The word ‘corporation,’ ‘company,’ ‘enterprise’ reminds us of the word power. Corporations are powerful due to the years of doing business and building relationships. They continuously innovate and make policy changes to further business.
Some companies or people go a Little Extra, use their power to empower others so that they can all succeed together. Sometimes these people may find themselves empowering not just other people, they apply the concept of ‘empowering others’ even to ‘machines’.
Here are a few stories that inspire and set themselves as examples to this XO quote.
Story 1 – Empower Towards a Tasty Success
Tasty Bite Eatables Limited was founded in 1986 in Pune. In the early 90s, the company was registered on the stock market but soon found itself in hot waters and found itself in the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) list due to uneven cash flow due to a lack of focussed marketing approach.
Ashok and Meera Vasudevan, the founders of Preferred Brands International (PBI), bought the company and took it under their wing in 1995. Ashok’s colleague at Pepsi, Ravi Nigam, joined soon after. Two more members, Sohel Shikari and Hans Taparia, joined too. The five founding members took Tasty Bite from being a ‘sick unit’ to deregistering from the BIFR within one year in 1998, rare for ‘sick’ companies.
The founders rethought their product lines. Its ready-to-serve range of packaged vegetarian food includes many regional Indian dishes. After a decade of hard work, Tasty Bite became one of the most ‘preferred’ Indian food companies in the US, with its stocks rising 100,000% since re-registering in the stock market. Contrary to Indian food finding only Indian buyers in the US, most of their customers are non-Indians.
Importantly, success came from its innovative management and operational practices. Due to non-performance, factory workers were unpaid for months and unhopeful. Post-acquisition, the founders assured workers of regular payment starting immediately and turning the Pune factory and the business around. They optimally utilized factory premises and the real estate available to earn more.
They not only created their products but also made food sauces for their clients like Dominos and allowed logistic companies to use their previously underutilized cold-storage units. They trained workers and employees in safety and operations, gave them health insurance, and successfully empowered the lower-management to function autonomously.
The most significant example of empowerment came during the Chennai floods. Despite the absence of the founding members, the chefs decided to create a spiced Pongal recipe that they could make and package fast. They even got good feedback from flood victims who ate the nutrition-filled food. There are stories of workers’ families being looked after by the company management.
In 2017, Mars Inc, an American confectionery manufacturer, took over the company. Though the founding members are no longer with the company, the employees and workers run the company without interference from Mars.
Ashok and Meera Vasudevan, who are residing in Singapore, are now running the MAV Foundation, a food NGO. It consolidates charitable organizations so that they can work towards feeding the poor and eliminating hunger in America.
In fact, the management of the MAV Foundation is helmed by a former bank manager who became homeless due to job loss during the 2008 recession. The Vasudevans have trusted him enough and empowered him to find organizations to work with. Though the founders of Tasty Bite were associated with influential organizations and built a powerful one, they used their power to empower others to grow the company.
Story 2 – A Man of ‘Power’, a Legend For Empowering
If you are reading this story on a Saturday morning in the comfort of your home instead of slogging it out in a factory or an office, you can thank George Westinghouse. Unlike employers during the 1800s and 1900s, George saw his employees as family. After his death, 50,000 of his employees funded a Westinghouse Memorial to honor his memory.
He has filed more than 100 patents to his inventions in his lifetime and bought the rights to 200 more, acquiring one in every six weeks. His notable patent was the air brake that trains still use today, a revolutionary innovation that allows trains to stop faster. He built a phenomenal control system between a powerful engine and each of its wagons by empowering them. Today, the train conductor applies air pressure from his cabin to each wagon’s brakes instead of brakemen hopping from car to car to turn the brake valve.
The air brake reduced catastrophic train crashes, making train travel safer. George established the Westinghouse Air Brake Company to meet the rising demands of train companies and started a rail switching and interlocking company to increase train safety.
Soon, he started prospecting for natural gas. Because of his innovations and 38 patents, people got the natural gas supply to their kitchens.
He acquired a patent for an electric transformer and made stepping up and down of electrical voltage easier. His interest in electricity laid the technological foundation for today’s electric grid, but at a cost. While Thomas Edison embraced Direct Current, George, along with Nikola Tesla, concentrated on bringing Alternating Current to the mainstream, sparking a feud of ideas and personalities between him and Edison, known as ‘the war of the currents.’
Westinghouse was known as a good manager and left his ego at the door. He had a desire to see others succeed and gave opportunities to able people. While big corporations filed patents in their or the founder’s name for their employees’ innovations, Westinghouse filed patents in the name of scientists who made the particular invention, often letting the scientist earn dividends.
Workers never once went on a strike against George and his companies, rare when industrialists demanded 365-days-a-year from their workers. His name became synonymous with excellent working conditions. Wilmerding, a town he built to house his factory workers, had electricity, natural gas, and water, rare feat during those times.
He was one of the first to standardize weekend breaks with a half-day Saturday. His workers regarded him as their patron saint, calling him St. George. Despite proving AC to be superior to the DC and despite running successful companies, his empire began to crumble due to his rivals’ ruthlessness. He retired and continued to invent, passing away while designing an electric wheelchair.
His son George Westinghouse III took over and reinvented the company. Westinghouse is today known to sell consumer electronics and home appliances like washing machines and refrigerators. George’s legacy is more than his inventions and innovations. He is remembered for empowering others.
Did you know that, after making money from his air brake company, he bought an estate and started a natural gas company? Ironically, he found a gigantic pocket of natural gas in his front yard, which he harnessed. Instead of being upset with the equipment he got for the plant, he put in their front yard to harness natural gas, his wife remarked, ‘it is nice to see you work at home for the time being.’
Story 3 – Social Development With Digital Empowerment
India has a significant digital divide. While there is internet penetration, many people are deprived of this ‘essential service,’ especially in rural areas. With a dream to connect panchayats, schools, anganwadis, small businesses, and self-help groups, Osama Manzar established the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF).
His love of technology and the digital world grew while working as a reporter for Computer World, interviewing stalwarts such as NRN Murthy, Shiv Nadar, and Azim Premji. After publishing his first book, the Internet Economy of India, in 2001, he realized there was information poverty in India.
Realizing that empowering the poor can solve problems if they become digitally literate, he set up DEF with the tagline Empowering People @the Edge of Information. His second book chronicles the successful case studies of digital interventions across India and the world.
Over the years, DEF has worked to implement the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM), supporting the Indian government’s aim to create at least one digitally literate person in each household. It has helped set up telemedicine facilities in tribal districts of Baran, Rajasthan, created a network of 3,000 organizations to address livelihood, health, education, agriculture, water supply, and environmental issues.
The eNGO programme has enabled 3,000 NGOs and 200 small enterprises to go online with their websites. He has gone a Little Extra and has undertaken initiatives in Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria, and Bhutan. Osama Manzar has empowered the digitally poor sections of society and has bridged the digital divide and helped people become digitally literate.
You should be aware that this Delhi-based organization presently helped set up 600 digital resource centers across India which have digitally empowered 12 million people.