Friday, March 9, 2007

Entrepreneurship = 60 hours of work

What makes a great entrepreneur?

Subroto Bagchi, co-founder and chief operating officer of MindTree Consulting tries to answer this question in his book The High Performance Entrepreneur-Golden Rules For Success In Today's World.

He writes: 'Entrepreneurship requires the ability to read patterns on the wall, flexibility and an uncanny ability to seize the moment.' He also mentions that the minimum number of hours an entrepreneur must put in, a week, is 60 hours. In reality this figure is closer to 70.

An excerpt:

Entrepreneurs work hard and are extremely goal oriented

How do we quantify hard work? When I was working at Wipro, my last assignment was to work for chairman Azim Premji as corporate vice president, mission: quality. This was preceded by three other jobs in the organization. In the course of each, I had made a mark. I always used to think that I worked hard.

So, when I was being considered for the position, Premji asked me, how many hours a week do you put in? Not a superfluous question, this. The man measures and tracks the number of hours he works every week. He does not expect everyone in the organization to work as hard as himself. But he has figured out the minimum number of hours a person must be comfortable working in order to be part of his team. That number is a minimum of 60 hours a week, in reality closer to 70. Premji average 80 hours a week. That is hard work. But just so we know, Premji never asks someone to change holiday plans, once these have been approved, never recalls someone on vacation.

Ashok Soota, chairman and managing director of MindTree, works as hard. He measures the number of days he is on travel every year. That number, when he was 62 was an average of 140 days a year. It does not mean that he is a workaholic with no life outside of work. He settles his vacation dates at the beginning of the year and these are non-negotiable. At least one vacation in the year involves a mountain trek or a snorkeling trip during which we do not contact him. Ashok's self-discipline and hard work rub off on every senior person in the organization. At the next level, a 70-hour workweek and an average 140 days of travel has been the way for all of us since MindTree was born.

Along with hard work, comes the ability to work unsupervised. It is a critical requirement of entrepreneurship. As a paid professional, often someone can blame the system for not providing either the direction or the resources. As an entrepreneur, you no longer have that latitude. You have to work hard, very hard.

That is why venture capitalists have coined the term 'sweat equity', the ownership that comes by the sweat of your brows.

Entrepreneurs are flexible, opportunistic and recognize the power of 'emergence'

I love this story about IBM and its founder Thomas Watson, Sr. that I heard Peter Drucker narrate. It was 1934 or '35. IBM had built the first accounting machines for banks but in the Depression years, no bank was buying anything. IBM was on the brink of bankruptcy. Watson's wife forced him to accompany her to a social event where he was seated next to a middle-aged lady.

While talking with her, Watson described to her the machine IBM had built. It turned out that the lady was in-charge of the library system in New York City. She told Watson that they were in complete disarray, unable to manage their books, and told him that she would need half a dozen of these! Next day, he sold her five of the machines.

Until that moment, Watson had never thought of his computing devices as machines for tracking books.

That one sale pulled IBM from the brink of bankruptcy.

Had it not been for Watson's capability to go with the emergent flow of events -- moving from accounting machines to the recognition that he could make general purpose computers -- IBM would not be what it is today. We all know that the essence of entrepreneurial ability is about building a future and living in it. Sometimes, it is about 'willing' a course for the enterprise. Yet, things do not always go the way you plan. Destiny tests you all the time, plays pranks and shows tiny openings in a moss-covered brick wall behind which often a whole new world awaits.

When we started MindTree and were a no-name entity in the US, a chance meeting took place with a man called Larry Kinder who had just moved in as CIO of Avis. We won an assignment to build consensus between two groups of Avis managers on the future of their on-line reservation system. A team from MindTree, led by Erik Mann, who is one of our best consultants, delivered well. Consequently, we moved on to win the technical design for re-architecting Avis.Com. Then we built the on-line reservation system. Today, the system handles $1 billion worth of transactions at Avis. In the course of following up on that small opening at Avis, we saw three CIOs come and go and then came a CEO who even wanted us out of the door. We survived all those changes and focused on building value, one day at a time.

Many analysts ask me how we won Avis. One morning Joe King -- an early member of the MindTree team and currently a senior vice president of our US operations -- called Larry Kinder's office at 7 in the morning. That is called the 'golden hour'. It is a direct marketer's dream time. The golden hour is when a senior executive has come in but his secretary has not -- someone who is paid to block unwanted callers. Larry picked up the phone that day, listened to Joe's pitch and agreed to see us. I am sure he was used to a hundred such unsolicited calls-this was the heyday of the Internet boom. I often ask myself, what would have happened if Larry had not been in office that day? Why did he have to pay attention to Joe? What if he had dismissed that one call?

Providence is very powerful in our journeys and entrepreneurs must take room for her. It is not always what you bring to the table. Sometimes, it is an unexplainable turn of events that changes your course. From a small assignment for Larry in 1999, in 2006 MindTree did $15 million worth of business for the whole of the Cendant Group that owns Avis and learnt enough about the travel industry to start a vertical focused on it.

After Larry Kinder moved to a larger role a Cendant, due to turbulence in the organization, things became difficult for us. At the Avis end, a turnaround CIO named Raj Rawal took over. As it often happens in times of corporate transition, Raj had received mixed messages about our capability, role and contributions. My first meeting with him was not in happy circumstances. Yet, the moment I met Raj something about him told me that I could bet everything for this man. We hit it off and under his leadership, the reorganization and our role in it got sorted out. Our relationship grew. In time, Raj moved on and eventually took over as CIO at Burger King. As he settled into his new job, the phone rang at my desk.

In 1999, we had started the company with the vision to be focused on two businesses: IT consulting and software services, and R&D services. The former was for building Internet-based applications and on the R&D side, we wanted to work on providing solutions in the telecom domain. In just about a year, there was a dotcom bust and the telecom domain just about vanished.

On the IT services side, we had to rapidly move into other areas like Supply Chain, Data-warehousing, Mainframe-based Application Management Services (AMS) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). None of these words existed in the original business plan we had written. On the R&D side, we created new verticals like Semiconductors, Appliances, Industrial Automation and Avionics, Storage Technologies and Computing Platforms. Again, these were things we never thought we would dabble in. All that had to be done without losing the original position of strength, all that had to be done in real time and by taking all our people along with us.

Nine out of ten companies born at the same thing as us, anywhere in the world, do not exist today. Entrepreneurship requires the ability to read patterns on the wall, flexibility and an uncanny ability to seize the moment.

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