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!
It was already a world post the millennium. We were booking tickets on the net. We were flying with plastic bags in hand to show that we were not carrying anything that could hijack a plane. We opened up our shoes too, to show that we did not have bad intent.
It was a different world. Far away from the bicycles that I rode to school and that I shared with my father.
In 2003, as a 33-year-old Lean and Six Sigma Master Black Belt, I was hired by a Fortune 20 French Insurance company. I got placed in Bangalore at their shared services center. So, in short, I was a process excellence trainer and had a lot of experience in guiding projects.
Why was I on the flight to Paris?
Because looking at my performance in the trainings and projects, the company felt that I will make a good trainer for its employees who were getting trained as Black Belts in Paris. So, I was given an opportunity to conduct part of these trainings.
There, the trainees were to arrive from various countries around the world. I was pretty excited and well prepared too. This was my first training assignment outside India. I had to be my best!
It was probably two hours after the Air France flight took off from Bangalore when I got acquainted with the fellow passenger on my right sitting next to the window seat. Since the beginning of the flight, he was busy reading a book, so we had not even exchanged smiles. He appeared to be a European, probably from France. I got to know about how correct my guess was when the conversation got initiated.
“Traveling to Paris for the first time?”, he smiled.
“Yes,” I said, “I live in Bangalore, India. Are you from France?”
“Oh yes, I live in Paris.”
“So, you are the right person to tell me which other places I should see in Paris apart from Eiffel Tower.” He started laughing. He took out a paper and a pen and started writing down the names, and the list appeared to be growing bigger and bigger. With his detailed explanations of each of these places on that list, our conversation was well into its fortieth minute. If you keep in mind that those were the days with limited information on internet, you can understand my keen desire to grab all the information I could.
Once he finished explaining about the places, he asked,
“What brings you to Paris?”
“A training,” I answered.
“Which training are you going to attend? Is it some technical stuff?” it was his turn to be inquisitive. I smiled, “I am going there to conduct training.”
“What? Oh, you are from IT, a software programmer!” he made a guess, which he was sure of being proven correct with my oncoming answer.
“No, I am not from IT,” I disappointed him. I could see his face fall in slow motion.
“I am a process improvement expert; I am called a Six Sigma Black Belt. I train people to improve the organizational processes and consult them as they execute the projects. This training which I am going to conduct has attendees from all over Europe.”
“Never heard of an Indian conducting training for Europeans, and that too consulting them in areas other than IT. Well, you guys are very much there in IT. But in non-IT stuff, well, I am surprised!” His face exhibited some unrefined expressions of disbelief.
“Oh yes, I am aware of that. I was also told the same thing by my Manager in the UK that I might be one of the first few Indians conducting training in this space. I am excited!” I tried to change his facial expressions to something positive. It did not happen easily and somehow reminded me of my mother’s expressions when during my childhood, just to go out and play with friends, I would claim to have managed to finish my entire homework in just fifteen minutes. But he still appeared to be shocked, “Good for you. But do you think you will be able to communicate effectively with the Europeans, I mean, will they be able to build a rapport with you? Well, what I mean is that it takes effort to do so.”
No racism or anything but I think the gentleman could not believe that I was training his countrymen. I was in a way shocked to hear the sudden change in the tone of his voice, so I tried to calm myself more them him, “Yes, I understand. But I think I am well prepared.”
After that he got busy in reading his book. But I started feeling restless as if something was not right. I felt sort of, can I say, insulted? I felt his voice ringing in my head, telling me that I was not eligible enough to carry out that assignment, I was not qualified or rated enough.
Here I was, on my way to the first international training assignment, but was shot down even before I started the journey. This was the last thing I expected. I started sweating.
A voice in my head said, “You can’t do it! It is not possible!
There has to be a reason why no one has done it before you!” I turned my attention to the LCD screen which showed Mr. Bean performing all sorts of funny acts. I saw myself as Mr. Bean, committing all the silly mistakes while executing my upcoming assignment and training. I thought that would make at least three episodes of Mr. Bean series. I looked as foolish as Mr. Bean only that I wore spectacles and he didn’t.
My restlessness increased. So much so that people around me started watching me with certain curiosity or so I thought. Before they could ask me as to what was wrong with me, I thought of hiding myself. I got up and locked myself in the washroom.
With the lid of the commode closed, I made it the throne and sat on it. My head was still shooting up weird voices and sounds, and refused to stop sweating, I put my head in my hands and kept sitting there clueless and nervous.
Five minutes later, I cooled myself down thinking “Why am I so upset? Just because someone says I cannot do something, is it my duty to prove him right? Of course, not! But actually, that is what is happening. I am proving him right by exhibiting these nervous signs.”
I clenched my fist. I was going to prove him wrong. Not by arguing, but by actively doing it through my work. This training will be something all my trainees will remember for its quality of delivery. Every aspect will be taken care of. I will do my best to guide them as they execute the projects. They will be highly impressed. I will receive excellent feedback, I am sure. I have the knowledge, I have the experience, and I have done this many a time before. Then why not again? Just because it is a different continent? No way. The success shall be repeated again and again during the next three months of my stay in Paris, I resolved.
And why only for three months? It will be repeated month after month, year after year. I am sure one day I will increase the strength of my team in Bangalore and prove that Indians can really do a great job in consulting and training Europeans, in fields other than IT too.
Little did this gentleman realize that he fueled my determination to give every ounce of energy I had, to be the best trainer I could be. He sowed the seed in me to prove to the world what I could achieve individually and what an Indian team could accomplish in process excellence to match the world-class deliveries of the best consultants out there.
I thank him for lighting the fire that pushed me to defy his perception. Possibly, this annoyance which resulted from the hurt due to those adverse remarks triggered the idea of Anexas after three years. And who knows, maybe the aggressiveness that we exhibited in competing with and outclassing multinationals later in our Indian and the Middle East territories where we operated, finds its root in this incident.
Though the incident was disturbing, I outlived it, and this wound acted as a trigger to achieve something better, triggering the following words on my billboard:
It was not so during my early youth. During the carefree days, even disappearing movie tickets or shared Masala Dosas could not dampen my spirit. And here I was, that day trying to take offence from a statement made in passing. I laughed off my supposed bristling anger. It was better to take a long walk and enjoy Paris while I did my professional stuff as best as possible.
Ever taken a walk around Paris?
It is quite mesmerizing as it is said! Even sweeter, when you don’t know what they are saying. You are oblivious, ignorant and in bliss.
Try it, sometime.
I tried and I wiped out that statement from the flight, off my head. Not the lesson on the billboard though, which had gotten fixed in the head.
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.