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This is further on the subject of Big Fish. They are amongst us and they are around us. We should understand how it develops and how it affects the work place. There are two parties to this process; the employer and the employee. Both contribute to the evolution of Big Fish process.
Largest majority of businesses start small. It may be one person, a family or few partners. The entire focus is on survival, and to develop the business. There are a handful of employees, if any. Everyone is required to do what they can. There are no specific roles and assignments, except hard work. The organization runs informally. This is actually the most appropriate way of starting.
Entrepreneurs come in all kinds of varieties and orientations. All of them harbor passion and desire to grow big; the vision about big varies greatly, however. Some would be contented with a fair-sized business and an easy life; others think about establishing a business for the next one generation; and very few will carry the dream of building an empire to last for indefinite period, forever may be. The orientation of entrepreneur has direct bearing on the course and trajectory of business, and the people working there. Let us look at it in some detail.
Low-Ambition Entrepreneurs – the ceiling comes early, though the expression may vary. Some are contented with overt transformation towards religion. Some get into entertainment mode at a personal or family level. A large vehicle, a house in a decent locality, children’s education abroad were the long-held dreams. As soon as these were filled, the ceiling arrived. The entrepreneur settles on a sum of money and takes it out in any case, no matter what happens to other business needs. This amount keeps on increasing and is a permanent drain on resources. The most negative impact is that there is no reinvestment into business. New projects and new initiatives suffer; plants keep becoming more and more redundant, and employee benefits stay on backburner. The entrepreneurs remain dependent on one or two key people who quickly become the typical Big Fish.
Moderate-Ambition Entrepreneurs – the ceiling is relatively higher and may become even higher with time. There is no clear future vision other than building business to a moderately large extent. The driving force is money and remains so for the next several years or forever. As a result, the business is built but the organization is not built. This is the big difference which is there between a business and an organization. There are several fairly large sized businesses which run like a small shop. There is no infrastructure or hierarchy. There is an owner and everyone else is staff. The entire business is dependent on one person which is a serious limitation and handicap for the business. Succession to next generation is neither easy nor smooth; it cannot be because the young son or daughter does not have experience, though they may be highly qualified, brilliant and hard working. The evolution of Big Fish is encouraged by the system itself. The sole owner cannot do all by himself and is therefore compelled to develop trustworthy aides. These aides grow into Big Fish sooner or later.
High-Ambition Entrepreneurs – These are the people who usually make it big. They are hard driving, goal-oriented, focused people who pursue their dreams vehemently. Most of them end up being big. The orientation may still vary. Some may grow one business and open another and have multiple businesses, but do not develop organizations. They install their trusted people to manage their businesses but monitor closely. This kind is also favorable for managers turning into Big Fish.
Few try to develop the organization in a way that would not be dependent on them now or even after they have departed. The infrastructure is evolved, policies and procedures are defined, responsibilities are fixed, and reporting systems are installed. The organization emerges which has the capacity to live longer than its original owners. Operations are handled by employees; the CEO is employee and reports to the Board of Directors. Big Fish development is uncommon.
Pakistani Entrepreneurs – Except a few large groups who have a long history in business, all other entrepreneurs have common issues. These may be summarized below.
Micromanagement – it is critical to manage everything, even small little ones, in the beginning. The enterprise is new and fragile. Small negligence can have a big consequence. This is the classic ‘shop-model’. The small shop stays small and the growth is minimal. You would see that such businesses despite being old cannot even support the children, who opt to do jobs outside. However, our local entrepreneurs do not understand when to graduate from micro- to macro-management. The thought of leaving a small portion of charge creates anxiety. This comes from a history of our society where two traits stand out. One, the urge to own as well as possess is inherent. Pride adds to possessiveness. ‘I have done it’ and ‘this is mine’ is what we hear all the time, along with its many variants. Our long years of deprivation, exploitation and poverty adds to possessiveness. Two, the distrust on others is also inherent. We have been cheated so many times by so many people that we do not trust even our own family members. Every now and then, something happens which reinforces distrust. As is said, it is good to trust, but it is even better to have systems to protect. On this count, the entrepreneurs may not be blamed much. The distrust is mutual between employer and employee. In the atmosphere of omnipresent distrust, few employees, successful in earning the trust of employer somehow, become Big Fish quickly.
Class Difference – Before Islam came to sub-continent, almost everyone was obviously Hindu. Buddhism did not flourish much in the then India. Hindu social structure is strictly class-based, with untouchables at the lowest rank. It is reasonable to assume that the very first converts would have come from the lowest and the poorest community who saw a refuge in Islam. Whatever happened later is not important, but our present-day social structure in Pakistan discriminates between classes severely, consistently and shamelessly. Most people who become successful in life make it a point to show their superiority, even more so when they had come from a humble background. They would refuse to mix up with the employees, treat them harshly and pay them poorly. Our ancestors might have converted to Islam few hundred years ago, but our culture never converted. It is still what it used to be. All employees try to curry favor with the employer and are willing to go to any length for this. Some get success early and may become Big Fish, and an instrument of causing further exploitation.
Lack of Vision – it is not surprising to find that most entrepreneurs do not have any vision. They live in the present, work hard and try to grow. As soon as the things start looking up, the drive slows down. A general lack of direction is seen. Rather than focusing on core business, there is a tendency to invest in real estate, get into politics, travel abroad, buy Land Cruiser or the like of it. Many do not go beyond this point and keep stuck in the middle. Some actually go down, and a smaller number finds its direction and moves up. Unlike West, where business owners started small and spread around the world, our entrepreneurs have no desire to even branch out. While, we see consumer brands branching out rapidly, Pharma prefers to lag behind. Lack of vision leads to lack of desire to achieve excellence. We love mediocrity, label it as Good and get contented. The opening lines of the book “Good to Great’ by Jim Collins are prophetic; “Good is the enemy of Great”.
Big Fish syndrome is a reflection of the issues with our local entrepreneurs, their mindset, their orientation and their practices. The Big Fish will continue to evolve, grow and thrive because the breeding ground shall remain fertile.