LESSONS FROM THE PAST 8: Construction or Destruction?
I was looking back at a foreign company that had started in India in the 1960s. It had a few well-known brands, but had only a notional presence in India. It was keen to come into the country in a big way. It was careful to select an outstanding executive to be their first chief executive officer (CEO)—someone with a proven record of achievement, and who was young and full of dynamism. 
 
He built a team of under 30s—just seven of them—to manage all functions of the company. He set a high target for the first two years—which was reasonable considering the base was so low to begin with. 
 
My friend Sunil was recruited as sales promotion manager, to handle all aspects of marketing—with the promise that if the targets are reached at the end of two years, he would be promoted to marketing director and the position would be kept vacant till then. At the end of two years, the targets were achieved. 
 
But Anil, the CEO, had other ideas. He decided to import a senior from outside to be the new marketing director, Randhir. Sunil would have to report to him. 
 
In just three months, Sunil realised how little Randhir knew and decided to quit. He had no difficulty finding another job, and at the level to which he would have been promoted, here itself – both in position and in money. 
 
After Sunil resigned, there was great demoralisation in the company. The CEO tried to remedy this by promoting one of the four regional managers to Sunil’s position. It was bound to be a failure—giving a marketing job to a person with only sales experience!
 
So, the CEO decided to break the company structure into pharma products and consumer products; and, now, imported a marketing director for consumer products, restricted the earlier recruited marketing director to pharma products only. 
 
This new marketing director, in turn, hired a senior manager from an advertising agency as marketing manager of the division. So very soon, there were two marketing directors, two sales managers (one for each division), two sales promotion managers, two advertising managers, and a staff of stenos and clerks to boot—and all this for a fall of 5% in the profits and 8% in the turnover!
 
Watching this show from afar in US, the world HQs finally decided to transfer the CEO to Singapore as head of South East Asia operations. The finance director, who had been in the company since inception, was appointed the CEO. 
 
They realised that they need an Ashoka (an administrator) to replace Babar (a conqueror)—and they were not wrong.  The company slowly shed weight, the organisation became more supple. There was elimination, but coupled with kindness—for example, the first marketing director appointed, was later transferred as distribution manager, but his emoluments were kept unchanged, although the position was two levels lower. However, he chose to stay. He could not get any other assignment at that salary anywhere else.
 
The story of this company always made me think - Why do brilliant people sometimes construct only to destruct? And why do they destroy so many lives and careers in the process? Fortunately, most of them are smart enough to save themselves – but they ruin lives for everyone else. 
 
And that is where, people like Andrew Carnegie (I am a great admirer of Carnegie) who was once asked, in the early 1900s, how is it possible that he had so many millionaires (43 at one point) working for him? 
 
He answered “Dealing with people is a lot like digging for gold. When you go digging for an ounce of gold, you have to move tons of dirt. But when you go digging, you don’t go looking for the dirt; you go looking for the gold.”
 
The Gold, the Good, the Positive. Just as a person can become successful with the right series of words—the Gold—a person can also be destroyed for a lifetime with the wrong series of words and actions—daggers to the heart.
 
Those who construct, must try and ensure that they do not at the same time destroy!
 
(Walter Vieira is a Certified Management Consultant; and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
 
Comments
tillan2k
11 months ago
reason foreign seeds unless naturalised do not flourish in Indian soil and situation
aq.qu
11 months ago
Very very well written Mr. Vieira. How simply you made such a deep point. This is the story of every other institution of reckoning; and more so in India. Be it a professionally run institution like HDFC Bank or tight gripped promoter driven group like Vedanta.
People with similar cultures are the same everywhere.
I guess it has more to do with individual behavior patterns rather than the so-called ‘organization culture ’ and hence such things are more pronounced in certain geographies across institutions of all hues.
mudit3
11 months ago
Beautifully expressed. Jealousy makes people discard gold. JRD Tata and many others were outstanding exceptions. And Dhirubhai Ambani was a leader par excellence.
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