There is a reason for the map above. I figured that, if I don’t add the map above, then I really can’t talk about what I want to say in an intelligible manner.
Incidentally, I don’t agree with the boundary of India as depicted on Google, or any international map.
Anyway, I am talking about India’s borders. This is about the dawning of “strategic thought”. This was the time to, hopefully, put some of my MBA knowledge to practice. Of course, I had no clue about how to go about it.
I had an emergency to deal with, and sales to grow. I had distributor’s who’s accounts were a mess, sales reps who did not want to work, sales reps who were making money.
To top it all, I had a boss who was breathing down my neck. He wanted sales, sales and more sales.
Now, we were all based in Delhi. You will find it somewhere in the map. All dispatches within the state of Uttar Pradesh were made from a town called Ghaziabad, next to Delhi.
About 27% of our business came from one town called Gorakhpur in the eastern part of the state. Naturally, when the distributor there sneezed, we all got a cold. Luckily, he was a nice guy.
Dispatches to Gorakhpur (about 600 km away) took about 3 days to reach. Dispatches to towns closer to Delhi took about 40 days to reach, because they were small loads, and would arrive completely damaged.
So, this was life as I knew it.
Dispatches were complicated because of a rather archaic tax called “Octroi”. This is a tax that has to be paid to the town municipal whenever a truck enters a town. It was a complete screwball of a situation.
Luckily for me, at the time I took over the state, octroi was abolished in the state. This was a God-send, and allowed me to rationalize the entire delivery system. Sales in the smaller towns picked up, and helped me reduced my dependence on sales from the town in Gorakhpur.
The second God-send, was the launch of a new brand, a low cost brand, which was perfect for the rural markets. So, I went whole hog into developing the rural markets, building this in a sustainable manner, and helping to reduce my dependence on Gorakhpur further.
Over the few years, as I gained in the confidence of these two opportunities that I grabbed and made successful, I systematically developed the business in other towns that I saw success.
I also developed the confidence of some of the sales reps who wanted to work, but were overshadowed by the charisma of the stronger ones who did not.
Now, as I look back on those days, and after having read many books on management strategy, what I realize is that they invariably focus on corporate strategy. They do not focus on the battles that have to be fought on the battlefield, or on how strategic thought has to be developed in young managers.
In those days, the rhetoric was, “What? You are sitting in the office? get on the field, and get your sorry ass out of here!’
While I am all for working in the markets, I also believe that this has to be accompanied by active mentoring, and not Alpha-male talk alone. That is another topic, however.
The question is: was I opportunistic, or was I strategic? Was I plain, dumb-ass lucky that the opportunities came my way, and that I was smart enough to take advantage of these opportunities, to give me the breathing space to develop my strategy for the territory under my charge?
This was the second territory I had managed in my life, and I realized that, as a leader, you have to prove yourself every time. There is pressure on you to prove yourself, and to provide direction.
The opportunities that I grabbed helped me, however, opportunities could have easily been ones that would have been a long-term distraction as well. You have to be able to distinguish between opportunities that help you, or take you away from your goal.
I always believe, as I have since then, is that you need to be as opportunistic as you can, to be alive to opportunities, and to ensure that you keep your eye on the goal. Let strategic thought develop as you grow.