New Manager

Opening corporate minds to sport

Vinay Kamath B. Baskar | Updated on October 23, 2011

Harsha Bhogle. Photo:S. Subramanium   -  The Hindu

Harsha Bhogle: The commitment levels in Australia are much higher. Photo: S. Subramanium

We never tell organisations this is what they should do, rather we let them make the links: Harsha Bhogle

(The first part of this interview was published on October 17. In the second and concluding part of the interaction with ace commentator, Harsha Bhogle, he elaborates on the many parallels that can be drawn between cricket and the corporate world.)

How do you tailor your sessions with corporates and what feedback do you get from them?

When we do sessions with corporates, what we say is ‘we cannot change your organisation because we don't have the skill to do that'. We are saying ‘come listen to us and change' because for that you must know your organisation well enough. All we are telling them is that we're opening your mind to what happens in sport. We are not claiming to be consultants, we are not saying ‘listen to us because this is how things must be done'. So even in our presentations we are not telling the companies this is what you should do. Because the moment we say that, people in the corporate world will ask us ‘how the hell do you know' and we lay ourselves open to that charge. So we never tell people this is what you must do. We just tell them this is what happens in sport and invite them to make the link.

In a good jugalbandi you may have two musicians who've never played together. But after one musician starts playing, it's only a matter of time before the other musician picks up the rhythm and starts playing in sync. That's how you get the fusion.

Similarly, when we talk to corporates we talk only sport and invite the corporates to draw the parallels. But before making a presentation, we take a brief from the company we're talking to, to get to know more about them. We don't have a ‘one-size-fits-all' approach. So if the company has had 10 great years and it thinks the eleventh will be a great one too, then the tone of our presentation will be different. Here we'll talk about the perils of success.

But if we're talking to a company which has been struggling and just turned the corner, then our slant is different. So we take a brief from the company and tailor it accordingly.

Back to cricket, do you think the Australian cricket team will reach the top again?

They'll come back faster than anybody else, because they have a system in place. While the great players who've retired cannot be replaced, their basic standard is high. Like companies with good management systems, their basic minimum standard of performance is high. So when the Australian team falls, they won't fall the way the West Indies fell, they'll fall a bit and pick themselves up again because of their strong system.

The recent report commissioned by Cricket Australia told their top players Ponting, Hussey, etc, to play a first class match before their South African series — told not asked. Can something like that happen in India? Can you tell someone like Tendulkar that he has to play a Mumbai versus Baroda Ranji Trophy match before an upcoming series? The commitment levels in Australia are much higher.

What analogies would you draw for the corporate world from Dhoni's leadership; he's been on a high for the last couple of years, which culminated in the World Cup victory, but since then there's been a dip? (This interview was done before the current ODIs with England.)

Nobody knows Dhoni very well except the players who have played under him or with him. I don't know Dhoni very well. What I know of him is what I see of him on the field. But he has earned a great deal of respect from everyone. What he has done is that he hasn't allowed his rookie status to alienate the senior players such as Tendulkar, Dravid or Laxman. That he has done very well. There is always an aura of calmness around him. So when the players see a calm captain on the field they feel reassured, they fell the captain's got a trick up his sleeve even if he doesn't.

In the corporate world when the company is doing badly, the focus is always on the CEO. Likewise, when a team is doing badly, the cameras are always focused on the captain. And if the captain's body language is troubled, that affects the other players too. So the thing about Dhoni is he's got a great sense of calm.

Nasser Hussain once said that Duncan Fletcher told him that Dhoni has a very strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. So I think Dhoni injects a great deal of confidence in his players. I was talking to Dwayne Bravo last year and asked if he minded batting at number seven (for Chennai Super Kings) and he said ‘no' because he knew exactly what his role was. He said playing with Dhoni is a different experience.

But I hope his inner circle is right because there are far too many cricketers in India who are surrounded by small men. Would a CEO only appoint people who wouldn't challenge him? An insecure CEO would do that, but a CEO who's sure of himself would always appoint people who would challenge him because that's what's best for the company.

So I hope Dhoni's inner circle comprises people who challenge him. That's one thing we keep talking about — who are you, what company are you in, and what air are you breathing. If everybody tells you that you are the greatest then slowly you'll start believing that, then who's going to challenge your views? Imran Khan's example is a good one. When he was captain of Pakistan he picked Wasim and Waqar at a time when his own abilities as a bowler were declining. He knew that once he left, they would take up the mantle. That did not make him insecure, that's why he was such a great captain.

Sometimes there are people who are inherently aggressive but their aggression is often reined in because of the climate in which they grew up. I remember we did this session with Colgate Palmolive many years ago, a company which is known to be very rule-bound. We broke up the people into groups and asked each group which cricket team they would like to be. One group, the sales group, much to our surprise, said it wanted to be like Pakistan. When we asked why, the members of that group said they would like to be as aggressive as Pakistan, but were not being allowed to do so because of the prevailing environment.

In our education system the focus is on individual achievement. On completing their studies when people join a company, the focus suddenly shifts to team work and cooperation. Isn't that a difficult transition to make?

The same thing happens with cricket players too. Mathew Hayden once said Indian players are selfish and raised our hackles. But that is true. But my theory is unless you're selfish, you won't make it big. Unless you're selfish you won't get noticed, but then you can't suddenly become a team player.

So one of the things we talk about in our presentations is, let's suppose the Hyderabad unit of a company has cracked a terrific sales plan, and has done really well. Will the sales head of Hyderabad call up his Chennai counterpart and share his experience and say “this strategy worked well for us, why don't you try it” or will he sit back, soak up the compliments and just let the Chennai team work out its own strategy? Now that's the test.

There was an interesting point made in your book The Winning Way about HUL, where Nitin Paranjpe (MD & CEO) says that they've broken up the country into different segments and each segment has to do well, only then overall will the company do well.

That was actually a great insight for us. And Paranjpe talks about the distance rather than the actual numbers. Am I growing or is the distance between me and others shortening? HUL is a bit like the Australian cricket team. They might suffer a dip but after that they'll come back stronger because they have very strong systems in place. HUL also reacts very fast. Take the example of Nirma and Wheel. Had it not been for Nirma, HUL would not have come out with Wheel and Wheel is one of their biggest selling products now. Cadbury's is another example of this. It's tough to beat companies with strong systems.

In cricket, South Africa is also a good example of this. They will always be in the top three because of their strong systems. You'll never see South Africa slipping to six or seven.

You always draw parallels between the corporate world and cricket… Can cricket administrators learn something from the corporate world?

My problem with the BCCI and the way it runs cricket in India is that the BCCI is a finance-run board and not a cricket-run board. The BCCI would go to great lengths to save tax, it would go to great lengths to be out of the ambit of RTI, the Sports Bill, etc. The BCCI will pack the calendar with cricket and squeeze the last drop of sponsorship money. They are very good at that.

But will they go to the same lengths to worry about the fact that we don't have a seam bowling all-rounder coming in at number seven?

Is the BCCI asking Tendulkar about his future, about how long he plans to be around? Do they have a plan of grooming youngsters to replace Tendulkar? Where is the plan? That's because we don't give importance to selectors. Planning for each player is what is sorely lacking in our cricket.

If HUL had decided that the bottomline is what really mattered and not the quality of their products, they would not have been the company they are today. If we say that the quality of our product comes first, then Indian cricket will be run completely differently.

But if we say our profitability and the prestige we derive for that profitability is what is important, then we'd be running things the way they are being run now. There is no plan for grooming youngsters. Like you have a fast-tracking system in corporates, where you identify exceptionally talented people and groom them for leadership positions, do we have a similar system in our cricket? Unfortunately no, which is why we see some exceptionally talented youngsters falling by the wayside, which is sad.

Contrast this with what Cricket Australia did recently. It commissioned a review of the entire cricket system in Australia. And who headed that review, not an ex-cricketer but Don Argus, a corporate honcho with experience in running large mining companies. Would the BCCI ever commission a review of Indian cricket by someone like Deepak Parekh or some other corporate honcho in India?

Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh, Alan Border were part of the Argus panel. They went about interviewing first-class cricketers in Australia as part of the review. Could something like that ever happen in India? Would Gavaskar, Shastri or Kapil Dev be asked to go and interview State-level Ranji players? The person who led the turnaround of English cricket was Lord MacLaurin, and he was head of Tesco.


Published on October 23, 2011

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