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Recently, while on a trip to Switzerland, yours truly had the opportunity of calling upon Mr. José Manuel Castro Santiago, Minister – Counsellor at the Embassy of Portugal in Bern.

Despite his busy schedule, he was kind enough to grant an audience to yours truly, who wished to present to him a copy of his book ‘Como Sobreviver Na Selva Empresarial’.

It happened to be a day when the soaring day temperature had left denizens of Berne gasping for breath and scurrying for cover. To match the heat outside, the Embassy of Portugal in Switzerland offered a degree of bonhomie and warmth, much like the genial and affable disposition of the people of Portugal.

An informal meeting took place in his tastefully done up office. He was genial, graceful and dignified. The frankness with which he spoke and the warmth he exuded was typical of the people of character, resource and rich culture he represents.

It transpired that he had also had a stint in India. He spoke warmly of his positive feel about the country. He touched upon its rich ancient culture and the diversity of its citizens. Yet another emerging economy he had been posted to in the past was that of Brazil.

He mentioned that he has himself authored and published a book which captures his experiences in a long and successful career. Yours truly expressed a wish that some kindly publisher might bring it out in English as well, so the wisdom contained therein may get shared more widely.

He was happy to know that yours truly had been associated with the Tata group for close to a decade, that too in the field of leather footwear and components. The courtesy extended to an ordinary soul from an emerging economy like India was impeccable.

Diplomats represent all that their land is and aspires to be. Much like Ms. Clara Nunes dos Santos, the Ambassador of Portugal to Norway (whom yours truly had the opportunity to meet recently), Mr. José Manuel Castro Santiago is also no exception. One has no doubt that both of them handle managerial challenges coming their way with characteristic aplomb.

One wishes them and their country a great innings in the days to come.

(Notes:

This is how you can lay your hands on the Portuguese version of the book, launched in Portugal during March, 2016, courtesy Liberty Seguros and Vida Economica.

The English version of the book, entitled ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’, was released recently.

Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/a-meeting-with-the-ambassador-of-portugal-in-norway)

 

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Celebrating the first anniversary of having launched a book in Portuguese in March 2016.

English version to follow soon….!

ashokbhatia

Surviving in the Corporate Jungle

BookFrontCover

This is a short introduction to a book by yours truly, the Portugese version of which is getting launched in Portugal shortly. The launch event  in Porto is planned on the 2nd of March, along with a talk on “Work Life Harmony” at the  Catolica Porto Business School  of  Universidade Catolica do Porto. The launch event in Lisbon is planned at Universidade Europeia on the 3rd of March, 2016, as part of an event titled ‘Passport to India.’

How this book happened

Forty years back, the School of Business at a prestigious university in India made a big mistake. They awarded me a degree in Business Management. They were so very happy to see me off the campus that they even awarded a silver medal to me.

I owe this book to my professors – some of whom taught so well that I learnt a…

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Surviving in the Corporate Jungle

BookFrontCover

This is a short introduction to a book by yours truly, the Portugese version of which is getting launched in Portugal shortly. The launch event  in Porto is planned on the 2nd of March, along with a talk on “Work Life Harmony” at the  Catolica Porto Business School  of  Universidade Catolica do Porto. The launch event in Lisbon is planned at Universidade Europeia on the 3rd of March, 2016, as part of an event titled ‘Passport to India.’

How this book happened

Forty years back, the School of Business at a prestigious university in India made a big mistake. They awarded me a degree in Business Management. They were so very happy to see me off the campus that they even awarded a silver medal to me.

I owe this book to my professors – some of whom taught so well that I learnt a lot. Others taught so poorly that I had to study some subjects on my own. So, I developed extra interest in such subjects!

I also owe this book to my bosses, colleagues and subordinates. Some of them were as tough as nails. They were a terror and kept me awake most nights.

Others were tough but deceptively soft and sweet on the outside.

Some were so systematic that I dreaded any of my difficult targets getting entered into their bulky diaries. Once the entry was there, reminders after reminders kept pouring in, keeping me forever on my toes.

Some were so chaotic in their working that I was often roped in to assist them.

Why this book happened

The creative juices sloshing about within me bear the full responsibility for this book to have come about.

It was an inner urge to share my learning with managers and executives of all sizes, stature and shapes that made me start compiling my observations. The result is this book.

So, the book you will have with you soon enough is like a management summary of a part of the life I have led for around forty years, practising as well as observing the science and art of management.

As a senior manager with Tatas, the largest and the most respected business group in India, as also in several other companies which are large corporates and single owner driven outfits, I have seen delightful facets of management.

Why in Europe?

One has had personal as well as professional relations with individuals and corporates in several countries in Europe. Portugal is an important member of the European Union. The fact that most management lessons are universal in nature also helped.

Sacking an employee in Timbuktu is as difficult as an employee in Germany of UK. Motivating a team member could be as challenging in India as in Portugal. Yes, the social context is different. The economy may be chugging along in a different manner. But the art of getting work done has universal principles.

When your boss calls you, looks you in the eye, and asks you to go and sell a refrigerator to someone on the North Pole, you know you are in serious trouble. Further, if he flatters you by saying that you are the only one who can do it, you realize you are being handed a pink slip.

CEO World

I also happen to be one of the Founding Members of CEO World, an innovative start-up in Portugal. One of the services it offers to CEOs world over is that of engagement with their peers in diverse businesses and continents; Peer Groups which are virtual in nature and work on video conferencing basis. The challenges faced by CEOs get shared in an open manner, without any competitive risks, in an atmosphere of mutual trust and complete confidence. This broadens the vistas of managerial wisdom of all the participants and improves the capacity of a CEO to face challenges better.

Statutory Warning

The messages you would find in this book are serious, their packaging is not. The idea is to make you chuckle and see if there is any solution to the present challenges that you face. The book does not offer any problem-solving guarantees.

If you do make the mistake of owning a copy, ensure that your boss or your girlfriend are not able to lay their hands on it.

If you do not find anything of use here, simply gift it to someone you hate.

This is how you can lay your hands on it.

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SQIt would not be wrong to say that in today’s world, a relentless pursuit of wealth and material belongings has left a deep scar on our souls. Many of us are twiddling our thumbs trying to figure out either how to de-stress ourselves or how to keep fighting those depressive blues. There is a nagging emptiness within and the mind boggles as to why and how it has come about. Most of us have no clue as to what could be done about it.

Redefining ‘Success’ and ‘Happiness’

One way out of this dilemma is to perhaps redefine our concepts of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’. What do these terms really mean? When we dig deeper, we might find that these two are not really dependent on external factors. There is an inner connection somewhere.

Something very elaborate, say a long well-planned vacation, might not yield the emotional high that we expected. On the contrary, a post-dinner spontaneous outing for a late night ice cream binge could leave us elated.

Why do some things make us happy and others do not? We love beauty. We cherish humour. We like being appreciated and being loved. We love doing something ‘different’. Anything which connects us to our inner selves tends to make us happy. A movie or a work of fiction which we are able to relate to relaxes us. Exploring new frontiers and visiting new places often makes us happy. Perhaps the soul revels in its experience of exploration when we were cave-dwellers and hunters!

A paradigm shift could perhaps help. If ‘success’ ceases to be about the property we own, the social respect and fame we enjoy, and the high and mighty ‘connections’ we boast of, we might arrive at a different picture of ourselves. The quality of sleep we get. The inner glow of satisfaction we have when we leave our place of work for the day. The love we get when we get back home after a hard day’s work. A change in perspective brings about a stupendous transformation in how we think and feel. Our attitude becomes positive.

Materialism, Big Data and Perception Management

This is not to say that materialism is bad, per se. To satisfy one’s needs is a basic requirement of life. But we often end up over-doing it. Also, we fail to distinguish between our needs and our desires. Needs may be satiated easily. But desires have a tendency to regenerate and evolve, keeping us engaged. Desires keep making us run after an illusory rainbow which forever keeps drifting away from us.

Marketing professionals invariably target their products, services and communications at our desires. With the advent of Big Data, promotional campaigns are becoming far more segment-focused. We hear of ‘evidence-based decision making’ or ‘actionable information’. Even public policies are getting framed and aggressively communicated by governments to promote the feel good factor, whereas ground realities might show only a marginal improvement. Managing perceptions is essentially about catering to the desires of the average person. Fulfilling genuine needs can take a back seat.

Enter – Spiritual Quotient

Another way of striking a balance between materialism and spirituality is to become aware of our Spiritual Quotient; that is, our ability to understand and comprehend the spiritual aspects of life. In other words, moving on from the world of mind and heart to the realm of our inner selves.

When we move on from IQ to SQ, we move from the gross to the subtle, from the finite to the infinite, from tangible to the intangible.

Those who have a high SQ have this uncanny ability to be creative and insightful in their approach to problem solving. They build up their level of self-awareness and there intuitive faculties. They realize that there is a realm of intelligence which is beyond the five senses our bodies are endowed with.

IQ is what sees us through academic pursuits. EQ is what we gain by experiencing life. SQ is something of which we become aware a little later in our life.

IQ can be readily measured. EQ can also be estimated, though not with the same level of precision that IQ can be. However, SQ does not lend itself to easy measurement. All its attributes happen to be subjective in nature. By observing a person for a long time, one can perhaps estimate her SQ more realistically.

How relevant is SQ to a business?

SQ has several components: gratitude, self-esteem, self-awareness, consciousness, compassion, surrender, service and ego. Let us attempt to examine its relevance in the lives of individuals and business entities.

  • A sense of gratitude can make a practicing manager humble. She is able to see her own station in life/career more objectively. External factors or people who have played an important role in her career advancement become easily apparent. Team members, peers as well as superiors invariably end up liking her better. In turn, this fuels a better rate of career enrichment.
  • Self-esteem makes it easier for a manager to say a categorical ‘no’ when the situation demands so. It also leads to better levels of self-confidence. When negative news is to be conveyed to a team member who is not performing on all six cylinders, a manager with a higher degree of self-esteem can look her in the eye and tackle the situation head-on. Effectiveness improves.
  • Leaders and managers with a higher degree of self-awareness tend to be more successful. They are able to reprimand someone without letting it affect their own inner well-being. They are better at identifying appropriate moments to convey what they wish to communicate. They are better at radiating their sunny disposition to those around them, thereby improving morale and securing better results for the business.
  • A higher level of consciousness makes a manager connect better with others. The realization dawns that the team member or the stakeholder being addressed is yet another entity blessed with unique qualities and, hence, has to be treated at par. The challenge being faced by the other, as also the innate capacity of the person to handle it – both get factored in the line of action being suggested. Based on this approach, even large businesses can be shut down without much recrimination or hurt.
  • Compassion is a logical fall-out of a higher level of consciousness. A distributor or a supplier facing a financial crunch might feel repulsed at being pitied. But a compassionate gesture which addresses his immediate concerns can build a relationship rooted in mutual faith, loyalty and genuine respect. A manager who prevails upon his CFO and gets even a post-dated cheque issued to a hapless supplier ends up winning corporate loyalty. When Taj Hotel faces a terror attack, the whole company gears up to rehabilitate and reward the affected staff.
  • Surrender does not imply an abject abdication, but a well nuanced and calibrated acceptance of the reality at hand. A company which has nurtured an iconic brand over several decades may suddenly need to shift gears so as to match the change in its market demand. A new business vertical which utilizes a core competency of the group may need to be entered into. Flexibility and fleet-footedness in business is a sine qua non for long-term survival and growth.
  • A sense of service is what leads to sustainability. When an IT major like Infosys decides to compensate its carbon footprints by providing green products to rural households, it makes eminent sense. When a MNC like HUL decides to use a government scheme like MNREGA to create water potential for farmers in one of the most water-starved areas of India, it is servicing the society it draws its inputs from. When an Air Asia flight goes down killing all passengers on board, the CEO resorts to Twitter to keep the anxious relatives updated. When the Tata group sets up a Center of Performing Arts, as also institutions like TIFR, TISS and IIS, a value of giving back something to society becomes manifest.
  • Managing ego is at the core of the art of managing things. A manager who allows herself to be treated like a door-mat could disappear from a company’s landscape pretty soon. Another one who is forever having an ego clash with people around her would also not survive in the long run. What is required by a manager to be successful is a fine balance between the two extremes, buttressed by a strong sense of self-esteem.

Dr Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar, in their 2001 book, SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence, say that ‘while computers have IQ and animals can have EQ, it is essentially an SQ that sets human beings apart.’

It follows that to have a smooth ride in life, all three – IQ, EQ and SQ – have to be relied upon equally by all of us – whether in our personal lives or in our businesses.

A disruptive future

Technology is changing the way we live, think, behave and feel. The rate of change is only going to go up in future. Leaders, managers and even individuals with a high level of SQ are bound to have a better chance of tasting success in the decades to come.

It is time to still our brains, rein in our emotions and start building up our Spiritual Quotients!

(Caricature drawn by Sanket is gratefully acknowledged)

(Related posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/spirituality-in-management

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/grooming-future-business-leaders-a-spiritual-approach-part-1)

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Management X Y Z

The art of managing people has been analysed in great detail by theorists in the past, and commendably so. McGregor was bang on target when he came up with the X and Y approach to managing people. Also, Robert R. Blake and Jane Mouton came up with their Management Grid concept, where the X-axis has ‘Concern for Production’ and the Y-axis has ‘Concern for People’. This proved to be a very useful tool to classify leadership styles.

With due respects to the brilliant work done by those mentioned earlier, one would like to make the concept of a Management Grid more contemporary by adding a new dimension, Z. This axis covers our ‘Concern for Ethics and Values’.

Based on the concept of this grid, leadership styles may well be categorized as follows:

1,1,1: Charmless Charlies
One can only wish their organizations the best of luck.

9,1,1: Road Rollers
They would achieve a target by ruthlessly crushing anything that comes in their way.

1,9,1: Sponge Comforters
As long as employees have an identity crisis, they are in high demand, ready with a bucket and a towel to listen to their woes and comfort them.

9,9,1: Arsonist Achievers
Under them, short-term goals would get achieved. Means be damned.

1,1,9: Missionary Zealots
Saint-like souls who have willy-nilly ventured into the business world.

9,1,9: Crazy Conformists
Those working under them could soon get referred to a lunatic asylum.

1,9,9: Armchair Revolutionists
They could be assets to political outfits owing an allegiance to some outdated doctrines.

5,5,5: Incompetent Chiefs
A middle-level successful manager on whom greatness has been thrust by a benevolent fate.

9,9,9: Super Leaders
A balanced Chief Executive Officer who leads his team successfully in the long run. To be spotted, head-hunted, and hired without further delay.

When it comes to corporate governance, most businesses are driven more by greed than by the norms of propriety. Compliance with statutory provisions and indulging in tax avoidance rather than blatant tax evasion are given a short shrift. As a repercussion, we end up having more controls and complex laws, thereby making non-compliance even more attractive.

The good news is that there are indeed enlightened businesses and right thinking managers who score high on the Z-axis as well. Such businesses have been around for more than a century and have done well for themselves; they have also given back to society in terms of advanced medical facilities, support to fine arts and sports, and several other Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. The Tata group of India is a shining example of the same.

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When a finer member of our species becomes the part of an all-men group, the results are obvious – better focus on the job at hand, a far more effective team, higher levels of decency and a groundswell of chivalrous overtures.

Chamaiporn Uerpairojkit

Chamaiporn Uerpairojkit

Better still, if she happens to be a CEO, we have a boardroom which is painted a deeper shade of pink, thereby driving away the boredom from the drab proceedings. We also have a crackling company which is more result-oriented and has better empathy while dealing with diverse stakeholders. We are also likely to get a greener and cleaner business entity which believes in corporate ethics and good governance.

In the Pink of Health

Several studies done in far-flung countries such as USA, France and Vietnam have shown that companies led by women deliver better financial results. A McKinsey study compared the top-quartile of companies in terms of share of women  in executive committees against companies that have all-male executive committees. It found that the former companies exceeded the latter by 41% in return on equity and by 56% in operating results.

Two studies have shown that companies with significant numbers of top women managers do better when compared to competitors in the same sector. The improved performance is in both in terms of such organizational aspects as innovation and accountability as also in terms of profit.

Wang Feng Ying

Wang Feng Ying

The tipping point is the key: At three members of the board, the benefits of women start to make a real difference. It appears that with that critical mass, female board members are more likely to come up with challenging questions and encourage the entire group to arrive at a more inclusive and better decision.

There are also studies which negate this view. The Credit Suisse Research Institute, acknowledging that it is hard to make sense of the many confusing and contradictory findings, came up with its own analysis. The study suggested that better performance by companies with female board members does not necessarily suggest that the women led to the stronger performance; it could also mean that companies that are financially successful tend to be more inclusive. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that “more balance on the board brings less volatility and more balance through the cycle.”

Eva Chen

Eva Chen

The Global Scenario

A Grant Thornton International Business Report released earlier this year concluded that 49 per cent of CEOs in Thailand are women, which is the highest proportion in the world. The global ratio was reported to be 24 per cent of senior management roles filled by women, up from 21 per cent in 2012 and 20 per cent in 2011.

In general, ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific regions are ahead of the global average with 32 and 29 percent female proportions, respectively. Vietnam and the Philippines are in the top 10, with 37 per cent of senior posts in the Philippines being held by women, down by two percentage points from 2012.

Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita

Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita

The G-7 economies appeared at the bottom of the league table with just 21 per cent of senior roles occupied by women. This compares to 28 per cent in the BRIC economies and a remarkable 40 per cent in the Baltic countries.

Japan was the worst performer with just 7 per cent of senior roles occupied by women. UK (19 per cent) and the USA (20 per cent) were reported to be within the bottom eight countries for women in senior management. In contrast, top of the table for women in senior management – not only CEOs – is China, with 51 per cent.

The report also revealed that proportion of women in senior positions depends on the sector under consideration. More than double the number of positions in the global healthcare sector was occupied by women than in construction or mining. The most popular top management position for women was reported to be chief financial officer, while chief information officer was the least.

If Thailand has Chamaiporn Uerpairojkit as a President of Henkel, Australia has Veronica Johns heading Fiat Chrysler’s operations down under. Di Humphries takes care of Pumpkin Patch in New Zealand, whereas Wang Feng Ying looks after the Great Wall Motor Company in China.

Eva Chen is the CEO of Trend Micro of Japan. Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita oversees the operations of Arcelor Mittal South Africa Limited.

Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala

Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala

Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala fusses over Group Modelo in Mexico.

Women on Top

Globally, women have made it to the top in diverse sectors of businesses, ranging from IT, FMCG, chemicals, social media and banking. According to a Deloitte study, women comprise 12.5 percent of board directors on ASX 200 companies in Australia. Fortune lists an impressive array of powerful women, globally as also in USA. Think Ginni Rometty of IBM, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Ellen Kullman of DuPont, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and you get a part of the picture in USA alone.

The European Commission proposed new rules last year to require companies listed in EU countries with more than 250 workers to have 40 percent of women on their boards by 2020. But Germany and other EU countries resisted, arguing that rules should be set at the national level.

Ginni Rometty

Ginni Rometty

According to German media reports, women currently hold about 12 percent of corporate board seats. Among the 30 largest DAX companies, women have 101 of the 488 board seats, or 22 percent, according to the DSW, Germany’s largest association of private investors. Coalition compulsions have now made the Angela Merkel government to introduce a legislation that will require German firms to allot 30 per cent of their non-executive board seats to women from 2016.

Norway, which is not an EU member, imposed a 40 per cent quota in 2003, a target reached in 2009. Norwegian companies can be liquidated if they fail to reach the target. However, a recent study by two University of Michigan professors shows that a government mandated quota led to younger and less experienced boards, thereby putting the businesses to higher risk.

In UK, the Cranfield report came up with the assertion that women hold more than one in five (21.8%) of non-executive FTSE 100 posts but still only account for little over one in 17 (5.8%) executive roles. That means there are just 18 women executive directors in Britain’s top boardrooms, against 292 men. Perhaps more alarming still, the Cranfield study found, among the broader top management tier at FTSE 100 firms – the key decision-making groups, known as executive committee members – the representation of women had fallen dramatically, down from 18.1% in 2009 to 15.3% today.

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi

Susan Vinnicombe, co-author of the Cranfield report, suggested this shrinking pool of top-flight women managers made it harder for progress to be made with chief executive and finance director appointments. “Despite women dominating the fields of human resources, law and marketing … [executive positions in the boardroom] are still going to men, who are being promoted internally over experienced female candidates.”

Annika Falkengren heads SEB, a Swedeish Bank. Angela Ahrendts takes care of Burberry in UK, while Jonella Ligresti oversees the operations of Fondiaria-SAI of Italy.

Wanted: Women Directors in India

In India, men make up 94.7 per cent of the boardroom. A survey conducted by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) earlier this year, across Commonwealth countries, found that India has one of the lowest percentiles of women in senior management positions, second only to Pakistan among the countries surveyed. In many cases, even when women are present in the board, they usually tend to be “sleeping partners”.

Kalpana Morparia

Kalpana Morparia

With the new Companies Act coming in force in India, mandating women’s representation on boards, companies are searching far and wide for good candidates. Naina Lal Kidwai of HSBC, Kalpana Morparia of JP Morgan and  Renuka Ramnath of Multiples Alternate Asset Management are all busy running their own companies. It does not help that top women bankers like Chanda Kochhar and Shikha Sharma cannot be tapped because RBI rules do not allow bank CEOs to be on the boards of other companies except by rare special permission.

The first woman to head the SBI in its 206 year old history, Arundhati Bhattacharya, recently made headlines by joining the elite group of women who control banks and financial outfits in India.

Mallika Srinivasan is a well-known thought leader and strategist, heading TAFE. Vinita Bali heads Britannia, whereas Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw steers Biocon. Roshni Nadar takes care of HCL Corporation. Debjani Ghosh heads Intel’s operations in South Asia.

Chanda Kochhar

Chanda Kochhar

One of the highly respected business groups from India, Tatas, is already on a gender-diversity overdrive. Falugni Nayar, Vishakha Mulye and Ireena Vittal have recently joined select companies of the group.

A case in point is that of ICICI Bank where winds of a subtle change are blowing. Chanda Kochhar is making the company transform its work culture from a stress-ridden one to a more relaxed one. She has drawn an internal road-map to make the bank a service-led and not a distribution-led organization. One of the key challenges the bank is handling is to tone down aggression without losing its USP of being a dynamic and result-oriented organization.

According to information available in the public domain, out of India’s top 100 listed companies, 34 do not have any women directors. Demand for proven, independent women who are well experienced in board service, possess the required domain or functional skill experience and fit the culture of a company far outstrips supply.

Mallika Srinivasan

Mallika Srinivasan

In India, gender diversity is more pronounced in the banking sector. By nature, men and women are not better bankers. The conditioning by society perhaps plays a more important role in shaping up women’s skills in money management. One, they carry the burden of balancing the household budget. Two, they tend to be thrifty because they have to manage the household affairs within the resources provided by the bread-winner of the family.

The Glass Ceiling of Corporate Frauds

A study reported in one of the recent issues of the American Sociological Review found that only 9 percent of people involved in high-level financial  corporate conspiracies are women. The study also shows that female criminals stole less than their male counterparts. The study proposes that this could be happening because men see women as less criminally competent.

However, according to a survey of nearly 1400 global fraud cases from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, at the lower levels, women

Roshni Nadar Malhotra

Roshni Nadar Malhotra

made up 45 percent of the culprits. But at all levels, women steal less than their men counterparts. The difference lay in that women do it for a specific reason or purpose, whereas men tend to do it for longer periods, more as a habit of sorts. Women are brought up with an ‘ethic of care’ which means they are less likely to behave in a manner which hurts others.

Have Daughter, Be Gentler

In another study covering more than 10,000 Danish companies, a study done by Michael Dahl, Cristian Dezso and David Gaddis Ross found that CEOs paid lesser salaries to their staff after having had a son. But there was no reduction when they had a daughter! The hypothesis appears to be that daughters tend to make fathers more gentle and caring.

Studies led by Alice Eagly demonstrate that women tend to give more than their male counterparts in close relationships than men.

The Pink Shades of Philanthropy

Bill Gates believes that his mother Mary and wife Melinda are behind his philanthropic initiatives. At a wedding in 1993, Mary read out a letter she had written to Melinda: ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.’

It is quite likely that with more women at the helm of affairs, organizations may take their environmental and social responsibilities more seriously.

The Gender Bender 

Women tend to be more balanced and meticulous in their approach. Giving care and offering empathy comes naturally to them. Look across various companies and one would notice that most HR departments are wo-manned.

Annika Falkengren

Annika Falkengren

When it comes to the impact of women heading organizations, the jury is perhaps still out. Recently, professors at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and the University of Edinburgh examined two thousand firms and found that larger companies with bigger boards were more likely to add women. In other words, better performance was not necessarily due to women power in the top echelons.

In India, the challenge is to keep up a continuous supply of leadership talent of the delicately nurtured. This can be met only by progressive HR policies of organizations which proactively offer a level playing field to women enabling them to break the corporate glass ceilings.

Just as the Norway example has shown, it is debatable whether introduction of a government mandated quota is a good move. Yes, it does force

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

companies to do some soul-searching and ensure better succession planning while placing greater emphasis on gender parity. A positive beginning gets made. Over the long run, such steps would surely improve corporate governance levels and possibly check the cancer of graft and corruption nibbling away at the roots of India’s vibrant democracy.

Gender bias is deep-rooted in our psyche. Cultural bias and stereotyping restrains women from realizing their full potential. With her book ‘Lean In: Women, Work and Will to Lead’, Sheryl Sandberg has recently brought back the agenda of gender inequality on the global conversation map.

From Capitalism to Idea-ism

We are rapidly moving from capitalism to ‘idea-ism’ where the definition of capital is getting enlarged with each passing decade. The term capital covers not only the material and financial resources but also its softer and gentler variety – intellectual resources. In a world of this nature, gender parity can bring in a hitherto latent capital. A more efficient use of the same would be a key driver of competitiveness in the days to come.

The moves to paint our ‘bored-rooms’ a deeper shade of pink are endeavors in the right direction. Howsoever long it takes to achieve gender parity in business circles, the journey has begun.

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Just like ‘Ramayana’, the epic of ‘Mahabharata’ also has many management lessons for the present day business leaders and managers. Greed, jealousy, quest for power, trying to achieve goals irrespective of the fairness of the means deployed – all these contradictions in life are very poignantly brought out.

Here are some lessons which could be drawn from the epic.

  • Merit over Birth

When it comes to announcing a successor to his vast kingdom, King Bharata does not choose any of his own sons. Instead, he namesMahabharat King Bharat Bhumanyu whom he considers more capable to manage the affairs of his kingdom. In a dynastic rule, seeds of democracy are thus sown.

In India Inc’s power rankings, professional CEOs are on the rise. Three of the top ten in the 2013 edition of ‘India Inc’s Most Powerful CEOs’ are professionals. Five years back, K V Kamath was the only professional in the top ten.

In a reversal of an openly declared of Infosys, Chairman N R Narayana Murthy recently stirred a hornet’s nest by insisting on bringing his own son as a team member. Only time will tell if the decision pays of; as of now, seniors in the company are a bit shaken up with the move.

  • Commitment

For his father Shantanu’s happiness, Bhishma swears never to marry. Throughout his life, he remains committed to the kingdom of Hastinapur. Despite his difference of opinion with Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana, and despite his obvious fondness for the Pandavas, he leads a vast army against the latter. However, his conduct is very transparent; he openly tells Duryodhana that though he is fighting for Kauravas, he shall not harm any of the Pandavas.

On the flip side, Bhishma also sets the example of a senior professional who overstays his welcome!

Many organizations have deeply committed silent performers who stick by it irrespective of the business ups and downs being faced. Business houses which follow a healthy set of values do end up attracting more such professionals whose value systems match with their own. In times of crisis, such people tend to be pillars of strength for the company. However, there could be situations when they need to be taken on board merely as advisors and not as executors, so younger blood in the organization also gets a chance to prove its mettle.

  • Failures are Stepping Stones

Bhishma abducts three sisters – Amba, Ambika and Ambalika – to get them married to Vichitravirya. However, Amba claims she is already in love with Salya and cannot accept anyone else as her life partner. Eventually, she is rejected by both Bhishma and her own ex-lover Salya. She takes this failure as a challenge and ends up being born as a person of mixed gender –Shikhandi – in King Drupad’s family. Eventually, he/she becomes the cause of Bhishma’s death in the battlefield.

Those who take their failures as a challenge have the capacity to introspect. They identify their weaknesses and take steps to excel in areas in which their arch rival is strong. Ultimately, victory is theirs.

  • Promises are like Babies!

Just like babies, promises are easy to make but difficult to keep. When they are studying together, Drupad, a prince, and Mahabhata KurukshetraDronacharya, a commoner, become good friends. Drupad light-heartedly tells Dronachrya that once he grows up to become a king, he would be happy to share half of his kingdom with Dronacharya. However, once they grow up, Drupad reneges on his statement and even mocks Dronacharya in his court. The result is life-long bitter rivalry between the two which spills onto the battle field, with Dronachrya on the Kaurava’s side and Drupad on the Pandava’s side.

CEOs who promise a promotion merely to achieve short-term results often find that the promotee eventually reaches his level of incompetence at lightning speed, embarrassing all concerned. Smart HR honchos never make promises which they know cannot be kept. Same goes for marketing wizards who fear a severe backlash from customers should the product not live up to the latter’s expectations.

  • Destructive Attachment

Contrast the behavior of King Bharata to that of Dhritarashtra. He has an obsessive attachment to his evil son. He permits the Pandavas to proceed to Varnavat where, by his son’s evil designs, they are persuaded to stay at a house constructed of inflammable materials. He allows a deceptive game of dice, making the Pandavas lose their part of the kingdom. In his presence, Draupadi, his daughter-in-law, is insulted in his royal court. Bhishma, Vidur, Krishna and several others attempt to persuade him to rein in the unbridled ambition of his son Duryodhana, but to no avail. The result is a terrible war leading to devastation of the kingdom.

CEOs who promote their sycophants without assessing the overall welfare of an organization get doomed likewise.

  • Concentration

Multi-tasking is a buzzword in professional circles. But Arjuna displays a kind of concentration which involves a complete focus on Mahabharat Swayamvara_Draupadi_Arjuna_Archerythe task at hand. In the process, he evolves into an excellent archer of his times. Whether it is the bird whose eyes alone he is able to see before shooting his arrow, or the rotating fish whose eye he has to pierce based on the image cast in the water urn placed below in the court of King Drupada, he excels in accomplishing the task at hand.

Managers who look satisfied with their day’s work would invariably share the same secret with you – of having done something satisfactorily that day! Aiming for perfection, they are at least able to excel in the tasks at hand. And focusing on one thing at a time surely helps!

  • Perseverance

Notice the kind of setbacks Pandavas get to suffer in their lives. They survive the insidious designs of their Kaurava cousins at Varanavat. After losing their kingdom and wealth to Kauaravas in an unfair game of dice, they undergo an exile for twelve years in forests. This is followed by a year of remaining incognito, which they do so in King Virata’s palace. When a peace proposal gets discussed with Kauravas, Yudhishthira offers to settle the dispute between the brothers by being content with ownership of five villages only. Even this gets turned down by Duryodhana.

The tenacity of bouncing back in the face of adversity that Pandavas display is worth emulating. Many MNCs are put off by the way the Indian market is skewed – with a miniscule share of the well-heeled who have global exposure and a vast majority of common people who aspire for reliable products and services at highly discounted prices. GE and Nestle have learnt their lessons. McDonald’s, KFC, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Café Coffee Day in the fast food business have also sharpened their teeth by offering mouth-watering menus in the range of INR 44-119!

  • United We Stand

The mother of Pandavas, Kunti, delivers a master stroke by getting Draupadi to accept all the five brothers as her husbands. The result is a whole unified family which goes through its trials and tribulations as a single unit. Each of the brothers has a USP – if Yudhishthira is the epitome of virtue upholding ‘dhrama’ (righteousness) at all costs, Bhima and Arjuna are great warriors who have to be kept on a tight leash, impatient as they are in extracting revenge from Kauravas. Nakula and Sahdeva have their own unique qualities. Together, the five brothers form a multi-skilled and invincible team.

Large conglomerates like Tatas often sound similar in their overall configuration. Each company within the group’s fold has a unique place in the market. Each is headed by a stalwart who is a subject specialist in the field. The companies operate in fields as disparate as salt and software. Yet, all of them are connected by a common value system and a similar business philosophy.

  • Draupadi Syndrome

Juggling between five husbands is no mean task and Draupadi appears to handle it rather well.

In what are euphemistically known as “matrix” organizations these days, reporting to several bosses at the same time could be a Mahabharat Draupadi_and_Pandavaschallenging experience. One has to learn to balance each boss’ expectations against those of others. Much depends on their relative seniority or clout in the company, based on which one could handle the situation. Of course, it does not pay to pitch one of the bosses against the other, whether directly or indirectly!

  • Excellence in Governance

When Indrapastha is built, Pandavas rule in a fair and just manner. They do not stray from the path of righteousness, thereby winning the love and affection of their subjects. They rule for thirty-six years before falling prey to an unfair game of dice.

Excellence in governance is a vital condition for a business leader to command respect amongst his team members. Taking good care of people is an important part of governance. The HR initiatives taken by the Tata group after The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was targeted in a terrorist attack on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai, go on to show how well the company cares for its employees.  

  • Being Impartial

In the Yaksha episode, Yudhishthira is asked as to which of his four brothers he would wish to be brought back to life. He chooses Nakula. When queried, he justifies his choice by explaining that of the five of them, three (himself, Bhima and Arjuna) were born to Kunti and two (Nakula and Sahdeva) to his father’s second wife, Madri. Since he is alive, Kunti is only partially bereaved. Likewise, let Madri also be partially bereaved – hence his choice of Nakula. Pleased at this, Yaksha revives all the four remaining brothers.

Being impartial does not come easy to a leader. However, this is indeed the mark of a true statesman.

  • Loyalty to Boss

Karna faces humiliation at the hands of Pandavas for not being born in a royal family. Duryodhana realizes his potential as an ally and immediately comes forward to confer kingship upon him. They become life-long friends. Karna’s loyalty towards Duryodhana is so strong that even after realizing that he is the eldest of the five Pandavas, he chooses to fight against them, for Duryodhana.

Here is an example of unflinching loyalty to a boss!

  • Yin and Yang

India has a great tradition of real men displaying not only their macho side, but also their effeminate and softer side. The great yin yangwarrior Arjuna spends a whole year incognito in King Virata’s palace, disguised as the eunuch Brihannala, teaching music and dance. One of his pupils, Princess Uttara, ends up becoming his daughter-in-law who gives birth to Parikshit who eventually inherits the kingdom when Pandavas decide to retire.

There is increasing realization amongst corporates in contemporary times to encourage females to assume leadership roles. Companies like Diageo, Cadbury, Coca Cola and others are making conscious efforts in that direction.

Bringing a better gender balance at the board level is the current buzzword. Leading businessmen are hiring icons of the stature of Deepak Parekh, G M Rao, Mukeeta Jhaveri and a host of others to mentor women who can shoulder board level responsibilities in the days to come.

  • Juniors First

When a decision has to be taken as to who should lead the Pandava army in the war, Yudhishthira first consults Sahadeva, the junior most brother.

This approach has several spin-offs. It instills enthusiasm and self-confidence in the younger managers. If the seniors are consulted first, others may not be able to speak with freedom, and even honest differences of opinion may get construed as disrespect.

  • Strategy and Leadership

In a careful reading of the major turning events in the whole narrative, Krishna emerges as an eminent strategist. He keeps Draupadi’s frustration under check. He knows that Kauravas would never agree to let Pandavas have their share of the kingdom in a peaceful manner. Yet, he himself goes to plead their cause so that peace is given a last chance.

In the battle that ensues, he virtually leads the 7 divisions of Pandavas’ army to a decisive win against the 11 divisions of Kauravs’ Mahabharat Disrobing_of_Draupadiarmy. The manner in which Krishna persuades a demoralized Arjuna to take up his arms by enunciating the basic principles of life in the Bhagavad-Gita is exemplary.

One of the basic concepts enunciated by Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita is that of the everlasting nature of the soul. The concept of a soul now finds a resonance even in modern management literature. In ‘The 8th Habit’, Stephen Covey urges professionals to pay heed to their ‘inner voice’. While proposing the whole person paradigm, he speaks of the four dimensions of a person – spirit, body, heart and mind.

Coming back to ‘Mahabharata’, all mighty warriors on the Kauaravas’ side fall with specific inputs from Krishna. In case of Bhishma, Arjuna attacks him standing behind Shikhandi. Dronacharya is misled to believe that his son Ashwatthama has fallen at the behest of Krishna. When Duryodhana appears to be invincible in his mace fight with Bhima, he gestures to the latter to hit the former below the navel, thereby incapacitating him. When Balarama gets upset with Bhima for having broken a cardinal principle in his final fight with Duryodhana, Krishna intervenes to pacify him by reminding him of the several injustices perpetrated by the Kauravas on Pandavas.

Once the war gets over and all his sons have got killed, Dhritarashtra attempts to kill Bhima by crushing him in a close embrace. Krishna is able to read his mind and deftly pushes across a metal statue instead, thereby saving Bhima’s life.

Much like a business leader of modern times, Krishna displays vision, flexibility in approach, resourcefulness and an excellent capacity to command. He is the trouble-shooter par excellence who leads, inspires, guides and motivates.

  • Execution and Followership

If Krishna proves his leadership skills, Pandavas display the skills of being true followers and executors. Yudhishtira, considered an epitome of virtue, agrees to announce the false news of Ashwatthama’s death, thereby leading to Dronacharya getting vanquished. Motivated by him, Arjuna takes up his arms against his grandfather, Bhishma. Bhima listens to Krishna and ends up killing Jarasandha (much earlier in the narrative) and Duryodhana (towards the fag-end of the battle).

Often, seniors in companies lament about the lack of some qualities in their assigned leader. But one needs a sense of humility, Mahabharat Krishna Arjunaconfidence in another’s ability and the motivation to achieve a super-ordinate goal to work as an effective team member. An objective assessment of the situation at hand, unqualified support for the overall goal, registering dissent wherever necessary and balancing the leader’s weaknesses with one’s own strengths are some of the factors which result into better execution of plans.

  • Do Not Take Help for Granted

Nakula and Sahdeva’s uncle, Shalya, decides to offer his big army to Pandavas in the ensuing war. However, on the way to the battle field, Duryodhana extends a very thoughtful and warm hospitality to Shalya’s army. The result is that Shalya becomes obliged to fight his own nephews in the war! Yudhishthira ends up repenting for having taken Shalya’s help for granted without worrying about the needs of the vast army marching on its way with the intention to assist him.

When working on a project, we often take our friends and colleagues for granted. ‘Mahabharata’ exhorts us to first put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, realize his constraints and then only expect to be helped accordingly.

  • Receive Favors with Humility and Alertness

Shalya receives favors from Duryodhana with humility but without alertness. He does not bother to check whose hospitality he and his army are enjoying.

There are days on which a manager may be pleasantly surprised to find himself being unduly praised by seniors. In some cases, this could be a sign of impending doom – of being saddled with an impossible task which others might be loath to pick up! Alertness while accepting praise surely pays.

  • Key to Failure  

As the crown prince of Kauravas, Duryodhana initiates a war which has to be fought under the leadership of commanders who have a soft corner for the Pandavas! With the exception of Karna and his own brothers like Dushasana et al, all his commanders – like Bhishma, Dronacharya and Shalya – are only duty bound to support him. Their real sympathies are with the Pandavas. Thus, he is saddled with an army which is far superior to that of Pandavas in terms of sheer numbers, but sorely lacks in motivation. Duryodhana’s greed, envy and jealousy lead him to his doom.

In the business world, we often come across fool hardy leaders who set their goals so high as to be unrealistic. If a proper assessment of the resources available at their command is not made, failure is bound to follow.

  • Rash Commitments

Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son, gets killed unfairly and the main culprit is held to be Jayadratha. Arjuna is livid with rage and declares that he would kill Jayadrath by the following evening or renounce the world. At a crucial moment in the next day’s war, Krishna intervenes to ensure Arjuna’s victory, bringing relief and joy to all.

Faced with a drastic situation, a professional needs to sit back and think for some time before committing himself to a target which could well turn out to be unattainable.  

  • Knowledge vs. Virtue

One of the sub-plots narrates the story of Arvavasu and Paravasu. Both are sons of a great scholar and become great scholars in their own right by acquiring knowledge. But one turns out to be good and the other evil. Moral of the story – knowledge which remains undigested information crammed into the mind cannot instill virtue in a person. Such knowledge merely remains like our clothes, an external factor in our appearance which does not reveal what we are within ourselves.

Post Lehman Brothers, educational institutions have started taking the issue of instilling the right values in their students seriously. A business leader without a strong moral compass and lacking a set of virtuous values and ethics could lead the business to eventual ruin.

  • Seeking Favors sans Competence

In another sub-plot appears the story of Yavakrida, who craves to master the Vedas without having to study them! He is grudgingly granted a boon to this effect, but eventually dies at the hands of a demon after being charmed by a young maiden.

A true blue professional would surely aim to occupy the coveted corner office, but only after he has done his own SWOT analysis.

  • Avoid Arrogance

One of the several sub-plots in ‘Mahabharata’ is that of Nahusha who falls from grace after having occupied the throne of Indra, king of the Gods. His fall comes about because of sheer arrogance and pride.

Power and pelf bring in severe obligations in their wake. Successful CEOs understand this, take extra care to keep their pride in check and tailor their inter-personal relationships accordingly.

‘Mahabharata’ is rich with several other narratives which could be useful to management practitioners. Also, each narrative may be interpreted in several ways, depending upon how one goes about analyzing it.

References:

  1. ‘Mahabharata’ by C Rajagopalachari.
  2. Adi Parva original.
  3. Bhagavat Purana.
  4. Series by K M Munshi.
  5. Series by Ram Kumar Bhramar.

(Related posts:

    1. https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/management-lessons-from-ramayana
    2. https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/management-lessons-from-the-life-of-lord-krishna)

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