Saturday, August 23, 2014

The great Indian election tamasha and the 6 lessons for the CEOs in corporate world

The recent Indian elections have been interesting for more than a few reasons and the resounding victory with which the ‘allegedly fundamentalist and polarising’ BJP came to power has some deep rooted lessons for the senior management in the corporate world. 10 years was a real long time for ‘the messiah of youth’ Rahul to grab this opportunity and redeem the vouchers of confidence that were secured with the grandson of Nehru. But alas this opportunity was skittled away with surgical precision by the Congress.

On the contrary Modi’s BJP showcased the trophies of growth in Gujarat in the successive years of his Chief-Minister-ship, whether utilizing the various propaganda vehicles including smart mobilization of social media and digital technology or conventional ‘marketing’ through unit offices, and made it unavoidably visible for the masses, the brightness of all his achievements in governance and economic growth, often drawing into oblivion his alleged hands in the communal violence that Gujarat became notorious for….

2004 - At the hilt of India Shining and a great progress in preceding years by BJP, it unexpectedly loses. Even exit polls couldn’t predict this rout

Lesson No 1
Performance and success are relative and always subject to criticism. Even at the crest of your career and performance someone else’s expectation from you could be starkly different which can spell doom for your career. Never be sated with your achievements, no matter how big they are. Remain agile and have your ear to the ground viz a viz the expectations of the people observing you (read the board and your bosses).

Manmohan Singh becomes the 14th PM of India when Sonia relinquishes her opportunity. But what follows is a decade of muted and sub optimal performance
Manmohan sigh had etched his position as an honest technocrat and economist but was a failure as a prime minister. Each time the country looked up to him to act / speak he came across as an epitome of non performance and a mute.

Lesson No 2
Have the courage to refuse a position of authority if in the heart of hearts you don’t feel capable enough to deliver. The onus of delivery will always lie with you the CEO. And do not hesitate to stand up in the face of adversity to uphold the morals and abilities that you are expected to demonstrate. Only perceived intelligence is of no consequence – ability, gut and courage to take action to perform is of utmost importance.

66% of India’s voters are below 35 yrs of age and a majority of them first time voters. Congress and Rahul and his coterie of colleagues had everything going for them. Agatha Sanghma with a Masters Degree from Nottingham University in UK, Sachin Pilot – a management graduate from Wharton Business School- University of Pennsylvania, Jyothiraditya Scindya with a Masters Degree from Stanford College in US, Naveen Jindal who has an MBA from University of Texas, Milind Deora – an alumnus of Boston University and Rahul Gandhi – the grandson of the very own Indira Gandhi are only a few to name who had opportunities to influence strategies one or other way to swing the pendulum towards growth and governance. They failed, miserably in every responsibility that was entrusted with them.

Lesson No 3
Remain connected with your customers and remember that you are being judged every minute and all the time. Never bask in the glory of present power or past laurels. It can all vanish in a jiffy. You are only as good as your company s last quarter results and your future is only as good as your last customer’s experience.

‘Acche din aane waale hain’ – made its connect and did its job. Modi had a twitter handle that was reaching out to majority of 150 million young voters. He obscured his age camouflaged in the vehicles available through technology that remained close to the young hearts, and spoke their language, showed them what they liked to see – whether beautifully scripted through the Ogilvy’s of the world or designed by the media moguls – it nonetheless reached their hearts, and remained there. In the vacuum of young leaders, they were willing to be contented with the youthfulness of the aged Modi. In his spirit and confidence, the vote bank believed that India will grow young and vibrant. Their patience is not one that’s tested, but their power has been tested again and again through the movements India witnessed on Nirbhaya case (the girl who was raped and murdered in Delhi) no less powerful than the Arab Spring!

Lesson No 4
Embrace technology as fast as you can while remaining genuine. Keep the leadership messages simple and powerful for your teams. Demonstrate good intent – for good and noble intent can neither be faked nor remains hidden.

Rampant corruption marred the Commonwealth games. It was in the face. Substandard execution of contracts, falling ceiling panels, collapsing foot bridges – the list is infinite. It is believed that billions of dollars were siphoned off by phony companies owned by friends and relatives of people in the managing committee including the chief minister of Delhi and that too under the watch of Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi.

Lesson No 5
Take action and punish the guilty fast enough before its too late. The country expected Rahul and Manmohan singh to publicly ostracise the corrupt and come clean. They failed. In the corporate world you are expected to keep a close watch on the team leaders who have been entrusted with big responsibilities. Any sign of irrecoverable failure should be immediately addressed and bad fish (read lazy and underperforming executives) should be immediately removed with surgical precision. Such team members can take you down and are like cancer who will make organisations hollow. Have the tenacity to accept losses emanating out of genuine mistakes but have zero tolerance towards corruption and mediocrity,

Lesson No 6
Corruption isn’t only defined by financial in-appropriation. Lack of appropriate action at appropriate time despite promises made to the electorate is corruption enough. On those accounts I find Manmohan sigh corrupt. When he came to power he said in his first initial days, “I will commit only what i can deliver” and i still remember those lines. He committed and delivered nothing. The result is there to be seen. A decade of opportunity lost due to policy paralysis. If he was a remote control in the hands of Sonia Gandhi he should have demonstrated the courage as the PM to implement his vision, stand upto his past laurels of being the father of reforms in 1991 or resign publicly for not getting a free hand.

Have the courage to say no if you cannot deliver or aren’t confident of delivering on a responsibility and commit only what you can deliver. The problem arises in ones career when you bite more than you can chew and then falter. As a CEO once you have made a commitment, have the courage to give your life to stand upto it.

Speed of the Boss is the speed of the team. Keep sprinters who can run along-with you and can give you Gatorade at the right time. If team members don’t share your vision, speed and passion – they will only slow you down and destroy the company and eventually You. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Negligible marginal utility of Governments

Circa May 2004. I was holidaying in Binagudi (a remote village in West Bengal) when the India Shining Campaign of the incumbent BJP government was almost set to get them back to power and they lost. Congress put up a good show and Sonia Gandhi / Manmohan Singh was set to become the PM. I had intermittent access to television but saw AB Bardhan (Of Communist party that was to be a key ally of Congress in the Government) come on camera and say “Bhaar mein gaya divestment and Bhaar mein gaya reform” (To hell with privatisation/divestment and to hell with economic reforms).

The nation expected BJP to come back to power and allow the alleged stock market party to continue.

And within minutes all stock markets crashed by over 20% thereby eroding a couple of hundred billion dollars in market cap and trading had to be halted. I wish i had some internet access to invest whatever little money i had because this reaction of the markets was irrational.

Circa May 2009. I was in Warwick a little away from the consciousness of Indian politics and was immersed in the theory of marginal utility and realised that for 2 straight days the stock markets were in an upper circuit, up by 40%, because Congress came back to power and Manmohan sigh was destined to become the PM again. Again irrational exuberance demonstrated by naive citizens of this nation.

The nation suddenly believed that return of congress / Manmohan Singh will be magical. The less said the better about the rout that India saw wrt corruption and inefficiency in years (2009-2014).

Circa May 2014. It is likely that Narendra Modi led BJP might win and Modi becomes the next PM and again irrational exuberance has taken over sound logic and stock markets are re rating every stock - for they expect Modi to do the Houdini and open all hidden treasures leading to unimaginable growth for the nation and for the individuals.

So what’s the point?.....

Human memory is terribly short and so inconsequential that citizens vote based on emotion and a false sense of belief and hope that new governments will weave magic.

Obama’s “Yes we can” reverberated across this planet and US of A expected a change like never before but it has all been slightly above or below average on all issues. Even i thought - that as an Indian, it would affect me positively.

No magic. No earth shattering reform. Business as usual in Obama’s 5th year of Presidency.

No government, no individual, no nation can outpace the general averages of growth and global development. Nations find their own spectrum/range of growth and development that is closely interlinked with the overall global economic scenario.
Just about anyone can be the Prez of the US of A or The PM of a large country like India – Individuals can barely make negligible incremental difference to the momentum of this planet.

Will revisit this blog post in 2019. In the meanwhile expect a below average performance (just because the expectation is so bloody high) and sell your stock if you have any that has already discounted a Houdini like performance from Narendra Modi.
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