What a week…

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…

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7 Responses to “What a week…”

  1. Shefaly Says:

    Krishna: A bit unfair, I think to suggest that the UK is an inflexible business context. Once Indians start seeing one as a ‘phirang’ one starts experiencing what, till then, might have been treatment reserved for gora-saab type people.

    Over the years, I have negotiated with both sides, from both sides of the table. Based on my experience, extracting information in a structured form from Indian colleagues is like pulling teeth; whereas getting some British people to agree to things that require flexibility is like milking a stone. Indians can be very rude in takeover due diligences when they are the buying party, and very reluctant data providers when they are the selling party. That said, until a few years ago, British managers were highly sensitive to hyper-educated immigrants; now thanks to the numbers, the City is teeming with desis with degrees such as MBAs and not to mention desis like me, who have effortlessly obtained highly-coveted Oxbridge stamps.

    Philip Green is British indeed, but his lineage is of a community known to succeed despite hardships, especially in commerce. Same for Anita Roddick. The question to ask is – what aspects of Britishness helped them and what aspects hindered them in their entrepreneurial success?

    And whoever told you the accent thing is gone is having you on. Do not believe that for a second. 🙂

    So dare I say that there is no such thing as a British context, seeing as you cite for generalisation Michael O’Leary (he is Irish!).

    I think the common thread may be adversity (Scottish, Greek, anything but evidently British) and/ or a plummy accent (which does not heap adversity but may help in exactly the opposite way) 🙂

    Just 2 pennies from Britannia!

  2. Krish Says:

    Shefaly,

    These guys were from E&Y, U.K and were pretty cool after the first couple days. They just happened to take their check lists seriously and anything slightly off mean, they e-mailed back and forth. The problem was they had to fly to Beijing on another assignment by Thursday evening and our guys were leaving to US on Friday early morning. Imagine me squeezed in between, with lawyers threatening to walk out because of endless recasts of deal documents….

    We managed to close the deal and did have drinks together… That’s when I asked about Sir Richard Branson’s cool image and why can’t more UK businessmen be like him, freewheeling type. E&Y is so rigid.

    Well, I agree with you since you’ve seen it from both sides.

  3. Shefaly Says:

    Krishna: With that schedule, rather you than me, buddy 🙂

    Consultants typically will be more rigid than the principal anyway; since they represent someone else’s money and the liability clauses are enormous esp for firms. (Liability limitation is the longest part of my consulting contracts with my clients too.)

    I think extrapolating from exceptions is a problem. A bit like College DropOut billionaires thread on many many blogs these days…

    You wrote an earlier post about CEOs on TV, right? Many more below the line are very wealthy too; indeed many such do not appear in Rich lists which are compiled with individuals who agree to allow others to speculate about their wealth.. The quieter ones just are probably stiff-upper lip, phlegmatic, old school Brits who do not want limelight and want to be able to take the tube to work every day.

    Thanks.

  4. Krish Says:

    Much as I wish I get to deal with people who take the tube, it seldom is the case. Such people will have fee firmly on the ground since they are in closest touch with realities of life. I for one don’t think business differs from life that much. Why should it be ? But hell, no matter how hard you try, people tend to take business all too seriously, when you need just be shrewd.

    Thanks.

  5. Krish Says:

    oops..it’s not `fee’, it’s feet. My fee is still in the mail 🙂

  6. Shefaly Says:

    Chances are their fee-paid will also be firmly on the ground 😉 since they may or may not hire consultants as a matter of course, so when they do they will negotiate and drive the fee into the ground!

    I know at least of one highly successful global bank in the UK which has never hired strategy consultants in its history. Their internal strategy team is very strong, diverse and creative, and low-key in the old British tradition.

  7. Krish Says:

    This is my fourth assignment in a row and they have been quite considerate and highly appreciative so far… May be they go by quality of service that they get and that’s ok by me…:-)

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