Sunday, October 24, 2010

Betting on Unripe Fruit!

A friend I met last week was recalling his experiences from his first job and telling me about his boss. The friend had started off as a rookie reporter with Sportsworld – the magazine that Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi used to edit!

His boss was the assistant editor at Sportsworld: David McMahon. And he recalled with great enthusiasm the one trait that marked David out as someone rather special: his willingness to bet on youth! And here’s the story:

When the Indian cricket team travelled to the West Indies in 1983, every newspaper sent its senior-most reporter out to cover the tour. There was Rajan Bala from the Indian Express and Sunder Rajan from the Times, R Mohan from the Hindu and Ayaz Memon – all senior folks, recognized and respected. After all, this was a big tour. And who did David choose to send to cover the tour for Sportsworld? A young not-yet-out-of-his-teens lad called Mudar Patherya.

Mudar went on to do a great job – and his youthful exuberance, his natural curiosity and the desire to ‘live up to David’s trust’ ensured that Sportsworld had some of the finest coverage of the tour. In fact one Sunday morning – an off day with no cricketing action on the tour, Mudar happened to hear that Viv Richards – the big man – was going to be playing beach cricket with some kids in Antigua. And while the rest of the senior folks were either relaxing in the hotel or out sight-seeing, Mudar drove out to the beach, saw a bare-chested Richards having a blast with the kids on the beach and quickly clicked a picture of Viv Richards – with his amateur camera. The picture made it to the front pages of the Anand Bazar Patrika newspapers, and Mudar had another exclusive story to his credit. And David’s faith in the youngster had been vindicated.

Mudar went on to become one of our finest cricket writers, and now runs a successful financial communication services company with his wife in Kolkata. And I am sure he will admit to the role that ‘early break' – that vote of confidence from David - played in his eventual success.

And Mudar wasn’t alone. When it was time for Wimbledon, David – himself a terrific tennis writer – chose to pick another rookie: Rohit Brijnath. Rohit apparently did not even have a passport when he got told that he’d be covering Wimbledon! Rohit went on to become one of the finest sports writers India has produced.

Most good leaders have a knack of spotting great talent. But it’s the exceptional leaders who bet on that young talent – ahead of it’s time. A big assignment, a special project – or an out-of-turn promotion – and suddenly that young talent becomes a hot success. Many many successful people owe their meteoric rise not just to their talent – but also to that leader who was willing to bet on them. And when a leader does that, the whole team benefits. Notice how the story of David’s greatness was being narrated to me by not by Mudar or Rohit – but someone else who was on that team!

The bet may not always come good. And when it goes wrong, the leader and the young prodigy often pay a heavy price. And here’s the irony: If the leader plays safe – he doesn’t really attract any criticism for not giving the youngster a chance. Which is why it take a special kind of leader – and a courageous one at that - to take that bet. And then the fearlessness of youth takes over. The enthusiasm – and the desire to prove the leader right – usually pave the way for the youngster’s success.

The day after I heard David McMahon’s story, India was fighting to win a test match in Bangalore. The big hope – Sehwag was out cheaply. And when all of KSCA roared to welcome Dravid, out came the debutant Cheteshwar Pujara. And my mind went back to David and Mudar and Rohit. Pujara had failed in the first innings – and yet was now was being trusted by his captain to play a defining innings. And he did.

Had he failed, it would have been easy to say that Dhoni erred. After all, the youngster had failed in the first innings. Why put him under pressure? Why change the batting order? Why… and the questions would have been many. Hindsight is usually pure genius.

Which is why you need to doff your hat to Dhoni. And David. And others like them. It takes courage to bet on a youngster.

So think back then, When it was your turn to take a punt on the kid, did you play safe, or did you bet on the youngster?

And hey, remember the guy who bet on you? Clearly, the corporate world needs more Dhonis and Davids.


david mcmahon said...

Very kind words indeed, Prakash - and I thank you for your generosity.

There is an interesting background to this blogpost. You see, I was only about 24 (a callow youth!) when I was made the de facto editor of "Sportsworld". The real credit, then, must go to Aveek Sarkar, the editor-in-chief of ABP, who took a punt on my inexperience.

I stress that Tiger was ALWAYS the editor of the magazine - and we gave him that respect and loyalty, unquestioningly - but he would be the first person to admit that the magazine was produced in Calcutta/ Kolkata, by a team of youngsters who were barely out of college.

We now live in different parts of the globe, but when I am in Singapore I meet up with Pradeep Paul and Rohit Brijnath. When I am in Kolkata, I always catch up with Mudar Patherya. And Andy O'Brien, who took over as associate editor when I left Sportsworld, lives here in Australia, in Perth.

I don't know if you've ever read my first novel, "Vegemite Vindaloo" but the dedication page mentions many special people in my life, including my former colleagues at Sportsworld. I do not have the book in front of me as I write this, but the words I used to describe those gifted lads are simple: ``The finest group of writers I have ever worked with''.

We shared (and still share) a special bond, forged from creativity and mutual respect.

I still work in journalism. I still write novels. I even have a blog of my own.

And guess what: Rohit Brijnath emailed me to tell me about this post!

Ananth Iyer said...

The blog stresses on trying out younsters, it is very true.
In our workplace we often nurture younsters and encourage them to take risks.
Only by doing this, we can keep our business growing.
As managers it is our duty to help train our young guys.

Suresh Ramakrishnan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suresh Ramakrishnan said...

Many years back, i remember giving this young guy -fresh out of college - a chance to learn marketing with a basic aim to generate sales leads from the US...he wasn't brilliant....but he turned into one just through his grit and determination...he was the last guy in his batch to be picked up and there were eyebrows raised if this guy was the one i wanted to bet on....well, the bet proved right (To be honest i have tasted failures as well) This guy has risen to a senior post in an ad agency in the UK today

Vicky said...

Great post ...
The Dhoni example is open and clear example but my question is why these so clear examples are not given deserved importance.What you said is not covered by any news site or paper.Why we ignore these facts those are extraordinary and so visible?
Please write on it some time.


Afternoon Thoughts said...

And Saurav Ganguly should also belong to this league.

Madhu Parthasarathy said...

Hi Prakash,
You articulated well and it was a great read by any measure. Thanks.
In my formative years as a technical leader, I learnt an important lesson (thankfully without high cost) that, "Never tell the campus induct what cannot be done.Simply give the assignment and they can throw in some terrific positive surprises". I don't want to given many details on project specific stuff but all I can say is that it happened in our group time and again.
The gumption that is required on the part of the leader to bet on greenhorns is high during the formative stages - but over a period, it develops as a "complex feeling" calibrated by experience. Trust me, it is a great one!
With best regards,

Suhel Bidani said...

Nice one :-)

I completely agree and just like what happened with David, it was an ex-team member and friend who guided me to this post. If there's one thing in my working life that I would always be embarassed about are these moments when somebody believes that I made a huge difference in their lives while all I did was to try and make others believe in themselves...

Prakash Iyer said...

Hi David!

The internet is an amazing place isn't it! I almost feel like I have a new friend. Thanks for sharing the background. Will now pick up a copy of Vegemite Vindaloo! And will check out your blog too. ANd if you happen to come to Mumbai - or Pune where I currently live - be my guest! Would love to catch up!

Prakash Iyer said...

And thanks for that comment Suhel. I like the bit about "all I did was to try and make others believe in themselves..." Often that's the best thing a leader can do, isn't it?

Prakash Iyer said...

Prashant, No idea why the media does not do more feel - good stories! Maybe bad news sells? And while on media, I was quite amused to see how Dhoni having some fun on the beach in Goa with his wife made it to the front page of every newspaper!

Sesh said...

A Good read as usual!

To believe in others, especially an youngster requires not only courage but a strong conviction and self belief. The fear of failure pushes the person backwards.

I can recall the incidents during the time we worked together the "David Mcmahon" factor in you gave me enough and more opportunities to perform.

I also remember your words some years back, "We should never stop experimenting. Out of 10 things we want try 8 may fail, but the fear of failure should not make us miss the 2 things which would have succeeded".

Ofcourse, all the beliefs and experiments would atleast have a strong intuition or gut feel to start with and will not be a dart in the dark.

Continue Blogging.....

Deepak said...

It is fascinating to read the comments from the readers, especially David McMahon, and to note how your mention, in your blog, of a story narrated to you by your friend, about a cricket tour of 1983, has connected you with the other characters in the story. The power of the internet is indeed amazing.

There is generally a thin line between a risk paying off or a judgment going horribly wrong. History's great leaders were never afraid of following their instincts in choosing a path less travelled.

Deepak Joshi

Rehab said...

Loved this post about Rohit Brijnath. I discovered him (am not a sports lover) through Mint Lounge and have enjoyed reading him ever since.

Among the contemporaries, even Kunal Pradhan of Mumbai Mirror weaves some interesting lines.

This is my recent favourite by RB :