Sunday, December 3, 2017


HUNGRY PEOPLE, BETTER RESULTS - Unleash the Fire Within to Win Continually in Life by Deepak Malhotra (2017), Bloomsbury, p 298.

Leadership has been a key domain of discussion among academicians and practitioners in last one century starting with a belief on Leaders are born to Leaders can be made. Both the views had their merits and demerits and the literature has proved that one can learn the art of leadership and become successful leader if one is open to learning and has developed a positive attitude towards change.
This book by Deepak Malhotra tries to narrate the nuances of practicing leadership through the perspective of selected successful leaders in different areas of their work and profession. Though the individuals who have been selected for their views on leadership and their conception of Hungry People Better Results have proved excellent records yet the criterion of their selection has not been made explicit anywhere in the volume. It seems to be the prerogative and convenience of the author.  The efforts made by Deepak to gather together these many leaders is remarkable. Though the book looks like a lengthy volume, once you start reading and flip its pages, you can presumably find it handy, short and simple.  At times it gives you a feel that it is an extended version of Oxford book of quotations, but suddenly you find a narrative advice on the ways how one can succeed in life and career. The pathways are illustrative and many a times repetitive.

The book has as many as 29 chapters covering achievers and leaders who have strong messages for practice. It includes business luminaries like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Harsh Vardhan Goenka, Harsh Neotia, on one side and cricketers like Bishen Singh Bedi and Ravi Shastri on the other. All the leaders and achievers profiled in the book portray strong sense of responsibility. Their vices are convincing, their conception is clear, their advices are authentic and their wisdom is impeccable. Lessons from the corporate boardrooms to the cricket ground, from a successful entrepreneur (PC Mustafa, Preethi Srinivasan, Madan Padaki) to running a big media house (Annurag Batra) and from a cancer fighter (Rahul Yadav) to climbing Mount Everest (Arunima Sinha) are all well recorded and narrated by the author in the book. If I have to summarize and give five common traits that a leader should possess, they could be: High on Integrity, Learning Attitude, Honest Intent, Good Communicator, and High Sense of Humility. The possessions of these characteristics would certainly make one an effective and successful leader. When it comes to theoretical links, one can find these traits well recorded and explained in almost every text on leadership.

I liked this paragraph from the book which has strong message to convey:
Being the best is not enough nowadays and even benchmarking with the best is not enough. Companies like Eastman Kodak, after eighty years of being number one, do not exist. Samsung has outsmarted the Sony that unseated them. GM is outsmarted by Tesla; Cabbies by Uber. Facebook has vanquished Orkut. If you are on the top floor of an elevator building, there is only one arrow you can press and that is the one going downwards. No one wants to do that! Thus, Inspire, Innovate, Implement, Improvise, Incentivize, and be Independent of Extinction and Dependent on Distinction. (p 239)
Hunger for achievement and intrinsic motivation to perform better for the achievement of set goals would surely produce better results. The author has successfully defended the need for Social Media Quotient which is need of the hour but I have my own reservations on its longevity and sustainability, yet it made lot of sense to relate it with IQ and EQ. As one looks at the corporate following the modern ways to respond to their customers and clients through social media platforms and crowd-sourcing many of their new products and services, it seems it is going to have its presence at least for the next few years. And for individual leaders as mentioned earlier, connecting to the audience is important, social media is facilitating it and is able to work as two way communication in multi-channel environment.

The writing style of the book is very different as at many places the continuity gets broken and numerous unsolicited suggestions pop up which disturbs the flow of reading and by the time one gets formatted to concentrate on suggestions and preaching, the text of the interview appear.  The author has much to say than the people who are interviewed. This could have been avoided to focus on the expert's views on leadership.  The overdose of quotations and inconsistent Grey Boxes bites on the seriousness of the text, which could have been minimally incorporated. Many of these quotes are popular and could be seen in almost all related texts.  There are typo errors at many places in the book which I think should not find place in a volume of this kind coming from Bloomsbury. At some places the writing sounds pompous which distracts the reader. Otherwise the book is a good account of real world leadership.

The doodles given by Adil Malia are excellent pieces of original thinking and provide creative portrayal of organizational and individual reality. Deepak has a lot in store to convey on leadership and motivation, both from theoretical perspective as well as from practice.  Though it is his second book (first being – Match the Age to Keep Them Engaged: Decoding the Secrets of Creating a Happy WorkPlace published by Bloombury in 2016), he has shown his capacity to communicate with the reader and to provide examples of leaders of today. He needs to be congratulated for having brought so many leaders from diverse fields in one volume for the cause of finding inner drive to excel in whatever one takes up.

The students of management would certainly find it valuable, inspiring and illustrative. Deepak’s presence on social media shall help the readers to connect with the author and converse on the issues narrated in the book.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Bhujia Barons by Pavitra Kumar

BHUJIA BARONS - The Untold Story of How Haldiram Built a 5000 Crore Empire by Pavitra Kumar (2016), Penguin Portfolio, p 256.

It was sometime in February 2017 that I read about Haldiram becoming India's biggest snack maker with a turnover of over 4000 crore leaving aside Nestle Maggi, Domino's, McDonalds and many others. That was the time I wanted to read the genesis and evolution of this great Indian brand and that is when I came across this title - Bhujia Barons by Pavitra Kumar. The book got into my Kindle and has been waiting for its turn. Last week I started reading it and finished it in few long sittings. I must admire the ability of strong story telling style of Pavitra Kumar. She has been excellent in putting through this piece; her style of writing is literatic and engaging and at some places philosophical. Gathering information from different sources and validating it with the people involved in the process at different locations from Bikaner to Kolkata and from Nagpur to Delhi, she has shown impeccable commitment and has successfully put all the views from different corners. Her sense of professionalism in telling all sides and shades of the story without any bias has made this title worth reading.

Rome was not built in a day and so was Haldiram brand. Haldiram as we see today is result of efforts put up by people at hand for around 75 years. I have no hesitation in saying that it is the hard work of Ganga Bishen Agrawal aka Haldiram and his concern for customer service, knack for good taste, and belief in strong value system that has made this empire that we see today and which many of their tribe envy. A product that was once sold in newspaper cones, the process which was designed by Haldiram himself through a calculated mix of besan and moth dal sieving through handmade holes on a thin steel sheet, distribution mostly through shopfloor selling, and publicity mostly through word-of-mouth, some 70 years back has traveled a long distance in order to become a household name when it comes to bhujia. It would be no exaggeration to say that bhujia and Haldiram can never be separated from each other. Such is the power of the brand Haldiram.

The book provides a rich narrative of making of the brand Haldiram and traces its sound as well as weak links through the family feud, writings of media reports, comparing attitude and behavior of siblings and treatment by their parents and children. Ambition and apathy, respect and reactions, indulgences and impunities, are all have been part of the growing of Bhujia Barons as Pavitra calls them. In the time when the government is emphasizing on Make-in-India through its policy framework, I think Haldiram’s make a strong case of backing that as apart from responding to the locale, they have spread their wings in other parts of the globe as well. They are promoting Indian taste to the people abroad whether they form part of Indian diaspora or otherwise.

The expansion of this brand from merely a bhujia maker to branded, formalized structure of sweet shops and retail chain of vegetarian restaurants or QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants), responding to all kinds of tastes is the strength that the promoters have built through their concerted efforts at different geographies in India. Till their entry to Delhi, the capital city of India, it seems there were not much issues related to the use of brand among the cousins. But as they say, Delhi has a strong division power, when brothers Shiv Kishen (Nagpur) and Manoharlal (Bikaner) [grandsons of Haldiram] plunged into exploring the opportunity in Delhi. This territorial expansion also lured their cousins who were operating out of Kolkata which has brought the families to court for settling issues over use of brand. Though there seems to be some sky-clearing, yet the matter is not fully resolved and the families are not in that kind of relation as used to be.

Pavitra has explicitly narrated the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s death on 31st Oct 1984 and its effect on Chandni Chowk workshop of Haldirams and that is how the book starts which I thought makes a good plot to a storyteller who weaves together the threads back and forth and serves a tapestry of family run business model. For a moment I got nostalgic about my college days when we had heard of assassination of the prime minister of India by her own security personnel. The whole story of Haldiram as narrated by the author makes me feel as if I am watching a Bollywood Hindi masala movie which portrays almost all kinds of moods and emotions, climax and a happy ending.

Today who does not know about Haldiram Bhujia, but very few know about their resilient journey. This book provides a good account of that journey. The book is divided in Six parts starting with introduction and family background, their movement to different places and the wrongdoings of Kolkata cousin (the black sheep), legal fights and the future ahead (final paces). It is a revelatory tale of a family business house which has built a reliable brand over the years. The author deserve appreciation for an excellent display of honest effort, professionalism and probity through this work. And I can't stop myself from saluting the spirit of great entrepreneurship, innovation and customer service as envisioned and portrayed by Ganga Bishen Agrawal. What a man he was. There is lot to learn from him for the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow.

also read:

THE MARWARIS: from Jagat Seth to the Birlas by Thomas A Timberg

Dabawalas: Lessons for building lasting success based on values

True Leaders by Price & Ritcheske

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Ostrich Paradox by Meyer & Kunreuther

THE OSTRICH PARADOX: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer & Howard Kunreuther (2017) Wharton Digital Press, p 132

The motivation for choosing is title was the force of recommendation of Adam Grant and kind words of appreciation for this title by Daniel Kahneman. Decision making is one of the very important functions of any organization or of any government. When the issue of public policy is discussed, it is the decision making which makes all the difference, just as in a business organisation it happens while devising successful strategies to compete. Decision making is really a very complex process as well as a risky proposition for state and organisations alike.

This book holding its premise in the nature of bird Ostrich makes a good sense driven by the force of nature.  System 1 and System 2 (thinking systems which drive us to use our brain cells) as narrated and defended in Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman gets blended with the perception policy makers have while deciding on their future course of action. Primarily the book is all about Six Biases that get to play while preparing for disasters or risks. It is defended that the reason why we underprepare for disasters lies in these six biases, viz., Myopia, Amnesia, Optimism, Inertia, Simplification and Herding. The authors believe that the researches on most of the disasters of past years are the result of harmful effects of these six systematic biases. These biases show the weakness while we commit System 1 error to perceive risk in haste and commit System 2 error while making decision. The first part of the book narrates these biases with the examples of disasters occurred in different geographies of the world. These examples make the arguments convincing and the biases strong.

Part 2 of the book is prescriptive and the authors provide some kind of remedial measures so that such disasters could be avoided.  Behavioural risk audit of each bias and its elaborate analysis makes the book worth contributing towards providing some practical solutions to deal with disasters. The authors propose four guiding principles to manage long term risk:
  1. Commit to long-term protective planning as a major priority.
  2. Commit to policies that discourage individual and community actions that increase their explore to long-term risks.
  3. Create policies that consider the cognitive biases that inhibit adoption of protective measures.
  4. Commit to addressing problems equitably.
These suggestions are well defended with preemptive figures. As a student of business and strategy I feel the book makes a very good case for making successful strategies while organizations handle competition. Lot of times organizations have suffered and faced these biases which gets into while dealing with sustainability issues within and beyond organization. Risk management is an important field of study where this title helps to provide some guidelines. Actuarial scientists have a lot to learn from this volume.  Some of the interesting bytes that I got from the book are:  
'while economics and statistics teach us how we should think about probability and outcomes when choosing between alternatives, we rarely follow these principles when actually making decisions. More often than not, we make choices under risk intuitively rather than deliberately.'
'The perceptions we form about risk are thus more cognitive cocktail of objective facts, subjective feelings, and emotional blend that often causes beliefs about risk to stray widely from those a statistician might prescribe.'
'It is hard to convince people that - the best return on an insurance policy is no return at all.'
Though the book is concise and written from the perspective of disaster management, it travels beyond that boundary and helps its reader to deal with problems through having a perspective.  The authors deserve credit for compiling series of disasters and developing a practical argument to look beyond and prescribe measures for preparations.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

THE DIGITAL TSUNAMI by Abhijit Bhaduri

THE DIGITAL TSUNAMI - Succeeding in a world turned upside-down by Abhijit Bhaduri (2016), Rupa, New Delhi p 187

Change is the only constant and for business organizations it is much greater a challenge to respond to changing dynamics of market, business, polity and people. Technology has driven the change much faster in the 21st century. Last two decades have witnessed much visible transformations in business and society than any two decades in the last two centuries. It has been phenomenal and exponential in scale and speed.  The emergence of social media has redefined the nature of conversation and communication and has replaced normal bar for millennials in much of their expectations, attitude and assertiveness. Millennials are writing history every day.

In these times Abhijit Bhaduri (HR expert and blogger, consultant and coach) introduces us to the Digital Tsunami through his own style of narrative and experiences. Abhijit weaves an excellent story around contemporary corporations thriving on disruption through technology and drives the reader to understand the pulls and pressures though entrepreneurial successes of some the highly valued corporations of today.  As I write this review, I learn Google has surpassed Apple in market valuation as a brand and has become world's most valuable brand according to Brand Finance.

The book begins with the science of developing a habit and takes the reader along with propriety of reference, posterity of thought and prominence of learning mindset. On one side digitalization is creating opportunities, on the other it is leading the process of automation and robotics is subject to pose a challenge for HR. The mindset has to bridge that gap through exploring new areas of innovation and entrepreneurship to be relevant and responsive.  The escapists are going to suffer the most until some unexpected disruption finds its way.  The book has lot of academic merit (as it derives strength from the contribution of popular researchers in the domain of Digital networks) and provides rich practical lessons (with corporate examples of practices and transformation).

The researches quoted in the text develop a defense for the prepositions Abhijit is putting before the readers. The ownership of ideas and practice is well explained through an excellent example of Drew Manning (of fit2fat2fit fame), Byju Raveendran (of and many others. Technology driven companies are going to lead in almost all spheres of business which was unheard in major part of the 20th century. Taxi services (uber), hotel rooms (aibnb), retailing (walmart/amazon), education (byju/coursera/moocs etc), reading (kindle), social connections (facebook/linkedin/twitter) etc are heading towards much greater valuations than the hard core traditional brick and mortar companies. The trend is going to further continue for few more decades and in order to imbibe this change the firms would have to create facilitating physical and virtual environment. It was surprising to note through the book that between 2008 and 2010, eBook sales grew by 1260 per cent. This is something which is unbelievable. Transformation is exponential whereas change is linear.  Digital world is much more inclusive than the analog world.

Companies will have to go digital not to keep up with the competitive forces but simply to keep up with customers (p 45). This is an apt observation by the author. Customers are getting engaged with the products and producers and helping co-creating products and services, hence the competition lies much around customer and his/her experiences rather than the competitor or if we put it differently the customer is the competitor. Digital responsibility needs to be carried out in such a way that it allows customers to help organizations to design appropriate products/services and to have engaging relationship with them.

The world is going to be led by digital leaders of the market to whom Abhijit gives an acronym as FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix & Google) and he offers suggestion to build a digital organizational culture through transdisciplinary collaboration, employee branding, innovation, managing workforce diversity effectively, creating digital communication infrastructure, responding through speed and scale, embracing failure, preferring fluid structures and learning to become resilient.

The author suggests to follow five behaviours to develop a mindset towards responding to the Digital Tsunami. They are:
  1. Wear someone else's shoes
  2. From internal to external focus
  3. Design, strategy and technology
  4. Rapid prototyping and rapid growth
  5. Insights allow for individualization.
Apart from this I appreciate his advice at individual level to go for some MOOCs, listen to something inspiring, and leveraging social media for one's advantage. I personally feel that the workforce has to follow a mix of traditional and pragmatic ways of learning.  May be fully moving away from traditional methods would be too early step.  The doodles given throughout the text makes the book engaging as the summaries explained through them create effective recall in the mind of the reader. He proves to be a digital artist who can draw essence of the narrative in an excellent manner. His understanding of issues is sharp, his language is simple, his articulation looks real, his ability to respond to the call of time is praise worthy, his approach towards future is optimist and his lessons are practical.

The book provides rich information from different sources and much of it is left to the reader to convert it positively into knowledge base according to one's ability. The book is small and could be finished in two sittings. But if one really wants to have some key takeaways it might take little more time.  Overall it is an excellent treat to all the young students of today who are interested in the study of organizations, technology, business, entrepreneurship, strategy and future.  I strongly recommend this title to all who believe in the power of technology and are passionate about future.