Leadership, Management and Gandhi


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Right from my first day at Business School, I have been conditioned to believe that I should not ever aim to be a manager – I should aim to be a leader, an entrepreneur, anything but a manager. What my professors preached to me was reinforced by my bosses at work, and the books I read. And I have faithfully tried to pass along this message to the people who came after me. I have a feeling that most of you – if not all – have a similar story to tell. As I think about it – it is actually hard to draw a clear line between across leadership and management. So take what follows with a pound of salt – not just the proverbial grain.

Any way, in December I resigned from IBM, and took a break before joining SAP. In that break, I watched several movies – one of which was “Gandhi” . When that movie originally came out, I was in primary school I think. And I have watched it at least 50 times. But I have not seen it since I started working. And this time it shook my belief systems quite a bit. Although it was not a planned activity, I also had read a lot about India’s independence movement before I watched the movie. By the time my vacation neared its end, I was firmaly convinced that it is way better to be a leader AND manager, as opposed to just being a leader alone.

When it comes to leadership, Gandhi played in a league that many of us could not even dream about. He influenced and unified a diverse set of millions of people with no formal authority to win India’s independence. And he succeeded and influenced many other leaders – like MLK, Mandela et al. Formidable to say the least. If anything, Gandhi did not take a liking to “management” as we know it, and it did yield exceptional results. India did get rid of British rule, and on friendly terms with Britain.

However, the lack of respect for management did come at a significant price. He definitely had his favorites – like Nehru. Gandhi went out of his way to make sure that Nehru was seen as the foremost leader even when others had better support from the electorate. Subash Chandra Bose walked away from the post of President of Congress – which he won fair and square – because Gandhi wanted Pattabhi Seetaramaiah to be president. Later, Sardar Patel stood down and let Nehru have the Congress President’s job, and the Prime Ministership because Gandhi wanted it that way. This was the whole root cause of Nehru dynasty ruling over India even today.

There was a short term price too – that was significant. Gandhi did not prepare the country for partition and independence. This resulted in widespread loss of life and property. It is not that Gandhi did not know for a while that Jinnah was serious about siding with British for an independent Pakistan. But he let it linger till the last minute. But his inspirational style leadership did not manage to prevent partition. Eventually – it was Gandhi’s leadership ( including his threat to the country that he will fast to death ) and Patel’s managerial abilities that stopped the violence post independence.

Nehru was probably a mix of a manager and a leader – but probably could not find a successful balance between the two. Patel found a better balance than Nehru in my opinion. Patel used his managerial abilities to integrate the various states into one India – except for Jammu and Kashmir, and he could not do that because of Nehru’s inability to decide what is good for the country.

Of course there is a lot more that can be said on leadership vs management in the context of Indian independence movement. I have a few take aways from the movie and the history lessons, to apply to my life in corporate world.

1. Leadership is required to set direction : Gandhi did not start the independence movement. Congress Party was already founded before he even came back to India. But till he came back, there was barely any direction or mass movement to gain independence. Nehru, Patel and others were all already active in the movement and were better managers than leaders. But their impact was felt mostly after Gandhi set the direction.

2. Management is a bigger weapon in crisis prevention : Amply proven by how Sardar Patel integrating the states quickly, and Nehru promoting the 5 year plans. Not everything went smoothly, but things got done – and clearly would not have happened with Gandhi’s type of leadership alone.

3. Disaster recovery needs leadership and management both : as proven clearly by Gandhi’s leadership and Nehru/Patel acting as solid administrators post partition when the country needed both. One or the other clearly would have been less effective.

4. For continuous improvement – leadership is needed to move to next level, and management is needed to keep things running till the new stuff takes hold and becomes the “new normal”.

So in short, if I aim for leadership alone and loathe management – I probably will just be the guy holding a hammer looking for nails everywhere I look. And things will take forever to accomplish. If I aim for management alone – best case, I will at best get to keep things running – maybe with some incremental improvements, but not an awful lot more. So clearly I need to aim for a good balance between leadership and management. But it is a hard balance to strike – so may be the solution is not to strike a balance in me, but rather try to strike a balance across a whole team. I need to think about that .

Well there is one more thing I am taking away – the need to take more vacations and watch more movies and read more movies 🙂

SAP Business Suite Runs On Hana – What Does That Mean For The Ecosystem?


Today, SAP announced that suite will now run on Hana. It was my first event as an SAP employee and it was fun. I even joined Vishal on a blogger meeting 🙂 . I just wanted to post some thoughts on what it means to SAP ecosystem to have business suite on Hana. It is not an SAP official position on the topic – just my personal opinion alone.

So what does this announcement mean to Customers?

It gives customers more choice now – technically and functionally. Technically – they now have an additional data base option, lower their TCO over time , make use of Hana’s platform features, eliminate performance bottlenecks and so on. But that is only one aspect – the bigger impact in my opinion is the opportunity to rethink business models. For example – if MRP does not take several hours, and can be run whenever there is a need to run it – then there are some tactical and strategic advantages. Tactically, it saves people having spreadsheets to manage demand and supply – usually several versions – between MRP runs and reconciliation. Strategically, it means you only use up working capital you absolutely need to, and you can inform your supply chain about your intentions a lot sooner.

If my CIO friends are reading this – this is a good time to make sure you consider Hana in your roadmap discussions – not just for software, but for infrastructure, skills upgrade of your team and so on.

Of course both business and technology changes come with the need to manage change. And it often takes someone who looks across multiple customers to figure this out in a scalable way. That is where the consulting partners can potentially come in to augment what customers and SAP can do. The consulting and SI business will see some disruption as more and more SAP products move over to Hana. There will always be some SI work – but the more meaningful opportunities will be for these partners to work with customers on defining how to adapt business processes to make use of real time and massively parallel processing and predictive capabilities and so on.

And it will be a good time for SAP functional consultants to start thinking outside suite transactions and IMG. A good case in point is warranties, maintenance etc. Typically when a warranty solution is created – it is primarily reactive in nature. Like how does a customer enter warranty claims, the workflow and so on. What mostly gets overlooked is to check if there was a way to have known that a failure is about to happen, so that proactive measures can be taken to minimize impact or even avoid it. This means you should also consider the option of seeing if a system like hana can somehow be upstream to the business suite to pick up and interpret signals before data even came to business suite. I would urge my buddies who are SAP functional consultants to start getting up to speed on what is possible with Hana so that they can educate their clients on art of the possible, in their projects.

And the basis experts of the SAP world will have a fun time learning how to install, administer and maintain Hana based systems. If you need to brush up your linux skills – now would be a good time to do that. Get an AWS instance spun up, and try a few things on Hana. Same for my ABAP buddies. Get a SQL book and learn how to do set operations etc. There are plenty of hana tutorials out there now. Even an obsolete programmer like me was able to learn from them – so it should be very very easy for programmers to get a hang of hana. And definitely don’t overlook how to develop cool stuff on XS – you will thank me later. I will tell you that it will be a bit frustrating since good programming in hana is counter to good programming in ABAP in some cases. But you will get there quickly enough.

Having been a consultant all my life, I know Hana cannot be the answer to everything. But I do know that it will be a great option to solve enough problems in the business world that it will make a difference. And that is what I have bet my career on.

Just To Keep You Posted – I have joined SAP, And Hung Up The SAP Mentor Shirt


Happy 2013 everyone !

So as I mentioned in my post in December 2012, I joined SAP and successfully finished 2 days. Today is Day 3, and I am typing this on a brand new Lenovo T520 I got yesterday 🙂
Right on day 1, I got to meet a lot of friends here in Palo Alto – including a few that were surprised to find me walking around with an SAP badge.

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All is good so far – and I am finding my way around without too much trouble. Everyone has been super helpful.
Special thanks to Aiaz Kazi and Kaustav Mitra for going out of their way to make sure I am well taken care of – thanks guys !

I have decided to leave the SAP Mentor Program and join the Mentor alumni gang.

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Being an SAP mentor is something I treasured from the day Mark Finnern called me to say I have been selected to be a mentor – I think about 4 years ago. I have all the mentor shirts from that time – and will keep them all too, probably with the alumni patch on them. Being a mentor is a part of my identity too – so it was not an easy decision for me. But being an SAP employee now, and being less active in the program directly off late – I think it is the right time for me to step down, and let Mark and team have an opportunity to bring yet another well deserving candidate into the wolfpack. I will of course continue to be a big cheer leader for the program, and will be fully accessible to help mentors any way I can. I won’t be a stranger. And – I am sure my mentor buddies will continue to provide me all the help and guidance they have so generously given me over the years. If anything – I expect to be actively mentored by the friendly wolfpack as I get settled into my new role.

Cheers folks – lets all have a great 2013 !