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 time to start our next experiment. Notice, that I was still calling it an experiment. I was like that wandering Sadhu shifting places and restarting all over in the hope that paradise would sprout around me and my divine self. Actually, a nomadic Sadhu is a good teacher for some things. Maybe even entrepreneurship, possibly. It was time to increase revenue to sustain the company on its own. I realized that the billings outside India, being higher, can help a lot. So, it was time to explore overseas to earn more. But it was a herculean task to explore the shores beyond India especially when we did not have any mentor or funding or any base outside India.
Some explorations within the quality community on the internet resulted in an opportunity for a new experiment, in the form of an inquiry from a reputed bank to start their process excellence initiative. It was a one-year contract with possibility of renewal based on the bank’s need. However, this opportunity would have neither resulted in any substantial increase in the earnings over my job in Bangalore, nor was it a full-time job. On top it, it was in Saudi Arabia. In 2007, no one wanted to go to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Most of you might guess the reasons. It also meant disrupting the serene family life. I remembered a poem, ‘Road not taken,’ by Robert Frost learned by many of us in school.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Rather than believing the stories, articles and internet, I relied on firsthand information. I spoke to many of my friends who were working in Saudi Arabia. One of my schoolmates, Maneesh Godre, who had spent almost a decade in Saudi, told me that all the stories about Saudi were blown out of proportion. Based on some more quick research, I chose to sail the uncharted waters to explore the possibilities in the Middle East. The subsequent years would prove how essential it is to take decisions after checking out on facts, rather than believing stories.
And thus, I decided to quit my job.
One fine morning, I met my boss in that investment bank in Bangalore to convey my fascination towards training and consulting. I told her that I was getting an excellent opportunity to do something full time, what I enjoyed doing part time then on the weekends. She was shocked, and first tried to persuade me not to play havoc with my career. "e What? You want to be a trainer giving up the possibility of becoming a Managing Director next year in the bank? For what? To be a teacher? Our society doesn’t pay teachers well my dear! Ha, and you want to change your career and get into teaching! She tried to make me see some reason.
However, becoming a managing director with all those perks and secure life was not something that thrilled me. So I stuck to my decision, and said, “I would like to explore doing something I have never done and it is something that I want to do whole-heartedly, so you will have to excuse me.” Obviously, she was not happy to see someone, who had created a good buy-in for quality in the bank, leave so soon without contributing to the fullest. My decision to quit raised some eyebrows and even led to few speculations and undesirable stories doing the rounds within the office. I just enjoyed them. When you try to do something different, such things come to you as a part of the deal.
I planned to go to Riyadh. Pradeep and Kaustub agreed to conduct the workshops on weekends in India while keeping their regular jobs with their companies as I packed my suitcase. I landed in Riyadh in December of 2007 to join the bank. It was winter. The temperature was 2°C in December that season and I wondered why was it called a hot country. In the office, I remember, I used to keep the window open to let sunshine in on my table. My office neighbor Nabil would say, “Today I see you loving the sun. But, mark my words, after four months you will hate it!” I knew my process of acclimatization had started with the weather and would extend to food, people and habits.
Riyadh opened up an ample of opportunities. It was up to me to utilize them to the maximum. Using the internet, I started spreading the word about Lean Six Sigma trainings and waited for some response. For two months there was none. After sending more than one thousand emails and waiting endlessly for someone to respond, finally I got a phone call on one morning in the hot summer month of June, 2008, “I am Amir Khan, chairman of Indian Engineers Forum. I received your email and around twenty-five of us engineers would like to be trained as Black Belts. Can we meet in Starbucks on Madina road along with the VP Faisal today to discuss it further?”
“Yes, of course! What time is good for you?” I couldn’t wait for the meeting. “6.30 pm?”
And the same afternoon, another phone call, “I am Dr. Mehmoud Madani. My friend Dr. Mohannad and I would like to meet you to explore the possibility of training a group of doctors. What day and time suits you?”
“How about today at 8 pm at Starbucks, if that is fine with you?” I quickly responded, thinking, ‘Why wait for another day if the closed doors are finally opening up one after the other after such a long wait?’ At 6.30 pm, I met the engineers, and saying good bye to them at 7.30, waved Hi! to the doctors immediately. I don’t know if both the groups were impressed with the quality of my presentation on ‘Quality’ or with the cost at which we offered premium quality; however, that evening, these two back to back coffee meetings in Starbucks paved the way for Anexas to conduct public programs in Saudi Arabia. I remember not drinking coffee in either of the two meetings because consuming caffeine in the evening would have affected my sleep. And I wanted to sleep that night after spending so many sleepless nights in search of a breakthrough.
Such personal meetings yielded good dividends, as it happens in every sales campaign. The word spread too fast. Here was a company conducting high quality training programs at affordable costs. With heart and mind poured into each and every session, the batch sizes started swelling and went up to 30s and 40s. Simultaneously the projects were executed in the bank where I was serving the one year contract. That delivered excellent results saving good money for the bank while using everything in our toolbox – right from the simple tools like process mapping, up to advanced statistical tools like hypothesis tests and design of experiments. The cycle times of many processes reduced by almost ten times, errors reduced to hundredth decimal places of percentages, and customer complaints virtually got wiped out in many of the departments which had a long history of facing customer fury.
I never expected such tremendous success. I needed help. But I could not call any of my colleagues from India to Riyadh as India was also to be taken care of.
Encouraged by the success, to seek more work I started writing to many organizations and even meeting their executives including some ex-colleagues. For every hundred emails, I would get three to four responses, and probably one out of them was likely to grant me meeting.
One of the meetings with an ex-colleague Ahmed, who had shifted from my client bank to another Saudi bank joining as a Quality Head, yielded a major assignment in his bank. It needed three consultants. Not to miss the opportunity, I floated the job posting in Indian job portals and thought of hiring three Black Belts, preferably trained by me, who were also willing to take up the same risk I had taken. I could find two such people within my circle. Let us call them Amar and Jash. One more responded to the posting on naukri.com, let us call him Vish. All of them were Black Belts in their late twenties.
Amar had worked with me earlier in my last job in India. He was very upbeat about the venture and promised his full commitment to the whole project and agreed to lead the assignment. Vish also convinced me that he is going to be a long-term asset for our team. With Jash, the youngest one, displaying entrepreneurial attributes and enthusiasm, I had a perfect team to move Anexas to next level. I got their visas done, which was a tedious process in Saudi Arabia. Anexas needed a partnership with a Saudi citizen to start operations and get the visas done. So, we entered into a legal partnership with a Saudi telecom company.
And as far as our new client, again a bank, was concerned, I had already worked with its Quality Head, Ahmed. So, as a team, we would not be new to him. I initiated few projects to start the assignment and once the three consultants arrived in Riyadh, the Bank’s projects were handed over to them, giving them free hand to operate.
Their presence gave me an opportunity to visit my family after a long time. On my way back home, I even got an opportunity to see Mukesh Ambani at the Mumbai Airport, as he crossed the immigration counter. You might have got the significance, didn’t you? Here I was, starting off on a larger scale and I get to see him! In fact, after going through the counter, I was just looking back as I saw him approaching. I stood there with my eyes fixed on him, and as he passed by, he looked at me and said, “Kaise hain?” (How are you?) I was tongue-tied and could not speak as I had never expected him to look at me, much less acknowledge my presence! Probably that was an “Ashirvad”, an Indian form of blessing, from none other than Mukesh Bhai for my new found passion of entrepreneurship! I shared this incident with my team members in Riyadh when I was back.
They had started working on delivering the results. The improvement projects I had initiated were continuing seamlessly. I was happy to taste the first flush of success of entrepreneurship, though its acceptability did not come with ease, neither to me, nor to our hired consultants! I tried not to differentiate my behavior in my new role and continued to exhibit all the traits of a fellow consultant, but it looked like my team appeared to think otherwise. I could sense a distance slowly growing between us.
One such indication came when within a week of arrival, they started complaining about not having enough channels on TV provided in their residence. How much I wanted to tell them that they were so lucky to get a place to stay, that too with a TV with many Indian channels. Unlike me, when I didn’t have any of these facilities when I arrived in Riyadh. And another indication came when I was traveling with Amar and Vish back to India after the first month of assignment to renew their visas. Both of them had boarded the plane little earlier and I followed them after a while. I occupied a seat two rows in front of them without them knowing.
As the plane took off, I could hear both of them laughing and making fun of me with accompanying giggles, “Look, how he thinks of himself as the next Ambani and all of that just after seeing him in an airport those months back!” I could understand where they came from. It was difficult for them to digest the role changes they saw with the advent of a ‘self-styed’ entrepreneur in someone, whom they were habitual of seeing as their team manager in the previous organization. Why only them, it was very difficult even for me to digest the fact that I was on a path to entrepreneurship, stuff that I usually acknowledged shyly.
Obviously, I didn’t rebuke them for their remarks. All of us were back within a week, and these round trips were to continue till the time their work permits were made. I should mention here that these trips should have had more camaraderie and bonhomie. The stay together in Riyadh could have been an opportunity to understand each other better and plan for a better future together. But what we experienced was cribbing about food, whining about our stay, the imaginary shabby working conditions, the absence of a laser pointer and other such idiocies that started to consume us even before we made a mark.
To me, it looked as though they were throwing their weight around but actually, no! It might be just our small-town self- esteem. I chose to remain humble in all circumstances.
It paid off well.
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.