‘Strategic’ Fall – ICI Style!

Of late Jinnah,Nehru,Gandhi,Patel etc are hitting the headlines even as some BJP heads have rolled or are set to roll. The history of Partition of India has always been as fascinating as it is controversial. There are points and counterpoints. While Jinnah was always painted as the villain of the piece,there are some who disagree and say that Patel and Nehru were equally responsible for partition. Many hold the view that we all should be eternally grateful to Nehru and Patel for having achieved partition against heavy odds. They would argue that if partition had not taken place at that time,it would have led to ‘balkanisation’ of our country – meaning that it would have resulted in the creation of several Pakistans in our midst today. What a scary thought! (As if one Pakistan as our neighbour is not bad enough).

I am sure that the entire partition history could easily make for an excellent case study for MBA students. There are key leadership issues,critical moments of decision making,vision and mission related aspects,strategic thinking and its implementation,dealing with a foreign stakeholder etc etc. Above all,the actors in the epic drama had a responsibility(accountability) to the future generations.

While the historical debate on personalities and leaders will continue till eternity,it reminded me of debates among our friends’ circle on a relatively more mundane issues like the swinging fortunes of a multinational company that we worked for. For those of us who worked around the same time in the multinational company ICI,the story of its ‘fall and fall'(quite consistently) after its hey days is always fascinating. Whenever we meet even today after so many years of its fall,the favourite topic for discussion is always ICI. The reasons for ICI becoming a favourite topic are not far to seek. Once upon a time this British giant was an acknowledged global leader for its great inventions and innovation led growth in commodity chemicals as well as pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals (Invention of the life saving blockbuster drug ‘INDERAL’is one among a series of inventions the company is famous for). Besides,the company was also known to be highly caring for its employees and established itself as one of the paymasters. For precisely the same reasons,the company also attracted several talented youngsters as their first choice of employment.
When such a great company begins to fall and ultimately disappears it would justifiably attract cynical comments and critical analysis by everyone connected with the company.
If one could carefully put together all the bits and pieces of the story of ICI’s fall,I am sure,it would be quite an insightful case study for an MBA programme.
No wonder,then,we would dissect several key personalities who contributed to its mighty fall. We would also discuss various strategic mistakes/blunders committed by the company on various investments (and dis-investments?)and then go on to consider various alternative scenarios which could have led to different outcomes etc. We could clearly see the company shrinking fast right in front of our eyes so much so that today it does not exist! As one wise colleague of mine pointed out,globally as well as in India,it looked as though the company was operating on the basis of BOT(Build,operate and transfer). They built several plants and businesses world wide,operated them for a while and sold them to other MNCs. Looking back,I feel,may be that was ,after all,the undisclosed grand strategy of the top bosses of ICI,UK. But Truth,as always,is elusive.
Whatever may be the reasons,the lack of vision and the style of leadership or management had certainly caused a great damage to thousands of employees of the company over a period of time. It led to insecurity at all levels,talented people being fired for no fault of theirs,large scale relocation of people to different plants and places etc.

In a striking contrast to multinationals like ICI,some of the Indian companies I worked for in senior positions,had a different style of functioning. One of the companies I worked for a few years back in Hyderabad was also falling freely in all respects(top-line,bottom line,financial liabilities etc). However,in this case,nothing was left to the imagination of the employees or even the share holders. The company owners would openly flout rules and blatantly misuse their ownership rights on the company by indulging in asset stripping,manipulation of purchase and marketing function etc. Since everything was done as a broad day light robbery and everyone knew all facts,there was nothing left for a discussion,debate or analysis! Contrast this with the multinational company ICI,wherein, everything was carried out in a very subtle and polished manner,which,in turn, gave rise to endless debates and spicy speculations on the intentions(or hidden agenda) of the managements.

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Published in: on August 30, 2009 at 9:09 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. A brilliant, incisive exposition of power centres and their impact on organizations and nations!


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