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Size does matter
India Infoline's MD R Venkatraman reviews Subroto Bagchi's The Elephant Catchers

Subroto Bagchi’s The Elephant Catchers is a simple read, apt for Indian entrepreneurs and with a lot of practical insights. As the title suggests, unlike an operation to catch rabbits, trapping an elephant calls for expertise over enthusiasm. This simple analogy holds the key to the successful scaling up of businesses, which is the most difficult task for a start-up, as I — and IIFL co-founder Nirmal Jain — learnt every day.

Bagchi’s book strikes a chord with the IIFL story. We started as a small equity research firm 20 years ago and now clock about $600 million in sales with multiple businesses. Bagchi rightly points out that those who hunt rabbits are rarely able to rope in elephants, information he gleaned from his first-hand experiences with tribals in Odisha. Many firms, despite a brilliant start, falter in their attempts to achieve transformational growth in their later phases. In the late 90s, IIFL underwent its first major transformation, changing the business model to a large extent by making its research available online and launching Indiainfoline. We changed our strategy and it paid off. Bagchi demonstrates a crucial point. “Organisations with real ambition to get to the top need to embrace the idea of scale and then ensure that it systematically pervades every aspect of its functioning.” Every entrepreneur who has created and successfully scaled up an enterprise, or wants to scale it up, will understand this well. 

The author has presented interesting real-life experiences to explain the opportunities and difficulties that entrepreneurs encounter while scaling up. He rightly says that those who don’t embrace the notion of size and cannot enjoy magnitude will always have problems with it. The amazing story of Sree Siddaganga Mutt and Missionaries of Charity has significant teachings for anyone struggling with the idea of scale. Clear and simple communication from the leaders is key to its successful transformation.

Organisations designed for growth have to think of infrastructure in three levels. The first is the physical level, then intellectual and finally, there is emotional infrastructure, which involves — among other things — the accessibility of an organisation’s leaders, its ability to respond to crises and propagation of its core vision.

Another crucial fact that Bagchi points out is that if you seek convenience and don’t diversify, it may not end well. When the global financial crisis happened, we kept our transformational approach intact and that resulted in the creation of successful non-banking finance, wealth management, asset management and real estate advisory businesses. He says that for successful scaling up, you need wise men around the table, referring to board members and advisors, which is extremely important.

The Elephant Catchers has it all: practical advice on how to deal with consultants to the question of succession, words of caution on strategy traps and M&As and valuable insights into a whole range of growth-related issues. Engaging, wise and accessible, this book is a must-read for everyone in seeking breakout success. 

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