The art of Wait...
I happened to receive a wonderful forward today on my WhatsApp group. I felt it necessary to share because the message was too beautiful to remain confined to myself.
The forward was of Rahul Dravid speaking about the importance of patience. It goes like this - "My wife and I have built a new home with a lovely garden which houses lovely bamboo trees. I got reading on the Chinese bamboo and learned that the tree takes 5 years, 3 months to grow to its whole height of 80 feet. Yet, for the first 5 years, you only see a tiny green shoot, but in the next 90 days, it grows into a full-fledged tree. But in those first 60 months, it is growing its strong network of roots underground, to support the tree. In an era of instant gratification, we settle for shorter trees, but remember patience has its reward. These are your years of growing that strong network of roots but be sure when you finally achieve your success, people will call it “overnight success”. If only they knew of the Chinese bamboo!”
Do we really understand the value of wait? We live in the age where intelligence has taken over wisdom, studying over learning, hearing over listening and seeing over watching.
We expect companies to grow exponentially and reach billions of dollars in sales without the management or the founders really having the time to create the foundation, lay down the values and the ethics which would govern the company and sustain it for decades if not centuries to come. Heck!!!.. I don’t think in this race to higher valuations they even see beyond the next funding round.
So when the environment becomes harsh (read funds dry up, or faced with another competitor running on a higher dosage of steroids) the frailty of the business model or the lack of management stamina / conviction gets exposed. Everybody ultimately wants to sellout and retire before they are 40.
So is it really important to them that the company they founded survives beyond the acquisition? Many companies, which acquire ultimately derive literally no value after the acquisition. Its such a value erosion.
Frankly speaking… I too did not understand the true importance of a firm foundation and the importance of wait. It took a tragedy for me to realise the strong foundations of family business my father and my grandfather had laid out over 8 decades.
I was fresh out of college (Read MBA) and was placed in one of the best consulting firms in the operations space. I had just finished a short project and was home for a few days. I visited our family office, had a good discussion with my father on the family business. I declared that the pace at which the business was growing was too slow. We need to change our banking partner, take a more ‘professional approach’ with our customers and suppliers and expand our geography. I was feeling quite pleased with the plan I had presented.
Unfortunately, fate had something else in store for us. The next day, while I was lazing around the house, I got a call from my father asking to come to the office immediately. He sounded worried. He just cut the call. He was not picking up despite me trying to get back to him. So I caught a rickshaw and started for the office. Just two kilometers from the office at the railway line we encountered a huge traffic jam — quiet unprecedented. I enquired what the problem was with the driver. He said, “it looks like some building has caught fire”. When I peeped out, I saw smoke bellowing out in the sky — in the direction where our office was located… I only remember running towards the building, confused and placating myself that somehow, it would turn out that the fire was not at our building.
I saw my father and rest of his office staff staring with disbelief as fire engulfed our office. Entire 30 years of hard work wiped out in that fire which originated at a neighboring paint shop and spread to our office. One of our office staff had run back into the office and managed to save the server despite firm instructions not to do so. That act turned out to be saving grace and the reason for insurance settlement which would have taken years otherwise.
My father simply said, “I started from nothing, I will start again.” I expected him to shed a few tears, since the company he had given his sweat and blood for the last 30 years was completely destroyed. I offered to resign and help rebuild the company. He simply said, “you may take a few weeks off and help me, but I want you to stick to your career”.
The next few weeks taught me more than any MBA could have. That’s when I saw the employees coming together and work so hard — to find a new office and restart operations. Get back the outstanding amount from the customers, visit all our customers and assure them that while we were down, we were not out. We reached out to the suppliers and assured them the same.
Within a week, we managed to get back close to 80% of the outstanding dues from the market. The banks were kind enough to extend the overdraft facility. Suppliers extended credit beyond the usual norms and in 10 days flat we were back in business. We could survive and continue to serve people with the same efficiency within 10 days. A team of employees were engaged in ensuring all documentation required by the insurance people were provided with out any delay and in seven months we got our settlement. Not completely, but enough not to cause a severe loss.
People — neighbors, competitors, customers, suppliers, banks, insurance agents, representatives of the suppliers all went out of the way in ensuring that the impact of the tragedy on us was minimal.
That’s when I realized what was missing in my plan that I had presented the day before was - people. The only true asset that my family had created over the last 8 decades in business was relationships, reputation and trust. Without those things, people are only an instrument through which you get your things done. With them, they become a family and a closely knit group who work for common good and look out for one another. Building relationships, reputation and trust takes time.
So while we may ridicule bigger corporations for being slow, they may ultimately outlast all the new age companies, because the new age companies do not have the patience to build the core foundation. But how do these organizations remain relevant for so long despite not being so agile? Is it really a compromise that creating a strong foundation comes at the cost of agility? The race for survival today is simply the race to remain relevant — establish the standards and rules in the industry you are in.
I take out the lessons from the consulting firm I worked for —The experience of the older members of the firm in project execution, project management and ultimate outcomes is so valuable, while newer members experiment with the new theories, out of the box ideas. While, the younger members have full freedom to experiment, ultimately they must fit into the broad framework of deliverables, outcomes, timelines and be backed by numbers or a strong theory model.
I call it the Grandfather approach to management. I incidentally happened to see the movie “The Intern” starring Rober De Niro and Anne Hathaway which dwells on this…. Are the startups listening?