It was a Thanksgiving Day gift for 250 girl students across eight cities in India: first-hand life lessons for professional success from the global CEO of a $46-billion company. On the other side, connecting over Zoom conference, was Punit Renjen, Deloitte’s global CEO.

Speaking from his Portland home in the United States, Renjen shared leadership lessons from his three-decade-long personal journey from Rohtak, a small town in Haryana, around 80 km from Delhi, to becoming a two-term global CEO of the biggest professional services firm in the world, the first Indian to do so.

Pouring their hearts out, sharing their dreams—of becoming a civil servant, or a professor, or an accountant—were a bunch of students from Udayan Care, an NGO that funds higher education needs of young women from underprivileged sections of society.

Renjen, over a 50-minute interaction, shared anecdotes from his life journey—his nondescript growing up years in the eighties at Rohtak; his lucky break, securing a Rotary Foundation scholarship to study management at a university in the United States; the early struggle to understand the American accent; and the hard work and persistence that helped him move up the career ladder.

The biggest learning from his own journey, Renjen said, was: There is no short-cut to succeeding in professional life, it can only be achieved through persistent hard work over a period of time. “Life is a bit like a marathon,” he added.

Despite his hectic schedule overseeing the professional services firm’s operations across 150 countries, cricket-loving Renjen still finds time for his passion for running, clocking around five kilometres every day.

Renjen said there are five golden rules that have served him well in his professional life, which he continues to live by. “First, work hard. You may not always be the person in the room who knows the most, but you can always be the one who works the hardest,” was his advice to the young students.

Second, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. “Learn from them and do better next time,” he added.

Third, surround yourself with people who inspire, people one can learn from.

Fourth, learn to value your own voice. “Don’t worry too much about fitting in or trying to be someone else. Hold on to your values and speak up for the things you believe in,” he said.

Finally, as one progresses through life, always look for ways to elevate or help others rise. “This is how real sustainable change happens,” he said.

Renjen said he would love to see an Udayan Care centre come up at Rohtak, and meet some of the students in person next time he is in India.

This interaction was part of Deloitte’s WorldClass initiative to empower 50 million people across the world for job opportunities by 2030, including 10 million women and girls in India. Deloitte India supports a five-year scholarship programme run by Udayan Care, awarded to young women from underserved communities.

“Knowing that these young women are our next generation of leaders gives me great confidence in the future,” Renjen tweeted soon after the interaction.

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