(In a series: People I saw in action and was inspired by)
I don’t tire re-reading books that capture real-life experiences and perspectives. The other day I was idly browsing through Jack Welch’s ‘Straight From The Gut’. There is this part where he defends his decision to put up a $25 million guesthouse and conference center at GE headquarters that shocked the traditionalists in face of the massive cutbacks and layoff’s elsewhere in production facilities.
In his words, ‘…The story of Crotonville is no different. Our corporate education center was already a quarter of a century old – and unfortunately looked it…The bedrooms had the feel of a roadside motel. We needed to make our own people and our customers…feel they were working for and dealing with a world-class company…’
These lines set off memories of a similar personal experience two decades ago:
He was heading a huge business division dealing with all kinds of electronic instruments for labs and industry. This division had recently diversified into a major venture of making/assembling PC’s for the local market from imported Taiwanese kits. In fact it was his long and succesful track record and reputation with larger players in the same space in the local market brought him into the organization. It also gave him a free hand in how he wanted to organize his operations.
In the few months he was here, he had already caused a flutter at a predictable frequency by making moves one had not seen before in the organization. His latest touched new levels of unprecedented practices. He announced induction program for the (direct) field sales force – some 30 salesmen from all over India.
No one better than him to sense how daunting a task it was to pushing PC’s in an already crowded and highly price-driven market. Further the organization was totally a unknown player in this space.
Against this backdrop he ordered a three-weeks long training program for these kids – in a grand style in a five star hotel in Bangalore that offered an ambience of verdant foliage and vintage architecture in a sprawling layout, not to mention the lavish food spread. Of course the rates were also commensurately five-starry though we were able to beat it down significantly.
This meant at least two sacrilegious violations. Training programs hitherto were 2 or 3-day affair. None as long as like this one (geared to solution selling against box selling, covering these solutions individually). And that too in a five-star hotel!! Incredible! Did the man know what he was doing? Whoever approved the budget?
Besides calling his wisdom to question, it also predictably caused considerable heart-burn in other parts of the organization.
He stood firm. They – his detractors – did not know how hostile the market place was for our products with neither price or brand advantages nor some knock-out product specs. These sales kids were going out like sheep for slaughter. This was not all. They were also going to be ‘ably supported’ by a well-meaning back-office that would only compound their misery. This kind of a five-star experience was absolutely essential, he maintained, to keep them charged up to last out there at least for a few months before the field and the back-office drained them out.
Note this is a little different stand from what JW had written about.
It made good sense and it worked as he said. In fact it became a regular annual event that all looked forward to.
From time to time he sensitized the back-office how daunting the jobs were for those in the line of fire and emphasized on the need to top up their charge regularly and make their life easier at least back in the office.
Yes, the man in the narration is once again the inimitable Shashi Ullal.