A Spirit in Himself: Remembering Rajiv Dutta

Rajiv Dutta, a veteran Silicon Valley executive and the first distinguished executive-in-residence at the Drucker School and Drucker Institute, died Monday morning. He succumbed to cancer at the age of 49.

Our hearts are filled with sadness at Rajiv’s passing. The world has lost a brilliant light.

Yet this desolate day also offers an occasion to share our gratitude for having known Rajiv. He played an important part in the Drucker Institute’s early days.

[EXPAND More]We were little more than a year old when Rajiv agreed to be our first Distinguished Executive-in-Residence. He lent us his expertise, his name and his network, recruiting former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and Intuit founder Scott Cook to join him in on-stage conversations we hosted on the future of management.

Rajiv did this with some reluctance, fearing that he would not do justice to the legacy of Peter Drucker.

But Rajiv hit all the right notes in his conversation series: balancing profit with social responsibility; tapping into the thoughts and ideas of those on the outside of the organization; boosting knowledge worker productivity; and using stories to inspire others—“management by narrative,” he called it.

More than that, he exemplified Drucker’s ideal of the manager as the consummate humanist. Rajiv was whip-smart yet full of empathy. He was generous and kind, but never afraid to speak his mind. He quickly became a mentor and, as we grew to know him better, a good friend.

Rajiv was always at the ready with wise lessons about management. Among the many he taught us are two that we continue to practice. First: It takes 12 to 18 months for a manager to learn what an employee can really do—and what he or she can’t do. That’s a longer time scale than most of us would prefer, Rajiv pointed out, and one that demands a special patience.

Second: Rajiv preached the Silicon Valley gospel of failure. If managers want their employees to learn and grow, he told us, then they must be allowed to fail. Too often, he said, managers pay lip service to the value of failure without actually permitting any lapses. You have to be willing to let go, Rajiv counseled, if you want your people to fly.

“In time, in the sphere of society, no man begins at the beginning and ends at the end,” Drucker wrote. “Each of us receives from those before us the inheritance of the ages, carries it for a tiny instant, to hand it on to those after him. But in the spirit, each man is beginning and end. Nothing his fathers have experienced can be of any help to him. In awful loneliness, in complete, unique singleness, he faces himself as if there were nothing in the entire universe but him and the spirit in himself.”

For Rajiv Dutta’s unique spirit, and for the tiny instant we were fortunate enough to have spent with him, we give our thanks. May he rest in peace.[/EXPAND]

Rajiv Dutta on stage at the Drucker Centennial
Rajiv Dutta speaking at the Drucker Centennial (Feb. 2009)

In this audio interview with the Drucker Institute, Rajiv talks about the ultimate customer conundrum: wants vs. needs.