Corporate boardroom’s in absentia member

Clay’s classes were intellectually decorated in his unique way of explaining the power of disruption and innovation ranging from steel to coffee

Published: 09th February 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th February 2020 11:33 AM   |  A+A-

Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen (Photo | Tedx Talks)

Are you from India?” thundered a voice from the back at Harvard Business School (HBS) cafeteria. To my pleasant surprise, I saw the towering Clayton Christensen with his characteristic gentle smile pulling his chair as he sat next to me. Before I responded, he continued, “Indians are innovative”, as I said “Yes” to both his statements. Clay’s voice that mesmerised the entire class in HBS magnetically attracted me to engage in a lifetime conversation opportunity. This conversation shall eternally be etched in my memories and a worthy recall at all times and particularly now with Clay’s passing away. 

Sipping our piping hot coffee, Clay started with his fascination for the Tata Consultancy Services in which he was a board member at that time. He shared many of his original game-changing thoughts connecting the ‘unconnectables’ often dismissed as statistical deviance. It is this unique way of creating new knowledge by training students to think differently that made Clay one of the most influential thinkers and the most sought-after faculty member at HBS. His classes at HBS were always intellectually decorated in his unique way of explaining the power of disruption and innovation ranging from steel to coffee, tunnelled hard ideas softly into our brains. That’s the magic of Clay who could use management as a tool to not only create wealth but also to change livelihoods of millions. 

Clay’s entry into our class after he suffered a massive stroke in 2010 was marked by his tall stature at the centre of the lecture theatre not to be missed by the eyes and ears that were keen to see and hear him. His health conditions made him search for words for the ideas that popped up in advance. Ideas that transformed industries from steel to healthcare to education to almost all. Clay’s Disruptive Technology, in my view, was responsible for TCS’s game-changing iON as a product/service and similarly it was Clay who formed the foundational pathway for corporates’ and individuals’ revenue pipeline. If one were to choose the top 10 articles of Clay for Harvard Business Review or top 10 ideas that shaped success stories, it would be tougher than a PhD thesis. Every idea or article was in response to a unique challenge or question that many failed to see or ask. 

Clay in his own words said: “When I have my interview with God, our conversation will focus on the individuals whose self-esteem I was able to strengthen, whose faith I was able to reinforce, and whose discomfort I was able to assuage—a doer of good, regardless of what assignment I had. These are the metrics that matter in measuring my life.” As Clay has his interview with God, the world that he leaves behind shall always shower its gratuitous encomiums on this colossal genius. He left the breakfast table in 30 minutes 10 years ago. Never did I think that he would leave us the way he did on January 23. Clay’s unseen presence will occupy board rooms worldwide in absentia.

S Vaidhyasubramaniam Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA Deemed University

Stay up to date on all the latest Voices news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp