Book review: Working Out Of The Box is actually quite out of the box

  • Sujoy Gupta, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 09, 2016 14:14 IST
A new book highlights the changing approach to intangible assets in India while also demonstrating the impact of effective workplaces. (Twitter)

Aparna Piramal Raje has been true to the esoteric theme she has chosen and has herself worked out of the box to write a book, that is different, on Indian management. It is true that, by and large, Indian managers, particularly those belonging to the top echelons, have inherited office environments where they are closeted in large, private rooms with one or more executive secretaries seated in an adjacent cabin ready and agog to scamper to the boss’ room at the buzz of the intercom. The boss is inevitably complacent in this set up for she knows none other. Indeed, neither does she want anything else.

Against this backdrop, Piramal Raje raises the intriguing thought as to how the boss would handle a situation where she has the freedom to liberate herself from the gilded cage of the corner room — the C-suite — which is spacious and offers an excellent view of the landscape.

Read: Planning to work from home? Set up a professional corner office for yourself

The author does not lace this wry query with a hint or even tinge of sarcasm. Rather, she provides support to the managers’ need for a private domain. Several cogent reasons are cited. These make sense:

Most chief executives spend very little time on their own. For instance, HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh keeps his doors open for an estimated 200 people who wish to reach out to him on an average day.

“Meeting people gives you more information than anything else,” says Parekh. Appreciating this kind of unselfish work ethic, one can well understand the researched finding of the study conducted by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, London, which reveals that CEOs spend only 15 per cent of their time working alone. Meetings, phone calls and public events account for the remaining 85 per cent.

Piramal Raje draws an interesting comparison between CEOs and politicians. The former’s constituency is vast and stakeholders unlimited. However, unlike most politicians, a CEO could stay in office for consecutive decades. All of this serves to explain how and why a senior executive’s life is highly scheduled and demanding. The first intangible asset they must manage is their physical, intellectual and emotional well-being. In this context, their personal workspace acts as an anchor to nourish their personal energy. As such, their workspace serves to ‘state’ their leadership styles.

Read: How the office space has changed

The lasting value of this book lies not in Piramal Raje’s subjective analysis but in the hardcore data gathered and in the persuasive conclusions. The latter have been reached by inputs comprising views and experiences of as many as 40 Indian business leaders. These 40 individuals are ‘leaders’ in the true sense. A representative sample (with no offence meant to those squeezed out for want of columns) runs as follows: Kumar Mangalam Birla, Deepak Parekh, Natarajan Chandrasekaran of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which, as of March 2015, had an annual revenue of `94,648 crores and an employee headcount of over 300,000, Baba Kalyani, Uday Kotak, Subroto Bagchi of Mindtree, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Kishore Biyani. Their firsthand workstyle narrations are captured in depth by Piramal Raje.

To add further value, she has summed it all up in sections entitled ‘How This Book Works’ and ‘Work Style Template’ linking workplace archetypes and work styles. In essence, this book competently highlights how much India is changing in terms of its approach to intangible assets. The latter are, by definition, hard to measure but this book demonstrates the impact of effective workplaces. The cover design by Deepa Pol and Edwin D’Mellow is also quite ingenious.

In conclusion, we leave the final philosophical summing up to Ratan Tata: “Fulfilment, either as an individual or as a professional, comes from genuineness, rather than imposing a style on oneself. Ms Raje’s sketches bring alive the core beliefs and sincerity with which they are living their lives.”

Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer

Working Out Of The Box
Aparna Piramal Raje
Random House
Rs.399; PP 233

also read

Pick, hoard, read: Books for Rs. 25 at Harper Collins Faridabad sale
Show comments