A Saga Waiting to be Told

ImageDoing What is Right: The CRISIL Story is more than a corporate biography for Hemanth Gorur and Sumit Chowdhury. From conceptualisation to publication, it represents more than a year of whirlwind conferences, exhaustive research and painstaking recording of the remarkable events that transformed CRISIL from India’s ratings pioneer to a global analytical company. The authors, for whom this was their first corporate book, narrate in their own words how a call to arms from CRISIL’s management set in motion a series of events culminating in the book’s release.   

Quite by chance, CRISIL’s senior management was privy to one of the biographies previously brought out by our company, My Life Chronicles, and they liked our writing style. And so it happened that one fine day in July 2011, we received a call from them to commence an engagement to bring the CRISIL story to life. Prior to this, we had only brought out only personal biographies; so a book on CRISIL’s twenty-five-year evolution was a quantum jump in scale and execution. However, the project itself was so prestigious that we didn’t hesitate before saying yes.

The first thing we did was get an idea of the company’s story. As we listened, our amazement grew. Born in the stagnant Indian economy of the late 1980s, CRISIL seemed destined to fail. Instead, rock-steady values, visionary leadership and an obsession with ‘doing what is right’ at all times, irrespective of the consequences, made it one the most respected companies in the Indian and global markets. It all added up to a heady story that was ripe for the telling.

Next, we sat down to crystallise the vision for the book and set the tone. This set the stage for the creation of the storyboard — the high-level design document of the biography and the most crucial cog in the project. We decided on a biography based on ‘themes’ rather than a chronological treatment — an approach that worked in retrospect.

While the detailed storyboard evolved, the interview process with various CRISIL stakeholders took off in right earnest. Recurrent themes were identified and questionnaires carefully aligned to the themes. Over the next three months, Sumit assiduously conducted interviews with close to forty-five luminaries of the financial and management worlds, intent on knowing all that there is to know about CRISIL. Meeting some of the industry icons — Pradip Shah, Deepak Parekh, U.K. Sinha, Chanda Kocchar, K.V. Kamath, Rama Bijapurkar — face-to-face was an experience in itself. The result was a treasure trove of primary information with some startling revelations that prepared the ground for the next phase — actually putting words on paper.

Over the next eight months, Hemanth painstakingly recreated in words the events that dotted the twenty-five years of CRISIL’s existence. His ability to craft episodes and conversations from the maze of research inputs came to the fore as the chapters evolved. While he supplemented the information from the interviews with some old-fashioned web-trawling and various company artifacts, what also came in handy were the newspaper cuttings preserved by CRISIL’s founder Pradip Shah since the late ’80s!

Months of unrelenting effort paid off as the CRISIL story finally emerged. In true CRISIL style, it was a subtle, yet defining statement of the brand. What sets the biography apart from most other corporate stories in the market is that the book talks more about how things happened rather than what happened. Thus, it is a commentary on CRISIL’s personality, much less its chronology.

The journey of bringing the CRISIL story to life was as important as the destination itself. The response from readers to Doing What is Right: The CRISIL Story has been a delightful affirmation of the fact that there could not have been a better time to bring CRISIL’s saga to life.

Hemanth Gorur and Sumit Chowdhury are co-founders of My Life Chronicles, a Bangalore-based boutique writing house that crafts biographies of companies, individuals, families and institutes. Sumit Chowdhury is an IIM-B alumnus who worked at Infosys and Honeywell in his previous life. He loves devouring books and preserving memories. Hemanth Gorur is an IIM-C alumnus with long stints at IBM and Genpact under his belt. He is an author, biographer as well as humour blogger.

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