Who do you want to be?


For the past few years I have been organizing a Career Counseling event called “Disha” (means “direction or guidance” in Sanskrit) for the interest of students and young entrepreneurs. Visit Disha for more details.

I was very keen to have my Professor friend to speak at the Disha event but he was simply not available.  Finally, due to my persistent coaxing, he agreed to join.

In Disha, we do an interactive session where we discuss with the students what they want to be. I thought moderation of this session by the Professor will make a big difference

When we got into the auditorium, the hall was already packed with students. I went to the dais and introduced the Professor. His bio-data was 10 pages long and I faced difficulty to condense it in 2 minutes. But the students looked impressed.

Professor thanked me for the invitation. He spoke a few words on how important it is to decide what you want to be in the early phase of life. He then proposed that the session should be run in an interactive manner.   All agreed.

He asked the girl in the fourth row wearing spectacles “So what do you want to be”. The girl stood up and said “I want to be like Wangari Maathai or like Vandada Shiva or Kate Stohr or Safia Minney. I am really inspired with the great humanitarian work they have done and shown leadership”


Wangari Maathai


Vandana Shiva


Kate Stohr


Safia Minney

Professor took a deep puff from his cigar and said “That’s not the right choice. All these women have done is essentially a PR work, have sought publicity with no measurable impact and have in fact created obstacles in the development pathways. I suggest you rethink and dream of becoming like Kiran Shaw Muzumdar or Naina Lal Kidwai who are shining examples of women guiding India’s business – with (apparent?) interest in the sustainability e.g. application of biotechnology or sustainable finance”

I had reservations on what Professor said. So I pointed out that Wangari Maathai, was a woman of many firsts: not only she was the first African woman and first environmentalist to bring home a Nobel Peace Prize but being the frontwoman of the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign. Vandana Shiva has always been an outspoken campaigner for protecting seed biodiversity against biotech-profiteering and genetic engineering. Her grassroots approach has helped to redefine food security and the green revolution as a movement that empowers local food growers, rather than big agribusiness. She is the founder of Navdanya, a NGO based in Dehradun, India that promotes organic farming and seed-saving. Kate Stohr worked hard to provide disaster relief and reconstruction services during the Hurricane Katrina and Southeast Asian tsunami crises. In 2005, her organization AFH won the TED Prize which allowed them to develop “The Open Architecture Network”, a unique open source platform for sharing sustainable and humanitarian design solutions. Safia Minney is as one of the world’s foremost social entrepreneurs, establishing World Fair Trade Day (observed every second Saturday of May).Her  work strives to change the fashion business by addressing integral issues of fair wages, gender equity, transparency, accountability, capacity building, improved working conditions and environmentally sound practices. These women are examples of careers to follow

Professor did not like my intervention.

He turned to the boy sitting in the last row with a full white shirt and a red tie. “How about you Sir” He asked in all politeness.

“Well, I am an engineer and want to study more to take a Doctoral degree from a reputed University in the United States. Then I want to be a Practicing Professor like Prof S J Arceivala of India or Prof W W Eckenfelder of the United States or Professor Ryoichi Yamamoto of Japan”

Professor said “Well, let me be honest with you, all these Professors you cited were or are essentially consultants in “disguise”. Indeed, they are excellent in the class rooms, writing books etc. but half of their energies are or were directed in grabbing consulting projects or running consulting outfits (sometimes remotely)  while taking shelter at the universities or international bodies.


W W Eckenfelder


Professor Yamamato


S J Arceivala

I simply did not like Professors caustic remarks on these outstanding Professors. I said that’s not true. Professors must get into consulting to bring the perspective of real world to the students. Professor Ryoichi Yamamoto is the Professor at the Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo. A highly respected expert in environmentally conscious materials and design, as well as in Life-Cycle Assessment.  He is currently the Science Advisor for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Science and Technology, the President of The Institute of Life Cycle Assessment Japan, the President of The Eco-Efficient Forum of Japan, the President of International Green Procurement Network, and a member of steering committee of Eco Products Exhibition. His talks in the class room are therefore laced with his rich policy experience.

Professor Eckenfelder was known internationally as a pioneer in the field of water treatment and a leading authority in industrial wastewater management. He was an environmental engineering professor at Manhattan College, the University of Texas-Austin, and Vanderbilt University. Eckenfelder was a prolific writer and he influenced countless numbers of engineers through his many textbooks, hundreds of journal articles, and courses. Among Eckenfelder’s more than 30 technical books, his second book, Industrial Water Pollution Control published by McGraw-Hill, is a classic text initially intended for the classroom. Eckenfelder was the founding principal of several companies, including AWARE, Inc. in Nashville, Tenn., which was later named Eckenfelder, Inc. in his honor. AWARE merged in 1998 with Brown and Caldwell, a California-based full-service environmental engineering firm.

After his studies at the Harvard University, Professor Soli Arceivala was Professor at VJTI in Mumbai, then Director of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur and finally Advisor at WHO. He established and operated Associated Industrial Consultants (AIC) in Mumbai successfully that was later acquired by Montgomery Watson. Prof Arcievala published several classic books on wastewater treatment, water reuse and natural wastewater treatment systems where case studies have come from his practice experience.

My Friend Professor did not pay much attention to my defense of these distinguished Professors cum Consultants. He continued his questioning. He now asked a student sitting in the front row who was holding an iPad in his hand. He seemed to be googling the personalities that were getting mentioned. “How about you?” Professor asked him.

The student got up from his seat holding his iPad, put on his spectacles, took some time and said in a very thoughtful voice “I believe that you cannot mainstream sustainability unless you sit at the top of the organization or at least hold an anchor position and “shake” or “inspire” the system. I want to be Anand Mahindra of Mahindra & Mahindra or Jochen Zeitz of Puma or the like”

Professor laughed. “Strange, how you young minds don’t see the chameleons in the business. All these names you mentioned are actually businessmen focusing on making profits and getting on the top of the markets “somehow”. Sustainability is just a clever strategy that they discovered and they were smart to project and claim that the sustainability is now in the DNA of their organizations. Go and ask folks working for them – you will see a totally different picture”


Jochen Zeitz


Anand Mahindra

I thought that Professor was very biased and negative in all his judgements. The poor iPad student sat down in despair. I butted in immediately and said.

Friends, let me tell you a bit about Jochen Zeitz. He began his professional career with Colgate-Palmolive in New York and Hamburg and later joined PUMA in 1990. In 1993 he was appointed Chairman and CEO of PUMA becoming the youngest CEO in German history to head a public company at the age of 30. Zeitz managed to turn PUMA from a low priced, undesirable brand into one of the top 3 brands in the sporting goods industry. In 2008 Zeitz introduced PUMAVision, an ethical framework defined by the four key principles of being Fair, Honest, Positive and Creative as applied to all professional behavior, business procedures and relationships throughout and outside of PUMA. Zeitz conceived the Environmental Profit & Loss Account (E P&L) and coined the term and in May 2011 he announced PUMA’s Environmental Profit & Loss Account that puts a monetary value to a businesses use of ecosystem services across the entire supply chain. In 2008 Zeitz founded the not-for-profit Zeitz Foundation of Intercultural Ecosphere Safety to support creative and innovative sustainable projects and solutions that balance conservation, community development, culture, and commerce (the “4Cs”) in a quadruple bottom line approach, promoting an inclusive, holistic paradigm of conservation that enhances livelihoods and fosters intercultural dialogue while building sustainable businesses.

Zeitz has received the Strategist of the Year three times from the Financial Times “Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Trendsetter of the Year” and “Best of European Business Award 2006″. In 2010, the German Sustainability Foundation gave Zeitz an award for Germany’s most sustainable future strategies. In 2015 Jochen Zeitz was awarded the Special Advocacy Award for Responsible Capitalism.

Anand Mahindra is included by Fortune Magazine among the ‘World’s 50 Greatest Leaders’ and featured in the magazine’s 2011 listing of Asia’s 25 most powerful business people. Anand is a staunch advocate of promoting girl child education and in 1996, founded Project Nanhi Kali, which provides sponsorship to underprivileged girls across India including, material support (e.g. school uniforms, school bag, shoes, socks, stationery etc.).

A student of the arts and culture, Anand believes that the study of humanities is essential in shaping leaders of the future. In November 2010, he donated $10million to support the Harvard Humanities Center in honor of his mother, Indira Mahindra. It is the largest gift for the study of humanities in Harvard’s history.

Anand is co-founder of Naandi Danone, which is the largest safe drinking water provider to rural areas of India, catering to nearly 3 million customers. Founded in 1998, the Naandi Foundation works in 4 broad sectors: safe drinking water, support for urban school children, work training for unemployed youth and agricultural marketing.

The iPad student seemed to be convinced.

The Professor frowned.

The interactions continued and the students proposed several role models of India such as M C Mehta, the Environmental Lawyer, Dr Deepak Apte, Director of BNHS, Sunita Narain of Centre for Science & Environment and for each proposition, Professor continued finding faults and I kept on pointing the good work done by these leading personalities.

By then, most students realized the negativism and an attitude of finding faults with the Professor. One girl from the sixth row who was wearing a bright Tee shirt that had a slogan “We Dare”, got up, faced the classroom and spoke in a tone of leadership. She said

“Well Sirs, we now at least know what we don’t want to be. We don’t want to be like the Professor Friend of yours. And we want to be positive like you”

My Professor Friend was shocked with this statement. There was a silence in the class. He extinguished his cigar in the tray that was placed on the table and exclaimed.

“You mean you want to be like Dr Modak? He is a shining example of a thoroughly “kaleidoscoped” personality, with career profile showing utmost confusion and a complete lack of clarity. He has been a Professor, a Consultant, a Corporate Honcho, An Author and Editor, an Entrepreneur and an International Adviser to Governments & Financing Institutions. He also works as an NGO for spreading awareness and conducting training on environmental management & sustainability. I could never understand what this gentleman wanted to be. He has simply been a “free radical”. You will waste your time and career following him

I thought this time Professor was absolutely right as all I wanted to be was to be Happy. So I kept shut

I ended the class thanking the Professor.

I will be organizing the next Disha event in third week of June in Mumbai. Will keep you all posted. Stay tuned at http://www.ekonnect.net

Cover image sourced from http://feelgrafix.com/1001402-crossroads.html


  1. Teachers with tunnel vision could be lethal to the society as generations may get affected. All I can say is my repeat statement “Some are wise. Then how about others? They are “other”wise.

  2. It is all in the way you want to look at it :
    Prasad Modak – A Man of many parts.
    Eckenfelder – May not be the ideal prof. teaching theory, numbers and equations. But truly inspirational. I can vouch for it.

  3. Dear Prasad
    I think the question posed itself is debatable. I feel every student must be him/herself and not try to be like some other person. Role models can only be inspirational and not create replicas. Every person including all the famous have some positive qualities worth emulating but there may be some “negative” factors in them which only close associates would know. Regards

    1. Indeed. You made a very valid point and I am glad that you elaborated. That was in fact my intention to put “a hidden question” in readers mind. You should be what you want to be – get inspired and may or may not simply replicate! Implicit in the post is a message that there are always two sides of the coin – one must be aware. Cheers and thank you

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