Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Would Richard Branson have done the same thing?

Sir Richard Branson is a one man PR army. He has built images, brands and businesses in a manner that few, if any, have done using public relations as a strategic differentiator. He has been lowered via a crane in his birthday suit for the launch of his mobile services in New York, dressed himself as a bride to promote bridal wear, danced the bhangra at Heathrow airport when Virgin launched its flight into India, went around Connaught place on top of an auto and went in a second class compartment with the dabba wallahs of Mumbai. The list of photo opportunities that he found with such regular ease goes on. Sir Richard Branson, although frequently found in the company of models and long legged beauties, knew the difference between being on Page3 and Page1 of the newspapers. He had amazing self assurance and could think on his feet. When once asked at a press conference on how one could be a millionaire, he said, “You start out as a billionaire and then run an airline!” to howls of laughter from the media. Vijay Mallya has lots of similarities with Sir Richard Branson. He could have even modeled himself on the maverick business man for all we know. But that is pure conjecture. What is not conjecture however is the fact that he is in your face in the media and is a successful businessman recognized globally with a range of diverse brands that he markets internationally. His latest venture is as the franchisee owner of the Royal Challengers team in IPL and sadly for him this venture has caused him a lot of embarrassment and heartburn, in that order of importance.

A team in disarray
20-20 cricket is perhaps a lot more unpredictable than regular cricket which already has a reputation for unpredictability. However there has been nothing unpredictable about the performance of the Royal Challengers’ team that has lost 7 out of the 9 games that it has played so far and is predictably at the bottom of the table if not at the bottom of the popularity charts. Gifted as we are with enormous hindsight, it is obvious to see that the team management, whoever it may be, has done many things wrong or could have done things differently. It is perhaps a problem with Bangalore in that it has two senior players Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble who have never played this format before, and in fact are not even regulars in the one day version of the game. Rahul Dravid, instead of finding people with diverse skills who would complement his own solidity has found players with similar styles like Wasim Jaffer and Jacques Kallis. Yes, the critics have labeled it as a test team in surrogate uniform. The successful teams have entertaining and match-winning Australians like the Hussey brothers, Gilchrist, Symonds, Hayden, Watson, Warne, McGrath, and Shaun Marsh… the list goes on. The Bangalore team has only Cameron White who is not even a regular in Australian one day team and yet he commanded a price higher than all of them (with the exception of Symonds) and not surprisingly is not a regular in the Royal Challengers team. I suppose the management of the team does not have the same respect for Australian cricketers as the rest of the cricketing world. As a person who lives in Bangalore I am terribly disappointed with the team’s performance, but have not watched it live as the team does not have a single cricketer who can set the stadium alight, with perhaps the exception of Dale Steyn who is constrained by his being a bowler who can only bowl four overs in a match.

Vijay Mallya loses it
As defeats happened with depressing regularity Vijay Mallya lost his cool. His ego was hurt, which was understandable. But his reaction was irrational and poorly handled and difficult to understand from a public relations point of view. His sacking of the CEO was poorly done and created bad press, and Charu Sharma continues to talk to the media. Instead of talking to Rahul Dravid about the team’s performance he continues to talk to the media about how he was unhappy with the team selection and how he had a different list of players whom he wished to select. Is this his way of getting the people he does not like out of the team, Rahul Dravid included? But surely there has to be a better, calmer way of handling this crisis. If only Vijay Mallya looked at this as a business loss he would have taken in its stride. But his ego has been hurt and he has reacted poorly, irrationally even, and shown himself in an unfavourable light to some of his admirers.I for one am a great admirer of his airline and am a frequent flier on it. Mr. Mallya is a successful businessman with a track record that many lesser lights would envy. But his childish handling of this situation is something that we expect from the BCCI, not from a corporate leader with a reputation. As we all know the Chairman of Selectors, also has this distressing habit of talking to the media about his displeasure with individual players! If one of the CEOs of Mr.Mallya’s businesses had not delivered, how would Mallya have handled it. Quite differently I am sure. Why does managing cricket cause people to lose their heads?

Mr. Mallya I am no expert in public relations, but something tells me that Sir Richard Branson would have handled the situation differently. As a cricket lover I can only say that “its just not cricket”. But as an observer of public relations I can tell you that good businessmen “praise in Public and criticize in private”. And to criticize to the media, that is just not the done thing. The Royal Challengers team has its fair share of problems, some of which can be fixed. But the largest problem seems to be a jittery owner.

Now who will fix that problem?

24 comments:

Harish said...

Bang on target. Obviously Vijay forgot that good businessmen “praise in Public and criticize in private”.

As a Banglorean, its been disappointing to see the losses BUT its also a learning of that T20 is totally different from tests or ODIs --- besides there is an element of LUCK at play.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes it is a completely new ball game this T20.
However whether in cricket or in business, the principles of good management apply.

Shanth said...

I am in complete agreement with the opinion that Mr Mallya's handling of the situation has been rather poor.
I would imagine that the entire episode has resulted in lowering the morale of the a team that was struggling anyway. It is also difficult to imagine that Mr Mallya would have been a better judge of cricketing prowess than Mr Dravid or for that matter Mr.Charu Sharma.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes, as David Ogilvy would say, you cannot have a dog and bark yourself.
Once you have professionals at the helm you must empower them and if they fail, then one should learn from that and move on.

Kaushik Roy said...

Very insightful stuff!

Hari Nair said...

Since Vijay Mallya 'wins' all the time, this might be a great occasion for him to poke fun at himself. Nothing would endear a winner more to an audience than a demonstrated ability to laugh at oneself.

Of course, this is in hindsight...

And, of course this will not make the Bangalore team any better....

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes I daresay it is a very different way of looking at it.
Yes Vijay likes winning and we all know how the team is doing!

Sridhar said...

I was surprised by Mr Mallya's conduct as a corporate leader, manager. By contrast I was curious to see Mr. Mukesh Ambani's dignified silence. That team has its share of problems too!

R. Sridhar, Mumbai said...

I am surprised by Mr Mallya's conduct. By contrast Mr Mukesh Ambani has been dignified in his silence while his team has had nothing much to show at least initially. Plus he had a captain who could not play and another who got into a mess.

Manoj Chakravarti said...

Cool. But also accountability is something that our Cricketers have never understood which they will have to; rightly or wrongly and also learn to accept it in the future. It may not be ‘ cricket’ in the traditional sense, but never in the history of the game has so much been paid for so little, as the whole ‘game ‘ is over in 3 hours. U get a bonus if u perform and u get the boot if u don’t. If one doesn’t like it, there is always Test Cricket! I agree the PR and Communication could have been more understated and elegant.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes I agree with you that they are being paid phenomenal amounts for delivering far too little.
Isn"t that another poor decision then?I think some of them are getting second thoughts about their investments and reacting quite immaturely.

Mysorean said...

I thought it was a mistake that an amateur would make. Never expected a business magnate with such a public image would actually lose his cool. In fact I am not even sure if it was a case of 'venting it out' because apparently he called for a press conference and blurted all this out. This is a targeted campaign to get the players, he thinks are not performing, out of the team. Simple. But it is disgraceful to a leader to resort to external sources for solving this problem of a bad internal team. Apart from it being a fundamental error it was a black mark on the leader inside Vijay Mallya. I agree you ought to win at all costs, but there is a cost to loss as well and he does not seem to understand how to deal with it. Sad but true. I have lost all respect I had for him.

vinay said...

I agree with your assessment entirely, Sridhar.

The problem you mentioned in the last line, can only be fixed by Vijay Mallya himself -- by at least trying to change his ways -- be more cool-headed, give the boys encouragement in public, show his total support publicly, but, most of all, admit to himself that some mistakes have been made, LEARN FROM THEM, correct the mistakes in the future, and move on -- for God's sake, it's not the end of the world!

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes but it takes a lot of courage to admit that you are making a mistake , particularly if you are rich and famous.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

@Mysorean: I think the true test of a leader is his ability to cope with failure and more critically how he comes out of it.
He has pointed fingers instead of taking ownership.

Vijay Bhat said...

I believe that VJM made a strategic mistake by linking a market-leading brand to his IPL team in its first (experimental) year. So the RCB's poor performance is not only hurting VJM's ego but also the RC market share. No wonder it stings him! It shows there IS such a thing as bad publicity! Vijay Bhat.

Kalidas said...

The Ramanujam Brand of Analysis is indeed underlined with logic but rather blunted by a Bangalurian partisanship! The comparison with Branson holds good up to a point. VM is as much a flamboyant (Mcdowell) thoroughbred as the Virgin aviator! He abhors defeat on the turf as much as Branson detests any erosion of his bottomline. The panache which VM exhibited when he scorched the racing tracks as a motor sports buff in his yesteryears is being threatened perhaps for the first time in his illustrious sporting career. Let us therefore gently gloss over this peccadillo and allow the Kingfisher to soar into the skies as is its wont.

How about a splash of Royal Challenge to drown the sorrow?

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I agree with you though I am not sure about my Bengaluru partisanship!
I am sure he is a sportsman but I believe good sportsmen can take defeat on the chin and move on.

Sravanthi said...

Sports and a 'Bangalore team' with all the associations of 'my/our city, our city's team, our pride', and a high-profile owner come with much emotional baggage - it's not easy to remain as detached as one can about business losses, I guess. And especially when you're losing to other teams owned by people as high-profile as yourself.
The public outburst unfortunately reflects poorly on the owner too.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes the loss of face and ego is the big issue, as I am sure businessmen keep losing on one venture or the other.It is the poor reaction that is the worry.

T Sudhakar Pai said...

I do agree with your point of view . But lot of others can have their own way to look at this . I am sure every business man is always worried about his BRAND and as all of us know that Mr Mallya has made some mistake in life too. His UB AIR was one of such , due to which when he handled Kingfisher he made sure every thing is right . May be that is the way he belives in is learning .
I am not sure why Ridhcard Bardson had to model for Samsonite. I am sure Mr Mallya will have many more such oppertunties in his life too

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

While I am sure that there will be some learning for him, my observation was that it was very poor public relations.

Desikamani said...

No doubt it is bad handling of PR. I think this is very serious erosion of Mr.Mallya's credibility as a business Leader and his ability to make sound business judgments.

Who in his right mind will pick Mr.Charu Sharma as the CEO & Dravid as the captain of a T20 team?
After making a terrible judgment about the leaders he chose for his team apart from choosing not to interfere in team selection, he has shown even poor judgment by his public display of anger & criticism.

Mr. Mallya has always been known for his aggression, flamboyance and arrogant display of wealth. i guess this behaviour is only in line with such image. He doesn't seem to have cultivated a subtle, measured,controlled leader image anyway!

May be the intent was to let people know that he is as aggressive as ever.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes he is aggressive, there is no doubt about that.There is also no doubt about the fact that he is a poor loser.Yes I agree with you that both the CEO and the captain have been poor choices, though both team and captain were a package deal.