Anita eyed the glass of milky tea. The teashop owner offered her some along with a seat on his bench while her car got fixed. A grubby assistant promptly poured out the beverage.
Anita had just left her office at a large multinational company when her car had a flat tyre. As a business head, she had spent the day discussing business updates, negotiating supplier prices, cajoling difficult customers and preparing for an audit. The flat tyre was just bad luck.
Sukhiram, the teashop owner yelled into his mobile phone about the supply of broken biscuits. As soon as he finished that, he began to pacify another customer who found the tea too sweet. While telling everyone in general how the government should help small businesses. Two uniformed men approached. Sukhiram welcomed them, bellowing for two cups of ‘pecial tea’ while pulling out a plastic bag filled with papers. The two men glanced at the papers, finished their tea and sauntered off.
Anita nearly choked on her tea. Sukhiram’s day was almost identical to hers! Only the scale was different. Anita signed off investments running into millions of dollars, while Sukhiram’s shop turned over only a few thousand dollars. Yet, as she sipped her tea, a humbling thought crossed Anita’s mind: The stakes at the small teashop were infinitely higher than at her colossal trans-national operation.
Most businesses conform to a standard operating framework. Areas they focus on. That’s where the similarity begins:
- Product portfolio: Sukhiram’s current product line includes tea – his in-house product – biscuits and a few packaged snacks that he trades. He intends to introduce embellished noodles and bun-with-egg later in the year while increasing the total number of glasses of tea he makes. Anita manages a successful product line and she intends to launch 3 new products and open up 4 new markets for the expanded portfolio.
- Customers: Sukhiram knows all his regulars by name and how they like their tea. Complaints are addressed immediately with a fresh glass of tea and a free biscuit – no fuss. Anita handles a personal portfolio of customers. If anyone is dissatisfied with her products, she ensures immediate resolution.
- Investments & profits: Sukhiram’s plans to invest in a new stove to support his product expansion plan. He also intends to buy a new range of crockery for safe and hot delivery. He has considered the increase in raw material quantities. If all goes well, his profits will increase to 30%. Anita’s investments on her new products – retooling one plant, enhancing logistics support – will only deliver profits in year three.
- People: Sukhiram plans to hire two new people next month: a cook, to man the new stove, and a delivery boy to deliver hot tea and snacks to the offices around. His staff strength will double. Anita intends to hire 30 new people – a 10% increase in her staff-strength. Both Sukhiram and Anita list attrition as a key people challenge. While Anita uses work environment, career development and compensation to retain her people, Sukhiram can only offer free tea and snacks to his staff.
- Compliance and Control: Just like Anita’s multi-million dollar business, Sukhiram’s tea stall is equally complaint! He has licenses that permit him to run a food stall and certifications that his food is hygienically prepared and served. Every month, he checks their validity and renews them on time. Anita has an audit team to ensure that her business is compliant with the local law as well as internal policies of the organization.
- Brand: The signage on Sukhiram’s shop says clearly, “We have no branches”. Anita’s website shows that her organization operates in over 100 countries and has over 400 offices! Both believe that this contributes to their brand. Anita’s brand ambassador is an expensive sports personality. Sukhiram’s brand ambassadors are his customers. His signboard has only a large cup of tea painted on it. It leaves no doubt about his core product offering!
So here’s the thing: Irrespective of the difference in scale, size and complexity, the height of the stakes is inversely proportional! Here’s why:
Anita gets her monthly paycheck in weather fair or foul. Sukhiram lives from day to day. Anita could quit her job anytime and find another one easily. For Sukhiram, quitting is not an option! His entire life, and that of his family, depends on that tiny tea-stall. If he quit, everyone would actually starve. Could the stakes be any higher than that?
From trans-nationals to teashops, businesses largely follow similar principles! Which gains more is debatable. And his humble education and background need not prevent Sukhiram with from reaching the top. It didn’t prevent our honourable Prime Minister, now, did it?