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Archive for March, 2009

Whose company is it, really?

Friday, March 20th, 2009

In an article in ET last week, Sudhakar Ram, the CMD of Mastek has used the background of the Satyam issue to ask two pertinent questions: on whose behalf is a company governed? Whose company is it, really?

He goes on to argue that since the shareholders, the board members and the employees share at best a fickle loyalty to the company they are associated with, any company really belongs to nobody. The need to keep a company running, in his opinion, is a kind of societal responsibility in order to help the organization realize its potential.

Management texts and theory have already gone overboard discussing the definition and scope of organizations and who actually should own and control these organisms. A couple of weeks ago, the venerable Jack Welch has joined debate by calling the tendency of organizations to pander to shareholder value as “sheer stupidity”. Sudhakar himself falls back on the all encompassing term “stakeholders” which is as tired as clichés go.

I think the interesting angle to this discussion is on superimposing Sudhakar’s argument to the individual. At the individual level we have been propagating the concept of “ME, Inc.,” pushing every person’s imagination to as far as it can go towards becoming all that he or she most wants to be. In that respect the ownership of “ME, Inc.,” beyond reproach is clearly with the individual. As the famous rhetorical motivator’s questions go: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

With the ownership issue settled, let us focus on the more important point about why should a company be allowed to stay afloat? We have to turn the question around and ask why we should work on making an individual successful. Coincidentally, the answer to both the questions is the same: to realize their potential. The aggregate of individual potential raises the group, the society, the country and all of mankind. The pitfall of having even one rotten apple in a basket of apples is already well known.

This article on corporate governance hence triggers this thought on how each one of us need to engage with every person we come across in such a manner as to help him or her realize their potential. In management parlance, the formal nomenclature is coaching or mentoring. We could even start with simple advising. The conversation needs to establish that there is unrealized potential and then we make the first moves to help them realize either through us or through others we know and can point them to.

As Richard Bach has pointed out, the only reason a human being is still alive on earth is because he/she has yet not completely accomplished the mission for which he/she was sent here. All of us have a tremendous responsibility on this count.