Touted as a hilarious survival guide, Rajiv Gupta's The Good Indian Employee's Guide to Surviving a Lala Company paints a bleak picture of the second-generation Indian family business owner - the Lala of the title. Often conceited and impatient, the Lala ji - with his poor business decisions and poorer work ethic - is a key source of mirth in this book.
The advice in the book - the wisdom nuggets - is directed at employees, vendors and consultants who enter Lala ji's maddening orbit for varying lengths of time. The advice itself ranges from cautioning new employees against the back-stabbing chamchaa (sycophant) to telling all workers to avoid challenging the authority of the muneem (accountant and keeper of family secrets).
To be sure, the Lala ji of the book and his business are fictitious and Gupta at no point suggests that all or even most family business owners share his proclivity for self-importance and conceitedness.
In an early chapter, Gupta introduces Lala ji to the readers and explains a few things about his approach to life and business. Excerpted below is the section titled "The case of the Rs 10,000-crore business plan". Read on:
An industrialist once hired a reputed consultant for creating a three-year strategic plan. The family business had recently been divided. His brother had received a business worth Rs 8,000 crore. The industrialist felt he had been short-changed. He wanted to prove to everyone that he would soon be ahead of his brother. The industrialist’s vision was to make the company grow from Rs 2,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore in three years—a fivefold increase. The consultant was an ex-bureaucrat, a former CEO, and a well-respected individual. He proposed a 360-degree evaluation of the company’s business before suggesting a roadmap. During this phase, that lasted six weeks, he sought data and interacted with employees, vendors, dealers, customers, bankers and independent directors on the board.
Finally, the day of the presentation arrived. The consultant had clearly requested a six-hour session with the industrialist without interruption. The schedule had been drawn up and shared with all invitees well in advance: session I was to be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by lunch, and an open session for discussions and debates from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Lalaji arrived at 10.00 a.m. sharp. The consultant started his presentation as planned. About thirty minutes into the presentation, Lalaji interrupted him by saying, ‘We will finish in one hour, right?’
The consultant responded by saying that his presentation will end by 1 p.m. as planned, followed by discussions post lunch.
Lalaji, turning a bit and looking towards his senior management team said, ‘I will be leaving in an hour. You chaps continue the discussions and brief me later.’ The consultant tried to persuade Lalaji to go through with the entire session as planned. ‘Your presence is necessary. You are the one whom I need to explain things to. After all, this is about the next three years of the strategic direction of the company.’
‘Why don’t you tell me in a nutshell? Why are four to five hours required? Tell me the conclusion and the details can be explained to the team.’ But the consultant refused to budge and maintained that it was inappropriate to jump to that conclusion unless he had shared the entire basis and rationale. Lalaji then made a request; ‘Okay, I will sit through. But can you please start with the main themes required for us to reach Rs 10,000 crore in top line?’
Seeing the mood and impatience of Lalaji, the consultant relented. As he put up the slide showing how company will reach a turnover of Rs 4,500–4,800 crore after three years, Lalaji became livid. ‘What are you showing me? I want to see a Rs 10,000-crore plan after three years, not this.’
‘Sir, this is the three-year plan. We are talking about the same thing,’ explained the consultant.
‘What nonsense? How is it possible? I clearly remember giving you a target of Rs 10,000 crore.’
The consultant patiently explained, ‘It is good to have an aspiration to get to a Rs 10,000-crore turnover. But if we consider company’s current products, resources, core competency areas and competition scenario from domestic as well as global players, we are still talking about a growth of over 250 per cent in three years.’
Lalaji, however, was not ready to listen.
He furiously commented, ‘You have been working for two months and this is the output you give me?!’
He started berating the senior team in quite a colourful language because he could not directly say anything to the consultant. The consultant, who had been patient so far, finally reacted. ‘Lalaji, can we stop this discussion and have a word separately?’
Lalaji wanted to say, ‘Whatever you have to say, say it here,’ but sensed that he might find himself at the receiving end and didn’t want his employees to bear witness. He went into another room with the consultant.
The consultant gave Lalaji a piece of his mind, saying, ‘If you wanted me to blindly say what you want, then you need not have hired me in the first place. My job was to do an honest assessment and share my expert opinion. I was not obliged to follow any diktat as that would be in complete violation of my professional ethics.’ Visibly upset, he continued, ‘Considering the current situation, facts and data points, the company cannot turn into a Rs 10,000-crore company. But Rs 4,500–4,800 crore is possible with a lot of effort in three to four years, as you do not have a strong product line-up or technology. Nor do you have the financial resources. Growing to Rs 4,500–4,800 crore itself would make the company debt-laden. Trying to grow faster than that will prove disastrous.’
With that, the consultant stormed out and decided never ever to work with Lalaji again.
Wisdom nuggetsApparently, Lalaji’s aim behind hiring this consultant was to convince his own management team that the company could grow to the Rs 10,000-crore top-line. The management team was well aware that the expectation was unrealistic. They did try to tell him in their own way, but he was never ready to listen to a ‘no’. He thought an external person would be able to convince them. He could also possibly be wanting to reassure himself that his ambition of exceeding the turnover of his brother’s company was achievable. This, after all, was his way of healing the wounds from being shortchanged by his family during the split. He couldn’t wait to be at thetop of his game, conquer all his adversaries and prove his supremacy.