New Manager

Trust and understanding — lessons from the sports field

Updated on: Oct 23, 2011
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Equally at home in the commentator's box as he is in corporate circles, Harsha Bhogle speaks on sports and the take-aways for corporates.

Ace cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle is having a tiring schedule. Zipping between Bangalore and Chennai for the Nokia Champions League T20 semi-finals and the finals and late nights is taking its toll. He meets us on the Sunday morning of the finals for a late breakfast, rather bleary-eyed and apologetic. “I can't afford to be like this on TV, so when I'm not, I just let myself go,” he explains.

Well known for his work in the corporate sector, as much as on TV for his articulate comments on cricket, Bhogle, a chemical engineer and MBA from IIM-A, along with his wife, Anita, recently unveiled a book, The Winning Way, which outlines learnings from sport for managers. The company they both head is Prosearch Consultants which effectively marries sports and management in their work with the corporate world. Bhogle draws parallels from the world of cricket for corporate life with effortless ease. In this almost two-hour interview with The New Manager, Bhogle talks about the analogies that one can draw from cricket, about the processes that made Australian cricket what it is, on Dhoni and on the BCCI. Excerpts:

Sometimes, aren't the analogies between the corporate world and the world of sport, cricket in particular, a bit tenuous? How far can we go in making these analogies?

I think a great deal of similarities can be drawn from the world of sport by the corporate world. The analogies can be drawn from understanding the CEO's mind and understanding a sportsperson's mind. Understanding how a player plays and how he plays for the team, I think analogies can be drawn from those areas. Of course, the results of the decisions made by a captain can be seen almost immediately as results are there to see on the field, but that does not happen in corporate life; the results in the corporate world can be seen only after a period of time.

Sometimes the results of a bowling change can be seen immediately in terms of a wicket or two falling in the space of an over, but in the corporate world results take more time to come. So, instincts play a much bigger role in sports than in corporate life, where the span is much larger.

But the basic principles of playing for each other, playing for the team, setting up a goal for someone to score, those are things that corporates can learn from sports, especially team sports. In the corporate sector, manufacturing sets it up for distribution to score, distribution sets it up for sales to score, advertising sets it up for marketing to score. So the basic principles of leadership are similar between the sports and the corporate world.

Now we're seeing supply chain solutions coming into the IPL as well, where the teams can source players from anywhere in the world, just like in the corporate world. Of course, this has been happening in European football for a long time. So there are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between the corporate and the sports worlds but as always there will some areas where analogies won't work.

Do you know of any sportsperson who has made a successful transition to the corporate or business world?

I think it happens a lot in the West where they play a lot of sport naturally. But I think in India it happens less because here we tend to hit our career paths fairly early in life. We don't find many instances here of people starting off in one career path and then changing course midway, I think that happens more often in the West.

The exceptions here would be Viren Rasquinha and Mahesh Bhupathi?

Yes, it'll be interesting to see what the results are. But these are still only small steps. We're still not seeing successful sportspersons after their retirement heading large organisations, like manufacturing. In India, two things tend to happen. One, is the tenth standard syndrome. A lot of promising sportspersons tend to give up sports in their Tenth to concentrate on academics.

Secondly, if we have to make it big in sports one has to embrace sports in a big way at the age of 14-15, which is a tough decision to make. Which is why you find people from small towns, who have nothing to lose, making it big in sports now. City kids can't make it big in sports because they have too much to lose. So the middle- and upper-middle classes are not going to produce sportspersons.

You had said earlier that the 1983 World Cup winning team came from five cities but now the team composition has changed completely….

Another interesting thing is that knowledge those days resided in the cities. If you were from Amritsar you had to move to Delhi, if you were from Ranchi you had to move to Kolkata, if you were from Nashik, you had to move to Mumbai.

Now what has happened is TV has taken cricket to the smallest town and TV has become a kind of a coach. So you can live in small towns and still have access to all the matches being played all over the world and many young aspiring cricketers started learning their cricket from TV.

Sehwag used to have his bat in his hands every time he watched Tendulkar play. And he would play all the shots Tendulkar would play.

And this happened in the post-liberalisation era?

Yes, with the onset of satellite TV. Because DD had this ‘Do Not Watch' sign all over it. DD managed to kill sport in India, the case of hockey is well documented.

I think you need a passion to be in sport and State-managed organised bodies can't ensure that. I think that's also why we're seeing a lot of sportspersons coming from small towns.

That's the important change that has taken place. Small-town boys can play and practice for eight hours a day; you'd never allow your children to do that.

What are the lessons the corporate world can learn from sport?

There was an interesting interview I did with Ian Chappell a couple of years ago where he said that the only quality he asked of a leader was honesty. My team has to trust me, if I am doing something my team must know that I am doing it for the good of the team and not because I have a personal agenda. So as long as the leader is honest and the team trusts him, everything else will follow.

I think this is an important lesson that the corporate world can learn. If the CEO or sales head of a company is posting a bright young salesperson to a remote area, the salesperson must realise that this is being done to further his/her career and it should not be seen as a punishment posting. So the issue here is about trust.

Another important issue is understanding — your players, your team. Which is why a lot of good players don't make good captains. That's because they don't understand the insecurities of ordinary players. So maybe geniuses don't make good CEOs, I am not sure…?

In your book and in your conversation with Nasser Hussain the other day, you made the point of different situations and times demanding different kinds of leaders. You gave the example of Ganguly and Dravid and Hussain also gave the example of Michael Vaughan and himself. But in India a lot of corporate groups are family-run, the family at the top may not change so how can you have a different leader in such a set-up?

I think we saw that happening in the case of Bajaj Auto. When the time came to shut the scooters division and focus entirely on motorcycles, that decision was made by Rajiv Bajaj and not his father Rahul Bajaj. So this is an excellent example of having different leaders in different situations. We saw that transition there, where the new generation was needed to make a crucial push.

Would Dhirubhai Ambani or JRD Tata have been as successful as Mukesh Ambani or Ratan Tata are in the current environment, I don't know, they might well have been. It's like asking whether Gavaskar would have made a good T20 batsman. Who knows, if he had grown up playing those shots, he might well have been a great T20 batsman, one never knows.

(To be continued)

Published on October 23, 2011

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