Colin Chapman – An Automative and Racing Pioneer

Colin Chapman was an engineer, businessman and entrepreneur, who is responsible for founding the principles that govern high performance cars today. He took risks, pushed his cars and employees to the limit and came out on top through constant innovation.

Colin Chapman was an automotive and racing pioneer who single-handedly changed the face of the automobile industry. He set up Lotus Engineering Corporation with 25 borrowed pounds, and turned it into a million pound enterprise over the course of just 15 years. An innovator par excellence, a maniacal manager, and an entrepreneur with a propensity for risk taking, Chapman is credited with some of the technologies that have made modern-day automobiles what they are, despite having minimal resources.

Chapman takes the plunge

In 1948, Chapman modified the car, Austin 7 and built the Mk2, and as an afterthought, entered it into a ‘trials racing’ competition. With the ferocious success of the Mk2, he started selling the kits, but never exact replicas. The car has more than 90 clones today, and is still in production as the Caterham 7.

Once the racing bug bit him, he was obsessed with the problem of making cars go faster. He tested himself, his employees and his cars, to the limit, none were spared. Chapman believed that lightness and elegance was the key to winning races. Though the Lotus cars were notorious for their frailty, they were also synonymous with inventions that consistently won them the first few positions on the grid.

His mind thrived on competition, innovation, and technology.

Sometimes his innovations were so advanced that the governing body of Formula 1, the FIA would ban them just to keep a level playing field. He is credited with inventing the rear suspension struts, monocoque chassis in racing, using composite materials to build cars, ground effect skirts and active suspension.

The virtues of elegance and lightness remain the first principles of nearly all high performance racing cars today.

Chapman was never afraid to take risks. He also employed this quality in his business decisions. Although not scrupulous to a fault, he took risky business decisions that often yielded results in his favour. He introduced big budget advertising sponsorship on race-cars and struck a deal with Ford for the development of the DFV engine. His DIY race car kit was also a business model innovation that netted him millions in royalties.

Chapman gains an advantage

Chapman’s attitude towards rules was that they were meant to be circumvented. He would spend hours poring over rulebooks just to find loopholes that he could exploit, to get that ‘unfair advantage’. He also adapted the rules to his own ends to maximize performance.

One such interesting story is that of the twin chassis. Downforce is an aerodynamic principle that greatly enhances performance. But there is always a trade-off between comfort and performance as comfort required a strong suspension while performance required it to be bare. He got the best of both worlds by building a twin chassis that had minimal suspension in the outer layer and strong suspension in the inner layer!

Chapman had managed to invent something so far ahead of its time, it was banned by the FISA, again. But bureaucracy aside, he truly was one of the greatest innovators who touched the pinnacle of success by taking risks, tenacious faith in his company, and constant innovation.

Action Points

  • Stay true to first principles.

  • Don’t be afraid to take risks whenever you can.

  • Get rid of the word ‘impossible’.

~ Amala Putrevu

Swami Vivekananda – A Spritual Leader

Swami Vivekananda was an Indian spiritual leader who founded the Ramkrishna mission to spread knowledge to bolster the poor and neglected communities of India to improve their conditions. He is remembered for his speech at the Parliament of Religions and gained fame as ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western World’.

Take up one idea. Make that one idea of your life - Think of it, dream of it, and live on that idea. - Swami Vivekanand

By the time Swami Vivekanad (known in his pre-monsatic life as Narendranath Datta) graduated from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially Western philosophy and history. Born with a yogic temperament, he used to practise meditation even from his boyhood, and was associated with Brahmo Movement for some time.

The unknown monk of India suddenly leapt into fame at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, at which he represented Hinduism. His vast knowledge of Eastern and Western culture as well as his deep spiritual insight, fervid eloquence, brilliant conversation, broad human sympathy, colourful personality, and handsome figure made an irresistible appeal to the many types of Americans who came in contact with him.

Swami Vivekananda goes abroad

To test whether her son was ready to go abroad, Swami Vivekananda’s mother invited him for dinner and fed him a scrumptious meal that she had prepared with love and affection. After the dinner, she offered him a dish of fruits and a knife. Once Vivekananda had cut the fruit and eaten it, his mother asked for the knife back. Vivekanand immediately responded by giving the knife.

Vivekanand’s mother calmly said, “Son, you have passed my test and I heartily bless you for going abroad.” Vivekanand surprisingly asked, “Mother, how did you test me? I did not understand.”

Mother replied, “Son, when I asked for the knife, I saw how you handed it to me, you gave the knife by holding its sharp edge and kept the wooden handle of knife towards me. This way, I would not get hurt when I take it and this means you took care of me. And this was your test in which you passed.

The person who thinks of others welfare rather than thinking about self has got the right of preaching the world and you have got that right. You have all my blessings.”

By thinking about others before himself, Vivekananda had separated himself from ordinary folk as someone who whole-heartedly cares for other people.

Establishing Ramkrishna Mission

Vivekananda undertook epic travels of India and was exposed to the poverty problem that plagued the country. He identified the root of the problem as the neglect of the downtrodden. This neglect had been going on for so long that they had stopped believing in their own abilities and potential to improve their community. By identifying this problem, he was able to come up with a two-pronged strategy to infuse them with self-confidence and also improve their conditions. Thus the Ramkrishna Mission was founded with the aim of spreading secular knowledge to improve their economic condition; and spiritual knowledge to infuse in them faith in themselves and strengthen their moral sense.

Action Points

  • Think about others.

  • Never let your own ego get in the way.

  • Open yourself up to learning.

  • Get to the root of the problem.

~ Amala Putrevu

Audrey Hepburn: The timeless icon of true grit

Born into the unforgiving time of the Nazi command, Audrey Hepburn was faced with challenges that put her day-to-day survival at stake. But she tackled them gracefully, and her brave personality helped her transform into one of the most unconventionally beautiful actresses.

Nothing is impossible; the word itself says ‘I’m possible’! - Audrey Hepburn

When one thinks about Audrey Hepburn, one can instantly picturise a petit looking lady with hair tied neatly in a bun, wearing minimum make-up but exuding maximum elegance; dressed in classic pearls and a little black dress; gazing absorbedly at the camera. Hepburn was the classic fashionista right from the beginning, but as life would have it, she hit upon a rough patch when she was very young.

When she was just six years old, little Audrey witnessed the divorce of her Anglo Irish father and Dutch mother, and was overcast by the trauma of her father leaving the family. Shortly after the incident, World War II broke out in Germany, and the family moved from their home in Belgium to Holland, which was thought of as a safer bet.

However, Holland was invaded by the Nazis soon after, and this drove the family into depths of poverty – all their rations were minimised, and all their material assets were seized. Many of Hepburn’s relatives were killed on the streets, and this left her mother and her to fend for themselves.

Hepburn was a young girl at this time, and this took a toll on her health so severe that she developed malnutrition and many other health problems. On some days, she ate only flour and tulip bulbs to get through to the next day.

Dancing her way to triumph

There was one passion that kept her going through the severity of war – and that was her love for ballet. She dreamt of becoming a professional ballet dancer one day. Hepburn started taking ballet lessons at the Arhnem School of Music, and soon became an ace student. To show her support for the Dutch, teenager Hepburn would perform ballet behind closed doors to raise funds for the resistance. She also taught ballet to young girls, to provide a bit for her family.

Hepburn’s frail condition did not deter her from donning the breadwinner’s robes for her family and participating in a noble cause, risking all that she had. It was her bold, yet caring nature that shaped her personality and made her resist failures that came her way. Consequently, when Holland was liberated, Hepburn shifted with her family to England, where she began modelling and was soon picked to star in her first movie.

Action Summary:

  • Tough times call for prompt action. It is the fire within that makes you get ahead of the rough patches in life, and excel.

  • Passion overshadows all difficulties. Always find a way to fuel what you love to do. There is no better formula for success.

~ Atrija Gaur

Elon Musk – An Innovator

Elon Musk is a billionaire entrepreneur who revolutionized four industries with his informed risk-taking tendencies and confidence even in the bleakest of times.

Failure is an option here. If you’re not failing, you’re not innovating enough. - Elon Musk

Elon Musk is an innovator and the inspiration for the movie version of Iron Man! He is most well-known for his dramatic innovation that revolutionized the space technology and electric cars industries.

He founded his first start-up, Zip2, after dropping out from Stanford University. An online city guide, Zip2 was soon providing content for the new Web sites of both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, and in 1999, a division of Compaq Computer bought Zip2 for $307 million in cash and $34 million in stock options.

In 1999, he chaired PayPal, after his company was acquired by it. PayPal was sold for $22 million.

The Failure of Falcon1

In 2002, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies, popularly known as SpaceX. Musk developed SpaceX with the objective of introducing a private player in the field of space exploration, a Herculean task, to put it mildly.

Six years after founding the company, Musk had put in $100 million of his personal investment, en route to making his dream of colonizing Mars come true. This investment was to suffice for 3 attempts at launching the private rockets into space.

When at the third try, they failed, every single person in SpaceX was devastated. But Musk took to the stage and reiterated to his employees that they had achieved a major feat that day, they had secured investment for two more tries, and that if they stuck with Musk till the end, they would win.

The speech was so inspiring that within seconds the teams got back to work. They identified the cause for the failure in a few hours and a new rocket manufactured in 6 weeks.

Tesla faces problems

Tesla Motors was all about sustainable energy consumption. He made a high priced car at low volume, medium priced car at medium volume and then a low priced car at high volume. He was faced with the decision of either pumping his own money from the eBay payout into Tesla or watch his company crumble.

Musk put in all of his reserve capital and needed more. To convince Daimler to invest money into Tesla, they had to retrofit a Daimler Smart Car with an electric drivetrain, battery and charger. And they had to do all of this in just 4 weeks!

After the economic tsunami of 2008 in which almost all of his companies were in trouble, he was able to consolidate all of his companies, keep only the most crucial parts and cull the rest. With his deft strategy and heroic confidence, Musk was able to bring Tesla into profitability, SpaceX landed a $1.6 billion contract from NASA, and SolarCity was taking off well too.

He truly revolutionized four industries with his informed risk-taking tendencies and confidence even in the bleakest of times.

Action Summary

  • Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is on the route to success.

  • Don’t be afraid to take risks.

  • Never give up even in the face of the harshest failure.

  • Believe in your impossible dream.

    ~ Amala Putrevu

Ferrucio Lamborghini

Ferrucio Lamborghini was an Italian engineer and entrepreneur. He started an eponymous brand of tractors that soon became regular fixtures in every farm of Italy. After trying his hand at heating and air-conditioning systems, he ventured into sports cars, the brand that he is most famous for today. Having seen a gap for an even better high performance car, Lamborghini built cars that could rival the best of the best. Today, the brand has generated more than 470 million euros in business and considered emblems of comfort, power and luxury

See what other are not doing with their products and perfect it. - Ferrucio Lamborghini

Life wasn’t easy for Ferrucio Lamborghini on the the farm, as his main interest lay in machinery. He loved taking things apart and putting them back together. He was even able to build his own casting shop in the barn. Once when he was casting his own parts for the farm equipment, the barn blew up and the family lost almost everything they owned!

But it was this curiosity and love for machines that propelled him from a farm hand to a tractor business owner to the owner of a sports car brand that became synonymous with luxury, refinement & perfection.

Lamborghini starts his tractor business

After going to technical school in Bologna, he developed a deep desire to know how everything worked. Later, he joined the Italian Air Force in World War II. Being able to fix military equipment with very little spares, he earned the post of chief mechanic. Once the war was over – while on his honeymoon – he saw that a lot of surplus military vehicles were being sold off as scrap.

Recognizing an opportunity in this, he cut short his honeymoon and started building a tractor out of the parts of the surplus vehicles, for his parents’ barn. The fame of the tractor grew and other local farmers came to ask him for the same design. He continued building tractors for the locals and realized that he could design a single tractor from the surplus vehicles in 30 days. After selling off many such tractors, he was able to buy his own material and formalize the business. By mid-50s, Lamborghini was a millionaire.

Lamborghini ventures into supercars

Like the multi millionaires of his time, he too bought a Ferrari as it was a symbol of stature and success. But he was not happy with the clutch performance of this so-called ‘high-performance’ car. He went to speak to Enzo Ferrari about this at his Maranello factory. Lamborghini explained the problem but Ferrari was offended and retorted, “Why don’t you stick to building tractors?”

Out of spite, Lamborghini opened up the car to see how he could improve it. Having found quite a few faults, he put in a better clutch and made some replacements and improvements. This design of his too, did not go unnoticed and people began to ask about it. He realized that if he used his tractor parts, he could save the cost on parts.

Thus he shifted his gaze to this sector and set up the Automobili Lamborghini S.P.A facility. His brand cars beat the best of the best high-performance cars, the Ferraris and Alfa Romeos of those days, and carved a niche for itself as the pinnacle of performance, style, and technical excellence.

Lamborghini was also known for being courteous. He treated his employees and visitors with equal grace. He remained approachable and allowed new ideas to proliferate. He believed that there were tons of ingenious ideas but there were not enough people to perfect them.

Action Points

  • Be passionate about what you do.

  • Set yourself apart from the competition.

  • Never let critics get you down.

~ Amala Putrevu

Rivaldo: Scoring the goals of life

Rivaldo is considered one of the greatest Brazilian footballers of all time. However, football wasn’t the profession fate had chosen for him when he was a child. This is how his passion made him the known name that he is now in this sport.

There were many obstacles, challenges...but also much greater joys, achievements...that allowed a distant dream to come true. - Rivaldo

Rivaldo Vitor Borbora Ferreira is a name synonymous with the Brazilian footballer legends. He was on the team that won Brazil the World Cup in 2002, where he was the second highest goal scorer. He was on the team that took Brazil to the finals in the 1998 World Cup. He is known for his magic left foot, his marvellous game strategy and his excellent bicycle kicks.

Rivaldo, however, started his life with a very unpromising background. He grew up in a slum in Recife, a small town in Brazil. As poverty abounded, Rivaldo and his family fought to stay alive and he faced the brunt of it all by being a victim of severe malnourishment. He lost some of his teeth as a result, and his bones became brittle, making him bow-legged. His muscles were left underdeveloped, even as he stood at 6+ feet.

Despite his debiliating physical condition, Rivaldo harboured a dream of playing football professionally. It was almost an escape for him, from the harsh realities of life – but it gave him hope. He would walk many miles to and from his training ground because he couldn’t afford transport.

    1. Taking on the roadblocks

Just when his career was about to take off, Rivaldo lost his father to a road accident. He was shattered, and almost gave up football. But he soon realised that he wanted to make his – and his father’s – dreams come true, and that quitting was not an option. With no financial support, Rivaldo had to sell refreshments & souvenirs to tourists by the sea to feed his family. But his love for football was far from over. Every night, while the whole world slept, Rivaldo would walk miles to the football ground and train with all his might. His father had always urged him to pursue football – and driven by this guiding light, Rivaldo finally signed his first professional football contract with Paulistano, at the age of 16.

Even as his coaches expressed their fears about Rivaldo not being strong enough to take on the high demands of the rough game because of his frail physical appearance, Rivaldo hushed them all with his tremendous skill involving his left foot, and his keen strategizing. The rest as they say, is for all to see.

Action Summary:

  • Always find a way to keep your passion alive – no matter how hard the path ahead looks like, your passion will find a way to tackle it beautifully.

  • The path is often ridden by blockages at several intervals. Don’t be disheartened, because they are there to make you stronger and better at your game.

~ Atrija Gaur

Richard Branson: Spelling out a life of accomplishment

Everyone knows Branson as the billionaire entrepreneur who runs 150 companies under the banner of his company Virgin. Getting there took passion, curiosity – and turning his dyslexia into an insignificant thing of the past.

Whatever your goal is, you will never succeed unless you let go of your fears and fly. - Richard Branson

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, has a net worth of $4.7 billion today. He has always maintained that his creations were never for the money, but for the thrill of getting into something new and fun. But there was something he had that by its nature would have prevented anyone from even dreaming of doing something new and fun, without encountering endless emotional hurdles – and that was dyslexia.

Branson often struggled at school with his learning disability. Unfortunately, at the time, there wasn’t enough awareness, so his teachers often mistook him for being lazy and harbouring less interest in academics. Branson eventually dropped out of high school at 16, unable to cope with his studies. By then, he had also made up his mind to do something intellectually exciting.

Removing the ‘dys’ in disadvantage

Deciding that dyslexia wasn’t going to interfere with his entrepreneurial appetite, Branson – the self-proclaimed thinker of the different – had launched a magazine, ‘Student’. He proved that a dyslexic – who faced problems in reading – could lead a magazine.

Many years later, when Virgin was born, Branson would ask all ads to be presented to him. He wanted all content to be read out so he could evaluate the concept. If it clicked in a single go, the ad concept was passed. Branson thus used dyslexia to his advantage, by approving only the promotional material that was easily understood by him. His customers would have no difficulty in getting what was being conveyed. This eventually laid base for what Virgin is best known for – simple messages and services which everyone can relate to.

Action Summary:

  • Recognise your abilities and disabilities. Your disabilities are there to be overcome, guided by your abilities – often proving a deadly combination for success.

  • Academic excellence has no relation with being an excellent entrepreneur. Think big and act bigger. If you have an extraordinary idea, nothing can defeat its potency to become great.

~ Atrija Gaur

Michael Dell – Revolutionary of the Computer Industry

Michael Dell started his company at 19, with 1000$ in hand. Read on about how he revolutionized the computer industry!

Each day that you are moving towards your dream without compromising who you are, you’re winning. - Michael Dell

Michael Dell’s company, Dell Computer Corporation went private in 2013, after closing a $25 billion deal. He was the youngest Fortune 500 CEO at the age of 26 and the company ranked among Top 10 on Fortune magazine’s Global “Most Admired” list.

Recognising Opportunity

Michael Dell’s love affair with computers started in his childhood, and so did his love for business. When Dell was 19, he opened up an IBM PC. This resulted in two discoveries. First, that none of the parts were manufactured by IBM. Second, that the cost price of the machine was only $600, but was being retailed for $3000.

Using the same components as IBM, he built his own system and started selling. He was able to sell his PCs to established corporations at a 15% discount compared to IBM. He expanded this idea and with $1000 as his start-up investment, he procured a vendor’s license and started Dell Computer Corporation.

But this was not the first time Dell had recognized an opportunity to do things better. When he was merely 8 years old, he tried to procure his high school diploma by appearing for the ‘high school equivalency exam’, so that he can get into business soon!

Eliminating the middleman

When Dell was 12, he embarked upon his very first business venture. He created his own stamps auction as he wanted to commercialize something that caught his fancy at that age. He asked his neighbours to allocate their stamps to him. He advertised them as “Dell’s Stamps” in “Linn’s Stamp Journal” and mailed out a hand-typed, 12-page catalogue. This endeavour earned him a solid $2000 and the lesson that dictated his future business style: The rewards of eliminating the middleman.

When his company started becoming successful, he left college to manage his company full-time. His philosophy of ‘direct selling’ paid huge dividends. Dell was able to maintain a minimum inventory, focus on speed and execution, and sold directly to the consumer, bypassing the sales channel.

Action Summary

  • Combine your passions and create a job that you love doing.
  • Recognize opportunities to do things better.
  • Don’t be afraid to innovate.
  • Eliminate the middleman.
  • Be opportunistic.
  • Put your customer at the focus of your business.

~ Amala Putrevu

JK Rowling: From rags to riches

Kids from all over the world owe it to J K Rowling, the British Novelist, for creating the magic world of Harry Potter’s. But Rowling had weaved the fantasies of this colorful world of magic during the darkest period of her life.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. ~ J K Rowling

After a brief stint in Portugal as an English teacher, Rowling returned to England in 1993 along with her infant daughter. Her marriage to a Portuguese television journalist had lasted merely eleven months. With no job at hand and not much left in the name of savings, Rowling found herself in a tight situation.

A mice-infested flat in Edinburgh became her home where she wrestled with poverty and depression while struggling to raise her baby daughter. Those days, her only source of income was the monthly welfare check that amounted to a meager 70 pounds.

It was during those dark days of her life that she weaved the colorful, magical moments of the Hogwarts. The thread of a story that occurred to her a few years earlier during a train journey started shaping into the now famous Harry Potter novels.

During the summer, to escape the hot dingy apartment, Rowling would spend her time inside the numerous cafes in the locality, sipping a coffee and working on her book while her baby daughter would sleep in a pram by her side.

After she completed the first book of the series – Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone – she sent it to three renowned publishers in Britain. All three rejected her manuscript. Rowling, who had once worked for a publishing house drafting rejection slips, did not lose her heart! She kept trying and finally signed a contract with Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The first Harry Potter book was published in 1997 and it became an instant success with children all over the world. The series became so popular that it has been translated to at least 67 languages.

Her life is indeed inspirational and almost magical journey!

Action Summary:

  • Failures and struggles are the integral part of life. Failing doesn’t mean end of the world. It is just a phase that one has to go through.

  • It is up to a person to make the most of what is available to them. One can choose to give up or keep trying to achieve the fairy tale ending.

~ Gitanjali Banerjee

Coco Chanel: Crafting the silhouette of success

Chanel brought a long-pending change in the way people dressed just because she was unhappy with the way things were!

Action is the foundational key for all success. ~ Coco Chanel

Known the world over as the revolutionist of women’s fashion, Coco Chanel continues to live through the clothes many women wear, even 44 years after her death.

Elite Chanel, an illegitimate child of a shop girl and a poor peddler, lived most of her childhood as a lonely child in a convent. While her mother died, her father abandoned her and she was left to fend for herself. She grew up learning sewing at the convent, from where she started developing an interest in apparel.

Once she was independent of the convent, she met a rich young man – Etienne Balsan – who took her as his mistress. While he tended to his other mistresses, Chanel found occupation in making ‘simple, elegant’ hats which were nowhere close to the adorned cocktail hats that rich women wore those days.

She despised the fashion, calling it constrictive and uncomfortable, and wanted to break the mould. Ironically, the rich mistresses of her then lover began to patronise her fashion, and paid her heavily for her creations. She decided to expand her customer base, with the help of her new lover, Arthur Chapel, who financed the opening of two boutiques for her as a gift.

The turning point in the history of fashion

Chanel harboured a love for clothing that brought freedom to the body, and thus had an inclination for menswear. Thus, she often borrowed clothes from Chapel’s wardrobe and wore them. Once, on a chilly winter day with desire to wear something different, Chanel fished out a wool jersey from her lover and fashioned it into her dress. On realising how wonderfully the dress was being received, she started working on dresses using this simple, inexpensive material.

Chanel realised that war times had women working jobs that demanded physical efforts. She thus introduced jersey suits, women’s pants and comfortable underwear for the first time ever. As wealthy women thronged her boutiques for comfortable fashion, she started to earn handsomely and became financially independent within 6 years of the shops’ opening. She returned Chapel the money he had given her to start her business. She was even able to hire 300 employees to help with the operations of her business!

Action Summary:

  • As Gandhi rightly said – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Chanel sets an example by recognising how fashion needed a breather, and actually worked towards its liberation.

  • Hard work always pays off. Chanel turned her life around by identifying her passion, working hard at expanding her empire, targeting the right clienteleand maintaining originality.

~ Atrija Gaur