Many of you will be familiar with quotations from the Bhagavad Gita, the timeless wisdom given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battle field of Kurukshetra. These have taught millions of Indians- and increasingly people of other countries all over the world- a set of principles to lead their lives. A kind of moral compass, if you will.
One of the most quoted is, “Do everything you have to do, but not with ego, not with lust, not with envy but with love, compassion, humility and devotion.” Judging by both his actions and words, I can think of few people who have followed this advice as effectively and successfully as Mr Yajna Narayana Kammaje, the Chairman and Managing Director of the privately-held Sona Group of Companies, headquartered in Bengaluru.
The book I review today – “Business As ‘Yajna'”– is about this gentleman. It tells us how he succeeded as a first generation entrepreneur. Apart from this, he positively impacted the lives of thousands of people, many of them from rural areas and from the economically lower strata of our society.
The title itself is quite intriguing. It combines two elements, Yajna Kammaje’s approach and thoughts about doing business and “Yajna” as a person- with a clever play of words. The book was recently released in Bengaluru and described as “Life Lessons from Industrialist: Yagna Narayana Kammaje.” The lead author is Mr B Anantha Bhat, who has worked in the VLSI/Semiconductor technology field for over 30 years in India and abroad. He is an entrepreneur himself. The key drivers of this initiative are some dedicated folks from the National Institute of Technology-Karnataka ( NIT-K)Alumni Association.
Yajna has close ties with this venerable institution which started as the Karnataka Regional Engineering College (KREC) at Surathkal, near Mangaluru in 1960. He did his B.Tech in Electrical Engineering in 1971 and M. Tech in Industrial Electronics in 1973 from this institution.
He was the President of the Alumni Association for many years. In this field too, he excelled. He did more than anybody else in recent times to build and nurture this body. It is now a vibrant alumni association with active members from all over the world.
The lessons from this book are really directed towards entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs. In the India of 2021, it is quite common- and indeed somewhat fashionable in some circles- to talk of entrepreneurs, start ups, venture funds and angel investing.
Things were vastly different in the 1970’s and the decades that followed. For most people a secure job was probably the most important thing in their lives. In such a milieu, Yajna, then a rising star of the famous HMT, who had rapidly grown to the position of Dy General Manager in the Watch Division and clearly ear marked for higher responsibilities chose to give it up and strike out on his own! Considerations that most people would have worried about like having a wife and two children and other family to support, did not come in the way of his dream to start and grow a business. Not just to make money for himself – though of course this was an important parameter – but to give back in good measure to society at large and the less affluent in particular. The second would have been the farthest in the thoughts of most people in such circumstances.
In this venture, immense credit is due to his wife Smt. Vasanthi Kammaje who stood by him like a rock through thick and thin. She has made very significant contributions towards his success as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, since they began their entrepreneurial journey in 1987.
As a student of human behavior, I have seen that often when someone is in need, those with “less” are the first to give while those with “more” are the most reluctant. Likewise, as a proportion of what they have, those with less tend to be far more generous than those with more. Yajna, in my view, is an exception to this general rule. He gave in plenty when he didn’t have much and he continues to give in plenty as he became more wealthy. Charitable causes, religious causes, people in need, employees, vendors, budding entrepreneurs and many others have benefited from his generosity. Often they return with more than what they hoped for, if he thinks theirs is a right cause to support or their need for help is genuine.
What has shaped him to be what he is today? Clearly his disadvantaged start in life has. He came from humble economic origins and knows, more than most, what is means to tb economically disadvantaged. As a consequence, all his life he has worked hard, and worked smart. He has demonstrated his risk taking ability on many occasions- the true differentiator between a real entrepreneur and others who go by that name.
The book is made up of contributed articles by people who have known him and his work. They are too many to list here but they have impeccable reputations and records of distinction in their professional lives. It is written by his professional colleagues, friends and admirers and many who have benefitted from their association with him.
On a personal note, I am proud to know Yajna for a decade or more as we live in the same apartment complex in Bengaluru. Besides, he is from Siddakatte a small village in the Bantwal Taluk of the Dakshina Kannada District of Karnataka. And, I happen to belong to Bantwal! Shobana, and I were honoured to receive a copy of the book from Yajna recently.
“Business As ‘Yajna'” is printed and published by Tik-Talker & TradePost and can be ordered through Amazon. I would urge not just those who wish to become entrepreneurs but indeed any one in business to read this book. It is replete with lessons on how to conduct oneself with humility and consideration for others while being successful in business.