A level playing field

I recently listened to a talk by Dr. Bala Balachandran, professor emeritus of Kellogg School of Management and founder of Chennai-based Great Lakes Institute of Management. He was talking about competitive strategy and in jest, made a remark about how one can never learn competitive strategy by reading a book, simply because your competition could be reading the same book! “How then could we learn about tackling competition?” asked an entrepreneur from the audience. The professor responded: “Really, there is no secret sauce. Think deeply about what your customers’ needs are and deliver it to them.”

For some reason, this conversation on competition was stuck in my head. These days, without fail, I request every entrepreneur I interview to answer this question. I recently heard, what I thought was, one of the most cogent answers. Tiger Ramesh, a serial entrepreneur and currently the CEO of CSS Corp, said: “Small companies have to create a level playing field to tackle competition and then, compete on differentiation.” The answer resonated with me on several accounts. In fact, all entrepreneurs, probably inadvertently follow this rule but a single phrase to deal with competition helps you think through your approach with a lot more clarity.

A very successful entrepreneur I know has actually taken this concept of a level playing field to the next level. He uses his snooker table as a playing arena and lays down his and his competitor’s products as players. He then thinks through various scenarios of what his competitors will do and plans out his strategy accordingly. It is almost like a game, where he simulates what his competition will do and charts out his game plan accordingly. One of his direct reports talks about how this methodology, which he calls scenario planning, does wonders for the firm and also communicates very clearly the company’s strategy to the operations team.

For this edition’s cover story, we picked 10 companies that we have featured in the past that operate in extremely competitive sectors. We handpicked these 10 entrepreneurs/business leaders to speak with, primarily based on the progress their companies have made since we last featured them. Overall, we’ve packaged the cover story into two parts – Then & Now and Startup School. In part one, we throw the spotlight on the “big updates” from all these companies with a detailed report of all their new initiatives – be it new products launched, international expansion, exits for their investors or growth at a scorching pace. In part two, we requested them to share some lessons they’ve learnt from their entrepreneurial journey so far.

As I write this note, we’re gearing up for our fifth year of running The Smart CEO. The last four years, simply put, have been a wonderful learning experience. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues – across content and business teams – for their genuine efforts in shaping up the magazine to what it is today. This upcoming year, we’re looking to launch a few new verticals across book publishing and executive education, so stay tuned to this space for more updates.

Hope you enjoy reading this edition of The Smart CEO.

S. Prem Kumar


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