Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nice Guys Do Finish First

Green Day created a song called "Nice Guys Finish Last." As with allot of good artiste, they managed to capture the popular movement in a single sentence. In our modern culture of "get every cent you can," nice guys seem to finish last. Give the other guy a break and he'll only piss over your head. So why bother being nice - its much better to be the screwer than the screwed. Who can ever forget Gordon Geko's immortal words - "Greed is good - Greed works." 

I might be inclined to agree. In my personal life, I suspect I could be allot richer if I were allot more ruthless with my time and money. One could accuse me of being a sucker for down and outs - I take my relationship with Zen as an example - Fat Face just needs to look sad and I can't help but to buy her a meal. I suspect that I should probably wake up every morning and ask the Almighty to give me a streak of ruthlessness. Why be nice? Nice Guys Finish Last.

Thank God for economic crisises. If the current credit crunch is doing us a service, it is to show us that there is a place for ideals and morals, particularly when it comes to doing business. Wall Street and the world's bankers who were once worshiped for the gazillion dollar bonus's are now deservedly villified for screwing up the world by encouraging a culture of greed. Seriously, when you're going broke, you're not going to be terribly sympathetic to the likes of Chuck Prince (Fromer Citi CEO) or Stan O'Neal (Former Merril Lynch CEO) when they get the public boot on the rear ends - particularly when you know they'll be landing on a US$100 million pay packet.

Who are the guys who are doing relatively well out of this crisis? Surprise, surprise, it's the nice guys who avoided getting involved with the culture of greed. Bill Gates is now saving the world at his foundation and while his stock and Forbes ranking may fluctuate, Mr Gates is not rushing to claim social security. Another good guy that seems to be doing well is Warren Buffet who remains cash rich enough to pick up bargains. Mr Buffet has donated a large portion of his wealth to someone elses Foundation to ensure good works are carried out but in someone elses name. 

Closer to my own personal experience, is Arun Jain, Chairman and CEO of Polaris Software Labs. Of all the people I've worked with, Mr Jain probably has one of the most amazing stories to tell. I guess I have a soft spot for Polaris in as much as it was my first major job. For the first time, I made more money under my own name than I did for somone else - a case of being a $3,000 contractor instead of a $1,000 subcontractor. That, however, should not distract us from the obvious - Polaris is an interesting company built by an extraordinary person. The results are speaking for themselves - in the past three quarters, the company has declared profit increases of over 80 percent, despite the fact that they're dependent on the financial industry. The company's Ulas Trust has provided some 2,000 schoolarships for students in Tamil Nadu in India and is continuing to do so.

There are good strong business fundimentals for the company's success but I also think there's more to it and I think Mr Jain's character has allot to do with it. 

I think the first thing that should strike one about Mr Jain is the fact that this is the last person you'd expect to be a CEO. I remember going to pick him up at the airport and I was told to look out for "The Most UNCEO like person you can imagine." I guess you could call him the antithesis to the Donald Trump school of business. 

The man has no airs about him and it works from a business perspective. OK, Mr Jain is not a PR dream. Most of us in the industry like the Donald Trump type of businessman - a publicity seeker brings FREE promotion to the company and signs of success lead to actual success  etc etc. However, allot of these guys are not real and it becomes apparent in economic crisis. Mr Jain by contrast represents a differnt school of thought - modesty is practicality. 

The man was booked to stay in the Fullerton (six star). However, he personally cancelled the booking and moved himself to the Park Royal in Little India (plesant definately not the Fullerton). As far as Mr Jain is concerned, there is no need to waste money on the unnecessary and if you look at it, he's right. Flash is very attractive but it can also be a disadvantage - particularly when flash is not suported by substance (of which Mr Jain has plenty of). 

Mr Jain is also very knowledgeable, particularly about his industry. The man knows about software - he was a progammer himself and beyond his business actively seeks to apply IT knowledge (Shinning India) to agriculture (Real India). The man has worked his way up - Polaris was founded with 10,000 INR (approx US$220) 

"Cosmetics" as my ex boss (and Uncle) Jeffrey says, "Count." I can't think of any profession where the top people are unpresentable. However there is a point of over investment when it comes to cosmetics. I think of the advertising industry where one of the most complaints that clients who have walked into a few ad agency's - is that they're paying for the agency's swank rather than the work (what the client doesn't see is the sweat on the agency's end ...but then again, who's paying the bill.) 

So when you look at it in this perspective Mr Jain's modesty is a a powerful business message - clients are paying for the work and not to support flash. Look at it from the client's perspective. What do you really want from your contractors? You want them to show up and do your job and thereby make you look good. Do you really care if they stay in a six star hotel and get chaufered around? 

What's appealing about the man is that he's genuine in his modesty? This is not a nice guy persona he put's on at work or something he's PR advisors enforced upon him. He really is a very nice and very likeable person and as one of my fellow contractors noticed - "Obviously revered by his people." 

Which, once again, leads to the question on what is a leader and what makes organisations successful. I think, to large extent, the most successful leaders are those who are most successful at selling ideals and dreams. When a group of people come together to work for something they believe in, they'll go through extraordinary measures to realise their ideals and dreams. Without ideals and dreams you do not get culture and without culture what do you have? Material rewards only go so far in satisfying needs - if material rewards were all that it took, Singapore would not be suffering from a shortage of lawyers. 

And if a leader is a succesful salesman of a successful set of ideals, what makes a successful sales person? The answer is someone who has genuine conviction in what he or she is selling. David Oglivy insisted on using his client's products because he believed you can advertise a product if you don't believe in it enough to use it in your daily life. Likewise, you cannot sell ideals you don't believe in. Mr Jain does not just believe in his ideals, he lives them. 

A friend of mine argues that he makes it a point to flaunt prvilleges because it motivates his subordinates - "Why be a boss if you have to continue struggling - I want to work hard to be a boss so I don't work so hard." OK, there is a perverse logic in that but then again, one should ask oneself whether they're more likely to work hard for a hard working boss or one that expects them to work hard while he or she remains idle? My former battery commander did it best on a route march - the NSF battery commander gave an order for the men to lift the riffle over their heads and before the men, the regular battery commander did so - thus making it easier for the rest of us to follow suite (which was bloody painful) 

I guess I'm just wierd or as one former radio presenter said "creepy," but I'm always impressed by people who work their way up, lead by example and are modest by their nature. I respect highly successful people in punishing careers who still make it a point to spend time with their kids. I can't for the life of me figure out the attraction people have to people born into "rich families," or for people who describe themselves as "elite." 

You can't help but have awe for Mr Jain because he's such a quiet, modest man who's actions speak loudly. He makes it a point to ensure that his business thrives but he also cares deeply for the widder community his business opperates in. What else can be more worthy of admiration? 



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