Japanese Professor Shoji Shiba Helping India Inc Breakthrough

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dhobi Ghat, the washermen’s hub in Mumbai, is a dingy neighbourhood of clotheslines, discoloured pools of water and rows upon rows of wash pens. But it presents an array of socio-economic groups among the 10,000-odd washermen who live and work here-from smaller washermen thrashing clothes on flogging stones to better-off cleaners who run Laundromats.

It’s a thriving ecosystem and a perfect case study for how people at the bottom of the pyramid impact an economy. Few know this better than Professor Shoji Shiba, the Japan-born educator and proponent of the theory of ’breakthrough management’ , who was, last month, conferred a Padma Shri for his work with Indian trade and industry.

On his last visit to India in February, Shiba took a group of senior- and middle-managers to Dhobi Ghat, and asked them to create a viable business (and living) model for the washermen. Suggestions ranged from verticalising Dhobi Ghat in high-rises to creating tourism opportunities , and will be passed on to the Dhobi Ghat Washermen’s Association.

“The idea was to give us the ability to see people at the bottom of the pyramid and innovate accordingly ,” says Zurvan H Marolia, head of the marine accommodation business at Godrej Interio. In the last four years, Shiba has imparted that ability to over 500 managers from Indian manufacturing companies.

It is integral to the approach to breakthrough management that the septuagenarian professor formulated while teaching at MIT in the mid-90s, which says that when a company is faced with inevitable and drastic change, it has to find a new way to survive. “Things change drastically in India,” says Shiba.

“When that happens , a company needs to kill its old business and create a new business, to survive in a constantly-changing environment. This is called a breakthrough .” During implementation, a company must consider all stakeholders . It must be particularly customer-facing towards users at the bottom of the pyramid who, because of their peripheral presence, become invisible to big business.

Source: The Economic Times (link opens in a new window)

Base of the Pyramid, business development, social enterprise