My biggest mistake was to abstain from the selection of the team. Though I watch a lot cricket whenever possible, I am no cricket expert at the end of the day. I had a separate list of players that I wanted. But since (Rahul) Dravid is such an iconic player I trusted his judgment. …Later, when I questioned the team’s performance, poor practice facilities and the lack of infrastructure were given as reasons. It was also said that there was no bonding in the team.
—Vijay Mallya, owner of the Bangalore Royal Challengers
Right now, all of us have become part of a failed script. A bad IPL script. Let’s try and keep our chin up. ...The beauty of failure is that it brings people together. So, let’s stick this out together. I am too much of a sport myself to get beaten by defeats. I am not the kind of owner who has issues with the team because of losses. ...So, head’s up. Have a good match and let’s make 200 runs.
—Shah Rukh Khan, owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders
Well, I’m no cricket expert either. But over the last few weeks, as fans have been glued to their television screens and will be again in the coming days for the finals of the Indian Premier League (IPL), I’ve been celebrating for another reason: I think I’m finally getting the game.
Most people apply cricket analogies to their daily life and work, but this week’s column will engage in the reverse. After all, if IPL has reduced cricket to nothing more than a business, then let’s evaluate its success as a workplace.
Good teams make good companies. Most people discounted the Rajasthan Royals before this whole thing started, a team devoid of stars, save the captain. But in its ability to pull together as a true team, relying on strengths and, importantly, being able to stretch skill sets evenly, it emerged victorious. This is a major challenge of Indian workplaces trying to make employees more well-rounded and not stuck in the babu years where one person only handled one core competency for his whole career. It helps when the leader — in the Royals’ case, captain Shane Warne — is also able to execute on several levels.
Good human resources always win. Can a nice boss still be an effective one? While Kolkata didn’t advance to the semi-finals, the team endeared itself to fans and even made some new ones, thanks to the excellent public relations and down-to-earth attitudes of Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla. When the team was down, his text messages oozed the perfect blend of sincerity and pushiness. He became the boss we all love, in the trenches with us, overjoyed and generous with a pat on the back when we succeeded, ready with sympathy and advice when we failed. If more Indian managers were like this, succeeding — and even learning from our mistakes — would be so much easier. Now those middle-management captains, they’re another story...
Start-ups take time. On the other hand, Vijay Mallya looked like the sorest and biggest loser of all. Sure, he views the whole game as a business venture, is upfront about wanting to be best, win best. But he should have saved the harsher words for the locker room and avoided demeaning his employees in public. And there’s a reason these contracts are for three years — building strong teams does not happen overnight. Mallya did, however, effectively leverage his brand name and millions of Indians will never swig his whisky again without thinking of a poor, scorned Rahul Dravid and the micromanaging “I told you so” Mallya.
There’s strength in diversity. How did Chennai Superkings’ Mahendra Singh Dhoni become “Veeramani”, at least according to one Tamil radio station? At once, the beauty of IPL has been the ability of a nation to bring new blood into its fold, look beyond regionalism and parochialism and cheer for talent (such as the Delhi crowd hooting for Sachin Tendulkar last weekend), but still root for the home team. The offices and global cities we are building must be eclectic but borderless. It is possible, really, to have multiple places to which we belong and use it to our advantage.
Indeed, the first season of IPL serves as apt metaphor for the evolving Indian office. Both face similar challenges, down to the accusation that all the guys in charge care about is money. The success of the teams remaining show mastery of humanity and humility, strategy and skill. If IPL grows to more than one season per year, along with more teams and more sponsorships, it should not lose sight of what matters as much as profit. In sport, as in business, winning is great, but how you play the game matters, too.
To quote from the most benevolent boss in SRK, a crowd-pleasing, nice guy who didn’t finish quite last but far from first: “We have nothing to lose now, except our character... Let’s not lose that.”
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