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The Indian view of the discipline of management speaks of four pillars of Integral Management – Wisdom, Power, Harmony and Perfection. Of these, Power is a potent tool which, when harnessed judiciously, enables organizations and individual managers to scale greater heights.

Organizations wield tremendous power. They do so not only by virtue of their financial prowess but also by way of their brand equity, their size, their reach in the market and the kind of innovative products or services they offer. They exercise influence on the society – first, by identifying its latent desires, and then by serving the same.

Individuals who are part of organizations also wield tremendous power over its resources and its people. Arrogance and exploitation could easily follow.

However, if Power is understood as “strength and force, Shakti, which enables one to face all that can happen and to stand and overcome” difficulties connected with “men, events, circumstances, means”, then Power could be used for the overall good of humankind.

Thus, with power comes the attendant responsibility of using it wisely and equitably. Checks and balances need to be put in place to ensure that boundaries set by values and ethics do not get transcended. Keeping a strict control on arrogant behaviour is the sine qua non of long-term success in career.

Power needs to be used in a socially responsible manner. Using the power to share the gains of business with relevant stakeholders makes good sense. Deployment of power to benefit the society at large, that too in a manner which does not harm the environment, ensures that the business remains sustainable.

Managers also have a latent power – of their mind, their will, their ambition, their attitude, their passion and their soft skills. By channelizing the same appropriately, they could rise to greater heights and become more evolved persons, exercising greater influence on the events and people they are connected with.

At a one-day seminar on “The Element of Power in Management” organized by SACAR on the 6th of August, 2016, speakers from a wide spectrum of managerial expertise shared their views on the judicious and responsible use of power in day-to-day operations.

SACAR Power Aug 2016 B

Dr. Ananda Reddy, the Director of SACAR, elaborated upon the four components of Management ― Perfection, Harmony, Power and Wisdom. He said that one could be spiritual at all the four levels – physical, vital, mental and psychic by aspiring towards what are called perfection, harmony, power and wisdom. These, he proposed, present a new paradigm of Management. On the level of thought, Power comes into play. Higher level management has to deal with the power of thought, of planning, of setting up realistic targets. He highlighted the importance of using power in a responsible and judicious manner.

SACAR Power Aug 2016 A

Dr. V. J. Chandran, IPS, SSP, Government of Puducherry, spoke of the need to use the power at one’s command in a spiritual manner – for the overall good. He highlighted the need to punish people in proportion to their crimes or indiscretions. While dealing with tough situations which present moral dilemmas, the Principles of Natural Justice have to be always kept in mind. Assuming responsibility and accountability is important. Improving upon one’s quality of work, one’s ability and one’s personal expertise alone helps. He shared with the participants certain instances where abuse of power led to severe complications for the society at large.

SACAR Power Aug 2016 3Ms. Mamatha Gurudev, Managing Director, Vijay Spheroidials, Bangalore, spoke of the power of beliefs while recounting her journey as an entrepreneur. She held that believing in oneself was the single most important trait of an entrepreneur. It makes sense to cultivate a habit of looking within and of being in touch with one’s own inner self. Trust reposed in one by others also empowers oneself. The focus should always be on the process, not on the person. She exhorted the participants to change their attitude from ‘I can’t do it yet’ to that of ‘I can do it’.

SACAR Power Aug 2016 4Ms. Padma Asokan, Director, Omeon Solutions, Chennai, elaborated the art of leveraging the power of money. Money needs constant activity and circulation. It should be used to increase wealth and prosperity. Wealth belongs to the divine and those who hold it are mere ‘’Trustees” and not “Possessors”. Investment in people is as important as investment in business. To be successful, a business needs to make money without diluting its core values. She shared with the participants quite a few of her experiences in running her business.

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As part of an interactive session, conducted by yours truly, participants spoke of the various ways in which they had experienced, and occasionally countered, the abuse of power. Clips from the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’ were shared with the participants, showcasing the challenges inherent in trying to stand up to big corporates polluting the environment with little regard for the community in which they operate.

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Mr. P. Rangaraj, Chairman, Chemin Controls & Instrumentation, Puducherry, spoke of the power of innovation in business. He touched upon some unique success stories and highlighted the need to make frugal engineering a routine habit. He described the kind of disruptions that innovation normally causes and explained the elements of perfection, harmony and wisdom which are necessary to upscale and market a new product or service.  Identifying market needs and fulfilling the same with innovative products needs to be part of a company’s culture. This alone could lead to sustainable growth and a strong brand image.

SACAR Power Aug 2016 7

Mr. Jayprakash Thindiyote, Managing Director and CEO, PSL Management Software Technologies, Puducherry, touched upon the power of technology. He spoke of rapid advances in the field of robotics and the advent of Artificial Intelligence. He felt that the more the technology evolves, the higher would be the need for bringing in spirituality at the work place. Having respect for alternative views, effective communication, genuine compassion and a creative approach to problem solving alone could help a business grow in future. He exhorted managers to be like an I-POD, that is, have an Inner Peace but be Outwardly Dynamic.

Mr. Ganesh Babu, Founder and CEO, Winning Minds Solutions, Puducherry, and Dr. Arvind Gupta, Assistant Director, Directorate of Distance Education, Pondicherry University, coordinated the entire event. Their back up support was invaluable in the planning as well as the hosting of the entire event.

Dr. Shruti Bidwaikar, Assistant Director, SACAR, summed up the proceedings and offered a vote of thanks.sacar-power-seminar-hindu

The seminar received an overwhelming response from participants coming from various walks of life, like government officials, management educationists, corporate executives, businessmen, Aurovillians, entrepreneurs and students.

The Integral Management Group of SACAR had already covered the facet of Perfection and Harmony in the past. The next event, focusing on the facet of Wisdom, is planned to be hosted during March, 2017.

(Link to a write up which appeared in The Hindu of September 13, 2016:

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In a highly competitive and inter-connected world, how can organizations keep pace with the ever-evolving business environment? How can business leaders and CEOs achieve results, when faced with disruptive technologies which keep changing the way the business works?

An alternative paradigm for management processes can perhaps help. This paradigm comprises four aspects which underlie all aspects of management, as it is understood, taught and practiced by working as well as by aspiring managers.

The four aspects of Integral Management, drawn from Sri Aurobindo’s writings, are: Perfection, Power, Harmony and Wisdom. Perfection in whatever an organization plans and does. The Power that a company uses to achieve its goals. The Harmony which is required to enable the achievement of goals. Above all, the Wisdom which goes into running a business enterprise in a sustainable fashion.jrd-tata

Smart managers always aim for Perfection. It is said that Mr. R. M. Lala, an editor, writer and publisher of repute, once commented to Mr. J. R. D. Tata that the latter believed in excellence. The great man is said to have retorted thus: “Not excellence. Perfection. You aim for Perfection, you will attain excellence. If you aim for excellence, you will go lower.”

Sri Aurobindo Center for Advanced Research (SACAR), a NGO devoted to disseminating the thoughts and vision of the well-renowned seer of India, recently held a day-long seminar on various aspects of managerial perfection. The seminar was held at Pondicherry in India.

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Some of the key issues deliberated upon at the seminar

Making ‘Make in India’ a success needs a change in the attitudes of those who practice the art of management. The attitude of compromise needs to be shunned in all spheres of life. A strong sense of self-belief is a pre-requisite.IMG_4242 Resized

Imperfection leads to higher stress. When faced with a challenge, ‘Root Cause Analysis’ often leads to a state of perfection being achieved. Attention to detail alone helps. Pushing down complexity is yet another way to realize our goal of perfection.

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Perfection is a dynamic concept. It is a moving goal. Even 99.9% is not good enough. Factors which help a leader in her journey towards perfection are:
o Unquenchable thirst, constant endeavour
o Catering to revised customer expectations
o Vision to reach there
o Perfect planning
o Obedience
o Constant supervision and vigilance
o Perfect balance and enduranceIMG_4254 Resized

Decision making can be made more perfect by supplementing rational thinking with intuition. The higher the level of uncertainty, the greater the role that intuition can play. Intuitive faculties can be developed by means of:
o Listening better
o Reflecting on a decision before implementing
o Examining your beliefs
o Communicating to, and consulting, others
o Learning to recognize and interpret your emotions
o Creating the right learning environment; allow failures
o Using situational assessments and case studies

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Leadership styles can be perfected by following some concurrent processes:
o Leading oneself first – introspection, self-improvement, practicing gratitude, shouldering      responsibility, improving quality of action and self-discipline; self-image plays a crucial role
o Leading others – by example
o Delivering results
o Grooming leadersDSC_0114 Resized

A sound HR philosophy is the essence of Perfection, which is an inner state of living. The principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are useful in crafting innovative HR policies. Employees at all levels deserve an operational freedom which needs to be balanced with a sense of collective responsibility.DSC_0121 Resized

Some real-life examples which were touched upon

The following were some of the real-life examples which came up for discussion at the seminar:
• Evolution of manufacturing excellence across the world, from the first World War onwards
• Products of Apple and the no-nonsense attitude of Steve Jobs
• The SAS turnaround by Jan Carlzon; lessons from ‘Moments of Truth’
• Nestle India’s delayed decision to withdraw Maggi noodles from the shelves
• Recall of more than 2 million cars by Honda due to faulty air bags

The seminar, entitled ‘In Pursuit of Managerial Perfection’, drew an enthusiastic response from business managers, scholars and students alike. It was addressed by Dr. Ananda Reddy, Director of SACAR, Mr. R. Mananathan, Chairman and MD, Manatec group of companies, Prof R. P. Raya, Dean, School of Management, Pondicherry University, Prof. Jaisree Anand, Founder LearnMore India Consultant, Mr. Ganesh Babu, Founder and CEO Winning Minds, Prof. Kisholoy Gupta, Senior HR Professional and yours truly – a heady mix of management educators, lifestyle coaches, business thinkers and influencers.

Dr Shruti Bidwaikar, Assistant Director, SACAR, summed up the proceedings of the day. Dr Arvind Gupta, Assistant Director, Directorate of Distance Education, Pondicherry University, advised the participants to imbibe the day’s learning in an appropriate manner while facing challenges in life.

SACAR proposes to organize a series of follow-up seminars touching upon the three other pillars of Integral Management, viz., Harmony, Power and Wisdom.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/an-inner-approach-to-leadership-and-management-note-on-a-seminar)

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Many amongst us chug along in life somewhat dissatisfied with our life partners. A neighbour’s wife always looks smarter. A friend’s husband sounds more dashing and practical. Our own spouse invariably sounds duller and listless in comparison. We are never quite satisfied with what we have. We often yearn for what we do not have.

What do we expect from a soul-mate? An unqualified acceptance by the party of the other part, perhaps? A companionship which comforts and soothes? A fulfillment of some of our basic needs?

At a deeper level, the illusory search for a perfect soul-mate, The One, begins with a realization that we cannot become more perfect all by ourselves. We need another person’s help to chisel ourselves better. To do so, we search for a person who is perfect in more ways than one.

Some Bollywood movies have dealt with this aspect of our relationships in a poignant manner. Here is a quick recapitulation of some such offerings which come to one’s mind.

Navrang

Movie Navrang(1959, V. Shantaram)

A poet struggling for recognition starts fantasizing about a dancing diva cast in the mould of his own wife. Whereas the wife is busy with mundane affairs of life, the poet is happy to remain in an imaginary world inhabited by the make-believe seductress. The harsh slings and arrows of life eventually make him realize his folly and accept his wife whole-heartedly.

Satyam Shivam Sundaram

Movie Satyam_Shivam_Sundaram(1978, Raj Kapoor)

A young engineer who abhors ugliness falls in love with a vivacious young woman whose face is partially scarred. Besotted by her mellifluous voice and religiosity, he does not notice her facial disfigurement and marries her. Rejected by her husband, the woman keeps meeting him at nights, making him believe that he is spending time with a mistress instead. Eventually, events make him realize his folly. He gives up his shallow perception of beauty and understands the value of inner beauty in life.

Maya Memsaab

Movie Maya_Memsaab(1993, Ketan Mehta)

Based on Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’, the film captures the quest of a perfect mate by a young, beautiful and intelligent woman. After a failed marriage with a busy doctor, affairs follow. Her search for The One remains elusive. She remains dissatisfied and eventually dies.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Movie Rab_Ne_Bana_Di_Jodi(2008, Aditya Chopra)

A diffident and introverted male ends up marrying a beautiful and vivacious young woman who claims her inability to love him. She loves the dashing heroes of Bollywood and enters a dancing competition, where she runs into a breezy character who is none other than her husband, duly remodeled by a friend of his. Romance blossoms. Eventually, she realizes the value of true love that her otherwise boring husband possesses for her.

7 Khoon Maaf

pondy movie 7 Khoon Maaf_poster_ver1(2011, Vishal Bhardwaj)

The film narrates the story of an Anglo-Indian woman who murders her seven husbands in an unending quest for love. Eventually, she finds true love and solace in Jesus – at Pondicherry. It is based on a short story by Ruskin Bond: “Susanna’s Seven Husbands”.

All these movies portray an important facet of life. Our quest for The One is all about the search for our own true self. The desire to search for a mate is not about finding the right person. It is about becoming the right person.

A perfect spouse cannot make us complete. He/she can only help us in discovering ourselves and in becoming the right person. The partners only supplement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and tackle the challenges of life together, as a team.

This realization is a humble new beginning and a part of our own process of perfection; our evolution to a higher plane of consciousness.

PS: If you liked this post, you may perhaps also like https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/a-mature-shade-of-love-in-movies.

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Abstract
All of us strive for perfection. Achieving and maintaining a state of perfect health is a primary concern for many amongst us. There are various kinds of ‘pathies’ which are on offer to help us to do this. But the real help could also be sourced from within us. The faith we have. The willpower we exercise. The actions we take to help our bodies heal themselves. We could strive to be our own doctors.

On one of our luckier days when we happen to be in front of the idiot box, or when the latest internet-savvy gizmo is Health Monarch femalenestling in our palms, we are apt to run into a beautiful documentary which captures the birth of a Monarch butterfly. The radical transformation – from an egg to a caterpillar, then into a chrysalis, and finally into the Monarch butterfly – leaves us somewhat awe-struck and mesmerised. The universe appears to have programmed all living beings to strive to attain a state of perfection, balance and harmony.

When we speak of perfection, most of us refer to our external appearances, actions or conditions. Better inter-personal relations. Better status in society. Better harmony with our environment. Better compliance with laws, rules and regulations. Basically, we envisage a better, wealthier, happier and more humane kind of living.

The harsh slings and arrows of life make us aware of something we invariably take for granted – our physical selves. Those amongst us who have faced a medical crisis of some kind would often be found seeking perfection of the physical being through all the means available.

A rainbow of choices

We would be found tapping into the resources of the allopathic stream which offers diagnostic tools of high standards.Doctors Day We would be spell-bound at the capacity of this stream of medicine to look at the universe within us in a highly mechanical manner. We would be amazed at the extent of division of various organs which function within its complex confines. A cardiologist would declare that our heart continues to beat in a rhythmic manner befitting a piece of classical music. A neurologist would put us under a scanner and tell us that our brain is firing on all its twelve cylinders. A gastroenterologist would put our digestive system under the microscope and assure us that it is discharging its assigned functions in a prompt and regular manner.

Nevertheless, we would still be feeling tired and exhausted and, well, not up to the mark when it comes to physical fitness. As patients, we would then be told of the virtue of psycho-somatic diseases, with broad hints that we could be suffering from some such unidentifiable ailment. Oh, the feeling of smug satisfaction we derive when being told that we appear to suffer from some mysterious disease which the scientists of today are yet to properly catalogue and name, let alone devise a treatment protocol for!

To some of us, the relatively older system of homoeopathy may sound better. We would find that it is more intuitiveHealth Hahnemann in nature. The medications are milder, with lesser side-effects. These might temporarily increase the severity of our symptoms, thereby indicating that a real cure is on its way. After a detailed one-to-one with the physician, we would be back to our ‘popping-the-pill’ routine.

Same goes for the Ayurvedic or Unani streams of healing. The physician would check our pulse and arrive at the disharmony in our bodies. Dietary restrictions would need to be followed.

Our pursuit of perfection does not end here. A brief stint at a health centre run on the principles of yoga, meditation and naturopathy might revitalise our physical and mental systems and show us the way to get out of our ‘pop-the-pill’ syndrome. The focus of this approach is on detoxifying the body and also training us to give up the luxury of indulging our taste-buds. Overall, it brings us closer to Mother Nature, a factor which is sorely missed by those of us who live in highly congested urban settings.

Sure enough, we enjoy the more holistic way of treatment offered under the alternate streams of medicine. TheseHealth Dhanvantari treat us as a composite whole of the body-mind-vital and not merely as an assembly of several parts which continue to function in their individual isolated glory.

We try our hands at flower therapy, colour therapy, magneto-therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, and several others. When it comes to healing, we have a wide range of choices of systems to choose from. Many of us try to take an integral approach, using the best treatments from diverse streams of medicine. We do it based on the faith we have in the physician as well as in the medicine. This plays a crucial role in the healing process.

Building up our inner resilience

When we push ourselves to do something we essentially like doing, we do not get tired. The body and the mind do not revolt. Instead, they bask in the inner glow of satisfaction and happiness. Scientists would call it ‘eustress.’

However, most of the times, we experience distress. We face situations in life which do not allow us to exercise an option of either ‘fight’ or ‘flight.’ Stress built up over a long time tends to be disastrous. The good news is that if stress is directly proportional to external factors, it is also inversely proportional to our internal resilience. Some people tend to take an event very lightly. For others, the same event could be highly demoralising. It depends on how strong we are from within.

How do we build up inner resilience? How do we achieve a better level of harmony between our inner and outer selves and between our heads and our hearts?

The Divine within us can guide us in this respect. If we were to live in harmony with nature, it would help. If we could Technology MEDITATION-ENTREPRENEUR-SUCCEEDchange our dietary habits, we could enjoy better well-being. If we were to control our negative emotions and live only in pure and positive ones, our cells would get healthier. If we smile, it would take away a lot of stress from our poisoned systems. If we feel a deep sense of gratitude within us – say, for simply being alive – positive vibes would generate the soft glow of self-fulfilment inside us, helping us to recover earlier. We would radiate happiness all around us.

The mind exercises a great deal of control over our body. It is surely within our powers to train it to give a positive message to the diseased cells within us. This, compounded with faith in the remedy, could work miracles.

What happens if we fail in our attempts, one might well ask. Not to despair. One, no effort goes waste. Perhaps, we shall not suffer as much as we might have done had we continued in our state of blissful ignorance. Two, the purpose of our birth might just be to reduce human suffering. We might end up bringing succour to others who suffer from a similar ailment. Three, by offering ourselves as a guinea pig and a living human laboratory, we might make a modest contribution towards advancing the knowledge about a particular disease afflicting mankind.

Of Nature, nurture and niftiness

As patients, we aim to gain two kinds of freedoms – freedom from the ailment and freedom from the remedy. How doFeatured Image -- 1211 we become and remain independent of all kinds of doctors and healing systems? Can we become our own doctors?

What we are and what we shall become is only controlled by our actions. The science of epigenetics shows that genes are not only inherited and transferred to our progeny; these also get altered by our actions and the environment. It is not only about what Nature has provided us with. It is also about how we have been nurtured and how clever we are in the actions that we take.

We can will ourselves to heal faster. We can open up ourselves and tap into the infinite energy swirling about in the universe. We could draw a lot of inspiration this way. Our intuitive faculties also come into play and help us in gaining freedom from ailments as also from medications. The potential of our bodies and minds can be tapped better.

The change has to come from within us – from the core of our psychic being. The aspiration has to be genuine. It hasHealth Monarch_Male to permeate all our thought processes and even our actions. A constant remembrance of the divine power within us can be the panacea for all our ailments – a key to achieving perfect health.

In ‘Gitanjali’, Rabindranath Tagore proposes: “Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection (1)”. Even though ‘perfection’ may not be attainable in reality, what matters is the ‘tireless striving’, which could well prove to be a reward in itself. ‘Perfection’, like happiness, need not be a station one arrives at, but a mode of travel, making the journey interesting and worthwhile.

Reference

1. Tagore Rabindranath. Tagore for You. 3rd ed. Kolkata: Deep Prakashan; 2011, p. 45.

(Published in NAMAH, the Journal of Integral Health, Vol 22, Issue 4, dated the 15th of January, 2015)

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MANAGEMENT

Unlike a “should” guy who is a philosopher, and a “would” guy who is a politician, a good manager is a “could” guy. He is aware of the constraints of resources at his disposal, and get things done accordingly.

He is the first one to come in and the last one to go from office. No job is too small for him; he is a true hands-on guy, but develops his team by delegation.

He defines and respects the invisible boundary of professional distance between himself and his key team players. When his team members are attacked, he behaves like a lioness out to protect her cubs. His team just loves him!

MARKETINGMARKETING

An ever-changing discipline, though surely not the only one. When conceived and described by Philip Kotler, it consisted of the famous 4 Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. With due respects to the great man, one may safely add one more P – Password (used for viral marketing).

With the advent of internet has come a virtual democracy in information. Changes in technology have brought in a new way the customers and brands interact. Marketing has undergone a sea change and will continue to do so in future as well, what with social re-engineering leading to a greater degree of inclusion in the economy, with hordes of new customers from a so-far underprivileged social milieu joining the market. Persons with access to internet now research the brands before making a decision. They are increasingly welcoming fresh content rather than repetitive ads.

Take note of the mini packs of biscuits, noodles and other consumer items being marketed at price points of Rs. 5 and below. Thirty years back, Indians had to wait for years to get to ride their own “Hamara Bajaj”. On the car front, there were hardly three suppliers in the fray then. Now, we see global brands wooing the customer and competing cheek and jowl for a slice of the market pie.

The Customer has now become a more empowered king!

MEETINGS

Meetings to decide strategic issues are best held off campus, though not necessarily in exotic locales.

Meetings to review operations are best kept short, held in the standing mode, at regular intervals (like TV news) without prior intimation, kept crisp by ruthlessly disallowing inter-departmental issues getting discussed while all others gape in horror and ignorance, ending much before the deadline and minutes being circulated by the end of the day with clear responsibilities defined in respect of targets to be met and respective deadlines.

It is generally accepted that the probability of a meeting taking place is inversely proportional to the number of participants.

Parkinson’s Law of Meetings states that “To a certain degree, the time spent in a meeting on an item is inversely proportional to its value”.

MEDIOCRITY vs. EXCELLENCE vs. PERFECTION

Always aim for perfection! It is said that Mr. R. M. Lala, an editor, writer and publisher of repute, once commented to Mr. J. R. D. Tata that the latter believed in excellence. The great man is said to have retorted thus: “Not excellence. Perfection. You aim for perfection, you will attain excellence. If you aim for excellence, you will go lower.”

Rabindranath Tagore, in his Gitanjali, captures the same concept thus: “Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection”. Even though “perfection” may not be attainable in reality, what matters is the “tireless striving”, which could well prove to be a reward in itself. “Perfection”, like happiness, need not be a station one arrives at, but a mode of travel, making the journey interesting and worthwhile.MICROMANAGING

To improve our personal capacity utilization, our basic struggle needs to be attitudinal – to adopt a Culture of Perfection and to give up the Culture of Mediocrity.  Our collective chalta hai attitude is passé.

MICROMANAGING

A sure way of becoming a liability for your team and also for your employers is to micromanage – getting into the nitty-gritty of each and every aspect of the task at hand. Learn to delegate and allow your team members to make mistakes. Demand results, but develop your people in the long run.

MISTAKES, HANDLING OF

As an individual, say sorry. Say it openly. Add a dash of humor and laugh at yourself publically. Avoid a buck passing posture. Do a root cause analysis. Suggest and work on a solution to rectify the mistake. Try to avoid a recurrence.

As a corporate, get your PR to handle the issue well. Take demonstrable steps to set the record straight. During June 2011, Toyota globally recalled as many as 1,06,000 vehicles, offering to replace front right hand shaft in selected vehicles. During 2007, Mattel announced a recall of over 19 million toys fearing that the toys had powerful magnets which could come loose and be swallowed by infants. Their brand recall value only shot up.

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14As Mr. Ratan Tata demits office as a Chairman of Tata Sons and as a head of the $84 billion conglomerate of over 100 companies in the world-famous Tata group on the 28th of December, 2012, permit me to salute the group as well as its illustrious leaders who have led it to great heights in the field of business, as also in philanthropy and in socially relevant initiatives.

I am just one amongst millions of the group’s ex-employees who have had a stint with the Tata group.  The connection of my family with the group spans three generations. Way back in 1945, my father was associated with Tata Airlines. In 1976, I started my career with the Leather Complex of Tata Exports (now known as Tata International). Due to compelling personal reasons, I had to finally leave the group in 1993. In 2003, my son started his career innings with Tata Motors.

What is it that goes on to make the Tata group different from its competitors and contemporaries in the business world? With all humility that I can muster, here is my take.

Succession Planning

Mr. Jamsetji N. Tata was the founder of the group. In 1904, he handed over the baton to Sir Dorab Tata, who was at the helm of affairs till 1932, followed by Sir Nowroji Saklatvala who was there till 1938.

The group was then steered by Mr. J. R. D. Tata till 1991, when the charge passed on to Mr. Ratan Tata. It was on March 23, 1991, that Mr. Ratan Tata was told by his uncle that he intended to handover the baton of the group to him. Coinciding with the economic reforms unleashed by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the group has had a remarkable journey since then!

Mr. Ratan Tata took over the reins of the group at a time when it was an empire made up of several independent fiefdoms, run by stalwarts like Mr. Darbari Seth, Mr. Russi Mody, Mr. Ajit Kerkar and Mr. Nani Palkhivala.

Much like the King Bharata in Mahabharata who chose a successor based on merit alone, the group has invariably followed the principle of meritocracy when choosing a successor. What Cyrus Mistry takes over from him today is a much more well-knit and cohesive group, united by a shared philosophy, vision and identity.

A Conservative Outlook on Diversification

Tatas have often been criticised for not being enterprising enough to diversify into new fields. Mr. J. R. D. Tata himself attributed this in 1991 to two factors – an unwillingness to compromise on certain principles in the licence and permit raj prevalent then, and a long-held belief that the group’s principal role was to develop basic industries.

From textiles, hotels and a premier institute of learning, the group took a leap of faith to set up the first steel plant in India at the beginning of the last century. Then it ventured into hydro-electric power, soaps and detergents, cement, tin, soda ash, housing and commercial vehicles. Post 1947, when India gained independence, the group went in for cosmetics, steel tubes, refrigeration, fisheries, refractories and pharmaceuticals. Tea, watches, bearings and several others followed.

During Mr. Ratan Tata’s tenure, the group improved its focus on the business horizon. In tune with the changing times, TOMCO, Lakme, Merind, ACC, Nerolac Paints and others got hived off. Businesses like IT, telecom and financial services got added to the group’s portfolio. TCS became a flagship company, leading India’s march into the knowledge economy.

In 2000, Tata Tea took over UK brand Tetley. During 2007, Tata Steel acquired Anglo-Dutch rival Corus. The buyout of JLR in 2008 supplemented the core competency of the group company now referred to as Tata Motors. This move further established the global aspirations of the group – a segment which today contributes 60% of its revenues. Leveraging its strengths in the automobile sector, the group entered the territory of passenger cars, overcoming such hurdles as the Singur controversy. Nano is an innovation which has been taken note of globally.

Mr. Ratan Tata did not have it easy. Due to a negative business environment, the entry of Tatas in the field of airlines got aborted. It moved in time to save Tata Financial Services when the top management there committed fraud. In the telecom field, it had to grapple with a nascent industry which is still plagued by policy uncertainty. The controversy surrounding the infamous Radia tapes went on to show that what would have been considered a minor transgression by any other business house proved to be a demoralizing factor, somewhat sullying the group’s pristine white image.

Referring to the airline fiasco, he claimed in a press interview that he was rather proud of the fact that he could not handle political manipulations.

Concern for Environment and CSR

Industrialists complaining about environmental regulations and land acquisition issues today could surely learn a few lessons from Mr. J. N. Tata when he went about setting up India’s first steel plant during the early 1900s in what was then a predominantly forest area, inhabited by tribals.

In a letter written to his son in 1902, five years before the site of the steel plant was finally located, Mr. J. N. Tata laid down broad guidelines covering the design of the industrial complex which was to come up at Jamshedpur: “Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches”.

When TELCO Pune was planned, thousands of trees got planted first. Since trees needed water, an artificial lake was created with a circumference of four kilometres. The factory buildings came up much later.

At the Leather Complex at Dewas (MP) that I was associated with, other than a massive plantation of trees of all kinds, a deer park was also set up. Our Accounts Department was often twiddling its thumbs to figure out if the cost incurred on the animals’ upkeep was reasonable!

Focus on People

The average Tata manager is sober, knowledgeable, mature, restrained, dignified, humane and downright ethical.  It does not boast of, but is quietly aware of, being part of a group which has always conducted its affairs in a transparent and ethical manner. There is an in-born self-belief that the values Tatas follow are not a mere statement of pious intentions; rather, these form a blueprint which guides and permeates all the activities the group.

Tata Steel has several firsts to its credit in the realm of labour welfare. An eight-hour working day was introduced in 1912 itself, whereas the law mandated it only in 1948. Likewise, free medical aid, establishment of a Welfare Department, formation of a Works Committee for handling employee grievances and leave with pay, provident fund, etc. were introduced much before the relevant laws came into being.

The social welfare measures across various Tata companies may vary, but the standards set by them somewhat exceed the legal requirements. Tax planning, yes; tax evasion, never. The group’s foray into education, fine arts and other socially relevant projects was planned and executed at a time when CSR norms were not even heard of.

How closely the value of compassion is cherished became very clear in the aftermath of the 26/11 terrorist attack on The Taj Mahal Hotel. The conduct of the employees during the attack and the subsequent support they received from the management is a case study in organizational behaviour and employee motivation.

I had a first-hand experience of this value of compassion in 1991 when I and a colleague of mine were mercilessly beaten up by a gang of misinformed workers of one of the small ancillary units of the Tata Exports. Prompt medical attention, legal support, counselling for the self and the family and a compulsory vacation followed automatically. A month later, Mr. Syamal Gupta, the then MD, nine rungs above us in the rigid Tata hierarchy, called for a personal meeting and instilled in us a sense of pride and fulfilment for having stood up to the rowdy elements in the work force.

The fact that I write this piece almost twenty years after I parted company with the group goes on to show the sense of belongingness I still – and shall continue to – carry with me!

Ethics and Values – A High Moral Quotient

When I look back at my association with the group, which lasted over ten years split over two phases, I am amazed at the rich learning I had. Job rotation, technical training and job knowledge apart, the exposure to the nuts and bolts of business ethics left an everlasting impression on my psyche.

A bribe was a simply not payable, whatever the commercial cost of keeping an entire manufacturing facility idle for three weeks. A senior manager who made the error of judgement of offering a bribe to a government servant for securing a permission was publically rebuked and persuaded to leave the company. Instead, I, a junior office then, was sent to accomplish the task without any speed money being paid. Luckily, I could manage this feat, though the company ended up incurring a cost of five times the bribe amount on my trip alone!

Aiming for Perfection

As per Mr. J. R. D. Tata, “One of the weaknesses of our country is that we are satisfied with the second or third best in everything. The basic attitude of chalega, ayega, dekhega. Therefore almost everything we do, we do it poorly”. He always maintained that “You can’t achieve high standards by aiming at those standards. You can only achieve a standard by aiming at something more. If you want excellence, you must aim at perfection”.

This implies painstaking attention to detail, a trait which permeates all spheres of the group’s activities. When a new factory block came up in the company, I asked my boss as to why a black stone slab was made a part of the flooring at the entrance to the shop floor. He was quick to point out: “That is the only way to ensure that we have minimum dirt and dust entering the floor; black colour will show any deviations without fail!”

“Humata”, “Hukhta”, “Hvarshta”

These words form a part of the Tata crest, designed by the founder Mr. Jamsetji Tata. In the ancient Avesta language, these mean “Good Thoughts”, “Good Words” and “Good Deeds”. The premium that the Tata brand enjoys in the market is the culmination of more than a century of efforts of the group, based on these principles and values preached as well as practised by the group.

As Mr. Ratan Tata henceforth channelizes his dynamism towards philanthropic activities and development projects, I have no doubt that he would come up with more innovations in the field of social entrepreneurship, so as to transform and upgrade the lives of millions in India at the bottom of the pyramid.

I once had the privilege of meeting him fleetingly at a Pragati Maidan Expo held in New Delhi in 1993. From what little I know of him, he is not the retiring kind. To him one cannot express the usual wishes of a peaceful and quiet retirement, howsoever well deserved it is. One may instead wish him long life, health, contentment and all the fun and excitement he can find in any activity he may choose to indulge in hereafter.

Likewise, one wishes Mr. Cyrus Mistry a great cruise ahead in these times of exciting business possibilities for the group! To quote a song from “The Sound of Music” – one of the greatest musical movies ever produced:

“Climb every mountain, ford every stream; Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream….!”

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During the course of the last decade, Indians appeared to have regained some of their pride and self-confidence as a nation which is the culmination of a 5,000 years old civilization steeped in values of tolerance, openness and adaptability. Right from the evolution of Zero to the genius of Ramanujam, from the profound concepts enumerated in the Vedas to the spiritual wisdom expounded by the likes of Swami Vivekananda and Shri Aurobindo, from the literary depth of Sage Vyasa to the artistic achievements of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, from the invincible arrows of Lord Rama to today’s Brahmos missiles, from the evocative poetry penned by Kalidasa to the genius of Satyajit Ray – our repertoire as a nation is pretty rich.  

There is absolutely no harm in enjoying the limelight and speaking high of our true strengths. If the world looks upon us for spiritual wisdom, we have an inexhaustible supply of it. If we offer a unique marketing opportunity of this century to the world at large, we might as well bask in the glory of the moment, derive maximum advantage of it and be better prepared to delight our customers.

But the risk is that of becoming complacent and leading ourselves into a lull, which could well boomerang and lead us into a phase of decadence. The need of the hour is to be objective about ourselves, plan our affairs accordingly and set our house in order.

The World Bank ranks India at the bottom of its list of countries in terms of ease of doing business. We can count on our finger tips the number of home-grown brands that have emerged out of India in the last sixty years or so. Admittedly, there are marketing innovations and truly home-grown solutions, but these are the exception and not the rule.

It is an open secret that as many as 70 percent of our so-called educated youth are not employable. Our prestigious management institutes continue aping management models adapted from the west. The wisdom contained in the words of our seers – like Chanakya, Tiruvalluvar and Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few – is equally applicable to the area of management. But it remains a neglected domain the time for which is yet to come.

Our cities are bursting at the seams. In terms of creation of fresh infrastructure, we not only lack vision and resources but also the will to implement schemes which could make them truly world-class. Garbage segregation at source, its effective treatment and handling remains a distant dream.

If we host a sports extravaganza of an international stature, thereby investing in our civic infrastructure, our corrupt ministers and babus ensure that their pockets get thickly lined up. Corruption is on everyone’s mind these days, so the lesser we talk about it, the better it might be. Gone are the days when a Minister would resign owning moral responsibility for a lapse in the area of his concern. The norm today is to cling on to one’s seat until one is proved guilty and is literally hounded out of office.

Our railways rarely run on time. There is not even a single railway station which can be called world-class. In place of Bullet trains, we boast of many Rajdhanis and Durontos. However, the sight of people defecating in the open on the side of our railway tracks is a very sobering one. Barring a few Metros that we have to show, public transport is in a shambles.

On the farm front, the long-term perspective is rather grim. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide. But we have still not woken up to the reality that the Green Revolution essentially favored rice and wheat, neglecting healthier millets, jowar and bajra. Ground water tables have plummeted all across, and our dependence on the south-west monsoon continues unabated.

At the end of the food chain, we now have an epidemic of sorts in place, with an exponential increase in lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cardiac complications. With rising levels of affluence, incorrect eating habits and unhealthy life styles have become the norm; this alone threatens to retard our progress on the economic front.

As a country which aspires to make it to the top league in the decades to come, what we need to gift to ourselves is a vision and a will power. The government, the political class, the business houses and the society at large – all need to put their heads together and work towards achieving perfection in their respective fields. Being satisfied with the second or the third best would no longer do!

It is said that Mr. R. M. Lala, an editor, writer and publisher of repute, once commented to Mr. J. R. D. Tata that the latter believed in excellence. The great man is said to have retorted thus: “Not excellence. Perfection. You aim for perfection, you will attain excellence. If you aim for excellence, you will go lower.”

Rabindranath Tagore, in his Gitanjali, captures the same concept thus: “Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection”. Even though “perfection” may not be attainable in reality, what matters is the “tireless striving”, which could well prove to be a reward in itself. “Perfection”, like happiness, need not be a station one arrives at, but a mode of travel, making the journey worthwhile.

As a country, we have a lot of positive developments and accomplishments to claim credit for. We now have an opportunity to build on the same by stretching our capabilities and by managing our limitations, with a clear vision to succeed in our mission. Our basic struggle is attitudinal – to adopt a Culture of Perfection and to give up the Culture of Mediocrity. Our collective chalta hai attitude is passé.

On the occasion of the upcoming Independence Day, let us rededicate ourselves to shun mediocrity. Let us demand perfection from ourselves and from those around us in all spheres of our lives.

 

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