Exploring the points to justify that our textile industry is a sunrise industry, I have been attempting to meet eminent persons in our field and understanding their attitudes, strategy, visionary thinking, which made their textile business a success.
The quote by Mr Norman Vincent Peale greets us when we enter the office of Chowdary Spinners, situated near Tanuku, Andhra Pradesh. Waiting to the meet the MD, I started thinking about the quote – “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among stars!” An inspiring quote indeed. The MD, Mr Prasad Chowdary welcomed me with a bright smile. And started his conversation in chaste Tamil, to my surprise, as he belongs to Andhra Pradesh. “Don’t be surprised! I studied in Tamil Nadu in Coimbatore where I learnt Tamil”, he said.
“But, sir”, I said, “Though I belong to a place where Telugu is spoken invariably and worked in a mill where most of my colleagues speak Telugu, for 33 years, I haven’t learnt to speak Telugu as fluently as you speak Tamil.”
“It depends on our personal interest”, he said with his charismatic smile. I smiled back. And that was the first lesson I learned from him – to have genuine interest in something if you want to master it.
“So, I hear that you are going for a compact system for your full shed. May I know the concept behind it? Investments in this crucial situation seem to be too risky, as our textile businesses are clobbered by the mismatch between the costs of raw material and price of yarn.” I asked him. “Do you know what am I doing?” he asked me a question instead of answering mine. He fished out something from the drawer of the table and put it on the table. It was a plainly woven and yarn dyed cotton towel with a brand name PRING. The colour was so vibrant and had stripes with yellow, blue and red. The size had been printed on it as 35 inch X 70 inch. From the lustre of the towel I understood that it should have been mercerised.
Frankly speaking, I had been using terry towels only, for years. We all, at our place, would call these towels as ‘Courtallam towels’, where these are used as a makeshift, a kind of use and throw, after taking bath in the falls of Courtallam.
I mentally compared those towels with this PRING towel. ‘Hey! It is different’- I thought, feeling the softness of the towel. “Yes, it is different! It is not too thick nor too thin and has perfect thickness for water absorbency and fast drying! Do you know? Being light in weight it will be convenient for us to carry it during travel. Would you like to bring a terry towel along with you for a picnic or tour, which needs a considerable amount of space in your suitcase?” he asked.
Positioning in the pyramid
“So, you position your products so as to cater to the bottom of the pyramid of the income group?!” I asked the MD. I was very careful to avoid sarcasm in my tone. From my own previous work experience I learnt that value-addition was only for niche market which is at the top of the pyramid of income group. And I also used to suggest others to go for such kind of value-addition for at least 20% of their production. There was nothing wrong in that and we could make good profits with that concept. But we never believed that we could make profits from supplying to bottom of the pyramid. He could sense my thought process.
“I understand you never had such kind of experience in dealing with the supply of products to lower income group, as you had been working with top brands in Japan, Italy, etc.” His stern voice switched off all my thoughts.
I just smiled in reply.
He continued. “See! To supply to low income group, and make profits, we need to have rigorous understanding of two key challenges in that market. One is changing consumer behaviour and another one is changing the way the products are made and delivered.” “It is the same mantra for our value-ddition concept, isn’t it? I asked out of curiosity. He continued, “Generally, all products need the above two key points. But, please note I said rigorous! You need to have rigorous understanding and working! For the first challenge, I employed as many as 60 persons with a reasonable pay and gave them RIGOROUS training to explain and bring the PRING brand to every nook and corner of the market. They were also given additional incentives for their extraordinary works in marketing. One thing you have to remember. In most of the mills not much importance is being given to marketing. Mostly the persons in a mill’s marketing department just receive enquiries from their pre-appointed agents/traders and give them the prices. It’s a kind of work of a mere book-keeping sales clerk!”, he paused for a moment to watch my head bobbing in agreement with his statement. (Did I mention earlier that he is MBA scholar too?) Then he continued.
“There are so many ways to do this. Though I will not reveal all the work I have done, ultimately, I could expand the reach of the PRING brand to every corner of the country. Do you know you can buy my PRING towel on Amazon too? Also, you see, as we have avoided many expensive intermediate persons and agencies in this process, price of our product is very competitive. When the ultimate consumer has found good quality of the product at cheaper price with easy access to the purchase, their buying behaviour will get changed. That is what happened to us.” He concluded his speech and waited for my comment.
I was clearly impressed with his brilliant marketing plan. I wanted to know more about how he revolutionised his manufacturing process.
He smiled broadly. “This will be the answer to your initial question about the compact system. I, in my pursuit to find a solution to the second key challenge, understood that I had to do something to enhance the quality of yarn to ultimately improve the quality of towels. I finally decided to go for compact system which would not only assist us to optimise our raw material, but also improve final fabric quality. For deciding the right kind of compact system for our exact requirement I visited many places in India & finally concluded one compact system which will make compact yarns without additional electrical energy and have less operating cost. I have also replaced my old looms with modern ones,” he said.
“Yes sir! Now I got your point. However, in this difficult market………” I left my sentence hanging.
“I don’t go by the market’s ups and downs. I foresee what my company should be after, say five years. Can you remember, some ten years ago we used to sell yarn differently as normal yarn and auto-coned yarn. Now, can you see such kind of differentiation? If anybody is asking yarn means it should be auto-coned. If you ask me, I will say, this kind of thing will happen too, within two years, for compact yarns.”
‘This is the real leader! Foreseeing everything and acting accordingly!’- I thought in my mind.
“If you want, I will share another important secret that can make your work successful.” His words brought me to the edge of the chair towards him. ‘Who doesn’t want to hear the secret of success?’
The secret to success – the Checklist
I prepared myself to hear the secret of success from the MD. “First I will tell you a story from a book written by Atul Gawande,” saying this he started to narrate the story. “Hey! Is that asystole?” The words came out of the doctor’s mouth when he stared the cardiac monitor unbelievably. Asystole is the total cessation (stoppage) of heart function.
The monitor showed a flat line as if the monitor was not even hooked up to the patient. “A lead must have fallen off”, the anesthesiologist said. He was sure that the patient’s heart would not have stopped.
The patient was in his late forties and had been perfectly healthy except that he had cancer in his stomach for which he had been admitted for the operation.
It had been caught early and there was no sign of spread. The only known cure was surgery, a major four-hour undertaking. The team members were half way through the procedure. The cancer was out and there had been no problems whatsoever. They were getting ready to reconstruct the digestive tract when the monitor went flat-line. They had to spend valuable five seconds to find that the lead had not fallen off & the heart had really stopped.
The entire operation team began to panic. The list of reasons for that cause had been running in the minds of all, but none of them could spell out as their reasoning minds had been crippled with that dreadful situation. At that time every millisecond mattered. One of the doctors tore the sterile drapes off and started doing chest compressions. The patient’s intestines bulged in and out with each push. “The reason should be a massive blood loss,” suddenly said two doctors in unison!
But, the abdomen had been kept open already and there was no bleeding. “Then, lack of oxygen was also a possibility,” said another doctor and at the same time almost pranced to check the airway. But, he could find no abnormalities.
“Shall we do blood test?” someone asked. “No, as for the lab tests, they would take at least twenty minutes to get results, by which point it would be too late” the head doctor replied. Another reason clicked in the mind of another doctor. “Could it be a collapsed lung- a pneumothorax?”. When he listened with a stethoscope, he could hear a good air movement on both sides of the chest. After fifteen minutes of pumping up and down the patient’s chest, the line on the screen was still flat as death, the situation seemed hopeless.
Among those who arrived to help was a senior anesthesiologist. He kept thinking to himself, ‘someone must have done something wrong!’
He asked the other anesthesiologist if he had done anything different in the fifteen minutes before the cardiac arrest.
“No…..” he tried to remember and said suddenly, “Oh, yes! This patient had low potassium level on routine labs that were sent during the first part of the case and when everything else seemed fine, I had given him a dose of potassium to correct it”
Everybody was chagrined at having missed this possibility. The anesthesiologist had used the wrong concentration of potassium, a concentration one hundred times higher than he had intended. He had, in other words, given the patient a lethal overdose of potassium.
From that point on they did everything they were supposed to do. They gave injections of insulin and glucose to lower the toxic potassium level. The potassium levels dropped, and the patient’s heartbeat came back! The doctors sighed in relief – they had not only nearly killed the man, but also failed to recognise how. Finishing the story, the MD looked at me. “What do you suppose the reason would be?” he asked me. “What?” I asked him in reply as if I did not understand what he was asking. “Though experts were present, why such failures occur?” he asked me. I ran the question in my mind – though experts were present, why such failures occur?
The MD explained. “It is due to the fallibility of human memory and attention. We lose our attention and overlook mundane and routine matters under the strain of more pressing events. In our spinning mill, how many times we would have forgotten to check even an important matter that we intended to do, when a call from the boss distracted all your attention? Faulty memory and distraction are particularly dangerous in what engineers call all-or-none processes. If you miss just one key thing, you might as well not have made the effort at all.”
I slowly started to understand his point. The MD continued. “On an average a patient admitted into an ICU requires 178 individual actions per day. The surgeons all over the world are performing around 300 billion major operations annually – one for every twenty-five humans on the planet. The survival rate is 70-80%. The number of deaths in the ICU, mainly due to various infections, is three times higher than the number of road traffic fatalities.”
The data was scary, and I was wondering why he was telling it to me. “Scared? Aren’t you?” He laughed. “Actually, the figure was much higher some decades ago.”
“Was it due to lack of knowledge or equipment?” I responded with a question. “Ha, ha! No. It was due to non-following of a strategy- that builds on experience and takes advantage of the knowledge people have but somehow makes up for our inevitable human inadequacies.” I could not decipher what he was talking about. So, I asked him plainly, “What is it, sir?”
“That is check list!” he declared. “Check list?” My voice clearly expressed that I was expecting something different. “Seems crazy to you, doesn’t it?” He continued, “Though it seems almost ridiculous in its simplicity and even crazy to those of us who have spent years carefully developing ever more advanced skills and technologies, the carefully drafted check lists have saved lots of failures. The check lists are not only useful in medical field, but in all other fields, in all walks of life to ensure our success 100%.”
“We do have check lists in our mills, but, most of the time we are not following it,” I confessed.
“It is not your fault. If the check list has been prepared improperly and in length, we start ‘short cutting’ and some steps will get missed. So, based on the situation, we have to prepare DO-CONFIRM check list or READ-DO check list.” Saying this, he handed over the book titled ‘The Checklist Manifesto – How To Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande. “For more understanding, you read this book. It is my gift to you.”
I thanked him for the precious gift and revoking the knowledge on check list. And a great gift it was indeed. Following the concepts of checklists and communication suggested in this book, I’ve been able to avoid many failures, and have started to implement digital checklists in our textiledoctoronline.
(S. Murugan is MD, Texdoc Online Solution Pvt. Ltd)