Monday, November 09, 2015

People build companies, people destroy companies

This is a story of an industry that has seen digital disruption that started as an innocuous event two decades back and became a force to reckon with within a decade. The last ten years systematically dismantled whatever was remaining with local, global and legendary brands biting the dust. Whatever remained in a few parts of the world were undone by incompetent leadership unwilling to listen to their teams or adapt to the change quickly – something we have observed across industries. This is based on events that are very fresh in everyone’s memory.

The entity started with humble beginnings, a young team passionate about the cause working in perfect unison build the company brick by brick, byte by byte, one step at a time. They worked hard to create a brand that gained trust of their customers with every interaction raising the bar with each engagement, getting into the psyche of their patrons. Quickly they had overtaken older competitors who were unable to change their personas; soon they became the benchmark against which success was measured in their industry.

Talent attracts talent, they grew from strength to strength and became an aspirational company work for in their segment. It appeared that nothing could go wrong for them, they were in the zone almost all the time, minor aberrations were pardoned by the staunch loyalty of the staff and customers alike. Their challenges if any – internal or external – appeared to be minor bumps on their journey to greatness. The journey continued and the customer facing leaders became brands in their own right, synonymous with the company.

Some of the founding members moved to alternative careers handing over a bigger organization in the hands of professionals to run. The team adjusted to the new way of working of the new management with a different ethos, trying their best to eliminate friction in the interest of progress. They toiled hard to stay in the good books of the new powers and at the same time keep their customers delighted. The strain slowly started appearing in stray conversations and murmurs in the corridors; attrition began to slow them down in a deliberate but sure way.

The brand ambassadors put up a brave face to the external world while the internal turmoil began to show cracks on the surface. Loyal customers demonstrated elasticity which was surprising to many, but it appeared to be a matter of time before the institution crumbled. The irrational behavior attributable to the people now at the helm confused and belittled some customers who were unforgiving, chiding the senior management for letting them down; they disengaged leaving some of the surviving founder members seething and helpless.

It was then a matter of time that the monument start falling, the demise imminent; customers and sponsors shied away from active long-term engagements, as one of the pillars withdrew leaving the load on the lone surviving and primary mainstay. He bravely took the brunt of the illogical and unreasonable demands and frequent and predictable indecision driven by the highest levels of (in)competency which had now become the norm and accepted as a distraction to work. On one fine day the cup overflew and the last man standing too quit.

The spiral effect downwards was predictable; the marquee annual gathering that followed a few months later was an unprecedented disaster that left everyone saddened. The primary business suffered an unrecoverable setback with cascading adverse impact on the organization which was almost wounded fatally. The industry at large cried in anguish at the fall of the mighty, the patrons wondered if the vacuum will ever get filled, the world moved on. Having been a part of the journey from inception though from the outside, I mourn.

Outcomes could have been different had the old leadership stayed on or the new listened to the team or the warning bells that tolled globally; maybe they could have survived longer if the team had revolted against their boss; there may have been an epitaph less if someone had recognized the ineptitude early on and got rid of the damaging elements. Companies suffer this way every day across industries – at time due to inaction, false sense of stability or bravado, the ostrich effect, or a combination of these and leadership indecision and stupidity.

Many of my friends from the company have found their niches and calling, I wish them all the best !

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