Got a large back page in the Economic Times today (29.03.12). Full transcript after the image!
I love Italy, the Italians and everything ‘Italiano’. I eat my pasta ‘al-dente’, dream of living in Florence and (sometimes) pretend to be Shylock and Don Corleone. All my love however does not condone the way the Italians have behaved with India’s sovereign trust over the issues of their marines. (In case you were working as a zombie last week, just google “Italian Indian Marines” to understand what I’m talking about.)
Allora! Now for the business lessons to be learnt from this mess:
1. When in India, do as the Indians do, not as the Romans.
Haven’t we grown up following rules? We work with rules, play with rules, and even follow rules in love. When in India, shouldn’t we ‘do as the Indians do’ rather than what they do in Rome? Why do we bend our own rules when it comes to a couple of foreign arrested marines who have committed a crime against Indians and want to leave India for a silly excuse?
On excuses, Pope John Paul II said, “An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie, for an excuse is a lie guarded.” Don't’ the Italians love their Popes? They must also learn from them!
Lesson - In business, there are rules that are never supposed to be broken. The consequences are deadly and destructive. Ask Rajat Gupta (of McKinsey fame) about breaking the rules of trust and the consequences he has faced by not honouring them.
2. Never, ever trust the Government.
I travelled to Italy extensively in the 90s when I worked for my father’s socks business. In that dinosaur era, there were a few international credit cards available. Most businessmen carried cash and travellers cheques abroad.
Once in Florence, I went to a government owned Italian bank to exchange a few hundred dollars into Italian Lire. The bank teller exchanged my money and gave me ten thousand lire short! I had the presence of mind to count the money once again (in front of her) and raised my voice to tell her that I was not going to be fooled. She became red faced and pretended to re-recount the money and added the remaining ten thousand lire to the total!
Here was a government officer officially short changing me! In the case of the Italians, despite a guarantee made by their own appointed Ambassador to our government (that the marines would return), the Italian government later backed out! One government was hoodwinking another government, while the world watched!
Lesson – Any government comprises a bunch of selfish, spineless and slimy politicians who do not lose sleep when they dishonour their word. If you are building a business based on government promises, don't . You will die.
3. Negotiate like it’s life and death.
What motivated John. F. Kennedy to say, “Never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate”? It was his experience with negotiation.
Politicians know how to negotiate. In the case of the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher did not yield. She fought like hell and won her Islands back. In the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy did not wilt under the pressure of Cuba and the Soviet Union. He remained strong and unflinching; he taught the Soviets never to mess with him or the USA again.
In the Italian case, I feel very let down by the Indian government. Why did we agree to ‘not award the marines the death penalty’ as a condition for their return? Isn’t that a decision for our courts and not politicians? When did we give our politicians the right to mess with our courts and judiciary?
Lesson – In business, negotiate like it's a matter of life and death. Don't give in and don't give up. If you last out long enough, you will win.
4. Everyone has a weakness.
The Italians love their food and how! So much so, that Pizza Margherita is dedicated to Italian Queen Margherita, who blessed this classic pizza because it comprised the Italian flag colours of white (cheese), red (tomato) and green (basil).
When I trained on the shop floor of Italian factories , lunch hour was the most sacred. To “mangiare” (to eat) was like a mini religious ceremony, where all the members of the workforce (separated by grades) came together to do ‘paitpooja’ (Hindi, for paying reverence to the stomach).
In the case of the Italians, somebody or something pressed their weakness buttons to make them do a U-turn to return their marines. It could have have been Indian diplomatic pressure, the Prime Minister’s meek threats or even Italian native-Indian political supremo Sonia Gandhi’s fuming and fretting. Whatever it was, it worked!
Lesson – In business, everyone has a weakness. Find that weakness and exploit it to get what you want. Make sure you do your research well and go after what makes the opponent crumble.
Coming back to food, my favourite dessert is Tiramisu. In Italian it means ‘pick me up’. I hope this article (at the cost of expensive political drama), makes you pick up some tips on doing business as well!