Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Kushpal Singh... Great Man Great Vision

'Ear To The Ground-by K.P.Singh '
4th March 2005
Economic Times

I DON’T know if today’s B-schools teach you about “Productivity in Decision-Making”, but this is essentially what I imbibed from my two mentors – George Warren Hoddy and Jack Welch. As a young army officer entering the world of business in the 1960s, without the benefits of either a business family background or a management education, it was my good fortune to come in close contact with these two global corporate legends, one after the other, and to learn the ropes from the best of the best.

I first met George Hoddy when he came to India to set up a Universal Electric plant in Faridabad. I soon realized that he was a man who led by personal example, treating employees as family and with a knack of surrounding himself with people of robust common sense. He took decisions only after deep study, working hard to understand the details and encouraging those who worked for him to get to the heart of the matter. I learnt from him that to be an effective corporate leader you have to equip yourself with knowledge – get to know deeply whichever field you are involved in. At the same time, the trick lies in not getting immersed in details so much that you can not separate the meat from the bone.

Getting to grips with essentials is also the basic ingredient to Jack Welch’s formula for success. He hated long-winded presentations.

“Cut out verbosity. Come to the point,” was his characteristic reprimand. So much so that he expected his executives to be “one-minute men” or “five-minute men” – meaning that within that stipulated time, they had to be able to spell out the issues and summaries the alternatives.

From both Hoddy and Welch I learnt that corporate decisions have to be based on a judicious blend of both the macro picture and the micro reality. I disagree with the view that CEOs are only macro – managers. I think it’s important not to lose sight of ground – level details. I have learnt that the speed with which a person can synchronies the micro details with the macro picture is the essence of success in leadership as one of these in exclusion to the other will be ineffective.

Corporate leadership involves dealing with people. Not only must a CEO have the ability to get along with others, he should also display a degree of patience and tolerance. This was also among the lessons I learnt from my mentors, both of whom were intellectual giants who had the greatness to even suffer fools on occasions.

Positive thinking is a prerequisite for success. The old saying that “Every cloud has a silver lining” isn’t just a worn cliché – it’s philosophical truth of life. I myself have tried to make it a habit to actively look for the silver lining behind even the darkest of clouds. At the same time, one needs to be aware of potential downsides, so as to keep contingency plans ready for worst-case scenarios. Before taking any critical business decision or before venturing into any new project, I always make it a point to take a good look at not just the pros but also the cons. Anticipating negatives and things that could go wrong has, in my experience, invariably led to success and minimized chances of failure.

Undoubtedly, as a CEO, it’s essential to have big dreams and be a bit of a visionary. But it’s equally necessary to be pragmatic and to acknowledge that things don’t always work as planned. The key to success lies in being undaunted in the face of set backs and, indeed, to learn from failure. As the legendary Henry Ford once said: “Failures are only opportunities to begin again more intelligently.”

Life, indeed, is full of peaks and valleys. George Hoddy is living example of the virtues of humility and austerity even in times of plenty and prosperity. Even at the peak of his success he was never wasteful or extravagant.

Today, as I prepare to attend the 100th birthday celebrations of George Warren Hoddy at Owosso in Michigan on March 7, I feel a great sense of affection and gratitude to him for being my friend, mentor and benefactor.