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Dominic Costabir: Don’t just survive, thrive!

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Dominic Costabir, director, HTI India is an expert in the field of hospitality training. He shares his insights on Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and our very own JRD Tata and what lessons  we can learn from them

“For people in business, 2020 is really just a year for staying alive. Don’t even talk about your dreams or plans. Just make sure you are alive. If you can stay alive, you would have made a profit already.”

Many took this quote falsely attributed to Jack Ma’s (founder of Alibaba) message to heart. And even if this quote was made by him their interpretation may have distorted the message. Imagine you heard that ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson said he did a light workout or punched a person lightly. Would you think that you could match his ‘light’ workout or worse still, would you imagine you could handle that ‘light’ jab?

Jack Ma is aggressive – aggressive to the point of walking into the USA and taking on Amazon – on their home turf. His net worth exceeds US$ 44 billion and is the richest man in China, but he had humble beginnings. His parents were traditional musician-storytellers and couldn’t even be considered as middle class. He didn’t know English, or about e-mail or how the internet worked. Still had the insane dream of an IT driven company that would democratize trading and enable small organisations/farmers to reach large markets. He dreamed big and achieved it.

Obviously he learned from life, took risks, followed his instinct and was definitely aggressive. So, it’s likely that even as you read this, he is putting in his 100 per cent to grow the company – but maybe not 20 times over but definitely 10 or 15 times. Market conditions may still stop him from achieving it, but he will push harder. And imagine the traction he will get when the tide turns – and the tide has to turn sooner or later.

Even before Covid-19, economically, India was struggling. DeMon, GST, unpredictable Oil and commodity prices, liquidity pressure… And then came Covid-19 like the icing on the cake… bringing in its wake business slow down or shut down and job losses. Now, the cherries on this cake; locust, cyclones and more job losses.

Many business owners and a few thought leaders are screaming for help from the govt (bail out package). Almost all in the working class are waiting for their organisations to stand by them or the govt to help. In short many are reluctant to move – till help comes their way. But this is like you are standing in a stream and you can see the water level rising fast. You realise it’s heading for a flash flood; why will you stay in the stream waiting for a strong swimmer or a boat to rescue you? The swimmer and the boat will eventually be sunk by the raging waters. Just make the effort to get out of the stream.

My thoughts for employees…

Now, that the lockdown is lifted, it’s like the starting bell to a race. So, if you are currently employed, realise your organisation may go down. And if you wait for it to go down before you begin to plan… that’s not exactly being one jump ahead. For example many of my friends in Jet Airways kept waiting and praying; until it shut down. Then they kept praying it will be taken over. But God helps those who help themselves.

At the moment looking for another job, is obviously not the answer as all businesses are hit. Entrepreneurship or freelancing is your best bet. Don’t jump right away (unless you anyway don’t have a job) but plan it. Let your thoughts get comfortable with the idea. Discuss with family and friends to prepare them as you do need their support. Talk to other entrepreneurs who have been there, done that and are battling it out. Discuss with failed entrepreneurs too. Learn from them, but remember they may be demotivated, so take their advice with a pinch of salt.

My thoughts for business owners…

A few business owners that I interacted with are planning to shut shop or downsize; this may seem like their best bet but the market will move up. We can’t predict exactly when, but it will. Keep plans ready to attack. Build in agility for we have to change with the times or we will be left behind.

Also, consider this one incident from JRD Tata’s life. He had launched Tata Chemicals in 1939, a year after being appointed as chairman to Tata and Sons. The first years of Tata Chemicals (Mithapur, Gujarat) was a series of disasters. An international expert suggested they back out saying, “They were in the wrong place doing the wrong job.” JRD responded, “This is not the first time we have done this, when we go to a place we arouse hopes in people.” Meaning for the people’s sake, the Mithapur plant had to succeed. And all Tata Companies have weathered storms, yet the owners on several occasions have staked their entire personal fortune to ensure the company survives.

Those of you who are running businesses, or planning on setting up an enterprise, remember it is not just about the money you make or lose. It is about the passion you put in, the value you add to the country, society and the people whose lives you touch.

Jack Ma did more than build Alibaba and Alipay, he put China on the global map by democratising trading. He connected small businesses in China to big business globally – he changed the fortunes of small-time entrepreneurs and that is the fuel that won’t let him stop. Tata’s began operations over 150 years ago and during this time, they made more than money – they built a nation! Let’s learn from these nation builders and contribute our might to building our India. Jai Hind!


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