Monday, October 24, 2011

Dhirubhaisms - Lessons from Dhirubhai Ambani

#POST 0024

Some great lessons from the one and only - Dhirubhai Ambani




Leave the professional alone! Much as people would like to believe, most owners (even managers and clients), though eager to hire the best professionals in the field, do so and then use them as extensions of their own personality. Every time I come across this, which is much too often, I am reminded of how Dhirubhai's management techniques used to be (and still remain) so refreshingly different.


Change your orbit, constantly! Let me explain Dhirubhai's "orbit theory." He would often explain that we are all born into an orbit. It is up to us to progress to the next. We could choose to live and die in the orbit that we are born in. But that would be a criminal waste of potential. When we push ourselves into the next orbit, we benefit not only ourselves but everyone connected with us. Take India's push for development. There was once a time our country's growth rate was just 4 per cent, sarcastically referred to as the "Hindu growth rate." Look at us today, galloping along at a healthy 7-8 per cent. This is no miracle. It is the product of a handful of determined orbit changers like Dhirubhai, all of whose efforts have benefited a larger sphere in their respective fields. IHowever, when you change orbits, you will create friction. The good news is that your enemies from your previous orbit will never be able to reach you in your new one. By the time resentment builds up in your new orbit, you should move to the next level. And so on. Changing orbits is the key to our progress as a nation.


Roll up your sleeves and help. You and your team share the same DNA. Reliance, during Vimal's heady days had organized a fashion show at the Convention Hall, at Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi As usual, every seat in the hall was taken, and there were an equal number of impatient guests outside, waiting to be seated. Dhirubhai at that time was already a name to reckon with and a VIP himself, but that did not stop him from rolling up his sleeves and diving in to rescue a situation that had gone out of control. Most bosses in his place would have driven up in their swank cars at the last moment and given the manager a piece of their minds. Not Dhirubhai. When things went wrong, he was the first person to sense that the circumstances would have been beyond his team's control, rather than it being a slip on their part, as he trusted their capabilities implicitly. His first instinct was always to join his men in putting out the fire and not crucifying them for it. Sounds too good a boss to be true, doesn't he? But then, that was Dhirubhai.


Be a safety net for your team. There used to be a time when his ad agency Mudra was the target of some extremely vicious propaganda by our peers, when on an almost daily basis its business ethics were put on trial. But one day, during a particularly nasty spell, he gently asked his manager if he needed any help in combating it. That did it. That was all the help that the manager needed. Overwhelmed by his concern and compassion, he told him he could cope, but the knowledge that Dhirubhai knew and cared for what I was going through, and that he was there for me the manager I he needed him, worked wonders for his confidence. By letting managers know that he was always aware of the trials we underwent and that he was by their side through it all, he gave them the courage they never knew they had.


The silent benefactor. This was another of his remarkable traits. When he helped someone, he never ever breathed a word about it to anyone else. There have been many us who have known his kindness, yet he never went around broadcasting it. He never used charity as a platform to gain publicity. Sometimes, he would even go to the extent of not letting the recipient know who the donor was. Such was the extent of his generosity. "Expect the unexpected" just might have been coined for him.


Dream big but dream with your eyes open. His phenomenal achievement showed India that limitations were only in the mind. And that nothing was truly unattainable for those who dreamed big. Whenever manager's tried to point out to him that a task seemed too big to be accomplished, he would reply: " No is no answer!" Not only did he dream big, he taught all of us to do so too. His one-line brief to his manager was: "Make Vimal's advertising the benchmark for fashion advertising in the country." His favourite response was always: "It's difficult but not impossible!" And he was right. We did go on to achieve the impossible. Both in its size and scope Vimal's fashion shows were unprecedented in the country. Grand showroom openings, stunning experiments in print and poster work all combined to give the brand a truly benchmark image. But way back in 1980, no one would have believed it could have ever been possible. Except Dhirubhai. But though he dreamed big, he was able to clearly distinguish between perception and reality and his favourite phrase "dream with your eyes open" underlined this. He never let preset norms govern his vision, yet he worked night and day familiarizing himself with every little nitty-gritty that constituted his dreams constantly sifting the wheat from the chaff. This is how, as he put it, even though he dreamed, none of his dreams turned into nightmares. And this is what gave him the courage to move from one orbit to the next despite tremendous odds. Dhirubhai was indeed a man of many parts, as is evident. I am sure there are many people who display some of the traits mentioned above, in their working styles as well, but Dhirubhai was one of those rare people who demonstrated all of them, all the time.

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