LIFE

Guiding corporates towards success

Business renewal is his `core competency', as he himself puts it. His experience of turning around five large concerns that were mired in the red has convinced him that `renewal' entails performance management, change and transformation.

An engineer and a professional manager, he has established several joint ventures and helped corporates achieve high levels of performance. Working in Europe and Asia, he has marketed a wide array of products and services around the globe, and was an early user of information technology in manufacturing.

During a visit to the GRD School of Commerce and International Business in Coimbatore, V. Ramakrishnan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Organisation Development Pvt. Ltd., Singapore, speaks to A. A. Michael Raj, on corporate strategies in modern day businesses.

WHEN COMPANIES start losing money, there is no need to despair and write them off as failures. Studying the situation, formulating a plan of action, and taking some hard decisions to rectify what is wrong, should put the business back on track.

"Companies fail when the people who work for them stop believing in the company and in themselves. Perhaps the hardest part in turnovers is the question of how to make them start believing again," says Ramakrishnan. "Nobody likes change until they see its benefits. We may have to drive them and shove it down their throats till they accept and believe. After that, a groundswell of innovation could make a turnaround happen," he explains. Was it possible to turnaround the textile mills in Coimbatore, many of which had been doing badly during the past few years? What was the reason for the gathering gloom and the air of despondency in the once prosperous `Cotton City'?

"Nothing fails like success. From 1956 to 1985 there had been a good deal of success. Those who led that season of success passed away. They were people who had led focused lives, and were there in the mills all the time, for they knew fully well that you can't run a business in absentia," he observed.

Still, there was no need to throw in the towel yet, for a turnaround was possible even now. "People will always need clothes, so there will always be a need for textile mills. If the community at large can accept discipline and gets ready to take hard decisions, Coimbatore still has the potential to prosper."

Rather than accept "more of the same" and be content with it, the business community should have emphasized productivity. Businesses should not ignore cost management and capital production, much less managerial functions and human productivity.

They ought to realize that core competencies were changing, even as people themselves were changing. There were a number of modern tools to ensure that corporates put their best foot forward all the time, made profits, and lived up to their mission statement.

These tools included production planning, enterprise resource planning, supply chain management and the use of information technology in manufacturing. "Sometimes the way in which you do business may have to be reinvented," he added. At one time, the success of a business venture depended on the owners. Later, efficient management kept the concern going. After that, modern equipment gave a company the edge over others. In the days to come, successful businesses would have to go global, especially in areas such as agriculture, textiles, industry and information technology.

However, in such matters, India had not done enough. "We hesitate to let go, and have an emotional attachment to legacies. On the contrary, the Chinese are very cold-blooded about it, even when it comes to such things as buying and selling houses."

What were the reasons for Singapore, which was more or less the size of Coimbatore, having made such colossal strides in corporate development? "For a long time, Singapore had a focused leader and a better quality of life. There was a leader who listened to everyone who gave advice, and who translated good advice into action. In addition, there was concern for the well being of society, and a willingness to take hard decisions," he explained.

"Moreover, the country had highly educated legislators who had insight into economic policies. This reflected in the quality of legislation," he added. It seemed yet another case of the people getting the Government they deserved. "India's strength is the groundswell of entrepreneurial ability throughout the country. As a race, Indians are analytical and inventive, but the biggest stumbling block is discipline," he opined. There was a tendency to abuse freedom, and a disinclination to accept systems.

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