MOST people think of entrepreneurship as starting companies with the focus being on the economic value generated. Hatim Tyabji, chairman of DataCard Corporation as well as founder and former CEO of VeriFone Inc, believes the entrepreneurs are short-changing themselves if that’s their only focus.
If one is going to start something or grow an enterprise, one has to ask oneself this fundamental question: are we committed to doing our work with unadulterated excellence, no matter how arduous the task or how long the road?
Other questions a successful entrepreneur normally asks are: Is our work likely to make a contribution that we can be proud of? Does our work provide us with a sense of purpose and meaning that goes beyond just making money?
Hatim, who was speaking on “Effective Organisational Leadership and Entrepreneurship for Global Organisations” in MIM, said making money is and should be an “Oh! By the way?.”
One of the companies Hatim started in 1986 was in the electronic payment industry. There was no electronic backbone to the operations of credit cards then. So, in making a retail transaction, the shopkeeper had no way of checking on the authenticity of the card. These things are completely taken for granted today, but there was no way of doing it back then.
Albeit a small company of three, Hatim and his team had this dream of creating a seamless global payment system. However, they had to contend with a large competitor like General Telephone & Electronics (GT & E), which had commissioned a study worldwide to look at payment globally and to try and prognosticate on how many point-of-sales (POS) devices could be sold on a global basis.
When it was reported to GT&E that the global markets for POS devices were 30,000 units, it decided that Europe (being the market) wasn’t big enough and that 30,000 units didn’t make any sense. And so they gave up.
As a small start-up, Hatim’s company did not have the financial means, as did GT & E, to carry out market research. Hatim also felt that defining the market as POS was too narrow; this was after GT&E exited the Europe market. So, they started to create a new industry, which, today, is called “transaction automation”.
Hatim’s company went public in 1990. He ran it privately for four years and publicly for eight. Then, Hewlett Packard (HP) came along and did a transaction with them, which was their turning point. This deal resulted in nine million units installed worldwide.
Just before Hatim’s company went public, he told all the employees, the number had grown from three persons to about 1,000 in 1990, who had been nervous about the move: “If you believe, you could change the perceptions of those around you. You can in fact change the business methods of your customers. You can change the behaviour of your competitors. You can, in fact, completely shape the structure of your industry. To do that requires a level of intensity, tremendous level of caring and passion.”
In VeriFone Inc, Hatim took time to step back and very thoughtfully pen down the basic values. And that resulted in an eight-page booklet – The Corporate Culture.
Hatim argued that one could not be a global enterprise unless and until one not only thought globally but also acted globally. He also believed that one should not be intimidated by the differences that exist in this world but instead embrace those differences.
Citing an incident with a South African bank, he related VeriFone Inc’s experience in winning a deal by living this philosophy. When he went to meet the chairman of the bank, Hatim had with him the VeriFone Philosophy document, which had been translated into Afrikaner.
The chairman almost could not believe it and said he had never heard of a global enterprise that was thoughtful enough to have documents in English and also in his own language. The meeting went on for about 45 minutes and nothing was said about VeriFone, but a lot was said about ethics and global leadership. When he walked out the office, Hatim said, he was 100% certain that his company would get the orders.
And it did, in that case and in many others.
The moral of the story is that when one has a document – like the VeriFone Philosophy document – translated into different languages, one actually believes in it.
Hatim admitted that it was very difficult to get people to follow one’s lead, though. One has got to continually communicate and make sure that people understand that one is serious by living what one believes, i.e. “walk the talk”, he said.
Even in his own company, it took almost two years before he genuinely felt that his people believed in the Verifone Philosophy document, he said.
“Human beings are human beings. Their first tendency is just to ignore it, assume that it will go away and that you’re not serious about it – they think it’s just a marketing document that really doesn’t have any meaning or any substance to it. At one point in time, I got extremely frustrated because I couldn’t get anyone to listen to me. But that didn’t stop me from trying.”
During one of the more frustrating times, which happened in Taiwan, he told his employees, “Life is not a spectator sport. As a VeriFoner, you are expected to live your life, your professional life, according to the precepts of the VeriFone philosophy. If you disagree with these precepts, you have an obligation to speak up. If you observe actions that conflict with them, you have an obligation to take corrective action of your own. Standing on the sideline and complaining is patently unacceptable.”
Hatim said he does not believe that business has to be hard or harsh. He said he believes that people have to operate on a certain set of basic values, ethics and integrity that should never be compromised. “If one does that, one has to be able to communicate that to one’s people continually and effectively.”