Thursday, February 18, 2010

Opportunity Never Knocks Twice - A session by Nahil Wijesuriya

It was a pleasure listening to Nahil Wijesuriya, a Sri Lankan business magnate who could be classified both renegade and unorthodox at the 30th LBR LBO CEO forum this evening.

I've heard a bit about this businessman but what was dished out was never expected. He was both candid and blunt with his views.

I walked in to the room when he was explaining how he used legal framework to create never seen opportunities by many. For example long years ago when government owned Petroleum corporation had a monopoly over oil bunkering in the country, he went ahead with his own bunkering operation from a barge in the sea. His rationale was that according to the law the territorial boundaries of Sri Lanka for bunkering purposes was confined to 11KM from the shores of the country. Thus he started operating his business with a barge anchored (according to him in 3KM deep sea you cannot anchor a barge )11.5 KM from the shores of the country!!!!

In another example he was explaining his appetite towards taking on the big guns in the business world and giving a good fight for them. He detailed out how he took the fight to the largest corporate organization in Sri lanka on two different business issues. One was regarding a oil bunkering business and the other was a condominium issue for which he took the lead. When the interviewer asked the inevitable question of as to why he loves to pick a fight with the biggest, his answer was he just liked it.......(Later on as a another friend mentioned, reminds her of Branson type of Psyche)

Another key aspect which dawned upon me was that all businessman of this caliber tends to size up situations very quickly and just go ahead with some of the deals (as oppose to countless number of evaluations performed by regular corporates) seemingly with their gut. He explained a formation of a freight forwarding and clearing business where one of the employees of a supplier who approached him wanted him to start up a business in this particular line. Instead of him starting on his own he suggested to the guy to come on board as a shareholder of the company. When the guy said he only had small amount of cash (Rs. 16,000 (approx 97 USD) , he told the guy to throw in that money and that he would contribute the same while inviting another 3rd party to contribute a similar amount. Apparently he organised a deal for the the guy on the same day which gave them a profit which was several times over the equity of the firm. So he says the business began to blossom. This reminded me of Robert Kiyosaki where he says "Tie up the deal first and then we'll work out the money" (in his book "Before You Quit Your Job")

According to him he does not carry any emotional attachments to any of his businesses. He would get in to a business if he likes it and he sells when he gets bored with the day to day activities of it and if the price is right. This guy has done this many times over!!!!!!

According to him many pass over business opportunities because they are afraid of the seemingly difficult and complex laws surrounding them. But according to him that is where the opportunity lies for the true entrepreneur. He says one needs to scrutinise the relevant laws very carefully before giving up on a particular opportunity. "More often than not you find a loophole or a work around to suit your requirement", he opined.

When asked about his family life he said you belong to one of the extremes, which is either you are an extremely family oriented man or as in his case you are a business junkie!

When the interviewer asked about the failures in his business life, he could only recall one instance where one of his companies had to be liquidated by him. Not a bad track record for a guy who keeps taking on new business challenges.

Reflecting upon the discussion it dawns upon me that he is very much the local version of Donald Trump or a Richard Branson! Out spoken, renegade types who thrive on money and other things in life! (Trust you know what I mean)

Having said all that it was an hour's business master class no doubt.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Endurance – Lessons for business life – Intro

I was attending a dinner yesterday at a colleague’s place and the conversation revolved around one of the guest’s plans to do an expedition to the base camp at Mount Everest. He was talking about the preparation for the event and not being able to practice under similar environmental conditions at 1/3 of the normal oxygen levels.

The expedition is expected to take roughly 16 days to reach the base camp while the return journey is expected to take approximately 5-6 days through a different route. The expedition party consists of a majority of men and few women who are in their mid forties to mid fifties!

The individual I was talking to was a professional corporate trainer cum coach and he was telling us that from a journey point of view the hardest part would not be the 16 day ascend to the base camp but rather the 5 day descend! While the journey on your way up is expected to push all your physical boundaries and wear you off the way back is expected to be doubly tough with your then existing physical condition. Another colleague of mine endorsed this fact by drawing parallels with his experience in climbing the Adams peak!

The point that hit me most was when he said in spite of all odds, it is more in the mental rather than the physical game that you loose out. According to him there are many youngsters who fail the expedition in their over enthusiasm and personal pride. (Apparently there are many Chinese and Japanese who fail this because of personal pride superseding ground realities). Many people fail due to momentary lapses in concentration which leads to making minute mistakes like a wrong footing etc which leads to serious injuries. He was also citing one of his recent experiences in Sri Lanka where during the final stages of an expedition through a local mountain range how people began to take things easy and loose concentration and thereby failed to complete the effort through injury etc.

Driving back home yesterday I was thinking about the relevance and impact of this subject in our day to day business life. I hope to dedicate a future blog entry on some of the reflections in this regard.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Apprentice" Style Interviewing - Not a bad approach to recruiting

There was an opportunity created for a newcomer in my department recently. After considering my requirement HR department forwarded four candidates. One of the candidates was not up to mark and was rejected outright. Irrespective of my gut and first impressions, I decided to test them with a short essay challenge. Each individual had his/her merits and demerits. However even after going through all three essays, I wasn't convinced of the right candidate.

I did something totally new for me, something I haven't done in an interview prior to this. I decided to put them them through an 'apprentice' style project. Together with my colleagues we decided on a project which requires the candidate to go through an assignment where (s)he will have to,

- Draft a questionnaire based on a brief

- Find his/her own transport to reach a designated outlet

- Conduct interviews on the supermarket floor by talking to shoppers,

- Come back to office

- Based on the response to the questionnaire to conceive a creative idea

- Brief the creative agency on the requirement

- Work with the agency to finalize the concept

The first candidate went through the process today. My team went about the task of managing the candidate well. I will not comment on his/her performance today given it is an ongoing process. But truly believe it is very good way to conduct interviews. Let the best person get the job!