Archive for September, 2007

System-bucker management

September 29, 2007

Before I set out on my current micro multinational (my clients span across continents now) adventure, I did a couple years consulting stint at $412 M Percept Group, a 360 degree entertainment, communications and media major.  While playing an in-house investment banker diligencing and advising on M&A deals, I had the privilege of closest access to quite a bit of cross cultural, multi-national operational teams spread across its divisions (Film Production, Mainstream Advertising, Media planning, Sports & Celebrity Management, Fashion & Lifestyle, Web Ads) right from CEO, down. 

Like in every large company, there was abundant top-down mediocrity.  Some divisional CEOs were absolute caricatures.  But there were occasional creative brilliance that flashed and I kept tracking them, befriending them in the process. I did learn a lot from them. Eventually, I sensed what was so unique about these creative powerhouses.  I can share with you the list of qualities that stood out. They-

         worked at their own pace, setting their own goals; 

        never break for lunch on the hour; take short work breaks.

         never worried `what others will think’  live with no signposts

         hardly had any airs about them; were simple to the core.

         were self-effacing; gave credit to every team member. 

But like Jack and Suzy Welch say in Business Week, “businesses aren’t museums.  You have to wield the occasional velvet hammer upon this non-conformist lot. Businesses exist not to showcase creative output but to capitalize on it. For that to happen, something has to give. And that something is the typical creative person’s underlying notion that he’s a free agent.”  Left to themselves, their disruptive pursuits will lead to organizational anarchy.  While it calls for no heavy handedness, an occasional reminder of authority will help them drink the enterprise Kool-Aid. 

I figure the trick to control these freaks is in tethering them to the stake while they upstart.  It was Vivek Paul (Ex-Wipro, currently partner at TPG) that gave this anecdote and it went like this –

“The first [lesson] I learned in the jungles of Bangalore, at an elephant camp. When you visit such a camp you see these gigantic elephants tethered with a small stake. I asked the trainer: ‘Why do they stay tethered when they could so easily pull up the stake?’  He told me: ‘Well, the elephant is tethered as a small calf; when it tries to pull up the stake, it learns it can’t do it … and it never tries again.’ That’s an amazing parable about how we always tend to underestimate ourselves. The lesson for me is: Don’t let self limitations hold you back.”

The lesson can wait. While managing creative devils that love to buck the system,  learn the art of tethering the calves.  Before taking up the hot seat, figure out the form of creative leadership that’s called for.



Damsels [not exactly] in distress, they rule

September 26, 2007


Indra Nooyi, the Chennai, India born CEO of  Pepsico , points out that young Indians are virtually global citizens.

Nooyi, chosen as the fourth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine, admitted that the different roles she has to play leaves her a bit confused at times.

“The other day, my 14-year-old daughter, who lives in the same building, sent me an e-mail asking for an hour’s appointment with me. The confusion (about the roles she is supposed to play) and the worries over whether I am doing justice, make me tear my head. You want to be a mother, at the same time you have to take care of your career also,” Nooyi says.

Can’t agree more. Twenty-five years after women first started pouring into the labor force–and trying to be more like men in every way, from wearing power suits to picking up golf clubs– research has shown that men ought to be the ones doing more of the imitating. In fact, after years of analyzing what makes leaders most effective and figuring out who’s got the Right Stuff, management gurus now know how to boost the odds of getting a great executive: Hire a female.

“(When it comes to my priority list) I am a mother first, then a CEO and then a wife,” Nooyi reportedly said while participating in a discussion on “Women and Global Leadership” organised at the Yale Club of New York city as part of the ongoing Incredible India @60 celebrations.

Pretty cool, that is Ms.Nooyi… Keep it up !


Be bold and subjective

September 23, 2007

existential-importance.pngStan James, Founder and CTO of Boulder, Co. based startup Lijit has this wonderful post on subjectivity of the Web in his blog.  He contrasts the relative purposefulness of objective reality (facts of logic, math equations) with subjective shades of grey (my friends care, aspects of self esteem) that are much more vital to our existence.  I’ve hardly come across another well articulated post on one of my own internal convictions.  I would’ve someday made a horrible post on the subject, but Stan saved me from that embarrassment and my few readers, the trouble.  Excerpts –  

“Paris is the capital of France. Your friends care about you.

Both statements are probably true, right? But one statement is more objective, more verifiable. The other statement is more important to you, more meaningful to your life. You can find evidence for one statement in Wikipedia and the other in Facebook.

Many years ago in a college class about Soren Kiekegaard, the professor explained how Soren said there was an inverse relationship between certainty and existential importance. I drew a graph (find it in Stan’s post) to help me remember.

On one extreme you have the facts of logic and mathematics; ultimately provable and objective, but not at all important to me as an individual existing human being.  This is the realm of logic.  On the other extreme is my eternal happiness; ultimately important to me, but not at all provable or objective. This is the realm of faith. (In the middle lie facts of science and history, childhood memories, and whether my wife loves me.) Soren was arguing against Christian apologetics, but I’ve found myself going back to this model lately when thinking about Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, and the evolution of the web.” [Hat tip : Ben Casnocha]   

I’ve posted my comment under that post by Stan that I reproduce here.   

I think of my own subjective desires that are so central to my existence that often doesn’t get immediately approved by others around me. Yet I persist, on the realm of my conviction, stimulated by the higher probability of positive outcome that only the dreamer inside me could sense at present. The outside world is far more receptive to net result and cold logic, which does not always contribute to resolution of the existential question or simply, why we are born.” .

It’s just the beginning

September 22, 2007

Young middle-class Indians are the happiest people of all and much more satisfied with all aspects of their lives compared to other nationalities, according to a new global survey by Swedish research and consulting firm Kairos Future. The priorities of Indian youth — work, good career and a position with high status, are reflected in their values such as endurance and entrepreneurship.

“Indian youth are also strikingly more optimistic about its future and also about the future of society. The general picture in other countries is that young people tend to be personal optimists but societal pessimists,” according to Kairos Future Group CEO and founder Mats Lindgren. “Indians are focused on their careers and are much more status-oriented than youth in Europe,”  he adds. 

While I say cheers to that, it got me a bit worried too. If that happiness signals contention, I’d rather they be unhappy. We are nowhere near the level of self development that we are capable of achieving with our potential.  Still if young India is content and happy, then I think it is not quite awake to its opportunities and true potential. We could be ignorant, but we can’t afford to be naïve.  My exposure to the developed world and its youth tells me that young India has miles to go.  Be it in its outlook towards life, politics, sense of achievement and creative disruption, we have a lot to learn from others. Young India will have to push (and pull) itself harder and stretch its aspiration levels. There’s no reason to feel comfortable and lax. We’ve got to clean up a lot of mess and in that we’ve an uphill task.  We’ve to educate ourselves about a lot other things than just academics and uplift our poor masses into the mainstream. The hardest task is in presenting the yoke of our population as our strength, a potent, rich market that doesn’t under-consume. If we could achieve that, it will attract large global enterprise to our hinterlands and will create jobs by thousands.  Remember, best way to get rich is by helping others get richer.

We should learn systems approach and intense work culture from Japanese, execution skills from Chinese, attention to detail from Germans, Entrepreneurship and innovation culture from Americans. These are but a few that I’ve had the first hand feel of, but I’m sure there could be other virtues from elsewhere that I may not be exposed.  But please don’t get tempted to absorb the decadent culture of teenage binge drinking, drugs and other bad habits that destroy the health and character of many a youngster in places like England and Italy. That also explains diminishing presence of these once great nations in the rank list of global achievers.  While I think of Lenovo, Google, VMware, SAP and closer home Educomp, Financial Technologies and Suzlon, I can’t think of a single billion $ company that sprouted in the last decade from the UK and Italy. 

So be smart and pick your cherries.  Avoid the rot.  Never rest easy, not for a second.   All the very best.

Reset to de-stress

September 19, 2007


Often I think I have few choices without unlimited resources, but lately I’ve realized that we always have more choices than we think we do.  We just need to look for them.  Chances are that we could find an anchor in the storm, helping us focus on what we want from this important part of our life.  They steer us around the rocks of fear, guilt and sorrow to new harbors of happiness & fulfillment.

Most of us have dreams, though we may not have dusted them off in quite a while.   We need that someone or something that help us to re-kindle our enthusiasm; to banish the internal sceptic that tells us to give up and wait for an early grave.   That something which gives us a regular injection of passion, enthusiasm, an external perspective, and powerful ways to move us towards our outrageous dreams!

Then we could be at peace with ourselves and our world, with time to be still, reflect and find contentment – rather than rail against the world and everyone in it.

To find a perfect life coach is often difficult.  Especially the ones that help us move at a pace set by ourselves, in a direction of our choosing. So what do we do?  Be our own coach.  It’s then that I dig up compilations such as the one here that help me reset my stressed nerves and get me recharged.

The best advice some great people got that changed their lives.  Not just the usual suspects like Warren Buffet and Jack Welch figure in there, you have Marc Benioff,  Vivek Paul and Brian Grazer too…

Use it.  It helps.

What a week…

September 18, 2007

Had one helluva’ stress box for a week. Diligencing Indian companies with unbending UK consultants will give you anything but that (you have to understand and explain business processes on both sides – they come up with way too many why’s – before nodding in agreement).

First two days were hell. Then they acquiesced and unwounded as they realized things are just different, not so much to worry about. I asked them how they can do global business if they stay so stiff. They conceded it is much easier to do business anywhere but UK, where everything is questioned. They’ve become a victim of local context. So much so that almost half of the UK’s company directors and senior managers believe that even a plummy or posh upper-class accent is now a hindrance rather than a help when it comes to succeeding in business.  Earlier, in Britain, merely speaking with ‘the right accent’ was a prerequisite to rising in the business world.  They have now all but gone, although being an effective communicator is still paramount.

I was really surprised but then I could find some good reason. The rise of the UK’s self-made men and women, often from working-class backgrounds, such as BHS boss Philip Green or Ryan air’s Michael O’Leary, reflects the changing profile of the successful boss. These are people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, and are proud to make a virtue of the fact that they have worked their way up from humble beginnings to positions of influence. In both cases though, they are better known for their forceful and charismatic personalities than for their class origins.

I might as well use this occasion to pay homage to Dame Anita Roddick, of Body Shop fame, pioneer of green capitalism and fair trade. By the time she sold the business last year to L’Oréal for £652m ($1.1 billion), of which she received £118m, Body Shop had 2,000 shops in 53 countries.  Farewell Anita, wherever you are…

The Duke of Wellington may have thought that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, but today’s business leaders of U.K were clearly educated elsewhere…


The ping pong people

September 17, 2007

William Pesek of Bloomberg makes his point while he says an economy’s biggest export should never be its people.

He goes that nations get smug with large scale “remittances” from abroad that it stops exploring new avenues to attract “investments inward” that creates jobs and opportunities locally. He has got a lot of data to back, with enough of Bloomberg survey results thrown in. 

I finished reading it and had my own questions. Has Pesek been hired by USIS to fuel a debate in the media? Locking down borders is not easy; fueling debates in media, gathering public opinion are…

Most people go on their own. It’s not an economy that drives them away; its lack of depth does. It’s after all a function of demand and supply, isn’t it? You go because someone out there could use you.

What’s wrong with a government that feeds on “remittance inwards” kitty to build its future as long as it lasts?   

[Disclosure : I am not a pro-migration guy]

I think Illegal immigration happens because legal immigration is tough. Not all illegal immigrants harbor ill will. Most of them leave home because they see brighter opportunities elsewhere. Instead of rewarding that acts of enterprise and using the flock to bridge the demand supply gap, nations limit and restrict people traffic by imposing legal restrictions and by making stupid laws. 

Capable students getting Harvard admissions, despite willing to pay full fees, cannot make it because they don’t get Visa – now, isn’t that ridiculous?  Yes, immigrants both legal and illegal will compete for jobs with locals in developed destinations, but then local employers and consumers benefit too; from reduced wages and prices. The immigrants also become consumers and an already vibrant market is further expanded.

When they fly back and forth, the local airlines in the home country orders hundreds of airplanes from Airbus (France) and Boeing (US) creating more jobs there – who benefits?  

Why, it didn’t occur to you Mr.Pesek?  Come on… You can do better.


What you make of yourself is what matters

September 4, 2007

Winning isn’t everything–it’s the only thing” – Vince Lombardi

A recent survey that I read on job satisfaction confirmed this – only 17% enjoy what they do. What will be the quality of their output then? This inspired me to make this post.  

Donald Trump is what he is because he loves what he does and is passionate about it. Wealth was a by-product of following his passion despite failing early. That passion kept the ball at play and him in the game.  You know something? Success that takes long, lasts long.

Every Joe aspires to be a Donald Trump. Why wouldn’t they?  Yet most are stopped by fear of failure. More than the fear, what weighs them down is, cost of failure.  What will happen to my family? What a loser I’ll make of myself? What if I have to sell my car and home? How will I face my friends? This is indeed why he goes to work everyday, not that he is dying to get there. 

Let me try answering these questions. Tell me, if it matched yours.

What will happen to your family?  Certainly your family won’t starve; it will find an alternative way to survive.  May be you’ll have to cut down on cable TV, eating out, flipping mobiles every month and excessive shopping; stretch every dime thin. Just lose that credit card first.

What a loser I’ll make?  You mean, to others?  Rest assured, no one will rush to your aid. So how does it matter what they think of you?  They would like you to look like a loser forever. Not that they revel in your misfortune. It just makes them look in great shape. They draw comfort in that they aren’t the only ones in the trenches and are happy to have you for company. They come closer to compare but you mistake that for love.  They just love themselves more and look in the mirror with less guilt.  So what really matters is how it feels to you.  It was your choice to experiment and you did. If you’d succeeded, good. Damn good.  If you have failed, you are a lot wiser now.  With all freshly minted wisdom, go to the next experiment. You’ll succeed. Now tell me, were you a loser at first? No. It was the first hurdle and in fact you crossed it by failing at it. It was a hurdle meant to trip.

What if you have to sell your car and home? Simple. You’ll take public transport or even walk. Just start early. Certainly, you’ll not be immobilized. No driving or parking stress. You’ll move to a rented home, a smaller one perhaps. There will still be roof over your head.

How will I face my friends?  Straight, in the face. You are no criminal, just broke.

Did your answers match that of mine?  Go ahead and take some risk, NOW. It could be your enterprise. I truly wish you win.


“It’s just something you gotta do”

September 1, 2007

A guy called James Somers, student of Ross School of Business at U/Michigan, Ann Arbor convincingly takes B-Schools apart by a telling post. Excerpts –

“…..It was clear from the first few minutes of lecture that the business school got what it asked for: friendly, busy kids with mediocre math skills. The accounting class was like any other, though it crawled along, and exams were simple rearrangements of the practice tests;

We learned what took 45 minutes in my Econometrics class in an entire semester. We spent three weeks discovering that flipping heads with a fair coin three times in a row has a probability 1/8.

There was no rigor – for instance, when we learned the basics of optimization we were told to visually solve problems by moving a sloped line away from the origin and note where it hit the other lines, rather than tackle a system of equations or (aha!) do simple calculus. All the while we were told that what we were doing related to business through oversimplified case studies where we served as consultants to Firm A. Using the word “Science” in this course’s title is insulting.

If you’re rigorous, answering not just the how but the why, you can get even remedial kids to do great things; if you only hit the surface level, if you only teach procedures, you make everyone a monkey.”

I’ve read this bookWhat they don’t teach you at Harvard” by Mark McCormack… But Mark just stopped at filling some of the gaps – the gaps between a business school education and the street knowledge that comes from day-to-day experience of running a business and managing people. 

I know Mark’s been a lawyer and did not go to Harvard.  Good that he didn’t.  If he had, he would still be writing….