Dhirubhaism by A.G Krishnamurthy
September 11, 2011 4 Comments
A G Krishnamurthy ,the author of ‘Dhirubhaism’,is the founder chairman and managing director of Mudra Communications. Dhirubhaism is an attempt by the author share his insights into Dhirubhai Ambani’s management style culled over several interactions with him during their long association.The book lists 15 Dhirubhaisms. The 15 Dhirubhiasms put together bring out the work philosophy of Dhirubhai Ambani and give us a glimpse into the remarkable thinking process and habits of one of India’s most successful entrepreneurs.
The book is a slim 96 page volume and an easy read.The isms may not be unique to Dhirubhaiji .Many people display some of the traits , in their working styles as well, but Dhirubhai was one of those rare people who demonstrated all of them, all the time.To really benefit from the book,the really important thing is not so much to read the book as to practice the Dhirubhaisms on a daily basis till they become second nature.I’ve been trying to do so for a while.I can’t say the isms have become second nature but I am now at the stage where every time I slip up I know almost immediately that I’ve slipped up.
Do read the book In the meantime here is something about the 15 Dhirubhaisms:-
- Dhirubhaism No 1:- Roll up your sleeves and help:When things went wrong Dhirubhai’s first instinct was always to join his men in putting out the fire and not crucifying them for the problem. He believed in the abilities of his people and he trusted their capabilities implicitly.He was willing to accept that circumstances could have been beyond his team’s control and that the situation was not necessarily due to a slip on their part.Here is an example of Dhirubhai in action:Reliance, during Vimal’s heady days had organized a fashion show at the Convention Hall of Ashoka Hotel,New Delhi.As usual, every seat in the hall was taken, and there were an equal number of impatient guests outside, waiting to be seated. As the author admits,he was completely besieged, trying to handle the ensuing confusion, chaos and protests, when to his amazement and relief, he saw Dhirubhai at the door trying to pacify the guests.Dhirubhai at that time was already a name to reckon with and a VIP himself, but that did not stop him from rolling up his sleeves and diving in to rescue a situation that had gone out of control. Most bosses in his place would have driven up in their swank cars at the last moment and given the manager a piece of their minds. Not Dhirubhai.
- Dhirubhaism No 2-: Be a safety net for your team:Dhirubhai believed in being supportive of his team.Here is an example involving the author:When Mudra Communications was the target of some extremely vicious propaganda by peers, the author used to put on a brave front and never raise this subject during any of his meetings with Dhirubhaiji. But one day, during a particularly nasty spell, he gently asked him if he needed any help in combating it. That did it. That was all the help that the author needed. Overwhelmed by Dhirubhai’s concern and compassion, he told him he could cope.As he explains it ,the knowledge that Dhirubhai knew and cared for what he was going through, and that he was there for him if he ever needed him, worked wonders for his confidence.He went back a much taller man fully armed to face whatever came his way. By letting his people know that he was always aware of the trials they underwent and that he was by their side through it all, he gave them the courage they never knew they had.
- Dhirubhaism No 3:- Be a silent benefactor : When Dhirubhai helped someone, he never ever breathed a word about it to anyone else. This was another of his remarkable traits.There is no one among his people who has not known his kindness, yet he never went around broadcasting it.He never used charity as a platform to gain publicity. Sometimes, he would even go to the extent of not letting the recipient know who the donor was. Such was the extent of his generosity. “Expect the unexpected” just might have been coined for him.
- Dhirubhaism No 4: -Dream big, but dream with your eyes open: Dhirubhai’s phenomenal achievements showed India that limitations were only in the mind. And he believed that nothing was truly unattainable for those who dreamed big. The author notes that whenever he tried to point out to him that a task seemed too big to be accomplished he would reply: ” No is no answer!” Not only did he dream big, he taught all of his people to do so too. His one-line brief to the author when he began Mudra was: “Make Vimal’s advertising the benchmark for fashion advertising in the country.”At that time, Mudra just a tiny, fledgling agency, tucked away in Ahmedabad, struggling to put a team in place. When they presented the seemingly insurmountable to him, his favourite response was always: “It’s difficult but not impossible!” And he was right. They did go on to achieve the impossible.Both in its size and scope Vimal’s fashion shows were unprecedented in the country. Grand showroom openings, stunning experiments in print and poster work all combined to give the brand a truly benchmark image. But way back in 1980, no one would have believed it could have ever been possible-except Dhirubhai.But though he dreamed big, he was able to clearly distinguish between perception and reality and his favourite phrase “dream with your eyes open” underlined this.He never let preset norms govern his vision, yet he worked night and day familiarizing himself with every little nitty-gritty that constituted his dreams constantly sifting the wheat from the chaff. This is how, as he put it, even though he dreamed, none of his dreams turned into nightmares. And this is what gave him the courage to move from one orbit to the next despite tremendous odds.
- Dhirubhaism No 5:-The arm-around-the-shoulder leader:The author claims that he has never seen any other empire builder nor the CEO of any big organisation do this.It was Dhirubhai’s very own signature style. Whenever the author went to meet Dhirubhai and if on that day, all the time that Dhirubhai could spare him was a short walk up to his car, he would instantly put his arm around the author and proceed to discuss the issues at hand as they walked.With that one simple gesture, Dhirubhai managed to achieve many things. The author was put at ease instantaneously. He was made to feel like an equal who was loved and important enough to be considered close to him. That warm arm around his shoulder did more than words in letting him know that he belonged, that he had his trust, and that he had him on his side.And the author would walk away from that meeting feeling good about himself and the work he 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. It requires phenomenal generosity of spirit to be that inclusive.
- Dhirubhaism No 6:- Supply creates its own demand:Dhirubhai was not an MBA. Nor an economist. Yet he took traditional market theory and stood it on its head and succeeded.At 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 giant 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 & 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 touched 90 million !
- Dhirubhaism No 7:- 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 Dhirubhai briefed the author 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 Mudra. 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.
- Dhirubhaism n0 8- : Leave the professional alone!:Most owners (even managers and clients), though eager to hire the best professionals in the field, do so and then use them as extensions of their own personality. Dhirubhai’s management techniques was refreshingly different.For instance, way back in the late 1970s when the author decided to open an agency of his own, Dhurubhai askedhim to name it. The author carried a short list of three names, two Westernised and one Indian. It was a very different world back then. Everything Anglicised was considered “upmarket. “There were hardly any agency with Indian names barring the author’s own ex-agency Shilpi and a few others like Ulka and Sistas. Dhurubhai looked at the list and asked the author what his personal choice was. The author said said “Mudra”; It was the only name that suited his personality. And the spirit of the agency that he was to head.He felt that he was very Indian and an Anglicised name on his visiting card would seem pretentious and contrived. No further questions were asked. No suggestions offered, just a plain and simple “Go ahead and do it.” That was just the beginning. Dhirubhai continued to give the author total freedom — no supervision, no policing — in all his decisions thereafter. In fact, the only direction that he gave him, just once, was this: “Produce your best.”The author believes that it was Dhirubhai’s utter trust in him that pushed him to never, ever let him down.
- Dhirubhaism no 9:- Change your orbit, constantly!: Dhirubhai had an ”orbit theory.”He believed that we are all born into an orbit. It is up to us to progress to the next. We could choose to live and die in the orbit that we are born in. But that would be a criminal waste of potential. When we push ourselves into the next orbit, we benefit not only ourselves but everyone connected with us.Consider India’s push for development. There was once a time our country’s growth rate was just 4 per cent, sarcastically referred to as the “Hindu growth rate.” Today, India is galloping along at a healthy 7-8 per cent.This is no miracle. It is the product of a handful of determined orbit changers like Dhirubhai, all of whose efforts have benefited a larger sphere in their respective fields.Changing orbits is the key to our progress as a nation.When you change orbits, you will create friction. The good news is that your enemies from your previous orbit will never be able to reach you in your new one. By the time resentment builds up in your new orbit, you should move to the next level. And so on.
- Dhirubhaism no 10:- Optimism:In 1977 a business-unfriendly banking system refused to loan money to Dhirubhai for upgradation/expansion of his textile mill at Naroda. He dealt with this setback by introducing a new system of Public Limited Company. As Dhirubhai put it“Pursue your goals even in the face of difficulties, and convert adversities into opportunities”. Dhirubhai was no stranger to borrowing.’Profit will be yours, loss is mine’ was his favorite catch-phrase as he borrowed from various small-time lenders to fund his trade ventures while he was in Aden and during his early Bombay years.He borrowed on such generous terms that people would come and offer money to him! But Reliance Naroda required much more than small funds — it needed a couple of crores! So in a path-breaking move, he decided to throw open his company to millions of middle-class shareholders. No amount or no investor was too small for him.He took their money and their trust, performed phenomenally and in turn rewarded his ‘bankers’ as he called his shareholders, handsomely over the years.There are many who built their homes, married off their daughters and educated their children by selling off Reliance shares. At a time when it was impossible for the common man to get a loan from the bank for expenses such as these!This was perhaps when the first seeds of the Optimistic Indian of today were sown.Apart from Dhirubhai giving the middle-class the opportunity to dream, his own life-story served and continues to serve as a beacon of hope to many.He shared the same childhood as millions of other little village children of the pre-Independence era. Any one who has run around barefoot as a child because his parents could not afford to buy him footwear, walked to school, owned only two sets of clothes, would find a kindred spirit in Dhirubhai!But with a unique combination of determination, extreme hard work and an unbeatable optimism in his own abilities to make his dreams come true.Dhirubhai was extremely proud of his roots and would make it a point to bring it up in any conversation that lauded his success. Because as he put it, his life was the best proof that lineage and a privileged background were not mandatory requirements for success.Hope is your most powerful weapon’ he pointed out, in his acceptance speech as The Dean’s Medal was awarded to him by the Wharton School of Pennsylvania. Even when he was accepting this high honour, he was reaching out and infusing optimism in the minds of the average Indian middle-class person.That was the most wonderful quality of Dhirubhai. He never patted himself on the back, but used every award and recognition he was given to illustrate to the many out there that success was within reach if you tried hard enough. If one Dhirubhai can do so much, just think what a thousand Dhirubhais can do for this country!
- Dhirubhaism no 11:-You can find a friend in every human being: Dhirubhai was ‘Apna Dhirubhai’ to everyone. He had the ability to strike a conversation with anybody regardless of the caste, class or creed of the person. He was also a very efficient listener. This quality of his let him chart out business plans for the common man.
- Dhirubhaism no 11:-Think Big: The author talks about the marketing and advertising blitzkrieg that Dhirubhai followed to build brands. He gives examples of the different advertising campaigns that were carried out by Reliance for Vimal and the expenditure which was many folds as compared to the advertising budget of those times i.e. the nineties and eighties. Dhirubhai did not stint on spending big bucks for building a brand and considered an expenditure 0n advertising as an investment.
- Dhirubhaism no 12:-Hold onto your dreams: Dhirubhai believed in holding on to your dreams for they are bound to come true. His life is an example of this belief of his. In pursuing one’s dream many people, often in the guise of well-wishers, and many situation will try to take away the dream away. Self control and steadfastness is required in such situations. One should know one’s strength and then the most impossible of dreams can come true.
- Dhirubhaism no 13:-Bet on your people: The author points out that Dhirubhai trusted his employees ‘completely’. He was the kind of manager who would hand over the lock and the key too in the hand of the executive. The stakes are tremendous when one does so. It requires enormous control and courage.
- Dhirubhaism no 13:-Be positive: Licenses, Red Tapism, and Bureaucracy….there was more than one hurdle in the way of Dhirubhai who was on his way to build his empire. Any other person might have been overcome by the challenges but Dhirubhai did the reverse. He challenged the system. Dhirubhai’s positive attitude was so rewarding that not only did it benefit him but also helped him write the economic future of the India.