Friday, October 23, 2009



This is the story of a simple woman, a story of an Indian girl, born into a conservative family in Chennai, who went to the US to pursue higher studies and who while studying also worked as a receptionist from midnight to sunrise to earn money. Finally, after a lot of hardships she passed out from Yale University and got her first call for a job interview. She struggled hard and somehow managed to scrape together $50 to buy herself a western suit. Not having much idea about western wear, she landed up for the interview wearing a trouser that barely reached her ankles. She was rejected. Dejected and disheartened she turned to her professor at Yale for help, support and advice, and she got the simplest, yet best possible advice – “Be Yourself”. She wore a sari for her next interview and got the job. Today, Fortune ranks her as the most powerful woman in US business.

Yes, you guessed it – she is Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo. And the Indiaborn Nooyi has been named as the most powerful woman in the US business for four straight years now. This Queen of the business world, and my personal favourite, has shown the world how if you need to survive you need to change; you need to adapt and reinvent yourself. Today, if she continues to sit pretty at the top spot, it is because she has consistently changed and reinvented herself, in tune with the times. Her secret – “being visible”. According to her, people need to know that their CEO cares about them and has a realistic vision. She feels the need to see and be seen. After becoming CEO, Nooyi’s goal was to visit 80 countries in her first five years as CEO so that she could see and also be seen. This strategy seems to be working for her. It was during her visit to China that she saw the resurgent trend of people eating according to traditional Chinese medicine. She immediately knew she had to find ways to incorporate Chinese medicine into Pepsi- Co’s products. China is such a huge market after all and one could not ignore it at any cost. Clearly, just ‘being there’ can work wonders for you and your organisation and help you choose the right path.

It is a highly wired world that we are living in today. Technology is doing all it can to help you stay connected. Be it SMS or e-mails, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, or the latest craze – Twitter – all these have made ‘staying-in-touch’ easier. Yet, while searching for excellence decades ago, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman discovered a very simple and effective trick that great leaders and companies put into use extensively to manage people and work. They called it MBWA – Management by Wandering Around. The strength of an organisation lies in its informal communications. One needs to know who they work with, what drives them, what their passions are, what are their fears, their dreams – everything. You need to stay “intimately in touch,” says Tom Peters, “if you want to manage well.” E-mails, Twitter and others of their ilk fail here.

In 2004, Peters was asked to give a talk to retailers. He talked to experts, searched the web and prepared a beautiful speech. But it took merely two hours of wandering in and out of shops, for Peters to scrap this speech and write a better one. Those two hours helped him understand the retail environment better. His advice – get out of your cubical. The ability to go out and talk and understand is the most important skill. If you are just relying on e-mail, it’s time you stopped and pondered on the importance of human-touch. Excellent companies are a vast network of informal, open communication, which is only possible when there is an environment of trust. Walk around to build that environment. When people see you, they will know you better and trust you more.

If you need to be visible to be successful, then the same applies to your brand too. You need to make sure your products are ‘visible’. How do you make your brand visible, is the moot question. Branding, after all, is a pivotal task for any company – some work out extensive advertising campaigns, while some use expensive celebrities to attract attention. Some others, however, take a different path.

In 2005, Nestle entered into a partnership with Coca-Cola. According to an agreement, Nestle could sell its Nescafe products through the world’s largest beverage makers’ vending machines and sales outlets. Suddenly NestlĂ©’s products were more visible and as expected in a few months, Nescafe’s market share, as well as sales revenues, increased drastically. Coca- Cola, on the other hand, used McDonald’s to increase its visibility. If McDonald’s sells Pepsi Cola instead of Coca-Cola, it would not take long for Pepsi to defeat Coke!

Lenovo too knew it had to be ‘visible’ to be seen as a successful company by the world. It went ahead and bought IBM’s PC business in 2005 and changed its image instantly. Now it was perceived as a “global brand” as opposed to a Chinese brand – because it used IBM’s distribution network to make itself visible and hence available world over. When Coca Cola abandoned its Indian operations in the 70’s, Ramesh and Prakash Chauhan decided to fill the void by launching Thums Up, with the punch line ‘Happy days are here again’. People loved it and the company soon set its cash registers ringing.

Ironically, it was the same Thums Up that Coca Cola acquired for a meager $60 million to get a one up on competition. Buying Thums Up also meant buying its distribution network and overnight Coca Cola was visible everywhere in India. Not just this, Coca Cola worked hard on its supply chain to cater to India’s vast rural market. It increased its ‘visibility’ like no other beverage company had done before and the strategy paid off. Today, rural markets account for almost 80% of new Coke drinkers and 30% of its total volumes.

This is a trick that Coke learnt from its senior – Hindustan Lever Limited – which entered India years ago and had mastered the art of being visible. In 2002, Sanjeev Gupta, Coca-Cola’s Deputy President said, “We want to be the Hindustan Lever Limited of the Indian beverage business.” Look carefully and you realise that it’s HUL’s fantastic distribution network that has prevented any competitor from even coming close to this FMCG giant in terms of overall market share. Great distribution means great visibility and great sales.

In fact, it is distribution that helped ITC Foods make its maiden profits this year. From being the tiniest company of the multi million dollar Group that was losing close to Rs.60 crores annually, it has indeed come a long way. With brands like Bingo and Sunfeast in its portfolio, the company’s revenues this year would be Rs.2,200 crores. It has indeed been ITC’s tremendous reach (through its extensive distribution network) that has given ITC Food its competitive advantage. Bingo’s marketing plan included ITC Foods’ distribution of more than 4,00,000 brand display racks at all points of sale. The strategy created such a powerful impact that competitor Frito-Lay also had to come out with their racks.

Yes, advertising gives a brand its visibility. But don’t forget the powerful impact of distribution and partnership strategies too. When Acer entered into a partnership with Ferrari, it started putting Ferrari logos on its laptops. This made Acer laptops standout and increased not just their visibility but also brand value. They began to be perceived as highly as Ferrari cars.

If you want your career to go places – you need to do similar. You need to market yourself. You must be your own best advocate – otherwise your hard work may actually go totally unnoticed. The more visible you are, the more likely you will be remembered – especially during the time of raise or promotion. A recent study found that one of the reasons why women were not occupying more high level positions was they did not understand the art-of-self-promotion. So sit up, and find ways to become visible, to make your brand visible. If you want to win, you need to get out – and get noticed!

Friday, October 9, 2009


‘One’ is not just the lowest single digit numerical value; neither is it just a show of miniscule strength. Instead, the digit has the wherewithal to change national destinies, unflinchingly challenge mighty emperors and irrevocably alter your life condition!

It is just another day, yet today, this one date has begun to signify something of great importance to all of us. Its impact has been felt all over the world. Yes, 9/11 or September 11 today symbolises terrorism. One incident on this day shook up the entire world. Overnight Kabul and Kandahar became the most talked and written about places. The world became more knowledgeable about bombs and forget about our way of thinking, even our manner of speaking changed. ‘Ground Zero’, the original meaning of which was the epicenter of a nuclear explosion, now meant something else entirely. ‘Terrorism’ was no more an activity that happened in far away places for Americans, but something that took lives in their own home. One event and look at the profound impact it has had on all of us.

In fact, one way to judge the impact of any event is to see how much it affects the language we speak. In that sense at least, 9/11 has added words like jihad, holy-war, Taliban and Twin-Towers to our collective vocabularies. Another event had similarly enriched the English language – World War II. Words like jeep, blitz, java, flak, sonar, radar, bazooka and atom bomb didn’t exist prior to World War II.

Clearly, one event can change a generation’s outlook. ‘One’ may be the smallest of numbers, but ‘one’ is all it takes to have a profound impact. It’s interesting to see how ‘one’ has influenced us in more ways than one. To start, take the date 9/11 and flip it once. This one change brings us to a date dramatically different from the previous one. If one stood for terror, and destruction and ruin, the other symbolised unification, hope and brotherhood. The 9th day of November or 11/9 was the day the Berlin Wall fell. If 9/11 divided the world, 11/9 was an attempt to unify a city that had been divided for over 30 years. The 28 mile barrier dividing Germany’s capital was built in 1961 to prevent East Berliners fleeing to the West. ‘One’ of anything (even the flip of a date) can do wonders.

One word and its wrong interpretation caused irreparable damage. The Americans issued an ultimatum demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan. Nearing breaking point, the Japanese wanted to negotiate for peace, but not surrender unconditionally. They issued a statement using a Japanese word ‘mokusatsu’, which technically meant ‘refrain from comment’, but had another interpretation i.e. ‘ignore.’ And that is how the Americans decoded it. Keeping the Japanese ‘refusal’ in mind, Americans continued to fight and eventually dropped two atom bombs – an event that changed Japan forever. One wrong translation caused so much destruction. In contrast, one statement shot this actress to fame and resurrected her failing career. Yes, one racial slur shot Shipla Shetty to fame and made her a fortune. So much so that now everybody seems to want one!

But, it was bravery of a different kind that changed the world. A simple seamstress from Alabama refused to relinquish her seat on a city bus to a white man. It was her one act of courage that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and brought the Civil Rights Movement to national attention. Jack Kemp ‘once’ said, “the power of one man or one woman doing the right thing, for the right reason and at the right time, is the greatest influence in our society.”

It may look small and insignificant but sometimes ‘one’ can have tremendous impact. It was one vote per precinct in key states that gave victory to George Bush. It was one vote by then Vice President Al Gore that approved President Clinton’s budget, which included the largest tax increase in American history. It was one vote that made Hindi the National language. History proves that one vote absolutely does matter. So next elections, remember that your vote could be the crucial deciding factor.

Compared to this vast universe you may look like a tiny dot but you have the power to control this vastness. However small, but you do matter. When in doubt hum the Song “Everybody makes a difference.”

It was ‘one’ film and ‘one’ title of the ‘Angry Young Man’ that changed the career of Amitabh Bachchan and catapulted him to fame. When he was deep in debt and was ‘written off’ by the industry, it was one game show – Kaun Banega Corepati – that again saw him riding the high wave of fame and fortune. Not just Amitabh, KBC even changed the fortunes of television. Suddenly, TV programming was hot & happening and worth watching again.

Back when Indians were fighting their war of independence from British Colonial rule, the favourite British jibe was that “Indians were not ‘manly’ enough to rule themselves.” Mohammed Salim was a simple boy from Calcutta, known for his ability to keep a football in the air. He, together with his team used football to give a firm retort to the British. He proved the British wrong by defeating them in their own game and showed that Indians were not inferior to the British in any way. Most interestingly, the Indian team played the game bare foot and defeated the haughty English men in boots. That ‘one’ victory sent a strong signal to the whole world!

Large numbers are simply no good because sometimes just ‘one’ is enough. One album ‘Thriller’ shot Michael Jackson to fame and made him immortal.

Napoleon was obsessed with the idea of ruling the world. He seemed unstoppable, conquering one country after another. It took one man, one day to smash Napoleon’s dream of invading Britain. In the Battle of Trafalgar, inspite of being outnumbered by the French, Nelson won and that too without losing even a single ship. The Trafalgar Square in London stands testimony to that beautiful victory.

In the corporate world ‘one’ is the new buzz word. Top executives globally are facing criticism for drawing hefty salary packages and the growing financial crisis. CEO’s are now pruning down their packages to just one dollar. Vikram Pandit the CEO of Citigroup will now take home a one dollar salary, Larry Ellison the Oracle CEO too would take home just a dollar this year as salary – a cool $999,999 less than last year.

Steve Jobs and even the founders of Google have been old members of the ‘$1 CEO club’, which now seems to be getting bigger and bigger. We hope that it also helps the economy – but one thing that it is doing for sure is attracting attention.

‘One’ is small, but has the power to make a big difference. Sometimes the number of chances that you get or need to completely overhaul your whole life is just ‘one’. As Abraham Lincoln said, “It matters not the number of years in your life. It is the life in your years.” Seize the moment now; know that this is your one chance to change everything. Strength, my friend, doesn’t lies in numbers, but in just that ‘ONE’ opportunity. Don’t miss it!

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