I was looking back at a foreign company that had started in India in the 1960s. They had a few well-known brands but had only a notional presence in India. They were keen to come into the country in a big way. They were careful to select an outstanding executive to be their first chief executive officer (CEO)—someone with a proven record of achievement and was young and full of dynamism.
The CEO built a team of under the 30s—just seven of them—to manage all functions of the company. He set a high target for the first two years, which was reasonable considering the base was so low, to begin with.
My friend Sunil was recruited as sales promotion manager, to handle all aspects of marketing—and with the promise that if the targets were achieved at the end of two years, he would be promoted to marketing director. This position would be kept vacant until then.
At the end of two years, the targets were achieved. But Anil, the CEO, had other ideas. He decided to import a senior from outside, Randhir, to be the new marketing director. Sunil would have to report to him.
In just three months, Sunil realised how little Randhir knew and decided to quit. He had no difficulty finding another job, and at the level to which he would have been promoted, here itself – both in position and in money.
After Sunil resigned, there was great demoralisation in the company. The CEO tried to remedy this by promoting one of the four regional managers to Sunil’s position. It was bound to be a failure to give a marketing job to a person with only sales experience!
So, the CEO decided to break the company structure into pharma products and consumer products and now imported a marketing director for consumer products, restricting the earlier recruited marketing director to pharma products only.
This new marketing director, in turn, hired a senior manager from an advertising agency as marketing manager of the division.
So, very soon, there were two marketing directors, two sales managers (one for each division), two sales promotion managers, two advertising managers, and a staff of stenos, and clerks – and all this for a decrease of 5% in the profits and 8% in the turnover!
Watching this show from afar in the US, the world headquarters (HQ) finally decided to replace the CEO with his transfer to Singapore as head of Southeast Asia operations. The finance director, who had been in the company since its inception, was appointed the CEO.
They realised that they needed an Ashoka (an administrator) to replace a Babar (a conqueror)—and they were not wrong. The company slowly shed weight and the organisation became more supple. There was elimination but coupled with kindness. For example, the first marketing director appointed was later transferred as distribution manager, but his emoluments were kept unchanged, although the position was two levels lower.
However, he chose to stay. He could not get any other assignment at this salary anywhere else.
The story of this company always made me think: Why do brilliant people sometimes construct only to destruct? And why do they destroy many lives and careers in the process? Most of them are smart enough to save themselves – but they ruin lives for everyone else.
And that is where people like Andrew Carnegie (I am a great admirer of Carnegie) come in. In the early 1900s, he was once asked how is it possible that he had so many millionaires (43, at one point) working for him?
He answered, “Dealing with people is a lot like digging for gold. When you go digging for an ounce of gold, you have to move tons of dirt. But when you go digging, you don’t go looking for the dirt; you go looking for the gold.”
The Gold, the Good, the Positive. Just as a person can become a success with the right series of words—the Gold—a person can also be destroyed for a lifetime with the wrong series of words and actions—daggers to the heart.
Those who construct must try and ensure that they do not also destruct!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are “5 Gs of family Business” with Dr Mita Dixit and “Marketing in a Digital/ Data World” with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)