About 5-6 decades back Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart decided to setup a Saturday morning meeting with all the employees of Walmart. The idea was to improve culture and increase transparency for faster decision making. It increased peed of decision making and it empowered another level to take calls on their own. 60 years down the meeting is still credited as being a crucial step that led to the success of Walmart. In hindsight, it is so easy to identify these pearls of wisdom and separate the activities that made a company successful. But imagine you get a mail from your superior no matter which industry or role you work in, telling you about a weekly Saturday morning meeting. Does that make sense at that moment to you? Does it seem like the item that will change the company? Just think about it !
As America goes to elections and barbs are thrown left and right, it seemed to be the right week to talk about leadership. It is a tricky subject because there are so many parameters to judge on. But more often than not, the litmus test is did you leave behind a company or a country better than when you took up the mantle. The interesting thing about leadership is that most consequential decisions are the ones which you understand in hindsight and more often than not, they seem wrong in the short term. simply because it is different. I have always been fascinated by these decisions and the lack of it, that drive countries, companies and society to move forward or fail.
So today we look at 4 massive companies. Companies that have an outsized impact on their sector, their countries and the world in general and the leadership decisions behind them. The decisions that shape reality around us in so many different ways and have made their companies so successful and in one case failures. We start off with the biggest rivalry of the modern business world, Samsung and Apple. We look at them through very different lenses. In one case, there was a plethora of decisions that defined the company we know today. In the other there was one master decision on organisational structure, that made the company the most valuable company in the world. We move on to the man who made India understand retail and business and as he moves into the shadows, introspect on what went right and what went wrong. My last article of the week is my favourite. It is about the world’s best banker and about the only person that I know of who doesn’t own a mobile phone. After all what is a good story without a paradox.
So let’s start should we?
1. Samsung is that enigma that always finds a way. It is the only company that has withstood the onslaught of Chinese phones. It is the only company that is Apple’s biggest competitor and one of its biggest supplier. The company does life insurance, does ship building, even made cars, but the electronics division is surely the crown jewel of the empire. As smartphone markets mature, Samsung needs to find a new crown jewel and it needs to find it fast. Some new bets like Biotech are already paying off, but will they be enough is the question. But the story is a beautiful story of the dynasty and how the emperor and his heir have had different approaches. It is also a story of how you need to change with time and be ruthless in that change.
2. No story of leadership in business is complete without a mention of Steve Jobs. The magician put the world in our hands, but as mentioned before the decisions that change the world and result in unbelievable success are hardly ever seen. This is an article about the science behind the magic about how organisational structures can affect great change. For almost half a century before Jobs, the structure of a large successful organisation had been studied and confirmed to be one of different functions. What he did was very radically different and at that time unimaginable. This is a masterclass in sceptically questioning the past, no matter how radical.
3. To create a retail giant in a unstructured market such as India in the 90’s would have been unimaginable. The things we take for granted, like finding an item at the cheapest price, requires a world class Supply chain, an inventory managing mechanism and precise operational efficiency. The common thing about all the above is that none of them were present when the Future group was formed. The Future group in India is a story of how one can change the entire ecosystem of an industry in a less than ideal environment. It is also the story of how decisions taken in seemingly good times can come back to haunt you later. As the great King of Indian Retail moves into the shadows, this is still the celebration of a visionary, a man who probably showed the potential of the country to all the foreign investors and through this vision accelerated the consumer demand of the country to a different scale.
4. This is my article of week and one of my most favourite articles of this year. Not all finance rockstars are found on Wall Street. Infact non all finance rockstars have a mobile phone in today’s age. To the man who the Economist has named at the World’s Best Banker, no amount of praise can be enough. Read this article because it has amazing insights into how decisions taken today seemingly insignificant or in fact incorrect can pay off for years later. A few weeks back I wrote an article about how foresight is the most important quality in a leader. This is the best example of that. And certainly when you retire if even your toughest competitors laud you publicly on twitter you can sit back and reflect. It certainly was a great journey and a country and the global growth metrics have you to thank in big part.
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