Lessons India Offers to Harvard Graduates

Date:   Wednesday , March 02, 2011

The business leaders of tomorrow in the making at the Harvard Business School are turning their focus on the Indian stories for their case studies. Many Indian stories have been inducted by the school to educate its students on leadership values and responsibilities. Some of the important case studies adopted by the Harvard Business School are detailed below.

Brave staff of Taj during 26/11
The heroic actions by the employees of the Taj Hotel at the hours of high tension and trauma during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks have been chosen as a case study at the Harvard Business School. It focuses on the staff’s selfless service for its customers and how they went beyond their call of duty to save lives. Trying to save the lives of guests at the hotel, a dozen Taj employees had lost their lives during the attacks.

The case study titled ‘Terror at the Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership’ by HBS professor Rohit Deshpande presents “the bravery and resourcefulness shown by rank-and-file employees” during the attack. The focus is mainly on “why did the Taj employees stay at their posts (during the attacks), jeopardizing their safety in order to save hotel guests” and how can that level of loyalty and dedication be replicated elsewhere.

The action is unexplainable by even the senior managers, has been so surprising that the employees knew the back exits where they could easily escape but chose to stay back to help the guests,”says Deshpande
The study is an attempt to showcase how leadership as a quality is displayed by people at the bottom rank to the top in an organizational ladder that helped in saving lives. The history of Taj, its employee recruitment and training strategies, the Indian culture of ‘Guest is God’ and how Taj would recover, are also a focus of the study.

John Bissell, a true visionary from the U.S., discovered the scope for a village-based industry in India with an abundance of skills hidden from the world. Determined to exhibit the Indian handloom textiles with an aim to provide equitable employment to traditional artisans, Bissell established Fabindia in 1960. Today the enterprise, managed by his son William Bissell, has over 135 stores across India and abroad and in 2008, Fabindia has been valued at $65 million.

A brand that does not advertise has been selected as a case study by Harvard Business School for its inspiring lessons of sustainable employment and strong mission. It was founded on the thought that there is a need for a vehicle for marketing the vast and diverse craft traditions of India and thereby help fulfill the need to provide and sustain employment.

What marked its success is that the company started as an export house has managed to change itself to a successful retail business. Fabindia presents Indian textiles in a variety of natural fibers, and home products including furniture, stationery, lights and lamps, home accessories, pottery and cutlery. Supporting the rural market, Fabindia sources its products from over 15000 craft persons and artisans across India.

Dabbawalas of Mumbai
The third is a case study on the exciting story of the four thousand five hundred semi-literate dabbawalas collecting and delivering over 175,000 food packages within hours with an error free record. The business school urges its students to learn from the organization, which relies entirely on human endeavor and doesn’t employ any technology.

This unique, simple and highly efficient 120-year-old logistics system seems to have a lot of lessons for the bright minds at the Harvard Business School. Conducting an analysis, Forbes Global magazine gave the Dabbawalas a Six Sigma rating of 99.999999 percent of efficiency in 1988 where they made only one error in six million transactions.

The system developed over years revolves around strong teamwork and strict time-management. At 9 am every morning, home-made meals are picked up in special boxes, which are loaded onto trolleys and pushed to a railway station. Then, these boxes are travelled by train to an unloading station. The boxes are rearranged so that those going to similar destinations, indicated by a system of colored lettering, end up on the same trolley. The meals are then delivered to the right address.

As called by CK Prahlad, ‘this is a model of managerial and organizational simplicity’ and despite the heavy traffic and crowds of Mumbai city, the ‘Tiffin wallahs’ unfailingly deliver thousands of dabbas every day on time to the needy.

Lalu’s Success Mantra for Indian Railways
The magic story of converting the heavy loss-making Indian Railways into a profit-generating unit has been adopted by the Harvard Business School as well as many other prestigious schools to learn from his managerial skills and the reforms he has introduced.

The Rakesh Mohan Committee had predicted that Indian railways will hit 61,000 crore in bankruptcy by 2015. But the same undertaking witnessed a five-fold increase in its profit after Lalu took over and today, Indian Railways is the highest profit making public sector undertaking after ONGC. In the 4 years under his leadership, railways made a cumulative total profit of 25,000 crores. Lalu’s ‘Just Do It Now’ orders have done wonders for railways.

The students wanted to focus on the ‘The strategy and policy framework for the turn round of Indian Railways’ engineered by Lalu Prasad. The central point of study would be - How has a man with no formal education brought about a change of this magnitude? How could he bring the railways to profit without downsizing the staff or increasing the fares? It also focused on Lalu’s personality, the team he works with and the initiatives he has taken. His leadership qualities also take a place in the study matter.