Writing this article in The Statesman’s Mumbai office in Jamsetji Tata Road, I wondered what the Tata Group’s visionary founder would have said about the power struggle raging among Tata chieftains. Jamsetji Tata (1839 – 1904) was a man of few words; if only India’s $100 billion conglomerate now in disgraceful turmoil had a leader like him who combined corporate acumen with compassion.
The Indian Institute of Science was among many nation-building institutions Jamsetji Tata established. He might be disappointed that after 100 years the ‘Tata’ brand is yet to be globally known – like BMW, Nestle, Boeing, Levi Strauss, Samsung – though the Tata Group is the world’s 50th ranked company in revenue.
Sixteen countries feature in the Forbes 2016 list of 100 most valuable brands. Germany (with 11 globally known brands), Japan (8) and France (6) lead quality standards. No Indian company sits among the world’s top 100 brands – from Apple at No.1 to the Washington-based wholesaler ‘Costco’ ranked 100.
In individual mundane fields of work too, from arts to sciences, India has many very successful, distinguished people with immense contribution to humanity, but can you think of an Indian name with a non-Indian global following?
India needs a quality revolution – not for universal applause but to respect one’s work in life, to do justice to potential and exceptional talent in the country. Starting from school days, inculcate a strong quality culture in children, a commitment to give one’s best.
The quality movement grows with each individual: like taking a personal vow to fight laziness, to make tireless stronger efforts. When each individual produces better quality work, the organization and country soar in quality levels.
Quality workers never give up, never stop making efforts. Stephen King, one of the world’s most successful authors, started his writing career being so poor he had to borrow his wedding clothes. Sixty publishers rejected him before he sold his first short story ‘The Glass Floor’ for $35. King’s 54 novels have since sold over 350 million copies.
For quality, work becomes more a beloved hobby. Time flies when working, even working all night becomes easy because it’s hard to stop working. Quality work needs reducing the ego. Bigger the ego, more the work conflicts – as seen now in Tata boardrooms. Quality needs humility, willingness to accept mistakes, maintaining a positive outlook instead of being addicted to negative thinking. The mind needs being focused on this moment, not distracted with regrets about the past or insecurities and fears about the future. Reality is the present moment.
For me, the mind training to be with reality of the present moment comes with Vipassana practice (www.dhamma.org), the ancient universal method of self-realization. Vipassana – taught free of cost worldwide – has increasing acceptance from people in all walks of life, including corporate executives. Vipassana enables gaining experiential wisdom, and taking out impurities in the mind that cause problems in professional and personal life. India is benefiting from this inner revolution of wisdom. The quality revolution inevitably is starting to happen.
Crucially, correct practice of Vipassana gives strength to resist dishonesty. Quality starts with honesty. India languishes 76th out of 168 countries in the Berlin-based Transparency International Index – an improvement from the 2014 ranking of 85. When corruption decreases, quality of life increases. Corruption is not merely stealing money, cheating others. Dishonesty too is not doing one’s work. Cheating includes wasting time in the office, careless work, not delivering targets the salary or fee demands. No self-respecting person cheats the employer with poor quality work. Not making sincere efforts but accepting the salary is also fraud.
Likewise quality never works merely for money. Financial rewards become by-products. On the eve of the 2016 Olympics, I knew India’s medal tally was in trouble when I saw last minute government advertisements offering crores of rupees of prize money to athletes. When money becomes the target, you only earn stress not success. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s and Virat Kohli’s very successful India’s cricket teams are proof of working hard with attention to details, and not worrying about results. A good gardener does his best, but does not sit near his plants craving for flowers. Nature takes care of the fruits.
Like the ‘Clean India’ mission, we need a personal ‘Quality Work’ campaign for better work ethics.  Likewise, ‘Make in India’ needs a ‘Made in India’ quality upgrade. As with improving Research and Development, increase commitment to quality work.
Sometimes, strengths become weakness. Tolerance is a special Indian trait, and we rank high among the world’s most patient people.  We have great capacity to adapt, as in coping with severe inconveniences from the currency change efforts underway to clean the economy. Yet this tolerance level sometimes lowers the quality bar – the famous Indian ‘chalta hai’ attitude serves as anti-stress strength, but also breeds mediocrity.
Use inherent tolerance strengths to push pain barriers in making extra efforts at work. No pain, no gain. Every true success story involves unshakable determination to cross pain barriers in pursuit of quality. Success needs that extra effort, and then some more.
For higher levels of economic and social progress, India needs a personal quality mission, a self-contract to do the best in everything we do. The country truly evolves when individual work output earns respect. Then the ‘Made in India’ tag becomes a global badge of quality. Life to be meaningful needs a life with quality.
The writer is a senior, Mumbai-based journalist.