I have never thought of myself as an author and if two years ago someone had told me that I would someday sit down and write a book, I would have asked them to get their head examined. I have never even written an article for the school magazine or the campus journals in IIT or IIMA. And yet, I actually sat down and started writing this book and not only started, actually finished it too. I cannot believe it myself. I started writing in June last year and finished it by December. However, writing the book once I started wasn’t difficult as I guess the story of the turnaround was inside me. A lot of the concepts in Ready For Takeoff are inspired from my actual experiences. I have taken advantage of it being a work of fiction to modify or dramatise some of the incidents to get my view across.
I have not been involved in any turnaround experience so far but like the protagonist Anurag I was new to manufacturing. After doing my MBA from IIMA, I had worked in sales with Hindustan Levers. When I left Levers and joined Vardhman, I was twenty-five years old. I was appointed as the new ED (my father-in-law Mr S.P. Oswal was the chairman of the company) in the company and was given the charge of setting up a spinning mill—Auro Spinning Mill in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh—and then running it after a month’s induction in the group’s head office in Ludhiana.
Most of Anurag’s experiences are real experiences. Either I have gone through them myself or I have seen them happen. I did not know the ABC of manufacturing, nor had I dealt with workers; I had absolutely no experience of handling a large team. I do remember though the zeal and enthusiasm with which I approached my new role. In my first meeting with my direct reports, I had urged them to dream of their ideal organisation and try to make this as close to that ideal as was possible. I was treated like the boss initially, people answering my questions only and not offering any opinion on their own. It was a very formal kind of setup and I was not comfortable. I then made some extra efforts to become closer to the team like starting to eat lunch with them or taking them out for an evening of beers, playing some small games during lunch, basically helping them become comfortable with me. After the project started, I started taking daily rounds of the plant and would even come at night for surprise visits—I even caught a few people sleeping on duty. Like Anurag, I decided to visit the toilets in the workers’ colony and boy, were they awful! It took a lot of effort to improve them. After a few months of the factory having started, I had a meeting with the entire staff of the unit in the quality laboratory. Everyone was standing and I gave my first of several speeches to the staff. In this speech I urged everyone to think why were they here at Vardhman. Obviously, to work was the answer. I kept the chain of questioning, why work? To earn money. Correct, and then I changed my stance: do we work only to earn money? No, I answered; we also work for respect and we work to have a greater meaning in life. I urged all my staff to think whether they would like to be part of a bigger mission in life, the mission to create the best spinning mill in the country. At that time I had no clue how I would go about identifying whether we had indeed become the best mill in the country. But, I got the entire group charged up and ready for action. The concept of ‘world-class’ came to me a few years later. In the book, the reader can see how Anurag could motivate his entire team to gear up to a new challenge with the words ‘world-class’. I can affirm that it works. There is only one caveat— it has to come from within the leader, not just because it is something nice to say.
As the plant stabilised, I started having regular meetings with the workers and then created the culture of an open office, i.e. any worker could come to my office without an appointment any time. This made sure that everyone felt I was always accessible. As work got along, I started getting the feedback that my people thought I was too nice a person and that I would not be able to manage a spinning mill successfully. I wondered how to tackle this and then I decided to turn into a nasty boss. I started shouting at people and throwing papers at somebody for a shoddy report and so on. After a couple of months of this, I called my team and asked them which kind of boss would they prefer, the ‘nice’ one or the ‘nasty’ one. The answer was unanimous, the nice one.
At Vardhman, we celebrate a lot of workers’ functions so what Sunaina does in the book actually happens here. The concepts of Quality Circles were started in Vardhman in 1985 and are well established by now. I started the movement of 5S and TPM in Vardhman at the initiative of one of my Chief Engineers. There was a lot of resistance earlier but now it has become well-established and has given huge benefits. Over time, the Baddi operations grew to over 1,000 crore of investment and over 7,000 employees. As I grew older, the thought was constantly with me that life has a much bigger meaning than what we normally see around us. People are all chasing wealth, fame, power, success and then the material goods that follow. I asked myself the question, is this what life is all about and the answer was a clear no. Life for me clearly had a much deeper purpose. From that emerged the theory of happiness which Anurag, Alpana, Manu and Simi develop around the bonfire at Wildflower resort.
The final definition of leadership that Anurag develops with Alpana, I developed in my office and delivered in a lecture to the Ludhiana Management Association in September 2008. The other concepts that I have developed in the book, I have been sharing with my team in several lectures and discussions over the last twenty years. As of the writing of this book, our steel unit has achieved 11 heats in the furnace as part of an operation called Operation D, Operation Arjun in the book.
My team members in Baddi, some of them who are no longer with the group, helped me in my journey to develop my theories of leadership. They are too many of them to name but just to name a few—Rewari who was my right hand man during this journey, Mr Chauhan, Mahajan, Narula, Desai, T.C. Gupta, M.K. Srivastava, Ashwani Sharma, Yadav, Basu, Ojha, Mishraji, Dhingra, and Rajan Gupta who helped me develop TPM; Arvind, Arora and my three favourite youngsters, now VPs in the company; HMT, Bindal and Khandelwal; my assistant Noor and of course, Pal Bahadur of the whipped coffee fame. I would like to make a special mention of my parents, Rajinder and Kamal Jain. I am what I am because of them.
My father-in-law and boss, Mr S.P. Oswal, for giving me the opportunity of working in Baddi. This book could not have been written but for him. My wife Suchita, my daughters Soumya and Sagrika, who add constant excitement in my life and who are still trying to improve me. My mother-in-law Mrs Shakun Oswal, my brother Gaurav and his wife Kanchan for being a support. Dr Prem Kumar, former director of Sri Aurobindo College of Commerce, Ludhiana who gave me the idea to write this book as a work of fiction. Reena Singh who read the first paragraph I wrote. Dr Subhash Bijlani, one of the directors of Vardhman who was the first to read the manuscript and edit it. My friends Jamwal, Bichhoo and Surabhi for agreeing for a guest appearance in the book. All my other friends and associates who have encouraged me along this journey of mine. And last but not the least, Rupa & Co. for agreeing to take on this project, especially Mr R.K. Mehra, Kapish Mehra and the editor Stuti. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this book; I hope you enjoy reading it too.