We are all human

We are all human

Allahﷻ said:

Hujuraat 49: 13. O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has the most At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.

Allahﷻ told us that he created diversity of color and race so that we may recognize His Khudrat and appreciate the care and love with which He created us. He created diversity of color and race so that we can praise Him by honoring each other. It is the perversity of our cultures that we invented discrimination which comes out of arrogance (Kibr) by which we look down on others which is the surest way to reach Jahannam. Allahﷻ told us that the most honored is the one who is the most pious – has the most Taqwa – is most concerned about the pleasure of Allahﷻ. The one who lives by the single criterion for all decision making – ‘Does it please Allahﷻ?’

Rasoolullah declared in a Khutba he delivered during the days of Hajj:

“O People! Certainly, your Rabb is one, your father is one. An Arab has no superiority over a Non-Arab, nor does a Non-Arab have superiority over an Arab, a red skinned person (white) is not superior to a dark skinned person nor is a dark skinned person superior to a red skinned person except through Taqwa.” (Musnad Ahmad, vol. 5 pg. 411)

In 1978, I read a book by Alex Haley, called ‘Roots’. It was made into a TV miniseries which won practically every award in the book.

The story is set in 1750 about the saga of Kunta Kinte from the Gambia, West Africa. Kunta Kinte was born to Omoro Kinte, a Mandinka warrior, and his wife, Binta. He was Muslim. It is a story of pain and suffering, of being treated worse than an animal (because slave owners in America treated their dogs and horses far better), of being assaulted not only physically, but mentally and emotionally and spared death only because it is financially unwise to destroy your own property. But above all, it is a story of dignity, of faith and of courage that has remained with me and illuminated my life in its darkest moments of loss and grief with the message of hope and faith. Yes, this is a novel. But it is based on real lives of those who didn’t stand in lines before the gates of US Embassies in their countries to get visas, but who were torn out of their world, lives ripped apart, hearts shattered and hope murdered, to be transported in conditions that beggar the imagination, to be brought to these shores, to work in the farms and homes of those who considered themselves to be their ‘owners’. To raise their children, to build their cities and monuments, their sweat, tears, and blood, poured into the foundations, to be buried and forgotten. Forgotten that is, by everyone except the One who created them and remembered by anyone with the intelligence to reflect that the more magnificent the superstructure, the deeper and stronger its foundation. The America that we see today is not defined by names on billboards but by names of those who stood down in its foundations so that others could stand on their shoulders.

I saw a short video clip yesterday. A mother made it about her tiny perhaps two-year-old girl who had clandestinely eaten some cakes and is being questioned by her mother. https://youtu.be/3WZhW1FTH8w

Listen to her last sentence. ‘It was a black man,’ she says without any prompting. Ask, where did she get that from? That is how early and where, racism starts. That attitude is what killed George Floyd. That is what prompts every action of brutality against people different from ourselves. That is the real cancer, the real virus; far more lethal than Covid. That is what we must combat and eradicate. It kills. It has killed for centuries. And it will continue to kill as long as we allow it to survive. Remember that in this warped, twisted and perverted situation, it is only those who die, that we even hear about. We never hear about those who walk away, their souls scarred forever, their confidence shattered, and their hearts filled with rage at what they must endure because their skins have more color. Children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do. Good parenting is the first line of defence against racism. Racism is not restricted to the false idea of White Supremacy or to America. Hausa/Fulani conflict in Nigeria is racism. White/Black/Indian conflict in South Africa is racism. Uighur oppression in China is racism. Rohinga oppression in Myanmar is racism. All religious oppression and discrimination anywhere is racism. Indian/Pakistani mothers looking for ‘fair’ brides for their sons, is racism. The huge revenue that cosmetics companies make from ‘Fairness Creams’, in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa is racism. That ‘fairness’ has nothing to do with a sense of justice. It has everything to do with self-hatred and ingratitude to Allahﷻ by trying to become something that you can never, ever become.

In my nursery school in India, we learned a nursery rhyme which was:

“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Catch a ‘tiger’ by the toe, If he hollers let him go, Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”  

However, the word ‘tiger’ in the second line, was not what we were taught. We were taught another word, the genesis of which I did not understand until decades later when I had lived in Guyana and here in America among African American people. The rhyme was not taught to us by White Supremacists, but by our own South Indian teachers; not to teach us to be racist but because we were being taught English. I love English. I use English. I write and speak in English with total fluency and enjoy it very much. And so, I recognize English.

If you Google this nursery rhyme, it says, ‘The second line definitely comes from America.’ That is when I understood the reason for the word in the rhyme that we were taught and why it was replaced by the word ‘tiger’. Little did those who replaced the word realize how true to the nature of the African American is the word ‘tiger’. The fact that you are the survivors of a history that has no parallel in brutality, is evidence that you are the descendants of tigers and tigresses, whose bodies slave owners could abuse but whose hearts and souls were and remain their own. Sustained and supported and strengthened by the One who created you and gave you a spirit that has no parallel.

English is a racist language. Not surprising because it is the language of the greatest Empire of bandits the world has ever seen, the British Empire. Where one corporate organization, the East India Company, waged war, annexed countries (India was a collection of countries ruled by their own kings), created famines, enslaved and so thoroughly looted my nation that India, which accounted for 25% of Global GDP when the British graced our shores, went down to 2% when they decided to stop gracing them.

All this was done with the full permission and sanction of the British government of the day. British Clubs in India had signs at the gate which read, “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. That did not apply to the Indians who cooked and cleaned and served them in the Clubs. Only to Indians who may have dared to aspire to equality with their white masters.

White supremacy is therefore intrinsic in the English language. That is why in the time of my parents and grandparents, even though they were fluent in English, they never spoke it at home. And if we spoke to them in English, we were considered disrespectful and were reprimanded either directly or by the fact that they never replied to us in English. English, to them, was the language of the British colonial rulers, which we learned because we had to, but which was never accepted as ours. I do not agree with that philosophy as all languages are the signs of Allahﷻ and are a means of communication. They are tools which are value neutral, to be used to convey meaning. They are neither good nor bad. It is their use, which makes them one or the other.

Let me give you some examples of how English is loaded with discriminatory meanings. Jesus is white, as are all the disciples in the Last Supper; though we know that they were all Palestinian. Black is bad in English by default unless you qualify that by saying: Some of my best friends are black…which is a racist statement if ever there was one. The member of the family who brings disrepute to it is the ‘Black sheep’. A dream that makes you wake up screaming with fear, bathed in sweat is a ‘nightmare’. Someone who is mysterious in a negative, distrustful sort of way is a ‘dark horse’. A lie, which is not really bad is a ‘White lie’. Evil magic that is designed to make you suffer and die is ‘Black magic’. And finally, income that will land you in jail is ‘black money’ (in this we are not racists. We love black money.) Dark Africa…as if the sun never shines there. Yet a vast chunk of tourism revenue comes from people who spend hours upon hours, lying in the sun on its beaches, trying to become dark. The term “American dream” therefore, does not mean the same to all Americans. That is what this struggle is all about – to make the “American dream” equally attractive for all who live in this land.

I can give you more examples, but this is sufficient for now. I am mentioning this to show how insidious and hidden, yet more powerful for that reason, racism is. You literally imbibe it with your mother’s milk. And that is why we must recognize it and detox ourselves from its lethal poison which otherwise will destroy our souls. Racism is not about others. It is about us. About me and you. Like all poisons, it kills the one who eats it.

It is not my intention merely to narrate for you a litany of grief to weep over, but to present to you a solution that is as applicable today in the 21st century World, as it was in 7th century Arabia. A solution not only preached but practiced in a society which was as racist as any in today’s world, yet which was transformed into an example of racial harmony and mutual respect that is an example for all time.

He was Muhammadﷺ. Raised as an orphan. His father died before he was born, his mother, when he was five. His nurse, Barakah bint Tha’alaba, raised him and he called her, Ummi – my mother. She was the only person who knew him and was with him from the day he was born to the day he died. Baraka bint Tha’alaba (RA) was black. He preached a religion that grew so powerfully that today one out of four human beings follow it; Al-Islam. But when he started preaching it, his followers were rejected, maligned, boycotted, tortured, and murdered, for believing in One God – Allahﷻ. Its first martyr was Sumaiyya bint Khayyat (RA), another black woman. Speared to death because she said, ‘La ilaha illAllah’. Then there was a black man, Bilal bin Rabah (RA), who became the first person to call the people to prayer and he called the Adhaan from the top of the Ka’aba. His elevation to that position was because he had paid his ‘dues’ and was the beloved of Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ. What were the dues he paid? It was to lie on the burning sand of the Arabian desert, his arms and legs spread-eagled, tied to stakes with a huge rock on his chest, tortured by his slave-owner, Umaiyya bin Khalf, for saying that God is One and He is Allahﷻ. Decades later, someone asked Sayyidina Bilal to tell him about the best memory of his life. He said, ‘It was when I used to be tortured by being forced to lie on the burning sand with a rock on my chest and my slave-owner used to say, ‘Give up this religion and I will free you.’ And I would say, ‘Ahadun Ahad’, because that made him insane with rage.’ Umaiyya bin Khalf could try to subjugate and dominate the body of Bilal bin Rabah (RA) but his heart and soul belonged to Allahﷻ and were filled with love for Him. And so, when the time came after Fatah Makkah, who did Rasoolullahﷺ choose, when he had everyone including himself, to raise the first call to prayer? He chose Bilal bin Rabah (RA). That he was African and an ex-slave in a highly racist culture also served to emphasize the fundamental principle in Islam – that all of us are equally human, equally valuable, and equally precious in the sight of Allahﷻ. That our race, color, shape or form do not make us superior to anyone else. That the most honorable in the sight of Allahﷻ is the one who is most concerned about pleasing Him.

Today as we protest against racism in America, let us remember that we are against all racism. Let us remember that our stance is noble. Our stand is life giving and life confirming. In America today, all people of all races are standing together to give the message loud and clear that enough is enough. We reject arrogance. We reject racism. We reject discrimination irrespective of its basis, because we believe in the equality of all humankind. We believe in the right to dignity and respect that every human being is entitled to.

As I watched the visuals of police chiefs with their fellow officers, kneeling to seek forgiveness for what some of their numbers had done; as I watched visuals of ordinary white folks, kneeling to seek forgiveness for violence done to people of color in America, I said to myself, “This can only be in America. This is what makes America great.” It is not your money or military power or technological superiority. It is your people. Black people, White people, Hispanic people, Native Americans, Indian Subcontinentals, Asians, all standing together against racism. Standing together to support and enforce justice. Standing together to protect the weak, the minorities. It is your laws which allow protest. Which allow you to stand for justice, even if that is against the government of the day. It is your society that recognizes that patriotism is love for the nation, not for the political party in power. For justice can never be done until those who are not affected by injustice, are prepared to stand up against it. That is what I am seeing here and in that there is hope. Enormous hope that you will succeed and that we, all oppressed people everywhere, will succeed. Your fight against racism, discrimination and injustice is a fight for its victims, everywhere in the world. I take solace from this and I see hope for all oppressed people everywhere.

It is also for the very same reason that I am very dismayed, alarmed, taken aback and heartbroken when I see the visuals of looting and vandalism from city after city. I plead with you all, please do not destroy your own cause. Please do not destroy the cause of all of us who stand with you. Please do not allow a few vandals whose greed overcomes their discretion to loot and burn. Looting and vandalizing strengthens the hands of those who oppose us, and justify the brutality and injustice meted out to us claiming that we are dangerous and must be kept enslaved for the safety of others. Do not act in ways that they will use as ‘evidence’ that they were right. Remember that if the looting continues, then the smoke from the fires will obliterate the justice of our cause. We must protest against the looting because that too is injustice. We cannot allow injustice in the name of fighting against injustice. All injustice must stop, and justice must prevail.

In the life of Rasoolullahﷺ we have the best role model to follow. Let us stand together for justice and show the world, the real reason why America is great.

BC to AC

BC to AC

What does the world After Corona look like?

We are living in defining times. Never in living memory has the world seen something like the Covid-19 virus and the disruption that it has caused all over the world. Not in living memory or history. There are those who claim that it is a hoax. But dead bodies don’t lie. The world has come to a halt. Literally speaking. Never again will the word ‘disruption or disruptive’ have the same meaning. Never again will ‘Vision 2020’, be something to trumpet about. Never in my life would I have thought that every country in the world would have the same tale to tell, lockdown. True, the implementation of that lockdown differs from place to place, but the policy and intention is the same i.e. that you stay inside your house. Across national boundaries and geographies, it is the same story, lockdown. There have been many pandemics in the world, but they didn’t get the same uniform global reaction as Covid-19. That is why I titled my essay, BC to AC. I am sure you can guess what that means.

Many people are talking about, ‘Getting back to normal’. But someone said very wisely, “Decide what part of that normal you don’t want to get back to.” Wise, because to put it politely, it was our ‘normal’, that got us here. So, we must think very carefully about what the new ‘normal’ will be. Or I should say, ‘What we want the new normal to be.’ This is my Thoughtshare about the major challenges that I believe we will face in the coming days.

The world AC (After Corona) will be the beginning of an Age of Entrepreneurship. A world where working from home and being self-employed will become more and more popular. Large corporations have learnt the lesson from the Covid lockdowns that people need not come to a central place to work. They can work well at equal or more efficiency from home. That means huge potential savings for the corporation in overheads, capital investment in buildings and infrastructure, taxes, insurance and many other ways. All this will have huge repercussions in the real estate, capital and insurance markets. Corporations have learnt the joy of outsourcing as we have seen in the case of Amazon Prime delivery. Intelligent corporation managements will invest in local entrepreneurs by providing training in setting up businesses and running them efficiently, quality assurance, cheap funding and buy-back agreements. They will realize that their own margins will benefit by developing entrepreneurship and strengthening local societies. We will see major changes in how work is done, supervised, and paid for. We will see an age of greater collaboration and genuine partnership across national boundaries. We will see a world of greater trust and collaboration and mutual learning and sharing of resources and well-being.

Employees have realized that long commutes, being away from the family, living out of suitcases in airports and grabbing a donut and coffee while driving fifty miles to work, are all unnecessary. Work can be done from home, at your own convenience (well, almost), while freeing up time for family, hobbies, and savings in all sorts of ways. I believe therefore that small and medium enterprises will come into their own. A world of small businesses, invested in their local society, creating strong rural and urban economies. Intelligent governments will support and encourage this by providing capital and top-class infrastructure (utilities, power, public transport, health care, roads, schools, especially trade schools, and ports), tax exemption and cutting out bureaucracy to make doing business easy and smooth. Governments will recognize how the entrepreneur does the work of the government by providing support, sustenance and employment for citizens and so must not be gouged for taxes but must be compensated for helping the government take care of its people. SMEs will drive better local health care, schools, leisure activities, services, shopping, entertainment and build for closer, more locally invested communities.

Another major change will be in the way we communicate, and technology will dominate to shrink the world even more. Two weeks ago, I hosted a webinar on the topic: “Staying focused while the world seems to be falling apart.” We had 300 participants from 22 countries. Imagine doing that as an international conference which people must travel to the United States to attend. Just do the math and you will see what has become clear to all corporations; that remote conferencing makes brilliant economic sense. What will this mean for the travel and hotel industry needs little imagination. What new communication skills will people need to develop if they want to remain effective communicators when most of the power of gestures and body language in communication will be lost for them? What opportunities will that create for those in the business of teaching communication skills? I can extend that to all kinds of technical and behavioral skills training that entrepreneurs will need to succeed. There will be challenges of delivering a lot, if not all, of that training remotely.

Travel and holidays will be totally different. In the AC world you’ll see much more local surface travel and much less air travel. Cruises will become more popular. All about space and freedom to move while keeping safe. Sitting in a plane seat for 15 hours with a mask on, is distinctly unpleasant. People will do it only if there’s no other alternative. Technology will give them alternatives.

Air travel by it’s very nature will become far more expensive and so even less reason to use for people. However cargo will see growth and airlines will have more cargo than passenger planes. Even now airlines are flying cargo in passenger planes, in the passenger cabin as well as the hold. Planes will be redesigned with more cargo space and less but more luxurious passenger cabins. The days of the middle seat are over and I for one, am not complaining.

Business travel and conferencing likewise…only if essential. Which means that hotels will take a knock. Though not as much as airlines because people still need a hotel once they get to a place, no matter how they got there. I’d say smaller hotels with fewer frills will be the most profitable option. Good food, clean rooms and bathrooms, great service. No huge lobbies and multicuisine restaurants. Instead special offering of choice local cuisine but limited menus. If you want Hyderabadi biryani in Calicut, you’ll be offered chemmeen curry and aapams and told to go to their hotel in Hyderabad for the biryani. “You can still get it from us, but not here.” Food delivery services will see huge growth. If you can’t go to a restaurant then bring the restaurant home.

AC will be the age of remote everything. Remote shopping, meeting, teaching and learning, sharing ideas and work, open source data, collaborative research across geographies, you name it. If it can be done without physical meeting, it will. But what will that mean in terms of people’s psychological need to meet each other, see and touch and speak to one another? What will the term ‘human touch’ mean in this new world? What will the loss of human touch do to us human beings? We are very touchy, feely creatures. We like to sit close to those we love. We lend each other shoulders to cry on, then hug to comfort. We see eye to eye and speak heart to heart. We lend our ears to others and have changes of heart. We shake hands to seal agreements or make up after disagreeing. We turn cold shoulders to those we don’t like and stand shoulder to shoulder with those we support. Try doing all this while maintaining social distance of two meters between us. Try doing that wearing gloves and masks. Try doing that with the sneaky doubt about whether someone is likely to infect you with a deadly disease. This is also a face of the new world that we will have to deal with. The question at the end of all this is, “How will we be able to benefit from technology that makes distant communication easy while not allowing that to create distance between us?”

Mechanization, automation, machines doing the work of people will rapidly increase. Machines can’t get sick and so no loss of production and profit. If it can be automated, it will be. But what do you do with people? Robotic and drone delivery of products, self-driving taxis and trucks, all look very neat and sexy but remember that every drone, robot, car or truck means someone is out of work. But they still need food, housing, health care, schools and everything else which they paid for until the drone and robot took their job. And remember they still vote. This may result in more crime, enhanced security and surveillance and less privacy. So, finding means to keep people gainfully employed is urgent and critical.

Another thing which will and must change is the way we educate. Currently, barring exceptions, we teach theory and grade colleges based on the salary that our graduates are hired at. In the AC world, we don’t need ‘employees’ so much as we will need potential employers i.e. entrepreneurs and business creators. Education must therefore focus on two critical areas: skill training and entrepreneurial development. We need to teach people, skills to solve problems (each is a business opportunity) and convert each solution into a viable business. How to identify business opportunities, test marketing, how to make a business plan, budgeting, hiring, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, meeting facilitation skills, how to pitch to VCs for funding, must all be taught in schools. Schools must focus very strongly on teaching ethics and values and on contributing to society. Entrepreneurs must not be little exploiters but genuine partners who contribute to the well-being of the society that they operate in. Without sound values and ethics, business can’t succeed. Profit alone is not a suitable basis for decision making. Business must make profit, but business can’t exist for the sole purpose of making profit. They have a much wider and more vital role to play.

Schools must have a clear curriculum to inculcate these ethics and values. Values can’t be legislated or enforced. They must be inculcated. Children must be raised who take pride in integrity and uprightness and hate and look down on sharp practice and lies. Today our society is the opposite of this. Deception is the norm. Wheeling and dealing, corruption, fooling others are all aspirational goals. It doesn’t matter how anyone makes money as long as he makes it. We applaud and look up to that. High Net Worth means having a lot of money. Imagine a world where high net worth means more kindness, compassion, generosity and not merely fast cars, luxury mansions and fancy holidays. This becomes even more important in the light of how working from home will change the dynamics of the employer-employee relationship. When people work from home there can be potential issues of confidentiality. For example, how effective is a Non-disclosure Agreement when the employee is working from home, unsupervised, his conversations can be overheard, his work is not secure as it would have been if he had come to the office. What are potential issues of privacy: Monitoring employees’ work without infringing on their privacy? What are safety measures?

For employees (individuals) what does this new world look like? There will be opportunities and challenges. Working from home means flextime, bonding with family, more meaningful communication and relationships, no commute. This can mean the possibility of earning in more than one way and better use of time. More time for reading, learning, physical and spiritual development, eating home cooked food every day, but you get to cook it too. This would mean a change in pattern of domestic costs.  Will they be higher or lower? There will be potential challenges in relating with spouse and children and changed power dynamics? Will you end up with a better marriage or in divorce?

The challenges for individuals will include more distraction, greater need for discipline, learning to work in a more structured way to remain productive. Technology will be the game changer which means that people will need to learn to use it. In addition, they will need to learn new skills of communicating, influencing and relating. The opportunity to become an entrepreneur sounds very good and believe me, it is. I have been an entrepreneur since 1994 (2020 at the time of this writing) and I love it. But entrepreneurship, like anything else, needs a certain temperament, skills and above all, the ability to stay in the game long enough to start seeing success. Many times you succeed not because you were the fastest, but because you ran the longest. The question to ask is, ‘What skills do I need to succeed as an entrepreneur? How can I learn those skills? By when?’

Before I conclude let me share some thoughts about what I believe each of us must do. I am making a numbered list of them. Each needs more elaboration, but I am writing an article and not a book, so this will have to do for now. I believe there are 7 – key areas of competence to develop.

  1. Assess your skills: What can you do? Please notice that I am not asking, ‘What do you know?’ I am asking, ‘What can you do?’ It is actual skills which are saleable and in a world of entrepreneurship what you can do is the only thing which counts. Learn to take hard decisions. Learn to cut your losses. Learn to change course but not your goal. Learn to be flexible in everything except your principles and quality. Learn to take responsibility and do your own work. No more departments and secretaries. You are your own HR and PA. The sooner you learn that the happier you will be. And learn how to learn on the job, every day.
  2. Where can you use, what you can do? Look for opportunities to solve problems for people. How can you help people with what you know? Remember that your exact skillset may have been acquired for one purpose, but its learnings can be used elsewhere. That is how hoteliers and people with years of experience in managing hotels have proven to be excellent managers in the ITES industry. They are not making beds or pizzas but their skills in customer service and expectation management are a huge asset which someone from a pure IT background lacks. Look for where you can leverage your life experience.
  3. Develop creativity. This is a huge stretch because all traditional schooling very successfully destroys creativity and imagination at a very early age. Traditional schooling is designed to create obedient little slaves, which it does extremely efficiently. The problem with our traditional schooling is not that it has failed but that it is very successful. You will need to resurrect your creativity and learn to break out of the fear of imagining things. In an entrepreneurial world, imagination is your greatest asset. That is what enabled the Haleem makers in Hyderabad to use large laundromat machines to stir the Haleem mix which traditionally took someone stirring it in a pot, all night to prepare.
  4. Develop a structure to your day. Working from home is a double-edged sword as I mentioned earlier. It can be very convenient, time-saving and flexible. But it can also be full of distractions which can lower your productivity and lengthen your day. To prevent that, structure is the key. Develop a routine that works for you and stick to that doggedly. Consistency beats talent, every time.
  5. Focus on Quality. I spelt it with a capital Q because it is so important. As an entrepreneur, you will have plenty of competition because there are many like you out there. What will help you to make your mark is the quality of your output. “Quality is remembered, long after the price is forgotten.” ~  Gucci family slogan. And they are right. Quality will also enable you to leverage yourself out of the competition and charge a premium for your products and services. Quality will help you to differentiate. Differentiation creates Brand. Brand inspires Loyalty. Loyalty enables Influence.  Quality is reflected in everything you say and do. Above all, it is reflected in how you treat people.
  6. And last and most important, learn to deal with and even enjoy, ambiguity. Entrepreneurship is all about risk taking. Risk means you don’t know how it will turn out. You learn to estimate. You learn to do your best. And you learn to develop your spiritual self and to have a philosophy to deal with loss. And you learn to accept the results. It is great fun. It is immensely fascinating and satisfying. And it is sometimes painful.
  7. Ah! I almost forgot. And so, this, and not the earlier one, is the last thing. Learn to enjoy the journey. For an entrepreneur, the journey is the destination. I came out of the corporate world after having worked there for 16 years and have been an entrepreneur for the past 35 years. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.

In short, we are looking at a very different world from the one we were locked out of.

We are like zoo-raised tigers being released in the wild. We will survive only if we acquire the skills to succeed in a world that is as different from the zoo as it can get.

On becoming a Consultant

On becoming a Consultant

Many young and old (post retirement) friends and acquaintances ask me for pointers to enter the world of Organizational Consulting & Training which I have been in since 1985. I thought it would be good to share generally what I have been advising people for several years. I hope it will benefit many more. It is easy if you are a motorcycle mechanic. What you do is clear. The customer has a pressing need. It doesn’t cost much to repair his motorcycle. So, he comes.

 But with Organizational Consulting & Training you are dealing in concepts, feelings, emotions and some techniques which mostly depend on the sincerity of the learner in applying them as well as his expertise in doing so; to show their effectiveness. That is a very challenging ‘s environment. The customer’s need is not as immediate or pressing like the man with the broken motorcycle. And he must pay a jolly sight more to fulfill his need. Moreover, his benefit is far less clear, especially as it depends on what he does with what he learnt from you. Having been in this business now since 1985, I can tell you that it is perhaps the most challenging and exciting business that exists – provided you know what to do. So here are some thoughts about what works and what doesn’t.

 1.     Define & Differentiate your product – What do you have to offer and how is it unique?

Why Differentiate?

Differentiation creates brand

Brand inspires loyalty

Loyalty enables influence

The more clearly you can define your product, the better. It is not what you think you do, but what your customer thinks you do, that matters. That must be crystal clear to him, so that when he has a need in the area of your work, you are his natural choice.  So, give a lot of thought to what it is that you do and how you tell people about it. Remember that the world of selling is the world of words. Not deception, but palatable truth. Unpalatable truth is equally truthful but not equally edible. Craft words thoughtfully and take brutal feedback from others about what you crafted. Being married to your words is suicide. The key is not experience but how you can use it to help others. Don’t leave that to the customer to figure out. Spell it out for him. Not because he is stupid, but because the need is yours. Don’t tell him what you used to do but how you can help him and how that will benefit him. That will mean knowing his business sometimes better than he does himself. Certainly, in terms of an overview from the outside. That is your key differentiator because perspective is a function of distance. Leverage it and show him how it works.

 2.    Define your customer

 Not everyone is your customer. This is the biggest mistake you can make; trying to be all things to everyone. That way you are seen as a generalist, nothing to nobody. People like to feel that they are dealing with an expert, even if it is for a haircut. That means that you must learn to say a very definite, ‘No!’ to some businesses. I stayed out of recruitment from the beginning (1994) when recruitment was a booming business. That classified me as a confidant of business managers and owners; not as someone who would probably poach on them to grow his business. I never regretted that decision. It is not to say that all placement consultants do this but enough do to spoil the reputation of everyone. Err on the side of caution in accepting assignments. Only the hero who survives lives to tell the tale. In consulting, if the client fails, you carry the can. So never accept assignments where the outcome is doubtful because you doubt the client’s sincerity or learning ability to carry out your recommendations. Remember that both success or failures are news; often the latter being remembered more vividly. So, look for quick wins. Both parties will be happier.

 3.    Define your fee

 I have a basic rule. Stand in front of the mirror and say the number aloud. If you feel comfortable with it, it is the right amount. Do some hard-nosed analysis about your finances and see what you need – not want – need. Then base your fee on that. Develop a mindset of contentment, so that when that figure is reached you have no stress. Then whatever else comes thereafter is icing on the cake. Remember that once you quote a figure to a client, that is what he will pay you as long as you live. He will take an increment every six months but will moan like a cow in labor if you ask for a raise once in six years. So, be careful what you quote. “We are going to give you a lot of business, so give us a discount”, is the oldest, most threadbare line that exists. Even more than, “What are you doing tonight?” So, don’t fall for it. Giving a discount to someone who will give you a lot of business means that you are tying yourself down to a low productivity client in favor of others who would have been more productive. Quote fairly and confidently. Perception is in the mind of the listener but before that in your own heart. If you are confident of your product or service, then be sure that people will come to you again and again. I have not made a cold call since 1995. It is as simple as that.  

 4.    Deliver premium and demand premium

 ‘Buy me because I am cheap’ – is not a slogan that ever appealed to me. Remember no matter what you charge there will always be someone in the market who will pay that to you, once. It is repeat business that is your bread and butter – so ensure that your customer is so tremendously satisfied that he will not only call you again, but you become his natural choice. The repeat customer is the only one who can compare you to others, because he has experienced you once. Make sure that his experience with you is so superior that everything else pales in comparison. He then becomes your ambassador and there’s no better or more effective ambassador than a customer who has experienced you and is delighted.

 Selling cheap has several problems: You position yourself as a low-quality provider (default implication of cheap); the client will never agree to a fee raise later so you lock yourself into a low remunerative bind and you can almost never pitch for high-end work. Nobody will consult the trainer of security guards when the Board wants advice. So, positioning is critical. I have found that positioning in terms of quality is best. If you deliver top quality, you get a very good name and people don’t care what you charge. Those who still count pennies are not your clients. Smile and leave them. The fact is that if you are not confident about your product or service then don’t expect the client to feel confident about you.

 ‘Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten’, (Gucci family slogan).

 5.    Do only work that you are passionate about – leave the rest

 That is because you can’t deliver quality unless you are passionate about something. So never do something for the money. Do it for love. Money will follow. Money is the natural consequence of all quality work. But if you do something that you don’t believe in you will never succeed. That is why I have always refused work for cigarette and liquor companies and companies who are known for corruption – no matter what the fee. I have also never done sales training because it doesn’t excite me. I teach leadership where I am paid to do it and I teach it free where the client (like schools) can’t pay me but I believe that they will benefit and need that training. That gives me practice with a variety of audiences and builds equity in the market. Work for love and you will be loved for it.

 Genuinely want the best for your client. If you are not interested in the welfare of the client and are working only for the money, it will show and it will go against you. Genuine interest means that you will end up doing more work than you may have anticipated, including some that is not billable. But being genuinely interested means that you won’t grudge or regret that. Take only projects that interest you because if you want to succeed in a project and make a mark, then you will need to be mentally engaged with it 24 x 7. You can’t do that unless it genuinely interests you. That too will show. Genuine wanting the best for your client also means that sometimes you will tell your client to go somewhere else if he needs something that you know someone else can provide better than you can. It is a tough call and that is why you need to think beyond your income. Remember that in the end it all comes back. People remember and are grateful and will promote and recommend you. Consulting is not business. Consulting is friendship. I have worked with this philosophy for the past 35 years and never regretted it.

 6.    Communicate, communicate, communicate

 There is no getting away from this. Talk to people, write things and share with everyone. Have an abundance mentality with sharing. It all comes back. Speak at conferences and seminars. Offer to teach (even if it is for nothing) management development courses at business schools and training establishments – pick and choose of course – but do it. This will teach you the skills of dealing with people. It will energize you, expose you to your potential client base and give you visibility and credibility. I used to teach at IIM-B when I lived in Bangalore, at Asnuntuck Community College and the Government of Connecticut when I was in the US and teach at the National Police Academy, SSB Academy and others now that I live in Hyderabad. All for next to nothing in terms of money but great networking benefits.

 Answer phone calls immediately, always respond to emails, call people just to say hello. Have a toll-free number where your clients can reach you. Never leave a phone call unreturned or an email unanswered. Good people skills are far more important than anything else. People hire you not because of competence but because they like you. Competence is a given. It must be there. Being liked is the decision maker. Communication is the key to being liked. Aspiring consultants who play (or are) hard to get are digging their own grave. Nobody loves you enough to chase you. That will happen one day provided you build enough equity. But it will happen after a lot of hard work. I once had a client wait for two years for me to return from America to do some work, but the exception proves the rule. If you are not reachable, someone else is. No matter that you think you are the best in the market. Even if you are, they don’t know that until they work with you and if they can’t reach you, if you don’t return calls or mails, that will never happen.

 7.     Document and focus on your own training

 The written word has high credibility. So, write. Record meetings, thoughts, ideas and questions. Then read them. You will be amazed at how much you will learn. Every year or so, go over what you have recorded and you are likely to have the makings of a book on hand. I wrote more than 39 books in 35 years of consulting. Almost all of them this way. You will be amazed how much research and learning happens in the normal course of life, except that we don’t record it. Beat the rest. Record your learnings. Books are an excellent way to build credibility. They are also a strong way to advertise what you have to offer without having to be crass enough to talk about it. A book is a quiet but confident statement of who you are and what you have to offer to the market. People trust the written word much more than the spoken word. In the words of Martin Luther King (Jr.), ‘If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.’ This also keeps you busy in the lull periods where you may otherwise fall prey to anxiety and stress. So, write.

 Ensure that you invest in yourself by upgrading your own skills. Set aside time and a budget to invest in your own learning. Read and get trained on a regular basis and you will find that to be a competitive advantage. I have found this an absolutely unassailable argument on the rare occasion when someone says to me, ‘But so-and-so charges less than you do.’ I say to them, ‘Ask them what they spent on their own training in the last 12 months.’ Nobody ever came back and I never lost a client for this reason. The hard reality is that if you have not upgraded yourself, then you are really not fit to offer anything to the client. His reality changes on a daily basis with greater complexity, more demanding challenges and an ever more ambiguous environment. How can you help them if you are still living in the stone age? Remember that consulting, especially leadership consulting is not about technology but about helping your client sell his dream and then help him to create a concrete roadmap to achieve it. It is about building trust, keeping confidence and being there for them.

 8.    Never compromise your integrity no matter how hungry you are

 Remember that your client is not the one who feeds you and the One who feeds you doesn’t lack resources. So never do anything which is against your beliefs and values. Have the highest values and live by them. That is the biggest incentive in my view of being an independent consultant – that you can afford to live by your values. And guess what? Not only will you never starve but you will gain a huge amount of respect in the market which you can’t buy even if you wanted to. For example, I have always insisted on clients respecting copyright and never agreed to use photocopied instruments, books and so on. On one occasion, I had to walk away from a very lucrative assignment from a very famous company (you’ll be surprised if I told you the name) because the training manager insisted that I used photocopied MBTI questionnaires to ‘reduce cost’. She said to me, ‘But everyone does it.’ I told her, ‘I am not everyone.’ That was in my very first year as an independent consultant (1994) when I was very poor and hungry and it hurt very much to walk away. But I did. And as they say, the rest is history.

 Another aspect of integrity is to keep the confidentiality of the client. Especially if you have high profile clients, others will try to put pressure on you to talk about them. By all means share the good stuff. But anything that is confidential like business information, personal information about anyone, any plans that you may be privy to, must all remain completely confidential. Remember that it takes years to build a reputation for integrity in consulting and it takes a single instance to destroy it. It doesn’t matter whether you did it deliberately or accidentally. If you did it, it is a bullet in the forehead. It is instant death. A reputation of high integrity is your best brand, your greatest asset. It is your signature, your key differentiator in the market and it is what you will always be remembered for. I can say with great pride that I have worked with GE from 1994, but have never been asked to sign a NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement). So also with all my other clients. I have never signed an NDA with anyone. Not that I would have refused. If someone has a policy about it, I have no objection to following it. I am saying that nobody ever asked me to do it. As I mentioned earlier, your reputation is your greatest asset. By far greater than anything material. Don’t sell it for love or money. It is simply not worth it. Guard it very zealously and jealously. It will benefit you all your life.

Consulting is hard because it means that someone else must feel that the advice that you will give them is worth paying for. So, it needs hard work, consistent results and extremely good social skills and interpersonal relationships. But like a giant wheel, it is hard work to move it but once it is rolling, it builds momentum on its own.

 I hope this is helpful and gives you a start. We have to work very hard – very, very hard to begin with. That is why passion is important because it will keep going up the long uphill climb when breath is short and burning in the chest, your legs are leaden, your back is a mass of pain and the sweat is pouring off your brow like rain. But you keep climbing because you know what awaits you at the top. To sit on a rock and watch the world at your feet, your face cooled by a gentle breeze and your body slowly relaxing as you gaze down – not up – at the clouds.

Jack Welch, Built to last

Jack Welch, Built to last

My friend since 1994, Carla Fischer, posted a picture of a GE Appliances Blender on LinkedIn with the caption: My parents were given this GE blender 58 years ago as a wedding gift. Today, it made my protein shake like a charm. As we lay Jack Welch to rest this week, I can’t help but think…They just don’t make ’em like they used to. Rest well, sir. You were a force, indeed. #JFWAlumni #changinglives  Later, I found a GE fan in an antique store near Groton, CT. They don’t make them like that anymore, indeed.

They don’t make them like that anymore

Jack Welch passed away at the age of 84, on March 1, 2020. I decided to title my podcast ‘Built to Last’, after Collins & Porras’s book by that title which I consider to be one of the best corporate (or other) leadership books that I have ever read. Jack Welch was ‘built to last’. New York Times has an excellent article on him from which I quote: The company’s revenue jumped nearly fivefold, to $130 billion, during Mr. Welch’s tenure, while the value of its shares on the stock market soared from $14 billion to more than $410 billion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/02/business/jack-welch-died.html

For a corporate head, that is an accolade enough, but this podcast is not about his corporate success but his ability to touch lives and leave behind memories. I believe that in the final analysis what sets you apart is your ability to leave behind memories. I want to share with you, my memories of Jack Welch and his impact as my tribute to a great man.

My introduction to GE was in 1994 through my dear friend Pratik Roy who was head of training for GE India. He invited me to teach a Team Building session at the LC (Leadership Course), a course that GE Crotonville used to run all over the world. This was a very important and lucky break for me because I had just started my consulting and training company, Yawar Baig & Associates in Bangalore in the same year and needed business. To get not only business but at GE was a huge feather in my cap for which I am most grateful to Pratik. The course was in Goa and had participants from GE Asia as well as India. We had Chinese and Korean participants as well as Indians. At the end of the course the Chinese participants came to me and said, “We like you so much that we have given you a name. This is our tradition for our teachers. Would you accept that?” I was honored and very touched. The name they gave me was Bei-Ya-Shi. The LC, was an education for me in cross-cultural dynamics in training. The trainer team consisted of Carla Fischer (LC Anchor), Russ Merck, Jon Barb and me. Bonnie McIvor, the Head of Training for GE Asia was also there as an observer and we became very good friends.

GE LC, Carla, Jon, Russ and me

On an interesting side note, on the third day of the course, Bonnie, asked me if I would be willing to join GE as a member of the GE Asia Training team. I told her that I had just become an entrepreneur that year after 16 years in the corporate world and though GE would be the No. 1 organization on my list if I were planning to get back to the corporate world, I was not sure if I wanted to do that just then. She asked me if I would be willing to be formally interviewed and if that went well, she would make me an offer and then I could decide. I was more than happy to do that because I thought it would be fun and instructive as well as a privilege to be interviewed by the Head of Training for GE Asia. The interview happened the next day and it was a ‘Behavioural Interview’; a technique which I learnt later and was one of the several training courses that I was certified to run for GE Crotonville. At the end of the interview, which lasted about two hours, Bonnie said to me, “I have no hesitation in offering you the job. Here is the letter with the terms.” I read the letter and was overwhelmed with the job offer. I could see her watching me carefully. I said to her, “Bonnie, I have no words to express my gratitude to you, but I don’t want to kill my entrepreneurial initiative so early after starting it.” She said to me, “I knew you would say that. I am disappointed but I am very happy for you. I was watching to see what you would say. I think you will do very well as an entrepreneur. Of course, we want you to work with GE and so you will. But if you are serious enough to turn down a GE job for your entrepreneurial venture, I can tell you that shows your passion for entrepreneurship. We will continue to use you as a member of our International Leadership Development Team at Crotonville.” I consider that to be one of the finest compliments that I have ever received. And so, it was done, and I have been a Crotonville Trainer ever since.

I hope this story was interesting, but it is not so much a story about me or Bonnie McIvor but about Jack Welch’s focus on developing leadership. In GE everyone in a leadership role was hunting for talent. One eye and one ear were always open to spot talented people who could grow into leadership roles. It is not for nothing that Collins & Porras, in their excellent book, “Built to Last”, call GE’s product, ‘not engineering products but leaders’. In GE, they said, ‘Leadership is stacked like cordwood.’ I bear witness that this was true in Jack Welch’s time. People searched for talent, nurtured it, went out of their way to help talented people perform at their peak and took great delight in others’ success. To give earlier GE leaders their due, this culture of nurturing leadership was not introduced by Jack. He was himself a beneficiary of this culture. But he reinforced and supported it enormously. One of the ways in which this was done was by encouraging dissent but insisting on clear, solution focused thinking. It didn’t matter if your solution was not perfect. What mattered was that you demonstrated application of mind. ‘Yes-men’ were not encouraged in GE and if you disagreed with your boss, you didn’t need to fear his wrath but instead may well get an accolade for your trouble, provided of course that you could demonstrate your sincerity and dedication and thoroughness in presenting your argument. Having said that, we were also taught how to disagree without being disagreeable. You asked for an opportunity to present your view. You did it with dignity, fairness, brevity and clarity. And if your boss still disagreed, you shut up. You didn’t argue with or embarrass him/her in public. In private you could go to him, once more. That’s it. This was not because what you had to say was unreasonable, but given the difference in levels, it is possible that the boss was privy to information which he couldn’t share with you and so couldn’t agree with you and couldn’t tell you why. You respected that and to do so meant that you could understand some of the dilemmas and difficulties of being a leader.

What was not appreciated (and you were told this in no uncertain terms) was if you had not invested enough in your input and couldn’t answer questions. That would be a very costly mistake in GE. We were teaching the NMDC in Atlanta at the Peachtree Resort. As part of the NMDC, teams of participants choose a business idea and present their business plan to a team of GE leaders who specially fly in for that session. In Atlanta, one of the teams didn’t do as thorough a job with their presentation as they were expected to do. One of the leaders in the review panel stopped the speaker in midsentence and said, “You guys have not done your homework. Remember, just because we don’t wear neckties, it doesn’t mean we are not serious.” It was delightful to see the team turning various shades of pink to match the peach blossom outside. But that was a very painful lesson for them to learn. In GE, leadership development was not restricted to the classroom or Crotonville. It was an everyday task for all leaders at all levels, which they took very seriously. The results showed.

At the LC in Goa, in addition to my team building session, I helped Carla with administering the MBTI as a result of which Carla suggested that GE would sponsor me to be certified on the instrument so that I could teach it in GE Crotonville courses. The interesting fact is that I was not even a GE employee and that for someone like me, entering the training world, to be sponsored to this certification was ‘gold’. I was free to use it for my work, no strings attached. I didn’t imagine that such things could happen. Yet Carla suggested it and it was done. That was my first exposure to Jack Welch’s stamp on GE with his philosophy of what he called the ‘Generosity Gene’. He said, ‘Leaders must take delight in seeing others succeed. Not feel resentful because someone else got a promotion or bonus you wanted to get. You must feel happy for them and help them to achieve it, if you are a leader.’ I’ve experienced this many times in GE since 1994.

In 1996, I was asked by the head of training at GE Medical Systems in Bangalore, George Varghese, if I would design and write up a course which if accepted would be taught as a Best Practice Course in GE. He wanted a course positioned between LC and NMDC. I designed a course which we called PDC (Professional Development Course – GE courses were pure gold but didn’t have fancy names) which was a three-day off-site residential course and it was a great success. We would start the day with Yoga which I taught and went through the day until it ended after dinner in a storytelling session around a campfire. I worked with Indira Achanta, Susan Morey and Mohan Raja all through the years that I taught this course. To design and teach my own course, branded as a GE course is a thrill that I am most grateful to George for. One more example of openness in leadership development and of a GE leader helping someone else to succeed.

Another big one was when Manab Bose became the Head of Training and HR at GE India. Manab called me and said, “GE has invited Dennis Encarnation of the Kennedy School of Business to talk about globalization. Would you be interested to attend the session?” That was like asking if I would be interested to accept a gold mine as a gift. Of course, I was interested. Manab then said to me, “The program is in Singapore. GE will pay for your ticket and hotel and full board. But we can’t pay you a fee to attend.” Fee to attend? I wanted to ask Manab to get real. I would have paid, to attend that course, let alone asking for a fee for it. Once again this was Jack Welch’s stamp on GE culture where the belief was, that the only way we could get products and services of the quality we wanted i.e. 6 Sigma, was by training and supporting our service providers. In almost every major Crotonville course that I taught, I almost always had a couple or more participants from GE business partner companies. All in the same spirit.

Dennis Encarnation’s profile says, ‘first joined Harvard University in 1982 as faculty of the Harvard Business School, later moving to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Business and Government to launch the School’s first Asia Programs. Dennis Encarnation has devoted his professional life to the study and practice of globalization.’ His lecture in Singapore was over three days. On Day-1 one he spoke about business in the Americas. On the second day about Europe and Africa (very little about the latter). And on the last day about Asia. Reflecting on this amazing session, I can see how many of subsequent global developments were ‘foretold’ by Dennis Encarnation in that lecture. That is the hallmark of the scholar and expert and a measure of the depth of his research and his own value addition to the data by his interpretation. I have been very fortunate in my teachers. Dennis’ teaching style was unique. He didn’t use any audio-visual aids. Not even an overhead projector. At the front of the room were arrayed in a semicircle, eight flipchart boards with thick flipchart pads on them. Dennis would hold a thick chisel-tip marker in a ‘dagger stabbing’ grip in his fist in one hand and a mic in the other. And he would run from chart to chart and talk and write in huge letters as if slashing the flipcharts to shreds. He did that continuously with the same high energy for three days in a row. I don’t recommend this style of teaching, unless you are Dennis Encarnation. It worked for him. But then what he had to say was so interesting that if he had spoken while doing summersaults, people would have listened with rapt attention. I owe Manab and the GE culture which enabled me to benefit from this fantastic session.

My trip to be certified for MBTI was memorable. I landed at Dulles, Washington, DC after dark and got to my hotel. Next morning, I looked out of my window at the sunniest, brightest day that I had seen in a long time. I was so enthused with this sight that I simply couldn’t remain inside the room. I did remember that it was winter, so put on a long coat, but it was so sunny and lovely that I had to go out and breathe that air. I stepped out of the door and discovered gravity. One step into the parking lot and I was flat on my back. I had stepped on ‘black ice’ and both my feet flew up in the air and I slammed down on the tarmac like a landing fish. What saved me perhaps was a combination of the padding of the coat, my total surprise so that I didn’t try to save myself by putting out a hand to break my fall and the fact that this was in 1994 when I was 26 years younger than I am today. Somehow my head also didn’t hit the ground and all that I gained was a bruised backside and ego. And a very healthy respect for black ice. That was a very striking welcome to America.

I was certified in MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) at Otto Kroeger Associates in Fairfax, Virginia at the end of a grueling five-day train-the-trainer course and a written exam where the passing mark was 90%. That was Carla’s doing and when I qualified, she gifted me a set of MBTI teaching slides with graphics that she had hand drawn. I was so honored and touched by her gesture of taking pleasure in my success, having facilitated it herself. I still have and use those slides, which I converted to a digital format.

On my return to India, I taught the LC and then later, CELC for GE India in multiple locations including Singapore. I got certified on Facilitative Leadership Skills Workshop (FLSW) and the Behavioral Interviewing Workshop and taught those also. After learning Behavioral Interviewing, I was invited by GE India to interview senior management candidates and give a report to Manab Bose, VP HR for them to decide if they wanted to take it further. I had created a template which I used to report on the candidate. If GE taught you something, they ensured that you used it for them. Great practice and for me as a consultant, it was all good business in my favorite company. While at Crotonville, I attended a wonderful training session on Presentation Skills taught by Bill Lane, who was Jack Welch’s speech writer and presentation skills trainer. Hardly anyone who could teach that course better. The following year, 1995, GE started its foray into 6 Sigma which Jack drove directly and very powerfully. At the Boca Raton meeting that year, speaking to his Top Management Team of VPs and Country Heads, he made statements like, “I will not believe that you have sponsored someone for Black Belt training until you fill his vacancy.” “Yes, it is true that you have a choice, not to sponsor someone for Black Belt training but that will be a career threatening choice.” It was very clear where the future of GE leaders lay as far as 6 Sigma was concerned. To recall Mikel Harry’s quote: ‘If you want to see what someone values, see what they measure’; it was clear to everyone what Jack Welch’s GE valued. And though I sometimes heard people referring to 6 Sigma as ‘sick Sigma’, there was total commitment behind the initiative. If I recall the numbers correctly, GE earmarked $500 million in 1995 over the next five years for 6 Sigma implementation. That was Jack Welch’s style; if you want to do something, put everything you have behind it. All the effort, money, people and passion it needs. Halfhearted, tentative efforts are for people who were not serious about winning. Winners commit. Commitment is the line between wanting and doing. Action was the signature of Jack.

GE, 4 E’s

If there were two things that were the hallmark of Jack, they were his focus and commitment to values and his hatred for bureaucracy. In GE we used to say, “Why values? Because values drive behavior and behavior drives results.” We used to talk about the 4-E’s of GE. Energy, Energizer, Edge and Execute. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe these in detail but what was very valuable learning for me was how GE approached these. When we taught the 4-Es class, we spoke about what each E was and wasn’t. That was a level of clarity which set apart GE’s approach to Core Values. Everyone speaks about Core Values. But almost nobody drills down deep enough to clearly specify what that means and even more importantly what it does not mean. And then go further to specify behaviors that reflect the two. This has huge implications on implementing the values and even more importantly on measuring compliance. Without this clarity about desired behaviors, you can’t have metrics and without metrics you can neither know what is happening nor guarantee it. In GE you could see people living these values. It didn’t matter whether you were employed by GE or not. I was never a GE employee. But if you worked at GE, you lived these values. I did and still do. Not because they are GE values, but because they add value to me, and I love living by them. I think that is the final test of any value – do people who try to live by it, benefit from it? Do they feel that benefit? Do they value the value – if you know what I mean. Living GE values is more about me than about GE. I am sure Jack would have been delighted to know this. It means he did his job well.

Jack Welch took over as the Chairman of GE in 1982 and the first thing he did was to get rid of all non-core businesses.  It got him a level of notoriety, but it worked magic with turning around a company which was already doing well and converting it into a byword in American business. His formula was, ‘Be No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in that business or get out.’ I think that is a brilliant philosophy for anyone. Yes, it was hard on many people but that brings to the fore another of Jack’s favorite maxims about the importance of Edge. The ability to take the tough calls with honesty. It is not about being cruel. It is about being honest. Kindness that allows poor quality or output is really cruelty because you punish those who deliver quality and high output. It is the surest and fastest way to ruin and to retaining losers and losing winners, that I know. To bring about change fast Jack Welch introduced ‘Work-Out™’ and Change Acceleration Process (CAP). In Crotonville there is an amphitheater called ‘The Pit’. That was the stage for ‘Work-Out™’ sessions, both teaching sessions as well as many a time, real Work-Out™ sessions of business teams. The purpose of Work-Out™ was to cut out the bureaucracy. To paraphrase him, Jack would say in effect, ‘It makes no sense to get talented people and then tie them down with twenty rules written by petty minded individuals which frustrate them and spend their energy in coping. Cut out the layers and cut out the rules.’ You get it? But most people outside GE still don’t get it. In a Work-Out™ session the business leader who is the key decision maker would stand in the center of the circle of his people and they would put to him the big change idea that they wanted to do. The leader would listen in silence and then respond. His response, and this was the ‘secret’ of Jack Welch’s strategy to cut the bureaucracy, could only be one of three things: Yes, Need more information, or No. If it was No, he had to give reasons. This was a unique session where anyone of that team, irrespective of rank could directly talk to the topmost manager and expect to get a response. There are many stories of Work-Out™ success but I won’t mention them here. I am sure all my friends at GE can think of at least one that they were involved in. GE was very serious about cutting out bureaucracy and of leveling with people. GE is the only company I know which was as close to being democratic as a corporate organization can be. In GE we had a process called NMA (New Manager Assimilation). In this process any new manager is given about three weeks in his new role. Then his direct reports are asked to give feedback about his style of leadership and their experience of it, anonymously which is collected either by an HR person or an external consultant. This feedback is given to him and then he has a meeting with his direct reports who gave the feedback and responds to them. He doesn’t know who said what but knows that it came from that group. In this meeting he can either promise to change some things that his people find difficult to deal with or he can tell them the reason for that and say that he can’t change that style. In my experience, no matter what he does or doesn’t, the whole exercise results in creating openness and leveling which is very good to build credibility. Difficult issues, if spoken about openly cease to be so difficult and people can make a genuine effort to change themselves.

Jack Welch’s commitment to GE values was total to the point of being cult-like. Collins & Porras mention cult-like cultures as being one of the key ingredients of highly successful corporations. They said that working there was not necessarily pleasant or good for everyone. Only those who believed in the culture and enjoyed living by it, found the atmosphere stimulating and satisfying. The ‘secret’ lay in the degree to which you believed in and lived by the culture. To thrive in a culture like GE (Walmart, Merck and others are also mentioned in Built to Last), you needed to be a ‘Believer’. There was no place for those who were lukewarm in their belief. The foundation of GE culture was integrity. There was no compromise with integrity. It didn’t matter where you were located. You could be in a country that was corrupt but you as a GE person couldn’t succumb to that, no matter what the cost. Stories of employees who stood for integrity were applauded and publicized. Jack Welch made statements like, “If a person doesn’t deliver the numbers, give him one more chance. One more only but give it to him. But if a person compromises integrity to get the numbers, hunt him down and axe him out.” Over the years, I have seen some GE people go against this value and both they and GE suffered. Welch was right. Integrity is like pregnancy. You are or you are not. You can’t be slightly pregnant. You have integrity or you don’t. Integrity is not negotiable. That above all else is the reason I think of Jack Welch with respect. Not for the numbers, but for the way in which he got them.

NMDC certificate

For the last of my stories, I was invited in 1997 to Crotonville to audit and be certified on a GE flagship course called NMDC (New Manager’s Development Course). I landed at JFK airport and had a limousine waiting for me. We drove to Crotonville and as we neared the final turn off into the driveway, the limo driver called the Front Desk on his car phone. As we drove up to the porch of the hotel in Crotonville, I was met by a young lady at the foot of the stairway. She walked me up and I signed a card at the reception and then she walked me to my room. The room was huge, with an attached bathroom to match. She opened the fridge and said to me, “Everything here is for you. Please feel free to eat and drink any of these things. The stock is replenished daily. If you need anything else, please call us at the Front Desk and it will be sent up to you. The phone is for your use. It is an international line and you can call anywhere in the world. Everything is paid for, so please feel free to call.” I made one call, to my wife in India to tell her that I had arrived safely. As I said, I was getting a taste of what GE meant about walking the talk. The next day, I met my friend Carla Fischer who was my anchor person at Crotonville. I told her about my reception the previous night and how much I appreciated the out-of-the-way courtesy. She simply said, “Yawar, we value our teachers.” Over the decades that I have spent with GE and having taught over five thousand GE employees in many countries, one thing that never changed was the way GE treats its teachers. It is a pleasure and privilege to teach at GE and money is the last of the reasons I do it.

The NMDC began next morning. I am not going into any details of the course here. But on the last day, we heard the thump of a helicopter rotor. A twin-rotor corporate helicopter landed and Jack Welch stepped out. We knew he was coming and that he would address this class but still to actually see the man in flesh was something I recall to this day. He stepped out of the helicopter with his coat on his arm and his briefcase in the other hand. No reception committees, nobody running interference ahead of him or hovering behind him. Just Jack Welch and his bag. He walked into the facility, hung up his coat and spoke to the class, sitting on the edge of the table. This was the last session for the day and then we all went across to the restaurant for cocktails with the Chairman. I was introduced to him, shook his hand and didn’t wash my hand for the rest of the day, so that some of Jack Welch would rub off on me. This is another story of my initiation into American culture which I found to be very different from the feudal corporate culture in India.

NMDC class photo – spot me, dead center, top row

It was a blustery cold wet night and Jack’s pilot decided that it was not safe to fly back to the city, so Jack stayed the night at Crotonville. I asked Carla, “Where is he staying?” She looked surprised and said, “In the same hotel that you are staying.” I asked, “O! Is there a Chairman’s suite in the hotel?” She laughed and said, “He will be in a room exactly like yours, maybe even next to yours. All our rooms are Chairman quality.” And they were. As I said, a man is remembered for the memories he leaves behind. Jack Welch left many with many people across the world. All of us, sorry to see him go. The end of an era in truth.

Stand, if you’re alive

Stand, if you’re alive

Have you ever seen an eagle take a duck in flight? Or a leopard bring down a wildebeest running with his herd? Or Rafael Nadal return a serve? They all have one thing in common and that is FOCUS. You may be impressed by the fact that these three are focusing on their target. But stop for a minute to ask how they can do it. They do it by ignoring everyone and everything else. So I say to you, “Focus is the art of ignoring fluff.” Everything other than your target is fluff. 

What’s the difference between ordinary light and laser? Focus. One, at best, illuminates. The other cuts through steel. So if you want to succeed, FOCUS.
Keep five things in mind:

1.      Always be thankful. It is true that we succeed by our own efforts but it is good to remember that some of them were made standing on someone else’s shoulders.  And they helped us when they didn’t need us and without expectation of reward. Don’t forget them because without them you would still be crawling. The biggest fallacy is the so-called ‘self-made man or woman.’ There’s no such thing. We are all the products of the Grace of God, of our time, environment, nation, family, friends – of all those who stopped by to lend a hand. To every one of them we owe a debt which must be repaid. So always be thankful and express thanks. People are not mind readers and even mind readers like to hear it from you. So tell them. Thankfulness increases blessings, opens new doors, inspires people to do things for you and increases your circle of influence. Thankfulness also fills your own heart with joy. Try it and see.

2.     Never compromise your legacy. Never lose sight of your purpose. Ask, ‘Why am I here?’ Write it down and stick it on your wall. Look at it every morning and re-dedicate yourself to that. Stick to that. There will be times when all sorts of other things will seek priority. Different issues will demand importance. Friends will pull in various directions. At such times look at your purpose and know that everything else must be subordinated to that if you are serious about success. Ask, ‘What do I want to be remembered for?’ Focus is the art of ignoring fluff.

3.     Everyone has friends. The worst of them and the best of them, all have friends. Ask Mother Teresa and ask any drug dealer or pickpocket. They all have friends. The key is to have the right kind of friends. Who is the right friend? Someone you can look up to. Someone you can learn from. Someone who challenges you to be your best. Someone who tells you what you need to hear, not only what you want to hear. So it is not how many friends you have but who those friends are, which is important. Also ask, ‘What kind of friend am I to my friends?’ Do you measure up to the same criteria? Being a leader means to take hard decisions and not follow the herd. Sheep have lots of company all the way to the abattoir.

4.     No one walks alone: Every one of us is a reflection of his family, community, nation and humanity. We are never alone. Everything we choose to do or choose not to do, reflects brand value and character. Character is the tree and fame is its shadow. But of the two only the tree is real. So judge every action not only by whether it pleases you but by how it will reflect on your parents, family and nation. And most importantly how it reflects on humanity. We are human because of our values alone. That is what distinguishes us from animals. So focus on values. Compassion supercedes them all. Do to others better than what you would have them do to you. That is the Platinum Rule. A picture is worth a thousand words. An action is worth a million.

5.     Finally remember that popularity doesn’t matter: So never buckle under the pressure of popularity. It doesn’t matter at all. Dr. Rene Favaloro invented the technique and performed the first bypass surgery in 1967. Michael Jackson began his solo career in 1971 (he made his debut in 1964). Who was more popular? Whose contribution has more value? So think contribution, not popularity. In our world today, if you stand up against injustice, oppression, cruelty and discrimination, you will be very unpopular. But the world owes a debt of gratitude to those who do. Otherwise oppressors would rule unchallenged. Peace as defined by oppressors has always been, ‘Absence of resistance to my oppression.’ But history is witness that it is thanks to those who disturbed that peace that we abolished slavery, have human dignity and continue to fight for freedom. So it is not whether you won or lost which matters. What matters is which side you fought on. Pick your side for you will be known by it. That is your signature.

We confuse earning a living with living itself. Life is not only about earning a living. Life is about something much more important than earning a living or making money. Life is about living with honor and about leaving a legacy to be remembered by. Life is not about competition but about leaving an impact on the hearts of others. Life is not about consumption but about contribution. Because privilege comes with territory and contribution defines territory.

I want to share with you three points you must never lose focus of, if you want to live this kind of life where you will be influential while you live and remembered after you’re gone. 

The three points in one sentence: Stand for justice, with compassion and courage.

Remember that all goodness begins with justice. Justice means you give everything it’s due. To respect elders, to be kind to the young and weak, to stand up against oppression, to help someone in need, to comfort someone in grief, to walk the path that others don’t want to, are all signs that you are focused on justice. Look into your life from time to time to see if you’re still on the path to establish justice.

Remember that what’s legal and what’s right are not always the same. Slavery was legal. Colonialism was legal. Racial and religious discrimination and segregation was legal. Apartheid was legal. The Holocaust was legal. Disparity of wages for men and women was and sadly still is legal. But not a single one of them is right or just. To fight against these or not is your choice and your meter to show whether you’re still on the path of justice.

Compassion or mercy is the foundation. It is the bedrock in which justice is rooted. If that cracks or dies then justice dies with it. Justice without mercy is cruelty with a mask. Compassion is the result of empathy. It happens when we see ourselves in the position of others, not with pity for them but with gratitude at having been spared that test. That’s when we start to see life through their lens and understand that we were not created to be spectators but to be players in the game. You win that game also in the same way, by helping each other, taking care of each other and protecting each other. Knowing that a culture of compassion is our best safety net. You help them not because they need that help but because you need it more.

Finally and most importantly, the single most critical quality that enables compassion to sustain and justice to thrive; is courage. 

Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to continue. Courage is what enables us to put self interest behind and stand up for the rights of others because we understand their pain and are willing to take the pain to alleviate their suffering. That’s justice. And courage enables it to be established.

Courage is honor. Courage is to stand up for the truth even if I stand alone. Courage is to stand up for the truth, especially if I stand alone. Courage is to ask, “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?” Courage is to know that it doesn’t matter whether we win or lose the battle. What matters is which side we fought on. We all live and we will all die. Every single one of us will die one day. That doesn’t matter. What matters is how we live and how we die.

In the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: 
“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”

Remember, in the end, that it is all that you choose to do or choose not to do, which defines your brand value and character. And that, defines your future.

Remember, in the end, that it is all that you choose to do or choose not to do, which defines your brand value and character. And that, defines your future.

So remember to always stand for justice, with compassion and courage.
I wish you every great dream in life and the courage to make it come true.

For he was a man

For he was a man

My house in Kwakwani, Rio Berbice (1979-83)

I started my corporate career in Guyana with the Guyana Mining Enterprise in Kwakwani, on the Rio Berbice. Kwakwani was a small mining town, hanging on the bank of the Berbice River trying not to get pushed into its deep and dark waters by an aggressively advancing forest. Living in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest with no family and only a Scarlet Macaw and sundry chickens, turkeys and a series of wild animals as pets may not be the normal youngster’s dream job, but it was mine. I lived on Staff Hill, in a small bungalow with three bedrooms, a living/dining room and kitchen and a veranda on two sides. Facing the bungalow was an orange orchard that ended in the brooding mass of the wall of the rain forest. Behind and surrounding the bungalow was a large open field ending in the wall of the rain forest once again. Living in the middle of the rain forest meant just that; you had the forest surrounding you.

Me in my hammock in my yard, with the orange orchard and forest visible

I would sit on my veranda in the evenings after the sun had gone down and I had had my dinner. In the days and places without TV or mobile phones, you had time to relax, watch the world go by and simply be in sync with your surroundings. The forest is not a silent place. Forests breathe and speak and are visibly and audibly alive. Even if you don’t know their language – and it differs from place to place – you can still hear them. I could hear Macaws talking to each other as they headed home. They pair for life and have great conversations. Lesson: conversation is essential to a good marriage. Then there are the smells. The smell of the first rain after the dry season. The smell of the markings on trees of territorial creatures which are meant to warn away potential threats. The smell of vegetation, growing or decomposing. When you sit quietly in a forest and let it talk to you, it does. Gently and gradually. Naturally, it takes a little while because first our ears must stop buzzing with the residue of our own noisy, raucous sounds of so-called civilization. They try to drown out everything that the forest is trying to tell you. But if you are patient and give it some time, then gradually the buzzing fades away and you start to hear the breeze rustling in the leaves. You hear water dropping from the top levels onto the canopy below. You hear the occasional ripe fruit or dry branch fall to the floor, to become either food or manure. You learn to tell the difference between a sound made by a living creature – which may be potentially dangerous or useful – and the sound of something that is not a living creature. The forest speaks to you in the voices of the Howler Monkeys announcing that the dawn has broken and, in the evening, that the night has fallen, and they are signing off for the day. Toucans, Parakeets and Macaws talking to each other as they fly, feed and roost. It speaks to you in the rustle of the oncoming deluge which you can hear advancing towards you, not threatening but announcing its progress so that you can take shelter. The wind rustling the treetops sometimes sounds like the waves of the ocean. You will hear all this, and more will happen if you give it some time, are observant, and are willing to learn. I was thrilled to be there. There was nowhere else that I would rather be.

Nick and I on the Kwakwani Trail in Prime Minister Sam Hind’s car (1997)

My first boss, Mr. James Nicholas Adams (Nick Adams) was the Administrative Manager of Kwakwani and I was his Assistant Manager. Nick was my manager but even more he was my mentor and guide. Although he was technically in charge of the whole operation, he let me run it the way I wanted and that was a tremendous learning opportunity for me. Nick had a unique way of teaching by delegating responsibility and then periodically calling me to do a participative analysis of my own performance. He would then reinforce the strengths and achievements and encourage me to draw lessons from my mistakes. I remember my first ever appraisal in 1980. Nick gave me the form and told me to fill it in myself. I was shocked because I thought appraising was something that the boss did of your work. But Nick said, ‘You know what you did better than I do. So, write it up.’ I returned with what I thought were my achievements and then Nick and I had a long chat about them. Thanks to my Indian cultural upbringing, Nick ended up adding several things that I had left out feeling that they didn’t really count. I still have that form with Nick’s signature on it, decades later.

In Kwakwani, I was the youngest member of the Management Team, sometimes by decades. As the Assistant Administrative Manager, it was part of my responsibility to look after the logistics in the entire mining town. There were department heads over whom I had no formal authority, but whose cooperation I needed to get anything done. Some were twice my age and Guyanese and members of the PNC (People’s National Congress – the ruling party in Guyana), while I was a young foreigner. I learnt, very practically, that the best way to make progress was to develop a relationship based on sincerity as that would be the only thing that you could count on, especially in hard times. I remember how Nick Adams used to put it. He’d say, “A relationship is like a bank account. You only have in it, what you put in. And when you need to draw on it, you only have as much as you put in.” That is one of the lessons I learnt in my life and which has stayed with me all these years. That is one of the many lessons that I owe to Nick. Another was in hospitality and consideration. The first time it happened I was astonished. Then it became a regular feature. One weekend Nick called me and asked me to go over to his place. When I walked over, I saw that he had a pen full of live chickens (about 10-12 in all) and a knife. He said to me, “Ya-waar, can you please slaughter these in your way? I will put them in the freezer so that we are sure we give you these when you come over to our place to eat.” Nick and his lovely wife Kathleen knew that I was Muslim and would eat only meat that was slaughtered according to the rules of Halal. So, they made sure that not only was what they gave me Halal but that I would have total confidence in that. What better way than to let me do it myself? 

One of Nick’s biggest strengths was his communication; both its clarity and wisdom. I recall an amusing but very instructive incident which illustrates the challenges we faced and how Nick dealt with them. Guyana had recently become independent and was ruled by the PNC (People’s National Congress) which was socialist/communist. The President of Guyana was the very powerful and iconic, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (1923 – 1985). Communism/socialism was the prevalent ideology. We addressed each other as ‘Comrade’. I was Comrade (written Cde.) Baig. Bauxite mining was the major economic activity in Guyana and just before I landed there in 1979, the government had nationalized the bauxite mining and calcining operation. One inevitable and tragic result was that people were appointed and promoted more for ideological loyalty than for professional competence. Another result was that the Guyana Mine Workers Union became very strong. Guymine (used to be called Guybau) had 5000 workers and all were members of the GMWU. The Union was run by its General Secretary, Stephen Louis, a huge big man with a voice to match.

One effect of the nationalization and heightened union activity was frequent work stoppages on all kinds of frivolous matters. Then we would meet to discuss Terms of Resumption and arrive at a settlement. The meetings were contests of will, to see who would break down first. The meetings were very important because if we couldn’t arrive at a settlement the issue would go to Arbitration before the Minister of Mines whose other role was as the President of the Union. The typical Terms of Resumption meeting would go straight through for anything ranging from 24 – 72 hours, with short breaks of usually an hour or two to stretch our legs and eat something. Naturally patience was tough to maintain, and tempers would get frayed. This incident relates to one such meeting.

I can’t recall what the issue was, for which the Union had called for a Tools Down. We started the meeting at 8.00 pm and it continued through the night into the next morning. We took a break of about 2 hours to take a shower and have breakfast. Then back in the meeting until 8.00 pm that night. Then a break for dinner and back again through the night. Stephen Louis was holding forth at full strength, his voice resonating and bouncing off the ceiling and walls; my first experience of surround sound. The only option we had was to listen. Our team had Nick as its head and me and another young man from IR (Industrial Relations), who we shall call Jacob (not his real name). Late that night, well past midnight, Jacob’s patience snapped. Stephen Louis had been going on and on about the ideological differences between socialist and capitalist ideologies and why the socialist ideology to which the PNC and the GMWU were committed was superior. Jacob said, ‘Man! Stephen, talk sense man.’ It was as if he had shot Stephen in the head. Stephen stopped in mid-sentence. Turned slowly to face Jacob and said, ‘Boy! (pronounced Bye) Jaykie, waya seh! Talk sense. Like me na takin sense? Ya tink a-we takin nansense? All dis time we bina trying to come to a settlemen and dis Bye seh we bina talkin nansense? Eh!’

The situation was as close to sitting on a powder keg with the fuse burning as I care to remember. In another two seconds, the Union would have walked out and hours and hours of work would have gone down the drain. We would have had to begin again with the additional problem of dealing with bruised egos as a result of good old Jaykie’s comment. That’s when I saw how quick thinking and experience makes a difference. Nick called out, ‘Hol-an, Hol-an man Stephen. De Bye na seh, Leh we talk sense. He seh, Leh we talk dallar and cents. Leh we talk moe-ney! Leh we do dat man. Nof-of dis ideology thing. Leh we decide and go to bed.’

I swear, I saw relief on Stephen Loius’s face. He say, ‘Ah! Ya, leh we do da.’ And we did. We finished as the day was breaking and as we left the room, Stephen came up behind Jacob, affectionately grabbed him by the back of his neck and said, ‘De man Nick don save yar aas. You know waya seh, eh! And I know wa I hear! But Nick don save a-we. If not, dis meeting was gonna go on for noder two days. Watch ya tongue Bye. It can geh you into trouble. And you won’ have Nick to bail you out next time.’ That is where I learnt human relations. In a very tough environment but where even our antagonists took time out to unofficially mentor youngsters.

My last story about Nick. I heard this story from his son Owen Shaka Abubakr Adams. When Nick was a young man, and lived in Linden, Demarara, he received a summons from a court in Corentyn which is at the northern border of Guyana, with Suriname; a distance of about 400 kilometers. To go there in those days (1950’s?) must have been an expedition. Nick had no idea why he had been summoned. But he went. When he arrived at the court, his name was called, and the judge asked him to come forward. As Nick was walking down the aisle, he heard a woman’s voice, ‘He is not the man.’ Nick turned to see a young woman with a baby.

The judge told the lady, ‘Look carefully at him. This is Nick Adams. Is he the man?’ The lady said, ‘He is not the man. This is someone else.’

When Nick asked, the judge said to him, ‘A man by your name, got this lady pregnant and now that she has a baby, he has disappeared. Anyway, this is not your problem, so you can go home.’

Nick said to the judge, ‘Your Honor, I would like to request you to please arrange for the maintenance of this child to be deducted from my salary.’

The judge was astonished. ‘Do you know this lady?’

Nick said, ‘No, Your Honor, I don’t. I am seeing her for the first time today.’ ‘Then why are you offering to pay for the maintenance of the child?’ asked the judge. ‘It is not your responsibility. This matter doesn’t concern you.’

Nick replied, ‘But the child needs to eat, Your Honor. Someone must pay for that. I am willing to do that.’

For the next 18 years, Nick Adams paid maintenance for a child that was not his own. He saw the mother, that one time in court and never saw the mother or child again. But month after month, year after year for 18 years, Nick Adams paid for a child because he had compassion in his heart.

His Rabb was no less compassionate. So many decades later, maybe even 60 years later, Nick Adams who was by then suffering from cancer, one week before his death, accepted Islam along with his wife and sister in law.

The happiest ending; or I should say, the happiest latest story, to my Guyana times was when I got the news in 2011 that Nick Adams and his wife Kathleen had accepted Islam. Nick was terminally ill with cancer at the time and died a couple of weeks later. I hope one day to meet my friend once again in Jannah. He died sinless and pure and I ask Allahﷻ for His Mercy and Grace for my dear friend to whom I owe so much.