Is it possible to Fall in Love with a Company?

Is it possible to fall in love with a company?

Not the kind where you are loyal to a company or brand or product line and refuse to buy anything else.But truly revere a company because of their values.

A few weeks ago, I was at the Indian Hotels company to meet a senior gentleman there. Unlike other companies, where either an assistant or the receptionist or some peon might walk you to a meeting room, this person came to the lobby to receive me.

I’m not particularly good with small talk, and almost always jump right to the point. However, I started this meeting differently. I told this person about a story a close friend’s son had shared recently. It went like this.

Many years ago, when my friend’s son was in school, the school bus would drop him off at Kemps Corner. They lived up Altamount Road, quite a steep walk up. Especially for this stocky boy with a big schoolbag, huffing his way up the road. And every once in a way, a Mercedes car would pull up, an old gentleman sitting in the back, would offer to drop him to his building. This boy would sit in front, next to the driver.

The old gentleman would ask some questions about how he liked school, etc. One evening, this boy decided to mention to his family at dinner, that he had been occasionally getting dropped home by a complete stranger. As he narrated the story and described the old gentleman, his granny smiled and said, “that man is J. R. D. Tata!”

For the uninitiated, Mr. J. R. D. Tata is arguably one of the greatest Indian businesspersons.

What’s more, when this boy grew up and shared this story on social media, it turned out that other people who lived in the area had similar stories of their own. It seemed that success didn’t create a divide between Mr. Tata and others, but rather, Mr. Tata chose to use his success to help those around in whichever way he could.

This gentleman at the Taj Group was thrilled to hear this story, but not completely surprised. I guess the values infused into the group are so strong, it’s not something they would struggle to believe.

Rewinding a bit to a little before this meeting of mine…. I reached the Indian Hotels office a little early. Restless as always, I was walking around, admiring the picturesque view of Bombay from the window beside the reception area. I then noticed pillar-like structures just behind where the receptionists stood. There were seven on one side, six on the other. And each one had a name and number etched in. I had a faint idea about what they were. But just to confirm, I walked up and asked the receptionist about them.

And indeed, they were in memory of their brave employees they lost during the 2008 terrorist attack. The last pillar on the right just had a name on it. ‘Lucy’, and no date. Turned out it was a pet of theirs, which was always outside the hotel.

The two stories were truly humbling. Even just a few more companies with the kind of humility, respect and values that the Tata Group of companies has, could truly transform the business ecosystem.

Perhaps it therefore comes as no surprise that the brave Taj employees did not try to escape during the attack. On the contrary, many of them displayed superhuman courage and presence of mind to do the unimaginable. The kitchen staff formed human shields as their guests tried to get out.

No amount of rules, threats, salary packages or incentives can get someone to do that. It is something much more. And has to come from within, but only when the ecosystem is right. It’s something very human. Something the world needs more of.

***

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Did Tata Know in 2012 that Mistry Was Not The Best Fit?

"Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of Tata Sons along with Cyrus Mistry (who will succeed him in December 2012) at the Auto Expo being held at Pragati Maidan" *** Local Caption *** "Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of Tata Sons along with Cyrus Mistry (who will succeed him in December 2012) at the Auto Expo being held at Pragati Maidan on Thursday. Express photo by Oinam Anand. 05 January 2011"

Source: link

The aftermath of ousting of Tata Group Chairman, Cyrus Mistry was probably not what the Tata Group, or Mr. Ratan Tata would have anticipated. Then again, could there have been sufficient signs even as Mr. Tata was looking for the next Chairman for the group many years ago?

A little short of 4 years ago, the challenging task of identifying a successor for Mr. Tata was completed. Cyrus Mistry seemed like a strong and obvious fit. A strong choice, given his qualifications and abilities. And from purely a cold, financial angle, it probably felt obvious too. After all, Cyrus’ father, Pallonji Mistry, is the single largest shareholder in the Tata Group, with a whopping 18.4% in the holding company, Tata Sons. In that sense, no other individual or family was as incentivized to want the group to grow and prosper.

However, Mr. Tata’s task was to identify someone to surpass his vision, dedication, and passion toward a large conglomerate and its home country. And in such a scenario, lending disproportionate weightage to the most financially invested individual or family, while seemingly a no-brainer, was not particularly prudent or without risk.

Mr. Mistry had initially demanded a free hand and little interference, as conveyed by his recent letters to the board. Those requests, while reasonable, could have been a little too much to expect. After all, he wasn’t merely handed the keys to one of the biggest conglomerates, or a group of profit-making companies. He was handed the keys to 148 years of vision, passion, rich culture, traditions and practices. It takes a lot more than business acumen to run or improve on that.

The business world thrives on profits, loud marketing, overwhelming sales pushes, and frequent deception or misrepresentation. But while the Tata Group may have its shortcomings (read this insightful article by The Economist on the mess facing the group currently), I’d even go a step further and call the Tata Group a religion. Few people in India feel as strongly about any other Indian company.

842199449-ratantatacyrusmistry_6

Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry in more cordial times | source: link

In his eagerness and urgency to find a successor, many years ago, Mr. Tata probably made a critical mistake. Perhaps forgetting that passion and intention always beat qualifications and skills. Recent emails by Mr. Mistry suggest that he was offered the position back then, which he declined on more than one occasion. While Mr. Mistry is probably as capable as anyone else shortlisted for the position, the fact that he needed much convincing was perhaps a clear sign he was not the right fit for the role.

“Passion and intention always beat qualifications and skills.”

So in the Tata Group’s search for a Chairman, did they underrate important qualities in favor of someone most financially invested, assuming such a person would be naturally inclined to do his or her best for the group? Passion, however, is not an easily replaceable or interchangeable quality.

The unfortunate result was best described by Oogway‘s  subtly put pearl of wisdom to Shifu – ‘one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.’

oogway

Source: link

Feel free to share your views. I will revert at the earliest. And if you liked this post, do subscribe to my blog for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.