Life's Lessons

The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly – Richard Bach in his block buster paperback – Illusions.
I never really got to relate to the brilliance of this dictum, until I experienced it.

You can certainly trust Bach with understanding the intricacies and the vagaries of life – mine had definitely been turned upside down, inside out in the last couple of years, from that fateful day on January 2009, when Ramalinga Raju, with one stroke of his pen, stunned the world, sending the corporate and financial world into a tizzy, an event that Corporate India and the world is still struggling to come to terms with.

Little did I realize the impact of what played out the next few months, as I sat in my cozy corner cabin on the 3rd floor of the swank Maansarower towers, opening out into the streets of Chennai.

The 12 odd years at Satyam was possibly a fairytale run for me personally. I still remember the summer of 1997, when I stepped into the organization, as a Sales Executive. Growth was at its fiercest best at the turn of the century. Year 2000 was a turning point for the organization and for me in particular for it was the start of a huge bull run of our department, which included my first exposure to the TV media, where I did a 6 week show on our first product Dr.Millennium, a product that was designed to help the Hardware and software systems cope up with the millennium change. The next 10 years were eventful – as we ploughed the corporate furrow, from handling proposals, mega deals and contracts with global MNC’s, from team meetings and business trips from Japan to China to Europe to USA to Australia, from a Sales Executive to a  Vice President in 2008. The pace was blistering – to say the least.

Then came the dreadful day of January 7, 2009. To say, that we saw this coming is being naïve and extremely irresponsible. So closed and bifurcated were the operations of the entire organization, that the Circle of Circles as Raju liked to call the organization, was divided into Horizontal (Technology) Units, Vertical Business (Domain) Units and Support (operation) units. These were actually isolated businesses with their own top and bottom line targets. The isolation of the same was so well managed that the business leader heading any of the units, actually felt it a taboo to discuss their TRUE top and bottom lines with their peers. The consolidation figures every quarter was in public domain and yet, none of them even had a clue on the TRUE corporate overheads that were in vogue on those consolidated numbers (which was done between a few heads at the top) and the way they affected the published numbers, leave alone attempt to dissect it. Secondly, it should be said in defense of the business leaders, that human tendency normally rides a positive rush, especially when things look bright, more so since; each leader thinks and believes that the other leader has delivered. So, their focus was to ride the wave rather than look under it.

So, that fateful day did dawn and pass by. Weeks and months of insecurity followed, the Government stepped in and the rest is history. Personally, I was still at a cushy place and job security for the moment was never an issue, in fact, I was heading the tormenting task of  “Virtual Pooling” thousands of poor souls, which in explicit terms was akin to the last stage, before getting the boot. Those poor souls, did have their necks on the block!

However, the chain of events – out of the blues, the emotions, the pathetic state of the people on the Virtual Pool, set me on a serious note of introspection. It is nice to read and hear of wonderful definitions and processes on Crisis Management, Disaster Recovery plans etc, but a differently new experience when it hits you in real life. Suddenly, the vagaries of life stare squarely and you stand exposed and naked. As I said earlier, though my job was safe, I knew it would not be the same as the yester years. Though there was financial stability with those years of savings, the future suddenly looked bleak, for I have always been a firm believer in enjoying my work and could simply not indulge in something that my heart was not part of. Dark clouds seem to be forming in from all directions and it was Armageddon around the corner.

This was the time for introspection and I did take a break to do it. The silent ambience of the Kabini jungles was the right place for it, so broke out for a few days. My options were clear. An immediate plan (though the job was safe, it was tumultuous being in charge of sacking 1000’s) to move to a job that you enjoy, and a long term plan – to minimize vagaries and dependencies. The first was easy, getting back to my previous employer HP (which, when I left them, was Digital Equipment Corporation) was swift and immediate.

The second was the toughest. Becoming an entrepreneur was a momentous decision. “The Switch” – from corporate life to a totally different world: entrepreneurship. As a keen sportsman all my life, Sports was my passion and when my Cousins, established retailers in the city, were contemplating on venturing into sports retailing, I decided to get on to the bandwagon – partnering them. Jus`sportz, a chain of retail sports stores was born. I have not looked back since then.

It is not that everything is ‘Hunky Dory” today, it takes guts and nerves of steel to tide over some tough operational issues, Emotionally, being an entrepreneur is lonely, there aren’t that many of us, it’s hard to have peers or work friends because everyone we work with is an employee and we are so emotionally attached to our ventures that every setback, at least for me, really takes the wind out of my sails. Fortunately, there are great days too, when a customer is happy, a new product, a financial milestone, hiring a really great employee, etc.

Though early days, here are a few cardinal rules I have learned the hard way, which may possibly help, for a budding Entrepreneur.

- Plan your finances carefully or simply, don’t invest more than you can afford to write off.

-Your products or Services are best determined by the needs of the customer. Just because you like a product or a service or it is doing well somewhere else, does not mean it would do well at your store.
- Do what you like and enjoy doing. It is a fad these days to be an entrepreneur, which is fine if you have loads of money to blow. You should not start a sports store just to become another Nike. You have to start it, if you love sports. That leads to passion for the job, which in turn relates to excellence and happiness

- Keep things simple. Corporate jargons are good for the corporate world. At the business house the aspiration, the tasks of the team, the services and the deliverables need to be simple. This not only helps everyone understand their role and deliverables, it helps sort out issues easier. A simple system often has a simple solution.

- Empower, Delegate and motivate the team. As in any sport, it is teamwork that wins. Even in a men’s singles Tennis event, the back end team (manager, coach, masseur) have a key part to play in the champion’s success.

What has been my biggest lesson so far? That no one should ever be afraid of change. In the end, everything is a question of perspective. Having the ability to adjust perspective is the one skill I wish I had mastered a long time ago.

If I now relate to Richard Bach’s famous quote (reproduced at the beginning of this article) – it surely makes a lot of sense.

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