Ravi Kailas is a serial entrepreneur with over three decades of experience creating sustainable and transformative businesses. Although Kailas has created businesses in real estate, finance and energy sectors, he does not view himself as tied to a single sector. Instead, Kailas has worked over the course of his career to destill the principles of entrepreneurship into a core philosophy. This self-made entrepreneur joined Cathy Guo, CEO of Dunya Labs, in his authorial debut- ‘Myth of the Entrepreneur’, a combination of intimate life experiences, observations on misconceptions surrounding entrepreneurship, and ideas for the future of value creation. Ravi Kailas and Cathy Guo tell Y V Phani Raj the significance of the book and their experiences, which is due to be launched in May.
Origination of idea
By nature I am very private. I have never imagined myself, who has never shared many of my moments in life to anyone, to come out with a book where I shared so many things publicly. My father who passed away five years ago used to share his stories and moments with me. The importance of this and how much I felt I missed his recounting made me realize I could share my experiences with my own children. So I thought I will record my experiences, ideas and my thoughts in an audio format and make it available for my children. I started doing an oral history and that’s when I met Cathy who was a student of Oxford at the time, and had conducted her own oral history based research projects. Over a period of 2-3 months we conducted 15 hour sessions to record the oral history project. She did a great job in identifying different sections of my life. After completing the oral history project, I left it at that but Cathy told me this is a story that is worth telling everyone. I was initially adamant that it is private. No one in the company knew how we structured our business and how it is founded, except senior leaders of the company. Cathy took this project on a full-time basis and put a team together to take it forward into a book.
Cathy- I wanted to present an interesting and refreshing entrepreneurial and personal journey of Ravi Kailas to the world through the book. We both saw commonality of thought how wealth is imbalanced in this world and wealth inequality that exists. Ravi is a unique entrepreneur who had been constantly confronting with contradictions, and his philosophy is distinct and clear.
Horizon of content
We did a lot of research traveling around the world and studied how concepts had been chosen for the books. We tried to use the personal story as much as it supported what needed to be told and why certain choices had been made in my life. We questioned ourselves which led to certain conclusions and the book says how we arrived at them and how we see value creation as an overarching principle. This was never an attempt to judge someone else’s method. It is an important time where equality is so significant. We believe incremental wealth creation in the world in the last twenty years is more than the wealth created till then. This wealth creation is happening in emerging economies and in very concentrated private hands.
Foray into renewables
I entered into renewables sector around 2009-10. In the book I mention that we wanted to create a business that will last multi-generations and which is scalable. We also wanted to do something that has a larger impact on environment at a time when climate change is increasingly becoming critical. There were many players in India in the infrastructure space. We didn’t want to enter thermal power. We wanted to enter renewables and became the first independent power producer (IPP) in the country in this space. One of the principles we had was that we should have majority ownership in business so that we can remain innovative without having to answer investors. When we listed on London Stock Exchange, several investors showed interest in our business. Even after when we decided to delist, Capital Group wanted to stay invested with us. That’s the good will we created.
Role of ethics
It is not only important for me as an entrepreneur but it is also every stakeholder’s expectation from our business. Ethics is not a onetime activity. It is an on-going and core aspect of our business. Ethics and our governance had been integral parts of our business all the time. Because of the goodwill we created, we could raise $200 million dollar (Rs 1,400 crore). Ethics had been an internal and permanent belief to us. We had self-imposed restraints when we started our business to ensure that our business is on rack without foregoing our values. We built stringent internal process systems and controls. Our team went up from five people to 300 people in six months. If we didn’t have these processes in place, we could not have had everything at right place.
I did not rely alone on my capabilities in running the businesses. I haven’t taken technical decisions on my own and rather left them to those who had the relevant experience and background. I no doubt was involved in all strategic decisions. We brought in people who understood the nuances of our business and have created sophisticated financial operations whatever sector we were operating. We always had very good relationships with our lenders. In the first year of our operations, we created a database of 10 GW of potential renewable sites, primarily in the wind power space. We built a strong data analytics team. We also created sophisticated engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) business.
The book discusses key moments of life. After I had a heart attack in my 30s, I started rethinking on what I should be focusing in my life. As an entrepreneur I had been achieving market leadership in all the ventures I took up including the telecom business. I took a pause when the health incident took place, which was important, but forced. I started interrogating fundamental questions on aspects that we take for granted usually. My experience with Vipassana has been transformative. I realised the more you think of yourself and put yourself in the centre, you miss out on other things. Typical entrepreneurs create wealth for their family and it is always assumed that your children will run the business. I created a Trust and explained to my children what it meant to them. This was a fundamental difference in my life as an entrepreneur. There is no automatic transfer of wealth to my children, which is a big difference. This was not an easy decision, and I still wonder sometimes if they will understand.
In the book, we had two voices, one looking back and one forward. This story needed both voices to be told. Cathy and I were radical amongst our own peer groups. This was an attempt to fuse different voices. The premise is that you interrogate what you believe is real value. Contradictions still exist and you can still survive in business or any other field. The effort shines a light on more granular aspects of life. The authorial experience has been very transformative. We believe the biggest change in society should come from budding entrepreneurs or professionals or students who are just starting off their life journey, the segment which is still forming its opinion.