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Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Abraham Lincoln had no choice but to sack one of his army generals for losing a battle during the Civil war for his sheer stupidity when victory seemed almost certain. In his witty style Lincoln said, “He has managed to wring a spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Congress was the ruling party in Punjab with 77 out of 117 seats under the CM Amarinder Singh. The alliance of BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had 21 seats.

The alliance partner SAD parted ways with the BJP for the latter’s high-handed approach in dealing with its allies. Moreover, discontent was brewing  for long in Punjab due to the farmers’ protests, the bulldozing of the farm-laws in the parliament by the government, the  sudden lockdown during the pandemic which forced untold miseries  on the migrant workers.

Considering the weak opposition, victory was on the platter for the congress. No doubt, Captain Singh had his follies, he was not accessible there was discontent brewing in the party. But it could have been resolved amicably. But Rahul Gandhi thought otherwise. Navjot Singh Sidhu was thrust upon the state leadership. Captain Singh was replaced by a Charan Singh Channi who did not have much following in the state politics. And AAP created history taking its tally from 18 seats to a record of 92 seats. Is this an isolated instance of stupidity on part of Rahul Gandhi? (1)

In 2004, Manmohan Singh took over as the PM leading the UPA-1.Having completed his first term as the PM, the nation was ready for the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. What were his achievements?

From 2004-2009 the economy logged a growth of 9%, the highest rate for any plan period since independence. He stood up to the manipulations of the Left and the opposition in signing the Nuclear Deal between India and the US.

Despite these splendid achievements, the party high command had doubts of winning the election. Manmohan Singh’s photo was printed on the Election manifesto as well as on the election posters. If the party were to lose, it was the PM’s defeat. Incidentally, a Senior political journalist while speaking to Ahmed Patel confided that Rahul Gandhi was ready to be the leader of the opposition and be the agent of Change and differentiate from Dr. Manmohan Singh (2)

Lo Behold! After 1962,  Dr. Manmohan Singh had become the first PM to have been re-elected with an improved margin. Congress improved the tally of LS seats from 145 to 206. ( 9 more than what Rajiv Gandhi had achieved in 1989)

But then how was this Star Performer treated by the ‘family’? Was he given a free hand to choose his team members? For example, for the finance portfolio, Dr. Singh wanted to  induct C. Rangarajan, the former RBI governor with whom he had battled the BoP ( Balance of Payment) Crisis during the Narasimha Rao regime. Sonia Gandhi offered the portfolio to Pranab Mukherjee without consulting him. Incidentally, Pranab Mukherjee was the ‘architect’ of the retrospective tax regime ( the Vodafone case of Rs. 22,100 crores on Capital Gains and Withholding Tax which the GOI lost in the International Court at the Hague)  which was one of the factors of slowing down of India’s economy  growth rate. It also impacted India’s credibility in the international business (3)

By the time the Lok Sabha elections for 1996 were announced, the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Government  formed by Congress had delivered one of the most  spectacular performances in a 5-year period then. India was able to overcome the BoP ( Balance of Payments)  crises. ( The foreign exchange reserves rose 12 times from 1991 to 1996) License Raj was abolished, the New Industrial Policy was launched, the insurance and the banking sector was opened to the private sector and the new telecom policy was to usher in the mobile revolution. In fact,1991 is termed as a watershed year, also called as India’s 2nd Independence.

But did the Star Performer who was responsible for delivering such an outstanding performance suitably rewarded? Forget being rewarded or being acknowledged, P.V. Narasimha Rao was humiliated not only when he was alive but even after his death. But did the Congress party or Rahul Gandhi win? Congress lost power despite the best performance delivered by the Rao Government. ( A forgotten Hero or a Ungrateful Nation?)

The three incidents discussed above prove the adage that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results!

There are different approaches in helping the non-performing executives in improve  their deliverables which include coaching, mentoring, reprimanding or if nothing works, the dismissal. But then how do you deal with  star performers who are already doing well and need no interference? The cost involved when such a Star is demotivated increases exponentially when one is heading a department, an organization, or the nation. In the last instance, the damage is humongous. The article is not about Rahul Gandhi and his personality per se. but more about the orientation of a toxic leader. I come across a common refrain in my mentoring sessions that people do not change the organization but their bosses.

Do  toxic leaders like star performers? The question is not about liking and needs reframing. Can toxic leaders manage the star performers? I doubt as they are afraid of being surpassed by their subordinates which might be due to a deep insecurity and a trust deficit which increases in direct proportion to the subordinate’s achievement.

A concept called Wu-Wei can be helpful for effective leaders particularly in managing the star performers. Wu-Wei is loosely translated as ‘letting-go’ as followed in Tao-Te-Ching which denotes :

  1. An attitude of genuine NON-ACTION motivated by a lack of desire to participate in human affairs.
  2. A technique by which the practitioner may get a subtle control in pushing the envelope.

Some of you might have collaborated with good bosses  who practised wu-wei can consider yourself to be lucky. And those, the less fortunate (?)  in getting the toxic bosses- were you able to realize your potential by moving elsewhere or venturing on your own?

References:

  1. The art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – Capt. G.R. Gopinath ( Retd.) , Deccan Herald, 16th March 2022
  2. The Accidental Prime Minister- Sanjay Baru
  3. The Lost Decade ( 2008-2018), How India’s Growth Story devolved into Growth without a Story – Pooja Mehra

Why market pulse is more critical than a superior product design?

In the early 90s, Airbus and Boeing,  the two major players in commercial aircrafts decided to come together to manufacture Very Large Commercial Transport ( VLCT). Later on both the competitors parted ways as their business strategy could not synergize. Ultimately in 1994 Airbus decided to go solo on this venture and the project was codenamed A3XX. And thus the first flight of A380, the largest commercial aircraft happened in 2007 which is a double-deck, wide body 4-engine aircraft with 6000 square feet of usable space, 40% more space than its nearest rival product Boeing B747-8. A380 could accommodate 500 seats in 3-class capacity (Economy, Business and First Class) or 850 in an all-economy class.

With several delays the project cost escalated from the initial 9 billion to 13 billion Euros.

Product Pricing and Positioning: The A380 had a seating capacity which was 5 times the Airbus A320 Neo but the price point was 4X . The List price of A 380 was $430 Million whereas A320 was $107 Million.  The product was received well after its launch. However in the last few years the customers, the airline companies are either cancelling the orders or postponing the delivery dates. The peak production which was at 30 aircrafts per year has dwindled to 12 per annum.

In spite of excellent product features, good quality (50% quieter than competition product) and the right price, why did Airbus started losing on the business for A380?  The anticipated exponential growth in passenger traffic from hub-to–hub was the cornerstone on which Airbus decided to make A380. Hub-to-hub traffic for Air India is like New Delhi–London, for Singapore Airlines it can be from Singapore to Dubai or Frankfurt etc. One aspect that was overlooked was that of the point-to-point traffic. When the traffic between two points crosses a minimum threshold, airlines can afford to have small or midsized aircrafts which is more economical than transferring through the hub.

Even though the air traffic grew considerably; instead of it growing from hub-to-hub it started increasing from point-to-point. For example 10 years back, Air India used to  have seven flights from Delhi to London and passengers were picked up from Hyderabad, Bangalore etc. Now all this airport being choc-a –block, it makes better business sense for airline companies to transport passengers directly from Bangalore to Cardiff/Manchester rather than routing through them hubs like Delhi and London. What is the learning for Sr. management from these?

  1. A technically superior product with better specifications even though necessary is not sufficient for long-term success.
  2. Appropriate price positioning even though crucial need not be a game changer.
  3. Factor X: Identify the factor x which is insignificant today but can become significant in future (that is generally overlooked) which can seriously affect your business strategy. ( In this case it was the point-to-point traffic) In case of Nano car, legend says that Shri Ratan Tata while doodling decided to launch a cheap car while seeing a family of four on a scooter. One factor which was overlooked was for majority of the Indians having a  car was more of an aspiration and a status symbol ( emotional decision) than a cheap car as a mode of safe and convenient transport.(logical decision)  Doodling can sometimes be an expensive proposition!

And last but not the least, there is nothing called as a right or wrong decision. All decisions are evaluated in posterity. Time is the best judge!

Nassim Nicholas Taleb author of books like Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness or Anti _Fragile says for most of us absence of evidence is interpreted as evidence of absence (Please read the book review: Anti –Fragile: How to Live in a world we don’t Understand) http://www.paradigm-info.com/recommended-books) Be Humble!

(Source:  Bigger is not Always Better, Business Line November 30, 2016 by K. Giriprakash)

 

Ethically Speaking

“Wishing you many happy returns on your sixtieth birthday,” so saying, I called my friend, Mahesh. He replied, “Rajan thanks for the greetings, but to be frank, my birthday is on 5th December and not today, on 2nd April. For the purpose of saving one academic year, this date of 02nd April was indicated by my father on my school admission form.” The above is not an isolated event, it happened frequently.

During the Chemistry lab period in the PUC days, there were experiments on identifying an element defined by sequence; by performing the dry test, wet test, and then the confirmatory tests. The demonstrator used to tell us ‘during exams, don’t waste time on the first two tests; go straight to the confirmatory test, and if you get time, do the previous ones. Bypassing the system with false birth certificates or taking short cuts was the name of the game.

Engineering Drawing was one of the time-consuming subjects in college. Unlike the CAD/ CAM environment today, where designs are made on computers, we had to make elaborate engineering drawings. Each assignment made on an A2/A3 drawing sheet needed an elaborate setup of a drawing board, mini drafter, T-square, compass, divider, set square, etc. It used to take around 2-3 hours to complete an assignment. The practise of GT (Glass Tracing) among hostelites was quite common. The GT procedure was simple. An assignment completed by a sincere student was glass traced by other students. A table lamp was kept in a bucket covered with a glass sheet; the blank sheet was aligned over the completed sheet. The lit lamp helped the student trace the original and the assignment could be completed in no time. The general consensus among the student fraternity was that the guy who took all the effort to complete the drawing in the 1st angle, 3rd angle, and a sectional view, was an idiot, while the people who copied it in one-fifth the time were intelligent and smart.

In one humorous instance, one guy was so ‘meticulous’ that apart from tracing the drawing, he copied the name and the roll number of the original student! The scene is no different today, for several agencies offer ready-made projects for engineering students for a fee.

A certain lecturer used to share with his colleagues, his life-long ambition of becoming a Vice-Chancellor (VC) of a university. Over a while, he moved up the hierarchy of senior lecturer, reader, and finally became a professor. A post for a VC was advertised in the papers. He applied but came to know that, more than merit, caste and money played an important role in the recruitment for this position. He managed to raise around Rs 3 crores for this, yet he was shocked to see the post eventually going to the highest bidder.

Much later, an advertisement appeared for another VCs post. This time, he knew the crucial role of politicians and middlemen. He developed contacts, moved heaven and earth to raise around Rs. 5 crores; despite being questioned by his friends, from an ethics and ROI perspective. The attempt for this second time to the post also eluded him. He committed suicide later.

I used to believe that such respectable positions need not be advertised but were filled by selecting eminent people with exceptional credentials. As Nirad Chowdhury wrote in the Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, an Indian’s faith in a bribe is infinite and unshakable. It is an infallible remedy for all workday inconveniences.

Academicians have used the terms ethics and morality interchangeably. Some people think that morality is personal and normative whereas ethics indicates the standards of good and bad as decided by community settings. It can be also looked at from a perspective of means and the ends. People have their own yardsticks in justifying their actions. As Robert Pirsig writes in the Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good – need we ask anyone to tell us these things? The three examples to illustrate the point are:

  1. Ratan Tata used to say, “Why should I spend time with bureaucrats in Delhi? They are supposed to do their work and I am supposed to do mine.” On the other hand, (the late) Dhirubhai Ambani had a different take. “You offer naivedya to God while visiting a temple. Why not deal with bureaucrats on a similar line?”
  2. The Karnataka Vidhana Soudha has an inscription on its façade: ‘Government’s work is God’s Work.’  I overheard a babu saying, “Anyway it is God’s work. Why should I?”
  3. A departmental store was run by two partners for 30 years. The 2nd generation was to take over the business. The first partner’s son who had passed out from an elite management institute asked his father, “We have learned all the aspects of running a business, the one topic I am not clear is about ethics. Can you elaborate on the same? The father explained, “it is quite elementary. Imagine a lady buys a dress for Rs. 1000 and while paying at the billing counter she inadvertently pays Rs, 2000. Now my son, the question of ethics comes, should we tell our partner or not.”

My niece Rupali Patil teaches in an upmarket public school in Whitefield, Bengaluru. She narrated some interesting anecdotes while conducting on-line examinations. The students are asked to keep the laptop at a specific angle to ensure they do not look at any material on their lap while writing answers. Parents are requested not to walk around or prompt the students while answering the question papers. Some parents have written papers themselves. One audacious father dared to sit underneath the table and prompt the answers. When asked how it was detected, I gleaned that the student used to normally score 10 out of 50, but scored 40 in that exam; he subsequently boasted to his friends how his father had helped him.

While websites like exam.net are used to ensure that students do not lose their focus on the screen, or use the second browser to get answers, by looking down; ingenious means are used to work around the system.

The school being in Whitefield, Bengaluru the following conjectures were thought of:

  1. Considering the location and the school fees, is it safe to assume that a majority of student’s families belong to the upper middle class, well-educated with Graduate/Post Graduate degrees?
  2. Is it safe to assume that the parents are working in renowned MNCs (Indian or International) with well-established guidelines on Vision, Mission, Values, and Ethics policies?  If so, should there be a divergence in behaviour between the professional life of a manager vis-à-vis that of a parent?

Education can be perceived as an end to realize one’s potential, or it can be simply a means to get a job in earning a livelihood. The former makes us look holistically at life, whereas the latter makes it transactional. Philosopher Immanuel Kant says that a rational human being is an end in himself and not a means to achieve something. When our attitude and behaviour are oriented towards means, quality becomes the main casualty.

Abraham Lincoln in his letter to his son’s headmaster wrote:

“Teach him if you can that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found.In school teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat.Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong!”

On a personal note, now when I call my friends, with trepidation I first ask “Before wishing you birthday greetings, is today your actual or official birthday?”

We set our own standards: “Jahaan hum khade rahtey hain; wahin se kataar shuru hoti hai!” – Wherever I (honorific) stand, the queue starts from there!.

Jai ho ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat!

References:

  1. Welcome to a world-class university education : M. Gautam Machiah, Deccan Herald, November 15, 2020
  2. Some midterm answer scripts leave teachers stumped: The Hindu, November 26, 2020
  3.  Image: https://www.123rf.com/photo_54708808_stock-vector-compass-rose-isolated-on-white.html

Know Thyself – An Inquiry into the Significance of Living

Perspective: At some point in our lives, some of us are faced with this eternal question of what is the true meaning of life? Followed by other questions like Why are we born? Where do we go when we die? Does the suffering end after death? What is the purpose of this life? Some of us then go deeper into religion & scriptures or move towards spirituality or just find a mission in life to carry on. There are very few who realise that the answer does not or cannot lie outside of us and they take up a journey inwards. This is the toughest journey that one gets on as most of the things that we assumed and believed in all our life, start to fall apart here. This journey is the one of solitude, not literally in terms of companionship but in terms of our true being. No one else can walk this path with us, we must take it alone. That makes this unknown path even more scary. To walk on this path one needs devotion and clarity or else we could easily be hoodwinked by the sidetracks that could make us believe that we are on the right track.

That is precisely why this forum was formed, to clear any doubts or questions that one confronts while on this path. To take this journey with an unfaltering devotion to truth, one needs a constant exposure to profound truths so that we don’t distract ourselves with spiritual materialism. If you resonate with this and would like to be part of this bi-monthly discussion between seekers, with no limits and bounds of religion, caste, nationality or even spiritual Gurus, you are welcome to join us.

When: Every 1st and 3rd Sunday at 1000 HRS India Time/Saturday 2130 HRS California Time – Zoom Session, Duration: 90 minutes

For Whom: the forum is for seekers who wish to delve deep into the existential dilemmas of living.

Session Facilitator: Rajan Parulekar

The forum is FREE and is not aimed at as an introductory session towards any paid programs.

Minimum age:  21 years.

What to expect or not to expect from the forum

1. The program is not of a prescriptive mode with quick-fix tips and techniques.

2. Irrespective of the number of sessions, no certificate shall be issued to the participants.

3. A Caveat for the trainers, counsellors and the coach fraternity; It is not a forum to propagate your offerings.

4. It is not a conventional training program with Power Point Presentations, You Tube Videos etc. It is based on the Socratic Method of deep questioning and exchange of experiential knowledge/wisdom. Participants would be expected to prepare 1-2 sincere questions for discussion prior to confirmation.

5. Conventional technique-based programs on Stress Management and Work-Life Balance, Conquest of Happiness etc. are covered in a separate forum. Participant Feedback

5. The forum is religion and belief agnostic. It can be joined irrespective of your personal philosophy, guru or a master.

6. The forum aims to enable the participants in finding answers to the existential dilemma of life by introspecting the values, beliefs, attitude and aspirations.

Registration: Please send an email stating your reason to join this forum, along with 1-2 questions to rajan@paradigm-info.com. Please share your preferred email id and WhatsApp number to facilitate communication only pertaining to this Forum. 

The blog articles below shall provide a snapshot of the philosophy of the forum meetings:

 Four Noble Truths in an age of uncertainty and anxiety

A different way of Curing Addictions – A Buddhist Perspective

Who is responsible for our actions?

Cutting through Spiritual Materialism

Relevance of Ambiguous Thinking in Challenging Times

Virtues of Boredom

For articles on other topics,  please visit: Blog Articles by Rajan Parulekar

Rajan Parulekar

His programs and coaching sessions have a rich blend of Western Management Techniques like EST, Who Am I, Transactional Analysis (TA), Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Gestalt Therapy, Emotional & Spiritual Intelligence & Eastern practices like Zen, Tao, Vipassana, Patanjali Yoga Sutra etc. He has conducted around 75 programs on Stress Management, Work-Life Balance. Flow, Conquest of Happiness etc.

He is a regular practitioner of Vipassana since 1986 and has attended around 10 courses including the Satipatthana Sutta till date. He was initiated into ZEN practice from Zen Master AMA Samy from Bodhi Zendo Kodaikanal.

He also provides Coaching, Mentoring & Counselling in areas like Emotional Conflict, Stress Management, Finding a Purpose etc.

Corporate Programs:

LInkedIN Profile:

Have you found your niche?

“Charles, you care for nothing but shooting dogs and rats; you will be a disgrace to not only yourself but to your family too.” This was a father’s prophecy about his son. The father wanted his son to be a doctor like him. Charles entered Edinburgh University for medicine at his father’s behest, found it unattractive, later joined Cambridge, and earned an undistinguished bachelor’s degree in theology. He had no firm idea what to do. Charles was an aimless youth at 22. He wanted to do something different. He loved flora and fauna but did not know whether that love could be transformed into a livelihood.

Captain Fitzroy on his ship HMS Beagle was looking out for a naturalist. Charles asked for his father’s permission. His father refused but with a caveat, “If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go on the discovery, I shall give my consent.” Neither the father, nor the captain were ready to grant permission to Charles.

There are two approaches of developing one’s career, the conventional approach and the niche-based approach.

  1. The conventional way of selecting a profession for self or for others is primarily decided by the demand for that profession, coupled with tangibles like salary and perks. No wonder Medicine, Engineering and MBAs among others make the cut.
  2. A niche-driven approach on the other hand is decided by differentiating oneself from the crowd by focussing on a niche . It is defined as a comfortable or a suitable position in life or employment. Alternatively, it also means a shallow recess especially in a wall to display something of value – a statue or other ornament. (please refer the image). Let us see what happened to Charles, the aimless youth discussed earlier?

When Charles approached Captain Fitzroy, the physiognomist in Captain Fitzroy said, “I doubt anyone having a nose like yours can possess sufficient energy and determination for the long voyage.”

His uncle drove thirty miles to convince Charles’ father to grant him permission to undertake the assignment on HMS Beagle as a naturalist.

The Beagle Voyage which included the circumnavigation of globe would be the making of the 22 year-old Darwin. Five years of physical hardship of mental rigour imprisoned within the ship’s walls, offset by the wide-open opportunities in the Brazilian jungles and the Andes Mountains, were to Darwin an eye opener in finding his muse. It took him 22 years to publish his theory of Evolution by Natural Selection in The Origin of Species.

Is it necessary to be a school or a college topper or those in the top percentile rankings to find one’s niche? Quite often the converse is true as ‘brilliant’ students have the best choices in selecting the conventional options in career and institution.

What can happen when one selects a career in a conventional way but is at the bottom of a pyramid in a specific career stream? Getting a job may look easy but one may be competing with a very large number of aspirants. For example: Rakesh had scored 100/100 in Sanskrit in SSLC. Having felt he had a flair for Sanskrit he decided to pursue his college education in that direction. He completed his BA in Sanskrit from Ruia College in Mumbai.

At this juncture he had two choices in further studies – to continue his studies in Sanskrit or look out for a qualification which is marketable in the job market. He decided to pursue a MBA in Finance instead. After spending around Rs. 8 lakhs in fees itself what can be the likely scenario when he passes out two years later?

For a person who wishes to do a M. Tech in Structural Engineering, a minimum qualification of B.E Civil is necessary. Likewise for a M.S. in surgery, a basic qualification of MBBS is mandatory. So, when a person pursues a MBA in Finance with Sanskrit as graduation the basic competency level expected of the student is that of Class 12th, as a MBA is agnostic to one’s field of graduation.

Conventional wisdom says that one has a wide range of job opportunities after doing a MBA. The opportunities are large but so is the competition. Annually about 360,000 students graduate from 4000 B-Schools of which 61% are unemployable due to skill gaps and low work experience.

Keeping those depressing numbers aside, can Rakesh compete with students from Premier Institutes or those with Engineering and Commerce backgrounds? It is not impossible, but it is a Herculean task.

What would happen if he were to pursue Sanskrit for his PG? In the absence of clear data let us assume that the number of students opting for Sanskrit may be 1% of MBA students that is around 3600. For Rakesh it would have been much easier to be in the 95th percentile after his MA and in the 99th percentile with a Ph.D. A lot of research happens in Sanskrit in US and German universities. By differentiating himself and finding a niche, Rakesh could have had a sense of purpose too.

From a financial perspective too, the cost of pursuing a MA in Sanskrit would have been at less than 10% the cost of a MBA. In case of a Ph.D. he could have explored UGC fellowships or opportunities in US or German universities where considerable research in Sanskrit is possible.

An example of a niche-based career is of my friend, Christopher Jayakaran who passed PUC, third class in 1962. With hardly any worthwhile career options, his father’s friend suggested him to take up a course in Geology. He completed his M.Sc in Geology at Presidency College in Madras by topping in the University. He worked for an NGO called ‘Action for Food Production’ for 7 years and for more than 25 years in different countries in Africa which include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sierra Leone etc. He is an eminent Hydrogeologist and a Paleontologist. His Tamil book In Search of Ancestors which is on evolution of man based on fossil evidence has run into six editions.

Why are people in general wary of pursuing niche fields?

  1. Obsession for Security: Education is normally pursued in order to get a job. The market demand is thought of. In the post-covid world there is no security either in a job or in one’s qualifications per se.
  2. Managerial Aspirations: Indians in general prefer to have a managerial title early in their career sacrificing expertise in a specific domain.

How to find your niche?

Around 30 years back, I came across an excellent concept in finding ones niche, based on cybernetic principles which was on identifying one’s core competency and focusing on a specific niche where the strength can be leveraged to maximum extent.

Werner Brandes was a German MBA Graduate who was working in a consulting firm but did not have career growth in spite of working hard in that organization for more than 10 years. He was unable to get good offers elsewhere. He was a mediocre student throughout his academic life and passed out from a tier-3 B-school.

The conventional wisdom of competing with others was not giving any results (like the example of Rakesh discussed above). His work profile was mapped for 15 different competencies. Werner was below average in all save one, which was on Industry Setup in rural areas. When Werner was pointed out that this was his niche. He asked, “How can I get a job with such a small niche?” He was advised to start his own consulting in this field and as he was in the top 5% of this ultra-specialized area of business consulting, slowly he was perceived as an expert in this field. Business started growing. Being a sunrise sector wherever the data was not available, his customers helped him in providing the necessary details.

Fascinated by this counterintuitive concept, I launched a program called Strategy for Quantum Growth. After 4-5 programs I had to withdraw as most of the participants did not want a long-term strategy but a new job which paid them 3-5K more.

One crucial difference between the conventional and the niche-based strategy is the type of growth. In case of the former it is logarithmic growth – where it is easier to get a good well-paying job immediately after graduation but after a few years the growth may taper off. In case of niche areas there is a considerable struggle initially but after a few years when the market perceives you as specialist, the growth becomes truly phenomenal and is termed as exponential growth. ( Please refer the graphs below) You are considered as a pioneer and get a first-mover advantage.

Log_Growthexponential-growth

Conventional Approach                                                         Niche-Based Approach

Whether in business, profession or a job; there are some who go on competing  against  a vast majority in a commoditized market as if running on a treadmill and getting exhausted. On the contrary, the likes of  Christopher, Werner Brandes or Charles Darwin though not brilliant in their school days in the conventional sense were able to find their niche. Have you found yours?

Two roads diverged in a wood and I…and  I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost.

Acquiring New Customers – Participant Feedback

1.The Program was Interactive, where connecting to the customer on a common ground was shown as an important aspect. Different methods of sales pitch was also highlighted to win over new customers.    – Koshal Reddy, Anritsu Instruments

2. It will help me during cold calling, how to talk as a stranger to new customers which will increase my confidence during the customer interaction.-  Ritesh Kadam, Multidimensions

3. One action I would implement is an elevator pitch for Multidimensions and  modification based on main product sold and customer references
e g Main Multid pitch , if the customer says conveyor OEM looking for Maedler product , speak about  product -German origin and conveyor customer  references.. or say end user , speaking about NSK, give references of Japanese and American OE references
Recommendation – it would be generally difficult to get, referrals ..we will get it!- Pushkar Kulkarni, General Manager, Multi Dimensions

4. The Webinar was very interactive and informative. The Positive thing from the webinar was the concept to break the stereotypes which help for the future activity. I want to thank you for making this webinar so productive and I will look forward to attending more training session with you if possible. Aman Shukla – Scientific Mestechnic P Ltd New Delhi

5. Some points  worth to mention that changed my concept are: Intent, Commonality (Using Referrals on  Linkedin, Common friends)   Competence &  Trust : Building. I have realized that  Trust with customers is more important before introducing product in achieving Result. – Preetham, Unipar Energy Systems P Ltd.

6. This session will help us to meet our goal by transforming our “cold calling” culture… Haresh Kumar, Unipar Energy Systems Pvt Ltd.

7. The topics covered (Imperatives for new customers,Why new prospects wary of talking and the tool kit to break the stereotypes through trust and rapport building) are very relevant for sales people. More now than before where market expectations so high.Another key point was the difference between the sellers’ market and the buyers’ market. The diagram or the cartoon was an eyeopener. It would surely change the paradigm of many participants. – Nahan Thiran,  Trainer – Kuala Lumpur  Malaysia

8.  I have enrolled as a member of Builders association of India face book group,Kerala small industries association,  face book group to generate contacts at senior level. The importance of powerful mission statement also felt during the training program. This was a new insight for  us to join membership with professional bodies. – Benoj George , Essae Digitronics Pvt Ltd. Kochi

BATNA – The Tool to Improve Your Negotiating Leverage

“Rajeev, we have been given a mandate by our management. Due to the Covid-19 crisis leading to a steep fall in customer demand, you are expected to reduce the price of your cutting tools by 50%,” said Mr. Padmanabhan, (the purchase manager of Shockproof, a shock absorber manufacturing company from Delhi) adding a veiled threat, “else we have no choice but to switch over to the competition.” Rajeev is a technocrat running ‘Techno Enterprises,’ a MSME manufacturing cutting tools enterprise with a turnover of around Rs. 10 crores. When asked about the customer details, he shared that ‘Shockproof’ is a major supplier of shock absorbers with a turnover of ₹ 1000 crores catering mainly for the two wheeler industry.

One of the questions often asked in our training and consulting assignments is ‘how does one deal with such arm-twisting tactics, especially when the customer is too big compared to the supplier?’

One important concept in Negotiation theory is BATNA, which stands for the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, a term coined by Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Program on Negotiation. BATNA is an important tool while preparing for negotiation. Both parties have their BATNA independent of each other. The party having a stronger BATNA has a stronger negotiating leverage. In case the parties are not able to conclude the negotiation, the best option each one has can be called as their BATNA. In the above example, if the negotiations fail, the BATNA for the customer and vendor can be improved as follows:

Customer: Look for other vendors who can give a similar product at the desired price.

Vendor: Develop alternate customers who can provide the requisite amount of volumes at the desired price.

It is not as simple as it looks above. Does the customer have a vendor who can provide deliveries just in time to meet his production targets? Alternatively, does the vendor have alternate customers where his current inventory can be offloaded? Now you will appreciate that BATNA is not only decided by the number of options but also the feasibility and attractiveness of those options.

Whose BATNA is stronger? The conventional answer favours that of the buyer who is much bigger in size. Some points to ponder:

  1. Identify your BATNA: The tool required for cutting/drilling is made with precision which requires tungsten carbide or diamond as the raw material. It also requires a great deal of R&D to develop a tool for a specific application. The vendor has been supplying the tools for the last 15 years. With considerable technical expertise, the production department found the tool useful. The rejection rate was less than 1% and the cost-per-component was low.
  2. Identify the weakness in the other party’s BATNA: The seller knows that the buyer has the option of other vendor but also has the critical information that the rejection rate of the competition’s tool is close to 50%. Also, the shop floor people do not appreciate the tools supplied by the competition.
  3. Spot the customer’s bluff: Even though the Indian two-wheeler volumes fell by 15% in FY 20, the impact on Shockproof was much lesser at around 8.4%. The customer was able to absorb the shock (pun not intended) as it focussed more on improving the content per vehicle. As per a newspaper report, Shockproof had notched up a top-line of ₹ 5000 crores and its EBIDTA rose by 4% to Rs. 800 crores. (Remember the excuse of the Covid -19 crisis the purchase manager articulated earlier?)
  4. Do Proper Homework: Rajeev shared that the customer’s turnover was ₹ 1000 crores, whereas in reality it was 5 times. This can be perceived two ways: conventionally it may produce a feeling of helplessness. Alternatively the helplessness could be transformed into strength as in the end result of a David vs. Goliath fight. The vendor could feel that a supply of ₹ 1 Crore of material is insignificant from the customer’s perspective and there need not be any need for the customer to be so aggressive in reducing the price. Can David stand his ground?
  5. Improve your BATNA: Let us take a different example where both the customer and the vendor are equally strong. For its Power PC, Apple had developed its microprocessor in collaboration with Motorola and IBM. In 2005, Steve Jobs took a call to switch over to Intel, which apart from being a market leader in microprocessors was offering a cutting edge technology in computing. Developing microprocessors needs a huge investment and also technical expertise. Intel had both and was the only vendor for such a high-technology product. With a single vendor, the vulnerability was high for Apple.

Three years later, Apple bought over a 150-employee start-up in chip design called PA semi. Most of the team members had worked earlier at Intel, including Johny Srouji who now reports directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook. In 2020 Apple announced that it will use its in-house microprocessors for the new range of Macs.*

  1. Risk Mitigation: Apple was giving a business worth $3.4 Billion of microprocessors for Macs to Intel every year according to C.J. Muse an Evercore analyst. For Intel it was like losing a major account which was powering around 20 million Macs shipped by Apple annually. The impact of such a Key Account leaving Intel can be minimized when the figure is perceived not in absolute numbers but by the percentile share. Apple was contributing to 5% of Intel’s annual business and the total no of PCs sold annually are 260 million.

While understanding one’s BATNA, apart from the actual value an account produces, the share of the total business also needs to be considered. It is better not to keep too many eggs in too few baskets. An important tool in risk mitigation is the sales funnel which can help in improving your BATNA.

  1. Guard against Pitfalls while analyzing one’s BATNA: There are two mistakes people make while going in for negotiations. Either they are too optimistic or too pessimistic.

Being too Optimistic: There is a tendency to aggregate all the options and assume it to be The BATNA. Consider for example, Rajesh, an unemployed engineer in Bangalore who has applied for a job in IT and feels that he deserves a salary of Rs. 10 lakhs as he has the following options:

  1. Has applied for similar jobs in Mumbai and Delhi.
  2. Has plans of a start-up in 3-D printing.
  3. Is exploring further studies in the US by answering GRE and TOEFL.
  4. Is pursuing MBA by giving CAT.
  5. Joining the family’s 2-decade old fabrication business which is running well.

It is risky to assume the sum total of all these options as the best alternative because at any moment Rajesh can select only the best one. Contrast this with Gautam who already has a job with a ₹8 lakhs CTC. You will appreciate that Gautam has a better BATNA than Rajesh as a bird in hand is worth two in the bush!

Being excessively Pessimistic: The other mistake in negotiation is being too pessimistic when one is too committed to reaching an agreement without any preparation. There is an assumption that agreeing to all of the customers’ demands will make him happy, giving rise to a long-term business and relationship.

In the cutting tool example, the vendor though small in size vis-à-vis the customer, had a better product quality, a low rejection rate, a lower component cost and a shorter delivery period vis-à-vis the competition, which meant him having a better BATNA than the customer. Does it mean that he should rest on his laurels? Competition will be always trying to catch up with him, which necessitates him having to improve his BATNA all the time so as to keep the competition at bay.

Thus, negotiating strength, rather than being decided by the absolute size of a party or the size of the deal (as in Apple vs. Intel) or the number of back-up options, is decided by your BATNA.

Whether you are a buyer or a seller, starting a new venture or looking out for a new job opportunity, please spend time in identifying and developing your BATNA.

Remember, in life, you do not get what you deserve, but what you negotiate and that is decided by your BATNA, the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement!

(* International Herald Tribune, Don Clark and Jack Nicas – After 15 years Apple prepares to break up with Intel DH – June 23, 2020)

Webinar on Skillful Negotiation; Wednesday 11th May 1000 HRS IST

Inspiring Leadership

My first interaction with Deepak Parab, the CEO of Metrohm India Private Limited (a leading company in Analytical Instruments and Solutions) happened around two years ago when he called me from his Chennai HQ and said that he would like me to conduct a ‘Managerial Effectiveness’ program for his pan-India team of service managers. “Rajan, I shall ask my National Service Manager, Vinod Salunkhe to get in touch with you to discuss the further modalities.” The call hardly lasted five minutes; a client taking a quick decision in finalizing a 2-day training program was a rarity in my training career of 25 years. I could not help recollecting a MNC client who took approximately six months with more than a dozen meetings to finalize a 1-hour keynote address. (See my earlier blog titled ‘A Tale of Two Key Note Addresses’ – https://rajanparulekar.in/2018/03/29/a-tale-of-two-key-note-addresses/ )

More than the ability to take the right decisions, the leadership traits I admired in Deepak were:

  1. Focus on results: After he took over as CEO and Managing Director, Metrohm India has progressed very well under him and results have been great. They have been able to capture and maintain major market share for their products and increase the turnover and profitability multi-fold. Today, Metrohm India owns all its offices across India and these were bought in the last ten years.
  2. Retaining Talent: His core team of 30 senior managers including the COO, Branch Managers, Service Managers, Application Laboratory Manager and Product Managers are with the company for the last 20 years. The core team has remained the same for the past two decades.
  3. Creating Value through Service: Peter Drucker said that the purpose of business is to attract and retain a customer, which can be restated by the formulae below:

a. Vc > Vp where Vc is the value perceived by the customer and Vp is the value inside   your product or service. You get a customer only when the perceived value is more (short and/or long term) than what the customer pays for.

b. Vc = (Q+U+S)/P where Q is the Quality, U the Utility, S the Service and P is the price. Remember that QUS is not what the salesman claims but what the customer perceives. The four ways to increase the perceived value is either to increase the QUS or to reduce the P. Quite often desperate salespeople reduce price to create value which in turn affects profitability.

Deepak took a different approach to create value. To command a premium, he focussed on the numerator (QUS) rather than the denominator (P). Service was given prominence vis-à-vis sales. In a team of 135 executives for each sales person there are 3 service executives. Normally one service engineer is deployed for 100 instruments, with an equal share of warranty and AMC (annual maintenance contract). Today Metrohm India has 12 Offices and 12 Home Offices from where Service is provided. The home office concept for service was used to extend the reach. For example for clients in Goa, service engineers used to travel every week from Mumbai to Goa. With 250 instruments, 2 service engineers were deputed to Goa, which created value in the following ways:

  • The travel fatigue for service engineers was considerably reduced.
  • Improved work-life balance for the Service Engineers who were back to their home in the evening.
  • Cost of resident engineers was lower than with the travel and related costs.
  • Delighted Customers due to an improved response time and a lower down-time. Customer confidence in Metrohm also increased due to the now closer proximity of the Service Engineer.

Having created value for the customer in terms of QUS, Metrohm was now able to command a premium vis-à-vis the competition. There is a general tendency for companies to club sales and service to control costs, especially in the case of executives operating from home offices. However, Deepak resisted this temptation, as with dual responsibilities, executives tend to focus more on sales and ignore service. Now, dedicated service engineers in turn enhanced the perceived value!

  1. Delegation with empowerment: Ganesha Chaturthi is a major festival in Maharashtra. Deepak belongs to a small village called Hiwale in Sindhudurg District from the Konkan region. For this important festival, Deepak used to take leave for 10 days every year. However as a CEO designate, when he applied for leave now, his boss questioned the logic, considering his elevation to the new role with additional responsibilities. The major concern apart from the leave, was in Deepak being incommunicado due to poor network connectivity at his village. Deepak’s thought process was quite clear. He said, “I shall prepare my team in such a way that my help is not needed in those 10 days.” His communication to his team members went on the following lines:

– “Please take decisions. I am not going to blame you for the consequences, if found negative in posterity.”

– “Please think of the worst–case scenario. The company is not going to sink from any such decisions.”

– “All of you can learn from your mistakes and a wrong decision and its consequence can be termed as the cost of learning.”

– “If in spite of all the above, you still need my advice, please drop me a SMS. In case I go to the village market (which has a better connectivity), I shall respond.”

The discounts and pricing are controlled by the respective Managers and all are empowered to take decisions. As a normal practice at Metrohm India the senior management team does not have any extra power to give additional discounts.

5. Genuine Concern for Employees: Even though a nationwide lockdown was announced on 24 March 2020, Deepak took the call on 20th March to shut down the company’s offices across the country. Most of his team members who were at different locations then, had enough time to go back home.(Contrast this with the 4 hour time frame given by the PM which affected not only the general populace but also the millions of migrant workers!) He announced categorically that there would be no salary deduction, nor would anyone be forced to go on leave. The salary for the full month of March which normally gets paid on the last day of the month was credited on 24th

6.Creative Problem Solving: Every year the company used to invite its Pan-India sales and service team in May to the Chennai HQ for training. The month-long exercise for a team of 130 executives used to cost around ₹ 70-80 lakhs; the quarterly reviews used to be around ₹ 5-6 lakhs each. During the lockdown, the time was used for online trainings and reviews thereby saving a big cost for the organisation, while at the same time keeping the employees engaged. They also ensured that all employees are engaged and connecting with the customers, so that they feel like they are doing their routine work and no health issues crop up due to no work. In the earlier phases of lockdown, the instruments which needed attention were diagnosed remotely, thereby reducing the down time. For the Pharmaceutical industry which is a major customer (as well as the sector doing well during the pandemic), Metrohm’s service support was crucial. In a few cases, even the installation was carried out with the help of the customer along with support via a video call by the Service Engineer. Digital Platforms have been used by the organisation extensively to connect its employees and customers.

7. Effective Decision Making: Be it a minor decision of a trainer selection or major ones like shutdown or salary disbursals, an effective leader does not shy away from taking decisions.

8. Strong Ethics: Deepak shared that a strong sense of ethics and moral values are a sine qua non for effective leadership. Deepak spent his childhood in the IIT Bombay campus. His father, Raghunath Parab was a governing member of the Co-Operative Society and was entrusted the job of supervising the IIT Staff Canteen operated by the IIT Staff Co-Operative Society. As a principle, his father did not prefer his children to visit the canteen; lest it be perceived that they were availing food free. Some years down the line, when Deepak entered the canteen and when his father admonished him, he told him, “Dad, now I am working as a Technical Assistant in the Department of Chemistry and I have come here as an employee and not as your son.” Caesar’s wife must indeed be above suspicion.

Since 1982, Metrohm AG, with HQ in Switzerland is a full subsidiary of Metrohm Foundation, as the only shareholder. With neither a specific owner nor any other shareholders, part of its profits are earmarked towards charity and R&D. Being a zero-debt company, the obsessive pressure for quarterly results is absent.

rajan@paraadigm-info.com, http://www.paradigm-info.com

 

FREE Webinar on Stress Management

Saturday 13th June @ 10 AM (IST) Duration: One Hour

Major Themes:  

  1. Myths and Truth about stress
  2. Impact of Stress on Mind and Body
  3. Importance of developing a Shield to protect oneself
  4. Types of Stressors: Acute, Chronic and Catastrophic
  5. How the human brain creates its own reality
  6. Stress Reduction Technique: Whatever you focus on, Expands

Participant Feedback: https://tinyurl.com/y9cjfen4

 Faculty: Rajan Parulekar – he has conducted training programs for 1000+ companies since 1995; which include Emotional intelligence, Work-life Balance etc. Practitioner of Vipassana, Mindfulness since 1986, Initiated into Zen by AMA Samy, Trainer in NLP, Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Transactional Analysis (TA) etc.

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