Local expertise



Passion to Win: How Winning Companies Develop and Sustain Competitive Edge, Abad Ahmed and DP Chopra, Excel Books, 2004, p.322, Rs. 250.

Local expertise

WHAT distinguishes companies that sustain competitive performance over ten years or more, from others that don't is a thoughtful and valuable question to ask. Though management books offering expensive answers to the question are plentiful, most are gushingly laudatory tales about heroic Western CEOs and their companies. Indian readers have thus long felt a need for local wisdom, which this work seeks to fill.

Discussions with top managers of a purposive sample of high-performance companies form the bulk of the book. Infosys, Hero Honda, Hindustan Lever, Wipro, Sundaram Fasteners, Tata and Sons, Reliance, L&T, Ranbaxy, Titan, and Dr. Reddy's Labs are some natural choices, based on financial performance since 1990. The two senior professors chose interviews over structured questionnaires and the result is a rich source of information, opinions, and points of view, recorded verbatim, about the best of corporate India.

The authors first put the money-making school firmly in its place. Money ranks far behind the goals of building value-driven, ethical institutions and lasting organisations. They distinguish the purposeful, value-driven enterprises from the money-making outfits. The choice of the word "outfit" tells you which the authors approve of. The unintended irony, however, seems to be that the critical measures of success are still based on market capitalisation or creating wealth, which is after all a fancy word for making money!

Consistent success, the authors find, comes from five deliberately chosen characteristics: a clearly enunciated vision for the company provided by inspiring leadership; innovative strategy that sets the business model apart; strong, process-driven implementation; maintaining mutually advantageous relationships inside and outside the organisation; a distinctive identity and culture. The main barriers are mindset, arrogance, and lack of a positive attitude. A closer look at the list makes the reader wonder, however, whether he is any the wiser about adopting the prescriptions. Amidst much commonplace inference, one nugget is the assertion that internationalisation of Indian companies is in itself worthwhile, as a way of accelerating development of high quality products and services, besides the familiar reason of looking for larger markets.

The business leaders interviewed are naturally given to a strong prescriptive tone rather than analysis. However, some come out with sentences like, "I would say, we have always been alive to the needs of the changing market. And our ability to respond to it quickly and swiftly in a very nimble manner has been one of the reasons why we have been able to adjust to changing times very quickly". One is left feeling some disquiet — isn't that a great example of speaking without saying anything? So "ability to respond quickly is the reason we have responded quickly" — would it not be a dictionary definition of tautology and an example of begging the question? Unfortunately, the book suffers most of all from such fluent, unchallenged, management-speak that rolls trippingly off the tongue of the top brass. Personal views are useful to an outsider only if they coalesce into theory, deeper questions, and well-defended advice. It is here that this otherwise refreshing work falters. At times, it reads like a list of buzzwords, and business magazine articles stitched together. Mr. So-and-so said, followed by how some one else concurs.

The discerning manager could ask: Do the undoubtedly valid insights of business leaders help in understanding the sharp inter-country differences? Otherwise, a book like this can deteriorate into a compendium of platitudes, such as leadership, vision, energy, passion, innovation, customer-centricity, implementation, process-orientation, values, and ethics which are all of crucial importance. Above all, we are told, "nothing was ever achieved without passion" which justifies the title of the book.

How does this volume add to the work of Arie De Gues (The Living Company) and Jim Collins (Good to Great, Built to Last) which the authors quote freely and approvingly? Well, if Indian achievers are not different at all from others, perhaps that is no bad thing in itself. Indian management academics can draw support from the universality of lessons. They need no longer feel guilty teaching foreign case studies. That is a distinct achievement, though a more critical analysis and a tightly edited thesis could add considerably to the value. All India Management Association nonetheless deserves praise for encouraging Indian scholarship.

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