Archive for January, 2008

Great deal to lose…

January 30, 2008

What can I say about this?  Much as I would love to cast it away as a heretic misdeed by a teenager, my daughter would certainly find it ok – go break all rules.  I have this bald pate and so I am tempted to put a caveat to it – as long as they are breakable.

In my business, I’ve broken many rules.  I freely mix people and their ideas.  I take ideas that worked in one industry and have pasted it on something that seemed so opposite. But the goddamn thing worked !  Like hell.  I have applied ideas that worked with good startup teams to expansion stage companies.  They had worked well too as far as I could remember.  With one client, I had suggested tinkering with its supply chain framework to increase productivity by reducing cost of sales. To strip down direct sales and to engage more re-sellers.  These moves were simply abhorred by the management as it has never been tried in that (medical electronics) industry. I had seen it working efficiently in a software solutions client of mine earlier.  They expected a customer /salesforce backlash. I stuck with it and reassured them nothing of the sort would come.  With great doubts, it got executed as a pilot.  To their surprise, the customers / sales guys loved it.  Customers have a local contact and a faster access to service. Sales guys now traveled much lighter, much lesser.  Who doesn’t love to be with the family?  They coordinate with re-sellers and customers much better over cell phones now.  For the company, the travel cost savings were straight additions to the bottomline and they have more manpower available to service more customers. Further such savings can be used as a buffer to resist any upward revision in prices mandated by the industry up ahead in future.  In the end, a distinct competitive advantage…

The net effect was reflected in the company’s results for the next quarter.  Sales grew by 60% and with that the profits too.  My starting point has been a valuation dispute between the management and a VC firm.  With this kind of results,  it would’ve been easier for me to convince the VCs to up their offer. But I’ll let you in on a secret;  I couldn’t do the deal because now the owners no longer wanted to let go off the business. 

I have a strategy consulting assignment with them now. Came home not tired, but pleasantly weary that evening.  What I had lost on the deal,  I made good on stronger relationships with their entire sales team and especially VP – Sales besides the management.  My wife spoofed me for losing out on the deal. But I happily wrote in my diary –  “a great deal to lose.” 

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“Follow your compass and not your clock”

January 22, 2008

People respect you as a leader if you cut the rhetoric and urge them to examine their core.   I have experienced it first hand as I move with my client’s staff.  They all had a life story to tell.  I’ve noticed those stories morphing into who they are and defining their style at work.  Haven’t we wondered why each of us has our own signature style?  There you go. We all have a different life story that defines our style.  

Then I read this interview with Bill George, Ex-CEO of Medtronic and co-author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. What we have in True North is a further development of George’s concept of `authentic leadership’ but also a rigorous, revealing, and rewarding analysis of what George and Sims learned during their interviews of more than 100 leaders. The title to this post is an anecdote from the book where Ann Moore of Time Inc. comforts Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon products when she had been passed over for the CEO job.  In Ann’s words, “It’s not important that you’re CEO by 40. Life is long. You need to make sure this is the company you want to be at.”

I was tempted to cite some exemplary “crucibles” provided in that interview (and in the book) but have decided not to because each should be presented within the context of the lively narrative. For me, some of the most interesting and valuable material in this book focuses on coping with severe hardships of one kind or another.   I’ve had a ton of that in my life.  I had coped with it all and still do. Long ago, Jack Dempsey observed that “champions get up when they can’t.” Authentic leaders must first become authentic people and, more often than not, that process requires experiencing and then overcoming being “knocked down.”  

In Bill’s own words “…. An individual’s leadership is defined by his or her life story. In the 125 interviews we conducted, each person kept going back to their life stories as defining for them. From those life stories, you could see the clear link to their passions”.  Read and enjoy.

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Elitism parading as virtue

January 13, 2008

Ratan Tata unveiling the Nano

That’s Ratan Tata towering over Rs.1 lakh car ($2,500 ) – the Nano – launched yesterday, when the whole world sat up and took notice.  Amidst the ooh’s and ah’s, there were quite a bit of `how could Tata do this’ gripes from the burgeoisie.  Even as management guru C.K.Prahlad marveled at Indian engineering feat and called it a leap into future, the neo-elites were soon to forecast clogging of roads, parking nightmares, pollution etc., etc. Here’s Swaminathan Aiyar giving it back.

“Sanctimonious greens call the Nano disastrous because of its affordability— millions more will now clog roads and consume more fossil fuel. This is elitism parading as virtue. Elite greens own cars, but cannot stand the poorer masses becoming mobile, since the consequent congestion will eat into the time of the elite!”

I would rather this family switch to Nano soon and be safe. They get ported on this Rs.45k ($1,125) motor cycle, just because that guy in the saddle finds a small car costing not less than $7,000 way too expensive.

So, what would you call those who bemoan the Nano…?  Neo-Elitists or Pseudo activists..?  If Nano would cause traffic problem, it’s because the roads are narrow.  Go, widen them.  Add on flyovers.  But don’t halt the Nano.  It offers many a happy family a comfortable, safe ride.  And for people like me, enormous peace of mind when we see them inside the Nano, even as I am held up in a traffic snarl for a few more minutes with Nanos all around… I am ok with that !

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Like hell, it’s chutzpah…

January 11, 2008

Celebration of Indian innovation and enterprise can’t get better than this.

The Economist –

“RATAN TATA, chairman of the Tata group of companies, has a cerebral and cordial manner. But the so-called “one-lakh car”, which Tata Motors unveiled in Delhi to a rapt public on Thursday January 10th, is a product of impatience and chutzpah. Instead of waiting for the great swell of prosperity in India and elsewhere to create millions of customers for his company’s products, Mr Tata has decided to wade out—further than any one has gone before—to bring a car to them.”

I would drink to that..

Mind changers

January 3, 2008

Well, ok. We brought in another happy new year in our own ways and are back at work.

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So what does the new year herald?  A new beginning or is it just flipping the calendar…? Something to hope for could just be right.  But we all know it’s really just a point in the path of passing time.

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How different is it from our good old boring life?  We have breakfast. Go to work. We feel hungry a few hours later. Have lunch. Get back to work. We are hungry again. It’s dinner time.  That’s a day for you. A year is just an extension. So, what’s the big deal?

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Oh My God… why am I so desperately seeking metaphors?  Why can’t I just sit uptight?

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It’s curious that, when confronted with the mysteries of the universe, scientists tend to do what poets do: they reach for metaphor. What’s even more interesting, though, is the way the metaphor begins to shape the way we see and think. The metaphor doesn’t just describe reality; it becomes reality, as Nick Carr says.

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Then I came across a comment by Seth F.

“It’s absolutely true that one can wrongly assume a metaphor is the entirety of the description, and so be misled, and have it shape the way of thought.

There’s no law that says all metaphors must be constant for eternity, and that it’s bad to replace an old metaphor with a better one – or even a different but more culturally appropriate one.

There’s people now who wouldn’t know what it means to say “like a broken record”, but might understand “like the hold button locked down”. Different tech makes for different metaphors. That’s life.”

I relent. Let me leave it to the world of experts or Grrrrr….another metaphor – the world wide web.  I look up The Edge for its 2008 question – what have you changed your mind about?

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Look it up.  There are some gems in there.