Saturday, November 12, 2011

An institution not a fiefdom

The worldview of Juan de la Cruz values hierarchy, ‘inclusion and compassion’ and above all is family first? The writer’s Eastern European friends came from the dark ages – the repressive Soviet rule! But they’re self-deprecating: “The new subway system is up in two years; it will leapfrog us 20 years, which means we’d still be 80 years behind!”

I am asking the older daughter to help me sell to the younger one the benefits of being disciplined especially with schoolwork.” The writer’s friend is sharing that he just took away the laptop and the iPhone from his 14-year old – to give her a lesson for doing less than she did the previous term. Instead he got her an ergonomic chair – to sell her the idea that her priority lies elsewhere, i.e., in her schoolwork. And so he was delighted when the girl said that without her laptop and iPhone, once she gets home, she is able to straightaway do her homework.

I don’t want them to simply follow my footsteps. I want them to pursue what would make them happy so that they’d have the passion for it. And so she’s taking Spanish, now that she knows English. And my brother and I agreed that we should not position our children to run an operating company within the group. They could be involved with the holding company, and as a family we could structure our investments as much as we like. But we must leave the operating companies to the professionals, who must be motivated and not worry about competition from family.”

The day has come! The brother’s older daughter completed her Harvard MBA and is now in the process of understanding the holding company. And the freshly minted HBS grad (with investment banking under her belt) sits down with the writer. “Whatever little I know about industry, as you know, I picked up in the West. I am a stranger in my own country and in our own company. But I agree we are building an institution not a fiefdom.” Time flies. The writer still remembers when she had first approached, to review the curriculum vitae she was putting together: “I hope to get an internship in a good outfit either in New York or London.” She was attending the university at Bath in the UK. The scenario could be straight out of Connecticut (where George W. Bush grew up, and attended Yale and Harvard.) How did they learn about modernity so fast, so soon?

The writer wondered how he would ‘sell’ – as opposed to impose – a lesson to a 14-year old! Would he have the heart to take away her laptop and iPhone? Why would they not simply give the plum job to a family member who’s a Harvard graduate – i.e., we personalize before we professionalize? And unwittingly we undermine transparency, if not engender corruption? What does that mean for our brand of democracy? We don’t get the best answers because we’re ruled by hierarchy? The writer’s Eastern European friends recognize that until their culture is able to breed a Mark Zuckerberg or a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs or a Larry Page and Sergey Brin, they’d still be closer to their socialist and dark communist roots than the 21st century!

Until we learn to respect a 14-year old? Until we respect reward and discipline? Until our institutions learn that they have the obligation ‘to sell’, not simply impose their will, we would be closer to the dark ages? And so radical groups are emboldened to be critical of our establishment? Unfortunately, they unwittingly romanticize socialism yet Deng Xiaoping isn’t their model – whose radicalism was to embrace market economy? He practically begged the West to bring money and technology to China? He knew the harsh realities a closed, socialist economy brought to them? Yet our nationalists hyperventilate whenever they hear the word foreign? There is nothing more important to them than to put that pot of soil under lock and key? The church ought ‘to sell the parable better?’

Should we then remember Deng Xiaoping when dealing with the US, for example? Also, technology has leapfrogged less advanced countries to ably compete against Uncle Sam, e.g., Singapore is ranked higher in competitiveness? And globalization has exposed their vulnerabilities, their cost structure and their greed? That should enrich our formulation instead of blaming everyone and his uncle why we’re an economic basket case? We must grow up!

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