Verghese Kurien called IIM graduates 'shampoo salesmen': founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani

'He was not polite. He was downright rude. He was condescending. He was sarcastic'


Verghese Kurien once derided graduates of prestigious IIM, Ahmedabad as 'shampoo salesmen', calling their career pursuits "a colossal waste of talent", said founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani, recalling how the man regarded as the architect of India's 'white revolution' changed his world view.

At a convocation speech at IIM-A more than three decades back, Kurien was "downright rude, condescending, sarcastic, caustic and insulting" as he taunted graduates.

In a Twitter post, Bikhchandani compared the impact of two speeches made during his time at IIM-A more than three decades ago—one by the then SAIL chairman V Krishnamurthy at his graduation convocation and the other by Kurien a year before that.

While the first speech was quickly forgotten, Kurien's, which he had listened to from a distance, remained with him for decades.

Kurien's candid and blunt tone, which taunted the graduating class, challenged their behaviour and influenced their decision-making.

"He opened by congratulating the graduating class. He then said that this is not the Indian Institute of Management. This is the Indian Institute of Management for Shampoo Salesmen. And that the entire graduating class could now look forward to a life where they spend their time selling soap and shampoo," he wrote in a Twitter post.

He derided students for just wanting to work for multinational corporations "peddling their wares to Indian consumers."

"Such a colossal waste of talent he called it," Bikchandani, who quit a job with GlaxoSmithKline to set up Info Edge that owns portals for job search (, matrimony (; real estate ( and education (, said.

Bikchandani, who also owns stakes in online food delivery outfit Zomato and insurance marketplace, recalled his own convocation ceremony at IIM-A and the one held prior to his passing out that challenged and provoked the audience.

The batch of 1989 "produced the most number of entrepreneurs in the history of IIM-A."

"Sometimes warm fuzzy convocation speeches don't make a lasting impact," he wrote, adding Kurien was "in your face. Blunt. Calling a spade a spade."

By the end of his 30-minute speech, "Our ears were burning", he said.

But that speech did have its effect and some of the pass-outs of that year did something different.

"He was not polite. He was downright rude. He was condescending. He was sarcastic. He was caustic. He was insulting. He spoke a few home truths to the graduating class. He taunted us," he wrote on Kurien.

And throughout his speech, Kurien repeatedly used the term "shampoo salesmen" derisively to describe the graduates of IIM-A.

"He challenged us to do something more meaningful with our lives and try and make a difference," he wrote. "But then he lamented that his words were going to fall on deaf ears and that we would take the safer option."

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