Coverage by Bhat Dittakavi of Variance.AI on “Business Leadership through Quality and Performance” by Subir Chowdhury on 9th July 2019 at TiE Hyderabad
Every successful leader has a style on top of underlying substance. Style gets expressed outwardly and it is natural. Substance is the opposite. It gets expressed at its own pace based on the leadership type. Very few leaders are gifted to express their substance through writing. Fewer leaders author not one but many bestsellers. Subir Chowdhury belongs to such rarest of rare leaders.
Speaker: Subir Chowdhury (Leader, Author, Speaker)
Moderator: Hari Mohan Paruvu, Author, Coach
Suresh Reddy, President of TIE Hyderabad
Subir went to college with me. Subir wrote around 15 books and is considered an expert. He got so many best sellers on NY Times. Hari and I went to the same high school. Hari went onto play in Ranji Trophy matches for Hyderabad.
Hari: Subir is part of Thinkers 50 of London. Quality, people and talent are your forte. Your latest book is about making 50 times difference to performance. Is there something that connects all these topics?
Subir: I am fortunate to work with all kinds of people in my field of quality. Each of you define quality differently. It is such a subjective word. Quality is the combination of people power and process power. All my life I worked on people and processes.
“I don’t know” is power. As soon as you say you don’t know, you want to know. I am the dumbest guy in this room. The more you know, you can define it in simplistic terms. The magic is in 3C.
Most of the Indians are weak in the following 3Cs.
1.Conviction: When I was coming in car with Hari, I asked him why two of his cricket books did pretty well in India but not in cricketing nations such as Sri Lanka and Australia. I asked him curiously. Then I said that maybe he didn’t have enough conviction. Conviction is about dying for something you believe in. One of my books has become Europe’s business book for the year. US rejected the same book 22 times before that and they called me back to get publishing rights for the same book in US market at 3x.
You put yourself in a low bar if you don’t have conviction. Any project you do must be the project you must be willing to die for.
2.Curiosity: When you don’t accept that you don’t know, curiosity won’t go up. Teach your mind that you don’t know enough.
3.Communication: If I can effectively talk to an auto driver in the streets of Hyderabad as good as I communicate with CEO of a big company, then I am good at communication. I used to chit chat with the riksha pullers when I was a student. 20 years later, I immediately bonded with the assembly line workers in Japan. I ask the CEOs I coach whether it is natural for them to embrace and communicate with the assembly line workers at ease
I ask you to read Rabindranath Tagore. Listen to music.
Hari: Your latest book says “Good enough is not enough”. You promised 50x result and you mentioned about one more C: C for Caring. Talk about it.
Subir: I was working with world’s top automotive company. Their CEO called me regarding an expensive $2 billion recall. He asked me to save the same for his company in the next three years. First 90 days, I told him we select the process-related projects that my team could work. In the end, I saved them $3 billion in 18 months. It is a $200 billion company. If I make them so good in 18 months, why did I say I can’t guarantee that the company would not go bankrupt in next 20 years. It is not the process but people that define long term success. My colleagues got shocked to listen to this. If companies A and B are similar and they hired me to improve their performance. Then one gets 10x returns and the other gets 50x returns using our same processes. Why does this happen? Two words. People and Culture.
Based on my research of multiple companies, we found that people having caring mindset is the reason why companies got 50x returns as against 10x. We have a tendency to do blame game at work. When I wake up every day, I say “all the problems belong to me and I think about how I can improve myself.”
4 traits of Caring Mindset: STAR Framework
There is tremendous amount of fear that gets built in big companies. If you are at the top, encourage the employees to speak straight.
I know some one who has grown from middle management to top management of a big company. He called me one day asking me to rush to his office. When I reached there, he closed the door behind me and dropped the news that he had got only 15 days to live. He asked me to guide him about how to earn forgiveness. I tried to help him by talking about top hospitals. He didn’t want to listen. He just wanted to fix his mistakes in his last 15 days of life.
During my 15 years of my association with him, I advised him to give due credit to his people. He always managed up but didn’t take people below him. Now he has million of dollars but 15 days of life left. He thinks he is a complete failure now. When we know our days are numbered we become straight forward. Why then. Do it now. This is the quality of life.
Top business thinker of Europe named Charles Handy always thought his dad was a failure. When his dad passed away when Charles was 70, he noticed 3 miles of people lined up outside the funeral house. Charles thought they came because of him. The crowd didn’t even know who Charles is. Charles wrote a brilliant note then that at his funeral if 1% of those people show up for his funeral, he would be delighted.
When you wake up, do you want to lead a quality life? Indians are math savvy. I ask you which of the numbers is better: 9 or 0? Zero gets its power from association. As an individual you are always a zero. Even Rabindranath Tagore is zero and only other people made him valuable. This is what my grandpa told. You are nobody and your company is nothing without the people. Give them due respect and empowerment.
We take our spouses in India for granted. Think about this way. Internal customer and external customers. Most of the Indians are focused on external customers. If you don’t take care of the internal customers such as family members, loved ones and employees, you can’t make external customers happy.
I signed a $20 million contract with a CEO of a fortune company. He read my book named ‘Ice cream maker’. I asked him about number of his children. He started looking at his watch. He started timing me saying I am paid by minute. I told him I am the teacher and he has to listen to me. He obliged momentarily. He said he got two girls and then again looked at his watch. I told him I won’t charge for that day’s hours. He said he is worried about the business first. I told him I have spent five minutes till now. I am leaving now. Talk to both of your daughters for the remaining 55 minutes of time. He got concerned. He asked me what to talk. I told him “you are the dad. You know.” That night he called me at 11 to tell me he planned a two week vacation with his family. He came back from the vacation and thanked me for giving him his daughters.
He started calling his employees one after the other and asked them to spend time with families. In nine months this has become their culture.
I gave a talk to leaders from India last year. I asked them, 90% of them are males, to go and thank their spouses. If you have relationship problem, fix it fast. I have not a single example of a successful business person with failed family relationships. Be thoughtful to your internal customers.
Then come accountability and resolve. Take your own accountability on your own. Being thoughtful, try to solve the problems of people. Treat them as if you are collectively building the company. Uplift the people reporting to you. Have them continue to work better than you, encourage them.
Hari: Caring mindset comes under soft side. Making money may not be connected to this. Are you saying caring mindset brings 100x return.
Subir: My grandfather taught me anyone who can breath is reachable. I spent time with three US Presidents! I asked someone whether he met top three in his field? He said no. I wrote my first book at 26 and reached every single quality guru aged 70. They didn’t reply. All of them flew and spent their own money to launch my book. It never happened. At 35, world has already recognized me.
Spend enough time with parents and grandparents. If I died today who will cry like baby. My parents and my kids. Not my clients. Social media and likes, forget them. I can’t force myself to fly my mom to USA. I come every year to meet her. You know in your heart that your loved ones cry your death. Problem belongs to you. That is good enough is not good enough.
Can you imagine fortune CEOs crying like a baby in front of me. I get tremendous pleasure. If you don’t lead quality life, you can’t teach quality.
Hari: What is the difference between you and those who aspire to reach where you are?
Subir: Sitar maestro Pundit Ravi Shankar invited me once for 15 minutes to his place. He asked me what is quality for me? I told him I define quality as “Ravi Shankar”. He asked me to prove it. I told him, “When I was happy and when I was sad, I celebrated with your music. That tells me the ultimate definition of quality.” He said he never composed quality music. “Everyday morning at 5am, I have one goal to please goddess Saraswathi. Until the she comes, I continue to compose”, he said. Think of him. Think the way he thinks. I attended so many of his concerts. Completely sold out. 90% of his audience were Americans. He was 93 when I met him.
Can you have his kind of conviction? He never charged his students. His condition is that his student has to satisfy his or her own goddess of music.
Whoever you are, if you want to be a leader, create a follower. If you are a jerk and unethical, no one will follow you.
Quality is a philosophy in my mind. We established first school of quality in IIT Kharaghpur.
Kali: is human excellence same as quality?
Subir: Yes. Part of it. The other part is process. If there is work, there is a process. If there is a process, there is a variation. Variation is why waste happens. Make sure process is there, processes are streamlined. Recall that company which got 100x returns and saved $3B returns. As soon as a consultant leaves, if they don’t continue with that quality mindset, they forget and move on. Back to the square one. Create culture first.
My 12 year old boy when he was 7, told me “if someone falls and I go and help the person out, in my mind it is empathy.” He got what it meant to be empathetic. Empathy is part of the culture.