leadership

Toyota Apology

Mr Toyoda in New York Times A smart man once told me "Don't apologize. Just fix it." At the time, Scion was my biggest client, and the man talking to me was Jim Farley, then Scion chief and currently head of marketing at Ford. The topic: the word "fuck," which had made its way through our screening process and onto one of the promotional CDs that we had just reproduced, half a million times. Farley caught it while listening to the CD on a plane flight.

 

He called me in and repeated the word to me several dozen times, perhaps to make a point about his own comfort with the word regardless of the fact that it was completely inappropriate on a CD his brand was giving away. Or perhaps just to punctuate his point. Then he shared a story with me about his early days in the car business and how he messed up by trying to do something or other with Playboy magazine. It was a little blurry because I was in the middle of being cussed out by a very important client.

The part that stuck with me, though, was that he made sure I understand that an apology was unnecessary and also irrelevant. He didn't want me to be sorry, and I'm sure didn't care how I felt about it at all. He just wanted it not to happen again. Ever. And it didn't. The next six volumes of CDs, in addition to everything else we created from that day on, got special attention to ensure I didn't have to hear that type of speech again.

I had forgotten the exchange until I read this New York Times article about Toyota president Toyoda's recent public apology, and especially the commentary.

“'Sometimes, this apology business is a way to avoid taking real action or responsibility,' said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus."

and

“'When you hear these long apologies, 'Mr. Dujarric said, 'It makes you want to say: Don’t be sorry, just do something about it.’”

I couldn't agree more.

Advice, Pt. 3 // Reading for Rebels

advice3On my flight back from China, I found a copy of Business Today, India's leading business magazine. The Jan 11 issue features a cover story titled: The Best Advice I Ever Got with pearls of wisdom from a handful of very successful business executives — most of them Indian. I shared a bunch of quotes and my thoughts earlier this week in the post, Pearls of Wisdom, and in a second post, More Advice. Here is the final installment. "Do not give up. If you keep at it, results will come." — Salvatore Ferragamo, Owner, Il Borro Vineyards

Early on, I created the four original Rules for Rebels. They are:

1) Be tenacious 2) Ask more questions 3) Learn from everything 4) Win as a team

That first one is fundamental. It means you never give up, and implicit with that is you better choose your goals carefully, because there isn't enough time or energy to go after everything with tenacity.

"Be better than the best." — Naresh Goyal, Chairman, JET Airways

Obviously, I was relieved to read this while sitting on a JET Airways flight. The story went on to tell how Mr. Goyal had taken on the established players to launch a new carrier through dedication to being better than they were.

Part of our job is to constantly challenge the status quo. Client satisfaction is an important measure of success for us, but we always ask ourselves and our clients how we can do better in the future. Even if everything was perfect this time around, it's important to identify how we can improve next time.

"Always raise the bar and never be content with the status quo." — GV Prasad, CEO, Dr. Reddy's

"Be successful, but not at the cost of principles." — Am Nail, Chairman, L&T

There's a lot of conventional wisdom that preaches to the contrary. "By any means necessary," "The ends justify the means," "Get rich or die tryin'." Great sound bites, but they're basically unproductive to creating lasting success. Talk to most people who have built lifelong success and they'll tell you that how you treat people is important. Look at any industry (web 1.0, automotive, real estate, finance), and you'll see that the shorts you take today are surely going to catch up sooner than later. Sure, there are instances where you have the opportunity to get rich and get out without ever having to look back, but those are more for legend than reality. It's much more likely that approaching life in that way will bite you sooner than later.

"Hands that help are holier than lips that pray." — Dr. Devi Shetty, Chairman, Narayana Health City

In other words: Don't talk about it, be about it. Put up or shut up.

advice2"Save more, spend less. Every single rupee matters." — Ramchandra Agarwai, Founder, Vishal Mega Mart

This is more relevant today than ever. You might say "swagger is nothing, saving is everything."

"If you're not in control of your calendar, you're not in control." — William Lauder, CEO, Estee Lauder

There are so many distractions that compete for our attention. To quote Stephen Coven again, "the good is often the enemy of the best," which is to say there are so many good things out there to spend our time on, we have to be extremely disciplined to make sure we only give our attention to the most important things, and to those things we must give it all. "You must always take the path that is difficult because the difficult path leads you to a destination, the beautiful path is a destination in itself." — Prasoon Josh I, Chairman, McCann World Group

This is a bit contrary to what we hear in California about the journey being the destination, but I liked it because it emphasizes taking the road less traveled. Too often we're tempted by the easy way out, or the glamorous path. The reality is that the harder way is often better because fewer people are going to tough it out.

"If something takes three months to complete, ask yourself if it can be done in a week without compromising on the outcome or quality." — B. Ramalinga Raju, Chairman, Satyam Computer Service

I liked this one because it combines three valuable concepts. First, in today's environment, faster will always beat slower. Time is our most precious resource. Second, always challenge the status quo. The third is less obvious: you must always be honest with yourself about your ability to do things right. During the dot com days, I used to say those guys forgot that it takes nine months to make a baby. No matter how smart you think you are, you can't get it done in five. "Every failure opens up a new vista. Learn to fight failure with a spirit of challenge that will make you stronger. Remember failure is temporary, it's giving up that's permanent." — Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman, Biocon

Failure really sucks, if you let it. A setback like losing a client or great employee feels terrible, but you have to learn to find the valuable lessons in those experiences and use them to steel your resolve. It's a process, but it works for me.

A smart man once told me he only hires people with scars. He looks for people who have been fired, so they’ve had the opportunity to grow. What a great way to think about people, rather than the false ideals of perfection often emphasized in the hiring process.

"Remain focused in times of crisis and use that as an opportunity to become stronger." — Shantanu Prakash, Executive Chairman, Educomp

This is what we're telling clients who are afraid of the current economic situation. Now is the time to push ahead, build market share, show your customers that you're serious about meeting their needs.

Where have you heard great advice lately?

More Advice from India // Reading for Rebels

indianewdelhiOn my flight back from China, I found a copy of Business Today, India's leading business magazine. The Jan 11 issue features a cover story titled: The Best Advice I Ever Got with pearls of wisdom from a handful of very successful business executives — most of them Indian. I shared a bunch of quotes and my thoughts earlier this week in the post, Pearls of Wisdom, and here is the second installment. "The poor know a lot more than us." — Vikram Akula, Chairman, SKS Microfinance

I promised myself years ago that I would learn from everyone I met. I haven't been 100% on that, but I try to approach every single person from the perspective that they can teach me something, no matter their status or experience.

"Just watch customers and how they behave." — Kishore Biyani, CEO, Future Group

I talk a lot about what's wrong with market research, and this quote provides the simple solution. It's not always about elaborate questionnaire design that asks the wrong people the wrong questions. Sometimes, it's just about paying attention to what people are really doing.

"Be fair in life, work, and relationships. If there is an agreement that is 60% fair to you and 40% fair to the other, as soon as the other gets an equal offer it will walk out." — Deepak Puri, Chairman, Moser Baer

Back to the long view of things. Trying to win on every deal by shorting the other side of the table is a tough way to live. It takes a lot less effort to make deals that work over the long run than to constantly be replacing one short-term gain with another one.

advice1"Do what you really love doing, and nothing less than 200 percent." — Chetain Maini, Deputy Chairman, Reva Electric Car Company

"Have total schradda (involvement, devotion) in whatever I do. Whatever I do, everything begins and ends in losing myself in action, not in despair, cynicism, or frustration." — Captain CR Gopinath, ViceChairman, Kingfisher Airlines

At my first Vistage meeting, the guest speaker told us his goal for that day, and my job as a leader, is to leave everything in the room. Put it all on the table. At the end of each day, you should be spent because you've given 100%. I guess that's what schradda means.

"You can't build a successful business without a successful family." — Lord Swraj Paul, Chairman, Caparo Group

I don't have too much to say about this because I'm still learning to embrace it myself. Not too long ago, I believed that being out all night was important to my career success. But as life goes on, it becomes more and more clear to me how much it matters to have people in my corner, and to be working to create a life with someone. At this point, Christie (my wife) inspires me on a daily basis to do the best I can for our future together and the future of the world we live in.

"Our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but how we react to what happens." — Dr. Seema Shanghi, Director, FORE School of Management

Classic Stephen Covey. Our circumstances are outside of our control. Our response to those circumstances is always within our control. Take responsibility for every action and choose wisely.

People love to talk about karma, usually after they get parking tickets. In truth, karma is about cause and effect. Every single action has consequences. Whatever you do, you’re choosing to accept the consequences, whether you want them or not. Think about that.

Pearls of Wisdom // Reading for Rebels

adviceOn my flight back from China, I found a copy of Business Today, India's leading business magazine. The Jan 11 issue features a cover story titled: The Best Advice I Ever Got with pearls of wisdom from a handful of very successful business executives — most of them Indian. Because this isn’t a publication that’s in my (or perhaps your) normal radar, I thought that there’s a lot worth sharing. I’m going to break this into a couple posts so your eyes don’t bleed from reading pages and pages. A bunch of the advice fell into one category — leadership — something that’s always important in our endeavors, perhaps moreso with the business and financial challenges we’re all facing at the moment. Here goes…

"Every problem can be traced back to failure of management and leadership. Don't look for excuses or find people or situations to blame, but focus on what you can do to achieve desired results." — Akhil Gupta, Chairman, Blackstone India

Wow, this is a good one. There's another saying that people don't quit companies, they quit managers. It's always tempting to blame someone, especially because people do tend to screw things up. But I believe people are exactly as good or as poor as they are managed. I have to remind myself of this often.

"Share the credit for success; take responsibility for trouble." — G. Madhavan Nair, Chairman, Isro & Space Commission

Every success Rebel has ever had is owed to the teamwork of everyone involved. I do my best to make it apparent that this is not the Josh Levine show. On the other hand, as it says above, every failure is owed to poor leadership, which means I'm ultimately responsible if there's an unhappy client.

"Results matter, efforts don't." — Jignesh Shah, Vice Chairman, MCX

We have a saying that goes something like "never try." If you're going to do something, commit yourself and apply whatever tenacity is necessary to get it done. No more, no less.

I've often seen young employees try to impress me with how hard they're working. Truth is, I hate seeing people work hard. I'd much rather you come in for half days and produce stellar results. That may not be practical, but the point is all that really matters is the results.

"Pay attention to your people. People are the only thing that matters, and the only thing you should think about." — Shelly Lazarus, CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

I haven't always been good at this. Years ago, an employee told me the sense she got from my management style was that I just needed young people to work for cheap and that she could easily be replaced by new blood eager to get put on. At the time, she was probably right. And while you could argue the value of keeping people from getting complacent is keeping them insecure, I've found it's not much of a motivator to get people to do their best work. I'd say my approach today is much more people-centric. My goal is to never have more people than we need, always hire the best, and let people know that I value their contribution.

"Competence alone is not enough... One needs an ability to convince others and be confident without being arrogant." — M. Rammohan Rao, Dean, India School of Business

Love this one. I've often struggled with the truth that my own success depends on my ability to convince others when I'm right. But that's the truth.

"Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously." — Piyush Pandey, Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather India

Soon as I read this, the word "swagger" popped into my head. Our world seems to be full of people who take themselves way too seriously and don't give enough weight to their work. From hip hop to Wall Street, the world suffers when we get too wrapped up in ego.

"The most important principle in life is humility and conservatism. Don't try to show off or try to be different for the sake of being different." — Uday Kotak, Managing Director, Kotak Mahindra Bank

Back to the swagger issue. It might work for rappers and celebutantes, but as I said that's usually short lived. The rest of us better keep our stunting in check and focus on the long term. When executives or creative directors start walking around like it’s their show, you know you’ve got trouble.

"Out of every 10 men born in this world, nine work for the tenth. Prepare to be the tenth." — Jamshed Irani, Director, Tata Sons

This hits home for me because I never wanted to work for anyone else. Even when I have, I've also felt that I'm working for myself. I believe a key to success is to embrace both of those situations as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. When I hire, I'm not so much looking for people to work for me as people who are going to work really hard for themselves. If we can align our self interests so that working for oneself and for Rebel and our clients all fits together, then we have a successful relationship.

People who treat me like the boss don't last too long.

Stay tuned for more words of wisdom from this article in the next couple days.