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Keep your eyes on the ball

What do cricketer Anil Kumble and entrepreneur Steve Jobs have in common? “Visionary leadership," says Dev Prasad in his book Pitch It! Inspirational Stories From the Cricket Dressing Room to the Corporate Boardroom. Prasad draws on examples from the worlds of business and the gentleman’s game, to look at what it takes to achieve spectacular results in both.

Prasad, a Bangalore-based IT professional, has previously authored Krishna: A Journey Through the Lands & Legends of Krishna.

In the chapter “Turnaround Specialist", Prasad takes the example of then team captain Kapil Dev’s match-winning performance against Zimbabwe in the 1983 International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup and Carlos Ghosn’s
efforts to resuscitate the beleaguered Nissan car company in the early 2000s to illustrate the power of controlled aggression and keeping your eyes on the prize. Edited excerpts:

Tunbridge Wells. Does it ring a bell?

Pitch It! Inspirational Stories from Cricket Dressing Room to the Corporate Boardroom: By Dev Prasad, Random House India, 361 pages, Rs299
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Pitch It! Inspirational Stories from Cricket Dressing Room to the Corporate Boardroom: By Dev Prasad, Random House India, 361 pages, Rs299

In walked Kapil Dev, skipper of the Indian team. Any other batsman would have been extra cautious and done his best to block all the good balls and defend his wicket, even at the cost of the scoring rate dropping down. However, Kapil had other thoughts. He was completely undaunted by the grim situation. With controlled aggression, he carted the Zimbabwe bowlers to all corners of the park and scored a blistering 175 off 138 balls. India finished at 266 for the loss of 8 wickets and in response, Zimbabwe made 235 and lost the match by 31 runs.

Carlos Ghosn is the chairman and CEO of Japan based Nissan and Paris based Renault, two of the leading car manufacturers in the world.

In 1996, Renault hired Ghosn as its executive vice president and made him responsible for advanced research, car engineering & development, car manufacturing, and purchasing and supervision of the company’s activities in South America. In 1999, Renault purchased a 36.8% stake in Nissan. While maintaining his role at Renault, Ghosn joined Nissan as its COO in June 1999, became president in June 2000, and was named the CEO in June 2001.

When Carlos Ghosn joined Nissan, it had a debt of $20 billion and only 3 of its 48 models were generating profits. Ghosn promised to resign if the company did not reach profitability by the end of the year, and claimed that Nissan would have no net debt by 2005.

He defied Japanese business etiquettes by taking many decisions which were relatively alien to Japanese culture during those days. He cut 21,000 jobs. He also shut the first of the five domestic plants, and auctioned off prized assets such as Nissan’s aerospace unit. His radical methods made him quite unpopular in the initial days.

However, in one year, Nissan’s net profit climbed to $2.7 billion from a loss of $6.1 billion in the previous year. Within three years, he transformed Nissan into one of the most profitable automakers, with operating margins consistently above 9%—more than twice the industry average.

He also made structural changes at Nissan, dramatically altering the corporate culture. He ended its reliance on an interwoven web of parts suppliers with cross holdings in Nissan—a Japanese operating model called ‘Keiretsu’. He changed the company’s official language to English, and included executives from Europe and North America in key global strategy sessions.

Kapil Dev and Carlos Ghosn achieved one of the best turnaround of fortunes in their respective fields. When Kapil walked into the middle, his team was precariously placed at 17 for 5. He had a twofold strategy of keeping his wicket intact and at the same time being aggressive enough to keep the run-rate high and not allowing Zimbabwe’s bowlers to dominate.

The situation was no different for Ghosn when he joined Nissan. Ghosn cut down costs aggressively but he did not lose focus on innovation and introduction of new products. Though the prevailing business situation forced him to cut thousands of jobs, he was a people oriented person and a democratic leader. He always empowered his team members and listened to their suggestions. What differentiated him from other CEOs were his listening and observation skills. When he was asked to name a business leader whom he respected and had read about, he candidly admitted that he did not think much of them and his lessons were learnt from his own employees. He believed that the best way to appreciate people was by understanding the difficulty they were going through in a given situation.

When a company performs badly, in most of the cases, the CEO indulges in a knee-jerk reaction. He often fails to differentiate between expenses and investments. The emphasis on keeping the bottom line low can result in chopping off even those activities that are needed for the company to grow. For example, cutting budgets on innovation, research, and improvements can prove detrimental to the long-term growth of a company. Both Kapil and Ghosn combined aggression with the right degree of caution and never lost focus on their final objective.

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