We are sharing with you an excerpt of a speech given by the Founder Chairman of the company. This is the second in the series of speeches we are featuring on this blog.
Lecture, National Management Convention Indore Management Association, Indore, Madhya Pradesh; 18 February 2006.
On 11 September 2001, I had called a meeting of our top 200 executives, quite unaware that the impending event that was to unfold in the USA later that day would change world history. In a way, that meeting did affect the destiny of our corporate history as well.
The previous evening, while I was going through our company profile, I thought that it needed revamping. At that time, we were just bouncing back from a six-year long corporate crisis which had almost made us go under. It was almost like a second life for the company, and we were born again wiser and smarter. There was an air of resurgence all around us, and the feeling of happy contentment at having overcome such a protracted and acute crisis was similar to how a cancer patient feels after having overcome a fatal illness.
However, this momentous passage of our corporate history had not yet been included in our profile, and I was a bit uneasy about it. That was what had prompted me to call that meeting, to know my top management’s views on if and how we should go about changing our profile.
At the very outset, I asked everyone a symbolic question: how did it all happen? How did we manage to handle such a dramatic turnaround? If I believed in magic or miracles, I would have used the term ‘miraculous turnaround’. But I don’t. Nevertheless, it was something close to it. So, I asked my colleagues, ‘What was the most critical aspect of our efforts that made the turnaround possible?’ We all knew that it had been a combined, consolidated and concerted effort—each one of our 5,000-strong workforce had put her or his very best and unconditional efforts to save the company; we had left no stone unturned to ensure a 360-degree turnaround of the company. But still, it only answered my query partly. It was like a quantitative answer, which still left the more important qualitative aspect unaddressed. Right then, somebody remarked, ‘We worked like a family.’
And that is what caught my immediate attention. I reflected on the remark for a moment and said to myself, ‘Yes, that was it!’ We approached the problem in exactly the same manner a family would approach a crisis. We remained united and gave it whatever we had selflessly. The associates did not discriminate between a family problem and a company problem, and that was the quality aspect of the subject that I was trying to identify all along.
What makes a family? The members of a family and not employees and employers. The head of the family does not behave like a paymaster and the members do not work like paid servants. It is a unit where everything is shared equitably between everybody. Nobody feels less privileged. Above all, there is a feeling of contentment, sharing and caring, of mutual belonging, of participative co-existence and interdependence. I mentally tried to sum up this analogy between a company and a family, and its most appealing aspect emerged to me as trusteeship or co- ownership. We share everything, right from resources to emotions.
Even as I was sitting there at the meeting, the idea grew on me until it became a sound conviction that it was the feeling of ownership that made the turnaround possible in the first place, and later, hastened the process of bouncing back.
I will cut short on the deliberations of that meeting and jump to the core issue of ownership, or more specifically, the ownership of work. Let me tell you that the impact of this idea or notion was so profound on my mind that very shortly after the meeting, we adapted that notion into a concrete practice at Jain Irrigation. In fact, I have made it our guiding principle, our guiding force. Our entire group is a big extended joint family, nothing more and nothing less. All our success is only due to our unity in thought and actions. I am sixty-nine years old, or should I say that I am five heart attacks and two bypass surgeries old. But I have instilled the philosophy of ownership of work so deep into our work culture that I have no doubt that as long as the company lives, it will live by this guiding principle.
The very simple logic behind Management via Ownership is that it registers this principle convincingly in everybody’s minds that if you work with a spirit of ownership, you become the owner of your work, and therefore, you also become the owner of the company. After all, what makes a company? Its work and its performance. Now, based on this simple understanding, I have started an ongoing practice in the company to allow reasonable freedom of choice to everybody in relation to work options. The term ‘reasonable freedom’ does not mean limited or conditional freedom, it means freedom that goes hand-in-hand with responsibility and accountability. So I tell everybody, and I include the sweepers, too, in ‘everybody’, that if you are reasonably sure that your actions are in the best interest of the company and perform with diligence and utmost sincerity, and if you are ready to take the responsibility of your actions, then go ahead and do it. Don’t ask and don’t wait. And do not bother about the outcome. If you succeed, then fine, the company will pat you on your back and shake your hand and reward you. But even if you fail, the company will not play the blame game. This company does not punish honest mistakes. In order to perform diligently, nobody in my company needs anybody’s permission. They have the chairman’s prior sanction. I keep saying this continuously, and I will give it in writing and sign on it as well. It will be your license to make mistakes, as long as the motives are not malafide, deliberate or ill-meant.
This post is an excerpt from “The Enlightened Entrepreneur”, which is a compilation of lectures that Dr. Bhavarlal Jain has given over thirty years. Replete with instances and expositions of what constitutes enlightened entrepreneurship: a notion that Jain iterates, must be embraced by each and every entrepreneur. This book provides invaluable insights into what successes and failures mean to a businessperson, the tenets of effective leadership and transformational businesses.