J. P. Alexander’s undying passion for history resulted in his first non-fiction work Decisive Battles, Strategic Leaders

J. P. Alexander can reel off names of generals, kings, dates and battles, but he is not a historian. When he speaks he tends to quote William Shakespeare and R. L. Stevenson. Analysing decisive battles fought in different continents and the leaders who led them is his passion. And Alexander is not a military man. No wonder Alexander’s book Decisive Battles, Strategic Leaders, published by Partridge India, has evoked so much of interest even before its formal release.

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s School and Wilson College, Mumbai, Alexander did his engineering and then travelled to the University of Leeds to pursue Management. He started off as a teacher at the College of Engineering, Poona (his Alma Mater) before joining FACT where he worked in the Marketing, Materials and Management Development departments. After his retirement Alexander went back to teaching, his ‘favourite profession,’ at De Paul Institute of Science and Technology, Angamaly.

History and literature, battles and strategies, never part of his career, were things he always carried close to his heart. Perhaps, la true-blue management man, Alexander was fascinated by the business-war analogy, the timeless principles of strategy which is being used effectively from agriculture to manufacturing, to governance.

“Travelling and surveying sites of battles, castles, forts, all of which I read in my history books and the huge library bequeathed to me by my father, is something I love. I don’t know how and why for me those places don’t cease to excite. I must have visited Hampi, the ruins of Vijayanagar Empire at least five times. And each time I have stood in awe before the 20-ft high, monolithic granite statue of Ugra Narasimha and the stables, temples, wondering about how this magnificent kingdom was looted and pillaged. In such places I have imagined myself as one of the leaders and I debated with myself the reasons and strategies that led to the loss of battles and the ruin of the city,” says Alexander, whose work encompasses information and quotes from books ranging from history, literature, philosophy, biography, and of course, war.

Decisive Battles, Strategic Leaders highlights the essence of leadership, compares the principles of business with theories of war, business-sports analogy, it studies the current geopolitical situation in the Indian Ocean and the looming Chinese threat in the epilogue. Alexander chooses some of the most famous battles from Panipat to Waterloo, Cannae to Megiddo, and provides insight into the strategies with the help of maps and graphics.

Admiral B. R. Menon in an introduction to the work says that this book “is not meant for light reading, its understanding demands concentration, a fair knowledge of history and an interest in dissecting the art of war.” “I hope it will provide a new perspective into history. History and details of battles and leaders are being rewritten and I have felt that there has always been a strong subjective element to them. I have tried to be as objective as possible. Yes, the observations are personal but they are not coloured.”

So, Hannibal has been portrayed as a master tactician, a top military strategist, while Alexander the Great’s rich lineage, and great teachers like Aristotle who helped him learn everything he had to know to be a great soldier and leader, is touched upon. Alexander’s sense of regret in the destruction of Vijayanagar, his appreciation of General Sam Manekshaw, his pride in the Fall of Dacca (1971), are all evident in the book.

What makes this work different is the detailed analysis and illustrated battle plans that give the reader a better understanding of the battle and strategy employed. “Since there was a copyright issue we could not use the usual maps and graphics. I have a fairly good collection of photographs from the various historical sites but putting them in the book would have enhanced the cost of production. So I got one of my students, Shajahan Shamsu, to create the battle plans, maps and images.”

For Alexander ignoring history means discarding the past and disregarding the future. As a management expert, as former secretary of Kerala Management Association, his understanding of wars and strategies have stood him in good stead. “War is an exact image of business operations, particularly marketing, where you can clearly identify competitors with whom you build alliances or wage war using principles almost identical to those applied by military leaders. To assure that your business is nimble and able to react to changes in the marketplace, it is essential that your strategy is flexible and adaptable. As a strategist, you will count on timely and accurate information about market conditions. Just like what clever generals do on the battlefield.”

Alexander considers his first work as a ‘mishmash of so many things, so many subjects.’ It took him, technically two years to complete this work. But then as he says ‘all the travelling, all the reading, took him almost a lifetime.’ He never took down notes but ‘kept them all in the head’ to be written down on paper before being transferred on computer. ‘I have tried to keep to the basic subject intact, the language as simple as possible, almost conversational.”

Decisive Battles, Strategic Leaders will be launched at Lotus Club, Ernakulam, on July 6, at 6 p.m.