Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mike Cudahy and Marquette

Our Dubai office – of four people – doesn’t have any dress code, no time clock. We have no objection if office refrigerator is stocked with alcoholic beverages or microwave is used for cooking. But we are a still far cry from this amazing company who did all this for 1000 plus factory+ office employees and also had a day care center within the office premises for employee’s kids.

The company was Marquette Electronics based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA producing high quality medical equipments and was one of the top 100 US companies to work during 80’s and 90’s. The architect of this unconventional method of managing this company was Mike Cudahy.

I didn’t work for Marquette but during my stint in Oman, I was involved in selling their products, interacting with their international division people and visiting their Milwaukee facility. I was fortunate to meet Mike Cudahy first at Wisconsin and later in Nice, France during distributor conference.

Mike started Marquette as an entrepreneur with capital of $15,000 and turned the company into $700 million annual sales global company that churned innovative and cutting edge technology products. He did this by simple ‘mantra’ of letting his employees to “reach for the stars.” Mike made it a point to get to know every one of his employees and make them feel comfortable around him. Trust and faith became prized possessions. He made alcoholic beverages available at all times to employees, explaining that it represented his trust in the employees. Neckties were absent from the company in favor of more casual attire such as shorts and sandals. Mike also allowed the construction of a daycare facility on-site so that moms don’t have to worry about their toddlers while attending the job. The company also frequently held plays and other fun activities to increase morale and make everyone feel more at home. R& D dept was perched on the tree top amidst thick woods not far from the factory and headoffice. Marquette exemplified that ‘company’s success is more about people and culture than business plans and process’. As a result, every Marquette employee was vivacious and passionate about the products he produced or sold. He demonstrated that people may or may not be endowed with natural talents and abilities but both can produce brilliant results — if they are treated exceptionally well. Mike Cudahy’s management style became Marquette’s culture that set new benchmark for How to treat employees like people and consider as tangible assets of the company.

By mid 1990’s Medical device industry was being driven more by computer software progress. With cut in US health care spending and fierce global competition, most small companies were getting gobbled by big ones. Mike perhaps realized that his predecessors may not be able to keep the momentum that he had set in terms of innovativeness and fast track growth. He sold the company in late 1998 to GE Medical at nearly twice the market value for Marquette stock and all of the stockholders became rich. Its unlikely GE would have continued with Marquette traditions of unique management style. Later in 2003, he bought back his research center to serve as a business and innovation incubator

Today, at youthful 78, Mike Cudahy still keeps a busy schedule with idea generation meetings, business lunches, fundraiser campaigns. After his retreat from Marquette, Mike set up Cudahy Trust Foundation with the goal of donating money intelligently to local charities and needy organizations. He donated millions of dollars to organizations like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Marquette University, and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

He has penned his journey in his autobiography: Michael J. Cudahy - Joyworks: The Story of Marquette Electronics and Two Lucky Entrepreneurs.

Here is a snippet from his interview on

Did you know what you wanted to do with your life when you were in high school? : MC: No, does anyone? I did have a passion for mechanical and electrical things. I became an AM radio operator when I was 12 and living in Ireland (through a school program). In those days, you had to build everything from scratch, the transmitter and receiver. You also had to be very careful not to electrocute yourself which I almost did a couple of times. The thrill after building these radios and wondering how it could possibly work, rigging it up with the antenna and having someone answer your call on the radio was ... pow! Absolutely the most electrifying thing that had even happened to me in my life. I talked to other countries on my radio as a little kid. It was great.

As a tip to all parents, if you can find a thing to electrify your child .. do it. Try it. Let them find something, medicine, electronics, space science or whatever. This will launch your child's thinking!

You've been married four times? If I may ask, what's up with that? : MC: As to my four wives, I really don't have much to say except ... if I had it all to do over, I doubt if I'd change much. After all, I lived with #3 (Nancy) for 23 years, and I'm still living with #4, Lisa, after 16 years. And I have five terrific kids!

How would you define leadership?: MC: It's a funny word. It's stepping up to plate, being unafraid of the consequences of stating your opinion. Being a leader is gathering momentum by gathering other people to follow your idea.

How do you define success? :MC: First of all, one of the biggest deterrents to success is a lack of confidence in the individual. 'It can't be done. Oh, I'll never get there. It's too big for me. I don't know anything or enough about it. The people I know who have been really successful have just said, 'Man the torpedoes. We're going to do it, and I don't care how. I'll learn as we go.' That kind of attitude is what is needed!

There is an awful lot that we teach in school and business school saying you have to be fully trained here and there ... I'm not sure you need to be that structured!

What do you do in your free time? : MC: I don't have any (he laughs). I train my dog.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Israel's masterstroke ?

When Rafik Hariri – Ex Prime Minister was assassinated on February 14th 2005, with 600 Ton explosives and sophisticated precision trigger device, all fingers of accusation were pointed at Syria.

The theory was based upon two rational reasons:

1. Extensive military and intelligent influence that Syria wielded with their 14,000 troops based in the Lebanon at the time of the attack.

2. There was a public rift between Hariri and Syrian Leadership and Syria didn’t want Hariri to continue after serving two terms as prime Minister of Lebanon.

As Lebanese people triggered by American and Western Media poured on the streets to oust the presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon, I very much doubted the above logic of Syria being behind the above plot. First : Syria wont be naïve and politically stupid to eliminate Hariri -their political rival to make him martyr in the eyes of Lebanese population. Second : Even if they were to eliminate him, they won’t do it in a public glare – right in the Beirut’s cornice seafront – with tons of explosives set on the entire motorcade.

So who was to be benefited by this killing? The answer veers down to Israel and western Powers.

U.N. Security Council resolution, sponsored by the United States and France, were calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. They didn’t want nexus of Iran + Syria right at the door steps of Israel and Western Europe. Israel knew very well that as long as Syria is present in Lebanon, Hizboolah would have their supply lines intact from their political masters in Iran. Moreover, Israel was also aware that any action in Lebanon with Syrian presence would mean colossal casualty for them and a risk of full fledge Middle Eastern war.

Lebanon played in hands of Israel and western powers. Lebanon forgot the basic premise that in order to guard against a goon one needs to be in the company of another goon. Now Lebanon is hopelessly alone in the hour of crisis. Having thrown Syria out of Lebanon, they can’t even ask help of Syria nor will Arab pride let Syria come to the rescue to Lebanon. Western people all have been evacuated from Lebanon leaving Lebanese people to face barrage of Israel’s incessant bombing.

Hizboolah is stranded in southern Lebanon with all support from Syria snapped by bombing road linking Damascus and Beirut.

Look who has gained from Hariri’s assassination:

· Western Powers have succeeded in shunting Syrian forces out of Lebanon.
· Israel effectively eliminated any resistance and extended their rule to cover southern Lebanon as they did with Gaza.

Some analysts had commented “The nature of the blast carried out with smuggling 600 ton of explosives into the center of the Lebanon capital cannot be without the knowledge of Syria's omnipresent security service. But it is also possible that Syrian President Bashar Assad may not have been fully in control of the Syrian government in Lebanon and there were people making decisions inside Lebanon on Syria’s behalf”

I seem to get more and more convinced by the above argument.

For last 11 days, Western powers are mute and letting Israel demolish Hizboolah camps while thousands of civilians in Lebanon are being banished to helpless death and devastation. Once this mission is complete, Western powers would call for cease fire and blame Iran and Hizboolah for all this menace. Israel would resurrect herself with minimum damage cost while Lebanon goes back to 2o years to rebuild herself. Hizboolah would be finished for ever.

Isn’t this Israel’s genius masterstroke?

Friday, July 21, 2006

scotland : with scotch and haggis

I have just passed over Baltic Sea. With clear sky, at 10,688 feet, I could see a coastline of western Europe through my right window and coastline of Scandinavia on left on the navigation map of Emirates flight. Warsaw is ahead of me with Minx on the left side. Eastern Europe and Scandinavia have so far eluded me in my goal of touching diverse geographical places around the globe but my forging business relationship with Hungarian company at EDTA meeting gives me a hope to enter Eastern European block. Now I am past Warsaw, and heading towards Black sea piercing between Kiev on the left side and Budapest and Bucharest on right side. With my seat video monitor no working; there is no better way than to continue to pen my thoughts about my scotalnd trip.

When I learnt about Edinburgh being just an hour from Glasgow, I was happy. Else, another visit to the Glasgow city wouldn’t have evoked much passion. Opportunity to escape from Dubai’s desert heat to smell Scotland’s rain soaked cloudy weather and view lush green sloping hills was also at the back of my mind. But I wasn’t lucky in terms of the weather. The whole week in UK, had the warmest temperature of the century. 36 degree plus may not be a big deal compared to 42 plus in Dubai. But Europe is different. Air conditioning is not ubiquitous, instead they have heater. I was lucky to have AC in my room in hotel Menzies – close to the Clyde River, within walking distance from Glasgow central square and my place of work at Scotland Exhibition Conference Center (SECC). Sunset at 11pm made sure that I got a chance to roam around the city after work hours.

SECC – nicknamed as “Armadillo"- has a distinctive architecture in a series of framed 'hulls' that overlap each other. But powerful halogen l lamps at the exhibition booth and ineffective air-conditioning made sure that jacket worn sales guys managing booth baked with profuse sweat all four days. Evenings were rather cool and walk along the Clyde river bank did bring a gentle breeze.

I chose to spend my first day at Edinburgh. Airport Bus to Queen Street station at city square and then by Scots rail all the way to Edinburgh. Glasgow – Edinburgh one way fare is £ 8.00. Visitors can opt for tourist fares but it doesn’t include peak hour travel. Often during initial days, a foreign visitor is not conversant with various denominations of coins and notes and this is the period where chances of getting duped are high. At Glasgow station, I encountered similar experience when ticket counter staff gave me short change and when asked, he promptly returned the excess money. A taxi driver, though, was honest and told me that I gave him extra money. I had originally booked all four nights at Edinburgh and thought of commuting to Glasgow by train, but changed to just one night. Internet booking has its own pitfalls. They often have a cancellation policy in clickable form and I was fool enough not to read in detail. The damage was additional UK £ 100 towards cancellation charges. But St Andrews House on Glasgow road – my place - in Edinburgh was comfortable and cosy.

Edinburgh city is in the same mould as that of Vienna, Cologne and Paris. Singular arterial road- princess street - is flanked on one side by sloping flowery gardens with a backdrop of castles on hills and the other side has chain of branded stores like Zara, Next, Virgin Megastors. Garden houses museum, amphitheater that does live shows . A leisurely stroll along the backstreet of the garden took you through cafes, beer parlours, medieveal churches and an occasional portrait artist. Walking past princess street and seeing statues lined up along the way made me aware that Scotland’s rich history in producing world class scientific inventors. The list goes in hundreds but some of the iconic figures are James Watt: Steam ; John Napier:Logarithms; Ian Donald: Ultrasound ;John Mallard:MRI scanner;Roslin center :The first cloned mammal (Dolly the Sheep) ;James Simpson: Surgical anesthesia; Alexander Wood; Alexander Fleming : Penicillin and the list goes on and on.
Sight of cows grazing lazily on green top made 50 minute train ride from Edinburgh comfortable.Scots rail operate this sector and train run every 15 minutes. Glasgow is now Scotland's largest city. Glasgow is a huge, sprawling city with a Clyde river running through it. The city is sensibly laid out on a grid system so navigating wasn’t any problem. Glasgow and Edinburgh are opposite in many ways. Glasgow has an influence of Russian Mafia and it’s not uncommon to see bare-chested tattoo strewn beer belly tourists while Edinburgh is flocked by international backpackers with penchant for theatre, music and painting. Glasgow reminds me of Michael Jackson + Paul McCartney number ‘The Girl is mine’ shot with brick - brown coloured, graffiti strewn walls of rectangular shaped warehouse boxes. Edinburgh reminds me of ‘sound of music’ with castles in the background of small houses with front porch covered with pebble stones, garden flowers and protruding chimneys from the top. Glasgow born, Punjabi owner of Indian restaurant in Glasgow warned me to take taxi to the hotel to avoid muggers and druggists, while Edinburgh inn manager wanted me to take a bus to take a tour of the city. This sums up the contrasting ambience of two cities.

Scotland is green, nice and beautiful. With Indian restaurants almost at every corner, English language and economical transport of buses and trains, Scotland is a good tourist designation for vacation. But I think Asians should avoid the month of July- August. Most hotel tariff are steep with influx of tourists, temp is all year high.

Company sponsored gala dinner is something I always look forward to. This time, the venue was winter garden people’s palace. The grandeur of winter garden palace with live bagpiper music from elderly Scotsman in Scottish attire made evening enjoyable despite fuming in sultry weather. Dinner began with Scotsman extolling virtues of Haggis- special dish of Scotland - in a poetic form of Robert Burns. Dish looked greyish brown coloured oval shaped puffed balloon tied at both ends. When pierced with his knife, it popped up showing that looked like brown spongy cake. Everyone got a slice of Haggis with raw Scotch whisky. Our menu mentioned “haggis with neeps, tatties and nips" -- I wasn’t sure of last three items and so was cautious with sample of one spoon to taste hoping that it would be either vegetable or some meat dish. It turned out those three items were mashed turnips, mashed potatoes, nips of whiskey.

Guess what Haggis was made up of? “Sheep’s lung, liver, Kidney fat chopped, grated with oatmeal and then stuffed into the stomach that is upturned and then cooked in the oven. Oatmeal expands in cooking and that’s why baloney shape. Haggis turned out to be most grisly non vegetarian preparation that I have ever come across in all my travels including China.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Japan - after 23 years

My first overseas trip was to Japan in 1983. Since then, I visited this place few times, but this month trip took me to the very places that I had touched in 1983. Akiabara, Shinju Ku – electronic and business district of Tokyo, Narita Airport, Mount Fujii, Lake Hakone, Tokyo Station, Bullet Train etc. In all these years, not much has changed with the exception of the products displayed in shops. Instead of TV sets, Walkman – they have IPODs, Mobiles and Play Stations. Buses now take you right at the top of Mount Fujii instead of a steep climb amidst sulphur induced geysers. Pirate ship at Lake Hakone remains same and so is the precise meticulousness of Japanese people and their criss- cross of metro train system.

In today’s global marketing scenario, taking important customers to foreign jaunts is not so un-common and so is getting intoxicated till wee hours, hoping to reach for that elusive precious thread of business relationship. But what if after walloping in Japanese hospitality if your customer gleefully plunges fully naked in the hot water bath and you join him – naked as well – alongwith host of known and unknown bodies. A unique Japanese ‘onsen’ experience that will bond you forever with your customers. After all, there is no longer any secret between you and your customer!! Traveling to the North of Japan at Odate city in Akita Prefecture and staying at Ryoken – Japanese style hotel –amidst sprawling rice paddies, lush green mountains , being in hot water pool followed by sushi +sashimi dinner with liberal gulps of sake in Japanese settings of tatami mats, white paper window shades with kimono strapped waitresses at your service; revived my initial 23 year old memories doing the same at the sprawling guesthouse at the Mount Fujii. The only thing I didn’t do this time was to sing and burst crackers.

Size of hotel rooms appeared little bigger even though physical dimension remained the same. This is because of flat screen wall mounted TV, foldable automatic ironer and bed with built in alarm clocks. One can still easily stretch arm and reach for TV buttons. Computerized remote touch pad controlled toilet seats are now a defecto standard. But Toyo (manufacturer) is losing its monopoly of the market. Refrigerators with cans loaded horizontally- look more like mini nuclear reactor - have automatic sensor that bills as soon as you take a can out. Pay channel TV no longer works with coins; one can walk in the hotel corridor and buy a pay card. Haneda airport hotel is along the runaway and yet one doesn’t even hear a thing as aircrafts fly across the window. But at US$300 per night it’s probably the most expensive airport hotel I may have stayed.

My rudimentary Japanese language skills made me initiate conversation with fellow Japanese passengers who often are reticent when it comes to interaction with next seat neighbor. They would rather listen to MP3 or chat through SMS or catch up with lost sleep. My first neighbor at Narita Bus limousine was Korea born and Japan bred. He was returning from Germany after watching South Korea group match. His dad owned pachinko – japanese version of Las Vegas Casino in Northern Japan. Having visited Calcutta as a bag packer, India was at his heart. Young lady at Shinkansen (Bullet Train) was a student but had already traveled to many European countries as an exchange student. My co-passenger at Tokyo- Osaka flight was bi-lingual Toyota employee with a passion for culture, history and rustic lifestyle. She had been to Varanasi, Katmandu and was on way to Morocco to experience Sahara adventure. One thing was evident; interest with India is ever-growing despite technological prowess and imitation of American lifestyle. Ashoka – Indian restaurant in Ginza is no longer operational but replaced by host of others all over in major cities. The one in Shinju Ku has many branches and food is excellent. Thali would be Yen 2700 – sample of chicken + vegetable dish with long Nan – can get more sumptuous if one can charge on company account.

Kunikoniya – huge book store is another of my favorite. The other chain of reuse of books at 100,200yen has more Manga comics. I was told about sex store chain at the corner that would have database of all women in the vicinity but I had no interest in them after witnessing Minami Kashiwa clubs 23 years ago that redefined nudity in modern society. Narita airport ride through limousine through scenic greenery was as luxurious but what is remarkable is the passengers eschewing the use of mobile for the benefit of fellow passengers.

Innovation is the spirit of Japan and one has to have sharp eyes to spot it in everyday life. Sun glasses with MP3 player must be rage with bike drivers so is the heater controlled handle on bikes. A look like manual pencil sharpener- is a tiny portable generator that charges mobile phone battery. Five minute of spinning would charge mobile for 20 minutes. I wonder if Chinese - have already forayed power strapped Delhi market with this innovative creation.

Jack Welsh and Richard Branson in their biographies extolled the passion of work that Japanese possess. My customers – for whom this was the first experience completely floored by Japan- its people, discipline, culture and their passion to stretch to an unbelievable limit to make customer satisfied. A sight of Japanese smoking a cigarette in a corner holding his cigarette pack below his chin to gather cigarette ash ; A person at bus depot or air terminal checking the baggage tags to the last digit before he hands over the bags ; Bullet Train stewards hostess turns around and bows as she reaches the end of compartment - make an indelible imprint about their sense of belonging towards their job ,community and customers.

Today, technology is imitated before it even reaches customers. Japan has no longer possess competitive edge in consumer and entertainment industry. Automobile to some extent can sustain but depleting oil reserves and expensive electric cars will be a stumbling block. Where doe Japan go after another 23 years? I asked this question to my colleague. His answer was the same as that of mine. ‘Space Exploration’ would be a way for Japanese Juggernaut built on technological prowess and innovative spirit. But I do hope, by then, Japanese don’t dilute the use of Japanese Language, Cuisine while being overzealous about Hollywood movies. Mac burgers and Christian style weddings.