RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Subroto Bagchi

It Is Risky. Really?

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RiskRISK. The buzzword of the modern times. The talk around this word is so ubiquitous, it is almost mind-boggling. Yet, I somehow always thought the concept of risk is rather overhyped and exaggerated, as far as the way it gets spoken and feared about in our daily lives.

Recently, I came across this brilliant essay written by Mindtree’s Subroto Bagchi – the famous Gardener. Bagchi speaks about risk and the hype around it in an extremely candid manner. It makes an interesting, worthwhile read –

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The Fallen Tomato Cart

I pass through this very intersection every morning with so much ease. Today, the pace is skewed. There is a sense of disarray as motorists try to push past each other through the traffic light. The light here always tests their agility because if you miss the green, you have to wait for another three minutes before it lets you go past again. Those three minutes become eternity for an otherwise time-insensitive nation on the move. Today, there is a sense of chaos here. People are honking, skirting each other and rushing past. I look out of my window to seek the reason. It is not difficult to find because it is lying strewn all over the place.

A tomato seller’s cart has overturned. There are tomatoes everywhere and the rushing motorists are making pulp of it. The man is trying to get his cart back on its four rickety wheels and a few passersby are picking up what they can in an attempt to save him total loss. Though symbolic in the larger scheme of things, it is not a substantive gesture. His business for the day is over.

The way this man’s economics works is very simple. There is a money lender who lends him money for just one day, at an interest rate of Rs 10 per day per Rs 100 lent. With the money, he wakes up at 4 am to go to the wholesale market for vegetables. He returns, pushing his cart a good five miles, and by 7 am when the locality wakes up, he is ready to sell his day’s merchandise. By the end of the morning, some of it remains unsold. This his wife sells by the afternoon and takes home the remainder, which becomes part of his meal. With the day’s proceeds, he returns the interest to the money lender and goes back to the routine the next day. If he does not sell for a day, his chain breaks.

Where does he go from here? He goes back to the money lender, raises capital at an even more penal interest and gets back on his feet. This is not the only time that destiny has upset his tomato cart. This happens to him at least six times every year. Once he returned with a loaded cart of ripe tomatoes and it rained heavily for the next three days. No one came to the market and his stock rotted in front of his own eyes. Another time, instead of the weather, it was a political rally that snowballed into a confrontation between two rival groups and the locality closed down. And he is not alone in this game of extraneous factors that seize not only his business but also his life. He sees this happen to the “gol-gappa” seller, the peanut seller and the “vada pao” seller all the time. When their product does not sell, it just turns soggy. Sometimes they eat some of it. But how much of that stuff can you eat by yourself? So, they just give away some and there is always that one time when they have to simply throw it away.

Away from the street-vendor selling perishable commodity with little or no life support system, the corporate world is an altogether different place. Here we have some of the most educated people in the country. We don the best garbs. We do not have to push carts; our carts push us. We have our salary, perquisites, bonuses, stock options, gratuities, pensions and our medical insurance and the group accident benefit schemes. Yet, all the while, we worry about our risks and think about our professional insecurity. We wonder, what would happen if the company shifted offices to another city? What would happen if the department closed down? What would happen if you were to take maternity leave and the temporary substitute delivered better work than you did? What would happen if the product line you are dealing with simply failed? In any of those eventualities, the worst that could happen would still be a lot less than having to see your cartful of tomatoes getting pulped under the screeching wheels of absolute strangers who have nothing personal against you.

All too often we exaggerate our risks. We keep justifying our professional concerns till they trap us in their vicious downward spiral. Devoid of education, sophisticated reasoning and any financial safety net, the man with the cart is often able to deal with life much better than many of us. Is it time to look out of the window, into the eyes of that man to ask him, where does he get it from? In his simple stoicism, is probably, our lost resilience.

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Thought-provoking, isn’t it? What do you think?

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Photo-credit: thelegacymovement.com

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Written by RRGwrites

May 29, 2013 at 11:09 PM

Are You A ‘Professional’?

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ProfessionalNearly everyday, I meet scores of gainfully employed people, not only those who work with my organization, but also from several other companies, self-employed ones, students, doctors, chartered accountants, et al (that is inevitable if you are based in the corporate district of Gurgaon!). And more often than not after such interactions, I am left gasping about the ever-increasing gap between just any working executive or entrepreneur and a real professional.

In the mad rush of the working lives we live in, I often find people mistaking every working person to be a professional. How incorrect now that would be?

theprofessionalFew years ago, Subroto Bagchi, or Gardener as he is titled and fondly known as, wrote a very compelling book redefining workplace excellence – ‘The Professional’. In many ways, it was a path-breaking work, and in this book, he gave all of us what I call the true meaning of the word ‘Professional’. (Subroto is Chairman and co-founder of Mindtree Ltd.).

Here is it: I am quoting from Chapter 2 of the book; pp 3-6.

 

“What are the chances that you work in an entry level position or even a middle level job in a hotel, a hospital, a software company, or a government organization? Or, for that matter, you could be a self-employed professional like a doctor, a lawyer, or a journalist. In all probability you are educated, know English, and are working with (or have interacted with) the corporate sector. Perhaps, an MBA, or a student at an engineering college? You probably consider yourself a professional, or on the road to becoming one. Definitely your station in life is well above someone whose job is to bury unclaimed corpses from city hospitals.

I want to introduce the idea of who a professional is through a man whose life is dealing with dead bodies. Unclaimed dead bodies. This is not someone who is conventionally associated with the term professional.

His name is Mahadeva. He came to Bangalore as a child when one day his mother simply walked out on her entire village and her own family in a huff. Mother and son lived on the streets; she worked to support him. Until the day she became very unwell. She brought herself and her son to the government-run Victoria Hospital. There she was admitted in a state of delirium and her little son, Mahadeva, made the street outside the hospital his home.

He found many playmates among the urchins there and soon that world engulfed him. It was the first time he had had anyone to play with. For little Mahadeva, it was his first experience of kinship and he lost himself completely in this new world. It was pure happenstance that one day someone told him that his mother had died. Where had he been when that happened?

Died? What was that?

The hospital had been unable to wait for him and has disposed of the body.

Now Mahadeva had nowhere to go. No family.

A few people in the hospital ward where his mother had been admitted raised some money to help him go back to his village. He refused. Instead, he grew up running errands in the hospital. The hanger-on, who had helped with his mother’s admission process and made a living by running errands for patients, asked him to move in with him. He was an old man who had no one either.

Mahadeva grew up under his tutelage; the hospital became his universe. And then, one day, the cops asked him to bury an unclaimed body and paid him Rs 200 for the job. This was when Mahadeva entered his profession and eventually became the go-to-guy for burying the city’s unclaimed corpses. Every time police picked up a dead body that had no claimants, Mahadeva was summoned. He had to do a turnkey job: Pull the stiff body in it and take it to a burial ground, dig the ground to bury the dead – all by himself, and for only Rs 200. After doing the job, he would hang around in the hospital to be summoned to dispose of the next unclaimed body.

Mahadeva did his work with such dedication, focus, care and concern that soon he was very much in demand. His work grew and he bought his own horse-drawn carriage, and between his horse and himself he was the undertaker to the abandoned.

One day, the horse died.

People who had watched Mahadeva all these years came together and bought him an auto-rickshaw. The white auto-rickshaw, his hearse, carries the picture of the horse in the memory of the animal who helped him take thousands of people to be laid to rest. It became the logo of his business and appears on his business card today.

Mahadeva has buried more than 42,000 corpses in his lifetime and his dedication has earned him phenomenal public recognition. Local petrol pumps do not charge him when his hearse is topped up and the chief minister of Karnataka felicitated him for his selfless service to the abandoned citizens of Bangalore. Mahadeva is proud of his work and his business, and today his son has joined him.

Mahadeva: the high performer, and a true professional.

What are the two qualities that Mahadeva has which differentiate a professional from someone who is simply professionally qualified?

One, is the ability to work unsupervised, and, two, the ability to certify the completion of one’s work.

Whenever Mahadeva got a call to reach the morgue, day or night, hail or high water, he arrived. Most of the time, it was a gruesome experience dealing with a dead body; there was no telling what had been the cause of death or state of decomposition.

In his business, Mahadeva does not choose his clients. He accepts them in whatever size, shape or state they come. He treats them with respect and care, with due dignity, covering them with a white sheet and placing a garland around their necks before burying them. The day he buried the man who had taken him home after his mother died, he had cried. He was special and Mahadeva had bought a garland as a mark of his respect. That day, it occurred to him that he should be garlanding all the bodies he buried, not just his benefactor’s. Everyone deserves respect and no one should feel ‘unwanted’ in death, even if life had treated them that way.

The cops do not supervise Mahadeva. He is not an employee of the hospital; he is the outsourcing agency the hospital has engaged for disposing of all unwanted cadavers. He does not have a boss who writes his appraisal, giving him constructive feedback for continuous improvement.

In most work environments, people who produce anything of economic value usually need supervision. A person who needs supervision is no professional. He is an amateur, maybe even an apprentice.

Whenever Mahadeva picks up a corpse, it goes straight to the burial ground – no place else. He completes the task with immediacy it demands. And he certifies his own completion of the task: between the dead and the living, there is no one to question him.”

 

Thought provoking, isn’t it? What do you think?

MBA at 16! A must read…

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Just completed reading the latest book from Subroto Bagchi, ‘MBA at 16; A Teenager’s Guide To The World Of Business’, Penguin 2012. This is an absolutely path-breaking work! The Gardener pens a very crisp, captivating and insightful piece for the 16-year olds, taking them through the world of business. Like all his earlier works, in this book too, he doesn’t preach, doesn’t load you with information. Contrarily, he ventures into the real world of 31 students, all in their teens; spends months with them, becomes a part of them, and finally comes out with this very simply-written, yet a well-researched work.

All of 157 pages, you would assume that it’s a 3-hour read at best. It could have been, yes. However, once you start reading, you’d not simply pass through the pages. Despite the fact that the book is written in form of a simple story, every page offers learning to 16 years and 32 years old alike! He takes us in the life of a teenager and helps us view business from their eyes. Much contrary to the prevalent opinion that teenagers are only hooked on to MTV, X-Box, dating and masti, the book captures the promise this GenY-minus-10years would bring in the world of business.

I have tutored a lot of students – during my education years and thereafter at some MBA schools while working now. However, I always missed the business-orientation in them. They were simply – students! Somehow, the rat race of Indian education overlooks this factor completely till you don’t enter college. Many lack this orientation even when they enter the ubiquitous & pathetically mushroomed ‘management schools’. Amongst the plethora of text-books, career-counseling books, self-help books, et al, what we lacked was one such work, which takes teens through a real-world of business, in the manner they want to learn. A manner, that brings glint to their eyes, whenever they think of the business-world…

As a 32 year old, I found this book equally useful for me. It made me ponder, introspect; am I equipped with skills and attitude required to manage this generation? Or, to be managed by this generation, one day not very far? I found a lot of questions to answer, many a things to learn.

I am purposely not turning this blog into a proper book-review; I would like the readers to experience first-hand the concept this book offers, without any pre-conceived notions. The reader needs to pick her own takeaway…I would recommend this book to you – if you are 16 years old, if you are entering/passing out of a B-school, if you are 30 and climbing the corporate ladder, if you are parent to a teen and if you are 50 and a CEO – it has a learning for all of us. Certainly, a must read for every high-school teacher, management-school professor and Talent Managers of every learning organization…

I am sure that at the end of the book, you’d also like to thank Subroto, for his appreciation and efforts in the direction of creating a smarter corporate India. I believe all of us share the responsibility.

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You can read this review, and many more, on Subroto Bagchi’s website, at:

http://www.mindtree.com/subrotobagchi/category/book/mba-at-16/#reviewscategory

Photo-credit: penguinbooksindia.com

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