Is Ram Charan Happy?

David Whitford spends quality time with powerhouse management guru Ram Charan and discovers, in this interesting Fortune article, that the man has absolutely zero personal life. Every night of the year in a hotel room. Every conversation with anyone is about business. No “personal” friends, no intimate physical relationships (supposedly), no physical home.

He says he’s happy.

I think there are many people like Charan at the top tiers of business who aren’t as honest about these issues.

I worry that, when we see incredible professional success so tightly correlated with the sacrificing of everything else, people think there’s no other way.

17 comments on “Is Ram Charan Happy?
  • On the one hand, it is clearly puzzling and in some circles, may also invoke pity and tut-tutting accompanied by a nodding of the head.

    On the other hand, his freedom from ties of mortgage, possessions, guests, emotionally draining interactions with ‘friends and family’ etc is enviable at some level.

    I also happen to know enough people who sometimes (sheepishly) admit going to their office on weekends, to escape the hassles and transactions involving a nagging wife or whining children all demanding to keep up with the Joneses (or whoever lives near them in this global neighbourhood).

    Given these possibilities, perhaps we should just take away from this story that not everybody defines ‘happiness’ the same way. And while many of us preach ‘moderation’, if we were to introspect honestly, moderation is likely to be the only thing we practise in moderation.

  • Successfull? Entreprenaurs are basically over-hyped salemans. In terms of profressional success, this is not much to be proud of.

  • Ben,

    This sounds horribly inefficient to me (if not sick) — I mean, he’s on the plane MORE than anything else…that’s got to cost him big $ not just in travel expenses but in opportunity cost (You’d think he could video conference or something — he did mention a long phone call so it appears that being there is person is not essential, at least not for all of his clients and it looks like he could pick and choose).

    Oh… and he must be dead tired at least at times (cumulatively, it must be physically and mentally exhausting).

    re:” “I go to India on the Friday of the week before Thanksgiving. I am Sunday morning in Bombay. Monday morning I am in Delhi. Wednesday I’m in Bombay. Thursday I’m in Bangalore. Saturday I’m in Trivandrum. Wednesday I’m in Johannesburg. Friday morning, at seven, I am in New York. I have a two-hour meeting with a CEO who has flown in to see me. I have two more meetings and I fly out that night to Dubai. I am in Dubai on Sunday and Monday, then I come back here. On Thursday night I fly out to Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Then I come back here. Tuesday morning I have a whole-day schedule in New York. Tuesday night I go to Milwaukee. I came from Milwaukee last night. They diverted my plane so I had to stay in Pittsburgh. I had a meeting this morning in Philadelphia. I had three meetings here in the afternoon. And I’m here tomorrow, with GE. Then an hour-and-a-half phone call. Then I’m going out tomorrow night to West Palm Beach. Monday morning I have a breakfast meeting in New York. And then I’m flying out to Perth, Australia.”


  • Reading Delia’s detail… it’s clear that the reason he is happy is that he has an ego need to both (a) be needed and (b) be important. He’s got both of those in spades – he must be important if he has to fly around so much and people need to meet with him in person all over the world. He would not even be able to do it if he didn’t have this need.

  • I can understand where the gentleman mentioned in your article is coming from. As a minority it is difficult to succeed in the rough world of business. On top of that, it is extremely tedious to be on top of one’s career as well as to have a snug family life.

  • “As a minority” …

    Franz, I do not see what being a ‘minority’ has to do with a life that appears lopsided to so many.

    Especially in the United States, where the success of ‘minority’ from Charan’s native India – even stunning amounts of money and associated trappings – is not rare in sectors varying from VC to Academia and everything in between. Especially in Business Academia and associated success, there is plenty of precedence for him. Even American Idol now seems to claim its share, although you can see that frivolity takes at least 2-3 generations after immigration to become legitimate with minority communities.

    May be, he is just escaping that ‘tedium’ that you mention, which several million seem to prefer and achieve, with some difficulty, but certainly… In which he has plenty of company from non-minority of the kind I mentioned in my first comment.

    May be he is chasing some special kind of ‘success’..

    Or may be, he really *does* love what he does to the exclusion of all others, like so many minority and non-minority pledge to love their spouses..

  • The closest someone else that I can relate [to have led a life as dedicated to a cause like Dr.Charan does] is of Sherlock Holmes, the 19th century Arthur Conan Doyle character. But Doyle gave him an address `221-B, Baker Street, London’ that became equally famous as did Holmes. Yet another that comes to my mind is the legendary Mohandas Gandhi.

    The raw nerve that I’ve noticed running thro the lives of such great personalities is their proclivity to stick with the maxim – `keep it simple’.

    It’s this simplicity which elevates them to those summits of success they manage to reach. Honestly I think it would be inappropriate to speculate on their state or level of happiness since not many have been there, much less experienced anything similar to get it right.

    I sometimes feel soon after they got made, the creator broke the mold.

  • In my view, the question is about how a particular person defines “life/work” balance and “success” (and what he/she is prepared to “sacrifice” to achieve that balance and success).

    If “success” is simply “being good at” (e.g. an employee of the month/year), that’s one thing. If “success” is building a $100m company from scratch, that’s a (totally) different ball game. The latter is simply impossible without some “deviations” from “normal” life.

    Besides, when one is aiming at the latter “success”, it’s easy to get illusions that after “a few more months/years” everything will be back to “normal”. It never is – results take twice as long to achieve than originally anticipated; and then you get “hooked” in the process and don’t want to go back to “normal”.

    Many people’s experience showed that the “life/work” balance doesn’t occur naturally, you have to “work” on it as much as you work on your venture. I.e. determine what makes other person (people) in your life happy, what is *really* necessary in terms of your work commitments, and try and find that “balance” (a hint: it’s very rarely “in the middle”).

  • Perhaps you’re missing the point Ben. Different people have different things that make them happy. To assume that someone with as much money and ability to control his own destiny such as Ram Charan would deliberately follow a path that makes him unhappy is quite silly.

    To you and me, his life may seem empty but let’s play a logic game. You are Ram Charan, you are extremely wealthy and very well connected. If you find that something makes you unhappy, will you continue to do it 24/7?

    Let’s put it another way. If you suddenly realized that your life as Ben Casnocha, giving up your childhood to become an entrepreneur, writing a book about it, etc. was depressing, wouldn’t you change how you lived?

    You’re giving Ram far too little credit.

  • Point well taken, Jay.

    I also think we delude ourselves when it comes to happiness. ie we often think certain activities will make or are making us happy when they’re really not.

  • Ben,

    Correction about the delusion.

    *we often think certain activities will make or are making us happy when they’re really not*

    But in reality, our delusion is that – “we believe certain activities that make us happy (like family, friends and a permanent address in a neibhorhood) should be present in others lives to make them seem having a happy time to the rest of us”

  • The point I got from the article is that Mr. Charan thinks he’s solved the game of life, that he calls himself happy when he has no real reference for growth. “Beware of those who think they’ve arrived.” He has no clue on the values he’s missing out on life, like a fish that doesn’t know what “wet” means.

    Sure, I won’t really judge him because we are in this exact position. We don’t know what it feels like to live his life. Perhaps I am also clouded by our Western version of success.

    Ayn Rand would definitely be proud of this guy. He makes meaning for himself every day, and his giving his “gift” in the fullest way possible to everybody who needs it and whoever can afford it. He looks like a humble servant in the truest sense of the word.

    While he may have success, he may have freedom (debatable), and he may have happiness, I doubt (using the limited info I have of him) that he has these things durably, or has reached any sort of durable fulfillment (the goal of life).

    Thirty years without the touch of a partner. Leaving behind only forgotten phone conversations and consultations that become staler by the minute in a rapidly changing world. No goals in life, no connection to youth, no lust, no feelings of love, no mission, no drive to cement his permanence in the world. (Does it sound like I am describing a robot?)

    But I also give him props. He has helped countless of companies and because of this may have helped the world in ways we may never come to understand.

    “In the long run we’ll all be dead.” Only Mr. Charan will know if he’s done his best with his life.

  • I went to an allopathic doctor because I’d been experiencing this mysterious extreme fatigue that commenced everyday about four o’clock.

    He actually listened to my speech about the array of other symptoms I was having– things that made me think my immune system might be suppressed.

    He recommended testing for anemia, thyroid dysfunction, and prostate gland enlargement.

    He then suggested, in a charming diffident way, that perhaps I should consider the possibility that I might be clinically depressed.

    I didn’t verbalize my thought, “What kind of depression happens like clockwork at four o’clock every afternoon?”

    I didn’t go back.

    I went home and cranked up some reggae and skanked around. I got better. Now I feel fine.

  • I think it is wrong for anyone to judge how another should live his/her life. I have a difficult enough time figuring out what makes me happy – how could I possible know what should or shouldn’t make Mr. Sharan happy.

  • This is my rather simplistic view, but why even attempt to discuss if someone is happy or not? Does this make any sense?

  • Trev,
    yes, it does.

    Ted Bailey,
    I agree with you.

    There is no reason in the world why Mr Sharan should be considered wrong in his estimate of his own wellbeing. He is only one person!

    It’s very dangerous to apply generalisations to everyone, as if they were absolute rules. Even positive psychology does not claim (I think) that every one of us must need X and Y, without any possibility of an exception in the entire human race.

    Let’s be careful not to let our improved general knowledge turn into negative personal judgements, ie. prejudice against those who do not “fit in” to our views.

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