Kicking off the spring installment of the Roy S. Pung Executive Speaker Series, Dean Sanjay Gupta welcomed Raj Gupta, chairman of Fortune 500 companies Aptiv PLC (formerly Delphi Automotive PLC) and Avantor Inc. and a personal friend, to speak to undergraduate honors students on Jan. 21 in a virtual fireside chat. Gupta discussed with the dean what he’s learned throughout his 50 years of experience in company transformations and effective leadership.

Raj Gupta, chairman of Aptiv PLC and Avantor Inc.

Raj Gupta, chairman of Aptiv PLC and Avantor Inc.

Before becoming chairman of Aptiv PLC in 2015, Raj Gupta spent 38 years in leadership positions at Rohm and Haas, including chairman, chief executive officer and president. He shared with students measures for evaluating performance when transforming companies in a variety of situations, across industries.

“[Change] doesn’t happen overnight — it presents risk, and managing that risk is a key responsibility of CEO and board. The ultimate measure of success is the sustainability of superior performance relative to the peers in the overall market,” he said. “Transformation needs to happen in just about every industry; it’s a question of what it takes to transform a company.”

Additionally, Gupta gave his perspective on rapid technological advancements within business today and how that has led to changes. He addressed how the information age and information technology have accelerated the need for transformation and that, with effective leadership, successful transformations can still be accomplished with grace.

“We are moving into a completely different world where everybody is expecting customization,” he said. “The industrial revolution made common goods available to the masses. The technology revolution is going to be about making customization affordable to everybody around the world.”

There is now an abundance of low-cost capital and a bigger emphasis is on innovative ideas, Gupta explained, and talent is the only differentiable factor that sets a successful company apart from the others.

“Today, Aptiv is a technology company. It is no longer just a component company. Now, we make the components, integrate them using software and provide a solution to our customers,” he said.

“The big companies used to dominate the scene because they had the capital resources to invest in production facilities around the world. Today, in the information age, it’s about the idea. It’s an idea economy where global scale and outreach can be achieved rapidly and capital efficiently.”

Throughout the discussion, Gupta gave valuable insight about effective leadership that was very much applicable to the students. He emphasized how successful transformations need great leaders and good collaboration with the board of directors, a proactive bold strategy and an understanding of risk.

“The most important thing to have in an organization is to have the right leader. Being humble, confident, bold and also being a good listener is a very important combination,” he said. “You need a lot of external input to articulate a bold strategy — it’s not something you wake up one morning and have a grand plan. That’s where the role of the board comes in. The successful transformations require clearly a great leader and close collaboration and partnership with the board.”

Inspired to document his life story for his grandchildren, in 2016 Gupta published Eight Dollars and a Dream: My American Journey, a book rich with stories about his family in which he reflects on his personal and professional life. In addition, he discusses what he has learned in business, the insights he’s taken from different people he’s interacted with and the fundamental values that helped him become a strong leader.

More information on upcoming events in the 2020–2021 Pung Speaker Series, as well as information on past events, is available at the Full-Time MBA program page.