Seek Happiness First and Success Will Follow, Says Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar on Chai With Manju

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BOSTON– Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar has a message for everyone: seek happiness first and success will follow. In an exclusive video interview on Chai With Manju, Mr. Datar talks about how his childhood and parents shaped him to be what he is today.

Mr. Datar, who grew up in Mumbai in an upper middle-class family whose parents and grandparents were accomplished professionals, says that events that happen in life define people.

“There are so many events that define us, and we become who we become because of those things that happen,” says Mr. Datar, whose both grandfathers were doctors and his maternal grandfather, Dr. Chintaman Govind Pandit, was the founding director of the Indian Council of Medical Research and was awarded India’s prestigious Padma Bhushan award.

“I always remember that I did not choose my ancestors or my parents. I was just lucky to be born into my family and lucky to have had the influence that they had on me,” says Mr. Datar, who in 2021 was honored with famed Padma Shri award by the government of India.

Srikant Datar
Photo: Harvard

“My father was a freedom fighter in the Indian independence movement before he founded the Nautical and Engineering college and was very heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. So, we grew up in a household where Gandhiji’s values were very deeply instilled,” recalls Mr. Datar, adding that his father founded the college because India had no place where students could be trained for the Indian Merchant Navy.

Mr. Datar said that what he remembers most about growing up at that time is the emphasis in his home on doing the right thing.

“I would see my parents act in this way. I would often see the cost of acting with Integrity that they experienced and those are lessons that have stayed with us throughout our lives and so my brother and I were always taught to be disciplined and to always act with courage and integrity,” says Mr. Datar.

One childhood story Mr. Datar often shares is when he was about 12-13 years old and was attending a school in Mumbai.

“We had birthday parties and so one of these birthday parties was at the racecourse and my friend invited me to it,” recalled Mr. Datar, adding that a lot of his friends were going to be betting at the racecourse. “We were told if you wanted to bet, bring your own money and so I went to my dad and said give me a little bit of money…you know just a little bit, just for fun. You know I just want to join in the fun and my friends were doing that and it would be fun to do it with them.”

Mr. Datar said that he has very vivid memories of incident and he can still remember where his father was sitting and where he was sitting even to this day, many decades later. His father said “no” to young Datar.

“He said look I’m going to tell you why I’m saying no and it’s not because I’m worried that you would lose the money, that in fact if I was sure that would happen, I would give it to you in a heartbeat. My worry is that you would win and learn from it an unfortunate lesson,” recalled Mr. Datar. “Try to understand my logic and reasons and I would advise you to go enjoy the party because there will be many times in your life where you might be the only one who has to take a particular stand but if that is the right thing to do don’t just do what others are doing but do what you think is right.”

During the interview, Mr. Datar also talks about his mother at great length.

“She was a social worker. I would say what I learned most from her was about poverty,” said Mr. Datar, whose mother was an elected member of the Pune Municipal Corporation as a corporator and played a key role in providing tap water to poor neighborhoods. “My mother imbued in us that a life well lived is measured not by what one does for oneself but what one does for others. They both made countless sacrifices. I can’t even tell you all the sacrifices they made so my brother and I could go to the very best schools and colleges. I absolutely would not be who I am were it not for them.”

Coming back to his education, how did he get admission at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management and became a gold medalist is another interesting story.

“I always say must stay extremely humble because you know God is great and gives us opportunities, but I believe he does so that we can contribute to others,” says Mr. Datar.

One of his mentors were Prof. Bhattacharya at Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad who wrote a recommendation letter for him for Stanford.

“Ater, I got in, I learned that what he had written,” said Mr. Datar, adding that he has no idea whether that alone was the reason he admitted at Stanford. “He wrote in the recommendation letter that this individual you should take into your program and I’m going to tell you why. I don’t know what Srikant Datar will lose if he is not admitted to the program. I just don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that whatever he would lose Stanford would lose more if the school did not admit him.”

So, how do you get to Harvard Business School?  Who is an ideal candidate for HBS MBA?

Mr. Datar says that it’s identifying individuals who want to lead and make a difference in the world at the end of the day and that’s what the mission of the Business School is.

“Academic excellence is very important so you clearly need to have that right but also leadership ability, drive, empathy, the ability to lead teams,” says Mr. Datar.

What about success? Mr. Satar says that he will go to things that make him happy before success.

“You don’t look for success. That’s the last thing you should look for, but you know doing things that are right, doing things that are your duty, things that make you happy,” says Mr. Datar. “I think the first is to stay humble. You know we must always believe that every interaction you have you grow and learn… I’m always looking to see what I can learn.”

Mr. Datar is also interested in sports and loves meditation, reading and Indian music.

Under his leadership, Harvard Business School has also added a few firsts and some new initiatives. To watch the full interview, please click here or on the image below.

Born in 1953, Mr. Datar was schooled at the Cathedral and John Connon School. He then attended the St Xaviers College, qualified as a chartered accountant, worked with Tata Administrative Services and was attached to TELCO, did his doctorate in business (accounting) from Stanford University (1985), was in academics at the Carnegie Mellon and Stanford University. He has been at the HBS since 1996, which he now heads as Dean from 2021.


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