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More management gems from Dhirubhai

September 25, 2006 10:00 IST

The response to the first two editions of the column on 'Dhirubhaism' was overwhelming. I was inundated with e-mails asking for more of such illustrative anecdotes. So after a fairly long pause, I decided to come out with another edition.

All of us who knew and worked with Dhirubhai right from the early days have many wonderful memories of personal and extremely enlightening encounters with him. We came from varied backgrounds yet none of us had met a force like Dhirubhai before.

Our experience working for him has left such a lasting impression that I think we carry around a permanent 'Dhirubhai tattoo' on our brains and in our hearts!

1. The arm-around-the-shoulder leader

I have never seen any other empire builder nor the CEO of any big organisation do this (why, I never adopted this myself!).

It was Dhirubhai's very own signature style. Whenever I went to meet him and if on that day, all the time that he could spare me was a short walk up to his car, he would instantly put his arm around me and proceed to discuss the issues at hand as we walked.

With that one simple gesture, he managed to achieve many things. I was put at ease instantaneously. I was made to feel like an equal who was loved and important enough to be considered close to him. And I would walk away from that meeting feeling so good about myself and the work I was doing!

This tendency that he had, to draw people towards him, manifested itself in countless ways. This was just one of them. He would never, ever exude an air of aloofness and exclusivity. He was always inviting people into sharing their thoughts and ideas, rather than shutting them out.

On hindsight I think, it must have required phenomenal generosity of spirit to be that inclusive. Yes, this was one of the things that was uniquely Dhirubhai -- that warm arm around my shoulder that did much more than words in letting me know that I belonged, that I had his trust, and that I had him on my side!

2. The Dhirubhai theory of Supply creating Demand

He was not an MBA. Nor an economist. But yet he took traditional market theory and stood it on its head. And succeeded.

Yes, at a time when everyone in India would build capacities only after a careful study of market expectations, he went full steam ahead and created giants of manufacturing plants with unbelievable capacites. (Initial cap of Reliance Patalganga was 10,000 tonnes of PFY way back in 1980, while the market in India for it was approx. 6000 tonnes).

No doubt his instinct was backed by years and years of reading, studying market trends, careful listening and his own honed capacity to forecast, but yet despite all this preparation, it required undeniable guts to pioneer such a revolutionary move.

The consequence was that the market blossomed to absorb supply, the consumer benefited with prices crashing down, the players increased and our economic landscape changed for the better. The Patalganga plant was in no time humming at maximum capacity and as a result of the plant's economies of scale, Dhirubhai's conversion cost of the yarn in 1994 came down to 18 cents per pound, as compared to Western Europe's 34 cents, North America's 29 cents and the Far East's 23 cents and Reliance was exporting the yarn back to the US!

A more recent example was that of Mukesh Ambani taking this vision forward with Reliance Infocomm (which is now handled by Anil Ambani). In India's mobile telephony timeline there will always be a very clear 'before Infocomm and after Infocomm' segmentation. The numbers say it all. In Jan 2003, the mobile subscriber base was 13 million, about 16 months later, shortly after the launch, it had reached 30 million.

In March 2006, it has touched 90 million ! Yes, this was yet another unusual skill of Dhirubhai's -- his uncanny knack of knowing exactly how the market is going to behave.

3. Money is not a product by itself, it is a by-product, so don't chase it

This was a belief by which Dhirubhai lived all his life. For instance when he briefed me about setting up Mudra, his instruction was clear: 'Produce the best textile advertising in the country,' he said.

He did not breathe a word about profits, nor about becoming the richest ad agency in the country. Great advertising was the goal that he set for me. A by-product is something that you don't set out to produce. It is the spin off when you create something larger.

When you turn logs into lumber, sawdust is your by-product and a pretty lucrative one it can be too! It is a very simple analogy but extremely effective in driving the point home. Work toward a goal beyond your bank balance.

Success in attaining that goal will eventually ring in the cash. For instance, if you work towards creating a name for yourself and earning a good reputation, then money is a logical outcome.

People will pay for your product or service if it is good. But if you get your priorities slightly mixed up, not only will the money you make remain just a quick buck it would in all likelihood blacklist you for good. Sounds too simplistic for belief? Well, look around you and you will know exactly how true it is.

A G Krishnamurthy