An Uneven Ride
Imagine Robert Vadra and a DLF functionary negotiating a deal over a game of kabaddi.
Vadra, in typical cleavage-exposing vest: “I need Rs 65 crore, interest free. Kabaddi kabaddi kabaddi.”
DLF functionary. “What will we get in return, kabaddi kabaddi kabaddi?”
“You will get something. Kabaddi kabaddi kabaddi.”
Everything else in this scenario seems possible, but not the kabaddi bit. Kabaddi is not a sport for business negotiations. Golf would be more like it. Vadra plays golf. He certainly faints on it once in a while, like he did earlier this year (incidentally, on the DLF course in Gurgaon). It is possible he did some business over golf.
The sport is closely linked with business. Many corporate relations are built over a round or two. Birdies in Business: Golfing Mantras for Success in Business by Shaili Chopra is about this long relationship between these two universes. Chopra is a senior business television journalist. She also has a golfing background. She is the host of a long-running show, first called Business on Course and now titled Tee Time with Shaili Chopra where she interviews businessmen and government officials on golf courses. This book is a byproduct of the show.
The book is a breezy read. And there is an impressive line-up of 40 interviewees. Corporate heads apart, the list includes key government figures like Montek Singh Ahluwalia, golf stars like Gary Player and Colin Montgomerie and a chef (Vikas Khanna).
You fear that all you are going to get is banal corporate bullshit about taking risks and working hard and, ahem, being honest and ethical. While some platitudes and a little business jargon are present, there also are some interesting details and experiences.
Vindi Banga has had a high flying career throughout. As a student he was a gold medallist at IIM (Indian Institute of Management) Ahmedabad. He became chairman of Hindustan Lever Limited at just 46. According to Chopra’s book, he now works for a private equity firm in London. But there was a time when the same Banga had to perform his morning routine in the sugarcane fields of Uttar Pradesh. He was on assignment in a village early in his career. There were no bathrooms.
Colin Montgomerie reveals that when he went to Kabul, he was presented cuff links made of bullet shells. George Santacroce, an American businessman who runs an Indian garment chain, talks about checking out a house that was on sale and finding out that it belonged to Tiger Woods. Aman Sawhney of Swiss Military Watches remembers hitting a golf shot while dangerously close to an alligator in Florida.
The book gets you some insights into business, which you can flaunt the next time you play kabaddi. Siew Meng Tan is CEO of HSBC in Mauritius. She is one of the two women profiled in the book, the other being Tina Mickelson, the sister of golfer Phil Mickelson. Siew Meng Tan confirms that Indians have invested the most money in Mauritius. But the “next big thing”, she says, is Africa.
There is some golf specific advice in the book. When the author seeks Tina Mickelson’s help to improve her game from the bunker, Mickelson suggests she use a pitching wedge, not a sand wedge.
The book’s failing is its production and language. Surprisingly, for an effort about corporate royalty produced by corporate royalty (the Times Group), the look and treatment of the book are tacky. There are schoolboyish caricatures of the interview subjects. There are typos and spelling mistakes. Bergdorf Goodman is spelt as Berghoff Goodman. The writing is clumsy in places. The foreword by Kapil Dev is unsigned. “A great plan always starts with the right basics in place,” Ford’s Nigel Wark says in one chapter. This is the very lesson the book did not follow.