APJ Abdul Kalam got it wrong, for once. Here’s why.


APJ Abdul Kalam got it wrong, for once
I came across one of the famous quotes of Dr. Abdul Kalam a few weeks back. It read:
“Love your job,but don’t love your company;because you may not knowwhen your company stops loving you.”
This is a dangerous quote. I don’t agree with it. And I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t either.
I have not yet verified it myself whether this really came from Dr. Kalam or not. People share this quote on social media in agreement and others happily follow. So, I guess many can’t go wrong here and would assume that it’s legit.

Freshers and inexperienced employees will generally stick to this Kalam quote and make it their wallpaper. They will have a hard time understanding why I am against this quote in particular.
I was having a hard time agreeing to this quote. Forget agreeing, I couldn’t even understand why somebody like Dr. Kalam would write something like this in the first place! While I completely agree with some other work related quotes of Dr. Kalam, I had a hard time nodding to this one. Other quotes such as ‘Work is a never-ending process.’ etc. and his emphasis on doing smart work, leaving for home in time, giving equal importance to family etc. is gold. But not this one.
The problem with this quote is that it asks you to neglect the buyer and seller principle and disrespect the law of attraction. If you don’t love your company, your company won’t love you back and it just stalls there. What will happen is a no-brainer that you will try and find a new job and this cycle will continue until you retire. While there isn’t seem to be anything technically wrong here, what we or Dr. Kalam probably overlooked here is that by the principle, a service provider shouldn’t do this. Companies who love their customers are the companies that thrive and become extremely successful. At the same time there are companies who don’t really believe in loving their customers and tend to simply focus on their own growth first – such companies don’t have a lasting legacy.
The same principle applies to us as workers or employees. I call us ‘Sellers’ and this is something that I particularly emphasize in our training sessions for organisational structure for the new recruits. As employees, we are providing our services to our companies and hence we are sellers. If we don’t at least ‘try’ to love the company where we want to spend at least 2-3 years of our life time, if not more, the company will also have a hard time loving us back. ‘Love’ is a very common human trait and is applicable even in professional relationships.
What this quote is doing is that it negates your thinking process and attitude towards your company by warning you that your company may stop loving you at any point of time and that’s why you should never fall in love with it in the first place. I think this ideology is rhetoric. If you are a sincere business owner, would you stop loving your customers just because you know for sure that one day they will stop loving you anyway or won’t fall in love in the first place?

Mahatma Gandhi once wrote the following about customers:
“A customer is the most important person at your premises. You need customers, customers don’t need you. Your customer is doing a favor to you by giving you the opportunity to serve him, you are not doing any favor to him.”

And this applies to employers as well because technically, like customers, they are ‘paying’ as well. Employers, on the other hand, are paying recurring sum of amount every month! So, they should deserve even greater respect and love, shouldn’t they? 
Quotes like the one that of Dr. Kalam here will create distraction in the thought process. And since he was, and still is, such a respectable personality with huge fan following, anyone who reads such a quote would node in agreement and would start refraining from engaging more with the company.
If you cannot love your company, you will be like seller who wants to sell and earn money but doesn’t really care whether he/she is delivering any value to his/her customer or not. With such a mindset, he/she will have less emphasis on building long term relationships.
May be what Dr. Kalam has to say here applies to a different era of workers altogether and might have been more suitable given the circumstances back then. But definitely not today or in future. The world is changing and so are companies. We are living in the age of digital startups where majority of the Fortune Global 10 or 50 companies were once startups and founded by energetic entrepreneurs who wanted to change the way the world works. Dr. Kalam, too, had entrepreneurial spirit within him, there is no doubt about that. But, may be this quote has to do with the overall ecosystem and applies to only a select class of workers? Quite possible.
Entrepreneurs today are trying to build companies that have a family-type work culture. Today’s workspaces and work from home facilities support this changing trend. Founders today consider their employees as their colleagues and not as laborers. Unfortunately, we are talking about this in a country where the legal system still doesn’t recognize any working-class employee other than ‘labor’, at least on paper. For those laborers, yes, this quote is right. In the License Raj India, Kalam was right. In the pre-digital era where factories were run by mafia-type business bosses and goons, Kalam was right.
Not today.
Dr. Kalam probably never had a private company job as he was an employee of ISRO throughout his career, which is a government body. Governments like those of India would anyway give you a pension even if you don’t love the ‘company’. No wonder Indian babus would agree to this quote.
My point is simple. If you don’t ‘want to’ love your company, don’t expect the company to love you anyway in the first place. You as an employee or a service provider have to love your company/employer/customer first rather than expecting them to love you.
Progressive companies of today still want to love employees first. They are creating beautiful and productive work places and have never before found employee benefits. They are talking about creating a culture that would attract like-minded talent. Why do you think they are doing this? It is love so that you also love staying around.
If the love equation doesn’t happen or doesn’t work, either of you will leave the other one in the equation. To stay in the relationship, love is essential.
An obvious benefit of loving your company is that you get a long term stay at the same company. Now, Why would you stay long term at the same company?
Out of the the first 21 Google employees, 3 who are still with Google are leading very large business units. Susan Wojcicki joined Google in 1999 and now is the CEO of YouTube. She took over from Salar Kamangar who was the CEO of YouTube until 2014. He is currently SVP Products. A few other early employees like Marrisa Mayer and Omid Kordestani who joined Google in 1999 and stayed a long time till 2014-15 become CEO of Yahoo and Executive Chairman of Twitter respectively. Many others who left Google, later on, opted for other endeavors and many of them are successful as well. But, definitely nothing like the ones who stayed long, very long.
Ditto is the case of Steve Ballmer who joined Microsoft in 1980 as the company’s 30th employee and was the first business manager hired by Bill Gates. He, later on, went on to take the charge of CEO from Gates and retire in Microsoft itself.
Do you think these guys could have stayed for so long if they didn’t love their companies?
Dr. Kalam, contrary to his quote, loved ISRO. He joined DRDO as a scientist in around 1960 and was transferred to ISRO in 1969. Dr. Kalam went on to gain his fame there and retire before becoming the 11th President of India. All of this wouldn’t have been possible without sharing love with the other parties involved! Simply loving your work or job isn’t enough as in a relationship, at least two parties are involved. You are not alone.
Narendra Modi, current Prime Minister of India, wouldn’t agree to this quote either. He loves his office. And it is no secret that he is an avid worker. He puts his work, his vision for India, his office, before anything.
Family life is obviously important, there is no denying. But I guess such quotes are applicable to those who, in search of excellence, completely neglect their family and are not able to spend any kind of time back home. Such quotes are not applicable to fresh graduates and inexperienced guys who are yet to achieve anything significant in life and in their professional careers. But, unfortunately, they are the ones who will agree to such quotes first.
You, of course, can’t love every company that you join. The target, however, has to be in finding the right fit and then sticking to it for long term, provided the company is also long-term hopeful!
Not all Indians are snake charmers, as was the image in an average foreigner’s mind some 20-30 years back. And today, not all Indians are software engineers.
The same way, not all companies are bad and not all are good.
It is important to note that not many companies would share this philosophy or have such long term attitude themselves. So, if Dr. Kalam is targeting those companies and asking us not to love such companies, he is right.
Companies have variations just like humans. There are good, bad and the ugly. You shouldn’t put all of them in the same basket and run quotes generalizing everyone.

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Kunal Pandya

Kunal is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and startup evangelist. He has helped build and scale up several businesses and products from the ground up. Apart from NCrypted, he serves as an advisory and is on the board of several of our client companies that we partner with.

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