Sunday, June 14, 2009

Private Notes: Moving Forward

I am back from Ireland with a very positive mindset. That's a rarity these days for me, especially after I decided to leave the current employment no matter what happens by the end of August. As some friends and well-wishers reminded me - we are in the middle of one of the worst recessions in a lifetime and walking out of a job isn't the cleverest thing one should do at this time.

But then, to state the obvious, time is more valuable than money. To quote Edmund Wilson, there is nothing more demoralizing than a small but adequate income. One can waste a lifetime just being contented, being in a box, recession or no recession. And, so, I must do what I must do, because it's time has come.

Why must I move on - I was thinking for a moment last week - when I was sitting with my MD and he was describing the grand vision he had for our International business. He was indeed sincere, speaking from the heart, and was talking about what he wanted to achieve. He is indeed a brilliant man, ambitious and persuasive, and I did, for a moment, believe in it. Paused and thought about staying on, and playing my part in accomplishing that dream.

But, the problem was that it was an impossible dream. From the experience, I knew that while he is sincere in his dreaming, he is not a details man and he missed out what would be required to build such a great, international organization. Roughly, this was what he thought would be needed - a set of entrepreneurial men who would work for him for a salary. He would create a salary fund and pay them for three months. If they are good, they will produce results in three months. If they are not, he should be able to get rid of them in three months.

A stunningly simple vision and indeed, entrepreneurial and persuasive on the surface! But then, if the world was so easy. If only there were legions of entrepreneurial men who could play that magic and produce results, but worked for a small salary that he was ready to give. Only if there was a way to induce brilliant men to work for an organization which would want them out - if they do not meet targets set abruptly and without a clear understanding of the business model, in three months.

This has been the disconnect I lived with from day one. The audacity of the dream complemented with the naivity of the plan, only that I discovered the latter part down the road. I have no problems with the entrepreneurial, opportunity driven nature of the business that gets successful in best of times, but I was, and still is, convinced that a complex international business, especially a high involvement one like training, needed a bit of institution building. I don't really mean big offices and perks, really, but a sincere and deep commitment to the business and its people, rather than throwing a bit of money in the hope of gold in three months.

Thinking back, I surely should have walked that day and should not have chosen to figure it out as we go along. If one thing I learnt about startups by now that values needed to be fixed first and not later, not on the go. This must be sounding terribly pompous and unbusinesslike to many people, and this may exactly be why I may never succeed in a business career, but I have reflected on this many times over last two years and have now decided that I should not waste another day in trying to push the impossible.

Well, thinking that way, I have already lost quite a bit of time - almost eight months since I first notified my employers that I shall move on in November - waiting to sort things out. However, it is only my sense of responsibility, towards the people I interviewed and hired, worked with, partners who put faith on my words and signed contracts, students who came to us with hopes and dreams and suppliers who have put up with us though facing difficulty, that I should not just fold and go, without having a clear sense that they would be taken care of. I wonder, at certain moment of doubt, whether this was pure self-indulgence, or a real sense of burden which pinned me down and stopped me from walking away. I shall say it is indeed the latter, especially because there are a number of people among our staff who I treat as friends [I have already been accused of being soft on friends, and too friendly to staff, but that's sincere - that's exactly how I work with people], and also among our partners, who I deeply respect and admire. Going away, just like a professional should do, did not seem like a possibility.

This indeed tells me that I am grossly unsuitable for the result-driven Anglo-Saxon business world. I know I bring in an unique mix of experience, perspective, right brain thinking and intuition that some businesses need. But, I am possibly too long term, too old fashioned yet to run a modern business. I have flirted with the idea of doing an MBA and getting some of the skills and different sensibilities that the world of business requires. However, at the time of writing this note, my thoughts are very different, particularly after this on-again, off-again business in my current employment. I am now more or less ready to take a break from my career in business, and go into, at least for a period, academia and a career in writing, which, I am told, may suit me better.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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