Seen the movie “How to Train your Dragon”? I trained mine 35 years ago – a garden lizard. Being a curious little boy, I wondered how I was going to capture this majestic creature as it perked it’s handsome head up and gulped. Armed with a stick and a makeshift lasso, my mom’s sewing thread, I waited patiently in the garden with my brother till one peeked out from beneath a tuft of grass. Stealthily sliding the lasso over it’s little head, followed closely by a subtle yank, the little dragon was mine. Of course, no disrespect to animal lovers for I am one. This crude method, as simple as it sounds, came from a curiosity little boy with the thrill of a ride, amongst resolve, instinct, innovation, practice and collaboration.
Hardheaded & Softhearted by Rick Belluzo & Krish Dhanam, a must read, stimulated my mind and this coupled with what I had learnt at Stanford – Brain based Customer Insights (my related blog), helped connect the dots between real life experiences and what is needed in the new age business world. Hence, I reflect on my own business story as a learning experience.
Some synopsis before the story –
- Balance EQ with IQ – Short & Long term focus.
- Most actions (90%) are shaped by our instinctual brain (EQ) and the rational brain (IQ) is a slave to instinct.
- Fear of Losing Out means Taking Chances (Explore)
- Fear of Failing means Playing Safe (Exploit)
- Strategy drives Competition and Collaboration.
In the 1990’s, at Hewlett Packard, we stood as the leaders in the Communications market segment – great people with a solid portfolio. A mere 9 years after I joined them, the company branched off into Agilent Technologies, where our appetite for growth intensified. Being a premier test and measurement company, primarily hardware focussed, we paved our way into the software stream. This acquisition fit into my ambitions perfectly, which I was to realise 2+ years later…
It was decided tops down that the acquired team would be maintained separately, in recognizing the distinct skill set, and among other things, in fear of losing people. A year and half later, this business hovered one foot over it’s grave in our region (APAC), with many talented people leaving. Code red. A group of us arranged for a meeting along with my boss, in hopes to pull ourselves up before this business turned to dust. A task force was formed in order to map the strategy and transformation of a shrivelling business in the Asia Pacific region. It was 8 weeks of rolled up sleeves and faces hovering over shoulders as we came up with a practice-based model. On being asked which Practice I would lead, I raised my hand and said “that one right there,” pointing at the acquired company. I would say that the looks I received were mostly those of skepticism, especially after an 18-month drought! The fear of missing out drove me, my dire need to explore. We called it Service Assurance.
I reckon that designing new, never-before-relevant roles and associated skills – Business Process Consultant & an Industry Thought Leader – was the best part of this process, also helping us step up to the big-kid’s table. Those who were a part of the practice stood strong as the company’s pillars to success – “all in” and devoid of laggards! We panned out as a pack of hungry wolves, working alongside the sales team, those who had not sold software solutions before. With hard work, the right people on the bus building use cases, striking credibility and a seat at the table, we began to breathe sweet smell of money. We were our own masters through design, marketing, pseudo (domain) sales, deliver, support, P&L. Relentlessly marching on in building several 10’s of million-dollar business in a 2+ year span, our SA Practice was blooming; no coincidence that it was booming.
A whiteboard on my left had two columns titled – Agilent & HP, our competitor. Strange? Yes, it has it’s own charm when you are up against a giant. Two teams with the final score being 10 to nil !
That, however, was when we were hit hard and flung into a bit of a spiral, not that I had not been warned of such cases in the software industry. The lessons I learnt?
- Have your documentation and records straight for when it goes belly up, it’s what saves you.
- Although we won this one, the working level we engaged with in the Customer organisation went against the transformation. We had failed to address the personal wins at this level, hence, reluctant towards change.
The toughest decision for me was to have my entire team of 20+ people on a plane, on a Monday morning, out of there before it hit the courts.
Here’s a recollection from an A-player with whom I was and still am fortunate enough to work with – Gan Shao Hua. Yes, we are riding the wave in a different solution space today!
Winning large SI projects and then delivering them was never easy but we had done it repeatedly, reaching its pinnacle of winning and delivering the Integrated Network Management System for the largest International +Mobile network in India. What amazed me the most was the well-balanced mix in the team, with Rajesh taking charge in front, and me checking and balancing with the support of the rest of the team. We won the deal against HP and Lucent. We had built a core team with a combination of solution experts from US and in-region resource, quickly ramping up to about 80 people in the delivery team within a short span of time. The one year of contract negotiations and almost two years of delivering experience has always been a fond memory of my career life.
This mindset drove us to greater heights as we won our largest deal ever, working from bottom up and top down, through the trenches and the corridors. We built an amazing business over 2+ years, growing at triple digits. What a team! We rode the dragon, and boy was it a ride.
Here are some things I learnt along my journey that shaped my professional life.
Begin Well – Emotion, Passion and love for the subject rules everything else, including numbers and financial rationale.
Enable the Team – New roles are vital, ones heavy on the EQ (Thought Leader) and the others weighted on IQ (Business Process). Tango and Cash.
Disciplined Execution – Pick one foot up and put it in front of the other. No shortcuts. When telling the story, speak both of successes(leverage) AND failures(learnings) that have happened along the way.
Your People – All in, 100%. The power of collaboration drives competitiveness. People are the cornerstones to success.
Strike a Balance – Start with the focus and then explore; high on EQ, but along the way as you build the business it will balance with the IQ – maneuver, perform and accomplish.
Humility – Take failure as a gift, for there is a bigger game to be won.
Think with a Hard Head; Execute with a Soft Heart.