- Dr. MPG Kurup
I started my pilgrimage North in the late sixties not knowing when I set out that it was to be a pilgrimage at all. But it so happened that I was swapped up in a human saga set in motion by a giant among men, called Vergheese Kurien. What I recount below are some of the precepts and principles in leading men, doing things and achieving success that I learned as a part of this great movement.
There are only a lucky few who were fortunate enough to work with the legendary milk man of India: Vergheese Kurien, a visionary and pragmatist, a rare combination of qualities seldom found in one individual: his head in the clouds, but his feet planted squarely on terra firma. I was one among those lucky few and for almost a quarter of a century with a ring-side seat, just an arm’s length away from him, all along. A Leader of men par excellence and a champion of the farmers, he devoted a whole life time to help them shape their destinies and to build for them an empire, vast and powerful, entirely controlled by them through the professionals they employ.
I became a part of this team of professionals lead by Vergheese Kurien and along the way some of his wisdom rubbed off on us: we learned the tricks of the trade: leadership, man management, team spirit, attention to detail, decisiveness, and above all determination. The rules of the game too were as important as the tricks themselves: integrity – personal as well as professional, fairness, equity, punctuality, speed, prudence and accountability. Competence, efficiency and unflinching loyalty were of course prerequisites to become a part of his team.
Management by delegation: delegation of responsibility and authority was the order of the day: we all learned that to load a man with responsibility and matching authority was the surest way to make him grow. We soon realized that one cannot lead from a crowd: one has to stand upfront to lead. Decision making became for us a matter of the head first and then of the heart as well: it was clear that the path to hell was paved with good intensions! In team building we learned to choose our peers, not the serf: the principle was: choose the one good enough to be your boss!
Lo and behold! We were soon a bunch of brats: head strong and cock sure, competent and aggressive, ready to take on the world and to hold on our own. We invaded the country with our tasks, teams and projects, changing the way we did business in our country and building enduring edifices as bulwarks against any onslaught of vested interests: and we succeeded all the way to the market, adding value and enhancing returns for our primary constituents: the farmers in India. And they cheered us on to advance and achieve as never before.
The theme was small holders and their livelihoods: the movement enabled over 10 million marginal and land less households of milk producer members in the cooperative movement to cross the poverty line and to enjoy a far better quality of life, in a sustained and progressively improving rural prosperity ambience. It taught us to look beyond the cow and see the man behind; and work for his welfare. The social capital build up in rural India enabled by the movement resulted in tens of thousands of viable and flourishing community based organizations owned and managed by farmers, institutionalizing their household livestock enterprises, giving them a continuing and sustainable livelihood option.
To me as an individual, the opportunities opened up by the movement were vast and varied, enabling me to become a major player in the development and orchestration of the livestock sector in India, to build and promote a nation-wide input generation network of animal feed mills, frozen semen production stations, bull mother farms, world class laboratories; to be the CEO of the second largest virus vaccine manufacturing plant in the world; and to coordinate and manage an army of professionals: a mixed bag of veterinarians, engineers, scientists, economists, environmentalists, sociologists, agronomists, accountants and administrators. After demitting office in the formal set up the experience and expertise gained over the quarter century I spent working with Dr.Kurien enabled me to become a successful international consultant handling widely varied mix of projects, the National Livestock Policy Perspective for the Government of India and to continue as a Consultant to the World Bank over the past 15 years.
Some say that Kurien is a big Banyan Tree under the shadows of which nothing grows: nothing can be farther from truth. For those of us working with him, it was this shadow that provided the protective umbrella, emboldening us to dare the limits every single day and achieve breakthroughs of personal and group excellence, always shielding us from harm and encouraging us to grow. No other leader has left behind such a vast skill pool of top class professionals and managers, who continue to contribute to nation-building in different sectors of our economy.