The Power of One

Thursday, November 9, 2006

One viewpoint, one vision, one concept, one experience, one belief, one opinion, one deduction, one intuition, one surmise, one inference, one conjecture, one premise... for a passionate man, all it takes to change the world is that one big Idea!


A chance meeting of this man, while taking a walk in a village, with a woman who used to weave bamboo stools, changed the life of many poor Bangladeshis. Muhammad Yunus met Sufiya Khatun, a widow, in 1976. She used to make bamboo stools and earned two cents a day. The reason for such low profits was that the person who would lend her the money to buy the bamboo, also bought her final product. No surprise then that he gave her minimum possible. Yunus looked around and found 42 people who required a total of $26, which could change their lives forever. Within two years, he established his first “Grameen Bank” that would give credit to the poor – whom the other banks found worthless. Today Yunus’s Grameen Bank has more than 1,000 branches. He gives $40 million a month as loans. It has over two million customers; 94% of them women. What’s most commendable is the fact that 97% of its loans are repaid – a record comparable to the repayment rate at Chase Manhattan Bank!

It was the vision of one man and his commitment to the poorest of poor that he discovered a clientele, which would probably never have been discovered by the free market. His bank charges four point above the commercial rate, never forgives loans and provides no free services. Yet, it remains profitable and its efficiency is comparable to, and sometimes even better than, many high profile multi-national banks. One man, one vision and he changed the face of poverty.

Henry Ford changed the American way of life when he reduced the price of his best selling car “Model T” by 58%. While the demand for his car was rising, any normal businessman would have increased the prices, but Ford decreased the prices. Not just this, he even doubled the average wage for workers and introduced the $5 per day wage standard. While the industrial world criticized Ford heavily, he firmly believed that low prices and higher wages would eventually lead to greater sales. And his vision proved to be right.

An old story goes like this. A little boy was assigned to draw flowers in his art class. The little one sketched a face in the centre of each flower. His teacher was not impressed and found it weird that a boy could give eyes and lips to a flower. The teacher failed to see the spark which would start a fire in the years to come. The boy was Walt Disney.

With nothing but a suitcase full of dreams and an unfinished print of an animated movie The Alice Comedies, Walt Disney reached Hollywood to start a new business. He was 21. He had nothing but ideas; and many a time, people found them ridiculous. When no one believed that there’s a market for full-length animated films, that’s when Walt Disney launched Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. The film was a roaring success and even today is regarded as one of the greatest monuments of the motion picture industry.

In 1930s, Walt created a character which changed the future of his company and became synonymous with him. It was Mickey Mouse, which helped Walt reap millions for himself.

One man, one idea and he changed the way children, world over, would dream and play. We owe him a lot!

One idea

When you don’t accept the norm and move away from the tradition, that’s when you create miracles. It is this process of thinking differently that has given birth to new ideas and new millions to the thinkers.

It’s a sport whose origin can be traced back to the 13th century. The first big match was fought in Sussex in 1697. The sport is cricket, which is almost our national obsession. However, it was the rebel streak of an Australian business tycoon, which changed the game forever. Kerry Packer saw how a long-drawn five day match seemed boring to many. It was the era of fast-food, fast-life, fast-cars and if cricket could be made fast too, he could find many more spectators and sponsors. So in 1971, in Melbourne, cricket – which was traditionally played in white clothes – saw a make over. The first one-day international was played and cricketers wore coloured clothing. Since then, cricket has never been the same again. Kerry Packer, whose father once described him as “the family idiot,” died a very rich man. A lot of his millions came from Cricket ODIs!

Low-cost airlines had been there for a long time. It was not a new concept. However, Southwest Airlines showed how to make it a successful business venture. Pacific SouthWest Airlines had been there in the United States since 1949, but it was SouthWest that proved to the world how to make an icon out of something so cheap! When Herb Kelleher started SouthWest, his vision was clear, people wanted to get to their destinations on time and at the lowest possible fares. He did just that. No wonder SouthWest is one of the few airlines that have not made any loss since 1973! Today it’s America’s largest and best-loved airlines. It’s been a major inspiration to other low-cost airlines who have tried to copy its business strategy. It’s called the SouthWest effect!

Steve Jobs changed the world with one innovative idea. While the world believed that a computer had to be a gigantic and an inscrutable mass of vacuum tubes only to be used by big business and government, along came this twenty one year old who changed it all. With just a vision, he and his friend designed the Apple computer in Job’s bedroom. The Apple, whose prototype was built in a garage, started a revolution and changed our lives forever.

Not many know that McDonald’s was not started by Ray Kroc, but by the McDonald brothers: Dick and Mac. They were the ones who invented the “Speedee Service System” in 1948. They were the ones who discovered this whole concept of a “fast-food restaurant”. Not just this, they had also started franchising their restaurant. Ray Kroc’s genius lay in the fact that he realised the tremendous potential of this business model and in due time, spread it at a break neck speed all over America.

There were 1.7 million retail establishments in the United States in 1945. However, one of them grew to become the largest discount chain of the world. The store was Wal-Mart, started by Sam Walton and his brother in 1962. By 2001, there were more than 4,500 Wal-Mart stores worldwide. He knew everybody loves low prices and that’s just what he offered them. The slogan “Everyday Low Prices” turned this small retail shop into a global giant!

There is no dearth of cosmetic companies, but this one, which was started in a kitchen, gave a tough competition to many big established names. Estée Lauder began selling creams made by her uncle who was a chemist. She did just one thing different from other makers of cosmetics. She started giving free samples and free demos of her products to people, and most of them became her customers. Very soon, her company grew into a giant organisation owning many big brands like Clinic, M.A.C., Aramis etc.

River blindness is a disease that had infected over a million people. Now, that’s a large market for any pharmaceutical company. Merck thought too, and the company soon developed a drug called Mectizan. However, when there were no buyers for its product, the company gave it for free to all who needed it. Merck had done the same thing in Japan when it brought streptomycin to help eliminate tuberculosis. It was the long term vision of this company which helped it grow. No points for guessing then, which is the largest American pharmaceutical company in Japan. Yes, it is Merck!

One man or one company’s vision and commitment can change a lot.

Each of us has a tremendous potential within us. We have to sit up and do something. We may, as individuals, appear small in front of large organisations, countries or communities. But one idea can snowball into a large movement.

So look around and take charge. After all, the only thing that ever sat its way to success was a hen! You can change lives. You can build an empire. Don’t underestimate the power of one.