Spring Forward: A New Economy Calls For New Ideas

by | May 28, 2009

Despite a Citi-inspired market rally earlier in the week, there's arguably still precious little to get excited about in terms of the economy. Unemployment figures are still rising, while companies—Citi apart, apparently—continue to post record losses all over the place. Where to look for someone seeking a little comfort, then?


Well…one bright side is that spring is right around the corner, along with the fresh start—both literal and metaphorical—that comes with it. Hopefully that's something that will come to the corporate world as well as the natural one, with seeds planted now growing into profitable, fruit-bearing enterprises in the not-too-distant future. One person who may have some idea of how to do that is Subroto Bagchi, co-founder and "gardener" at Indian IT consulting outfit MindTree.

 

Now, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that his title means he's been put out to pasture (or to the corporate lobby to water the plants), Bagchi's position is listed above the CEO in terms of importance at MindTree. And it's not difficult to see why: among his many duties—which include a recent 35-day sojourn to meet with clients and prospects all across Europe and the U.S., according to his latest blog post—Bagchi regularly meets with 100 of MindTree's upper level executives, offering counseling on both personal and professional issues. These duties have earned him the title of "gardener"—one who tends to the roots of the company, overseeing the growth and blooming of the employees who will lead it into the future.

 

While the concept of a company leader offering counseling, support and mentoring to those below them in the corporate ranks isn't all that unusual, the scale on which Bagchi is attempting to do it certainly is—as is the message he's giving them. Evidence of that message can be found in the two books he's authored to date—2006's The High Performance Entrepreneur and last year's Go Kiss the World, which is also the title of his blog. The first of those titles is perhaps the more conventional, offering "Golden Rules for Success in Today's World," and featuring advice for the business community on everything from knowing when one is ready for success to laying out how to conduct an IPO. It's in Go Kiss the World, however, that evidence of the unconventionality of Bagchi's approach really comes out. Subtitled "Life Lessons for the Young Professional," the book draws on lessons from Bagchi's own life to provide general principles in how to lead one's life—including such issues as how to choose what to value as we go through life. When was the last time you saw something like that from a business leader?

 

That concept of choosing what to value may well be at the heart of where we go next as a society, which is what makes an unconventional approach like Bagchi's at least worthy of consideration at a time like this. With the prevailing economic orthodoxy seemingly on its last legs (on top of the current upheaval, see Tim Geithner's recent statement to Charlie Rose that "capitalism will be different" for evidence of that), new approaches to how we do business are likely to be valued in coming years. That doesn’t mean that we're necessarily talking about sweeping changes, however—the new approaches may be as subtle as thinking of businesses in human terms rather than the numbers a company generate as profits, or the ones they pay, or the ones their stock sells for.

 

That approach certainly seems to be a part of how Subroto Bagchi sees his company, and the "gardening" part of his job there. For a further example of that, try this quote, attributed to him in a December 2008 profile in India's Business Standard: "Self awareness leads to mental capacity enhancement.  It sharpens the emotional quotient, or EQ, that most managers with high IQ (intelligence quotient) may lack." Rough translation: don't just think, feel. I'll ask the question again: when was the last time you saw something like that from a business leader? My feeling is that we're likely to see it a lot more often in future.

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