Tuesday, July 19, 2011

pit bulls & entrepreneurs:identity authenticates intention

Reflections: Continuation of Chapter 1

Mike Asrani was twenty-five when he came to work for a small company that traded sporting goods in the Philippines. Born and raised in a simple family in Mumbai, he wasn’t too fussy about the quality and the quantity of work he had to do in an alien land. The chaotic and congested streets of his lower middle class neighborhood in Mumbai taught him to survive and thrive in tough times. He had soldiered through challenging conditions and made do with sparse resources. Growing up in a tightly knit, patriarchal family, he disciplined himself to have frugal, simple needs. He also was not easily tempted by things shiny and slick. The sights and sounds of Manila in the early 80s amazed him but did not change his earthy, uncomplicated, and tenacious personality.

Every day, Mike woke up at an early hour, said his prayers, ate a simple meal, dressed in ordinary clothes, and went to work. He put in the necessary effort, concentration, and heart into his job. He took orders well, executed them to perfection, efficiently worked on the reports, kept track of his own performance, and planned his hours and days well. He obeyed orders and followed systems diligently. He didn’t seek any accolades or attention for his work. A job was a job to him, and life was a life to be lived plainly and simply. No complications. No hang-ups.

I knew Mike personally. Initially, his down-to-earth nature, in contrast to my gregarious personality, made him seem bland. Over time however, I realized there were wisdom, strength, and substance in his ways.

The most amazing and awesome truth about Mike was that he knew exactly who he was. He knew he wasn’t a genius like Einstein was. He knew he didn’t have the brilliance of Drucker. And he certainly never mistook himself for a flamboyant Liberace. Mike knew that his looks and charisma wouldn’t be the qualities that would attract anyone to him. He survived with minimum grooming and maintenance.

To him, life was a series of routines. He was regular and predictable with his movements and habits. He learned how to sustain himself on a regular and repetitive diet. His personality and charisma could have done with some major overhauling, but Mike did not care about that; all Mike knew was that he needed to survive and thrive.

In less than two years at work, Mike had figured out the sporting goods trade. He knew where the goods came from, what kind of goods they were, how they were costed, stored, and priced. He knew whom to sell to, where to sell, and how exactly to make a profit from the sales. His earlier job had required him to sell to hundreds of small stores, on credit, across the city and the country. He was given only a motorcycle and a map. In less than two years, Mike had also figured out the streets of Metro Manila and the lay of the Philippine land. He had picked up the local language, the culture, and the nuances of the Filipino business community. He had also discovered the right cultural buttons he needed to push to build mutually beneficial and lasting relationships. He had figured out the cost of living for the next two to three years, and he saved up every shiny and dull centavo he could to allow him to go into business for himself in the sporting goods industry.

He started small. He had no airs. He avoided all fanfare, and he felt no fear. He knew what he had to do. He had to do exactly what his former employers were doing but on a miniscule level and at an extremely consistent pace. He went into business, and he kept up his uncomplicated routine, except that he woke at a much earlier hour than when he was employed. He ate simpler meals. He planned his hours and his days more diligently.

He executed work with higher perfection. He kept impeccable, flawless, handwritten, records of purchases, operational costs, sales, collectibles, profits, and his rapidly growing inventory and savings. He continued to be dull, boring, and charmless. He still didn’t mistake himself for Einstein, Drucker, or Liberace. So focused was he on business that he used to think that Clint Eastwood was a prospect from a shopping mall in Manila called Eastwood. Like the pit bull Cody, he knew his purpose, and lived to serve that purpose.

His business grew. It grew through the revolution of the 80s. It grew through the season of military coups and consistent brownouts of the 90s. Nothing bothered him during the Asian Crisis of 1997. Later in that decade as the 20th century came to an end, he didn’t even hear of the Y2K bug, which had terrified the rest of the breathing world. He just plodded on and on. His business bypassed the Clinton affair, did not bat an eyelash when Princess Diana passed away, and whizzed past the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mike displayed consistency and a strong identity in changing circumstances. He nurtured his business like a farmer nurtures his crops -- plowing, digging, sowing, watering, and harvesting.

Unaffected by anything, armed with the concentration of a monk and the single mindedness of a mole, Mike worked through his own disciplines on a daily basis. Sometime before the century turned over, Mike got married, had kids, bought warehouses, built homes, upgraded his vehicles, and kept plugging on. No fanfare, no fear. He kept plugging on through marital issues, pregnancies, childbirths, teething of kids, mumps, zits, chicken pox, broken toys, scraped knees, and falling teeth. He continued keeping his head in his books and his feet on the ground.

Even his choice of a wife reflected his identity. He married a provincial girl with a small degree in marketing but with a large degree of ambitiousness and a strong desire to grow rich. Mike’s unassuming discipline and lack of flash fused well with her diligence and dedication to the business, which had grown quite large. Her skills and ambitious nature armed Mike with a spade to go about his business of being a monk and a mole at work. In a matter of years, his business grew into a humongous family-owned corporation.

In the early years, Mike would deliver his goods strapped behind a motorbike. Now his fleet of vans delivered his goods nationwide. Mike continued to wake up at the same hour, eat simple meals at the right time, put in the right amount of hours into work, and track his own performance and his own account books. He was still hands-on with the buying, storing, and selling. And he raked in, by the millions, the fruits of his labor.

One day in 2005, I met up with him by chance. He was being chauffeured in a large car that was gifted to him by his wife. He was traveling from one of his warehouses to his office. I was impressed by the fancy car, but I was way more impressed by the fact that he was still wearing a t-shirt I’d lent him in the late 80s when he didn’t even own a motorbike. I asked him if he was familiar with any of the new technological gizmos from Apple, and he responded, “No, mate, I like my fruits fresh, in the original form, and purchased from the “palengke. (wet market)”

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