Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Warmth - An essential leadership tool

One of the most important tools of leadership is warmth. That’s something, which can neither be taught to a leader nor can it be acquired.

The gait of true leaders can be recognised from miles away. Their warmth, way of interaction with their colleagues, a gentle pat on the shoulder, a smile or a greeting (without expecting one in return) are powerful conduits of influence that align organisations in the directions of common compelling goals.

I have personally met many alleged leaders in life for whom giving a smile or an involuntary handshake tantamounts to parting away with a family heirloom. But there are no awards for guessing what the future of such companies is. And I have met leaders who exude warmth that can move mountains and instill hope and promise within anyone / any team.

Warmth creates an environment of trust and allows communication of ideas. Ideas make an organisation. Companies that allow ideas to thrive and propagate are the companies that become great.

Warmth also helps you to connect immediately. Connections and interactions based on the bedrock of warmth and on being a genuine human being last a lifetime.

I recently watched ‘The Great Gatsby’ who I thought was an epitome of warmth, love and hope. He was betrayed at the end. But then the world would be bereft of trust if we fear betrayal.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The power of dissent

The best service that a company (striving to become great – if it’s already good) can do to itself, is to allow dissent. More than often the culture ‘my way or highway’ stems from the top, driven by the success or falsely assumed success of entrepreneurs.

When God made man, it’s most unique and efficient creation, he whispered into the man’s ear “you are my best and most intelligent creation amongst all” and every human being lands on this planet with this whisper embedded deep in ones consciousness and really believes in God’s this statement.

And this belief forms the culture of most organisations.

Culture of unilateralism in styles of management, business decisions and decisions pertaining to asset management (read HRM) embeds so deeply amongst one and all that it not only stifles creativity but also embeds a deep sense of fear and everyone in the organisation merely operates at a LCM level of creativity and initiative.

This is the best way to sow the seeds of a below average organisation. Companies must work on its culture very early in their existence because while the alleged change managers might profess and sell their ability to make a difference, the difference is impossible to make-ever. Culture is the hardest thing to change.

Dissent is great tool to cultivate creativity. Allow the junior most guy to walk upto his senior and make the stupidest suggestion and to disagree with something. Develop a culture where everyone has a voice. Create platforms for people to ideate.

There are just 2 basic fundamentals for the success and sustenance of an organisation. The happiness of its associates and the satisfaction/delight of its customers. Everything else (topline, bottomline, cost control, product lifecycle) are subsets of these 2 variables.

Google wasn’t made in a day. But it was made in merely 10 odd years. That’s culture.

Success is a dangerous thing. It makes seemingly smart entrepreneurs to believe that they can’t go wrong. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Remembering a great Man : Some people who made a difference to my life - III

When I first met Sh. O.P. Gupta (OPG) in 2006 he was a man who was going from strength to strength after having established his credentials as a builder of repute in Jamshedpur and establishing townships and retirement homes in Bhiwadi - A rather unsexy place. For me who was only hobnobbing with the British royalty in three previous years, setting up the group’s first hotel in Bhiwadi (then) was far from exciting.

OPG was closely overseeing the construction of this 110 room hotel as that was the group’s first and he used to interact closely with me and advise me from time to time. I was entrusted to set up the hospitality division of the group.

A few distinct memories and ethos on which he laid the foundation of his business are embedded deep in my character. These ideals made him stand out as an outlier in the world of business.

Never grow too fast or recklessly-
I once asked him that while the country is going thru a super boom in real estate, why is his progress so slow. He always wanted to bite what he could chew. 7 years later, top real estate companies (read DLF and Unitech) are reeling under unmanageable debt burden and have completely destroyed the shareholder wealth. The DLF stock, which was once the darling of the markets and most talked about is 85% down since early 2008. Ashiana is the only listed real estate company that has ‘0’ debt on its balance sheet. That has returned 187% in this time where others have wiped out their shareholders.
Lesson – Donot over leverage yourself. When the tide is high its fine, when it turns, you could find yourself standing very very naked.

Care for your employees and consider them your assets-
He would always spend a few mins talking to me and asking about the welfare of my family. He knew everyone in my family and would show concern that I needed to get married at 32 (my age then) and even suggested a few matches. Small gestures and courtesies that he extended towards one and all made him a great man.
Lesson – Care and affection towards your employees add far more value to the balance sheet as compared to a few more zeroes. Ashiana has ‘zero’ attrition.

Treat your customers like God-
The roof of a villa sold by Ashiana leaked during rains. It was a 3 year old villa and outside the guarantee period. On a simple complaint, he made Ashiana spend a couple of lacs repairing the roof and bought the loyalty of hundreds of residents. Ashiana has the highest number of repeat buyers in one or the other of its complexes. This is unheard of, in the real estate industry that is unregulated and undisciplined.
Lesson – Don’t spend millions on marketing and getting ur products endorsed by expensive celebrities. Just treat ur old customers nicely and justly and remain connected to them. They will do the best marketing for you – free of cost.

Don’t grow at the cost of your shareholders-
Ashiana has been very debt averse. OPG never wanted to divest or bring in white collared investment bankers telling him how to run the company. The family owns over 70% of the company and guards its holding fiercely. Listed companies are very very public in nature. Growth can be deceptive and a big sham really.
Lesson - Grow with internal accruals and not by over leveraging. Markets punish you hard if shareholders interest in not paramount for promoters.

I miss you OPG and remember you fondly. You left us for your heavenly journey rather early but you left a lot behind for us in the simplicity and clarity of your thoughts and ideals.
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