Tuesday, October 21, 2014

CEO Narendra Modi - 6 Things Corporate World can learn from India's Prime Minister

From a tea seller to becoming the leader of biggest democracy in the world, corporate world can learn a lot from India’s present Prime Minister, Narender Modi. There are enough articles & reports on internet about his political & personal journey, and hence I will not spend time writing about it. This blog will highlight five top themes that emerge from Narender Modi’s success, that business world can learn & assimilate. I do however want to give some context to my overseas readers who may not know this gentleman as good as we Indians do.

Narender Modi was a key strategist for the BJP (Political party) in the successful 1995 and 1998 Gujarat state election campaigns. He became Chief Minister of Gujarat in October 2001 and served longer in that position than anyone else to date. He led the BJP in the 2014 general election, which resulted in an outright majority for the BJP in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian parliament) – the last time that any party had secured an outright majority in the Lok Sabha was in 1984. I hope you are able to comprehend the enormity of his achievement.

As a child he helped his father sell tea at a railway station. As a teenager, he ran a tea stall with his brother near a bus terminal. One of his school teachers described him as being an average student, but a keen debater who had an interest in theater. That interest may have influenced how he now projects himself in politics. Narender Modi last worked in the staff canteen of Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation until he became a full–time pracharak (campaigner) of the RSS (A right-wing Hindu nationalist organization) in 1970.

It is also important to understand the “state of affairs” of the country he took charge of. India had been lagging behind in economic development. Media & critics would often use the phrase “Policy Paralysis” to define government’s incompetence & indecisiveness.  Several allegations of corruption, lack of leadership, degraded relationships with neighboring nations were few other challenges faced by preceding government.
Now that everyone has required perspective, let me bring the focus back on how businesses & leaders can benefit from Narendar Modi’s approach. He is trying to do what Isaac Perlmutter did for Marvel Comics; turning a bankrupt, out of fashion business into multibillion dollar entity. He is trying to accomplish what Doug Conant did for Campbell’s Soup where sales were falling due to prior management's decisions to raise prices and the company had lost half its market value. Conant believed the key to a successful company was employee engagement. During his first few months as CEO, he replaced 300 of the company's top 350 leaders, and implemented a 10-year plan to turn the company around.

Compare Modi’s job to a CEO who is in charge of a huge organization which has failed or is on the verge of failure. Where the competition (China) is running miles ahead and where your board of directors (Parliament) couldn't agree on anything.  I know it’s an understatement to compare Prime Minister’s job with a corporate CEO but look at the brighter side. If he can do it for the country then it is definitely doable for an organization. I've made an attempt to club his vision & actions in following five themes:

Revive Self-Belief – The biggest problem Modi had was to revive the hope, the self-confidence amongst his countrymen. He had to create the feeling of oneness & unity. Almost everyone had lost faith in political leadership of the country; most believed things will not change even if they vote out a certain political party. Consider following statements made by Prime Minister to address this issue: “If 125 crore people work together; India will move forward 125 crore steps”. OR “The youth of the nation has its finger on the mouse of computers and is changing the world. India's journey has gone from snake charmers to mouse charmers” OR “From a chaprasi (peon) to Cabinet Secretary, every government servant is competent. We will harness their strength”.
His election campaign; “Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas” (Together with all, Development for all) also hints towards his efforts of inclusiveness & development.  He wanted people to trust themselves & trust his leadership. He calls himself “Pradhan Sevak” (Pradhan mean Chief. Sevak refers to the one who serves). A sevak embodies qualities of integrity, dedication and selfless service. If the PM becomes Pradhan Sevak, you don't need to remind him of his responsibilities towards the nation. Compare this with a CEO’s job of reviving employee confidence, promoting team work and culture of oneness in the organization.

Be the Change – Consider this statement which he made in front of entire nation on India’s Independence Day: “I can promise you. If you work 12 hours, I will work for 13. If you work 14 hours, I will work for 15 hours”. One of his first decisions after becoming Prime Minister was to invite head of SAARC nation to his oath taking ceremony. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and geopolitical organization of eight countries that are primarily located in South Asia. This was a great symbolic gesture which signified inclusiveness. It can also be termed as new start to regional partnership.
He has been setting examples for others to follow. He has introduced a culture of disciple & ownership amongst bureaucrats and ministers. He hasn't allowed dynasty politics. His ministers cannot recommend their relatives or friends for any government or political position/ work. He reviews critical appointments to ensure compliance. Compare this with leading by example, building self-discipline, building the culture of meritocracy & ownership.

Core Team Matters – It seems our Prime Minister has handpicked each member of his team. From the top bureaucrats to his ministers, everyone seems to be aligned to his vision. He made the hard decision of not including any senior (above the age of 60) party member in his team. I feel this was important to ensure there was no resistance to his vision & decisions. Lot of these folks had prior experience of running ministries, departments. Despite of that, Modi picked people he could trust, not who could make his work easy.As India’s PM, during his very first address to his party members, he asked them to focus on three things: “Achar (Conduct), Vichar (Thinking) and Vyavahar (Behavior). What a way to start, I say. Where most politicians will start celebrating success, he wanted his team to be prepared for everything they promised.

Build Investor Confidence – To me, this is where Narender Modi has hit a Master Stroke. He always had a great track record of facilitating industrial development in his state. His mantra from very beginning has been “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”. He says government’s job is to facilitate economic development through people & businesses. His latest initiative of “Make In India” represents his intent of increasing investments in India. People say he wants to compete with China.
He has been boasting about India’s cost effective yet successful Mars mission. "A one KM (0.6 miles) auto rickshaw ride in India takes INR 10 and India reached Mars at INR 7 per KM" the Prime Minister said while talking about India's talent pool and potential to become one of the top most countries in the world. Total cost of this project was $74 Million, it costed less than the estimated $100 million budget of the sci-fi blockbuster "Gravity".
He also asked nation to think about ‘zero-defect and zero effect’. Zero defect in production with no adverse effect on the environment. All these efforts were made to emphasize on four things: 1) We have the technical knowledge & capability to develop complex solutions. 2) Our accuracy & quality is world-class. 3) We have most cost effective workforce/ infrastructure. 4) We care for environment. Compare this with a business leader trying to raise capital investments for an ailing organization.

Stay Grounded & Connected – “It is a tribute to Indian democracy that a person from a poor family, an ordinary family, is today addressing the nation from the Red Fort”. Narender Modi often reminds people of his humble & earnest background. I think it helps him stay connected with the common man. Did you know he is the third most followed world leader on twitter, next only to US President Barack Obama and the Pope?
He launched several initiatives to stay connected with his nation & supporter around the world. Latest one is “Man Ki Baat” – loosely translates to “Taking from the heart”, where the Prime Minister address India through a radio program. His government has also launched a web portal called; MyGov.in. MyGov platform is a path breaking initiative of the Government of India which enables citizens to engage in consultation & problem solving. This is a place where government departments will post various online and on-ground tasks on which they would like citizen inputs & ideas. General public can register and provide suggestions directly to the concerned department. Compare this with creating the culture of two way dialogue, empower people by allowing them to share ideas & be a part of problem solving.

Clear Vision – Most importantly, all his efforts are focused towards his vision for India – “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat” (One India, Best India). He also said: “The nation should move towards one target, one direction, one intention and one decision” & that “By 2016, MPs (Member of Parliament) should have at least made one village an ideal village.  If we want to develop India, we need to develop villages. By the end of five years, each MP should have converted at least five villages into ideal villages”.
During his Independence Day speech, when everyone expected him to talk about economic development, defense services, space technology, he surprised everyone by talking about toilets in every home. He launched a campaign called “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India Campaign) - A national level campaign by the Government of India covering 4041 statutory towns to clean the streets, roads and infrastructure of the country. Compare this with a CEO’s clear vision for his organization.

Before I conclude this post, let me tell everyone that I’m not associated to any political party. I do not intent to criticize previous government; neither do I advocate all actions of current government. Everything written above is purely my observation, research & interpretation of our Prime Minister’s style of working. One thing I know for sure; you can love him, you can dislike him but you CANNOT ignore him, that’s our Prime Minister for you!! 


  1. Where is my previous comment :-(

    My favorite comparisons are "Build Investor Confidence" and "Stay Grounded & Connected", I agree with them as well.
    Nice write up and smart ending :-)

    Waiting for the next blog.....

  2. Good job pawan.Very well written and very interesting.