24 October 2009

From bullock-cart to Mercedes-Benz by Dr. P.N. Singh

Reinforcing the basics
Last week I received a mail from Dr. Singh in which he said, among other things, that this book was going into its fourth edition. I wasn’t surprised. It isn’t a racy bestseller and nor is it a work of literary genius. However, and despite not having been reviewed in any mainstream publication, it has turned out to be a popular and widely-read book. When writing in the second edition about the lack of reviews the book had received, Dr. Singh very kindly mentioned that, “Saaz Aggarwal had promised a review. She is a very sincere person. She must have tried her best. Her efforts did not produce any results.” (I will have to admit that he was quite correct on all counts.)
Dr. Singh and I have known and respected each other professionally for around 20 years. He was my first and most important HR guru. It was the articles he wrote for Ascent in the early 1990s when I had just launched this HR supplement for the Times of India that made me understand that good-quality Management is really rooted in common sense, a fact that was useful to me in the many long years that I myself worked as a manager.
He wrote (in simple language) of simple problems managers face every day, and the simple solutions that they could easily use to deal with them. I loved the fact that his consistent style was to reinforce the basics – the fundamental issues of existence that we so often forget when we enter the rat race and our lives become a continuous flurry of activity with no time or energy to stop and think whether we are really doing what we want to do or what is going to get us what we really want.
It is this basic skill, of focussing on the most important issues, that led Dr. Singh to set up a self-development centre which conducts a range of education and infrastructure project in his native villge of Ganj (Ganj, P.O. EKMA, Dist Saran, Bihar; details here).
In this book, he has written about his childhood, his education, his family, and each step of his career and how he went from a child for whom a ride in a bullock cart was a special treat to the hakim-hukum his grandfather knew he would be, and with a Mercedes Benz that he takes quite for granted.
Along with the facts he has also woven in his opinions about bureaucracy, the differences between working the public and private sector companies, some special impressions of “My Hero: Aditya Birla”, and his journey as an entrepreneur. There are also nugget-sized lessons on nearly every page, some of these HR gems, such as:

- When you find an employer too keen to recruit you, he will soon become too keen to get rid of you.
- Overemphasizing the importance of promotion is dysfunctional. Organizations should find other methods to motivate their employees.
- Don’t accept peanuts as a salary unless you are a monkey. Sack your employers at the earliest.
- One mistake does not justify another mistake.

- Being too close to a subordinate can be disastrous to a CEO.

Regarding the success of this book, I would attribute it at least partly to Dr. Singh’s formidable personal network. Its continuous sale despite lack of mainstream coverage is a testimony to the power of word-of-mouth as most-effective marketing tool.
In the preface Dr. P.N. Singh wrote, “This is the story of an ordinary Indian, who is neither an industrialist nor a political leader. If he were one, he would have got the book written by a ghost writer. Instead he had to write his story by putting his heart instead of ink in his pen.”
Now this, I feel, is entirely my loss – I’ve always admired Dr. Singh and regret the loss of professional opportunity in writing his story myself.

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