DEFINING ‘THE SMART CEO’

In my editor’s note, I usually focus on theorising the subject of the cover story. Last edition, I loosely analysed the ‘genesis of a new industry’ through the story of Sula Vineyards. A few editions back, when we featured Dr. Matt Barney of Infosys Leadership Institute on the cover, I highlighted why the ‘pursuit of followership’ is crucial for a leader. I was recently explaining to an entrepreneur at the first Smart CEO Round Table (more on this later) about why we do such stories. Why do we theorise, or maybe even generalise, what has worked for some entrepreneur? Isn’t the theory of best practices flawed? Don’t different companies have a different set of constraints, different environments in which they operate that makes it almost impossible to replicate what some other business did? The answer to all these questions is a simple one – the ideas you get from our stories don’t give you the answers to your business problems. In fact, it does quite the opposite: it helps you ask yourself more questions about your own business.

In my mind, the role of The Smart CEO magazine is very clear. Let me define it for you by answering two questions.

One: What we are and aim to become as a magazine?

Through in depth conversations with entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors, we work on capturing their thinking process, the business decisions they make and why they make these decisions.

In one of our earlier cover stories featuring Sanjeev Bikhchandani of Naukri.com, we opened the article with one of his characteristic traits – longevity, and highlighted his ability to stay in the entrepreneurial game for a long time. We pinpointed the strategy of prepaid billing at Naukri.com, which ensured that the company operated with negative working capital and thus, the company hardly ever had cash flow problems. Now, these points could inspire people to not give up and stay in the game longer. If there is potential to somehow manage cash flow for your own company a little better after reading this story, our job is more than done.

After reading the cover feature on Zoho and Sridhar Vembu and how he bootstrapped his way to US $150 million in annual sales, you’re sure to learn something. His recruiting model – of recruiting software programmers straight out of high school and training them – will get you to sit up and start thinking about your own startup’s cost structure. In my mind, these are important decisions made by other entrepreneurs that you should certainly know about. Whether you mimic these decisions or think these don’t make sense and do the opposite, it doesn’t matter. Our focus is on giving you more ideas to think about.

Two: What we don’t intend to be?

I am sure this list is going to be longer. We don’t intend to speculate. We’re not in the business of predicting if a particular startup or growth enterprise is going to win big or fail fast. We don’t intend to glorify or put down any entrepreneur. We don’t know when the e-commerce bubble is going to burst. Okay, maybe this is a cop out! But it is our firm belief that there is space for an ‘ideas magazine’, one that’ll independently and constantly cull out the best ideas from businesses around India and showcase them to our readers.

Before I wrap up, let me introduce you to yet another new section we’ve launched this month. It is the Smart CEO Round Table, a forum where entrepreneurs meet informally over coffee and share ideas with each other.

Have fun reading this edition of The Smart CEO. I am sure Vembu’s journey at the helm of Zoho Corp will be an exciting one to read about.