The course of action that a leader would adopt when faced with a challenge to her business is unpredictable. It may have a lot to do with her own DNA, the company’s culture, external environment, the composition of her team, the nature of the crisis — the list is indeed endless.

No two situations are comparable and, as is widely known, uncertainty is itself dynamic and radical. Circumstances too alter the contours of such cases. Real estate veteran Ramesh Nair’s Doing Business in Uncertain Times is a compendium of responses to different challenges faced by businesses which would be useful for entrepreneurs and business leaders, especially those who are in start-up or first-generation mode.

Divided neatly into 50 short chapters of five to six pages each, the book is an easy read based on examples of how leadership succeeds in overcoming crises. It may not have the gravitas of a Michael Porter on Strategy or a Ram Charan on Execution but Ramesh Nair writes with effortless ease, in uncomplicated terms and about real-life incidents.

Learning from crises

One of the senior-most professionals in the real estate industry, he is currently CEO of Mindspace Business Parks REIT. He has lived through two recessions, in 2008 following the global financial crisis, and in 2020-21, post-Covid. These two experiences have steeled and tempered his own leadership style as on each occasion, he managed to steer his business and team from a “precipice of uncertainty”.

A theme that recurs in various chapters in the book is centred on “emotional intelligence”. As any top executive would agree, most often, it is not intellect or grey matter that carries the day but the ability to remain calm in the face of adversity, to say that “this too shall pass”. Writes Nair: “In my years in the field, I have come to learn the value of emotional intelligence and I believe it to be more important than strategic or business intelligence during a predicament. As market fundamentals crumble and realign, the only thing in your control is how you choose to react and adapt.”

Dealing with tough times

The author is empathetic and persuasive by turns as he unfolds examples of how different businesses across the world deal with tough times. The titles of the 50 chapters give you a flavour of what to expect inside them — Exercise deliberate calm; communicate with care; be known for authenticity and intellectual honesty are some of the chapter headings.

These are norms which may not be novel to seasoned leaders but for people in charge of medium to large businesses, caught in the vortex of difficult situations, these narratives may provide a balm at the right time. Quite often, the iteration of something which one already knows will help focus the mind and enable arriving at solutions. 

The advantage of the book is that the author does not take any high moral ground. The advice is practical and drawn from similar situations elsewhere — Nair makes no attempt to play Krishna to the dejected Arjunas of business.

Company culture

In the chapter titled “When culture is lost, everything is lost”, the attempt is to focus attention on company culture — “hard to define, but it is broadly understood as the values shared across the board that guide decision-making, and the management’s explicitly and implicitly accepted behavioural and ethical standards”. The instance quoted here is that of an advertising company whose promoter, despite being impacted by the pandemic, turns down a pitch for a marketing campaign by a company with dubious credentials. His team understood his steadfastness to principles and when the upturn came, they were quick to grab the opportunity and make up for lost time. “Company culture is the key to resilience in uncertain times,” Nair writes.

Business, people and clientele are the three areas broadly covered in this maiden attempt by Ramesh Nair. This tiny tome begins on an autobiographical note. “On that fateful day of March 23, 2020, as the fear of a lockdown started sweeping the nation, I found myself standing on the precipice of uncertainty….We didn’t have all the answers and perhaps wouldn’t be able to solve all the problems…but, it was time to reignite faith in our abilities”. Doing business in Uncertain Times definitely passes muster as a handy tool to reignite faith in ourselves.

Check out the book on Amazon.

About the book
Title: Doing business in Uncertain Times
Author: Ramesh Nair
Publisher: Penguin Business
Price: ₹399
Pages: 240