LESSONS FROM THE PAST: Construction or Destruction?
I was looking back at a foreign company that had started in India in the 1960s. It had a few well-known brands, but had only a notional presence in India. It was keen to come into the country in a big way. It was careful to select an outstanding executive to be their first chief executive officer (CEO)—someone with a proven record of achievement, and who was young and full of dynamism. 
 
He built a team of under 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—with the promise that if the targets are reached at the end of two years, he would be promoted to marketing director and the position would be kept vacant till 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 to be the new marketing director, Randhir. 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—giving 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, restricted 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 to boot—and all this for a fall of 5% in the profits and 8% in the turnover!
 
Watching this show from afar in US, the world HQs finally decided to transfer the CEO to Singapore as head of South East Asia operations. The finance director, who had been in the company since inception, was appointed the CEO. 
 
They realised that they need an Ashoka (an administrator) to replace Babar (a conqueror)—and they were not wrong.  The company slowly shed weight, 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 that 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 so many lives and careers in the process? Fortunately, 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) who was once asked, in the early 1900s, 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 successful 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 at the same time destroy!
 
(Walter Vieira is a Certified Management Consultant; and 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. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
 
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    COMMENTS

    tillan2k

    2 weeks ago

    reason foreign seeds unless naturalised do not flourish in Indian soil and situation

    aq.qu

    2 weeks ago

    Very very well written Mr. Vieira. How simply you made such a deep point. This is the story of every other institution of reckoning; and more so in India. Be it a professionally run institution like HDFC Bank or tight gripped promoter driven group like Vedanta.
    People with similar cultures are the same everywhere.
    I guess it has more to do with individual behavior patterns rather than the so-called ‘organization culture ’ and hence such things are more pronounced in certain geographies across institutions of all hues.

    mudit3

    3 weeks ago

    Beautifully expressed. Jealousy makes people discard gold. JRD Tata and many others were outstanding exceptions. And Dhirubhai Ambani was a leader par excellence.

    Scam 1992 and Us, and Why You May Want To Start with Episode 9
    Many years ago, I was presented with a signed and autographed copy of SCAM 1992, and it was read from end to end by many at our office, also because our little infotech company was moving into the financial business domain. The fraud prevention part. Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu's book  helped us understand many of the quirks and loopholes within the Indian banking system, and after a peer review with our then business partners in India, we opted to stay out of bidding for fraud prevention business with banks in India because, simply put, the loopholes were far too big.
     
    Not that there did not exist loopholes in banking abroad; Wachovia and Western Union were two examples, which we knew a lot about, and most of the casino biggies. But the loopholes there were different, in a manner of assessment, they were more along the lines of a large number of small scams linked more to greed at the bottom of the pyramid. Cross-selling and multiple retail bank accounts, for example, or cheque cashing for and on behalf of illegal immigrants, or the kind of stuff we see in movies about casinos.
     
    The Indian banking loopholes, on the other hand, were more for and towards larger scams executed with finesse top down. And this, then, in turn, reflected in the checks and balances that the fraud prevention systems and techniques were supposed to prevent. Something like trying to keep fish in a lake safe from theft by the people who lived around the lake and had caught fish there for centuries, but doing nothing about people who came from outside and who, blatantly, without any attempt to even disguise their methods, burst explosives to stun the fish and then take away as many as they wanted. Which SCAM 1992 explained in great detail.
     
    There was no way we could make any sort of fraud prevention technology for such daylight robberies, and after a few very typical visits in the late 1990s to banking offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai or the sort where even after an appointment you are supposed to wait for hours and hours, we just took an unwritten policy decision to stay away from any sort of Indian banking business. The holes in the Indian banking business were bigger than the banks themselves. 
     
    But this is an essay about the resounding success of the webseries SCAM 1992 and the last lines of the paragraph in the book of the same name, which goes like this - "Nothing would be resolved. Hardly anybody would be convicted. No money would be found." 
     
    I have known Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu for a long long time, and am privileged to be able to write for their magazine, blogs, print and online. Their positive approach on life is something that helps pull me out of despair. But. The last line of their book is their pragmatic selves talking.
     
    The serial on Sony Liv of the same name is something else, it flows like smooth jazz, it helps give hope in these dark days, the ultimate test of which is: how do people who usually don't appreciate banking or know much about the subject, sit glued to the screen?
     
    At home and in my circle of friends and family, I now know of dozens of people, who in turn know dozens more who have started watching SCAM 1992 and then done all night binges, or seen it twice or more. My suggestions to them and others is to see Episode 9 first, and then savour the full series, sequentially - one episode at a time.
     
    So why is SCAM 1992 such a huge success and why should you see it, if you haven't seen it already?
     
    1) It does not make a caricature out of people, except for some jibes at famous people, who have had a sense of humour, because movies and life need to be funny too.
     
    2) The language and accents used are so truly Indian corporate, and though set in Bombay/Mumbai, they do not stoop to the tapori (slang) medium.
     
    3) There are no really evil or totally good characters - barring some light relief from the lady playing Harshad's wife—everybody is in shades of every colour.
     
    4) If there is a real villain, it is the foreign banks, and nobody has ever had the guts to show this in India. Thus, once again, episode 9 first, please.
     
    5) Go to the Moneylife website and run a search using SCAM 1992 to figure out so many of the nuances in what essentially was the template for future larger scams.
     
    But most off, the serial flows seamlessly, like a human being breathing. And that is the real power of the visual media when compared to a book. As well as the difference.
     
    This is an eminently watchable film on the India of big money crooks, unfolding now as NPAs and scams running into thousands of crores of rupees, and an introduction to why India is unique in such large co-ordinated scams. Our banking system designs and then leaves holes to be exploited, as simple as that, and the ease of theft is then breath-taking.
     
    Like throwing explosives in a lake full of fish. That's them. Whilst the people living along the lake go hungry. Remember them? That's us.
     
    (Veeresh Malik is an activist from Delhi, who continues to explore several things in life.)
     
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    COMMENTS

    rajoluramam

    4 weeks ago

    The most important thing our Indian
    banking needs is BASIC HONESTY from the customers and banking personel. What ever may be the RULES AND REGULATIONS, with out truthfulness in the operations of the banking industry banking cannot be successful . Has any body come across the information about the NPAs in the agriculture and allied activities? Inspite of huge susidies like Interest susidies, subsidised fertiliser, pesticides, minimum support price, crop insurence etc etc, the NPAs are piling up because the politicians, just to please the voters, tell the farmers not to refund
    the loans taken. A notion is prevailing in the masses that a loan from a government bank need not be repaid. Drastic change is needed in the mindset of the people who take loans ffom the public sector banks.

    REPLY

    m.prabhu.shankar

    In Reply to rajoluramam 3 weeks ago

    True sir. Basic Honesty and Truthfulness is the need of the hour from the banking industry side. Also we all should realize by going through NPA data that farm loan waivers are minuscule compared to the loan waivers given to industrialists favored by politicians. This is not a blind support for farmers. Please go through the data then you will realize the same easily.

    LESSONS FROM THE PAST: We Have Lost Our Privacy!
    When we now watch television, or read the papers and see the photographs, we can only have pity for the victims of our 'mad media crowds.' So many of them, armed with high-tech cameras, crowding around Rhea Chakraborrty, trying to get a snap shot – a better one than other photographers in the group are able to get, if at all that is possible. 
     
    There are journalists, so close to her that they are 'a kiss away', trying to get a response to some silly question, which will be headlines in tomorrow’s newspaper.
     
    As a result of all this, we all know, where she lived with Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR), when and at what time she was asked by him to leave the house, what prompted the reaction, where she went from there, and everything else – that is perhaps quite unimportant to the general public – except as 'gossip.'  What a waste of time!
     
    Where are the days when one could draw the line between our private and public lives? 
     
    And I think back to the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. India’s first prime minister and the darling of the masses. A hero, if ever there was one. He was on the front pages of the newspaper nearly every day. Yet, very, very seldom was there a photo of Nehru smoking a cigarette.
     
    I am told he smoked quite a lot – perhaps, not a chain smoker. But based on public exposure, one would have thought he was an occasional smoker, if at all. His privacy was well taken care of. It was a social norm. It was not enabled by his security agencies.
     
    People respected his right to live in his own way – and focused only on what was relevant as a public figure. 
     
    There was Princess Margaret in London. A darling of the British public. She was being courted by a photographer, and it was news all about town. On a visit to London at that time, I was taken to a bar in London, which was frequented by Margaret and Armstrong Jones.
     
    But I was told that if they are present at the bar – it is etiquette not to look in the direction of their table—and in fact to completely ignore their presence. Securing their privacy, with public cooperation. What a far cry from what we are witnessing in the present time.
     
    There was King George VI, who suffered from kleptomania. Two security guards always made a note of what he picked up in his travels—and then returned the items to the shops from where they were taken. Was there any noise? None at all. No one talked about it. Corrective action was taken quietly, and life moved on. A private quirk of a public figure was not allowed to disturb the public image. 
     
    There was Franklin D Roosevelt, president of the US and a well-known figure in public life. Both he and his wife, Eleanor, were always in the limelight. In spite of such public glare, there was little talk about his private life and the fact that he also had a love of his life, hidden away from the public glare.
     
    And no one knew that the German Chancellor had a mistress and a teenaged daughter, until they came to pay their respects at his funeral. This was, even though he was a Chancellor for so many years and featured on the front pages many days of the month!
     
    They all drew a line between private and public life – and everyone respected this. Old world? Maybe. But a much better world than the turmoil we are presently seeing. 
     
    It was the same in the 1960s within the corporate world. When Ken Thomson was promoted to all India sales manager, from branch manager in Calcutta, he became my boss in Bombay.
     
    Over the next few months Ken found out th,at I was active in English theatre, and he asked me whether I could introduce him, because he was an active member of the amateur theatre in Calcutta. I did. Ken fitted in very well. We would have rehearsals three evenings a week at the Petit School in central Bombay.
     
    Ken would bring a small pint to keep himself refreshed through the evening. Often, he offered some to me. At the rehearsals, we were Ken and Walter to each other. There was camaraderie and there was bon homie—pleasant evenings spent together. However, the next morning in the office, he was Mr Thomson to me and I was Mr Vieira to him.
     
    There was not even a reference to the goings on of the previous evening. Private life was private life – and at the corporate office it was official life – no more, no less. 
     
    Unfortunately, we cannot put the clock back – and Rhea and others will have to pay the price for being part of the society of the 2020s in India!!
     
    (Walter Vieira is a Certified Management Consultant; and 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. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
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    COMMENTS

    m.prabhu.shankar

    3 weeks ago

    Nice article on Values

    kuldip46

    3 weeks ago

    We have lost our values. Plain and simple.

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