Whenever I speak of
customer service, I am reminded of how some people from north India, from the
Hindi speaking belt of UP and MP pronounce it. They say, ‘Kasht-mar service’.
Now ‘Kasht’ in Hindi means ‘difficulty’. And ‘Mar’ means to die. So, the literal
translation of ‘Kasht-Mar’ would be (Kasht-say-mar) meaning ‘die slowly with
difficulty’. Not a very nice thing to say but that is what some people in the
business of providing service seem to be saying to their customers (Kashtmars).
Customer service is about customers, not about the content, technology or industry in which those customers operate. This is a very important thing to understand and accept if one is not to fall into the trap of feeling that somehow our own industry is so unique that the lessons learnt in the airline, hotel, BPO, IT or hospital businesses are not applicable to us. If we deal with people, lessons learnt in any industry that have to do with people, apply to us and we would be very foolish to ignore them. Customers and people think holistically. When we experience bad service on board a plane, we compare it quite happily (albeit sometimes unconsciously) to the overall service standard that we are used to in our own environment and feel proportionately bad about it. If we come from a country like Singapore where the quality of service is generally very superior, we will tend to feel highly dissatisfied with bad service. But someone who comes from another country where service standards are generally pretty low, they may find the same service to be acceptable because their expectations are so low to begin with. When experiencing on-board in-flight service, we don’t compare it only to our experience on other airlines. Even people who are flying for the first time feel dissatisfied with poor service. So, lessons are transferable.
Great customer service is a
combination of two things: a genuine desire to serve and some key things to do
(tools). Let us look at each of them.
Attitude: Whenever I think of an attitude
of great customer service I remember when I first went to Singapore in 1994. I
was there to teach a course in teaming skills at GE Asia. I reached my hotel by
about midday and having had lunch and rested, decided to go out in the evening
to see the city. I came out of the hotel and stood at the curbside waiting for
a cab. One came along in less than 2 minutes and then it happened. The driver
pulled up, got out of the car, trotted (he didn’t walk, he trotted) around the
back to where I was, opened the rear passenger door and ushered me into the cab
with a flourish. I realized that I was in the presence of something special and
silently got in.
The interior was spotlessly clean
and smelled of some pleasant mild perfume. I sat waiting for the next act of
the play. And there it was. He said to me as I was sitting in the cab, ‘That is
today’s newspaper for you Sir and some water if you’re thirsty. I hope you are
comfortable.’ I said that I was and thanked him. He shut the door respectfully,
trotted (once again he didn’t walk) back to his seat and said, looking at me in
the rearview mirror, ‘Where can I take you Sir?’ I replied, ‘I don’t want to go
anywhere. I want to just sit here so that I can enjoy the experience of being
in your car.’
I still remember this incident so
many years later as if it happened yesterday. The point is that he was an
ordinary taxi driver who had never gone to a single training class in customer
service. He was in a business where customers commonly have the least
expectation of service and are only interested in not being deceived to pay
more than their due. His customer is with him for probably the shortest time of
any service; just the few minutes it takes to drive to the customer’s
destination. And typically, he would probably never see that customer again.
Yet here was a man going out of his way to be nice to his customers and to give
them an experience to remember. Why?
The only answer I have is,
because for him service was about who he was. Not about who the customer was.
Neither I nor anyone I know would expect, much less demand a taxi driver to get
out and open the door for them or keep clean drinking water (in a sealed
bottle) and the day’s papers in the car or to keep the car in an absolutely
pristine state. After all we are used to shabby taxis and as long as it is not
horribly dirty, we don’t give it a second thought.
He did what he did because he saw
his service as defining him, not because he thought the customer cared about it
or wanted it or demanded it or would pay for it. It was his own pride in his
work and his desire to serve.
Let me give you another example.
In 1997, I lived in Bangalore and wanted to buy a Maruti 800 car. I called a
number which I thought was the number of the agency which financed Maruti purchases.
A lady answered, and the conversation went like this:
‘Good morning, this is Citibank
Car Finance. How can I help you?’
‘Good morning. I am looking to
buy a Maruti 800 car and want to know if you finance it.’
‘I am sorry Sir, we finance only
Opel Astra (four times the price), but if you hang on a minute, I will get you
the number of the company which does Maruti.’
Once again, I knew I was in the
presence of someone with that key attitude – the desire to win customers. So, I
waited. She came back online in less than one minute.
‘Here’s the number Sir. And if
you change your mind and decide to buy an Opel Astra, please do give us a
She knew perfectly well that I
was not an Opel Astra customer, but she still said that so that I would not
feel bad about not being able to afford an expensive car.
Once again, the power of
The first thing I would ask
anyone who has to deal with any customer in any kind of business at all is, ‘Do
you really want to do this job? And if you want to do it, how much do you want
to do it?’
# 1. Is it an, ‘Ah! Here comes another one’, kind
# 2. Or is it a, ‘Well, since I am here, I may as
well get it over with.’
# 3. Or is it, ‘Another fantastic day for me to
give some customers service they have never seen before. I love the look on their
faces as if they can’t believe their own eyes and ears.’
Which one applies to you? It’s
really as simple as that.
Now how about if you are not the
# 3 kind of person?
have two choices; change your job or change yourself.
Changing your job may neither be
feasible nor is it easy to find a job where you don’t have to deal with people.
There are such jobs, like feeding crocodiles in a zoo, but not so many fall
vacant unless the feeder slips into the pool. Like it or not you are going to
have to deal with people. So, what should you do?
is what you should do:
Stand before a mirror and tell
yourself, this is the BEST job that I could possibly be doing because I have an
opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Now what is more worthwhile
than that? Convince yourself and then go to work.
I was in the airport in Hyderabad
and wanted to use the washroom. I entered the room and found that the toilets
were being cleaned. The man doing the job saw me and said to me, ‘Please give
me a minute Sir.’
Then he not only cleaned the
toilet, but he sprayed air freshener and then took some tissue and dried the
toilet seat. Did that make a difference in my life? You can bet it did and I
ensured that I gave him the biggest tip he would have received in a while. Though
going by his attitude and quality of service it would take a shamelessly stingy
person to pass him by without emptying their pockets into his hands. Once
again, I don’t think that man ever saw the inside of a Customer Service
Let me give you my final example.
It was 1995. I was teaching a 3-day leadership course for a major IT
multinational. The course was in Bombay. This was before the name of the city
was changed to Mumbai. It was July. Not the best time to go to Bombay unless
you love flooded roads and incredible traffic jams. But when you are lean, mean
and hungry, you do what you need to do. I was and I did. I flew Indian Airlines
(before its name was changed to Air India) and because if you wanted to fly that
is what you flew. There were no other domestic airlines. I landed in Bombay under
threatening skies. A cab driver came to pick me up from the airport and we drove
to my hotel which was not too far away. As I got out of the car, he asked me, “When
do I need to pick you up to bring you back to the airport Sir?” I told him, “At
5.30 pm on Day 3.” He thanked me and left. I checked in to the hotel. That
night the skies made good their threat and how? It rained non-stop for the
three days that I was there. The whole city was flooded and there was knee-deep
water in the streets and traffic was one massive gridlock. It appeared that all
those stuck in the traffic jams would spend the rest of their lives in their
On Day 3, as I walked through the
hotel reception to my class, I requested them to keep my room as it didn’t look
like I would be able to go anywhere that day. I finished my day and as I came
to the reception, on the way to my room, who do I see there? The cab driver. He
was standing there with a rolled-up umbrella in his hand, totally soaked from
head to toe. I was astonished. I said to him, “How are you here? In this rain? You
are soaked? Why didn’t you use the umbrella?”
He said to me, “Sir, I came to
take you to the airport. The umbrella is for you Sir. Please come, let us go.”
“How can we drive? The street is flooded
and there is a traffic jam all around!”
“I know the back roads Sir. Don’t
worry. I will get you to the airport. But I have a request. I must apologize to
you Sir. I couldn’t bring my car for you because it has a petrol engine and can’t
go in water as deep as this. So, I borrowed a diesel pickup van from my friend.
If you don’t mind sitting in the van, I will get you to the airport in time for
I couldn’t believe my ears. My
judgement told me to stay put. I had the hotel room. I was not in a hurry to
get home. I wasn’t even sure if Indian Airlines was flying on schedule. But
there was no way that I was going to refuse to go after this man had gone to
all the trouble on my behalf. I picked up my bag and got into the cab of the pickup
and we drove through the flood waters, with a bow wave before us. It was like being
in a boat. When we got to the airport, I tried to give him Rs. 100 as a tip. He
refused. “It is my duty Sir,” he said. You don’t need to pay me anything. I told
him that I was not paying him out of a sense of duty but as a small gesture of
my vast appreciation for his effort. He still refused. I had to use all my
skills of persuasion for him to eventually accept this token of my appreciation.
He left with a smile on his face. Indian Airlines cancelled the flight and
since there was no way to return to the hotel, I spent that night on the floor
of Bombay airport, warm in the glow of my experience of absolutely heroic customer
service, once again from someone who had never heard of a Customer Service
Course. Indian Airlines on the other hand gave me many examples of staff who
had attended many such courses, with no appreciable effect. It is not about the
course. It is about the person.
stand before your mirror and tell yourself, ‘I want to make a difference in
someone’s life today.’
To help you to focus on customer
service, here is a tool you may like to use.
Listen, Empathize, Accept Responsibility, Do Something
Listen: The first thing is to listen to
the customer. Listen to what they are saying and to how they are saying it.
Sometimes it is not the words of the customer but their tone of voice or body
language which gives the one who listens well, the real message. In GE there is
a process called Voice of Customer (VOC) which is part of the Six Sigma Quality
Initiative where customers are regularly invited to come in and talk about how
they experience GE’s service. The focus in this meeting is not on giving
explanations or making excuses. Just on listening carefully to what the customer
has to say about his experience. This conversation then becomes the basis for addressing
pain areas and enhancing the level of service.
Empathize: The second is to put yourself in
the customer’s shoes. How would you feel if someone did to you what you or
someone in your company did to your customer? The reason it was done is
immaterial. That they had to suffer is what the customer is conscious of.
I was in San Francisco at the
Marriot, having arrived there by a late-night flight at midnight, having flown across
the country from Hartford, CT. I was teaching a 3-day course for AMA
International starting at 8.00 am the next morning. I had asked for a
non-smoking room as I am allergic to cigarette smoke. When I went up to the
room almost at 1.00 am, I found it reeking of cigarette smoke. I complained but
the person at the front desk told me that they did not have any other room. I
was furious but there was nothing I could do so I slept as best I could. Next
morning, I had to leave early for work. When I returned, I was met at the lobby
by the hotel manager who took me up to another room, this one smelling sweet
and asked if I liked it. I said that I did. She then asked if she could have my
luggage moved there. I agreed.
Then (only then) did she say to
me, ‘Sir, I apologize for the problem you had last night. We had booked a non-smoking
room for you but unfortunately it seems that the guest had someone else in the
room who smoked and so the room smelled of cigarettes. We did not realize this
until too late and there was no other non-smoking room available last night. I
blocked the first room that fell vacant this morning and here it is. My
apologies once again.’
The beauty of this response was
that she first solved my problem and then (only then) gave me the explanation
for what had happened. It was clear that they were empathetic about my problem.
They did not try to brush it aside or pretend that it was not really a problem,
nor did they try to justify or explain it. They addressed it and solved it and
then explained why it had happened, once the problem had been solved.
third thing is to accept the fact that the problem of the customer is really
your problem. This is something that we don’t see too quickly and act as if the
problem has nothing to do with us. It is our problem because it is causing our
customer to be dissatisfied. And a dissatisfied customer is very much our
problem. Own your responsibility and don’t send the customer to someone else.
This is one of the biggest aggravations that customers face; being shunted from
person to person and having to repeat their story over and over. I am sure
every single one of us has faced this, especially where there is an automated
response system. Press this button or that and listen to free music while you
wait. And every once in a while, a disembodied voice tells you, “Your call is
important to us. Please wait awhile for our Customer Service Representative to
attend to you.” You want to say, “If my call is really important to you, talk to
me.” But you know that nobody is listening, and nobody cares.
There is almost a reflex tendency
in most people to give explanations for failed service. We go off into telling people
why they are suffering. Believe me, they don’t want to know why they are
suffering. They want their suffering to stop. And they want you to make amends.
If you don’t do this and tell them all the reasons why they must suffer, it only
makes them angrier and more frustrated. So, accept responsibility. It is your problem,
because the customer is your customer. It is really as simple as that.
take action. You take action. Don’t tell the customer what to do. You go
do it. And then let them know what you are doing and how it is going to solve their
problem. Reporting periodically is essential for customer satisfaction. Don’t just
disappear over the horizon. Tell them what you are doing to help them. People
don’t like to be left in the dark. So, tell them.
is a known fact that in most cases it is the same things that tend to go wrong
again and again. Identify the three or four major things that tend to go wrong
most often and have preset responses for them. In order to do this, it is
essential to document what happens in your customer interactions so that you
can correctly identify what goes wrong most often. Preset responses take away
the stress from the interactions and ensure the fastest recovery from failure.
Research shows that customers who had a problem that was solved well are more
satisfied than those who did not have a problem at all.
I have always maintained that the
quality of customer service depends on what you define as the boundaries of your
customer interaction. When does someone become your customer? When does the customer
interaction start? When does it end? Does it start when someone calls your office
or drives past it or sees your delivery van or website or billboard? Does it
start when someone buys your product or service? Where and when does it end? Does
it end when the person picks up the package or buys the ticket or the service
is delivered to him in some way? Or do you also include their use of your
product or service in your definition? I am not going into a detailed
discussion of all these, but I want to flag them for you. The quality of your
service will depend on your definition.
In Disney, they have a Vice
President for parking lots. Now that may sound strange, but it has to do with
Disney’s philosophy that to give you a great experience at Disney Land from the
time you enter their parking lot to the time you leave, safely on your way home,
is their responsibility. This is how it works. When you drive into Disney’s
city block size parking lots, you leave your car and get into a shuttle bus to go
to the entrance. As you get on the bus, you hear this announcement. “Ladies and
gentlemen, boys and girls; welcome to Disney. You are parked in Goofy 1.” You
will hear this announcement thrice during your trip to the entrance. Once when
you get on, once midway in your journey and once just before you get off.
What is unique about this announcement?
It addresses the main customers
of Disney, your children. It repeats thrice which is the best way to ensure
that people notice what you are saying to them. And it uses Disney characters
to name parking lots.
You buy your tickets; you go in and
you have a great day. You take all the rides and watch the sights and eat and walk
around and take lots of photos. It is now late evening and you return to the shuttle
bus station and wonder which bus to take. “Where did I park my car?” That is
when one of the little ones pipes up, “Goofy 1.” Children recall the Disney characters
that they are so familiar with. The wisdom of the announcement.
When you reach your car, you discover
that you had left your lights on. Entirely understandable, as you arrived that
morning with a car full of excited little ones, all screaming about what they
want to do in Disney. Now, you have a whole lot of tired and sleepy little ones
and your car is dead. But as you stand there, contemplating the futility of
life, you will notice a PRE-PRINTED sticky note on your diver’s side window
glass. The note reads, “We came by and saw that you left your lights on. If your
battery is dead and you need a jumpstart, please call this number.” Imagine
your state. It is that moment which decides what you think of Disney’s service.
Not all the rides or sights or food. But their proactivity in dealing with a
problem that was not even their own. But then, they consider it theirs, because
you are their customer. And you are their customer, not only when you entered the
park but until you have gone safely home. This is so important to them, that
parking lots is an entire business vertical. That is what makes service great.
It is how you define the boundaries of responsibility.
To be able to give service to your
customers that you become the Gold Standard in their perception against which
they judge every other service provider, you need to monitor your ‘Moments of
Truth.’ I want to share with you one of
my favorite stories and the origin of the term, ‘Moment of Truth’. I quote from
“Jan Carlzon (born June 25,
1941) is a Swedish businessman. He is most noted for being Chief
Executive Officer of SAS Group from 1981–1994 At the time Jan
Carlzon took over the helm of SAS, the company was facing large financial
difficulties and losing $17 million per annum and had an international
reputation for always being late. A 1981 survey showed that SAS was ranked no.
14 of 17 airlines in Europe when it came to punctuality. Furthermore, the
company had a reputation for being a very centralized organization, where
decisions were hard to come by to the detriment of customers, shareholders, and
staff. He revolutionized the airline industry through an unrelenting focus on
customer service quality. Within one year of taking over, SAS had become the
most punctual airline in Europe and had started an ongoing training program
called Putting People First developed by Claus Møller of Time
Manager International (‘TMI’). The program was focused on delegating
responsibility away from management and allowing customer-facing staff to make
decisions to resolve any issues on the spot. Jan Carlzon said at the time:
“Problems are solved on the spot, as soon as they arise. No front-line
employee has to wait for a supervisor’s permission.” These changes
soon impacted the bottom-line as well and the company made a profit of $54
million in 1982.”
Ian Carlzon coined the phrase, ‘Moment
of Truth’, in relation to Customer Service and defined it as: that
moment when a customer or a potential customer comes into contact with any
aspect of your operation and has an opportunity to form an opinion.
This is a very clear definition
and shows how everyone in the organization is responsible for customer service.
It also underlines two things: that frontline staff must be empowered to take
decisions without fear to ensure that customers are satisfied and that means that
the system must not punish a wrong decision by a frontline staff, as long as it
was taken with the intention of satisfying a customer.
If you punish employees for taking
decisions, which in their opinion were right, then they will stop deciding and
send the customer from one person to another, which is what we see in most cases.
Empowerment means that the employee knows that as long as they take a decision
in the interest of pleasing a customer, the organization will stand behind them
and will support the decision, even if it was wrong and cost the company some
expense. This doesn’t mean that your manager will not sit with you to
understand why you did what you did and explore what else you could have done.
But he/she will not reprimand you. Instead you will be praised and officially
appreciated for keeping the customer first. Every employee must know this and must
act with this confidence. Otherwise frontline employees will cover their backs
and the customer will be given the royal merry-go-round ride.
To be able to monitor and control
Moments of Truth you must know where they occur, and you must be able to record
and measure them. If you know what that point of contact is and can control the
interaction such that the customer’s experience is positive, then you have a
winning operation. If you either don’t know what your Moments of Truth are or
where they occur or have no control over them, then you have a losing
operation. It is as simple as that. However, knowing Moments of Truth and
controlling them is a matter of rigorous measurement and documentation which
most organizations are unwilling to do and so they blunder along and create
dissatisfied customers and lose business and, in some cases, quite understandably,
go under. The most significant fact is that most Moments of Truth happen at the
periphery of the operation in places which are manned by the most junior, least
qualified and mostly ignored members of staff. They decide your fate. It is
your security guard, your receptionist, sales representative, bus driver, telephone
operator, webmaster, helpdesk, the state of your waiting areas, washrooms and
cafeteria, the person who delivers your product to the customer and many such
people, who give your customer or potential customer a taste of your customer
service. In many cases, these people may not even be on your official roles and
may be contract employees because you have outsourced these activities. Yet,
they are your face. The customer sees them as your representatives and their
interaction with the customer, decides your fate. The customer doesn’t ask the
frontline employee he is dealing with whether he is a direct employee or an
outsourced contractor. He doesn’t ask, he doesn’t care. So, pay close attention
to them, train them, value them, appreciate them, make them team members in spirit,
even if not in letter. If not, you, not they, will pay the price.
Great customer service is about
concern. It is about being genuinely concerned for the customer. It is about
pride in your own operation and your own identity; wanting to be the best. It
is about wanting to add value to people’s lives; about seeing value in serving.
It is about being a shrewd businessperson; recognizing who pays you and
ensuring that he/she is not just happy to do so but simply delighted that you
are there to serve them. Great customer service is the only guarantee for survival
and growth and the only insurance and hedge against bad times.
Customers don’t remember what you did. They remember how you made them feel. That is the key.
‘If you want to see
what someone values, see what they measure.’
Mikel Harry, Motorola, 6
Many years ago, in the 1970’s I remember seeing a Russian tractor. India used to have a bilateral trade agreement with the USSR by which we bought all kinds of goods from Russia and paid for them in Indian Rupees, whereby we were able to conserve our meagre foreign exchange. You can read more about that agreement here http://www.commonlii.org/in/other/treaties/INTSer/1953/16.html
Russia bought tea from us; huge quantities of rather poor-quality teas and supplied us with manufactured goods. This tractor was one such, representing perhaps ten years supply of the morning cuppa to a Russian farmer. What amazed me was its size. It was massive. Not merely big or huge, but massive. Later someone told me that these tractors were failures and people went back to buying the smaller and lighter, Massey-Ferguson tractors, even though they came from a place which was ideologically inferior to the Great Socialist Republic.
knew the answer but asked him why Massey-Ferguson tractors were considered
superior and why the Russian tractor had failed. And sure enough he said, ‘We
use tractors to plough in rice fields. A heavy tractor sinks into the soil and
even if it has the power to get out, it churns up the soil so much that it
spoils everything. Sometimes it gets stuck so badly that we have to yoke
bullocks to it to haul it out. Why buy a tractor if you still need bullocks?’
did some research into why Russian tractors were so heavy. Massive blocks of
steel. The answer I got was that Russian factories measured output by the
amount of steel consumed. If you were a factory manager and had to show high production
figures, you had to show that you were consuming a high tonnage of steel. There
are two ways to do that. Make lots of lighter tractors or fewer but much
heavier ones. Which is easier? You guessed it. And there you have, massive
tractors, that make the Production Reports look good. How do they work in the
field? Depends on the field. Maybe they worked fine in the Russian steppe,
ploughing to grow wheat or corn. But in India, in rice fields they failed. To
this day in some villages you can see a massive steel tractor gently rusting,
testimony to an age of mindless industrialization where progress was measured
You get what you
measure… so let us ask, “How do we measure human worth?”
we live in a world where dignity has quite wrongfully been linked to material
wealth. No matter how learned a man or woman may be, or how kind or truthful or
trustworthy, if they are not wealthy, they are treated with disdain. Net worth
has only one meaning. And I can’t think of a more dishonorable meaning; to
equate a person to the amount of money in his pocket. HNI; what if it meant
Person with the best character? Instead of Person with the most money, no
matter how he earned it and no matter what his character is like. Not to say
that all rich people are evil. They aren’t. I am talking about what we measure
which shows what we truly value. If we measured character, truthfulness,
kindness, compassion, courage, dignity, concern for the underprivileged, the
weak, elderly, poor, sick; then that is how we would define ourselves. High
Networth Individual would mean the kindest, most truthful, most compassionate,
most courageous person in that society. We wouldn’t glorify ostentation, waste,
self-centered consumption, cruelty, oppression. We would call Aristotle, ‘The
Great’, instead of Alexander, whose only claim to fame was that he left
Macedonia to rape, plunder and loot his way across a million square miles of
others’ homes and societies. Who we glorify and celebrate, tells a much bigger
story about who we are than about who they were.
what would the implications of living in such a society be on people’s
happiness and self-worth; real self-worth, not pretentions to it. I believe
this is something to think about.
we applied today’s standard of HNI – High Networth Individual, how would people
like Hillel and Shammai, Al Ghazali, Al Biruni, Ibn Sinna, Abu Hanifa, Ahmad
bin Hanbal, Jalauddin Rumi and so many sages and scholars of so many
traditions, look? How would you judge the Networth of Aristotle, Epictetus,
Plato, or even the prophets like Moses, Abraham, and perhaps most of all Jesus (Peace
be on them all) – about whom Muhammad (Peace be on him) said, “The sky was
his roof and the earth his bed.” Today he would probably be in a homeless
shelter after having been arrested from a park bench or pavement and taken
there by the police.
if we applied an ethical and moral standard to decide who was an HNI and who
wasn’t, how would Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, the various Middle
Eastern Potentates, and the many billionaires in different countries, look?
Especially if you consider the fact that the poorest countries in the world
today seem to have the highest number of billionaires. Many of them living in
high-rise palaces with their feet grounded in the misery and squalor of the
daily lives of the poor. Not ashamed, not troubled, not even giving it a second
thought as they go about trying to outdo each other in vulgar display of
wealth; not by competing in charity but in wastage and excess.
Rabbi Elazar said: The reward for charity is paid from Heaven only in accordance with the kindness and generosity included therein and in accordance with the effort and the consideration that went into the giving. It is not merely in accordance with the sum of money, as it is stated: “Sow to yourselves according to charity and reap according to kindness.
is very particular about preserving the dignity of the receiver so that he
doesn’t feel demeaned because he needs to accept charity. Islam says that the
one who receives, honors the one who gives because by giving the giver is
receiving reward from Allahﷻ
whereas the one receiving is only getting something material from another human
being. So, the giver gives and thanks the receiver for accepting it.
you want to know what someone values, see what they measure.’
is a wonderful story about the Regent of the Moghal Emperor Akbar, who came to
the throne at the age of ten and had a Regent who ruled in his name until he
came of age and who was his mentor, teaching him how to be King. His name was
Abdur Raheem and his title was Khan-e-Khanaan (The Khan of Khans – Chief of
Chiefs). He was a very learned man, a polymath, a scholar of Islam and known
for his great wisdom and sagacity.
day Abdur Raheem Khan-e-Khanaan was traveling from Delhi, the capital, to Agra.
Needless to say, he was preceded by his massive entourage and surrounded by his
escorting troops and personal bodyguard. On the way he saw a man standing at
the edge of the road with a glass bottle in his hand in which were a few drops
of water. The man would tilt the bottle until the few drops of water were at
the lip of the bottle, in danger of falling out, and would then straighten the
bottle so that they didn’t fall out. This he kept doing over and over. Abdur
Raheem ordered his carriage to stop and ordered his treasurer to give the man a
bag of gold coins. This was done.
evening, when he was in camp and his Durbar had been set up and he was
receiving petitions, his treasurer asked him, “Your Grace, why did you
give that man a bag of gold coins? Who was that man?”
Raheem Khan-e-Khanaan said, “I am surprised you are asking this question.
Didn’t you see what the man was saying?”
treasurer said, “Your Grace, all I saw was that the man was tilting the
bottle until the water in it almost flowed out, but he would save it at the
last moment and didn’t allow it to fall out. But what does that mean?”
Raheem said, “It means that the man was saying, “I have lost
everything except two drops of honor. And now even that is about to go.”
If he had come and begged me for charity, it would be at the expense of his
honor. So, I ordered you to give him the gold so that his honor is preserved,
and nobody knows that he received charity.
as we speak there is a raging debate about the abrogation of Article 370 in
Kashmir. On one side are those who claim that this is good for the people of
Kashmir who will now be able to sell their land and become wealthy. They say
that this will bring in much needed new business and tourism and thereby jobs
and boost the economy. Even those who normally walk the high talk of ethics and
morals supported the bill in Parliament on the plea that it was ‘good for the
people of Kashmir’. On the other side are those arguing that you can’t take
unilateral action without consulting the people, on the plea that it is good
for them? Why were the people themselves, whose welfare seems to be everyone’s
concern, not taken into confidence before taking the action of abrogating a
Sovereign Guarantee enshrined in nothing less than the Indian Constitution?
What is a Sovereign Guarantee? It is a guarantee given by the Nation. Not by the government in power at the time. But by the Nation, to fulfill whatever it was that was guaranteed. No matter if the government that gave the guarantee changes. The guarantee would still be valid and sacrosanct. Especially where it is enshrined in the Constitution, it is inviolate and inviolable. However, it looks like today we seem to have changed the meaning of Sovereign Guarantee. Does this mean that a Sovereign Guarantee can never be changed? No, it doesn’t. It means that it can’t be changed unilaterally. If the two parties in the guarantee mutually agree to change it, then it can be changed honorably. But both parties must be involved in the re-negotiation and must come to a new agreement. For one party to unilaterally change a Sovereign Guarantee is not honorable. Do we even know what honorable means today? After all, today our highest criterion for decision making seems to be political expediency.
am not against economic development. I am against giving it precedence over
honor, truthfulness and integrity. After all, if we do that, then what’s wrong
with drug dealing, stealing, bribing, human trafficking and a plethora of ways
to make money? It is only truthfulness, the sense of right and wrong, virtue
and sin that is the demarcating line between what is honorable and what is not.
Al Capone was an entrepreneur, wasn’t he? So is Bill Gates. Is there a
difference? Who would you like to be? If I break my word once, then what value
does my promise have in the future? It takes a lifetime to build trust but to
destroy it, all it takes is one instant. Take an expensive crystal vase and
drop it on a stone floor. As it shatters into a thousand pieces, you will
perhaps understand what I mean by keeping and breaking promises. Can it be put
back if you are able to collect all the pieces? Perhaps it can. But it will
never be the same. You will always be able to see the fault lines. Another
simple way to understand this is to ask yourself this question, “Who would I
rather deal with? A person who keeps his word or one who is liable to betray it
if it suits him?” A Sovereign Guarantee is not about the matter that you are
guaranteeing. It is about us as a Nation. It tells the world who we are. Or
more accurately about how we choose to define ourselves. The world merely
Mikel Harry said, ‘If you want to see what people value, see what they
measure.’ Let us ask ourselves, what do we measure? Not just pay lip service
to. But measure because we value it.
It was 1980. I was working in Guyana, in a small mining town on the River Berbice, called Kwakwani. I had saved up money to take my first holiday and planned to go to London. As I was going to pass through the United States, I thought it would be a good idea if I could stop by and visit some friends and see New York. But there was one problem. I applied for a visitor’s visa to the US but was refused. The Immigration Officer thought that as I was young, single, and unattached, I would stay on in the US illegally. So, sadly, I only transited in New York and went on to London. In 1982, when I decided to return to India though I would need to transit through New York and was dying to see the city, I did not even plan to apply for a visitor’s visa as I was sure I would be refused again for the same reason.
However, one weekend a few months before I was due
to leave, I went to visit my good friend Rev. Thurston Riehl who was the Vicar
of Christchurch Vicarage, the Anglican Church in Georgetown. He lived in a
lovely wooden bungalow in the Church compound with his wife Clarissa Riehl, who
was the Public Prosecutor in the High Court. Father Riehl told me that he had
invited a few people over that evening and one of them was the Deputy Consul
General of the United States, a man named Dennis Goodman. Father Riehl said
that he would recommend my case to Goodman to see if it would help. I agreed.
That evening when the introductions had been done, Father Riehl said, “Yawar is
going back to India and wants to see New York. He had applied for a visa in
1980 but was refused. Do you think there is a chance that he can get a visa
Goodman turned to me and asked, “What is the guarantee that you will not stay on illegally if we give you a visa. Please don’t be offended. This is a very common thing and something that the visa officer will need to be convinced about.”
“I give you my word that I will not stay on
illegally. More than that, I can’t do.” I said. Dennis Goodman simply looked at
me in silence and then said, “Please come and see me the next time you are in
So promptly the following week I went to the US
Consulate to see Mr. Goodman. Those were the days before the security
nightmares that you have to face today, and I was conducted straight away to
his office. He gave me an application form, and after I had filled it in, he
accompanied me to the Visa Section next door. There he asked me to wait at the
window and went behind the counter. The window had a glass panel and a mike
into which you had to speak.
As Dennis Goodman walked into the office, the lady
at the counter turned to talk to him and forgot to switch off her mike. So, I
was unwittingly privy to their conversation.
Goodman: “Can you please give him a visitor’s
visa? He is going back home and wants to see New York.”
“Hi Dennis, give me a second.” The lady checked
her records and said, “Did he tell you that his brother is already there? This
guy is not leaving once he lands in New York, believe me.”
Goodman: “He gave me his word that he will leave.”
“His word?? What on earth is that?? Don’t tell me
you believe him!!”
Goodman: “As a matter of fact, I do. So please
give him the visa. I will guarantee that he will not stay illegally.”
“Okay Sir, it’s your neck!!”
Then she turned back to the window where I was and
said to me, “Please come in the evening and collect your passport.” I thanked
her and left. Neither of them was aware that I’d heard their entire
I landed in America, stars in my eyes. I was given
a stay permit for three weeks. I was however not prepared for the reception
that I got. After the initial welcome, all my friends got after me to find a
job. I tried to tell them that I had not come to stay and that I was only
visiting on my way back to India. The conversations all went something like
“I have a friend who runs a restaurant and is
looking for help. You can start waiting at tables and then see where it takes
you. Nothing to worry. We all start the same way in this country but see where
we are today. Here they pay you by the hour. No way you can get that in India.”
“I haven’t come to stay. I am going back home. I
got my visa on the promise that I wouldn’t stay in America illegally. So, I am
not going to.”
Looks of incredulity. Where is this guy from? I
mean which planet? Promise? What is he talking about anyway? Let me ask.
“I promised the Consul General in Guyana that I
wouldn’t overstay my visa and wouldn’t remain in the US illegally.”
“Yeah! Tell me about it! We all did that. So, what
happened? Everyone knows, we are not doing anything illegal. We are just
hustling for a living. So, can you. Who cares?”
“Staying without a visa is illegal. Who cares? I
“You are just plain lazy. You don’t want to work
hard. Do you have a job in India? What will you do there? You will starve. Look
at so-and-so, see how he made a success. Started pumping gas. Now he owns the
gas station. So can you if you only work hard.”
“In India I will have to work harder. It is not
about hard work. It is about keeping my word. I promised Dennis Goodman that I
would not stay back. (I tell the whole story again). He told the consular
officer to give me a visa on his guarantee. How can I go back on my word?”
“Dennis Goodman is not watching you. He doesn’t
“Yes, you are right. He is not watching me. Dennis
Goodman doesn’t know. But I do.”
End of conversation. Nobody is convinced. Nobody
shows me any respect for standing by my principles. But it doesn’t matter to
me, because I couldn’t have done anything else. I don’t budge, because my word
is my bond. And I gave my word.
When I reached England, enroute to India, the first thing I did was to buy a postcard of Big Ben, stuck some nice British stamps on it and mailed it to Goodman saying, “This is proof that I have left the US as I had promised.” I never heard from him and don’t even know if he got the card. Postal services to Guyana were rather shaky at the time, but if he is still around and reads this, I want him to know that I remember his kindness and appreciated his belief in me. And I want him to know that I kept my word and did what I’d said I would. Maybe he can show this to the lady who’d said to him, “It’s your neck.” His neck was safe.
The world is round and what goes around, comes around. Today almost forty years later, I have been lecturing American diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and have lived and worked in America and traveled there many times. Every time I do, I think of Dennis. Very interestingly also, a dear friend, who heard this story, found Dennis on the net. I am hoping it is him and that I will be able to contact him, so that the story can have a proper end. Shows how the world is both a small and a big place.
Before God’s footstool to confess A poor soul knelt, and bowed his head; “I failed,” he cried. The Master said, “Thou didst thy best—that is success!”
It was December 1980. I was sitting on the veranda of my house in Guyana. It was about 9.00 pm, dark, balmy evening in the tropics. As usual on most days in this season, it had rained in the day and stopped. The air was heavy with moisture but the breeze, cool. Before me was the orange orchard of the Staff Hill, bounded on the far side by the forest. The rain-forest of Guyana. The evening had signed off to the night by the booming calls of the Howler monkeys who also announced the beginning of the new day. Scarlet Macaws flew to their roosts, talking to each other. I also heard the chatter of the Sakiwinki (Common Squirrel Monkey) families settling into their resting places. The forest was now relatively quiet, except for the singing of the Cicadas, whose song rose and fell in waves like those of the ocean. Sometimes they would fall totally silent, only to start again in the middle of my deep breath of relief, to remind me that the only way to live with Cicadas, as with some kinds of people was to get used to them. The forest is never totally silent because the forest is a living being. It has living beings in it, but it is itself a living unit which breathes, sings, groans and talks to those who know how to listen. The forest has its own language, which you need to learn, if you want to enjoy being in the forest. Otherwise the forest can be an alien, ominous, even threatening presence to those who don’t understand it.
I spent my whole life
from the school days, to this, in forests. Not that I lived inside them but I
lived near them and where I didn’t have forests near me, like now when I live
in a huge, concrete labyrinth called a city; I make the effort to go to the
forest at least once every quarter, simply to breathe. Otherwise I feel
suffocated and start dying slowly, inside. The forest rejuvenates me, gives me
new life, energizes me and enables me to go on for a while longer. So, that
night I simply sat on my veranda and was one with the forest.
But where does the poem
I began with, come into this story? You ask.
That night, I had finished a very long and protracted negotiation with the union, a marathon session over 72 hours, practically non-stop. But still at the end, we were waiting to see what the union would do. Accept or not. That is when I recalled this poem, which my very wise and dear friend and boss, Nick Adams had mentioned once. You will not be asked, ‘What happened?’ You will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ As someone said, ‘You don’t lose the race when you fall. You lose the race when you fail to rise.’ As long as you rise and keep running, you are in the race. But if you remain down, then you are out of the race. Who decides whether you rise or not?
We are brought up
wrong. In many more ways than one. Let me give you an example. Someone told me
a very tragic story about a highly successful Indian businessman in the US, who
one day, shot himself, his wife and two children, obviously not in that order.
When the case was analyzed, it turned out that he had fallen on hard times and
though he had property which he could sell to settle his debts, he would have
been reduced to penury and would have had to start all over again. He chose
instead to end it all and killed his whole family as well. Someone commented on
this story and said, “The problem is that he was taught how to deal with
success, not with failure. We must learn how to deal with failure.” That may
sound a bit like loser-talk; learn how to deal with failure? Think about it
while I tell you another story.
This is about Thomas Edison, the great inventor and founder of General Electric. The story goes that one night Edison’s famous laboratory caught fire. It was housed in a separate building and before anyone was alerted and could do anything, the whole building and everything inside was a huge conflagration. Edison’s son, Thomas Alva Jr. said, “I was very anxious about my Dad and rushed to see where he was. This was his entire life’s work going up in flames and I was afraid that he would perhaps do something drastic at this tragedy. When I found him, he was standing with his hands folded behind his back, watching the fire. He saw me and said, “Go call your Mom. She is not going to see such a magnificent fire in a hurry.” Thomas Alva says, “I couldn’t help myself but ask him, “But Dad, that is your entire life’s work!” Thomas Edison replied, “Tell me, how many people have the chance to have all their mistakes erased at once? Now go and call your Mother.”
I said that we are
brought up wrong because we are conditioned to seek outcomes and to not only
feel sad, glad, bad, mad based on them but to judge ourselves on the basis of results.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Especially those who know me and know how focused on
results I myself, am. I am not against focusing on results, but on focusing on
them to the exclusion of everything else. I submit that if you focus on the result
alone, that can be detrimental to the result itself and so it is a
What must I focus on,
if not on the result? You ask.
Focus on the process. Focus
on the way. Enjoy the effort. Monitor what you are doing and how you
are doing it. Put metrics on the effort and as I said, enjoy it. The reality of
life is that there are no final results. Every result is like a rest spot in a marathon.
You can stop for a bit, while the rules of the game get changed. Then you run
again. Not in the marathon; in life. The truth is that most of our life, we are
going to be engaged in the process. Most of our time, all our effort and resources
are going to be engaged on the way to get to our destination. If we don’t enjoy
that, then we are going to be very miserable. But if we enjoy the journey, then
we will live a very happy life. As for the destination, well, the right road will
get you there, but only if you keep walking. So, Johnny Walker, keep walking.
In Guyana I lived in a small mining town called Kwakwani, which clung to the bank of the Berbice River, with the ever-present forest threatening to engulf it in an unwary moment. We generated our own electricity using a generator that had a huge flywheel to take care of providing energy for the engine after it delivers the power stroke. Look it up if you are interested in the role of the flywheel in power generation. My point however is different. The flywheel, for those who have never seen one, is a huge wheel with spokes. The one in Kwakwani had a diameter of 30 feet and was made of cast iron. It was a massive piece of machinery. We never allowed the engine to stop but on the annual maintenance day, when the engine had to be stopped for a few hours, the sight of the restarting was very amazing and instructive. To get the flywheel to start turning, it took a huge effort because it was so heavy. After applying all the effort, it would turn just slightly. Sometimes it would simply settle back in place, a heartbreaking thing to see for those who had bust a gut to get it to move. But you never gave up because you knew one thing and that was, that once it started turning, it would go on turning literally forever. If those trying to get the flywheel to move, focus on results, they will lose heart, because for the longest while there are no results, despite all your effort. But if they focus on the process, see if they are pushing hard enough, do whatever it takes to keep pushing, then the result is inevitable and then all they need to do is to stand by and watch it happen.
My most inspirational
creatures in the wild are small birds. Birds which are so small that when they
perch on a blade of grass, it doesn’t bend with their weight. These birds,
their eggs and young, are prey and food for everything that eats meat. And they
can’t do anything to defend themselves or to protect their young. Yet they thrive.
How do they do that? They do it by focusing on the process.
Here is my conversation with one of them, who perched on a little twig right before me and my camera in Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka, with a neatly tied blade of grass in her beak. “How do you do it?” I asked.
“I am a bird. It is
my job to build a nest and raise young. I do that job to the best of my ability.
If in the process, my nest is destroyed, I simply start building again. If I build
the nest and lay eggs but before they can hatch a tree snake, a rat, a monitor
lizard or anything else finds my nest, then I escape and let the predator eat
the eggs. I can’t help it. I can’t protect them. But once the predator has left,
I build another nest and I lay some more eggs and I incubate them. It is
heartbreaking when predators find my nest with my young in it. Once again, I must
leave and watch my babies being eaten before my eyes. But then what do I do? I
build another nest. I lay some more eggs and I raise some more babies. That is
why in the end, I survive and my tribe increases.”
I ask you, ‘Have you
ever seen a depressed Bulbul?’ I haven’t. They have no time for depression. They
never give up. They know what they are supposed to do. They do it until they
succeed. No matter how many times they fail in the process. No matter how long
it takes. They keep at it until they succeed. And in the end, they always succeed.
This is a new initiative that I started this week. Leadership is a Personal Choice. It will be available on Google Podcasts (Android) also. Please listen to the introduction first which tells you what this is all about and what I am trying to persuade you to do. Then listen to the first episode, Differentiate. This and more to come, are the essence and extract of my own experience as a Leadership Development expert, gained over 35 years, on 3 continents, working with people of multiple races, religions, communities and nationalities.
This is my tribute to all those who contributed to my growth, all those who taught me life lessons and gave me opportunities to prove myself. All those who challenged me, stood by me, refused to accept anything but the best and who appreciated what I did. What I do today is because of what they did for me. Some of them have passed on. Others are still in my life and I thank Allahﷻ for both. They are too many for me to name and some wouldn’t like to be named. But I salute every one of them and they live in my heart.
I want to share this with you free and I hope you will benefit. Some people told me that I am giving away my capital (because for a Leadership Consultant ideas are billable capital). I said that I would rather give it away than take it to my grave. I don’t know anyone on the other side who needs this.
So, please listen and enjoy this. And if you like it, please share with others and please let us know. All the very best to you.
If you asked me to tell you in one word; only one
word, the secret of success, I would say, “Differentiate.”
Let me begin with a question; “What do you ask for
when you go to the corner store to buy toothpaste?” Do you say to the attendant,
“Please give me toothpaste?” If you did, what would happen? Maybe you should try
this out the next time you go shopping. What would happen is that the store attendant
would ask you, “Which brand would you like?” You will face the same situation
if you went to buy almost anything in the market, unless it was buying mangoes
from a street vendor. Products are known, recognized and bought by their brand.
I teach career management in global corporations
and have been doing that since 1994. You can see my presentation on career
management on my YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/YawarBaigAssociates . The link to the presentation is Careers in Global Corporations http://bit.ly/2ZY3KW5 . I’ve taught this
course in GE, Motorola, IBM, Microsoft, National Semiconductor and many other corporations
in America, India and elsewhere. But more importantly this is what I practice
myself, in my lifelong effort to add value to others and thereby to myself. That
is how I define my career. That is my differentiation. Adding value to others.
What is differentiation?
Differentiation is to stand out. Not blend in.
Incidentally that is also how I define leadership. Let me give you another example;
how do you introduce yourself? More than likely you say, “I am an IT
professional or engineer, doctor, teacher, whatnot.” Well, so are a million other
people in the world. You are one in a million in the wrong sense. You need to become
one in a million in the sense of that proverb. That is differentiation.
Because Differentiation creates Brand
Brand inspires Loyalty
Loyalty enables Influence
Without differentiating you are one grain of rice in a sack. You are still rice, but one grain in a sack. Nobody knows you exist. Nobody cares. Nobody understands this better than Apple. Or Coke for that matter. And that is why these brands inspire loyalty that seems extreme and even absurd to others. But it is neither. It translates into a totally loyal customer base which is money in the bank and make Apple and Coke the most valuable brands in the world.
In the podcast that goes with this article, I will
tell you a story about brand that happened with me in 1996 and has stayed with
me all these years and is one of the most powerful illustrations of the power
of brand. Don’t miss that podcast. Please subscribe to our channel and you will
be alerted every week with a new episode.
How can I differentiate, you ask? Let me tell you
a story from my life. But first, the principle; you differentiate by doing what
the rest of the world is not doing and doing it in a way that is graceful, dignified
and beneficial to all concerned. Differentiation is not about being freaky. It
is about standing out in a way that inspires respect and the desire to emulate in
those who see you.
It was 1989 and I was a Manager in the tea
plantation industry in South India. I had been in the industry since 1983 and
had developed a reputation for high productivity and excellent labor relations.
A very big advantage in a highly labor-intensive industry with a militant
unionized workforce. I was ambitious, high-energy and looked forward to a fast-track
career. At that time, I was transferred to our company’s garden in Assam. The job
was at the same level as I was at but came with better perquisites and a slightly
bigger span of responsibility. What it also came with was the ‘opportunity’ to
be as far away from the company headquarters as is geographically possible,
when your company HQ is in Chennai. For some this may have looked like a good
thing. To me, it didn’t. In the corporate world, ‘out of sight is out of mind’.
So, I declined the transfer. This was not easy for me or my bosses. This was a
trying period because suddenly I had no specific job. I had to leave my job as
the Manager on Lower Sheikalmudi Estate because that job had already been
assigned to another colleague. That left me literally homeless as there were no
bungalows in the Anamallais where I could live. It is a measure of my reputation
with the company and the understanding of my superiors that I was not simply sent
home for refusing to accept the transfer. I was sent off to Mango Range until
the management could decide what to do with me. We stayed there for six months.
I was getting my salary, but I had no work. No office, no superiors to report to.
No assignment. Nothing to do.
I was assigned a bungalow in a forest thicket,
which was in a dilapidated condition. The location of the bungalow was lovely,
and it was a joy to wake up to bird calls every morning. However, the house
itself looked like it would collapse on our heads at any time. Of particular concern were the walls, which
were so waterlogged that they had fungus growing on them in huge patches. My
wife is an amazing homemaker and all her talents were put to test in this
place. Out of this dilapidated house she created a lovely home which we enjoyed
Now, this is where differentiation comes in.
Anyone else in my position would have done one of two things. Either they would
have resigned and tried to find another job. Or they would have considered this
period as a paid holiday and enjoyed it. I enjoyed it alright, but not as a
paid holiday and I didn’t leave or even try to find another job. I loved my job
in the plantations and had no intention of leaving until someone kicked me out.
So, I wanted to ensure that didn’t happen. Since I had no regular job, I
decided on doing two things:
For a long time, I had been talking about the need
for systematic training of new assistant managers. The current system in the
plantations was that a new assistant would be put under a manager and what he
learnt or didn’t depended on the capability, interest, and energy of himself
and his manager and field or factory officers. If the assistant was lucky and
got some people who were both knowledgeable and interested in teaching, then he
learnt a great deal. If not, he remained guessing. This is a highly undesirable
system, which is very time and energy intensive and does not give standard
results. I had been advocating for several years the need for a standard textbook
on tea plantation management, which could be used to provide standardized
training. Any additional inputs that the young man’s manager and staff could
give him would only add to this, but he would not be deficient in the basics.
During my stay in Mango Range, I decided to write this book and in 6 months, I produced a 200-page Manual of Tea Plantation Management. Remember, this was before we had access to computers. The best we could get was a 386 desktop and DOS-OS. So, I wrote the book on an ordinary typewriter and then re-entered it all on a 386 at the head office when it was done. No copy paste, no cut and paste, no auto-correct or spell check. Windows were in the wall and what sat in your lap couldn’t be typed upon. At the time of its publication there was no such book on the market, and it was a source of great satisfaction for me. My company published it as an internal training book and though it was never a commercial publication, it did get fairly wide publicity and was used by many new managers. The biggest lesson for me was about the power of the written word and its high credibility in making your customer base aware of what you have to offer. I never forgot that lesson and today, I have just published my 35th book. After that book there was no way that I could be ignored, not that I feared that. I had a lot of people who I had dealt with over the years rooting for me in the company.
The second thing I did was to spend a lot of time
in Mango Range factory and hone my expertise in CTC manufacture of tea. I was
very fortunate in that Mr. T.V. Verghese, who had retired as a General Manager
in Tata Tea and was consulting with our company on CTC manufacture, was a
regular visitor and we became good friends. He shared his knowledge freely and
I learnt a great deal. He was a practical teacher, which meant that I got to
spend a lot of time on my back on the floor meshing CTC rollers with grease
anywhere on my face and body that grease would stick. I learnt all aspects of
manufacture hands-on, further reinforcing my belief that learning comes from
doing – not from talking about doing. In Murugalli Estate, I’d had a lot of
experience in Orthodox manufacture, and even though I had built Mayura Factory,
the premier CTC factory in South India, I was moved as soon as the construction
was over – thanks to a motorcycle accident. Consequently, my knowledge of CTC
manufacture was weak. In Mango Range, as a student of Mr. T. V. Verghese and
thanks to his willingness to teach, I rectified that deficiency. It was ironic
that thereafter I went to Ambadi, which was a rubber plantation and never
really used this knowledge, but it did come in use for writing a paper
comparing Orthodox and CTC methods, which I presented at the UPASI Annual
Conference in 1989.
Mango Range was an interlude in my career. I was
marking time and waiting for some positive change to happen, and in the meanwhile,
I enjoyed myself. It has long been my philosophy to live one day at a time and
to try to create as much happiness for myself and around me as possible. I have
learnt that the two are the same. You can only be happy if those around you are
happy. This is true whether you are an individual, an organization, or a
country. Imagine what a wonderful world we would have if instead of competing,
we collaborated and shared resources. We would all be wealthier, happier, and
healthier. I have always held that the secret of happiness is to be thankful
for and enjoy the small things in life. There are far many more of them than
the big events. If we can enjoy the small things, then we can be happy all the
time. The key to enjoyment is to appreciate them and be thankful for them. An
attitude of gratitude. The key to contentment is not amassing material but in
being thankful for what one has. The happiest people are those who are content.
Content people are those who are thankful. Material wealth has nothing to do
One of the things that I was very appreciative of
and thankful for was the leisure that I had in Mango Range. I had no specific
work except what I decided to do for myself. And I was still getting my salary.
So, I decided to learn golf. I got a caddy from Ooty Golf Club to come and stay
with me in the estate for three weeks. His name was Frank Augustine (I used to
call him Frankenstein) and he looked like a dried prawn. When he swung the club
though, he always hit the ball with that sweet phut that all golfers love to
hear. And the ball would travel straight like a bullet down the freeway. Whereas
my club would come up with a good measure of earth and top the ball to boot. Shows
that technique and not strength of the arm is what works in golf. As it does in
many other things in life. Frankenstein believed in hard work – meaning, making
me work hard. He set up a practice net, produced a set of one hundred used golf
balls and we were good to go. I would hit the ball into the net until I felt my
arms would drop off. All the while, Frankenstein would sit on his haunches
under the Champa tree that was to one side and watch me and make clucking
noises. The effect of all this clucking and my swinging at the ball became
clear when one day about midway in our training Frankenstein suggested that we
should go and play a round at the club. So off we went on the three-hour drive
to Ooty. After a cup of tea and a sandwich, I teed off and that is where all
the practice paid off. Ooty Golf Club has very narrow freeways bordered by
spiky gorse. If you didn’t hit your ball straight, you would send it into the
gorse and then you may as well forget about it – or pay to get the ball back by leaving your
blood on the gorse and acquiring gorse thorn furrows in your hide. As
Frankenstein continued his mother hen act, I could see the distinct improvement
in my style and capability.
Differentiation creates Brand. I got noticed and appreciated
and was rewarded with one of the toughest jobs in the company. I was sent to
New Ambadi Estate as its Manager. Two estates, two factories in Kulasekharam, Kanyakumari
District of Tamilnadu, which is geographically in Tamilnadu and spiritually in
Kerala. Highly militant, unionized, communist unions with a history of violence.
And to top it all, I didn’t know the first thing about rubber estate
management. I had not even seen a rubber tree in my life until then. That is another
story of great friends, like Arun, who taught me all about rubber. I
successfully faced the tough unions and not only won but made lifelong friends
with the union leaders, so that when I was leaving Ambadi three years later, the
General Secretary of the CITU, came to my farewell party, unannounced and delivered
such a speech that he had us all in tears. But as I said, that is another story.
My motto is, “I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is, in my control.’
My mission is, “Opening the world, one mind at a time.”
Welcome to our channel, “Leadership is a Personal Choice.” Because it is.
I speak to audiences around the world and I can tell you that if I asked anyone from any country, of any race or religion, at any economic and educational level to tell me in one word, the biggest problem we face, they will say, “Leadership.”
So, what is the solution?
It is to understand and accept that “Leadership is a Personal Choice.”
Leadership is not about status, designation, salary, perquisites, rank or power. It is about accepting responsibility for action. It is about saying to yourself, “This is my job and I am going to do it.” And then to find ways to create impact, no matter how small or limited it may seem. It is really as simple as that.
It is my hope that over the coming weeks, months and years, as you listen to these podcasts and watch the videos, you will stop and ask yourself only one question and that is; “How can I make a difference?” And then that you will do what you can do, where you live, in your circle of influence, using your resources, to make a positive difference in your world.
Please note, I am not talking about you telling others what to do. I am talking about you doing what you can do.
I am doing what I can. I am inviting you to do what you can. And if you need my help, you only need to ask.
The thought that drives me is: If not now, then when? If not me, then who?