Thanks for showing so much love to my book – The Anexas Story. Based on many requests to publish chapters of the book on LinkedIn, I continue to write a series of articles based on these chapters. Please read on and keep believing that there is an entrepreneur in you…and everyone!
29th OCTOBER 2016 : A ZEE BUSINESS TV SHOW
This is a story I choose to tell first. It is a gawky star-struck boy’s story. I did not expect it to happen. But I always wanted something like this to happen as I could then be eloquent and show off my skills at oratory and possibly, even my poetry repertory.
It is about an actor who could do a decent copy of another great actor. The great actor has a baritone that is much loved and I could pride myself in doing the baritone and ape him. Him being Amitabh Bachchan. The actor who could do a decent copy was Shekhar Suman, a popular TV actor and show host. And, I was called to his show.
No, seriously, it was me who was called. I did not go and stand outside his vanity van and shout out his name and stamp my feet. I was called. Called to be interviewed by him for a Zee Business TV Show where they telecast the success stories of professionals who had achieved something different against odds to succeed in their chosen professions or businesses.
So, there I was. I took my family along, so that they could also see it live. Our stay arrangements were made in a hotel on the beach very near to the Kandivli studio where the interview was to be shot. To deliver a good performance, I even prepared myself by running on the beach with my son, as they say that speed running gifts you speed thinking. I was expected to answer the questions on the show impromptu, you know!
And I also practiced the baritone voice of ‘one and only one’- the Big B, just in case I got an opportunity to display it on the show! I had real fun practicing it in my hotel room. Not sure if my wife and children did too!
Then, the next day I have Shekhar Suman and me on his set.
“I have been a great fan of yours since the times of ‘Movers and Shakers”, I speak up when I see Shekhar Suman coming out of his vanity van.
Not a very bright thing to say I know. In fact, quite dumb of me as I look back. But hey, before you start to snigger…I was and still am, a small-town boy, star-struck to a fault.
As the producers and directors explain do’s and don’ts of a business TV show to me, I hear only half of their instructions, as I am more anxious but excited about what I have to share with the live audience.
I am invited to a beautifully designed set and there I sit down on a couch, which Shekhar Suman occupies at the other end. I am told that Shekhar would like to have an informal chat with me before they roll the camera into action. The first question he shoots at me is, “Well Amitabh, tell me exactly what do you do!”
Before I can gather what to say, he tries to make it little easier for me, or maybe make a bit more interesting by adding, “Well, just describe any one of your days in the last week with as much detail as possible. This will give me enough information to ask you right questions on the show!”
“Oh yes, why not?” I begin. “Right now I am coming from Copenhagen. Let me describe my last Thursday in detail, which might reveal what exactly I do.”
And Shekhar listens to me for the next ten minutes without interrupting, as I go on unfolding the events of that day – Let me take you back to those early hours of that Thursday…
It was a cold winter morning in Denmark as I got up from my bed in that Charlottenlund apartment. Looked at the time and calculated. Shaved. Bathed. Combed what was left of the mass on the top. That still left some time for a quick breakfast. I was to meet Victor Pedersen, the owner of a catering services company, that ran cafeterias and provided meals to 40% of the reputed companies in Copenhagen. If I cracked that deal, it would be a big deal, I thought!
I took a taxi to Esplanaden where his office was located. As I entered the office, I was shown the room where Victor waited. I walked through the door which was open and saw him sitting at the edge of the long table. Gesturing to occupy a seat across the table near the projector, he smiled. After exchanging greetings, I was about to switch on my laptop, when he interrupted, “I don’t need any PowerPoint. Just come to the point and tell me how can you help.”
I asked him, “Can you tell me your top three problems which you would like to solve in the next six months?” He laughed, “Problems? Well let’s say, I want to improve the taste of the food we serve, reduce the time taken to prepare the food and also reduce the overall cost per serving. Now tell me how can you solve these problems?”
I began to explain, “For this, first you will need to choose few of your employees whom you would like to be trained in process improvement tools and techniques. Say, ten of them.”
“Ha…ha…ha…why do you need to train my employees, especially when you are not any hospitality or catering expert? They already know their jobs! I thought YOU were supposed to solve our problems!”
“No, I will train them in Lean Six Sigma and they will solve the problems!”
“Now, what is this Six Sigma?” Victor looked puzzled.
“Lean and Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology used by most of the organizations, including many of your own clients, Victor. It reduces their costs, improves product or service quality, reduces cycle times by eliminating wasteful steps in the processes, resulting in customer delight and enormous profits for the company.
“That was too heavy!” he nearly choked on his words.
“Simply put, the boss cooperates and works alongside his employees on achieving this as he benefits a lot from this too. So, the Boss is usually cheerful. Does that help?” I was hopeful.
“You still did not tell me how would you do that,” he reminded me about the question.
“See, you cannot improve if you cannot measure. So, whatever you want to improve, first you start measuring. You can measure everything by measuring the number of defects you produce in your service or product. That gives you a Sigma level.” I tried hard not to sound too technical.
“Now, what is Sigma level?” he was getting confused.
“A measure of your performance. Higher the Sigma level, better is the quality. Means at ‘One Sigma’ level, you produce more defects as compared to the ‘Two Sigma’ level process. At ‘Six Sigma’ level, you produce very few defects, almost three defects per million opportunities. That means then you are at 99.99966+% quality.
“And the question still remains – how do you achieve that?” he was getting restless.
“By training your employees for a week or two,” I quickly stated.
And he interrupted, “Come on, typical consultant stuff! You will use my own employees to solve my problems and expect payment for that! Clever, very clever! Anyway, I don’t think we are ready for this. It was nice meeting you.” He started winding up, “By the way, today you are my guest, how about a quick lunch?”
“I can join only if you go to a restaurant of my choice,” I giggled. There was no harm in putting up a condition to a lost client, at least that way you get a sense of achievement after making him to agree to do something you like.
“Well, may I know your choice?” he was open to options.
“Yes, there is an Indian restaurant nearby, Tranquebar, co-owned by one of my friends, Chaand Shukla. He has an artistic bent of mind. Besides being a poet, he has some of the choicest paintings and books displayed in his restaurant. Sundays are devoted to poetry and music when artists in Copenhagen gather together and spend a wonderful evening displaying their works at the restaurant. But even on a weekday like this, you can sense and smell the effervescence of that Sunday’s celebratory mood. I would like to invite you to be my guest. If you agree, I am game for lunch.”
Maybe he liked the idea of experiencing the art at a restaurant, or perhaps he wanted to taste the food in a restaurant different than his or maybe he just wanted to be kind to me and so he agreed.
We walked for ten minutes when we reached the restaurant, and ordered some Butter Paneer with Naan and a curry to go along. As we started eating, he asked about the recipe of Butter Paneer and I explained the ingredients used in its preparation.
And suddenly he recalled our conversation in his office, “You were telling me something about solving my problems, that too by training my own people. Can I know more?”
“Oh, yes, you told me about your three issues – improving taste, reduce the cycle time of food preparation and reduce costs. We first convert these into projects, with a clearly defined start date and end date – each with a measurable goal of improvement. We start by first measuring the current performance of taste, cycle time and cost. Followed by collecting the data to know the root causes of underperformance.
“Now we have three projects to complete in the next four months. I train your employees in process improvement tools and techniques and they execute these projects. I guide them as they complete their projects achieving the defined objectives and saving good money for your company.” I explained in one breath fearing he might interrupt if I paused.
“You told that you will train my employees. Can they learn these problem-solving techniques in just a week or two? Don’t they need some basic qualification?”
“Yes, to qualify for the training, they should be working in your company for at least one year so that they understand the operations. And coming to the technical qualification,” I added with a smile, “They just need to know addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Nowadays, even that is taken care of by software!”
I was making it so simple that I thought for a second that he would not take my services at all. But for the first time I saw a smile on his face as he continued, “Tell me, why would my staff be interested to solve my problems, or for that matter, spend time in doing something beyond their scope of work? They already have their operating targets to complete!”
“Oh, once they complete the training and projects successfully, which means, reduce your costs and improve the food taste, then they present these projects to you. If you are happy with their results, they get certified as Black Belts!
“Yes, the way Karate Black Belts can win over any enemy, so can these Six Sigma Black Belts, who are trained to score the victory over errors, mistakes and problems in any process in any industry. Or should I say, they then would get a license to kill all problems.” I tried using James Bond’s oratory to see if it could work.
“In short you are saying, some of my organizational problems only need a superman. For others, you have Black Belts,” Victor laughed as he finished the last bite of his remaining naan, and asked, “Are you also a Black Belt?”
“No, I am a Master Black Belt, as I train and guide these Black Belts, and there are ten of us in the Anexas team,” I replied.
It was still a mystery to me whether he was convinced as he expressed his fear, “But then my Black Belts might leave me after certification!”
“Why would you allow them to leave? Such gems, I am sure, you would like to nurture and retain, and would further utilize them to improve your other processes. You have more than two thousand employees and around an equal number of contract workers serving so many clients. Why would you mind paying your Back Belts a bit more when they are giving you multiple returns, usually running into thousands of Euros? You wouldn’t need consultants like me anymore then!”
And I continued, “You might wonder why are consultants more successful in training and facilitating improvements in the organization in the beginning? Because their work is an application of objective analysis by detached outsiders. It is difficult to expect an objective analysis by an insider for whom many things are at stake. After some time, your own Black Belts become your internal consultants.”
“When can we start?” Victor said as he dipped his hands in the hot water bowl participating in the finishing ritual of an Indian dining experience.
And that was the end of a successful meeting worth a million dollars! Phew!!
…As I finish unfolding last Thursday’s events to Shekhar Suman, “He asks, “Was that so easy?”
“Yes, if you find that easy, then it was really that easy. If a person like me could do it, anyone can do it! And that is the message I want to give to everyone on today’s show.”
“So be it. All of us would like to know the whole story” he is ready for the action.
And then, the camera and lights turn on. The interview goes on for about an hour and a half. I am told that the final edit of the interview would wind up to about twenty minutes for the thirty minutes show (you know, it needs to be studded with advertisements as well).
As a parting gift, Shekhar clicks a photograph with me, both of us posing as Karate Black Belts on the sets of that Zee Business show.
I come out of the set and after the initial excitement settles down, I start getting a weird feeling.
I feel that I have not shared enough of the real story and that something is missing. I simply fielded the questions asked by Shekhar. In fact, I wanted him to ask me some questions which could have revealed a lot about the Anexas story. But my kind of questions can’t be framed on this TV show, that’s not how they operate, I was told.
After the shoot, I sit on the beach chair on the sands just outside the set in the adjoining hotel, reflecting on the bygone session. I had indeed so much more to say! But anyway, everything happens for good, I console myself. As I sink further in the chair there on the beach, beside the Arabian sea, more thoughts colour my vision.
When the TV show is aired, there would be so much more to be revealed and would be left out than what would reach the viewers.
I understand that many things will be edited to suit the format of the show, there are limitations of a commercial show confined to thirty minutes.
But what if important things go missing? What if all of my references of the Anexas team do not make through the editor’s desk? And so many learnings from the setbacks we faced will not find their voice in the final version? Will I be just happy with the thirty-minute exposure Anexas gets on the TV show?
No. certainly not!
What if I have all the time in the world to tell the full story to the professionals and potential entrepreneurs of the world? What if I have a bigger canvas to paint the whole picture?
I look at the horizon where the sun is setting in the Arabian Sea painting the sky red and orange. On this canvas as big as the sky, I start painting. With a hope that this painting merges and rises along with the clouds, and rains on the readers, showering upon them the takeaways from our experiences.
Here is that painting!
For subsequent articles, please watch this space.
You can buy the book directly from its website on https://www.anexasstory.com
or on Amazon on https://www.amazon.in/ANEXAS-STORY-There-Entrepreneur-Everyone-ebook/dp/B07ZGLN8C7
Amitabh Saxena is founder of Anexas, a well-known lean six sigma and project management consulting organisation. He has trained over 50,000 participants and has 30 years of experience in consulting more than 300 organisations around the world including Fortune 100 companies across industry domains. With a strong team of 25 Master Black Belts, his organisation Anexas has been helping individuals and organisations achieve eminence through excellence since 2006. They can be reached on email@example.com.