Global competition: the importance of thinking small

Sometime back, I was at a press conference organized on the release of a book on Great Indian Olympians. Ex-super cop SS Gill was one of the guests of honor. (I do not remember if he was the chief guest or what, but he sure did release the book formally.) What transpired there wasn’t very inspiring.

For one, it was my first encounter with the supercop. (Of course a distant one.) From what I had seen of him on TV and read about him in the papers, I expected to see a domineering personality. But that was not to be. What I saw was a distant shadow of the Gill of hey days. (Not his problem really. I should have realized that it was quite sometime since the supercop had retired and hence the age factor would show up.)

But that wasn’t what affected me. What affected me was what he had to say. And as someone who had been given charge of the Indian hockey team, he didn’t have much. It was sad to see that a person like him should feel totally helpless about the state of affairs. He was open in lambasting those in charge for not creating an environment, whereby the game could flourish. 

He was equally vocal in pulling down some private sector organizations for promising to pay as much as a crore if the team came back with a gold medal from the Olympics, but not contributing even a fraction of the amount to help the team acquire facilities that would enable them to do so. If a man like Gill could feel so helpless, the system must really stink.

More recently, I was invited to speak at the annual conventions of one of the programs of Delhi University. It was on ‘Competing in the Global Marketplace. Tejinder Khanna, Chairman, Ranbaxy delivered the keynote address. Most of what he said was from his days at the commerce secretariat (and maybe from the times as Lt governor of Delhi.) 

He spoke of several instances, which generally showed India in poor light. There was a pharmaceutical company that had exported medicines to an African nation. The medicines sent were almost near the date of expiry and the importer had to incur heavy losses. Since then that nation has become very particular of how it deals with our country. 

In fact, Khanna spoke at length about the importance of business ethics. And felt sad that there was so much lacking on the Indian side.

He also highlighted another interesting angle. Our lack of attention to details. In India, he said, if you were to pour out tea from a metal teapot, some tea was sure to spill out of the cup onto the table. It didn’t happen in Africa when he was there on one of his official trips from the government. He didn’t shy of asking where such a device would be available and bought one for himself.

Professor Bibek Debroy, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation also spoke on similar lines. (Of course, he has a rather unique delivery style and is quite vociferous in contrast to Khanna’s cool composure.) Professor Debroy too highlighted the futility of talking of big things when even small little things were not taken care of.

He lambasted Bisleri in which, he seemed to have discovered ferrous oxide in the mineral water. And was even more upset when there wasn’t even a ‘sorry’ note from the manufacturers (or bottlers?)

He spoke of Maruti and the fact that for years, it was known how easy it was to open the doors of the 800 model by simply inserting a scale into it. But Maruti had done nothing about it.

He also lamented the fact that auto sellers charging several lakh for luxury cars did not have the sense or ‘customer orientation’ to fill up the car with petrol before delivering it. Invariably, what you end up doing immediately after purchasing a new car is to rush to the nearest gas station.

I know of garment consignments getting rejected because the buttons weren’t stitched the way they were supposed to!
What’s the message in all this? Competing in the global marketplace is about thinking small too. It’s about having an eye for detail and about customer orientation. And about ethics.

For too long, we have lived in protected environment. That is of course changing. And we also see its impact. Those unsure of themselves prefer to sell out their brands to those perceived to be more powerful. So a Thums Up bows out to Coke.
But to my mind, there is something of a social aspect to the way we structure organizations, the way we pay for work, that may be at the root of some of the maladies that affect us.

How much importance do we as organizations, give to matters of detail or to those entrusted with ensuring correctness? How important, for instance, is documentation and how much is this kind of job worth. If some one is good, he needs to be promoted, till he reaches his level of incompetency. But we will not pay him more in his earlier role to continue to do that work better and better.

No wonder we end up with a whole lot of ‘bad managers’ and lose a whole lot of good workers or specialists. We just don’t have space for these specialists with eye for detail to flourish and be happy.

Like many other things, maybe competing in the global marketplace too requires social change! And an eye for things small. Ethics included!

Sumit Sharma is Associate VP, Microland and author the book titled `The Corporate Circus.’

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