The Question of Edge

In GE, during the time of Jack Welch, there used to be what were called, ‘The 4 – Es’ of GE Leadership: Energy, Energizer, Edge, Execute. We taught this in Crotonville and focused on them in every GE Leadership Course that we taught anywhere in the world.

The values statement of GE read:

All of us…always with unyielding integrity… Are passionately focused on driving customer success. Live Six Sigma Quality…ensure that the customer is always its first beneficiary…and use it to accelerate growth. Insist on excellence and are intolerant of bureaucracy. Act in a boundaryless fashion…always search for and apply the best ideas regardless of their source. Prize global intellectual capital and the people that provide it…build diverse teams to maximize it. See change for the growth opportunities it brings…e.g., “e-Business”. Create a clear, simple, customer-centered vision…and continually renew and refresh its execution. Create an environment of “stretch,” excitement, informality and trust…reward improvements…and celebrate results. Demonstrate…always with infectious enthusiasm for the customer…the “4-E’s” of GE leadership: the personal Energy to welcome and deal with the speed of change…the ability to create an atmosphere that Energizes others…the Edge to make difficult decisions…and the ability to consistently Execute

I have highlighted the statement in line 4: because I am a beneficiary of that value as it is lived in GE. This is just to underline one simple fact: GE’s success doesn’t depend on what the values say (there are plenty of people in the world who talk about the same things); it depends on the fact that in GE, people live these values.

In GE, the values are not something framed to be hung on the wall of the Chairman’s office. They are daily topics of conversation, they are commonly used nomenclature, they are things that people practice, hold themselves up to, feel empowered and ennobled by and actively demonstrate.

Take the line that I highlighted. How is this lived? Let me describe my first interaction when I went to GE Corporate University at Crotonville for the first time in 1997. I landed in New York and took my suitcase off the belt only to discover that it had been vandalized. My experience with Delta is another story which I won’t go into here – but what do I see as soon as I go outside – a chauffeur with a limousine asking me to hand over my suitcase so that he can carry it to the car. I ask myself, ‘Hello! Did you get off at the right stop? This is New York? People don’t carry anyone’s baggage in New York. So what’s this?’

Anyway, I get into the car – Continental – and off we go. As we near Crotonville – a good while later (JFK to White Plains is not exactly next door), the chauffeur calls Crotonville reception on the car phone (no mobile phones in those days) and gives them our location. As the car drives up, I am received by a young lady at the foot of the flight of stairs leading to the reception. I simply sign on the check-in card and 10 seconds later the lady escorts me to my room – a huge luxurious place with a fabulous bathroom – everything in America is king-size to an Indian – shows me around the room and says, ‘Mr. Baig, the telephone is a direct line with complementary international access. You are welcome to use it to call anyone in the world.’ The fact that I made only one call is another story.

Next day when I go to class, the Course Coordinator, my good friend, Carla Fisher is with me. Takes me to the class. Is there to meet me at the interval to take me to the Crotonville dining hall (refurbished at a cost of $ 2 million in 1996) and then back to the class. I said to her, ‘Carla you need not do this. I know my way around and am perfectly happy going to eat and so on, on my own. You need not take the time out to escort me.’ She says to me, ‘Yawar, it is a pleasure to be with you. But even if it wasn’t, I have no choice. This is how we treat people with knowledge. It is a part of our values.’

That sums it up for me: the issue of living by the values that one espouses. Credibility falls through the gap between what is espoused and what is practiced. Until one is prepared to live by one’s espoused values, one will never be respected for them. There are far too many people who claim to have many lofty values but you don’t see any sign of them in their lives. Values are therefore only as good as practiced. Nothing more. Nothing less.

So why the title of this essay about ‘Edge’. It is because of the definition of ‘Edge’ – the willingness to take hard decisions. To live by one’s values is very often a hard decision. It is much easier to succumb, to compromise. But only when one decides to take the difficult path, does one feel the pleasant cool breeze on one’s face. To enjoy the coolness of the breeze, it is necessary first to sweat.

I believe that this is the key to success. Be it in business or society or personal life. It is the willingness to take hard decisions that spells the difference between success and doom. Hard decisions about yourself, your career, your family members, your team, your choices about any issue and your focus and strategy. Organizations or people don’t go down because of one bad decision. They go down because of insistence on that bad decision which leads to multiple bad decisions – only, that those are now taken by people who have deliberately decided to blind themselves to the consequences of their bad decision making. Ignoring reality only ensures that you perish – because reality doesn’t change for those who choose to ignore it.

In my consulting practice in Family Businesses, I have seen the sad results of lack of Edge, over and over, when families fail to take hard decisions when it comes to the entry, exit or behavior of family members – because they are family members. It is amazing how they don’t see that if one doesn’t stop the one making a hole in the side of the ship, the whole ship will sink. But they don’t and it does.

All great enterprises succeed for three reasons: I have added one of my own.

1. Unyielding integrity in living the values
2. The Edge to take hard decisions
3. Demonstrated willingness to invest time, money, energy and resources in the pursuit of a vision that spans generations.

Let me elaborate my understanding of these from the many histories of great enterprise that I have studied and also personally experienced.

1. Unyielding integrity in living the values

The key word here is ‘unyielding’. The ones who succeed are the ones who refuse to yield to any amount of pressure, logical reasoning, emotional blackmail, any kind of persuasion, personal considerations, changed circumstances and so on. They are those who have espoused the values after deep deliberation, serious consideration and soul searching to find complete acceptance. Only then do they consciously espouse the values. They are not those who sign on after listening to a fiery speech or emotional appeal. They are not those who claim to espouse those values, ‘Because they are the values of GE or Sony or The Constitution or anything else.’ They are those who espouse and commit to those values because they are their own. These are people who give thought to what they are espousing before they espouse them – because they are keenly aware of what espousing means, what they will need to commit to, what it will cost and how it will benefit them. They consciously espouse those values because in their estimation, the benefit far outclasses the cost and is worth all that it will take to live by it.

For some it is money. For others the goal may be social, political or spiritual. The rule is the same: you need to commit to the values and live by them with unyielding integrity. They are your values, you chose to be defined by them, you stand for them, you will be remembered by them and so you are willing to do whatever it takes to demonstrate them to a level of excellence. Interestingly the actual values don’t matter to success. It is their practice which decides whether you succeed or not. Those who win are not those with the best values. They are those who best practice their espoused values.

Let me assure you that there will be many who will argue against this. They will call you rigid – unyielding means rigid, see? They will call you unreasonable – all progress depends on being unreasonable, because the reasonable adapt to the situation, while the unreasonable try to change the situation. They will call you crazy – but it is only those who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, who do.

So let them bleat – all sheep do. Leadership means to like your own company. The tiger walks alone. Sheep have plenty of company. So make your choice. Consider it carefully. Then commit.

2. The Edge to take hard decisions

GE’s success story under Jack Welch was rooted in Edge. The Edge to take the decision to be # 1 or # 2 in any business that they were in or sell and get out. Just ask yourself, for most of the world, being # 3 globally in a business is not only okay, it is brilliant, fantastic, something you write home about, something you put on your website and brochure – ‘We are # 3 globally in this business.’ But not to GE under Welch. For GE under Welch, being # 3 was the death knell – it meant that you were going to be sold. And you were sold. Even if you were his aunt’s son in law. That was not because he loved you less but because he loved GE more. Edge in GE meant the famous GE Workout. The decision making tool that Welch taught us all: where the CEO was put on the spot and could only say one of three things:

1. Yes.
2. No – giving reasons.
3. Get me more information.

No waiting, no procrastinating, no delaying – no next week, next month, next lifetime. If you wanted to remain the CEO, you had to take a decision. There are a huge number of transformational success stories about the effect of GE Workout and those of us who taught it, did so with full belief in it and commitment to it based on visible results. As I mentioned earlier, I have seen the result of Edge or the lack of it in my consulting practice in the many years since my first Crotonville visit in 1997, across boundaries of nationality, culture and geography. The principle holds true completely.

Edge is to be able to do two things:

1. Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus (Collin & Porras’s term)
2. Keep driving

Right and wrong people

Who are the ‘right’ people and who are the ‘wrong’ people? The right people are those who believe in the values and practice them with unyielding integrity. They practice them and this is visible in their lives, not because someone is watching. But because the values define them. They do it not because it is good to do but because their values are who they are. The wrong people are those who got onto the bus because they liked the shape or color of the bus. They had no idea where it was going. They just got on because it looked good. So what must you do with them? Stop the bus and ask them to get off. That is Edge.

Great enterprises happen because of players. Not because of passengers. Passengers are deadweight. They are shackles on your ankles, millstones around your neck. They will drag you to the bottom, sap your energy, dampen your enthusiasm and assure you a fate that in the evening of your life, you will gaze back at the road you travelled, with pathetic and futile tears running down your cheeks – at what could have been if only you’d had Edge. You will know then that the reason it didn’t happen was not fate or the stars or anything else. The reason was you, yourself. You had no Edge. Not for nothing do I say, ‘If only’ is the saddest phrase in any language, because only those who have lost it all, are forced to say it. It means that your life is over, even if you remain alive.

Remember that it is kindness to stop the bus and get the wrong people off. It is not kindness to keep them on, leading them to a destination they never wanted to go to in the first place. There is nothing to be hesitant about doing this. No great enterprise happens because of one man or woman. It happens because of those who followed the leader. So it is essential for the leader to ensure that he or she has the right followers. Great leadership is a followership issue.

Keep driving

Once you have the right people on the bus, keep driving. It is an inevitable rule that the right road leads to the right destination. And right people ensure that you remain on the right road. That is the reason to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off. With the right people there is no confusion. There is no noise in the system to distract you and take the pleasure out of the tune. With the right people you know that no matter who takes the wheel he or she will keep the bus on the right road and will not swerve off into some nice looking deviation. With the right people you know that you don’t have to worry about who will get off to change the wheel or fill gas or anything else that the bus needs to keep going. With the right people you know that you don’t have to ask anyone to do anything. Right people know what to do and do it unasked.

So ask yourself, ‘Do you have the right people on your bus?’ And even more importantly, ‘Are you the ‘Right Person’ for the bus you are on? If not, do yourself a favor – get off. Get off right now.

Keep driving because worthwhile destinations have a way of being far away. Satisfaction is directly proportional to difficulty. But with the right people you will enjoy the drive. It is very necessary to enjoy the drive, to take pleasure in the journey and not wait until you arrive at the destination. The pleasure in the journey is a factor of the company you are traveling in. So once you have the right people on the bus enjoy the drive and keep driving. To arrive at the destination is inevitable. Right people ensure that you go to the right destination. Winning is a habit. So is losing. So choose right or choose to lose.

3. Demonstrated willingness to invest time, money, energy and all resources in the pursuit of a vision that spans generations.

The key word is ‘demonstrated’. You can talk till the cows come home – but until you show it, it doesn’t count. All great enterprises succeed or fail for one reason only; lack of sufficient investment.

That is the reason to have an unyielding commitment to live the values and to have the right people on your bus. Only then will you be assured of the investment that you need in order to succeed. It is essential that those directly involved in the enterprise – those who are on the bus – invest personally, demonstrably and visibly. That is the proof that they are the right people. If they don’t, they should get off the bus. Investment is where the rubber meets the road. Investment is to walk the talk. Investment is what brings other right people on board because people listen with their eyes and are drawn to others who they resonate with; share values with; feel good in the company of.

Investment as I mentioned, is in terms of time, energy, money and in every way that is necessary for the enterprise to succeed. To invest means to put the enterprise and its demands over and above everything else. I mean ‘everything’ in a very literal sense. There is no ‘work-life balance’ with those who eventually succeed in great enterprises. For them, their goal is life. For them and all those who are with them – including and most importantly – their families. There is no great enterprise that I know of which was done in anyone’s spare time or on weekends. All great enterprises demand full time, 24×7 commitment to the exclusion of everything else. You need to walk, talk, think, sleep and dream the goal. You need to do this and find meaning, rest, entertainment, enjoyment and fulfillment in it. It must be something you do when you are paid for it, something you will gladly do free and something that you will pay to do. It must be your legacy. It must be your contribution to life. It must be the reason you live, the reason you die and the reason you are remembered.
All great enterprises also demand that those involved in their founding personally invest significantly in them. Significantly not in terms of the absolute monetary value but the relative value in terms of the individual’s own wealth. So the investment may look small in terms of itself but may represent the individual’s total wealth in the world. That is what makes it significant. It represents the investment which the person is making in terms of how important that person considers the investment – that he puts all he has into it. He doesn’t need encouragement. He is convinced. So he invests. People engaged in great enterprises don’t know the word ‘sacrifice’. They know the word ‘investment’. They are so convinced of the value of the return that they consider it a great opportunity for reward. Others may think that what they are doing is sacrifice. But they do it because for them there is nothing better to do than that.

Investment, as I mentioned, is not only in terms of money, though that is a very significant part of it. Investment is also in terms of time, energy and thought-share all of which are essential for the enterprise to succeed. Investment is also in inspiring and energizing others. Investment is in transferring your dream into their hearts. In making them dream your dream. People engaged in great enterprise are able to do this not because of amazing oratorical skills but because passion is infectious and sincerity is transparent. Hearts speak to hearts and words are immaterial. Without sincerity and passion, no dream can be transferred into the hearts of others.

Investment is in building teams. In spending the time to train others, to support them, to have patience with them and also when required, to part company with those who simply are not going to succeed. All this investment becomes possible for one reason only – and that is – the goal is worth every minute, moment and measure of it. Only when the achievement of the goal is seen as worthy of the effort that it will take to achieve it, does the effort become possible. It is that shining vision in the distance that enables all the difficulties of the path, to pale into insignificance. It is the glow of the vision that lights the dark lonely road in the depth of the night when hope is at a low ebb and fears raise their heads in the darkness. It is the taste of the sweetness of the vision in the mouth that wipes out the bitterness of hard labor and defeat after defeat. It is the pull of the vision that lifts me up every time I fall – again and again.

It is written in the laws of nature, that they will not be changed for anyone. As long as one fulfills their conditions, they produce the same return time after time without change. The difference between free flight and free fall is in the landing. Not in the speed with which the flyer moves through the air. It is the law of gravity which spells the ending – the same one every time. Success, like gravity, is a law of nature. Those who know how it works, achieve it every time. Like the smooth landing of the one who knows how to fly.

An Entrepreneur’s Diary – Interview

1 — Founding story: why this venture, why that particular time, what motivated to make the leap? What were the entrepreneur’s greatest fears and desires?

Need for excitement, challenge, freedom — all these were reasons. I had planned to start something on my own in 1984 when I first attended a self-development workshop which gave me a taste for training and I realized that I have a natural talent for teaching and loved doing it. But it took almost 10 years of planning and preparation before I actually launched my company. The final trigger was when I reached a plateau in my career, the downside of fast growth, and had to make a choice between changing my job or changing my career. I chose the latter and never regretted it. Strangely my greatest fear should have been starving to death but I never did experience it. My logic was that I planned to succeed, so I was not going to think about what to do if I failed. That has always been my logic and it works. Not having contingency plans seems like gambling, but in my experience, contingency plans take the edge off entrepreneurship. Your fears then drive you and you start seeking safety more and more and that is suicidal for the entrepreneurial activity. It is better not to think of the possibility of failure at all. Plan well. Work like hell. Be highly adaptable. Keep eyes and ears open. Listen to feedback and take risks. The greatest complement I ever received in my eyes was when Pradeep Singh, Promoter and MD of Aditi/Talisma said to me, ‘You are a master at brinkmanship.’ I think it is the ability to walk on the edge and not fall off, which is critical to success.

My greatest desire then and now (26 years later — counting from 1984) is to help people. I know what I can do. I see the results and it gives me a big thrill when someone comes up to me at an airport or somewhere in some country and says, ‘Mr. Baig, you changed my life. I remember listening to you in such-and-such course in such-and-such country and I did what you recommended and it worked.’ This has happened to me many times and nothing can beat the thrill of that. I enjoy my work. I am passionate about developing leadership. I enjoy seeing people empowered. I get the greatest satisfaction from knowing that I had something to do with that. I believe that it is absolutely essential to love your work. To be passionate about it. Even if all you do is to make widgets, you must be the most passionate widget maker in the world who lives, walks, talks and dreams about widgets. That is the secret.

2 — What were the most surprising things and most important lessons learned about founding and running a company? What were the greatest difficulties?

Building credibility was the biggest challenge. I was from a hard-core operations background, attempting to enter the area of professors, HR experts and the like. My logic was simple — I do the stuff they talk about. And guess what? I know how it feels to actually make it work, I know the difficulties that you Mr. Practitioner will face and I know how to fix it if it breaks. I didn’t just design strategies to deal with unions; I faced unions on the shop floor. I didn’t just design appraisal systems, I appraised and was appraised. I didn’t talk about team building principles; I built highly diverse teams which created benchmarks in productivity, motivation and working across boundaries. I didn’t teach risk management, I put my money where my dreams were and then stayed up in the night living with the empty feeling in the pit of my belly, waiting to see if my risk was going to pan out or not. And today I am still here and doing well. Risk to me is not a theoretical matter that I talk to others about while taking my own salary home. Risk is something that I live with, enjoy taking, have lost money on and have highly successful rules to deal with which I have invented, tested and practiced with great results. That approach worked and still works because I am from their world — the world of the practitioner who has to take the knowledge from the book and the lecture and actually use it in the field.

My big learning was not to do what is not my expert area. So, I have an operation where everything that does not need my personal intervention is outsourced. Takes a huge load off my back and balance sheet. I don’t have to supervise staff, don’t have overheads and simply pay bills, once a year and everything is in order. Another big learning was about the importance of having an abundance mentality and freely sharing resources, learning from and helping people; even people who others would see as competition. It is a matter of great satisfaction for me that several of my competitors have recommended me to their clients.

Can’t say that I had to face any great difficulties even though in the initial year there were months where until the last couple of days we didn’t know if we would have money to pay the rent for our home. But then I tended (and still do) to seek challenges. A difficulty doesn’t look the same if you went looking for it and found it. Then it is exciting, keeps you awake in the night inventing ways to solve it and gives you a big thrill when you do solve it; which makes you ready for the next one.

3 — What were the key reasons why the venture succeeded or failed?

Four key reasons why this venture succeeded:

1. Human relations: I believe in building relationships and always ensure that I follow the advice that my first boss Nick Adams gave me — Be good to people when you don’t need them. So, I have clients today who are more friends than clients and are my best ambassadors. In 20 years I have not had to make a single cold call. All my new clients are client referrals. That is worth money in the bank, believe me. I am consciously good to everyone I meet from the driver of the car which picks me up from the airport, to the man who deals with the audio-visual stuff in one of my programs, to the go-for young people, to the VPs who come to inaugurate my session. I have always maintained that anyone in the room is my client and their designations have nothing to do with how I treat them. They are all equally important to me.

2. Quality: I have always held myself to the principle that we will always deliver quality whether they want it or not. Because quality is our signature. Not theirs. So, we will always deliver quality and always deliver more than they expect. And we will remember that quality is reflected in the shine on your shoes, the crease of your clothes, the way you open the door for someone, whether you stand up to greet someone who enters the room, whether you ask if the driver or helper has eaten and if he hasn’t whether you invite him to eat at your table. All these are quality indicators with great impact. Far more than you would imagine and interestingly you won’t find them in any book or on any B-school menu of ‘Secrets of Success.’

3. Enjoy: I believe I succeeded because I enjoy my work. I know I have said this before but it is the key to success. You can never do well, something that you don’t enjoy. So, do only what you enjoy. And you will naturally do it better than anyone else. And what’s more you don’t get tired, stressed or bored. You love every minute of it, it energizes you and everyone else around you. And when it comes to doing more than what clients expect, it is easy to do because it only means to do more of what you enjoy.

4. Investing in myself: Every year I spend considerable sums of money and time, training myself. I do my own performance appraisal focused on my learning and contribution — not on my earning. In 2013, I had my 360-degree Appraisal done by Potentia, a company that specializes in this. I am most thankful for the result. I write at least one book per year. I write an article a week and in the last week alone, I had 11, 500 visitors to my website which has free articles and lectures for anyone who is interested. Enthusiasm is not a substitute for competence. Knowledge changes from time to time and unless you are focused on learning, redundancy is your biggest threat.

Investment in yourself is the cutting edge. It is what takes you to the top and keeps you there. The biggest secret of expertise is to continuously improve yourself and to do your work 24×7. I believe seriously that entertainment is for the mentally weak who are involved in daily activity which they don’t enjoy and so it creates stress. They need to get away from their ‘lives’ to live a fantasy for a few hours or a few days before they inevitably have to return to the drag. For people who live a life of purpose and passion, their work is the best entertainment. I thoroughly enjoy teaching and training and I would rather not be playing golf or fishing.

4 — What were the most important personal lessons that an entrepreneur needs to learn?

1. Learn to live with erratic cash flows. That is the downside of not having a salary. Good financial planning is the key; combined with financial discipline.

2. Learn to live with disappointment. You are not the most important thing in your client’s life so they will cancel assignments without notice. Smile and bear it because to cry and bear it is worse.

3. Learn to use spare time effectively — which means, make discipline a way of life.

4. Learn to enjoy uncertainty — you will have a lot of it.

5. Money has no meaning. Money is not the reason to work. Money is a natural consequence of excellent service. Honor, compassion, contribution, concern for quality and an abundance mentality are all more important than money. And guess what? If you do all this, money will come on its own. Only, you don’t do it because of the money.

5 — What would be your advice to someone starting their own business?

1. The world is round — what goes around, comes around.

2. Friends may come and go, but enemies stay with you — so be careful not to make enemies.

3. Build bridges because you will need them when you least expect.

4. Take advantage of opportunities — and remember they don’t come with a label round their necks.

5. Take risk — to wake up every morning is a risk. Without risk there is no growth and that is an absolute law.

6. Don’t look to see what you can do. Do what you can do best. Do what you are most passionate about. Because you will be doing it for a long time and there is nothing intelligent about doing something that you don’t enjoy even if you make money in the process.

7. If something is not working for you, examine your own values, ethics, morals and beliefs. All of what I said above is less about acting and more about being. Acting can’t be sustained. You don’t ask about someone’s welfare or share with someone or do more for a client because you have your eye on some future profit. You do it because that is who you are. Your values drive you and so look at your values and if necessary change them.

8. And last but by no means the least — be grateful. And show it. It is true that we owe our success to our efforts, but it is good to remember that many of those were made standing on someone else’s shoulders. If people had not helped us at critical moments, we would not have achieved what we did. Remember them and what they did because even if you forget they won’t.

I remember all those who helped me no matter how long ago that was. I ensure that I keep in touch with them and let them know that I have not forgotten them. I never will.


Advertising is not about selling. It is about influencing; about kindling desire; about fueling passion. Advertising is about converting ‘want’ to ‘need.’ It is about mind steering. Advertising is powerful so it must be used responsibly.

Think of your favorite Ad. What does it seek to do?
Then ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’

Is it true that my value as a human being will increase because I wear a certain brand? Is it true that my possessions are a reflection of my worth?
Or are they a reflection of my character which drives my choices?

Choices that reflect my wisdom with respect to wealth, concern for others, compassion and morals.

What do you call someone who uses expensive products because he thinks they add value to him as a person?

I call him a person who doesn’t understand the basic principle in life – that possessions add cost; not value.

Advertising must be responsible. The foundation of responsibility is truth. Advertisements that seek to promote products which harm life, objectify women, promote drugs and addiction, are irresponsible, false and criminal. Alcohol destroys lives, cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer and you don’t need a naked woman on a couch to sell ice cream or chocolates or biscuits.

We must condemn such advertising which is neither original, nor artistic, nor attractive. It is harmful, corrupt and promotes evil.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – I call upon you to support responsible, moral advertising and to fight against the irresponsible and the unethical.

Because in the end, it is not about them. It is about us.

Values define results

My morning began with three emails: One a quote from my great benefactor and teacher, Ml. Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (May Allah be pleased with him), the other the column of my friend David Bullard about Twitter and Facebook and the third the news (how predictable) that Narendra Modi has been able to sign up a record number of MOU’s for an astronomical sum of promised investment into Gujarat with everyone who is anyone in Indian industry, cheering him as they signed on his dotted line. I have pasted the two emails below. Modi is all over the papers and my computer doesn’t like his face so I will leave you to look at it in your own time.

Why these three things together?

Because the message is the same – it is money which makes the world go around.
And so what kind of world is it that is going around where the only consideration is ‘dollar value, net worth and bottom line’? Where human values, morals, ethics, compassion, consideration and kindness are all signs of weakness.

Modi is one face of it – a man who engineered the slaughter of 2000 innocent men, women and children and in case you didn’t get the message, announced it from the rooftops and as a result, got elected with thumping majorities in three subsequent elections. A man who the people of his state, Gujarat and most of India look up to as their ‘savior’ because he can attract the high and mighty (from our epitomes of honesty and integrity, who talk values and travel economy class on planes to our wheelers and dealers who do it openly and without apology, who institutionalized corruption in this country and forged the Corporate – Politician – Civil Servant nexus and everyone else in between) to sign on his dotted line and promises of billions in investment. Nobody more materialistic than the normal, garden variety Indian and so you promise money and you can have my body and my soul in the same shrink wrapped package.

Another face of it is the news today that when they tried to unclog a blocked sewage drain in the women’s hostel of the English & Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, they discovered what was blocking it – a few days old fetus (read: baby).
Another face of it is the scene I saw when I was having my annual lunch with my friend Anil Sood at the Westin hotel in Hyderabad two days ago – two young men and two young women attired in a green colored uniform pulling a steel roller on the lawn. Why do you need four people (gender equality to boot) to drag a roller when a John Deer or Massey Ferguson mini-roller would do it better, faster and cheaper? Because it is actually cheaper to use four people in India and who cares about faster and better anyway? So what are we seeing in the ‘Shining India’ that is being touted to us?

5% or less of a population of 1.2 billion working in the service industry (ITES, IT, Call Centers) creating a bubble of apparent prosperity – propped up by easy credit and complete freedom from any sort of value, chasing a fantasy created and peddled by Bollywood – easy money, easier women, all for a song.

What does that mean in plain language?

The vast number of ‘jobs’ being created for those who are not computer mechanics and keyboard jockeys are symbolically like the one I mentioned above – people dragging the dead-weight of their lives behind them – jobs in gardening and cleaning in 5-star hotels, security for shiny steel and glass offices, labor to build those offices and the elevated highways connecting them to shiny airports and the like. Where did such people work before we started ‘Shining’? For one thing they didn’t exist – the effect of the population explosion. For another they used to work in the fields on farms. Some of them sold farm produce in cities – small retail. Still others worked in manufacturing companies – which actually make things – not just answer phone calls in bad English with worse manners.

Today manufacturing is what China does. Small retail is what the likes of Reliance and ITC and others grabbed and created humongous retail chains on the model of Wal-Mart, in the process wiping out the livelihood of millions of poor people who had no other means of earning a living and no other skill. Farms are where our politicians go to gather votes on the basis of unsustainable promises, where micro finance companies go to offer loans at astronomical interest rates and where the desperate farmers eventually commit suicide. What about the labor who construct those beautiful offices (if you call something of steel and glass beautiful, that is) and elevated highways and shiny airports that less than 1% of the population will ever use? Well, after the office is up and well before inauguration, lo and behold, they don’t exist. They are made to disappear. They vanish without trace as if they never existed in the first place. Maybe the building is a current version of the Indian rope trick – it arose out of the earth when someone played the flute.
In closing let me narrate a story – that the engineer in charge told me at a major hydroelectric generation plant in Tamilnadu in the beautiful Anamallai Hills more than 20 years ago. This project was designed to pump water from a lower reservoir during off peak times into a reservoir on the hilltop and then during peak times this water is sent down steep penstock tunnels onto turbines to generate electricity. The project engineer was taking me around and we were walking in the main tunnel off which the penstock tunnels fell away at an angle of 30° or less – onto the turbines.

The man cautioned me and said, ‘Sir please don’t go too close to the edge. If you slip, we will not even be able to get your body up.’ (laugh). I noticed of course the complete absence of guard rails or holding nets or any form of safety when there were hundreds of workers working on this site. Their gear? Rubber slippers, beedi in the mouth and an attitude of fatalism. So I asked him, ‘Don’t you have accidents? What happens if one of these workers slips and falls?’ He said, (laugh again – this time albeit a little embarrassed), ‘We take attendance in the evening.’

That O! People, is the nature of the world that money makes go around. They take attendance in the evening. Your call.

The lifestyles of the Ulama have to be distinguished from the awaam (general masses)
Hadhrat Moulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (rahmatullahi alaih) once mentioned:

“Our lives have to be distinguished from the awaam. Onlookers should be able to fully understand that these people are not seekers of the world, and wealth and riches are not their goal in life. Our work should be only for the sake of Allah Ta`ala as was the way of our aslaaf (pious predecessors). As long as a marked difference does not appear in the Akhlaaq (manners,attitude) of our Ulama fraternity and they do not instill within themselves the quality of serving others, they will not be able to influence others nor will they be respected. They will not be able to implant within the minds of others the respect and honour for Deen. Respect for Ulama will never be created by reporting the size of the madrasahs they run and the large number of students studying under them. Rather, the honor for Ulama is created by the way they portray themselves. When the awaam notice that these Ulama consider it taboo to lay their hands on that which they (awaam) will sacrifice their lives for (i.e. material possessions etc.), nor do they show any concern for them, they will eventually say to themselves, “We thought that riches were the ultimate in life but, in the eyes of the Ulama riches hold no weight.” (Tuhfat-ul-A’immah, p. 77)

Your customers build your brand – Not you

Much has been written about building a winning brand and about the importance of brand and branding in general. In my view successful branding is the culmination of a 2 – step process which is as follows:

1. Ask: What do we want to be remembered for?
2. Act always and consistently to create those memories in people’s minds.

So that every time they think of what you provide, they have only one name that they can recall and that is yours. Like all truly powerful ideas, it is very simple. The key is in execution; passionately, seamlessly and consistently.

In my view, if you are competing against anyone, i.e. if your customers or potential customers are even considering your competitors as potential fulfillers of their need, then you have failed. In the words of Sun Tzu, ‘The best general is the one who wins without fighting.’ And that is the hallmark of successful branding – that you leverage yourself out of the competition.

So how can you do that?

1. Asking: What do we want to be remembered for?

It is essential to ask this question and the answer lies in another question: What am I most passionate about? We can only be remembered for what we do best and we can only do best what we are most passionate about. So ask, ‘What am I most passionate about? What do I truly want from life? What am I willing to do anything to achieve? What do I get the most satisfaction from?’ Make up your own questions and answer them and you will arrive at that which you are most passionate about. If you always do what you are passionate about you will become known for it and people will remember you for it. So identify that passion.

2. Act always and consistently to create those memories in people’s minds.

If there’s one word which is critical in this statement it is the word ‘consistently’. It is regularity that creates dependability. People must become used to expecting the same standard of excellence when they come to you for whatever it is that you provide. Consistent Excellence. Flashes in the pan are good to create awareness but if the pan doesn’t flash every time, then credibility gets damaged very quickly.

When you do this – produce excellence and do it consistently and regularly then dependability ensues and brand is created. Brand is not built by you but by your clients who tell others and become your ambassadors to the world. One referral by a satisfied client is worth a million bucks of advertising. I am not against advertising and PR but want to emphasize that one must keep it in perspective and not imagine that it is some kind of magic wand that once waved will wipe out all the bad taste of indifferent product and service quality. It won’t. On the other hand the PR will come across as an exercise in deception and destroy credibility even more.

Many branding ‘experts’ talk almost exclusively about ‘customer perception’ and the ‘mind of the customer’ as if they can read minds. They talk about how to ‘influence the customer’ to think this way or that as if the customer is a puppet in your control who can be influenced independently of your actions and what you provide. Their ‘campaigns’ are almost exclusively about logo design, ad copy, tag lines and color combinations. They don’t talk about product quality, delivery efficiency, service excellence or follow up. The result is that ‘branding exercises’ are all about advertising and PR and not about creating sustainable quality. This is a very big mistake because the damage to the brand which results from the eventual and inevitable disappointment that the customer feels when the PR mask is off, is something that can’t be measured and seldom corrected.

So what must one do?

Focus on ‘Moments of Truth’ and ensure that these are defined, designed to create the impression you want the customer to take away and monitored to ensure that every single time, the customer has the exact same experience.

What is a ‘Moment of Truth’?

In the words of Jan Carlson, the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, who first used the term in this context, ‘A Moment of Truth is that moment when a customer or a potential customer, comes into contact with any aspect of your business and has an opportunity to form an opinion.’

I have underlined the key phrases in this definition to highlight their importance. Who is a ‘customer or a potential customer’? In my opinion it is anyone in the world. Anyone who meets you, speaks to you on the phone, logs onto your website, reads your brochure, billboard or any of your literature or contacts you in any way at all must go away with the most positive impression possible about who you are and what you do. This must happen even if the person decides that you are not the person he/she needs to fulfill their need at that time. They must still feel that you are the best thing that happened to them.

Moments of Truth are defining moments but are for the most part handled either mechanically (websites, answering machines and so on) or by the least paid, least trained employees (telephone operators, security guards, receptionists) with predictable results. I am not suggesting that the CEO must man the phone or stand at the gate (though having said it, is not a bad idea at all to do once in a while) but must know what anyone who calls his company or comes to meet anyone experiences. Most CEOs and managers when I get them to call their company anonymously are unpleasantly surprised at what happens. Most Moments of Truth in most organizations go unnoticed and uncommented upon except by customers, which is a very dangerous situation to be in.

The key to brand building is to ask, ‘What do we want our customers to feel when they think of us?’ Then talk to them and ask what they do feel and bridge the gap. This VOC (Voice of Customer) is the most valuable tool for brand building that you can imagine. It is a thermometer to gauge the warmth the customer feels towards your organization – the warmth of love and good feeling or the warmth of irritation and anger. Organizations that listen to customers regularly (by this I mean actually speak face-to-face not run anonymous surveys) have their finger on their pulse and are able to leverage that knowledge. They build relationships that result in customer loyalty and give them an insight into what their customers want. Apple’s iPod and iPad were the result of listening to customers and the resultant sale success is an indication of how well they know their market. Singapore Airlines advertising is supported by in-flight service that even other airlines talk about. BMW’s advertising is supported by unmatched engineering to produce a benchmark, not merely a car. Brand building therefore in my view is to listen to the customer, build a close relationship with him/her and deliver a quality of service that leaves them spellbound. Advertising and PR then is merely to inform them about new products and services.