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Making of a CEO, An Excerpt

Sandeep Krishnan is an adjunct professor at IIM Bangalore. His book ‘Making of a CEO’ found its genesis in a popular course he taught at IIM Bangalore, where the students interviewed and analyzed twenty CEOs to learn how they charted a clear path to the top. The book explores nuances of leading in different contexts like start-ups, large corporations, family businesses, educational institutions, not-for-profits, public sector and the government.
Here’s an excerpt from the book.
The chief executive officer (CEO) epitomizes the organization. The organization’s existence and its future are defined by the role the CEO plays. The CEO is the ultimate decision maker and can often be defined as a combination of a chief operations, marketing, finance, people and communications officer apart from the other key roles. The success or failure of the organization is often directly attributed to the CEO. At one level, the CEO is also the chief decision officer.
Great CEOs leave their footprints behind. They have the ability to transform businesses and even change the way society operates. Bill Gates changed the way the world works with Microsoft. Steve Jobs changed the way the world designs gadgets with Apple. N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys paved the way and showed how corporations can share their wealth with employees in India. Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of Reliance, showed how an entrepreneur can start from scratch to create an empire. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, changed the way the world searches for information. It is amply clear that every CEO has a unique opportunity to leave behind an enduring legacy.
In this book, the word CEO is sometimes used synonymously with positions such as managing director and chairman if the incumbent is also, in many ways, handling the operating role of running the company. Research shows that the role of a CEO is becoming more significant and often has a more direct impact on the company’s performance. With the environment of organizations becoming more dynamic and competitive, it is the top management’s strategy led by the CEO that can steer the company towards sustained growth. A CEO also shapes the culture of the organization—either sustaining or changing it. An interesting example of this would be of the ex-chairman of IBM, Louis V. Gerstner, who is credited for its turnaround. Gerstner revived the ailing IBM by pulling the levers of its culture, changing the attitude towards teamwork, providing solution to the customers, integrating different business units, changing the measurement of results, and improving communication with external and internal stakeholders. In the end, it is a well-known fact that Gerstner got IBM to dance!
There are leaders in corporates, NGOs, government and public sectors who have made a tremendous impact. There are great examples of public servants heading government enterprises and making a lasting impact on society. In India, E. Sreedharan illustrated how a government servant can influence society by high levels of effectiveness. He is credited with the successful execution of key projects that helped the Indian public. This includes the Konkan Railway, a 741-kilometre line that connected Mumbai to Mangaluru. As per Wikipedia, ‘With a total number of over 2,000 bridges and 91 tunnels to be built through this mountainous terrain containing many rivers, it was the biggest and perhaps the most difficult railway engineering project in the Indian subcontinent at the time.’ He was then entrusted with another key project: to develop the metro lines for urban transport in the National Capital Region (NCR), called the Delhi Metro. The success of the project gave E. Sreedharan a new name: ‘Metro Man’. The ability to lead and make a difference in the society has made E. Sreedharan one of the most successful CEOs that India has seen in the recent past.
Verghese Kurien, known as the Father of the White Revolution, made a tremendous mark on the cooperative movement in the country. He is credited with establishing Amul and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). Kurien was able to bring dairy farmers into the fold, changing the dairy supply chain of the country. His ability to organize the cooperative movement, first in Gujarat through Amul and then later to replicate the experiment across the country through NDDB, points to a leader who could articulate a vision and execute it to make a large-scale institution.

How Sindhis do Business, An Excerpt from ‘Paiso’

Guided by their sharp business acumen and adaptability, Sindhis have braved the Partition, fled from one nation to another and weathered ups and downs in the economy to set up some of the biggest companies in the world. In Paiso, Maya Bathija chronicles the journey of five Sindhi families and the business empires they have established.
Here’s an excerpt from the book.
Sindhis are a community originally from Sindh, which is now in Pakistan. Even in the earliest references, Sindh has been known as a beautiful land, rich in natural resources. Since thieves can only steal from lands of abundance, the inhabitants of this area had their peace and harmony disturbed from time to time by plunderers. From the Mohenjo Daro and Harappa excavations, archaeologists discovered the city structure that ran with underground drainage, and dug up bricks and jewellery, proving that 5,000 years ago a full-fledged civilization lived in Sindh, on the broad plains and valleys of the Indus River.
The Sindhis were predominantly Hindu by religion, but some later converted to Islam and Sikhism. There was a time when some Sindhi families promised their eldest sons to Sikhism, who wore turbans in the same way as Sikhs.
A lot of the Sindhi heritage and history was destroyed by invaders. Chach Namah,the oldest known historical account of Sindh, was written by an Arab historian accompanying the forces of Mohammed bin Qasim, who attacked Sindh in 711 ad. It has also been established that there existed Sindhi Hindu dynasties, such as the Samma, Samra, Khairpur, Kalhore and Talpur.
Sindhis were primarily businessmen and traders. Their skills did not naturally allow them to take part in warfare, but they were known for their perseverance and business acumen even centuries ago. The main trading castes were the Lohana, Bhatia, Khatri, Chhapru and Sahta. These castes were occasionally divided into occupational groups, such as the Sahukars (merchants) and the Hatawaras  (shopkeepers).The most affluent Sindhis were the merchants who owned trading firms (kothis4) in the major towns of Sindh. Eventually, the name Amil5 was given to any Sindhi who was engaged in government service.
Post-Partition, many of them who moved to India, having left everything behind, experienced much poverty and hardship. And there has been many a proverbial rags-toriches story in the community.
The early perception of the Sindhworki who had moved to India and lived in Bombay in the post-Partition days was that a Sindhi would do almost anything to make even a small amount of money. If the shops around sold sugar for Re 1 a kg in bags of 50 kg, Sindhi businessmen would buy 50-kg bags of sugar and sell the commodity on the streets for 99 paise a kg. Their price being 1 paise cheaper per kg, they sold hundreds of bags of sugar, making a loss of 50 paise per 50-kg bag. This amazed others and made them wonder why a person would work so hard to lose money. What they failed to realize was that every time a Sindhi businessman sold an empty bag for Re 1, he made a net profit of 50 paise on every 50-kg bag of sugar.
Sindhis were known to sacrifice profit margins for a large turnover. With the exception of the Seths of Karachi, the Sindhworkis of Hyderabad and the Shroffs of Shikarpur, most Sindhis were local shopkeepers and moneylenders. They specialized in the hundi, or bill of discount, with Chennai, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka being some of the main banking hubs. They even became financiers for industries and filmmaking in Bombay. The Shikarpuri Shroffs were dependent on commercial banks for their trading. The rest went on to become traders, cloth merchants and businessmen, some of them in faraway countries.
Sindhi families have been known to migrate to countries all over the world or to send their children overseas for education. After one lot migrated, they would then encourage their relatives to join them, not only so that the relatives could better their own prospects but also so that they could help the family business grow. Sindhis moved far and wide, to the Far East, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Europe, the Americas and Africa. Over the years, their businesses have evolved from trade and finance to export/import, retail, entertainment, computers, property/real estate, etc.
In most Sindhi families, the heirs were—and sometimes still are—exposed to the family business from childhood itself, creating in them business aspirations at an early age. Sons were expected to earn even while they were studying—what is now known as ‘to shadow’. They happily learnt the ropes of their family business, but sadly, formal education was never encouraged among the community, as it was thought it was not in the ‘Sindhi blood’ to excel in academics. Most Sindhi families felt that the time spent on acquiring an education could be better spent on earning money. They believed that inherent business sense could be cultivated by practice and experience and not necessarily through formal education.


The Consolidators: An Excerpt

‘The Consolidators’ by Prince Mathews Thomas tells the story of seven second-generation entrepreneurs who display an arresting imagination and interest in evolving the business they inherited from their fathers.
Here’s an excerpt from the book which highlights Abhishek Khaitan’s tussle between one’s own desired profession vs the one chosen by the parents.
In many ways, the situation that Abhishek found himself in upon returning home from his studies in Bengaluru was similar to what his father Lalit had faced many years ago. The senior Khaitan too had harboured dreams of higher studies. ‘In those days there were two choices for us—law or chartered accountancy. I wanted to do law,’ he says.
The larger Khaitan families had quite a few eminent lawyers, including Devi Prasad Khaitan, founder of Khaitan & Co, the country’s third largest law firm, which completed a century of practice in 2010. Devi Prasad was part of the drafting committee that prepared the Constitution of India.
But being the oldest among his brothers and cousins, Lalit was asked by his father and uncle to study commerce at St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata, and at the same time join the family business. So after completing his classes for the day, Lalit would head to the bakery or the restaurant near Park Street that the family owned.
And then he was married at nineteen.
This—joining the family business and marrying early—was the norm in Marwari families. It was a tradition that had stood the test of time.
Many among the following generations of the family became leading lawyers, cementing the legacy of the Khaitan family in the country’s legal fraternity. A few of the Khaitans chose to do business and ventured into several industries—education, tea, batteries, cinema, restaurants, fertilizers and chemicals. Lalit’s father, G.N. Khaitan, also chose to do business.
Along with his brother, G.N. dabbled in several businesses— furniture, soap making, bakery, restaurants and a general provisions store. ‘We were a joint family. We were nine children living under the same roof [we were four brothers and a sister, and uncle had a daughter and three sons.Everything was done jointly, everything was shared. And we would all even sleep together in the same room. We didn’t have much money and were just a little above middle-class, or an upper middle-class family,’ says Lalit.
His father, called Gajju or Gajanand by his friends, was a well-known personality in Kolkata’s vibrant social circle. He had headed several institutions, including business bodies such as the Bharat Chamber of Commerce, Export Council of Engineering, and other organizations like the Indian Red Cross Society, and some popular clubs like Rajasthan Club and Bengal Rowing Club.
‘He used to be known for his bow tie. He never wore a regular tie in his life. He was very well connected, even in Bollywood. Once, he arranged a cricket match in Kolkata that had most of the biggest Bollywood names, including Raj Kapoor, attending. Shailesh Khaitan, my youngest brother, remembers the actor telling my father, “Khaitan sahib, you have got the whole of Bollywood here. If the plane crashes, Bollywood is dead”.’
Actor Pran, the legendary villain of Indian cinema, and often more popular than the heroes, was a close friend. ‘He would often drop by at our house in Kolkata. Once he was visiting after Zanjeer (a film that famously starred Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri) had released. I remarked that Amitabh had done a great job. Pran retorted, “What did he do? I did everything!”’
Grab your copy of The Consolidators now!
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Bill Gates: A Senior Executive Who Goes Where the Action is

There are three important questions I think every person, and certainly every manager, should ask himself or herself about how well they listen: The first: Do you get out from behind your desk and walk the corridors and floors?
To know what is going on, you have to be where the action is. You have to go to your customers. You have to go to the factory, or to the sales floor, or to where the problems are.
To me, Bill and Melinda Gates offer one of the best examples of senior executives going where the action is. Many nonprofit organizations with budgetary concerns do not deliver a high percentage of their income directly to the cause they serve. Thirty percent or more of the money they raise goes to operating costs. In other words, for every dollar you donate to such organizations, the intended audience gets at best 70 cents. The Gates Foundation, on the other hand, does devote a high percentage of its income to helping those in need. One reason is that both Bill and his wife, Melinda, are frequent visitors to the countries in which their foundation is active.
Here is how Bill Gates described their first trip to Africa:
“It was a phenomenal trip. Not long after we returned from this trip, Melinda and I read that millions of poor children in Africa were dying every year from diseases that nobody dies from in the United States: measles, hepatitis B, yellow fever. Rotavirus, a disease I had never even heard of, was killing half a million kids each year. We thought if millions of children were dying, there would be a massive worldwide effort to save them. But we were wrong.”
The Gates Foundation then set up a system to guarantee purchases from drug companies to combat the diseases. Bill Gates concluded, “There’s actually no substitute for going and seeing what is happening.”
The second question to ask yourself about how well you listen: Am I doing most or all of the talking in my interactions with others? Listening is an educational process. When you don’t listen, you don’t learn. Marshall Goldsmith, a well- known executive coach and a good friend, advises people who have a hard time listening to do the following: stop, take a deep breath— and let the other person speak up.
The third question to ask yourself about your ability to listen: Do I try to empathize with other people?
Being empathetic is the second step in being thoughtful. Empathy requires that you attempt to identify with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another person. There are four aspects to empathy. The first is understanding that one person cannot do everything. When you empathize with someone it doesn’t matter who the other person is or what he or she does. I know that every person I interact with is valuable and is deserving of empathy.
The second aspect of empathy that I see around us too much is me, me, and me. We must transform me, me, and me to you, you, and you. We must make sure that everything in our lives is not about me; it must be about someone else.
The third aspect of empathy that deserves attention is our acceptance that each of us is but a very tiny speck in the universe. I am very fortunate that the back of my house overlooks the Pacific Ocean. When I do nothing but look out at the ocean, I sense how small I am. I am known in my field and to my friends and associates as an energetic person. But when I stare out at the Pacific, I am humbled. However, I am also inspired. That sense of my smallness in the world is what gives me energy. It causes me to question myself, and accept that I am not good enough, that I am not contributing enough. I am not making enough impact. I’m not adding enough value to the world around me. My sense of humility does not come from thinking about how important I am, but from how small and insignificant I am compared to the endless expanse of the universe. And ultimately, I believe, our humility is what defines us and makes us selfless.
I find that I often learn some of my most important lessons from children. So I asked a schoolchild what empathy meant to him. I knew that he had just completed a school project about it. Here is what he said. “If somebody fell at our school while we are playing together, even if we are all enjoying the game, if someone goes to try to help out, to take care of the kid, or maybe go get the nurse, I think that is empathy.” To me, that is a perfect description of a caring mindset. He thought of empathy as “kindness.” And that is the fourth aspect of empathy that I want to focus on. Kindness is an action. It is the doing part of empathy. I try to practice it in my work every day.
This is an excerpt taken from ‘The Difference: When Good isn’t Enough’ by Subir Chowdhury.

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