Wilfried Aulbur and Amit Kapoor’s new book, a guide on how companies can survive in volatile market

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Published: February 26, 2017 6:12:03 AM

WHEN ONE picks up a book with a title like Riding the Tiger: How to Execute Business Strategy in India, a sense of wariness is not unnatural, as there are several books on how one should steer a company in a ‘VUCA’—volatile, uncertain, complex and...

The IndiGo model is based on high ‘on-time’ performance, say the authors.

WHEN ONE picks up a book with a title like Riding the Tiger: How to Execute Business Strategy in India, a sense of wariness is not unnatural, as there are several books on how one should steer a company in a ‘VUCA’—volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous—environment to remain successful. Biographies of companies are common when authors try to tell you what to do. Wilfried Aulbur and Amit Kapoor’s book, however, comes as a breath of fresh air, even though the word ‘tiger’ is quite a cliché now, as is the action of riding this carnivorous animal.

Riding the Tiger provides insight into what some firms have done, from sectors as varied as engineering and consumer products, handling the current volatile environment. Some companies that feature in the book include Hindustan Unilever, Maruti Suzuki, Adani Group, Godrej Consumer Products, Siemens, Bosch, Bajaj Auto and HDFC Life. Then there are companies like Vaatsalya Healthcare, IndiGo and JSW Steel, which are great names, but rarely sketched when authors write about successful companies. Aulbur and Kapoor use a different approach, wherein they embed the case study of a company in the attribute that they consider important for success. This makes the characters fit into the narrative, making the book interesting.

The authors’ argument is that when one is the CEO, one can’t give excuses. While issues like consumer requirement and technology have to be addressed, a factor that can really be an insurmountable challenge is regulation, which can change at any time owing to a Supreme Court decision or political whim. Finally, it’s the CEO who will be held responsible. Hence, he/she should be thinking ahead. This is the main problem with most companies, where CEOs are so obsessed with day-to-day operations that they fail to see the big picture. This can be dangerous, say the authors.

Let us look at some of the attributes that deserve attention. Operational expertise is one factor that can distinguish companies and products, and normally falls under what can be called ‘internal controls’. The way one cuts cost and enhances quality with competitive pricing is a necessary condition for success. Maruti Suzuki focuses on every detail to cut costs, while the IndiGo model is based on high ‘on-time’ performance. Many flyers praise the airline for always being on time, a tenet the brand has been built around.

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Another crucial factor is innovation. The compulsion of innovation is, in fact, necessary even in financial services, with HDFC Life Insurance excelling in online delivery.

Third, companies should know what they stand for and operate within these confines to present their value propositions to the market. A firm like Bharat Forge is known for metallurgy, while Samvardhana Motherson is known for auto ancillary products. These companies know their strengths and stay away from unrelated diversification, which is the tendency for some companies. Within the organisation, the value proposition should be known to all, so that everyone can work towards the goal. JSW Steel, for instance, made it a point to engage with local communities and so got their support in times of need.

Leadership, of course, is the most important, as the entire framework has to be conceived by the leader. He/she has to ensure that the company stays committed to its roots. When the environment changes radically, the leader has to define new choices and activity systems. Mahindra Rural Housing Finance’s approach to improving the lives of the rural populace through tailormade lending products has had a positive impact while remaining an attractive business opportunity.

The authors simultaneously argue that leaders must show agility and courage. Vaatsalya Healthcare, for instance, started several pilot hospitals and then adopted the model that worked best. Godrej is another example. It leverages its products in Argentina and Indonesia, and then improves on products that work well there for the Indian market. Similarly, HDFC Life moved from a market share approach to a profit-focused model due to regulatory pressures and adapted well.

Towards the end of the book, the authors tabulate what various companies have done in these areas. Let us sample IndiGo’s case. Operational excellence at the company is through fast turnaround times, high volumes, low maintenance and fuel efficiency. Innovation is typified by continuous small changes, like in-flight cleaning and boarding ramp, which keep it ahead of competition. The choices and tradeoffs are based on its preference for on-time and low-cost courteous travel experience. Leadership has taken the airline to new international destinations.

Riding the Tiger is a book worth reading and keeping on the shelf. CEOs can pick some points from stories of companies covered here. The book provides good clues on how to survive in an uncertain and volatile market. The message is that there are no short cuts when it comes to planning for the future.

Madan Sabnavis is chief economist, CARE Ratings

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