Why was I thinking about my Dad, who worked for a foreign company, and got a promotion once in perhaps, 10 years—and yet seemed quite happy and satisfied? (In the 1920s/1950s)
Because, Shashi came to me just two years after I had selected him as group product manager (2000) for a large consumer durables company in Mumbai.
He said he was not happy. What happened? I asked him.
"I am not making much progress, he said. I have been here over one year, and I see no way in which I can become the marketing manager within the next two years".
But what is the hurry?" I asked him.
"Well, most of those who were in the batch of ’88 at management college have now become marketing managers of small or big companies, while I have been left behind. It is expected that an MBA will become a marketing manager at least six years after graduation - or he is just not good enough."
Sitting there, looking at Shashi, I wondered whether the present generation of managers has lost the capacity for dogged perseverance. Have we come to the quick-fix age? The age of instant gratification or tantrums, if such gratification is not achieved!
This used to be true in the past, for some children in their formative years. But, has this now developed into a general norm with young adults, especially those who have been privileged with specialised higher education, and belong to the class of ’88? Will the likes of Shashi, who do not seem to have the staying power, ever be able to build up large and growing businesses in an increasingly competitive environment?
My mind went back to the story of Walchand Hirachand, the founder of the Walchand group. When Mr Walchand decided to set up an aeronautics factory (which was later nationalised, and is now known as Hindustan Aeronautics), he went to the UK to negotiate with Hawker Siddely (HS) for the engines. He was kept waiting for a meeting, by the managing director (MD) for two whole days, and then told that the MD will not have the time to meet him, because he had to fly to US the next day.
Most of us would have thrown up our hands in disgust, thought poorly of the company, and its pompous MD, and returned home. But not Mr Hirachand. He found out the name of the airline and the flight number and got a first class seat next to the HS MD. On this long transatlantic flight, they got talking and had a chance to informally discuss Mr Hirachand’s proposal. By the end of the trip, they had become well-acquainted and agreed to do business. Hirachand’s dogged perseverance had paid off!
When GD Birla set up Hindustan Aluminium Company (Hindalco) in 1962 at the behest of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was very keen at the time on the industrial development of Uttar Pradesh (UP), he had been promised electricity at a certain concessional rate by the UPSEB (state electricity board). This was a big incentive, because electricity is a large input in the manufacture of aluminium.
Some years later, UPSEB broke the agreement and unilaterally raised the tariff. Hindalco could have complained, till they were blue in the face. They could have rued the day they decided to build the plant, relying on the assurances of a government or state body.
But Mr Birla looked at the situation as a pointer to a direction and a lesson to be learnt. Against all opposing views within the company, he decided to set up his own power generating unit to supply power to Hindalco. He carried on doggedly.
Today, Hindalco is a successful, profitable operation with a captive power plant which has among the highest generation efficiencies in the country. Men like Mr Birla did not give up so easily. With their perseverance, they made things happen!
PA Narielwala (PAN), a past director of Tata Sons, once told me the story of Jamshedji Tata, who used to gather some friends, including PAN’s father, on an occasional weekend and organise picnics during the monsoon.
One of his great pleasures was to see the gushing waterfalls on the ghats, in full fury after a good monsoon. He would have a distant look in his eyes. He would tell his friends that in Switzerland, he had seen electricity generated from water power and that he would like to do this in Khandala, someday.
Most of his friends would dismiss these comments as ‘fantasies of a dreamer’. But Jamshedji Tata was not one to ‘watch things happen’. He ‘made it happen’. And so, the Tata Electric Company was born—a pioneering Indian effort to generate electricity!
Closer to our times, there is Dhirubhai Ambani, starting his life as a gas station attendant in Aden, who went on, with sheer persistence, to build the biggest corporate empire in India within 30 years. Dhirubhai had the vision, the creativity, the boldness and the persistence to ‘make things happen’.
And further away, is the oft-repeated story of an American who failed in his school exams; his college exams; and failed to get into a career he wanted. He failed at elections to the Senate. But tried again and again and again. Until Abraham Lincoln finally became president of the United States of America!
Some lessons are timeless. These are especially important for the quick-gratification generation that we may now be producing. Like the story from Greek mythology of Prometheus, who was ordained to cross the Aegean sea in an earthen pitcher... An accident with a rock, would mean the end of the journey! Like Prometheus, managers are called upon to reflect both on vigilance and persistence, if they are to successfully cross their own Aegean corporate sea.
Remember: In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins—not through strength, but through perseverance. – Anon
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across 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 and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are "Marketing in a Digital/Data World with Brian Almeida and "Customer Value Starvation can kill" with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)