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BOOKMARK: From Bhagvad Gita to Black Swan, 5 books that influenced MF captain Bala

BOOKMARK: From Bhagvad Gita to Black Swan, 5 books that influenced MF captain Bala
Through the series Bookmark, leading voices in the world of finance and business talk about the books that influenced them in their professional journey, and in some cases, also touched them at a personal level.
In this episode, A. Balasubramanian, MD & CEO, Aditya Birla Sun Life AMC lists his favourites that helped him make sense of life, leadership, and investing. 
Bhagavad Gita
This book needs no introduction. By far the greatest spiritual book of all times, the lessons from Bhagavad Gita are not only universal but they are also applicable. There is possibly not a single situation in life or work where the learnings from the Gita do not apply. Let’s take for example the very popular verse Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana – this verse does not mean you do things that don’t bear results. What it means is the thought or the preoccupation around outcomes and results cannot be the motivation for doing something. Now let’s implement this in equity investment. As an investor, if I keep bothering about the outcomes in the next 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, then I will derail from my broader purpose of investment, which is wealth creation in the long term. As an investor, I will have to deal with ambiguous situations but staying on course with my purpose I can make sure I do not digress from that path. There are several such investing lessons from the Gita; one can write an entire article on just that.
How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton Christensen
I came across Mr. Christensen during my stint at Harvard University for an Advanced Management Programme. This book is based on Mr. Christensen’s lecture to his students at Harvard in which he spoke on the topic he discusses with his students on the last day of class. I had the opportunity to be part of this signature lecture. Christensen takes all the theories taught during the semester and instead of applying them to companies and businesses, they are applied to one’s self. This lecture was later turned into an article for Harvard Business Review and subsequently into a book of the same name. This book's significance is that it puts forward management concepts applicable to daily life. The examples in the book are from Christensen’s own experiences and that’s why even more relatable. Many of these fundas are what I have tried to practice in my role as the leader of a business. These are life lessons and one can use them for both business and in life. Be it evaluating how a company management thinks or the kind of teams one needs to build or look at the business model that can survive in the future successfully. I also had the opportunity of understanding his way of thinking which is also covered in the book as to how businesses face challenges if they are not able to see through future trends.
The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I had the privilege of interacting with Nassim Nicholas Taleb as the guest speaker for our annual flagship investment conference Voyage 2020. I had read this book couple of years back and was impressed by the clarity of his articulation of this very complex concept. The central idea of this book is to discuss the improbable events in this world, the unknown, the outlier. In the world of investing this is an important aspect, of preparing oneself for the outlier, improbable events, and remain alert while insulating the business from the risks of such black swan events. The understanding of risk and its management is not just about the obvious risks but also the ones that are unknown and unprecedented in nature, and building processes and systems that withstand the same.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t , by Jim C. Collins
This book is a classic as far as management strategy goes and is a study into what good companies did to become great. Collins researched hundreds of companies to find which ones traversed the level from good to great, and what they did to get there. The insights, concepts, and examples in this book are extremely useful and of great significance. Apart from business building lessons, from a pure investment perspective these are also good pointers to identifying companies that have the potential to move from being good to great. It also made me realize that just being good is not enough to build solid sustainable business for the future, it is extremely important to have the focus on continuous improvement to become a great company. It explains nicely that many small initiatives act on each other like compound interest. Explanation of greatness is also articulated as the need for creating competence within the firm to achieve financial performance several multiples better than the market average over sustained period.
What It Takes – Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence, by Stephen A. Schwarzman
This book by Blackstone Chairman, CEO, and co-founder Stephen A. Schwarzman is full of personal anecdotes, straightforward and engaging. There are lessons on leadership, investing, deal making, risk and opportunities, performance excellence and many more. While it is difficult to pinpoint how it helps to make one a better investor but books like these inspire by example and cultivates a thought process that finds its way in one’s decision making and evaluation of companies, people and management. While he covered about his own life experience, I liked his chapter – ‘The Best Way to Learn is by Doing’ and also the one on finding an opportunity in crisis. It does resonate very much with my ideology that one learns while doing things and keep on doing and keep on learning.
(As told to Ashish Rukhaiyar)