is, but I have learnt how Purpose works, in an individual and corporate context, only from working closely with Dr.Reddy. Purpose is never about making money or profiteering in a material sense. Purpose truly is the convergence of morality and competitiveness. Dr.Reddy blended the two beautifully. Yes, he has a sharp business acumen – he still drives team Apollo to be the best and to be profitable. But, important, his vision was never for himself, for his family or for Apollo, it was broader – it was for India; healthcare in India must be affordable and Indian doctors must come back to India and set up world-class healthcare facilities here so that India can be a global healthcare destination. To him, Apollo Hospitals is only a medium, a vehicle, to attain the Higher Purpose of making world-class healthcare available and affordable in India. And he has done that – so comprehensively, so impactfully – in his lifetime! So, Dheergadarshi, he truly is.
Even so, Dr.Reddy is untouched by all the fame and glory that has come his way. And keeps coming! That’s the other quality which is remarkable about him: his humility. In fact, I had not met him for over 8 years. But when Vaani and I walked up to him before the event on Sunday, he was quick to reach out and hug us both. And it was not just with us. With each of the 700+ guests that day, he had a personal rapport. He recognized people and remembered each of them by their names.
At 83, Dr.Reddy is fit, agile, sharp and full of Life. His focus now is on inspiring people to be healthy. And he is a perfect embodiment of that idea. I think the 568-page tome on him in English and the 840-page one in Tamizh will surely do justice to chronicling and celebrating his Life and times. But I feel there’s something about Dr.Reddy that offers us a teachable point of view. And it is the way he simply is. There’s a benign aura about him, the glow on his face, the warmth he exudes…he’s sincere and authentic. I believe all his energy comes only from having lived a Life of serving than saying he deserves; he has looked only at the larger good of touching lives and making a difference. And he’s done that while staying staunchly anchored to what he believes in. Also, he hasn’t changed in the 20+ years I know him. And famous nephrologist Dr.M.K.Mani, his friend for over 60+ years, who felicitated him on Sunday, too believes he hasn’t changed. So, if you ask me, the bigger reason why Dr.Reddy has been able to attain his Higher Purpose is that he’s stayed humble. Offering himself as an instrument for divinity to work through him.
I often share this – what I have learnt from American author and mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904~1987). That Life itself has no meaning – because you come with nothing and you will go with nothing; so, as Campbell says, you bring meaning to your Life. I remember reading a Zen thought that’s more profound than Campbell’s. It says that the meaning of Life is to find your gift and the Purpose of Life is to give it away. And Dr.Reddy has been able to do both, so, so, remarkably well – he did find and bring meaning to his Life and he’s given it all away in the way that his selfless efforts have grown healthcare infrastructure, quality and opportunities in India.