Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ram Charan

The strange existence of Ram Charan
What he does is hard to describe. But the most powerful CEOs love it enough to keep him on the road 24/7 and make him the most influential consultant alive. ...... Dubai ... After 12 hours of isolation on the flight from J.F.K., Charan is back in business, deep in private conversation with a client in New York City. .... the last thing he cares about is where he is. As long as Charan is with a client - or can get one on the phone - he's home ..... alone at the top of his profession - not a consultant so much as a guru, a corporate sage, with unparalleled access to boardrooms across the globe and intimate, enduring relationships with an array of powerful CEOs ..... Jack Welch: "He has this rare ability to distill meaningful from meaningless and transfer it to others in a quiet, effective way without destroying confidences" ...... Dick Harrington: "He probably knows more about corporate America than anybody" ..... Ivan Seidenberg: "I love him. He's my secret weapon" ..... John Reed: "He's like your conscience ... "Just when you sort of think you have everything done and you're feeling pretty good about yourself, he calls you up and says, 'Hey, Reed, did you do this and that and the other?'" ...... Jack Krol: "When I was chairman and CEO of DuPont he'd show up at the house Sunday morning at nine, and we might spend three or four hours, and all of a sudden he'd disappear. He would go anywhere at any time that you asked him to meet with you. Business is his whole life." ...... Having uploaded himself into the global economy, Charan circulates, continuously, with something like the speed and efficiency of capital. ...... Charan never stops. He sleeps in a hotel every night ("Professor Charan, welcome home," is how the doorman greets him at the Waldorf on Park Avenue) ....... John Reed: "I got in the habit of having him over for Christmas because he had no place to go. He was going to sit in a hotel room. That's hardly right." ....... Before he was a consultant, Charan lived in dormitories. Before he was a professor and a student, he lived in YMCAs. Now he doesn't live anywhere. ...... never learned how to drive ........ a day rate that clients say can top $20,000 ...... "I use the time sitting in the terminal ....... I have never missed an appointment in my life. ..... does regret, however, not accepting an offer from American Airlines in the 1970s to buy a lifetime first-class upgrade for $100,000. ...... his lifelong passion for the Indian vocalist Lata Mangeshkar ....... Charan has no goals ..... "Purpose before self." ...... For the next five hours Charan walks his charges through a detailed analysis and discussion of Emaar's draft succession-planning template. "A leader who does not produce leaders is not a great leader," he says. "If you agree, I'd like to put that in." ........ "What are the three to five most crucial natural-talent items that each person has? It has to be specific, and very clear and repeatable...... Steve Jobs.... this human being has a talent to figure out what the consumer really wants..... he has the will and the talent to find - no matter where it is! - the right technology that will deliver what they want ..... he has the talent to create demand at the right time." ..... Throughout the afternoon Charan discreetly shares from his store of anecdotes ...... sometime in the late '70s when Grove got a call from a Tektronix engineer who wanted to work at Intel and was willing to take a 10% pay cut. "And they were a $200 million company at the time," says Charan, "very small. Tektronix was $5 billion. That's brand!" ...... Monday night he flies to Madrid, Tuesday night to Frankfurt, Wednesday morning to Miami. After that, he doesn't know. ...... Charan's roots are in a small city near Delhi in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. (I can't say which city because Charan has relatives there and worries about kidnapping.) ....... While they had everything they needed to survive, they had no more than that. No plumbing, no electricity, no luxuries of any kind. The children pumped water from a well. They did their nightly homework on the floor in a flickering circle of light from a mustard-oil lamp ....... He counted the rupees in the till at the end of the day, inspiring a lifelong appreciation for the "blood" of business. ...... "Any company I go to, the first thing I check is cash. How's your cash? Where's your cash flow? No blood, you got a problem right away." ...... In the lulls between customers, Charan studied. Using a system of his own devising, he condensed onto a single unlined page the essence of what he had learned that day in each subject. ....... "fear, anger, laziness - these are the downfalls of human beings" ....... You can always try gardening, she said. "I'll do that," Charan said. "But I can't go home because I don't have any money." ..... He completed all the reading and, as was his habit, summarized the notes for each case on a single sheet of paper, which he brought to class for reference during the discussion. ...... an eye for the role played by interpersonal relationships to solve a vexing problem. Charan says now, "That's where this whole consulting thing really began." ...... Within a year of arriving at BU, having finally achieved tenure, he concluded, "This is not for me," and stepped into the void. He rented an office in Dallas, in part, he says, because the climate reminded him of India, but really for its central location. Not that he's ever there. ...... He is very good at unpacking complexity, at paring business challenges down to their essential elements, often with reference to lessons he learned years ago in the family shoe store. ....... This is his 37th year working for GE, his 33rd for DuPont. He worked with John Snow for 15 years before Snow left CSX for the Treasury Department; he has been with Ivan Seidenberg at least 20 years, and with former West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton more than 30 years. Caperton met Charan at a Young Presidents' Organization function in the mid-1970s and has been huddling with him ever since. ......... "He's helped me in business, in government, and in the nonprofit," says Caperton. ...... Charan's extraordinary devotion to his work ...... GE's Conaty jokes that while his company has extremely high expectations of its employees, "we do allow people to get married. We do allow them to have kids. We actually allow them to live in homes - even multiple homes, once they make some money with us - and we do allow them vacations and most of their weekends off." ......... Charan, however, has no discernible personal life. ...... "My wife got to the point where she couldn't stand it anymore, because Charan could not get out of talking about business." ....... Charan had triple-bypass heart surgery in 1999. After the operation he took it easy for 11 days, then went back to work. He couldn't fly for a while but that was fine - he loves trains. Most of his clients never knew he was sick. ....... Generalizing about what Charan does for his clients is tricky, but that lack of definition paradoxically is at the heart of his success. His method is no method. He is wary of abstraction and belongs to no school of management theory. "Converting highfalutin ideas to the specifics of the company and the leader - that's the trick," he once confided to me in an elevator. "The other part is working backward to define what the need is, and then searching for what helps. Then you bring it to common sense, and common sense is very uncommon." ........ no ready-made solutions ..... Charan brings observation, curiosity, and care. He lets his clients decide how to use him. Sometimes all he does is ask the right question ..... a three-item agenda following a script devised by Charan: What unique thing happened in your store last week? What issues did you face that kept you from serving your customers better? How can we fix those issues right now? Says Smith: "He made sure as we grew that we didn't lose sight of what was really important." ...... He always whips out this nice little pen he uses, real thin ink, and he starts drawing diagrams. He constantly is helping to provide depth to issues, not only answers. ....... Reed says, "Ram is a catalyst in the real sense of that word. He facilitates things happening but doesn't take part in them himself. And he is an immense source of energy. When you're trying to get large organizations to do things, energy is extremely important. He forces you to tell him what it is you want to do, and he forces you to really be clear in your own mind what those things are and what steps have to be taken ...... he starts out by basically forcing you to think with him and be very clear. ..... once you've agreed on everything you want to do, he calls you up every ten minutes and asks why haven't you done it yet ...... The planes were late. Charan never complained. ..... "It's going to be in India" is all he'll say about his coming serious philanthropy. "It goes a long way, a little amount there. To enable people to accomplish things." ....... he is no longer homeless. "I now have an apartment in Texas," he tells me matter-of-factly. ..... They think it's a big deal for me to have never bought a place

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