»The Honest Truth by Ajit Dayal

What does it take to be a Tiger?
22 DECEMBER 2009

So, what does it take to be a Tiger?
To excel at what you do.
To be a winner.
And to be admired for what you are good at.

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In the field of sports, Tiger Woods is a golfing legend - at a very young age.
Roger Federer is a tennis legend - also at a young age.
Closer to home we have Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.

And, in the field of business, we have some Tigers, too.
Ratan Tata comes to my mind.
Narayan Murthy.
Warren Buffett.
Steve Jobs of Apple.
John Bogle of Vanguard.

In his own way, Mahatma Gandhi was a Tiger - though we don't normally associate such punchy descriptions to politicians, saints, or spiritual leaders.

A Tiger with a tail between his legs
So, based on what they excel at, we have this image of what a Tiger's personality should be.
The press and the media help create this image. And, many times, the Tigers do this for us too. It helps them achieve another financial income stream through sponsorships. Or it could be that it just makes them feel good.
We take that fact of how good a person is at what made him a Tiger in the first place and extend that to their many other aspects of his life.

So, if XYZ is a good cricketer, we assume that he is a good family person; a good parent; a good husband.

Mind you, he attained "Tiger-hood" because of his sport (cricket) but - because we see him endorsing so many watches or cars - we extend that image of excellence to the product he is being paid to endorse. Slowly, the image of perfection moves to his family and we pass a judgement: he a good father, a good husband, a good son.

Well, Tiger Woods got caught in a trap of his own making. He was invincible on the field. But he played a few too many strokes off the field which have thrown him off balance. The image of him as a "clean" person has disappeared. But he is still a great golfer - if he can focus back on his game

Sometimes, it is not what a person does, but what a person says that rattles the hero worship factor. I think very highly of Narayan Murthy. Not only did he have a vision but he had the courage, conviction, and ability to build a team to get Infosys to where it is. I see him as a straight-forward, no-nonsense, moral force in Indian business.

And then, on national TV, I heard him list Indian business leaders whom he believed had made a positive contribution to India. It was not a list of names I would have expected from him. The founder of Infosys is a hero in my eyes, but that list from him seemed more like a list of people who typify what is wrong with India. Was he being polite - another trait - or was it a possible that a person I look up to is, actually, not the person I imagined to be? Scary thought. Foundation-breaking. Earth-shattering.

Or Warren Buffett. Great man - and a great investor. And then he invests in Goldman Sachs at the height of the crisis last year. Sure he made money, but isn't he more than just about making money? He speaks against Wall Street and short term profits and then he invests in what many have described as the largest hedge fund in the world. Many commentators have said that Goldman is exactly what the world does not need.

And one of Buffett's other investments was in Moody's - the rating agency. Many argue that Moody's compromised its principles of rating so that it could collect fees from its clients - the Wall Street firms that created the junk bonds. Again, while talking against Wall Street, Buffett - unknowingly - was supporting its growth and greed.

We make our Tigers, we lower our guard
Narayan Murthy never asked me to worship him.
Nor did Warren Buffett.
Well, not directly. But the media stories and the "positioning" made me reach out and believe in a many other aspects of the individuals. We take our desires and hopes and find someone to pin them on.

Tiger Woods is a great golfer.
His photo ops with his family made us believe that he was also a great family man.
Well, we got one half of that correct.

Warren Buffett is a great investor.
But, as some have pointed out, his investments are not always based on principles and may not even reflect what he has spoken about so many times.

Narayan Murthy will always be honest and never take short-cuts to achieve an end objective. And there is nothing wrong with his list of people whom he admires or feels have contributed to India's development - but they are the exact opposite of him. He is a great man, but he may not be a great judge of what is great in others.

Life is full of imperfections. But we take one aspect of a person's perfection and hope - insanely hope - that we can find the anchor of perfection to hold on to in this deafening roar of a collapsing society.

There is a Tiger in each of us - for a little something that we are good at.

Alas, it takes more to be a Tiger at life than just a Tiger at golf.

It takes more to be a good "whole" person than it takes to be good at one sliver of what we do in life.
For all those who wish to be Tigers, or wish to follow a Tiger, the course just got a lot tougher: the golf ball landed in the rough.

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Disclaimer: The Honest Truth is authored by Ajit Dayal. Ajit is a Director at Quantum Advisors Pvt. Ltd and Quantum Asset Management Company Pvt. Ltd. The views mentioned above are of the author only. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and has not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author, Equitymaster, Quantum AMC and Quantum Advisors do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. Please read the detailed Terms of Use of the web site. To write to Ajit, please click here.