The value of a domineering boss

A few weeks back I had breakfast with a successful entrepreneur. Early in his career, he had worked for a boss who would not let him run his business unit the way he wanted to. Headstrong personalities that both were, professional disagreement soon led to conflict and the entrepreneur-to-be left the company.

He took over a small, faltering enterprise and over several years, turned it around into one of the major players in the industry. Along the way he acquired stock in the enterprise and became quite wealthy and influential.

“What would have happened if you had been given you full freedom, would you have stayed in the company?” I asked. “I probably would have” he said, “I may even have become just another successful senior executive”.

It’s a story I have come across many many times in my working life. A boss who runs roughshod over an ambitious executive, the executive leaves with a point to prove, and after a period of struggle ends up achieving great success.

Who should get the credit for the success? Most certainly the individual. He takes the risk and he does all the work. But I think the boss also deserves a fair bit of the credit. Never underestimate the value of bosses who pressure you into a state of mental clarity and fierce determination. 

That state of mind is a prerequisite for success.

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What can you get from a flower shop? Inspiration, perhaps?

There’s a flower shop in Dubai that sells roses genetically tweaked to stay fresh for a few months. A single rose costs upwards of $20 and a full bouquet is not for the faint hearted.

The shop does roaring business. It succeeds because Dubai has more than its share of wealthy people, and because it has an efficient port.

The shop keeps a week’s stock of roses and orders the rest (from a German company that grows the roses) as per customer demand. The model, of minimal stocks, works because the port is efficient, import rules are predictable, and the system is designed to expedite shipments and facilitate business.

Could such a flower shop work in India? The owner of the business thinks Mumbai and Delhi have huge potential. Only problem is import procedures. Officials are likely to shake you down for money once they realise how important timely imports are to your business!

But for me, the really fascinating elements of the story are this:

  1. If you come across such a maverick idea (your flower shop, so to speak) would you chuck up everything you do and make a go of it?
  2. Would you focus so narrowly, only on one particular product?

Think about it. And good luck in finding your flower shop.

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How often should you check email?

Recent studies suggest that you should check email three times a day – in the morning, in the afternoon and at the end of the day. More than three times a day eats into thinking time, makes you less productive and leads to unnecessary stress.

If you minimise visits to the Inbox, the reduction in stress is what you would get from proven relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and visualising peaceful imagery.

Give it a shot. Seems an easy way of bringing down stress!




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Would you switch jobs at a lower salary?

Yes, according to an ad agency executive I met last month. He was contemplating such a shift, from a small, owner-managed ad agency in Dubai to one of the big advertising networks. Said executive was son-in-law of a childhood friend of mine and I was counselling him at the request of a somewhat alarmed father-in-law.

Was he doing well at his current job, I enquired? He was, his clients and the owner of the agency were both happy with him. Did he like the work? By and large, he did. Any specific problems? None that he could think of. So why did he want to leave, I asked? “I want to learn how advertising is done on big brands. I work on local businesses and I haven’t really learnt anything new in the last two years”.

What brands will you work on, I asked? Local businesses, he said. Will the new job give you exposure to international brands? No promises were made, but maybe within a year. Why are they hiring you at a lower salary? Not enough experience on the brand side of the business is what they told him. And why are they hiring you in the first place, I pressed? It seems they needed someone skilled at handling large local businesses!

On the one hand they did not value his experience enough so he had to move at a lower salary. On the other hand, they did value the experience enough to hire him for it. When I put it like this, he could see the contradiction.

My friend, the father-in-law, called me yesterday and thanked me profusely. It seems the youngster declined the offer, and a week later he got a better offer from the same company, at a marginally higher salary. Moral of the story: never discount the value of what you do. And never be overawed by a badge or name.

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7 deadly sins of web design

Web designers beware: do not indulge in any of the following.

  1. Flash intros: Flash is passé, get to the point straightaway.
  2. Photo carousel: How many photos should there be? How long before they flip? What if my internet connection is slow? Just too many issues with the carousel.
  3. Stock photos: Authenticity will always be in fashion. Any reader can see through stock images; they are not you and they don’t inspire trust.
  4. Automated pop-ups: Don’t irritate me with a promotional pop-ups, engage me with stimulating, interesting content.
  5. Auto-play videos: What do these videos tell me? That you have very little to say!
  6. Irrelevant elements: What should you have on a web page? Only that which is absolutely necessary. If in doubt, remove it!
  7. Hero images: What do oversized hero images accomplish? They push content below the fold, which is the last thing you want if you have quality content.

This list has been compiled from a Mashable article that appeared a year ago. It’s as relevant today as it was a year ago.


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On New Year resolutions

Here are some of the top resolutions most of us make on 31st evening (and fail to keep).

  1. Lose weight
  2. Get fit
  3. Quit smoking
  4. Drink less
  5. Eat healthy
  6. Learn something new
  7. Save money
  8. Make money
  9. Stress less
  10. Change job

If you want to maximise your chances of attaining your goals, follow the SMART system; each letter in SMART stands for an attribute of well-defined goals.

Specific: the goal should be specific. ‘Eat healthy’ is not specific. No carbs and no red meats is specific.

Measurable: if you can’t measure it, you will never know whether you are succeeding or not. ‘Run more’ is not measurable, run 25 km a week is.

Achievable: The goal should challenge you but it should also be achievable. I can’t run the marathon in 2015. But I am aiming for 10 km in 70 minutes.

Relevant: Should be a worthwhile goal and in some way connected with your work or your passions. Why? Because you are more likely to take it seriously then.

Time-bound: Set a time limit by which you want to accomplish the goal. This can be end of 2015, but it’s better if you break it down into smaller units of time, weekly, monthly etc.

If you have made major resolutions on 31st evening, good luck to you. But here’s some sobering data:  88% of people who set resolutions fail to keep them.

Happy New Year.


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1.36 CR service charge for a 1-bedroom apartment?

I recently logged on to a portal dedicated to those of us who own an apartment in a building called Lakeshore, in JLT Dubai. While the building is generally well-maintained, we have recently had issues with the developer on air conditioning charges from 2009, hefty bills that were sprung on us a few months ago.

I wanted to see if there were any updates on the AC billing issue; it affected all owners and our association had taken up the matter with the developer. To my complete horror and shock, the outstanding amount was not AED 3,600 as on my last visit to the portal, but a mind numbingly large AED 1.36 CR (see below an image grab from the bill).


CR for us Indians is Crore; 1 Crore is 10 million and 1 AED is approximately 17 of our Rupees. Multiply the two together and the sum (Rs 230 million) is substantially more than my net worth! And all on account of maintenance for a silly little 1-bed apartment.

I called up the company in charge of maintenance. A youngster from the Philippines took the call, calmed me down, pulled out the bill on his computer, and confirmed my worst fears, “yes Sir, you are right, balance is AED 1.36 CR”, and to really rub it in he says, “what’s the problem, Mr. Rahul, why you are so upset”?

Upset was a mild word for my state of mind. An unpaid bill of 230 million, even in Indonesian Rupiah (approximately 10,000 to the dollar), is enough to induce a serious cardiac event. That something was wrong with the bill was clear to me, that it would be difficult to get the bill reversed even more so.

Thankfully for me, the issue got sorted out eventually. It was a case of mistaken understanding on my part. The CR in the bill meant ‘Credit’ and not ‘Crore’. So the company owed me AED 1.36!

Read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. We think in two ways – we jumps to conclusions (system 1 thinking) and we sometimes reason our way through (system 2 thinking). My brain had resorted to system 1 thinking, with potentially alarming consequences for me. System 1 thinking is intuitive and our brains are wired for it; system 2 thought processes came much later in evolution and are therefore much tougher for all of us.

Charlie Rose interviewing Daniel Kahneman.

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