Break the tradition

Do you remember Seven Up’s Fido Dido advertisement that says, “Normal is Boring?” It was an advertisement conceptualised around 15 years ago, showcasing a lanky boy with a funky hairstyle. While I loved the concept, those three words stayed on with me since then. It inspired me to rethink the way things are done, habitually – be it in choosing schools for my daughter, my parenting role, or my professional role. The phrase ‘boring’ awakened me to the need to change the way I take decisions in my life. Why must I do what is being done normally? Isn’t there a better way of doing things which will lead me to my final goal?

When this very thought occurred to entrepreneurs, it led to major shifts in the business world. Take the example of Raman Roy, the founder and CEO of Quatrro BPO Solutions. He became the pioneer of the Indian BPO industry because he thought differently.  During his tenure at American Express in the 1980s, he convinced his bosses that an outsourcing facility could be operated out of India. While there were concerns about technology and telecommunication connectivity, Roy offered a solution to the decision makers. His suggestion to them was to build private connectivity instead of using government telephone cables. With his conviction, he beat the theorists’ concern regarding infrastructure, hiring and technology. And, as it turns out, six years before India was liberalised, American Express became one of the first few companies to start BPO operations in India.

If you notice, over the last decade, business owners have tuned their business ideas to address the needs of the society, apart from identifying ways to add to their topline and bottomline growth. Recently, I had spoken to some of the past winners of MAD LTD, the youth leadership initiative inspired by HCL Technologies that aims to nurture young leaders in India. What I observed was that every business model had a double bottomline approach to it.

Differentiated models have also evolved in the way business processes like hiring, distribution and operations are treated. For instance, Sridhar Vembu’s Zoho Corp is known for its interesting hiring practice. The Indian engineers at Zoho are not necessarily from the top schools, yet the company is widely acclaimed for the quality of its products. So, what did he do to leverage such a differentiation? Vembu set up ‘Zoho University’, roped in youngsters from economically backward sections of society, trained them, and hired them into software development roles. In fact, even the curriculum was tweaked to suit the students’ needs, keeping their prior educational background in mind. In return, all the University looked for was commitment from these students. Vembu told us in an interview, that in the first batch, five out of the six students hadn’t seen a computer before. But it did not stop him from pursuing this initiative, as, the training imparted by them worked very well.  Today, more than 15 per cent of its employees are recruited from Zoho University.

In another instance, Aravind Eye Care Hospitals (Aravind), achieved its mission of doing good to the society by differentiating its operational process. Its founder Dr. G. Venkataswamy was largely inspired by McDonalds’ business model, which focuses on efficiency and affordability. Aravind now aims to grow through high volumes and has put in place systems and processes for the optimal use of medical and paramedical staff, thereby making patient inflow more organised and ensuring that resources are not kept idle at any point of time.

While an entrepreneur needs to think out-of-the-box to be able to differentiate, the costs associated with his / her business-related decision needs to be analysed. Vembu’s Zoho University made financial sense to him, as it not only helped build his brand, but also had social benefits associated with it.

If you look at the current edition’s cover story, Happiest Minds Technologies’ mission is to enable the happiness of its people and customers. And, to achieve this, it has identified a clear framework and has built happiness-related ideas into its processes. This again makes financial sense to the company because nothing in the framework involves any significant additional financial commitment, but just a pledge from the management to believe in this process.  Today, Happiest Minds is the first company in India to formalise the concept of workplace happiness and even make it one of the parameters it measures in its business operations.

So, believe that “Normal is Boring!” Be a “Fido Dido!”


Poornima Kavlekar is the Consulting Editor of The Smart CEO. She likes to write on varied topics ranging from investment and business to parenting and childcare.