Ravi Venkatesan

Chairman of the Board, Bank of Baroda, India
Member, Board of Trustees, The Rockefeller Foundation
Venture Partner, Unitus Seed Fund, India
Founder and Chairman, SVP (Social Venture Partners), India
Independent Director and Board Member, Infosys Ltd.
MSIE ’86

For his exceptional accomplishments as a leader of global companies and his achievements as a groundbreaking innovator in information technology in India and around the world

A respected American financial brokerage firm became well known in the 1970s and ’80s for its catchy advertising slogan: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

The same phrase could aptly be used for Ravi Venkatesan, who has many people listening, particularly in his home country of India. The former chairman for both Cummins in India and Microsoft India, is now chairman of India’s Bank of Baroda and author of the book, “Conquering the Chaos: Win in India, Win Everywhere.”

In November 2016, Venkatesan spoke before a live and online audience about what India should do in the current early stages of the fourth industrial revolution. Venkatesan characterizes this latest revolution as one that is science-based, involving “dramatic advances in every field, including gene editing, space travel — the works.” He added: “This fourth industrial revolution seems to be even larger and more sweeping in its implications than the first industrial revolution. I feel that we’re sitting at a moment in time that is pretty binary. If India can ride this wave, we can leapfrog many stages of development. At the same time, if we fumble around and don’t get our act together, I think the consequences could be pretty dire.”

As the first private-sector leader to be appointed chairman of a government- owned Indian bank, Venkatesan hopes to help his country get its act together. He is embracing a herculean bridge-building task as he works to narrow the gap between India’s wealthy private sector and its struggling public sector. While he was a student, he may never have envisioned himself solving exactly the problems he faces today, but he credits his education with helping him prepare.

More than 30 years ago, Venkatesan “landed in West Lafayette with exactly $11” in his pocket. The son of parents who assigned profound value to education and academic excellence, he got the best early schooling possible despite his family’s modest financial circumstances.

Inspired by a long list of Purdue friends, mentors and teachers, Venkatesan speaks humbly about the remarkable career that followed his education.

“I guess I realized fairly early that I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, so I worked harder than most others in order to succeed,” he says. “A spirit of adventure and willingness to confront your fears and take some big risks is important, I think. The biggest obstacle to anyone’s success is the person in the mirror, so I have worked on becoming more and more self-aware. Like everyone, I have fears. Courage is the ability to act in spite of your fears, so I have worked on my courage.”

That work has won him positions of leadership in globally significant businesses, venture capital endeavors and philanthropy. Having had many challenging opportunities to lead, he has honed a unique leadership style.

“I have great curiosity and openness to new ideas, and I encourage people to pursue new ideas,” Venkatesan says. “I have been fortunate all my life in having wonderful people on the teams that I led. More than anything else, this allowed me to be part of big successes.

“I have never shied away from making really difficult decisions, nor from accepting responsibility for mistakes or things that didn’t work out.”

His advice for today’s Purdue students is rooted in the reality that “the world they are going to graduate into is quite unlike the world” he encountered at their age.

“There will likely be fewer formal jobs, but technology will create lots of entrepreneurial opportunities,” Venkatesan says. “So the first advice I would offer is not to aspire to a job, but to try to become an entrepreneur.

“See your life as an adventure — a series of gigs rather than a job. You need to develop what’s called ‘learning agility’ — the ability to learn new things lifelong. Hard work and tenacity are timeless values, but I suspect they will become even more important.”

Career Highlights

2015-present Chairman of the Board, Bank of Baroda, India
2014-present Member, Board of Trustees, The Rockefeller Foundation
2013-present Venture Partner, Unitus Seed Fund, India
2012-present Founder and Chairman, SVP (Social Venture Partners), India
2011-present Independent Director and Board Member, Infosys Ltd.
2007-2014 Board Member, AB Volvo, Sweden
2004-2011 Chairman, Microsoft India
1996-2003 Chairman, Cummins, India
1987-1996 Cummins Engine Company, Columbus, Indiana