Tea Factory, Black magic and Demons

Tea Factory, Black magic and Demons

One of the first things that strikes you as you enter any ‘Tea District’ is the tea factory. These in many if not most cases are over a century old, build entirely of wood on a structure of steel girders. The machinery, especially in the Orthodox factories is fit for a museum. For the uninitiated, ‘Orthodox’ refers to the type of manufacture and not the religious inclinations of the manager. This was the case when I entered planting in 1983. Then in 1985 our company, Parry Agro, decided to build a spanking new CTC (another way of manufacturing tea) in the Anamallais. I was closely associated with the project from the word ‘Go.’ The factory was built on Lower Sheikalmudi Estate and AVG Menon, my first manager was made responsible for the project, since he was the Group Manager for the Sheikalmudi Group. He appointed me as his assistant for the day to day supervision of the construction and so I became the defacto Site Manager of the project. At this time, I was the Assistant Manager in Murugalli Estate with responsibility for Murugalli Factory (Factory Assistant). I now had two jobs, reported to two managers and no additional pay. I was delighted, and it didn’t even occur to me to ask for more money for doing almost double the work that anyone else was doing. Not because I am allergic to money but because I was going to get a chance to build something that others had only done a century ago; build a tea factory.

I lived in a bungalow that was midway between Murugalli Factory and the site of the proposed Mayura factory and was the proud possessor (company issue) of a Royal Enfield 350 cc motorcycle. This ran on a mixture of petrol and faith aided by gravity when coasting down hill after its engine periodically decided to give up the ghost. I would then roll down the road to its end and hand over the bike to its resurrector, Thangavelu, our mechanic who had no formal education in automobile engineering but could make anything with wheels run, when all others had given up on it. It was (and is) a fascinating fact about our tea gardens, factories that for literally over a century, they are run by people like Thangavelu who learnt their art as apprentices with some other mechanic and run machinery that would be a major challenge for highly qualified engineers. These people have no diagnostic tools, no meters, just a spanner and a pair of pliers; but with that they moved mountains. This is an unsung lot who work from generation to generation and disappear quietly into the environment, none the wiser or even grateful that thanks to them, they (the unwise and ungrateful) got their daily cuppa.

Thangavelu looked like he had lube oil in his veins. His clothes looked like leather, thanks to the amount of oil they had absorbed. He had three teeth in his top jaw and a few more in the bottom, all visible because he never stopped smiling from ear to ear, come rain or sunshine. He never walked. He trotted. His heart was made of gold and he was my brother. He still is, and now retired, I hope he has a long and happy life. Apart from his genius with motorcycles, he repaired tractors, cars, factory machinery and worked a lathe machine. I wanted a pruning knife, a wicked blade 18 inches long and curved at the end, sharp enough to shave the hair on your arm (that is how we used to test it). Thangavelu started with a broken piece of truck spring blade and created a knife nestled in a handle made of Sambar horn (they shed annually), bound with brass hoops. It was a work of art and I had it for many years, until the Deputy Forest Officer coveted it and expropriated it in exchange for releasing ten of my workers who got arrested for killing a barking deer. But that is another story.

I mentioned Thangavelu (that is him but without his smile because he thinks this photo taking is serious business) because I mentioned my Royal Enfield motorcycle, my sole means of transport. And that, because one day it died. Truly forever. That left me in the situation where I was in-charge of two projects, Murugalli Factory and the Mayura construction project and no transport. I asked my Manager who was my immediate superior and who had not been happy at all at my appointment with additional responsibility for Mayura, if he could let me have another bike. He said to me, ‘Who told you to accept the additional responsibility? Now ask whoever appointed you.’ That meant that I was to ask AVG Menon who had asked for me. I refused to do that as I had no intention of getting in the middle of company politics. In any case, I was very pleased with the appointment and didn’t want to go to AVG with this kind of stuff. So, I used to walk every day twice, to both factories, clocking in about 15-16 kilometers all told. That continued until one day I was hoofing it when a car drove up from behind me and I heard a cheery, ‘Hello! Yawar!’ It was Mr. Rawlley, the Visiting Agent (an old British period title that was still used in those days even after the Agency system no longer existed), on his inspection tour of our group of estates. ‘Why on earth are you walking?’ he asked. I told him the story and that evening, much to my manager’s acidity and flatulence, I got a new bike.

Mayura was unique for many reasons. For one thing, it would have a capacity to process one-hundred-thousand kilograms of green leaf per day. At a time when the average production was two-thousand-five-hundred kilograms made-tea per hectare, this was a huge figure, one that nobody thought could ever be reached. It was the vision of Mr. K. Ahmedullah and Mr. N. K. Rawlley, who were the General Manager and Visiting Agent respectively. They proposed the theory that creating capacity would stimulate production as it would put pressure on the estates to supply the factory. Initially, nobody believed them except the Murugappa family; Mr. Alagappan and Mr. AMM Arunachalam in particular. But that was enough as they were the ones who were funding the project. Once the factory was completed, Ahmed’s and Nickoo’s vision was proved right. The production of the estates went up from two-thousand-five-hundred to four-thousand kilograms per hectare. Needless to say, this did not happen by magic. A lot of people put in a lot of effort, but there is no doubt that it was the presence of Mayura that pushed us all to excel. Once again this proved to me the value of vision.

Since the Anamallais is hilly, locating a huge factory was no easy task. It involved leveling the land first, to create the construction site. The main building was on columns, but we still needed a level site to locate all the rest of the buildings and bays. We had two bulldozers brought up from Coimbatore to do the cutting and filling of soil on the hillside to get enough level land to start building. I went down to the site on the first day that the work started. The bulldozer operators were already on their machines with the engines running. I called the leader of the team to give him instructions. He switched off the engine and came to me. I showed him from which part of the hillside I wanted the soil to be cut and where I wanted it to be moved and dumped so that eventually we would get a flat surface. He listened in silence, then handed me the key and said, “Why don’t you show me how to do it?”

I was taken aback by this obvious insubordination so early in the morning. But I took the key from him, climbed up on the track of the dozer and into the seat. I started the engine, engaged gear, and started cutting the soil. I worked for about half an hour. Then I parked the machine, switched off the engine, got off the machine, and handed the key back to the driver and walked away, all in silence. I had a hard time keeping a straight face at the look of shock on the driver’s face for having called his bluff. The long and short of this was that I never had a problem with that driver again for the duration of the land clearing stage. When the work was done, and the drivers were going back, he came to me and said, “I apologize for challenging you on the first day, but tell me where did you learn to drive a bulldozer?” I told him, “In future, before you challenge anyone, find out what they know.”

My knowledge of bulldozers and machinery was acquired in Guyana in the mines, when I was doing a Job Evaluation exercise in the company and had to evaluate the difficulty of each job. Knowing how to do the job yourself is obviously a big advantage and not one that most non-technical people have. I had very good relations with the bulldozer, truck (50 ton CAT dump trucks) and dragline crane operators and they gladly taught me how to drive them. For them I was a curiosity, a young Indian boy in his early 20’s willing to learn from grizzled West Indian African experts whose hands were like steel encased in sandpaper. That I was their superior in rank meant nothing. That I was willing to learn and not throw my weight around meant everything in my favor. I was welcomed. We joked, shared our meals and I spent many happy hours in the cabin of a truck or bulldozer deep in the Amazonian rain forest or in the great mine pit.

My learning in this incident of the bulldozer at Mayura fatory, many years later, was the fact that to build credibility it is important to be able to lead from the front. You don’t have to do people’s jobs for them. It is not even desirable to do this. But you do need to demonstrate that you know what they do and can do it if necessary. It is when subordinates get the impression that you know nothing about what they do, that it makes them nervous and lose motivation. The good ones feel a little lost. The crooks take you for a ride.

Mayura Factory’s construction was a time of learning for me. The site engineer was a wonderful elderly gentleman called Mr. D.R.S. Chary, who stayed with me in my bungalow throughout the project. He was a very well read and learned man, many years my senior but with a great sense of humor. We hit it off from the first day and became great friends. Chary taught me a great deal about constructing large buildings. I found this a fascinating time and used every opportunity I could, to add to my knowledge. On the factory site, the contractor’s site engineer was another wonderful man called Mr. Dakshinamurthy. He also became a good friend and was helpful in many ways.

Chary and I lived in the bungalow behind the tennis court. We could see the construction site from our veranda. Since Chary was a Brahmin, out of consideration for him, I had instructed my cook and butler Bastian, not to cook any meat while he was staying with us. No meat was cooked for over six months in our kitchen. I would go to some of my other friends like Berty Suares and Taher for my meat fix.

The bungalow had a somewhat shady history in that it was supposed to have been the estate hospital in the remote past during an epidemic and many people had died in it. It also had the dubious distinction of having a resident demon. There was a small shrine at one end of the garden, which I was told was a shrine to Karpuswamy (literally means: Black God), who the people described as a very powerful and evil entity that needed to be placated with an annual animal sacrifice. The sacrifice itself was not done in the Bungalow garden because it was done at a larger temple, but every morning one of the tea plucker women would put some flowers at the shrine. Chary, like most highly educated Hindus, did not believe in any of this, given more to keeping to the social norms than any real religious belief in the mythology.

Some weeks after Chary and I moved into the bungalow, some rumors started to circulate in the estate to say that my bungalow was haunted and that people had seen Karpuswamy near the bungalow at night. I saw nothing and was not perturbed by the rumors. I don’t believe in ghosts and don’t believe that anything can harm or benefit anyone except the Creator Himself. I slept well. Chary told me one day when he was leaving after the completion of Mayura Factory that he never seemed to sleep well in this bungalow. But I was not sure how much of that was because of some unconscious effect of the rumors and how much of it was plain indigestion or some such thing. He was over sixty years old at the time, after all.

I had recently bought a used Ambassador car. It had the dubious distinction of having belonged to the son of Marri Chenna Reddy a former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Among its other attributes was the fact that it was graced with a carburetor that was cracked down the middle and was held together with a wire. Now hold on – before you go making sly remarks about Ambassadors, ask yourself, ‘which other car would still run in this condition?’ And run it did. However, it did need long hours in the workshop. In the plantations the workshop came to you, as did most other things. One night, Velayudhan, the mechanic, was working on the car in my garage behind the house. He worked late into the night and promised to return the next day to complete the job. The next morning there was no sign of him and when I sent someone to look for him, the man returned and said that Velayudhan was in hospital.

I was very surprised and concerned as the man had been working in my house the previous evening and had been well and healthy. What could have happened to him for him to be hospitalized? He was a cheerful and willing worker and I had a very good relationship with him, so I was genuinely concerned for him. I went to the hospital and first asked the doctor what the matter was with Velayudhan. The doctor told me that he had been brought to the hospital late the previous night in a hysterical state, his heartbeat racing and in a semi-conscious state. He was so bad that the doctor had been afraid the man would have a heart attack or a stroke. All this seemed to have been brought about by intense fear. He had to be given a heavy dose of sedative to put him to sleep. In short, the man had been extremely frightened by someone or something.

I went to see him and he told me the story, which I present to you without comment.

He said to me, “Dorai, I had finished my work for the day on your car and decided to take the short cut through the tea field down the hillside instead of the main road. It was a full moon night and the footpath was clearly visible in the moonlight. As I started down the path, I suddenly heard a heavy snort behind me, like a cow sometimes makes as it is grazing. I looked back over my shoulder and saw a huge man with flaming red eyes and huge teeth. I turned and ran and then I fell down and fainted.” Some people who were going past on the main road below heard the sound of his running and then saw him fall. They picked him up and took him to the hospital. There was some suspicion that perhaps he’d hit the bottle, but the doctor denied that and said that he did not show any sign of having been inebriated. He was just very badly terrified and completely hysterical with fear.

I lived in that bungalow for two years and went in and out at all hours, but never saw a thing. That is what led to the rumor that Karpuswamy was the guard on the bungalow and guarded me. In the plantations such rumors add to your mystique and reputation. In any case, I could do nothing to refute it.

A year later, another incident added some more grist to the mill.

There was a supervisor who was very corrupt, so I dismissed him. He was naturally very upset and angry with me and threatened me with many things. He did not say any of this to me directly of course, but various rumors started floating that he would do black magic against me. Black magic is quite prevalent in India and in the plantations and many people claimed either to do it or had been its victims. When these stories got to me, I said, “If anyone does anything against me, it will turn against him. I worship AllahY and nothing can happen to me without His will. I ask Him to protect me.” That put a stop to all the talk that came to me.

Then one day, I was walking in the field with my Field Officer Mr. O. T. Varghese, a wonderful elderly man who taught me a lot about tea planting. Suddenly a tea plucker woman came running to us, wailing all the while and fell at my feet. She was wailing, “Only you can save me. Have mercy on my husband……” and so on. I was taken aback to say the least. After a while, Mr. Varghese and I managed to get some sense out of her. Mr. Varghese told me that she was the wife of the dismissed supervisor. She told us that her husband had gone to a black magic expert in their village and asked him to put a spell on me to kill me. However, the spell backfired on him and now he was dying and was in hospital, where they had brought him the previous evening. She begged me to go with her and see her husband.

I agreed, though I thought to myself that this was a jolly good thing and served him right for his efforts. After all, his wife had not tried to stop him from his nefarious activity and if he had succeeded, his wife would have been sitting pretty with him and not running to my aid. Anyway, Mr. Varghese and I reached the hospital and I asked the doctor about the patient.

He said to me that there was nothing wrong with him except that he was in a state of very high excitement and terror and had not slept for more than 72 hours. His heart was racing and the doctor was fearful that if he continued in this way for a few more hours it was entirely likely that he would have a heart attack. I entered the room after getting this information. As soon as I entered, the man literally fell off the bed and put his head on my feet. Weeping, he cried, “Dorai, please forgive me. I tried to do something bad to you, but it has come to me. I have children Dorai and they will become orphans if I die. Please forgive me Dorai and take this thing away from me.” It was the strangest experience that I have ever had in my life. I told him to get up and pulled him up by his arm and put him back on the bed. Then I asked for some water and recited Sura Al Fatiha (the first chapter in the Qur’an) and the Al Muwaddathian, the last two chapters and blew on the water and told him to drink it. I told his wife to give him what was left of the water later in the evening. Then I left. The doctor told me later that shortly thereafter the man slept and the next morning he was discharged.

Never a dull moment in the estates.

For more, please see my book, ‘It’s my Life’.

Theory of Security

Theory of Security

Why do you have a burglar alarm on your car or home? Not because you believe that no burglar in the world can get past it. But because you know that burglars, very sensibly, always look for easy gains. The reality is that if someone really wants to break into Fort Knox, I am sure there are ways to do it. After all, whatever was made by one human being can be unmade by another. But when you have Punjab National Bank, why do you need to break into Fort Knox? If you don’t believe me, ask Nirav Bhai. Which underlines my theory that burglars are looking for easy access.

Second answer to the unasked but will-be-asked question is, ‘Just because you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t walk around naked.’ Privacy is not about having something to hide. It is about human dignity. It is the reason we wear clothes, have curtains on our windows and don’t appreciate people peering over our shoulders and reading what we write or checking our messages or rummaging in our handbags, even if those people are the ones who gave us birth, ones we gave birth to or the ones we married. Privacy is about dignity and the right to that special place of solitude and, well, ‘PRIVACY’, that is a fundamental right of every human being.

That is what is being invaded today. Not by soldiers with guns but by geeks; for God’s sake!! Interestingly I am not even sure if the word ‘invaded’ is the right one. If you open your door and invite someone into your bedroom, can you then accuse them of having invaded your home and violated your privacy? That is exactly what is happening to us, as you read this article.

Imagine a world before 2004: No Facebook. Before 1998: No Google. Before 1994: No Amazon. Before 1976: No Apple. In 1976, I was 21, in the middle of my college degree of BA and had just got the right to vote. For us, Amazon was a river (where I went two years later and spent the next 5 years of my life in its basin); Apple was a fruit you got in Hyderabad only in winter from Kashmir; Google was a mispronunciation of what you did in cricket (Googly) and Facebook? Well, maybe if someone hit you in the face with a book, you could say that you had been ‘Facebooked’. But nobody did and that was that. But believe it or not, we lived, we loved, we walked the earth in great joy, we wept and we comforted each other. Our friends were real; we knew them personally and they existed in flesh and blood. We didn’t know what they were doing minute by minute. We didn’t feel the need to. And they (and we) didn’t feel the need to tell each other. Taking the time and trouble to remember and greet is what makes a friendship, a friendship. To forget is human. To forgive and understand is even more human.

Today I read a very good article about the on-going debacle involving Facebook and the “Cambridge Analytica revelations”.  https://bit.ly/2IMJrDm In it is this paragraph; “Even if you’ve got multiple ways to communicate and participate in society online, there is not really a good replacement for Facebook. There’s no one portal that reminds you of your friends’ birthdays, connects you to relatives across the world and stores photos from 10 years ago. Deleting Facebook inevitably means missing out on certain things and having to make more of an effort to connect with people in other ways.

Reminds you about friend’s birthdays? What do you think happened pre-2004. Friends were not born? We didn’t remember? What happened was that when someone greeted you, you were very happy that he or she actually remembered and took the trouble to greet you. Today, even if they did that, the voice in the back of your head says, “She only did that because she got an alert from Facebook.” As it is, there are many others who remind you including Google Calendar which reminds me about the birthdays of people I don’t even know and some whose birth I deeply regret. So does Outlook and LinkedIn. The only social media that I am on. LinkedIn goes a step further and reminds me about what it calls, ‘Work Anniversary’. What that means only whoever dreamt up this ridiculous thing and God, understand. I didn’t dream it up and I am not God, so I don’t. Why I mention it is because dutifully on every one of my alleged ‘Work Anniversaries”, I get lots of messages from all sorts of people, congratulating me. Congratulating me for what? For still having my job? Well, I can’t help it. I own the place you see, so I can’t go anywhere else. Will someone tell me how I can switch off this silly ‘Work Anniversary’ in LinkedIn? Or even better, switch it off for everyone. Let us retain the value of being human. Remember because we care. And if we forget, experience the joy of making up.

What we are experiencing is the evil of wanting things free. The only way we will get security is when people learn to pay for what they get. As long as we want things free, it only means that we don’t want to know what the real cost is. Nothing in life is free. Everything has a price. It is better to know what that is, because then we can decide if we really need it at that price. Then we consciously buy it or reject it. The alternative is there for us all to see. It is Mark Z and others who are the billionaires. Not FB status updaters, thanks to whom MZ got rich. The reality is that smart people rule the world not because they are stronger, but because the dumb people allow them to do so.

FB has all the information on us, not because it engaged investigators to dig into our lives, but because we voluntarily gave them that information and authorized them to use it in any way they wished. Mark Z’s comment about them is in the article which I have referred to above. Read it and go look in the mirror to know who he called that name. What they are doing is not illegal and what we did was simply stupid. I don’t have an FB account. Or any account on any social media. I suggest you do the same. Get out of social media. That is the only road to safety.

Final point, yes, our phones are tracking devices, even when they are switched off. My question is, ‘So what?’ Let them track me. I am not going anywhere that I don’t want people to know. And if I did, I wouldn’t take my phone with me. I am not that dumb. But just because I have a smart phone I don’t have to have all kinds of apps and offer up all sorts of personal data to them to monetize and exploit. Get off Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and all those that I missed here. Speak to people face to face or on the phone. Meet real people. Make real friends. Don’t get fooled by Likes and Hits. They mean nothing. You and I both know how the internet counts hits. So why bother?

Please understand that Facebook and others benefit by influencing your behavior but can only do that if you allow them to. Do you want to do that? Ask yourself what you are getting in this deal? There are three parties in any deal; the buyer, the seller and the commodity. If you are not the seller or the buyer, you are the commodity. Someone is selling you to someone to whom you represent value and is making money in the process. Is that what you want to be? I know, some people will say, “What is the use if only I, get out and everyone else is still there? I will only miss out on all the fun.” All I can say is that if we each do what makes sense, then we will all be free. Otherwise, wait for the inevitable.

 

 

Do’s and Don’ts for professionals in family businesses?

Do’s and Don’ts for professionals in family businesses?

There are many reasons why bright and highly competent professionals choose to work for family businesses over working for global MNCs.

One of the most common reasons that professionals join family businesses is to be close to the seat of power. It is the nature of the family business that key professionals get maximum exposure to the family. This is a source of satisfaction for many professionals for whom a personal touch is important. Being able to influence significant outcomes is more satisfying for some people than doing it themselves. Being king maker is more powerful than being king. In global MNCs actual personal contact with the CEO is rare indeed even for many senior managers. In a family business it is almost daily and at a close personal level.

Another common reason is generally a slower pace of life and more rational working hours. As technology becomes our slave-driver instead of being our servant, this is more and more true. Most managers who work for global MNCs in the East have superiors, key clients and even colleagues who live and work in the US or Europe. So, conference calls which are ideally suited to their timing are the norm. That means the Indian manager must be hooked onto his computer talking shop while all others about him are eating dinner or playing with their children or fast asleep. Yet next morning he must be back in his office in India at 0830 like every one of them.

Another reason is the traveling. Once again it is the Easterner working in the global MNC who does most of the travel. More so as travel has become more and more odious and less pleasurable with all the security considerations. ‘Going abroad’ which used to be a major reason why young professionals joined global MNCs soon wears out its novelty and becomes a drudge. It is not just common but an expectation and a norm that someone from India will take a non-stop or connecting flight to the US (18 – 20 hours), land in the middle of the night in his hotel and be ready to attend a meeting at 0800 am the next morning, bright eyed and bubbly and never mind the jet-lag. I have done this myself enough to know from experience how much of a toll it can take on you. One does it for a while for a lot of reasons, but after that?? So people look for jobs where the only travel they will do is from home to office every day or at the most a couple of convenient domestic flights a month.

Whatever be the reason for  your shift, when you decide to go to work for a family business, you may like to remember five things.

  1. If values don’t match nothing else will matter:

Be very clear in your mind about your values and see if they match those of the Business Family. If they don’t, waste no more time and look for another opportunity. If you join a family business which has values in conflict with yours, nothing else will matter for you. You will not do well and will almost certainly come to grief. Ask frank questions in the interview. Don’t be shy to ask anything that you want to have clarified. The interview is also a good place for you to assess how you are likely to be treated once you join.  Talk to people who know the family and do your own ‘reference check’ and have the good sense to listen to advice.

  1. Don’t play with your source of power:

Remember that in a family business, ultimate authority lies with the family and therefore loyalty is the cardinal virtue. So never play with the source of your power. That is a battle you can never win, because if you win, you lose and if you lose you lose anyway. Treat the family you are now working for, as your own. Be loyal to them. You owe it to them, because they are paying you well and giving you freedom to make a career for yourself. Be good to them. It is entirely likely that the family member you work with does not have your knowledge or experience. Remember that’s the precise reason why you were hired; to teach the family, help them to become more competent and capable and build a great company. You were not hired to make them feel like fools. I am amazed at how many professionals forget this and go around telling the world what an ignoramus their boss (family member) is.

Remember that you may call him ignorant, but he still owns the company and even though he does not have your degrees, he is the one who is paying your salary and probably has a personal net worth that is 1000 times your own. So, he must have done something right, eh! Respect that talent, the risk taking that built the business and the capability that enabled him to hire you. If you were more capable than him, he would be working for you, not vice versa. Sure, you have some special expertise for which he hired you. Use it for his benefit, help him, guide him and respect him. Never talk behind his back because the world is round and what goes around, comes around. And then it bites, very hard.

  1. Blood is thicker than water:

Family is about the genes first. Family will always be family. No matter how many times you were invited to the Chairman’s home, you have not become a family member. No matter that the Chairman asked you to ‘think of yourself as his son’; it does not make you his son. His son will succeed him, not you. So, if you are one of those who can’t stomach that, then you are in the wrong place. Learn to take satisfaction from being ‘king maker’ for you will never be ‘king’. Guide the successor, train him, support him and protect him, for one day he will become your boss. And you can still have a great career. After all, if you worked for GE it is unlikely that you could realistically imagine that one day you would be the Chairman.

  1. You work for the business, not for any family member:

Don’t offer to do personal things, even as a favor because this can be misconstrued and then lo and behold you will be seen as a lackey instead of a professional colleague. Don’t fall into this trap. Always keep a respectful distance. Don’t accept too many personal invitations and never loosen your hair too much no matter how much you are encouraged. Under no circumstances should you get involved in any family disputes. Don’t talk about one family member to another. If a family member talks about any other member to you, listen if you must, but make no comments. Don’t take sides because that is not your role. Never discuss the family with anyone. Especially in social circles. Treat the whole family as your client, not any individual member. Don’t become a ‘confidante’. That is not your role.

Trust does not come easy in family businesses. You will need to earn your trust the hard way. Most non-family professionals will be seen as a ‘cost’ and that too a ‘necessary-evil cost’. The onus to prove that you are a ‘value-buy’ is on you. Beware of the founder’s over involvement with detail. In many cases family members, especially founders, have a very close, even fierce sense of ownership of the business and do not see how this attention to minute detail can be seen as nitpicking by others. You will need to have a high degree of tolerance for such behavior and the tact to gently show the founder how he can safely delegate responsibility and hand it over to you. Confrontation does not work. Empathy, understanding and patience, does.

  1. Never lose your edge:

Remember that you were hired because of your competence and ability to deliver results. To maintain that edge, you need to continuously invest in your own development. Never link your development to what the company can provide. Invest on your own and let your boss know what you are doing. Plan your own learning every year and track it. Ask for assignments where you can demonstrate your competence. Participate in international seminars and symposia. Publish and teach. Participate in training both as a learner as well as, as a teacher. Introduce innovative initiatives in the company and with the permission of your boss, make them public. Consciously work to facilitate the transformation from being person-led to process-driven. This will help you to create the kind of climate and culture that you will find personally stimulating. Become a coach and mentor to the family and guide the younger generation to become worthy successors.

Conclusion

Remember that the prestige of the company and the family is your prestige. Show gratitude and do good to them. If you do, you will find that it will come back to you in full measure. It is possible to have a very satisfying career in a family business provided you follow the rules of that world. They are different from the world you came from. Not better or worse. Just different.

For more, please read my book,

‘The Business of Family Business’, http://amzn.to/2ptG4sc

Outside talent inside family

Outside talent inside family

It is a no brainer to say that there is no family in the world that can continue to provide all the knowledge, talent and energy it needs, to fuel the growth and development of their business, indefinitely. Yet it is amazing to see the usual reluctance to bring in outside talent, even when it has become abundantly clear that the business will flounder if the knowledge and skills that are needed are not provided in a timely manner.

Here are some important things that Family Business Owners/CEO’s must keep in mind so that they can create a climate that can attract and retain the best professional talent.

The first and foremost thing to do is to consciously make the decision to hire professionals. If professionals from big-name MNCs are hired as a matter of prestige or fashion as happens more often than one would like to believe, it is almost certain that the hire will go wrong. Once the conscious decision has been taken it is essential for the family to spend a sufficient amount of time helping the professional to understand what he or she is getting into. Family business cultures are as different from each other as can be. The professional that the family business hires will more than likely not have any idea about the dynamics, culture, taboos, norms and accepted behaviors of the family and their business. It is likely that given the corporate MNC culture of a Western company, he may find some of the norms and expected behaviors difficult or even impossible to follow. In such cases it is better that this is discovered early and the hiring is not done, rather than have to go through what can be a painful and embarrassing termination. Be frank with the incumbent; let him see what and how you are from as close as possible. Share all that you do and expect him to do without reservation and then let him decide if he wants to join. It is a good idea also to create a space for his family to meet your family and share some mindscape. The social interaction can help in breaking the ice and helping both parties to see each other without any pretense, voluntary or otherwise.

  1. Choose the best:

Believe me, the best really want to work for you. Get professional help to hire the best because the best don’t just happen round the corner. It is a common mistake that many family business owners make of treating professionals as a ‘cost’. They hire below themselves as they don’t want to pay what it takes to hire the best. This is a very costly mistake. And you will pay that price. It is an accepted fact in leading edge global MNCs that hiring superior people is the most cost-effective choice. Survey after survey shows that superior people may be up to 15% more expensive but produce between 40-50% more in terms of output. Hire the best and from them, demand the best. Those who are worthy of their salt will welcome working to high standards. This will also create the kind of achievement-oriented culture you need to attract the best talent. Winners attract winners. So do losers.

  1. Treat them with respect:

They are not the ‘hired help’. They work for the company, not for you personally. Don’t use them to do your personal jobs and actively discourage those who will offer to do them to suck-up to you. Give professionals responsibility that is commensurate with their qualifications so that you can really leverage their talent and experience for your company. Some family business CEOs collect professionals from various MNCs like people collect watches or paintings. Then they talk about who they have working for them. But when it comes to giving them freedom and authority to take decisions and really bring about change in the company, they tie their hands and don’t allow them to function.  Professionals who have self-respect and who are interested in their careers, leave when they see what is happening. Others, for their own personal reasons stay on, lose their edge and gradually vegetate at your expense.

  1. Don’t make promises you can’t or won’t keep:

Treat them like the professional colleagues they are. Some business owners in their eagerness to hire some high profile professional promise them all kinds of things which they personally have no authority to deliver. When the promises don’t pan out, the professional justifiably feels let down and will more than likely leave. I recall one case where one family business CEO hired a high-profile HR head from a global MNC with the ‘incentive’ that the family wanted to replicate the global MNC’s corporate university in India. The HR professional was very excited believed the dream merchant who hired him, only to be hugely disappointed later. He lasted with them for all of six months.

  1. Pay well:

This is a big one. Many family business owners are so used to doing things themselves or getting their family or friends to do things for them for love that they almost take umbrage if anyone suggests that service needs to be paid for in cash. When hiring professionals, they treat having to pay a salary like having teeth extracted and try to haggle and pay as little as possible. On the other end of the spectrum are those who are over generous and pay out of guilt or to tell their friends how much they are paying key professionals. Both approaches are wrong. If you pay peanuts you get monkeys who will steal the peanuts. Honesty does have a price, believe it or not. And overpaying does not buy either loyalty or dedication. Check the market. Pay either the market value or 5% -10% more, since your company may not be such a great name to have on the CV. But don’t pay more than that. If the person you are hiring needs to be literally purchased, then he is not worth hiring. You want people to join you also for the challenge and for what they think they can achieve for you.

  1. Create a clear career path for them:

Professionals are very anxious in family businesses to know where their career will take them. They may accept not becoming the CEO, but they would naturally expect to get to the No.2 position or to the head of a functional or SBU role in a reasonable time. Create a career path for them based on clearly defined goals. I have recommended that even the CEO’s job must be open to professionals because you want the CEO to be the best qualified person. And if it is a non-family person, so be it. That is good for the business and by inference good for the family. 

  1. Demand excellence:

Demonstrate excellence. Inspire and then never settle for anything but the best. Competent professionals like to demonstrate what they can do. Set high goals and reward those who exceed them, handsomely. A good objective performance management system is also a major asset in attracting and retaining the right people. Many professionals are very apprehensive of subjective appraisals in family businesses and the whole business of being ‘liked’. A clear-cut performance management system assures them that their achievements will be noticed and rewarded objectively and that their career progress does not depend on subjective likes and dislikes.

  1. Expose them internationally: Invest in their learning:

Give your key professionals international exposure. Let them publish, present papers at international seminars, teach at business schools, participate in service programs. Only if they meet others will they learn. What they learn they will bring back to you. Sure, a couple will leave. Those couple would have left anyway. In any case you need a flow of a clean cool breeze, now and again. But others will join you because they see the caliber of people you have working with you. Make learning an item on the Performance Appraisal System. Provide learning opportunities, pay for them, and support those who learn. Then ask them how you can enable them to apply what they learnt in your place. Without the challenge of international exposure professionals will lose their edge and thereby their usefulness to you.

Don’t be shortsighted with respect to employee development. People who want to learn are precisely the kind of people you need. Don’t punish them for wanting to learn. Appreciate their spirit and support them, so that they will create a culture of learning in the organization. Some employers think differently, to their own detriment.

  1. Give them a stake in the business:

Key professionals help you to become more profitable. They are the cause of your wellbeing. Acknowledge and appreciate that materially. Believe me, they are smart enough to know their own worth. They need to be appreciated and their contributions acknowledged. The best option is to give key executives a percentage of the profit. Some people recommend stock options or phantom stocks, but these can have other implications for the family itself. A percentage of the profit is a neat, clean way to give the professional a stake in the company without raising other issues. They get it if they deliver. Not unless.

In conclusion, business success is about skills and knowledge. Not about genetics and surnames. The family needs the business. The business doesn’t need the family. Just like flying a plane and owning it are two different things and signing the cheque for the plane doesn’t make you a pilot, so also in business. Owning a business doesn’t automatically make you a great businessman. Hire the right people, treat them right, pay them right. That’s the best way to ensure that your own lifestyle doesn’t suffer.

For more, please read my book,

The Business of Family Business’, http://amzn.to/2ptG4sc

Friends of Fake News

Friends of Fake News

I expect most of you, if not all, saw this post on WhatsApp about how and why fake news spreads faster than real news. For those who didn’t here it is.

http://money.cnn.com/2018/03/08/media/fake-news-mit-study/index.html

This is a ten plus year MIT study which comes up with many surprising findings one of which is: “A surprising twist in the study was that bots spread fake news at the same rate as true news, suggesting, “False news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”

Another report about this study is here:

https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/555104/

What does fake news do?

It results in violence, hatred, death, destruction of property and disruption of lives. Perhaps one day, your own. Self-interest seems to be the only effective deterrent today in a world that seems to be free of any sense of community, responsibility, compassion or accountability. So be it. Think of yourself at the end of the fake news, if that is what it takes to prevent you from spreading fake news. All it takes is one click. All it takes to do the opposite is not to do that one click.

What must you do when you receive stuff that people ask you to forward?

  1. Simply use your head. Look at the fake news below, which I am sure you have all seen; the so-called anti-corruption drive with a list of names of all those who allegedly have money hidden in Swiss banks.

Then read the passionate appeal at the end and ask if the person writing this can do simple math. The US, at last count, was a $13 trillion economy. How then can $1.3 trillion, if brought back from Swiss banks, make India ten times bigger than the US? So, the real question is not whether the one who posted this nonsense knows math but whether, you, Mr/Mrs/Ms Forwarder, do?

Take another one about the construction of a mosque in a football stadium. Sounds like a nice cosy, cuddly story of love and mutual respect and would have been if it were true. Here is the story:

And here is my simple investigation:

The mosque mentioned is a Turkish mosque in Cologne, Germany and not in the Allianz area. This is the mosque: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oIichi5CuU

No mention of any mosque on the official website of the club. See for yourself.

https://allianz-arena.com/en/search

  1. Verify the fake news. It is quite easy. Go to https://www.snopes.com/ and type in your fake news or read their archives and you will discover whether it is true or false. Microsoft is not giving away free computers, Ericsson is not giving away free phones and NASA didn’t announce that the sun has risen in the West. To verify videos please go to https://www.snopes.com/video/ Mindless fans of Justin Beiber are called ‘Beliebers’. Really. Mindless forwarders of fake news, what shall we call them? ‘Believers’: those who believe without thinking.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Belieber

  1. And finally, the easiest thing to do; DO NOTHING. Hit ‘Delete’. And use the baseball rules: 3 strikes is OUT. In this case, anyone who sends you fake news thrice, block him, ban him and delete him from your address book. I do this because I don’t need mindless idiots in my life. Believe me, neither do you.
  2. For those who still want to continue to forward fake news imagining that writing, ‘AS RECEIVED’ saves you, please wake up and stop smoking whatever keeps you in your haze of fantasy; it doesn’t. Not in this life or the next. In this life, forwarding fake stuff can land you in jail. In the next life you will be called to account for having forwarded stuff that led to all kinds of pain and suffering for others. You read it, you decided to forward it, so you are RESPONSIBLE. It is as simple as that.