On July 6, 2023, the face of the crime-fighting superhero of Gotham, Batman, greeted the Aspire Leaders Program alumni. Beneath the mask, Bruce Wayne did not appear. It was Rajkiran Kanagala, President and Chief Business Officer of TCI Group, who came to mentor our alumni.
Kanagala feels passionately about his mentorship work at Aspire Institute and loves speaking with our alumni. During his session, he spoke about his trajectory in life and tied advice into the lessons he learned from one of his favorite heroes. He encouraged them to “Be B.A.T.M.A.N.,” and outlined the advice for these young leaders by delving into his own journey.
Finding Success in His Early Life
Kanagala lacked drive before high school but changed his mindset and lifestyle in university. As he saw his peers fall behind and experienced tough coursework, he shifted his lifestyle and put in a great amount of effort.
Due to his dedicated efforts, Kanagala became the highest performing student in his electronics and telecommunication course.
“If you believe in what you’ve done and you have given your best, you will win,” he said.
A Brush with Death
Tragedy struck in 1994 after Kanagala earned his degree. He was whisked away to the ICU after collapsing one night and finding he could neither speak nor move.
“It was as if an elephant was sitting on my head,” he described.
Specialists conducted an MRI and discovered that tuberculosis had spread through his brain. Kanagala returned to Bombay for treatment. For the next 10 years, his life included medical complications, MRI scans, and a variety of treatments.
“If you see any great leader, they always have a turning point,” he said. “This was a turning point.”
This difficult period gave him a new sense of purpose, and he still holds valuable lessons from these experiences.
“Value relationships, ensure that you are disciplined, ensure that you are honest, and do your best,” he said.
Hitting the Ground Running
In 1995, Kanagala became healthier, stopped treatment, and decided to pursue his MBA and work in the acoustics field.
He spent 12 years traveling across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and China. After seeing that his industry was transitioning to smartphones, he acquired a job in supply chain at TCI, where he spent the next 16 years. Kanagala’s work involved many intriguing facets including: international business exposure and operations, business development, marketing, branding, strategy, and new country entry strategies.
Becoming a Mentor with Aspire Institute
Kanagala’s passion for giving students direction influenced his decision to become a mentor for Aspire.
“Always give back to people and society or the ecosystem in which you live,” he stated when talking about his goals.
While browsing the Harvard Business School Delhi group feed, he found a post advertising Aspire’s call for volunteers. He seized the opportunity and has since been a valued mentor for Aspire’s alumni.
“The students are so clear in what they wish to do and have clear goals and a lot of questions,” he said. “It [has been] a very good experience for me.”
During his event with Aspire alumni, Kanagala encouraged students to “Be B.A.T.M.A.N.” He built this acronym to emphasize the importance of doing your best, working hard to achieve goals, and being disciplined, honest, and sincere.
While being treated for tuberculosis, he read many D.C. comics and watched the superhero movies. He became a huge fan of both Batman and The Phantom.
“You can learn something from them,” he said. “These role models — though imaginary — help you to have a purpose and a goal.”
Their stories ignited a purpose to be disciplined, to do right as much as possible, and to be good despite inherent challenges and weaknesses.
Advice for Pursuing a Path
Kanagala gave advice for those who are struggling to pick a path. He emphasized that the two most important qualities to have are passion and discipline.
“Passion is what [great] leaders bring into any work they do, irrespective of the role they choose,” he explained. “To build passion, you need a role model to help you visualize [your goals].”
He stated that combining passion and discipline will lead to great achievements and the harnessing of skills and fortitude to move forward in life.
Kanagala would like to continue being a mentor to students who need direction, and he also wishes to step into the role of mentee himself while learning from great leaders. He wants to make a difference in the world and believes there is still a lot he can do in the area of supply chain and sustainability in logistics.