Lessons from the Past 105: Integrity - What Is That?
I was told that at a ‘meet the press’ session, Dr Verghese Kurien, founder of the milk revolution in India – was asked a delicate question by one of the journalists. “What would you say are the three key elements that have made you so successful, Mr Kurien?” After a short pause, he replied, “There are three elements – and you are right. They are integrity, integrity, integrity.” This answer was followed by an overall reflective silence. 
In India, from April to June 2024, we are in the middle of the national poll for Parliament and some assembly polls. The citizen is bombarded by the media and every sense—visual and audio—is assaulted much of the day by speeches, interviews, group discussions, meetings (small and large), and home visits by volunteers.
There are reports of the capture of a vehicle that was carrying many crores of rupees which were being transported from some industrialists to the offices of a political party. They have been caught in the act and arrested. There are reports of a party volunteer in Goa, distributing envelopes with money to volunteers with a request to vote for a particular party, but he escaped before he could be arrested. 
There is a front page news item of a very senior corporate executive who has resigned from his job after just over 20 years and now gone into politics in his home state – and officially declared, he has assets of over Rs400 crore. This is interpreted as savings of Rs20 crore a year on the corporate executive income! What does it suggest?
There are reports of senior students appearing for exams on behalf of their (junior) friends and faring excellently! Of course, some of them get caught before they take their seat in the examination hall! There are those who fudge caste certificates and get jobs within the classifications of SC, OBC, ST, or any other.
There are high-profile people across the country, accused of rape or sexual assault – and naturally, as expected, all claiming innocence!
And through all this chaos and the accompanying noise – the refrain of Dr Kurien keeps ringing in our ears – integrity, integrity, integrity!
Yet, all is not lost, especially at lower levels of society, where there is still the rainbow against the background of dark clouds!
I took a public taxi from my home in the suburbs of Mumbai to the city centre. I was in a hurry because I had to meet the deadline of 10am for a very important meeting. I explained my problem to the cab driver. ‘Be as fast as you can - but don’t be rash.’ He got me to Marine Drive just in time. In my hurry, I rushed out and got into the building and elevator. I finished at noon and came down, and found the cab driver waiting for me. I had forgotten my mobile phone in the cab, and he decided he would wait until I finished and return the mobile to me. I was so grateful. For the last ten years, I still give him preference at the taxi stand in my neighbourhood whenever I see him because when I do, in my mind, a bell starts ringing – integrity, integrity, integrity!
There is the story of the American corporate giant IBM, who decided to have some parts manufactured in Japan on a trial basis. In the contract, while writing the specifications, IBM set the standard that they would accept a maximum of only three defective pieces per thousand pieces manufactured. Otherwise, the whole consignment of a thousand pieces would be rejected. When the first consignment came from Japan, there was a covering letter, which said, “We had difficulty in understanding American business contracts and practices. However, the three defective pieces have been separately manufactured to meet the specifications of the contract. These three pieces have been included in the consignment in a separate packing, mentioning ‘Defective pieces as required, not for use’. Hope this meets with your requirements.”
Perfection is a habit – not an attitude.
And the bell rings – integrity, integrity, integrity.
As a country and a community, we still need to learn some lessons from countries like Japan!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
4 weeks ago
I loved the article.
Wish you had posted the article and I read it a fortnight ago.
For the last two weeks, I have been conducting a training program, mainly focused on ethics, for Rajiv Gandhi National Ground Water Training & Research Institute. I did mention Dr Verghese Kurien in one of the sessions but if I had known the 'Integrity... Integrity... Integrity' anecdote, my session could have been even more effective.
Anyway, there is always a 'next time'.
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