The key to success cannot be found in modern management science but in old fashioned entrepreneurship. In conversations with entrepreneurs, many experts realised that one key factor to their success is their absolute focus on their customers. They usually know much more than market researchers and consultants. They design their strategy with customers, not at customers.
When the vision of markets and products is clear, the only major barrier between the seller and the customer is knowing how to get there. This is where corporate culture gets plugged into the business. In society and in business, cultures are defined by the values or beliefs of their people. Entrepreneurs set the values of their companies and reinforce these through their daily behavior. The entrepreneurial culture is based on two no-nonsense-criteria: What behavior will give us a competitive advantage, and what behavior am I personally committed to?
These are questions that have been satisfactorily answered by people like Narayan Murthy and Azmi Premji as results show. The answers to these questions reveal the values that set the culture of the enterprise. To the entrepreneur, culture must directly and powerfully support the customer/product strategy. To create the culture that maximises competitive prowess, one must decide what values, behaviors, or practices in the daily operation of the business will raise competitive position. It could be product quality, employee relations or customer service. Whatever those few items are for your business, they must be the cornerstones of your culture.
For true belief in the pursuit of a mission, it is hard to beat the great entrepreneurs of Victorian Liberalism. Between 1850 and 1900 they transformed Britain into the greatest commercial power the world has ever known. Their business strategy was very aggressive, yet their corporate culture, particularly their concern for workers, was a hundred years ahead of the times. No one embodied these two characteristics more than William Hesketh Lever.
Today Unilever is among the largest consumer goods companies in the world. Back in 1925, Lever Brothers was already the most far flung commercial empire in the world. Made up of 282 operating companies at that time, it spread across five continents, and employed as many as 60,000 people.
Most spectacular for the times, however, was the fact that 18,000 of these employees were already members of the company’s unique Co-Partnership Trust. Lever had initiated Britain’s earliest employee profit sharing program, a truly revolutionary concept, in 1909. He built Port Sunlight, a community, which became a model of company-sponsored living unequalled to this day. Lever believed the company had an obligation to do more than pay salaries. It should also be in the business of raising the total quality of life of workers and their families. And it is the same with the spirit of entrepreneurship in India if you look at the communities built at Jamshedpur by Tata Steel; the Hindalco township at Renukoot which can be a picture scape from USA; and more recently, the new Reliance township in Jamnagar.
All this means picking up the right customer/product strategy and ensuring that the culture is connected to that strategy. It is the high purpose which reflects the sense of mission of the founders which somehow gets diluted over the years and proves another adage the larger the company becomes the further its top management gets from the ultimate consumer. For entrepreneurs it means food or no food on the table. But managers of large corporations face no such threat.
All this derives from the fact that entrepreneurs have a clear vision even if they don’t have a vision statement put up on their wall. In fact, entrepreneurs who try to emulate large corporate vision statements usually end up with patently absurd statements. A small family-owned water purifier company, with limited resources, but operating profitably in the limited areas of the country, suddenly set their sights high and conjured up a lofty vision statement to be among the top ten water purifier companies in the world.
They were a long way from being among the top ten in India. To aim for a top position in the world was a mental aberration at best or total lack of judgment at worst.
In the world of day to day entrepreneurship, vision can mean only one thing a clear picture of a set of customers who need your products or services and will pay for them. —