I have greatly admired and learnt a lot from Charles Vance, who wrote Manager Today, Executive Tomorrow. One of the 10 principles he propounds in his book is that ‘from birth to death you are alone’. You may have parents to help you up to a point; you may have your spouse and children to help you at other stages in your life; or you may have bosses, colleagues, subordinates, friends and acquaintances to give you a helping hand at various times; but essentially, each one of us has to handle our own affairs. We must depend on ourselves. It is the Samuel Smiles dictum that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ that still holds true for all of us.
And yet, it is also true that there is very little that any of us can do alone. Most of us, and certainly corporate executives, need to get work done through other people. We need to develop two qualities very acutely: 1) to recognise a good idea or person; and 2) to make the best use of talent, when we find it.
Al Ries and Jack Trout have developed this theme very effectively in their book Horse Sense. They have written many books in the past, all very popular, on marketing strategy. But in Horse Sense, they have gone further into the realms of marketing yourself—the individual.
They are emphatic that the key to your success is always somebody else. Even when you have a great idea or a great product, you are counting on others to recognise the value of the idea or product.
A salesman never makes a sale. Someone else has to buy. What is true in selling products is also true in selling yourself. Someone else has to recognise your good qualities and then buy you by giving you a job, a promotion, or even entering into a business partnership.
Ries and Trout believe that, in the course of a typical career, this selling and buying process takes place many times. Their surveys show that the average person needs to sell himself seven times between the first job and retirement. It can be a difficult and frustrating process because, sometimes, the timing can be brutal. Let’s say you have just been fired. At that moment in your career, when you need the most self-confidence, you have the least. How do you sell yourself, when you are not sold on yourself?
It is suggested that one easy way out is to sell yourself once to someone who can do something for you. They give many examples from corporate life in the US. They refer to Dan Quayle and how he rode to glory on the back of George Bush.
We have our own examples of beneficial associations- RK Dhawan with Indira Gandhi; Vincent George with Rajiv Gandhi; J Jayalalithaa and MGR, and, more recently, Amit Shah with Narendra Modi.
And there are many more examples in the business world. This is because you cannot ride alone. Finding a person to ride with—whether mentor, partner or spouse—is an easy way to enter the winner’s circle. But, at the same time, it is also a tricky ride on the track because the person you are riding with could find you expendable if, at some later time, you are perceived as a liability in any way!
Using a partner can also help to build a powerful combination in any business. Two people usually do better than either one alone. Yet, if you look around, you often also see loners. Loners start out well, with the advantage of youth, enthusiasm, energy and a fresh approach. As he gets older, the ego grows with the income. As the ego begins to overwhelm ability, the loner becomes pompous, know it all, and objectivity is smothered. This is where partners can help to keep you down to earth.
A partner can supply the objectivity that will keep the ego in check. You can accomplish things together which you would not be able to do alone. Of course, there are some loners who do succeed immensely like Jamsetji Tata and GD Birla, where they did not allow ability to be overshadowed by ego!
This synergistic effect has been proved over and over again in the history of business partnerships—Jobs and Wozniak of Apple; Gates and Allen of Microsoft; Hewlett and Packard, who started in a garage in 1938; and our Larsen and Toubro (L&T) in India. Some of these can be by chance. Others can be by design- like with Infosys, where Narayana Murthy went around to form a group with different specialities so they could form a self-sufficient team of experts.
There are many others who cast their nets wide, in order to identify those with whom they can have beneficial associations—through the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the Citizens Group or the social club where one can get to play golf or tennis—and get to know people who one may not normally meet in the course of one’s own work.
There are also the accidents (call it destiny or, better still, the will of God), which one needs to grab and run the extra mile to success. In the late 1970s, I was introduced to the editor of Business World (BW) by his fiancée, who was a student at Xavier Institute of Management, where I was a visiting professor. This started my career as a business columnist for BW for 20 years and then for other magazines in India and abroad—and this may now be a total of over 1500 columns!
When I was a visiting professor at ASCI, Prof Laksmipathy introduced me to Minoo Rustomji—an associate of Prof Northcote Parkinson (a big name in management those days), with whom I started my career as an author with three books written jointly (and I continued after he died, with 13 other books!).
Prof Parkinson also introduced me to Philip Kotler (who wrote the foreword to our first book), and thus began my teaching at Kellogg Business School and expanded in the course of time to seven other schools in the US like Cornell, Stern, Drexel and others, which I did every year until recently.
All the time, it was beneficial associations that took me faster on the main highway or showed me some diversions from which I could benefit professionally or otherwise. It is the same for anyone else who is sensitive to the role of beneficial associations.
Some parts of this column are extracts from ‘Planning for Executive Success’ by Walter Vieira Sage/Amazon
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across 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 and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)