Ashok is perhaps not as well known a CEO as say, a Narayana Murthy or an Azim Premji. But he has a sterling record of building institutions, and having been a CEO for nearly 35 years and an entrepreneur for 17, he is uniquely qualified to comment on what is required to be successful in business.
Ashok Soota first became CEO – of DCM Shriram, a refrigerator company - at the age of 35 and has thus been one for half his life. From there, he led Wipro’s IT journey as President of Wipro Infotech in 1983, building it to almost half a billion dollars by the time he left in 1999. And then, as a co-founder of Mindtree, he became an entrepreneur, and set it on the path to become a $700 million firm listed on NSE. In 2011, he once more became an entrepreneur setting up Happiest Minds which has already reached a $60 million run rate. The fact that he has been both an employee and an entrepreneur helps him to share viewpoints from both perspectives — an essential empathy for building institutions.
In this book that he has co-authored with SR Gopalan (like in his entrepreneurial ventures, he has a preference for collaboration), Ashok distills the learnings of a long career in business into the basics of what it takes to start one, bring it to success and remain happy. The book covers all essential aspects:
- Sifting ideas (he suggests you have more than one and then choose)
- Funding (think again about that angel funding)
- Your founding team (a hard-nose assessment of the benefits and rights of co-founders)
- Organisational structure (essential for scaling)
- Business strategy
- Marketing strategy
- Wealth creation and sharing
- Leading your firm to IPO (a much desired goal)
The style is simple and the anecdotal approach draws you in. I originally intended just to skim through the book, but ended up reading it in detail. Ashok shares many examples to illustrate each of his principles and concepts which make the book readable. He also shares mistakes that he has made and suggested ways to avoid them and this adds tremendous value to other entrepreneurs and CEOs. Occasionally the examples seem overly personal or specific to an organisation but they do not detract from the value of the anecdotes. In fact, if you are familiar with the organisations he has worked with or the referenced individuals, they will probably add spice to the reading.
Though there has been a conscious attempt to generalise the book and make it relevant to all kinds of organisations, given the background of the authors, the flavour is tilted towards building large scaleable organisations. Since many of the learnings and experiences cited are from Ashok’s personal background, these are from the IT industry. This makes the operational aspects of the book more immediately actionable for those in similar situations.
Who should read the book? It is an ideal guide book for anyone thinking of starting a company or in the early stages of running one and look for practical, pragmatic advice. It’s the kind of book that you’d want to annotate and make to-do lists from. Seasoned CEOs will also find it useful as it answers questions on company values and alignment, how to do acquisitions and how to manage team conflicts.
The book teaches practice rather than preaching, makes it okay to admit your mistakes and serves as a good platform for discussing issues that arise when envisioning an organisation that is built to last.