Arvind Shekhar’s five top book reads

Sai Packaging is planning to grow to Rs 300-cr. In between adding a raft of new presses, hiring people and setting up regional offices all over India, Arvind Shekhar selects his favourite books.

31 May 2013 | By PrintWeek India

The Goal (First Edition: 1984)
By Eliyahu Goldratt
The Goal or The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement is not your run-of -the-mill management book. It’s an entertaining novel and a thought provoking business book. 
Like other books by Goldratt, The Goal is written as a piece of fiction. The main character is Alex Rogo, who manages a production plant owned by UniCo Manufacturing, where everything is always behind schedule and things are looking dire and he turns things around with Jonah’s help. 
Key points in the book include the principle of finding and then focusing on the one true goal and not getting caught up on a lot of side issues that others (even others in management) might think are the goal. This requires learning how to stop and really look at the problem. It then requires new ways to look for and try potential solutions.
Goldratt introduced his now famous Theory of Constraints in this book.
Arvind Shekhar’s take: Loved the simple way in which financial parameters are put across in this book. Given its focus on batch processes – which package printing is – I found this very valuable opening my thinking. 

Gemba Kaizen (First Edition: 2012)
By Masaki Imai
Gemba Kaizen is the sequel to the hugely successful and popular management book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success (1986). Imai takes the idea of continuous improvement (Kaizen) a step further, taking it to the workplace (Gemba). Imai advocates the removal of all those peripheral things (muda) that cloud the focus of an organisation.
The author encourages managers and professionals to spend time in Gemba to see what is happening and to encourage the front-line workers. Imai argues that companies can become more profitable by constantly looking for efficiencies instead of seeking huge leaps. The Japanese philosophy of Kaizen says businesses must mercilessly cut waste by eliminating anything that’s even remotely inefficient. These strategies will lead to more profitable companies and better employee morale.
Imai supports his claims with a number of case studies and real world examples that show Kaizen in action and its effectiveness.

Arvind Shekhar’s take: All of us like to improve. More often than not, what stops us is that we do not have a framework. Kaizen gives that basic framework. 

Spin Selling (First Edition: 1988)
By Neil Rackham
Neil Rackham, former president and founder of Huthwaite Corporation, summarises the ground-shaking discoveries of his company in Spin Selling. The whole purpose of their research which lasted for a good number of years was to discover what certain behaviours on the salesman’s part helped in creating a successful purchase in the major-account sale, in which the item for sale was usually expensive and required a long after-sales relationship between the buyer and the seller.
Rackham turns the conventional sales knowledge upside-down and he does so very convincingly. He divides the sale into four phases; the preliminaries, investigating, demonstrating capability and obtaining commitment. He lays great emphasis on the investigation phase, and it is in this phase that the ‘Spin’ model comes into action.
Arvind Shekhar’s take: I liked the research-based insights in this book and how deeply it focussed on unearthing customer needs. 

Execution (First Edition: 2002)
By Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy
Disciplines like strategy, leadership development, and innovation are the sexier aspects of being at the helm of a successful business; actually getting things done never seems quite as glamorous. But as Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan demonstrate in Execution, the ultimate difference between a company and its competitor is, in fact, the ability to execute.
Failure in today’s business environment is often attributed to other causes. Bossidy and Charan argue that the biggest obstacle to success is the absence of execution. They point out that without execution, breakthrough thinking on managing change breaks down, and they emphasise the fact that execution is a discipline to learn, not merely the tactical side of a business. Supporting this with stories of “execution difference” being won (EDS) and lost (Xerox and Lucent).
Arvind Shekhar’s take: A constant challenge. Loved the thoughts described and emphasis on discipline.  

When the Penny Drops (First Edition: 2011)
By R Gopalkrishnan
Gopalakrishnan talks about learning in ‘When the Penny Drops’ and explains how 97% of learning happens informally, intuitively, on the job. He explains that for a manager, there are three worlds – the inner world, the world of relationships and the world of  ‘getting things done’ through others. He then builds a framework using some very vivid examples from his work life to develop his story. The book aims to encourage you to reflect on yourself. It helps you learn by ‘identifying the success mantras embedded in you and releasing the lessons that might be entrapped within yourself’.
Arvind Shekhar’s take: One of the few books I have read from an accomplished Indian businessman. Very suitable to the Indian context and recommended for all managers –mid-level and up.