Schulich’s partner stresses the importance of humility at convocation

G.M. Rao told graduating students of the Schulich School of Business he believes a positive attitude, a willingness to work hard and a strict adherence to seven values, including humility, are the keys to the success of his company, GMR Group.

A mechanical engineer, Rao is founder and chairman of GMR Group, a global infrastructure organization which builds and operates power plants, highways and airports, including two of the largest airports – Hyderabad and Delhi – in India. It will also build the planned new campus for Schulich in Hyderabad (see YFileJune 13.) On Friday, he received an honorary doctorate of laws degree at York’s Spring 2011 Convocation ceremony.

G.M. Rao received an honorary doctorate of laws degree at Friday's Spring Convocation ceremonyLeft: G.M. Rao received an honorary doctorate of laws degree at Friday’s Spring Convocation ceremony

He called humility the foundation for the other six values, saying it allows for “the ability to understand one’s own areas of improvement and the ability to listen to others. For GMR, our humility helped us succeed in ventures where we had no prior experience. Humility helped us gain the trust of our stakeholders even in situations of high stress and anxiety.”

With humility comes the will to learn, said Rao. “Our second value, learning, encourages us to nurture active curiosity, to question, to share and improve. From learning as individuals, we graduate to working in teams, and build enduring relationships, which is our third value. GMR has embraced partnerships without ego. We manage large cross-cultural and international teams successfully.”

Rao went on to name respecting others, delivering on promises and entrepreneurship as part of the seven values that have led to success. “These seven values have been the bedrock of our growth trajectory despite various challenges,” he said.

From left, President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, G.M. Rao, founder and chair of GMR Group, and Roy McMurtry, York chancellorRight: From left, President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, G.M. Rao, founder and chair of GMR Group, and Roy McMurtry, York chancellor

The last value – giving back to society – is something Rao has demonstrated himself repeatedly over the years. “During my own journey, I have always tried to give back to the society in different ways, starting with establishing a primary school in my village in 1978 when I was a small businessman,” said Rao. “Since then, with three or four per cent of profit every year being earmarked for social entrepreneurship, I set up GMR Varalakshmi Foundation, a not-for-profit, professionally run, independent company.”

The foundation is in 22 locations, where it focuses on education, health care, vocational training for jobless youth and community development for the under served. Recently, Rao endowed the entire portion of his personal wealth to the foundation “so that they do not suffer from lack of funds even beyond my lifetime.”

Rao also stressed the importance of a positive attitude. “Positive attitude, coupled with the seven values I listed, helped me in accomplishing whatever little I could till now, which I thought of sharing with you. It is these values that have truly helped GMR overcome challenges and setbacks to reach the position that it is in today,” he said. “My dear graduates, what truly matters in life is how we evolve as successful human beings. If our means are value-based, the end is always heartening.”

York’s 2011 Spring Convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Rao’s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.