Paying my dues

IIM Ahmadabad was established on 11 December 1961 with the active support of the Government of India, the Government of Gujarat, Harvard Business School, and prominent members of Indian industry. It continues to be the premier business school of India, known for the distinguished list of graduates it has produced over the decades since its inception. We had some brilliant professors at the IIMA, who are even today iconic names in their fields. Prof. K. Balakrishnan (Bala) for Business Strategy, Prof. Raghunathan for Finance, and Prof. Labdhi Bhandary for Marketing. I remember how he would sit on the desk in the class with one leg dangling, swinging like a pendulum throughout his period. He taught more by asking incisive questions than by lecturing. He assumed that we had read the assignment and we made sure we had. He asked us questions which opened our minds to possibilities that we may not have thought of. We hadn’t and his questions took us by surprise but were a huge learning which we looked forward to. I have always enjoyed being made a fool of by a scholar. That is what makes learning fun and how the lessons learnt stick. Prof. Bhandary taught us to look in unexpected places and to use creative ways to solve problems. The regular MBA program, called PGP (Post Graduate Program) because the IIMA is not deemed a university and so doesn’t award degrees, is a two-year full-time course. Someone had a brilliant idea to condense all the theory in the course into a shorter Executive MBA called the MEP (Management Education Program) which was offered to anyone with a Bachelor’s Degree in any discipline and at least five years of work experience. Once again it was not called an Executive MBA and was not a degree but in terms of market value was worth more than any MBA degree from any university in India. IIMA’s name opened eyes and doors.

The target market was the large number of scions of business families who enter the family business by virtue of birth but need a business education to work effectively. They don’t have two years to take out of their work and so never get the education they need. IIMA very intelligently targeted this group. The added benefit of this course was the networking opportunities and the chance to build connections and make friendships that can lead to all kinds of benefits for the businesses of all concerned. This also gave the IIMA a great group of wealthy potential supporters. A win-win all around. People like me, penniless executives, were very rare in this group. But I never thought of myself that way. I was an aspiring entrepreneur on the way to becoming a globally recognized leadership development expert.

IIMA pioneered the use of the case study method in India, which is the next best thing to doing it yourself and saves you from the pain of the mistakes you make. I remember a case study we did, which was about a local breakfast cereal manufacturer in South India which was highly successful, and the owner was considering his next steps. We were asked to suggest strategies to take the business forward. It was a well-run business with strong financials, and we unanimously agreed that the owner now needed to go national and so we prepared all kinds of complex strategies for this. We analyzed his competition, identified sources of funds for him to run a national advertising campaign and to expand production. We worked out a distribution chain that he needed to create to ensure the fastest time to market, including a tie-up with a national logistics company to ensure on time delivery. We recommended what he should pay in commissions and margins to wholesalers and incentives to stockists. We showed how he would thereby have a strong all-India presence leading perhaps to entering the global market soon thereafter. We worked on this case all night which included our post-midnight meeting at the chaiwala at IIMA’s gate where we ate Maggi noodles and drank milky sugar syrup masquerading as tea.

Next morning, bleary eyed but very pleased with all the work that we had done, and we entered Prof. Bhandary’s class only waiting to receive our well-deserved accolades with grace. We had been divided into four groups and said more or less the same thing with some minor differences in approach.

Prof. Labdhi Bhandary sat on his desk with his pendulum leg swinging in rhythmic motion and listened to all the presentations in silence. Then in his typical way he asked, ‘Hmm!! So?’

We looked blankly at each other and then I asked him, ‘Sir, I’m not sure we understand your question.’ 

‘So, what if his financials are strong? Did you think of suggesting that he should sell his business and capitalize his effort?’

We looked shocked. Here we had spent all night creating all these lovely strategies and our dear teacher was trashing all of them in one go.

‘What is the best time to sell a business? When it is doing well or when it is failing? So why didn’t you consider this option? I only want to know why you didn’t consider this option. Are you thinking of what is best for your client or your own pet theory?’

It was a very sad day for me when on October 19, 1988, I heard about the Indian Airlines plane crash in Ahmadabad in which Prof. Bhandary died. A great loss indeed. He had one of the most incisive minds I have ever encountered and was a great teacher. I honor his memory and all that I learnt from him.

Entrepreneurs make active choices. When one sees a successful entrepreneur at his peak, one tends to forget all that he had to do to get there. Entrepreneurs make what others call ‘sacrifice’ but which the entrepreneur himself knows is an investment in his own learning and development. He knows that without this investment in time, effort, and money he will not be able to live his dream.

This rigor of putting your money and energy where your mouth is, is critical to success. In order to maintain the long-term perspective which will enable you to continue to invest in your own development or in your dream it is essential to have a clear goal. Without clarity about your goal, it is entirely likely that you will lose steam after a while. I was able to continue my investment over twelve years because I was so clear about what I wanted to eventually become as well as what I needed to do to get there.

I believe that we have two kinds of goals; ‘Being goals’ and ‘Doing goals.’ Most people are good at stating their ‘Being’ goals; ‘I want to be this or that.’ But when it comes to ‘Doing’ goals, they are much less clear. The reality is that no matter what you want to be, there is always something that you must do in order to achieve that result. Unless you are clear about what that is and unless you are willing to make the effort, chances are that your dream will never see the light of day. This is the reason why only a handful of people can create and sustain a business even though many dream about becoming successful business owners. Dreaming is important, but what is equally important is to wake up and work to make the dream come true. And when you work, remember that sweat is more effective than blood.

I have a saying to explain ‘Being and Doing Goals’.

To ‘Be’ you must ‘Do’. To ‘Do’ you don’t have to ‘Be’.

Unless you ‘Do’ you will never ‘Be’.

I say this because there are some interesting realities about Being and Doing goals. A Being goal is essentially a wish. It can be inspirational, but its realization is usually in the hands of someone else. For example, you may say, “I want to be the Vice President-Marketing of my company.” You may feel energized by thinking about this position but the only way you will ever get there is if someone promotes you. So, it is up to someone else to make your dream come true.

On the other hand, if you take the next step and convert the ‘Being goal’ into a ‘Doing goal’ by asking the question, ‘What do I need to do to become the Vice President Marketing for my company?’ You will find that there is a course of action which becomes clear. For example, you may ask yourself, ‘What does the VP Marketing do?’ He creates marketing strategy. Well, to think of a new marketing strategy for the company, do you need to first become the VP Marketing, or can you do it regardless of your position? The answer is self-evident.

If you think this way, you will realize that in order to do a good job of writing a new marketing strategy you need know the company’s current strategy. You may also need to read something about marketing theory and read some case studies about marketing strategies of other companies in your line of business and even other kinds of businesses because one can learn from diverse sources. All this you can do while you are still the bell boy, or a salesman, or a security guard in your company. All this is in your own hand.

Now to complete my analogy, if you make the effort and take the time to study and research and conceptualize a new marketing strategy and send it to your top management you can be assured that you will stand out as a unique individual. In my sixteen years in line management and forty years in consulting, I have seen any number of sales executives dreaming of becoming VP Marketing, but I have never seen one taking the time to write an alternate marketing strategy. When I do, I will know that I am looking at a future VP Marketing. That is why to make dreams come true you must be wide awake. It takes commitment, investment, and seriousness about yourself and your career. Something that far too few dreamers bargain for. Most people like to talk about dreams but will not work seriously to fulfill the requirements of the dream.

Having said that, I will mention two other things: There is always a ‘right’ time to take the decision to strike out on your own. This is intrinsic to the individual and only he can say when it comes. Many deny it and refuse to listen to their inner voice, but those who do and take the step will tell you that though they may have wanted to do it earlier, in reality all their life before that had been preparation and when they did take the step, that was the right time. When you take that step you will find that all creation comes together to help you to succeed. But you must take that first step.

The second thing is that notwithstanding what I said earlier about all of creation conspiring to help you, what must be remembered is that the first thing that comes up to face you when you take the first step forward is the challenge. Remember the step is only saying that you are prepared to face the challenge. When you say that you are ready, the challenge stands up to meet you and you must overcome the challenge to win the prize. Only overcomers are rewarded. Not everything you face can be overcome but nothing can be overcome until you face it. That is the choice that every successful entrepreneur makes. He stands up and says, ‘I am ready.’

The challenge is as much physical and material as psychological and spiritual. And it must be faced on all these fronts. It is essential to acquire the tools to deal with the challenge at all levels because failure at one level can lead to failure at other levels. If there is one single most important quality it is mental toughness, the refusal to give up. It is an ever-optimistic outlook on life that enables the entrepreneur to see the silver lining hiding behind the cloud when others can only see dark clouds.

5 4 votes
Article Rating

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x