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There Is Only One Key To Success

Business books, blogs and literature are full of secrets of success. A recent experience taught me that it need not be too complex. Why do I call it the only one key to success? Hopefully, that will be clear in the next 5-10 minutes it takes to read about this incident. This post is simple – it is simply a recount of a true incident. It involves another person who worked in our company Thomas Radrigan and I have his permission to post it. We were working on a supply chain diagnostic project for a client (sorry, we do not reveal clients’ contextual information or identity) and the final presentation to the senior executive team was due the next day. The CEO and some other executives were flying in from places as far away as 5 hours. We had booked 3 hours for the presentation, over 6 weeks in advance, and people were coming in just for this meeting. We had been working hard since the last executive update 2 weeks ago, and had done great analysis with some brilliant insights into key supply chain problems. We had a slide pack of about 35 slides with supporting appendix of another 50 slides. This slide pack detailed our recommendations for way forward based on a very thorough fact based analysis. Around 7 pm in the evening on the day before the presentation, with just the last couple of slides left to be polished, and the rest of the team already having left for the day, I asked Thomas to finish the two remaining slides and email me the final presentation. I had to go and pick up my son from his swimming lessons and take him home. On arriving home as I prepared for dinner with my family, I poured a glass of red wine and was having conversation with my sons about their day. I was also waiting for an email on my phone with the final presentation from Thomas, and silently getting worried when the email did not arrive as anticipated. Suddenly I got a harried call from Thomas asking whether I could come back to the office. He explained there was some problem with his laptop and that is why he could not send me the final presentation so far. On arriving in the office, we found out the the hard drive of Thomas’ 2 month old laptop had crashed (I am fighting temptation to name the manufacturer of the hard drive and the laptop). Worse still, despite very strict policies around backups, Thomas had forgotten or ignored to allow backups for the past few days (the excel files were huge and even his brand new laptop slowed down considerably while backing up – that was his reason/excuse). We looked at the available backups and found one from 4 days ago. However, sifting through the backup copies of data files and finding the usable versions took another 2 hours. So, here we were, two of us sitting in office, with about 25% complete presentation at about 11 pm. The one saving grace was that all the material was fresh in our memories because the crunch work was only done in the last week or so. It still had to be put back in proper format and backed-up with data. I asked Thomas whether he wanted to call any of the other analysts for help. He rightly decided that would take too much time. He committed to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to make the presentation right before the meeting at 10 am. Two of us buckled down – recreated all the lost analysis and excel charts, and put these into the presentation. Obviously, it was not as polished as the original presentation, and some marginal insights were missing because we could not remember everything. However, we managed to recreate 80% of the original work by about 3 am when I dropped Thomas at his apartment. (3 am is the shift change time for taxis in Sydney, and sometimes they take as much as half an hour to arrive after picking up the bookings). Next day we made the presentation to the executive team who commended us very highly for the depth of analysis AND the QUALITY of the presentation. I briefly mentioned that most of the presentation was hurriedly put together by Thomas between midnight and 2 am, and, it was not really up to our usual standards. On discovering the full story, most people could not believe it. The CEO commented that Thomas was more committed to his company than he was. The entire team gave Thomas a standing ovation for his commitment. Needless to say that the project went on to be a huge success for everyone. My learning from the incident was that there is only one simple key to success – DO WHATEVER IT TAKES. There come those occasional moments of truth in life where we can back off, or do whatever it takes to succeed. Thomas, of course, became one of the big stars in our company and even when he wanted to move countries to pursue his personal life agendas I was very reluctant to let him go. I tried to do whatever it took to retain him – but in the end his love interest won out. All the best to him.

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