STAND BY ME

Thursday, May 19, 2011
Osama is dead. Obama could not have been happier. Suddenly, his approval ratings have jumped up and he is being viewed as a better leader, for the man stood by his promise. People love a leader who stands by his words, his promises, his commitments.

COMMITMENT OR PASSION?

Passion is short term. Plain passion will not take you far. More than passion, it’s ‘commitment’ that makes things work. Be it a marriage, a team, a company, a country, a society, or a civilisation, it’s an individual’s commitment that makes things work. As Robert Sternberg once said: “Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly, and commitment more gradually still.” Passion backed with commitment is the foundation of a great relationship, a great team, a great company.

Back in the 1940s, as American soldiers returned home after the World War II, there was a huge surge in demand for houses. One man’s commitment solved a near-impossible problem. Abraham Levitt perfected the art of “mass-producing houses”, something unheard of until then. Using the assembly line production technique, Levitt built all parts of the house in the factory. These could then be assembled on-site by his team of specialists ( much like the modular furniture of today). As many as 30 houses a day were being massproduced and America was able to solve its housing problem. A lot of people around the world are today wondering if this could be repeated again, for it would help a lot of countries get rid of their slums. However, what everyone is looking for is a committed businessman, someone like Levitt, who will take up the challenge and work with full commitment towards the cause of the poor.

One committed leader, a businessman who believes there is ‘fortune at the bottom of the pyramid’ and is ready to work for the poor, is all that is required and all slums of our country could be removed and our population could get a chance to live with dignity and never again would a “Slumdog Millionaire” be filmed in our country.

Like countries, great companies too have committed leaders at the top. In the book ‘The Toyota Way’, the author states that it was the top leadership’s commitment towards the customers that made the company so great. The one thing people were told to follow was – don’t generate money for yourself, but generate value for customers. Every “great” company follows this philosophy. John Scully, who was once the boss of Steve Jobs at Apple, said in an interview: “Microsoft gets it right the third time. Its philosophy is to get it out there and fix it later.” Let the product be launched, it could be improved later, is the philosophy at Microsoft. While Steve Jobs would never release a product till he was 100% sure and lived up to his commitment to the consumer of being flawless. If it’s not great, it will be thrown away, whether it’s financially viable or not, or if Wall Street likes it or not. By chance if a bad product is launched, Steve Jobs personally sets things right. When his MobileMe service got panned, within half-an-hour, Jobs berated the
group and on the spot named a new executive to run the group. He sent the message out loud & clear – nothing half-baked comes out of Apple, and people who do not get it, no matter how talented they are, have no place here. That’s commitment. That’s why it’s Apple that leads and comes out with these magical products.

Back in 1906, when an enormous earthquake hit San Francisco, the worst affected were the banks and A. P. Giannini’s Bank of Italy was in a bad shape too. While others hid behind closed doors fearing riots, A. P. knew if he did not do something, the fires following the earthquake would finish off the savings of thousands of people. He thought of a plan. He ordered his men to get him two fruit trucks – stacked with fruits and vegetables. His men were confused. How could oranges and bananas save the bank? When the fruit trucks arrived, Giannini quickly dragged out bags of gold & silver from the vaults and stuffed them at the bottom of the truck. Piled high with oranges and bananas no one even glanced at the trucks, as A. P. rode them home down the streets that were teaming with thugs and thieves that time. He hid the money under the fireplace of his house and slept in front of it. He had rescued the lifetime savings of a lot of people. While the other banks were burning, and some too scared to act, A. P. Giannini, opened his bank the next day – that too on a Sunday! Atop two large barrels, he hoisted a wooden plank that read ‘Bank of Italy’. Soon, lines formed as people came for loans. It’s said that his loans gave a kick-start to the recovery process of the state. No marble lobbies, no  fancy building. Pure commitment was all it took to start his bank. So what if the money smelt like orange juice for weeks! By the time other banks reopened, Bank of Italy had doubled its assets, but more than that, it had more than doubled its reputation and goodwill... words we cannot assign to almost any bank of today. Businesses that have a commitment to stay true to their customers, always outshine, for they always look at the long term, which makes it easy for them to make short term sacrifices. It’s truly said that commitment can solve the toughest of problems.

STAND BY YOUR PRINCIPLES

When Jack Welch was heading GE, he realised the value of people, rather, of the “right” type of people. There was an interesting group of workers he came across at GE. These were those who delivered all their commitments, all the time, but did not share the company values. Most CEOs, under pressure to meet targets, would not even bother about values at this stage. Anyone who fulfilled commitments was great. Not so for Welch. Values were of supreme importance. These type of employees had no place in GE. Along with commitment, comes the strength of character. Among the 9Cs that Lee Iacocca listed in his book ‘Where have all the leaders gone?’, the one quality he stressed on was “character”.

Tiger Woods was the perfect brand ambassador, only till the time he could boast of an untarnished reputation. He was a man committed to his game, but that was not enough for the people. A strong sense of commitment comes from a strong character. Be it companies or countries, the leaders of both need both the qualities more than even talent to succeed.

“Faith” is what makes the world go round. In the business world, as in the real world, “trust” is the key factor. Stay true to yourself and your value systems, and stand by them. Donald Trump says in his book ‘How to get rich’: “Be stubborn, be determined.” Don’t get influenced or fluctuate with others ideas. Temptations are aplenty, the one who can steer clear of them rules.

On April 26, 2011 Sony of Japan revealed that names, passwords, and possibly credit card details of 77 million accounts were stolen by hackers who gained access to its Play Station online- gaming system in 60 countries. A lot of users were shocked. Not so much by the hacking, but the way Sony handled it. It took Sony a week to accept that accounts were hacked; and then it released a statement that services would be up in a week, but did not live up to it either. The name Sony symbolises ‘trust’ for millions. After all, when those 77 million entered their details on the Sony website, they did so because, well – it’s a Sony and they could trust it blindly! A lot of them are now questioning Sony’s commitment and if it can be trusted.

In today’s world, the rarest commodity is “trust”. Brands become great because of the great trust of the people. The one who enjoys trust of his people rules. A great company is one that is headed by a trustworthy and committed leader. A great country is one that has a leader committed to his people. A great brand is one that is committed to its consumers, for if you are committed, your followers, your consumers will reciprocate. Decades ago, John Lennon sang these words, and they hold true even for the business world:

“If the sky that we look upon,
Should tumble & fall,
And the mountains should crumble to the sea,
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, No I won’t shed a tear,
Just as long as you stand, stand by me”.
Stand up for a cause, stand up for your beliefs, stand up for
your country, and the world will stand by you!