Tag: Inspiration

A story of courage

A story of courage

Faith, hope, courage, determination, optimism, kindness, love and many such qualities put together are at core of the human spirit. The now-famous Marathi film Shwaas is based on a true story of human spirit. Shwaas won the Swarna Kamal for the best feature film of 2003 at the 51st National Film Awards held at New Delhi last month. Child actor Ashwin Chitale, who plays little Parshuram afflicted with Retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes, won the award for best child performance.

What’s fascinating is that the making of the film itself reflects the triumph of the human spirit. This is what we concluded when we heard Arun Nalawade, the actor-producer of the film, spoke about the way he and his colleagues went about producing this film.

Nalawade was in the city for a felicitation programme organised by the Sarawati Mandir Trust’s pre-primary section in Naupada, which is celebrating it golden jubilee year. Incidentally, it was fifty years ago, that a Marathi Film titled Shyamchi Aai won the first National Award in best feature film category.

The felicitation programme was held at Malhar Cinema at 8.30 am of Sunday, September 12. Senior Trustee S D Ghatpande honoured Nalawade after which a special screening was organised for the school’s students. After the honours, Nalawade revealed the story behind the making of his best-seller which was produced by seven individuals on a cooperative basis. The script of the film is based on a six-month long research conducted by interviewing a leading eye surgeon from Pune, Dr Shailesh Puntambekar, from whose professional life the story was inspired. Making a song-less movie with a modest budget, and a plot sans the usual melodramatic hero-heroine fare, requires courage. Plus the movie was filmed in Marathi, which meant restricted audiences. In spite of this, the movie has done extremely well and has completed 100 days. The national award only proves the core message of the film: Never give up on life, no matter what.   Nalawade also spoke about the intricacies of working with a child actor, who had to portray the difficult character of Parshuram. "The hospital scenes, especially the overwhelming medical scanning equipment, would intimidate Ashwin and it required a lot of cajoling and encouragement to get him to do the scenes," said Nalawade.

Speaking about the idea of a special screening of his film for school students, Nalawade said he was touched: "This is the first time Shwaas is being screened for school students ever since it hit the theatres in March 2004." And he said it made a lot of sense too, because children were the real target audience for the film. The story highlights the predicament of a man who is faced with a situation where is beloved grandchild is about to lose his eyesight. He wants is grandchild to make the most of the time left to see the world in all its vibrant colours.

The bookings for the special screening for students opened on Friday morning and sold out within two hours. But happily, students who missed this opportunity can still watch it if they want. Going by the demand for the film, the school management has decided to hold two more special screening at discounted rates – one on September 26 and another on October 3. Rohini Rasal, principal of the pre-primary sections said, "A nine-year old came to book tickets with her grandfather. She said she would like to see the movie with him. Another student said she would love to see it again and again." In reaching out to the children’s hearts and touching a chord in them, Shwaas has proved true its own message – that human spirit always prevails.

Vitamin King

Vitamin King

On his early life and his foray interest in Vitamin technology

I was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1931. After partition, my family moved to India. In Pakistan, my father ran one of the biggest wholesale and retail pharmacies of the time. In 1956, after my B.Pharm, I left the Indian shores and went to London for higher education. There I acquired a post-graduate degree in pharmacy before proceeding to Germany for my doctorate in Medicinal Chemistry. After a brief stint in Germany where I worked as a professor, I returned to India, got married to a medical doctor and worked with the AIIMS as a research scientist for two years before returning to London where I joined a pharma publication in an editorial position. It was a journal that published a compilation of abstracts of world patents in medicine. Almost all major pharma companies in the world were subscribers.

As a young research scientist at AIIMS Delhi, I observed anomalies in the administration of some of the most basic vitamins and minerals. The iron administered to patients at AIIMS was at least seven to eight times more than the recommended dosage. I decided to study this subject further and that’s when my interest in Vitamins and Nutrients developed.

On how he set it up Vitabiotics

During the late sixties, I suffered from persistent mouth ulcers. I had tried lots of medicines, but nothing had worked. Finally, after having suffered for about five years, I had decided to find a cure himself – after all I was a qualified pharmacist. I invented a medicine which worked wonders – used it a few times, after which my mouth ulcers vanished completely never to return again. I applied for a British patent for this new cure for mouth ulcers and got it. Then, I tried to sell the patent but did not find a buyer. So I decided to manufacture and distribute the product myself.

Having studied pharmacy locally, I was familiar with the local market. I also knew that people often relied on pharmacists for such common ailments as headaches and ulcers. So I packed a dozen units of Oralcer in neat boxes and sent them to all the local chemists along with a letter and a return stamp and address. I said in the letter: "You know that nothing works for ulcers. This is the first treatment in the world that will work. If you’re happy, you sell the product, and if not, you may return the box. Only ten per cent of the boxes came back. The rest of them sent repeat orders." This was the beginning of Vitabiotics. Then, when I visited Nigeria, I noticed that there was a market for multivitamin brand there and decided to introduce a multivitamin supplement. I developed an attractive packaging for the brand and called it Omega-H3. Today, Omega H3 is the largest selling nutritional supplement in several countries around the world.

On his awards and his source of delight

I have received four awards in the year 2003. The first among the awards was The Queen’s Award for Enterprise bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in recognition of the company’s remarkable contribution to International Trade. Then there was the Asian Achiever’s Award for Trade and Industry followed by Entrepreneur of the Year in UK sponsored by British Telecom and GG2. And most recently in December 2003, I received the Asian of the Year 2003-2004, awarded by the Asian Who’s Who.

I was reluctant to accept the Asian of the Year award this year as I thought that it would be one award too many in a single year. Yet I was persuaded to receive it this year itself. Awards are fine…however, my true source of delight is the positive feedback I receive from the thousands of users of my products from across the world about how the medicines are benefiting them.

I remember an incident of a young girl who attempted suicide because her mouth ulcers were so bad that she felt that "life was not liveable." Her desperate attempt came after nothing had cured her. Then she was given Oralcer, and her condition improved immediately and gradually she was permanently cured. These and many other episodes are what make me really happy.

On his conviction in the power of nutrients

There are countless instances of our products working where traditional formulations have failed. I truly believe that natural ingredients like vitamins and minerals can prevent and cure of a range of health issues, from common ailments to lethal ones like AIDS. Combined in accurate quantities, they can cure as well as, and sometimes even better than, traditional medicine.

Not only that – our formulations are very safe as they are made from natural products, whereas most traditional medicines have counter effects. Take for instance Menopace, a pioneering product we developed – the first non-HRT remedy for menopausal women, which is today a market leader in UK. Today HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is under serious clout. Doctors and scientists across the globe are questioning the use of HRT remedies.

What drives him…

Certainly not profitability – we sacrifice a lot even today. We don’t jump into something simply because of a fad. It’s true that success would have come to me quicker if I was more businesslike. But that’s not been my philosophy. If I am not satisfied, if I am not sure that a product will truly benefit people, I will not get involved in it, even if trends suggest that it would be profitable to do so.

I voluntarily price my product low in the developing countries. And I simply do not distinguish between nationalities when it comes to charity, social service or financial assistance of any kind. I donate money and help needy people wherever they are.

About two years ago, a young English man aged about 24 years, came to Kulu Manali for an adventure trek. While paragliding, he was lost. His mother was a nurse and father was school teacher. The boy’s parents contacted the British High Commission for assistance who in turn contacted the Indian High Commission. They were told that the search operation would cost them a lot of money, which they could not afford. When I read about this in the newspapers, I instructed my secretary to locate the hassled parents and then sponsored the entire search operation for two days. Although the search did not yield the desired results (the boy was unfortunately never found), at least the parents were satisfied that a serious attempt had been made.

On his lifestyle

I live a simple life. Nothing extravagant. I love the old and the historic. I am fascinated by antiques and ancient works of art such as ivories, furniture and paintings. This (pointing to a painting on the rear wall behind) was a jackpot! She is Gayatri Devi painted by Augustus John. I bought it at an auction in the UK some twenty five years ago. Nobody there seemed to know who she was – they referred to her as "some Indian princess". Augustus John was one of the best-known English portrait painters during the early part of the 20th century. He painted many wealthy and important people and Her Highness Gayatri Devi was certainly one such person.

I’ve also got a collection of historical books, with some amazing insights into times gone by, illustrated with beautiful sketches. These days I am co-writing a book about the role of British in the history of India.

On his children

The success of my children makes me a proud. My eldest son, Ajit Lalwanii, who is a medical doctor at the Oxford, has achieved a rare distinction of inventing a test for tuberculosis which has 99 per cent accuracy with the results being available on the same day displacing a hundred year old test that required six days for a result and has an accuracy of only 80 per cent. You see, TB was not a disease of the developed world, so multinationals never took it seriously. My younger son is now the head of marketing at Vitabiotics a
nd is doing very well.

His vision for India

I think that India’s future can be bright if only our literacy rates could go up. With a population like ours, if every earning Indian would set aside only one day’s income for a charitable purpose like education, India could attain hundred per cent literacy in five years.

Any regrets in life?

None at all. I am 72 now and I have lived a good, contended life. But I have dreams that I’d like to see coming true in my lifetime. Like Vitabiotics becoming a major International player and India’s rate of literacy nearing 100 per cent.

Managing without managers

Managing without managers

Two decades ago, Ricardo Semler, a 24-year-old graduate from Harvard Business School, embraced an egalitarian approach to business management and transformed an ailing company into a flourishing one. When Ricardo took over the realms of Semler and Company, a Brazilian manufacturing business from his father, the country’s economy was going through a recession and had hit the company’s sales particularly hard. The company was in mayhem and on the brink of bankruptcy. Ricardo had never agreed with the autocratic management style in which his father had always believed. So he decided to change things a bit. On the very first day after he took over, he fired two-thirds of the top management. Next he rechristened the company to call it “Semco.” He then began mapping fresh strategies for the company to bring it back in form.

In spite of these changes, the company’s performance kept dwindling. Attempts such as brutal cost-cutting too did not salvage the situation. Finally, after experiencing severe stress for several months, Ricardo decided to drastically change his lifestyle along with that of his employees. The first thing he did was to eliminate needless layers of hierarchy; he trimmed down the hierarchy from twelve levels down to three levels. Today, a front-line lathe operator is only one layer away from the general manager of his division.

Next, he began consulting his workforce for all major decisions. Soon his company started showing signs of recovery and it became clear to him that the only way to drive his company to growth and success is by involving all his employees. He made up his mind to embrace what he calls “participatory management,” which essentially meant empowering employees and encouraging them to participate in running the business. His decision paid off, and handsomely at that.

In only a decade and a half, Semco grew from a five million dollar company with 100 employees, to a 220 million dollar company with 3,000 employees. And these employees are a highly motivated, self-driven and quality conscious lot. The management and workers are so empathetic towards each other and their communication so open that no union is required. Each worker is fully aware of his role in the organisation and is completely committed to company goals. And employee turnover is tending to zero. What brought such a change, you might wonder?

Utopian Workplace
Imagine working for a company where you decide your salary, set your sales and productivity targets, where you review your boss’s performance, where you could walk in at any time, where there is no dress code, where it is mandatory to take a vacation, where everyone knows what everyone else earns, and some workers can earn more than their boss. For most of us, this would be the ultimate workplace utopia. For employees of Semco, this is the way of life.

Semco, one may say, is the ultimate democratic organisation. Semco’s standard policy is no policy – instead of corporate governance, it advocates self-governance. All employees are treated like mature adults. Workers set their own production quotas as well as their own wages. Workers have access to all corporate records, and are taught to read financial reports. Profit-sharing is democratic too – profits shared are negotiated with workers, who then decide how to split the money.

Before people are hired for or promoted to leadership positions, they are interviewed and approved by everyone who must work for them. Every six months, managers are reviewed by workers and results are posted for everyone to see. Not only that – bosses with poor evaluations are actually fired! Each worker votes on major decisions, such as buying another company or moving a factory. Workers are responsible for their own quality control, eliminating the quality control department.

Because a large proportion of what all employees earn is a factor of the firm’s profits, employees tend not to abuse their freedom – they seem to know that if they do, the loss is theirs. Today Semco is reaping rich dividends in return for employee empowerment. The extraordinary manner in which the organisation is managed (or not managed), has earned Semco the distinct reputation of being the world’s most unusual workplace. Plus, it is one of the most sought after employers in the world and has steadily climbed to becoming one of the top five companies in its industry.

Ricardo on India
In an interview with The Economic Times last year, Semler advised that copying Fortune 500 companies is a bad idea for companies operating in countries like Brazil and India. He encouraged businesses to look for “new architectures” that can be “built around our cultural background.”

When asked how should one tackle resistance and go about changing mindsets, Semler replied, “You’ve to remember that the only resistance of any importance comes from the middle managers. About 80 per cent of the company, i.e., everyone who is not a manager or a supervisor, take to this like fish to water, in the sense that it doesn’t take very much to convince people that they should have more freedom to come and go when they want, dress the way they want, spend more time with their kids.”

Last words
In his book Maverick, Ricardo Semler, relates an incident when the wife of one of the company’s workers went to see a member of the company’s human resources staff. She was puzzled about her husband’s behaviour. He no longer yelled at the kids, she said, and asked everyone what they wanted to do on the weekends. He wasn’t his usual, grumpy, autocratic self. Ricardo concluded that as Semco had changed for the better, so had its employees.

Ricardo ends his book Maverick with these inspiring words, “I hope our story will cause other companies to reconsider themselves and their employees. To forget socialism, capitalism, just-in-time deliveries, salary surveys, and the rest of it, and to concentrate on building organisations that accomplish that most difficult of all challenges: to make people look forward to coming to work in the morning.”

Like everything else, business management metamorphoses over time. By going against the time-honoured practices of managing a business enterprise, Ricardo Semler has sown the seeds for a metamorphosis that makes the autocratic and hierarchical style of management seem dated.

No more striving

No more striving

Dr. Wayne Dyer, best-selling author of the book “Your Erroneous Zones” and a renowned psychotherapist, says that the secret of success lies in detachment. This phenomenon is often visible in the context of sports events, when a player, attached to the outcome of winning the game, often ends up on the losing side.

On September 19, 2001 state-level selection tournaments for Badminton were held at the Mulund Gymkhana.

Meenakshi Wagh, a seasoned Badminton player from Thane, was one of the participants. In her words, “The turning point of the tournament was the singles semi-finals”. Meenakshi had lost the first 2 of the 5 sets of the match and was already down 4-6. Her opponent, second seeded Kripa Telang, was at match-winning point.

At this point, quite unexpectedly, the tide turned in favour of Meenakshi who won three straight sets leading her to win the match and reach the finals against women’s top seed Archana Deodhar. “I found my flow when I stopped focusing on winning and started to play my natural game”, says Meenakshi. Meenakshi won the single semi finals 3-3, 4-7, 8-6, 7-0, 7-3. This was quite a turnaround.

It seems Dr. Dyer is right when he says, “Detachment is the only vehicle available to take you from striving to arriving”. Meenakshi went on to win both the singles and doubles finals and is now going to represent the West Zone for state level tournaments.

Age Mirage
What one does has little to do with when he does it. Take for instance Mrs. Pramila Rao, a 65-year old lady, who enthusiastically runs a nursery school at Thane’s Brindaban Society.

Mrs. Pramila Rao started the nursery school when she was 45. At the time, she had only 4-5 children. But the loving methods that she adopted in her new profession quickly made her popular among children. Within a couple of years, she had about 70 children in her care.

The distinctive quality of the nursery school lies in the “experience” of the children. Mrs. Rao firmly believes that “For young children, learning should be a pleasant, fun-filled experience – so much so that every morning, these children should look forward to it”. Focusing on a child’s overall development, Rao’s nursery, as it is popularly known, has a two-hour session each day, which begins at 9 am. Each day is packed with a variety of activities such as clay modeling, drawing, poetry or singing sessions, or even buttoning a shirt.

Each year, an annual day is held in CKP hall and children participate in stage shows, history plays and elocutions etc. From time to time a picnic is organized, giving the children an opportunity to see different places.

For Mrs. Rao, the school is her labour of love and although not a source of income, she earns a lot more by way of students’ love. “It is not the years in your life, but the life in your years that counts,” said Adlai Stevenson. Mrs. Pramila Rao has lots of life in her years.

Paperback Dreams

Paperback Dreams

In 1998, a Mumbai based journalist suddenly suffered a thought transformation. The result was that at the peak of his reporting career, he gave it up for something quite unconventional. B Mahesh, a full time journalist, left his secure job and founded a bookstore.

After two years of taking that bold step, Mahesh has absolutely no regrets. He is pleased with his decision of abandoning journalism altogether. For 12 long years, he had applied himself diligently to his work. He started with Free Press Journal, which is where he acquired most of his reporting skills. Then, he joined The Times of India where he covered civic matters. Later, he was promoted to political reporting. In 1993 he moved to Business Standard where he remained till he quit the profession.

What made him take such a plunge? "I had reached a Plateau when it came to job satisfaction", says Mahesh. Money was never a decisive factor in his career decision. Which is why he never contemplated moving to television, as he considers this form of news media rather superficial.

When the time came to act, nothing would stop him. He had made up his mind to become an entrepreneur. His solid determination and a passion for books made him set up Paperback – a small, but classy bookstore in Thane city.

It was a risky step, as he had never had experience in managing any kind of business. To top that, he didn’t even have sufficient funds for seed capital. But his friends and loved ones lent him full support – not only financially but also morally. And that made a big difference, as anyone who’s ever been in his position will know.

Mahesh’s efforts have been greatly rewarded. Paperback is today quite a well-known bookstore among book lovers of the central suburbs. Although a large part of the clientele belongs to Thane, Paperback has several patrons from adjoining suburbs like Mulund, Bhandup, Kanjurmarg and Vikhroli on the Mumbai side and Kalyan and Dombivli on the other.

All this is in spite of the fact that the shop is located away from the marketplace. For Mahesh, the choice of location was a conscious decision. He wanted only genuine booklovers to visit his store, as he firmly believes that such people would go to any corner if there were a good bookshop.

Paperback is a great store for a true lover of books. The collection is superb, and the aura, perfect. Customers appreciate the quite and serene mood that surrounds the bookstore. What is even more appealing to them is that the store remains open from 10:30 am to 10:30 pm. This thoughtful timing takes care of working individuals, who can visit the store even after a hard day’s work, even if they reside faraway. Paperback provides them a relaxed browsing experience, even if they may not buy. Paperback even offers free delivery of books throughout Mumbai. All orders are delivered within 24 hours to 72 hours.

Once in a while, Mahesh organizes a celebrity author to visit his store. He does so because he does not want to deprive his valued customers an opportunity to interact with their favourite authors simply because of the location. The list of celebrity authors who have visited Paperback includes Tara Deshpande, Shoba De, master chef Sanjeev Kapoor, Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah and more recently, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat.

Even as celebrities’ book-signing and other events are undertaken, Paperback holds free story-telling session for children every Sunday morning – a move that has been greatly appreciated by parents as it keeps the children away from the idiot-box and also inculcates the reading habit in them. Renowned painter and writer Mr Badri Narayan inaugurated the story-telling session on November 14, 1999.

So what’s next on the agenda? A chain of Paperbacks? Perhaps. But he has other callings. Such as becoming an international umpire, undergoing training for cinematography and film direction at FTII and taking at least a year off to an undisclosed location, away from everything and everybody. In his own words, "One should live, not merely exist. And that’s why I dream, because I know dreams have a wonderful way of becoming real."