I studied at the Government College Lahore from where I did my intermediate (equivalent to plus-two). My father was a collector in the customs department and when I passed school, he got posted to Delhi.
After coming to Delhi, I got admitted to the BA programme at St Stephen's. At that time the college was in Kashmiri Gate but moved to its present location (in north campus) when I was in the second year.
I was not a bright student and my principal wanted to detain me. He even wrote a letter to my father to the same effect, but somehow I managed to write the exams and set a record by scoring the least marks ever in the history (of St Stephens').
But academic success doesn't ensure professional success. What matters is how you apply your knowledge in the real world. You must make the right choices and when you have consciously decided to work on something, then you must take the maximum interest in it. To rise to the position of chairman of a company, it helps if you are more qualified. The higher the qualification, the more would be the opportunities for you.
I joined Dunlop India as a trainee in 1942 (he has preserved the offer letter from the company) and worked there for 35 years before retiring as chairman. Several companies then requested me to join their board. I was later appointed as chairman of organisations including Bata India, Britannia Biscuits, Needle Industries and Shalimar Paints.
Even at this age, I actively participate in the board meetings of DLF Ltd (where he is the director). Whenever there is a meeting, I read up on the matters to be discussed, so that I can give valuable inputs.
It's only because of my active participation and contributions that a number of companies have invited me to join their boards.
After I retired from Dunlop India in 1977, I was made an offer by HelpAge (a non government organisation working for the care of the elderly) to join its board. I had to turn it down because of other commitments, but joined them after a few months when they renewed the offer with a comforting clause which said that I would have to devote only two hours in a week’s time to them. After joining the organisation, I put my heart and soul into my work. Soon after, I was made the president of HelpAge, a post I occupied for many years. When I retired from there, I was made the president emeritus.
After Dunlop, it was Bata, followed by the HelpAge India. I have retired time and again. After I retire, I join another organisation. Four years ago, when the chairman of a public enterprise made me an offer to join its board, I asked him if he was aware of my age. He said 'Yes, but I would still like to invite you, considering your experience and knowledge.'
Principles of success
Wherever I have worked, I have religiously followed the four principles. The first one is that there is no substitute for hard work. Second, you have to seize opportunities as they come. Opportunities come and go; you must be able to identify them and make the best of them. Third, you must make an effort to outperform others. You must acknowledge the fact that there is a lot of competition everywhere. So, in order to excel, you must do more than what you are expected to do.
You also must appreciate everyone's capabilities. Everyone is capable of rising in life, given the opportunity.
One must also try and maintain the right balance between life and work. Take some time out to play and enjoy yourself. I was a tennis player in college and played at the inter-college and club level. Later, I picked up golf, which I still enjoy.
MM Sabharwal As told to Vimal Chander Joshi