Kiruba is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, podcaster and a farmer.

Ramco’s Turnaround: Can a new CEO do it?

Excellent insights about Ramco Systems and how its trying to do a turn around by Ramnath Subbaraman of Forbes India.

Original Article:

The reason why its products scored low on usability had to do with Ramco’s culture. It had always been an organisation dominated by engineers—not least because its promoter Venketrama Raja, a chemical engineer from Madras University, had a passion for products and engineering, and has been closely involved in its operations. (Raja, along with Ramco Industries and Madras Cements, own 68 percent in the company.) And engineers aren’t always the best people to think of products with lay users in mind. So, one of the first things Aggarwal did was to stress on usability. He hired over 20 usability experts (Ramco employs around 1,200 people) and made it known that nothing would go to customers unless the usability team gives the go-ahead.

To score higher on usability means the product has to run on mobile devices which, in effect, means everything has to be on cloud, an area that Ramco was already focusing on. Since Aggarwal’s arrival, all the products are built for the mobile first—and they all have elements drawn from the services that define this era: Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, and, of course, Google. So, an executive checks into an office using his mobile, enters a data centre or conference room using a QR code, uses the maps on his mobile to check on his customers in that location, much the same way one might check out restaurants and so on. (QR code, or quick response code, is a machine readable code, similar to barcodes, but can store more information.)

Importantly, there is more stress on marketing than ever before. Insiders say that when its products failed to take off in the market, instead of turning more aggressive, the executives turned more inward looking, and instead of stepping up the marketing efforts, started investing less on marketing. That has changed since Aggarwal arrived. The team is practically new. (The story goes that sometime after he took charge, he sent a mail to his marketing team asking for their views on a certain issue. Some responded, some didn’t. He asked the HR department to fire those who didn’t respond, saying, ‘if they don’t respond to their CEO, would they respond to their clients?’)

The new marketing office is nothing like the old—bright colours, exercise balls fill up the place, and the cabins are in the process of getting converted to meeting rooms. While Ramco had mostly avoided partnerships for marketing, it has now tied up with Eurocopter, the Franco-German-Spanish helicopter maker. (While Ramco makes enterprise resource planning applications, its focus is on the aviation sector. Columbia Helicopters and Air India are among its customers.) Gartner’s Padmanabh says that during its calls with Ramco’s clients, the feedback has been that it has turned much more aggressive, and that the way it has enhanced its products often draws comparison with SAP or Oracle.

The Crucial Piece of Change Management
Insiders say that these changes haven’t happened without a lot of heartburn. One employee complained that Aggarwal has always been in IT services and doesn’t understand that the products business is different—and might end up destroying the core strength of Ramco, its engineering, by changing too many things too fast.

Aggarwal is aware of the shockwaves that he has sent inside the company, but he believes he has done the right thing. Some time back, Ramco had invited a professor from Harvard, Boris Groysberg, who specialises in organisational behaviour, to help it through the change. The big learning from Groysberg, Aggarwal says, was that change, first of all, should be fast. Do it at one go, and be done with it (instead of letting people speculate what will happen next).

Groysberg also advised the team not to get too emotional about letting people go. “There was a fair degree of shock at the speed at which change took place. But now, the degree of acceptance is creeping in. There has been some pain. But, when we succeed in the market that pain will go away,” Aggarwal says.

My Turn to be Interviewed: Podcast with Rajeev Suri

At the India Digital Summit in New Delhi, organized by IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India), I was introduced to a very interesting person. The person had an infectious smile, overdose of positivity and a boisterous laugh. Say hello to Rajeev Suri, a Senior VP with Reliance Group and who has had leadership roles at Infosys, Colgate-Palmolive and Cafe Coffee Day. More about at his Linkedin profile.

Rajeev and I share a common passion. Podcasting and interviewing leaders. I pulled him aside to get him on my show but he laid a condition that I should appear on his show too. The deal was stuck. Here is the video of our conversation where Rajeev asks me some very interesting questions. My part of the deal is due soon.

You can watch more of Rajeev’s podcasts here.

A Lesson in Forgiveness


Today, I learnt an important lesson.

I was helping organize a fairly large event to showcase India’s best Social Entrepreneurs. I was entasked with selecting ten speakers to showcase their stories. The audience were city’s biggest CEOs and business leaders and an exposure to them would make a world of difference.

There was one entrepreneur who we had short-listed but unfortunately we could not accommodate in the Top 10. An opportunity to present her story to such an influential audience does not come often and her enthusiasm was understandable.

At one point, we even extended a tentative invite to her but due to plans on having diversity of topics, we could not take her in as a confirmed speaker. Since I was busy with the event, I completely missed communicating this to her.

With two days to go for the event, she must have sensed it. She called me and the first thing she said was not to worry. She said she understood the travails of an organizer and that it happens to all of us. She took great effort to make sure I wasn’t feeling guilty.

If I was in her shoes I would have been disappointed and definitely harboured some ill-will. By forgiving and empathizing, it really showed her maturity. She put me in ease… and in doing so made sure I will never forget her !

A Recruitment Lesson I Learned from a Bakery Owner

Right opposite my home is a bakery I frequent. It’s run by a guy who earlier used to run a TV repair shop.  The TV repair business wasn’t doing well and he shifted his profession.

What has screw drivers got to do with cakes? Nothing.

One evening, while munching an egg puff, I asked him about his knowledge of baking. He replied he knew nothing but was confident of his business skills.  He recruited a very talented baker (“master’ as they are usually called) who did all the hard work of baking while the owner took care of the business side of things.

I asked him what would happen to his business if the baker fell ill and did not turn up for work or had to go home for an important festival.  His answer not only surprised me but drove home a very important lesson that we should all learn.

He said that in the baking community, it is commons practice that  if a “master” had to go on leave, then it is their duty to find another “Master” and fill his place until he returns.  This is a practice that is special to this set of people. The bakers form a community code and help each other.

I learnt a valuable lesson. If a bakery does this, why not in our firm? We now have applied this principle in our office.  Should someone be absent, then its their duty to make sure that someone, either within the company or outside, handle the task.  If anyone quits the job, then its their duty to get a proper replacement during their notice period.

Amazing what a bakery can teach you in life!

Learning is Important. Ego isn’t. A Real Life Incident.

At a Social Media workshop that I recently conducted, a participant approached me during the tea break. We started to discuss about case studies that I had taught. She then broached a question that stumped me for a second. She asked, “Would it be OK if I interned at your Social Media firm.” And she hastened to add, “By the way, you don’t have to pay me”.

If this question had come from a college student, I would not have blinked an eyelid. This was from a person who was branch head of a large Advertising agency. She currently holds a senior position at a major English Newspaper. A person with decades of work experience.

She said that she was very well versed with traditional media but was very new in the digital space and was determined to learn the ropes.

Her attitude impressed me. Most people  with her seniority and years of experience (including me) would cringe at the thought of asking for an unpaid internship in another form. She didn’t let her ego come in the way of learning and for that alone, she deserves credit.

It reminded me of Richard Branson’s words in his book, ‘Screw it…Let’s Do it’. He says…

“If you don’t have the right experience to reach your goal, look for another way in. If you want to fly, get down to the airfield and make tea. Keep your eyes open. Look and learn. You don’t have to go to art school to be a fashion designer. Join a fashion company and push a broom. Work your way up”

This is a powerful lesson that we should all learn from the lady. Learning is important. Ego isn’t.

Yup, I did say yes to her and look forward to working together.

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