First published in February, 2016. Edited in June,2022.
You know that person, of course, you meet people like him everyday in your professional life! That confident walk into any room, the sense of deference from everyone else when HE walks in. The orders being barked all around, to be obeyed instantly. He is the King of all he surveys, the Master of his universe, and, of course, the centre of all attention.
Sorry, we should have mentioned that first. Of course that person is (and it is almost always a HE), the owner of the natural stone company. The first generation entrepreneur, the man who, starting from scratch, often coming from a humble background, by dint of great hard work and sheer force of character, risk taking and, also luck, making great personal sacrifices, has built a medium sized company employing hundreds (in some case, even thousands),or,perhaps, a few dozen people in his company. In the process he also often accumulated great wealth for himself and his family.
Is it easy to work or manage people in the quarries, usually located so far away from comfortable urban centres? In harsh conditions, often extremely cold, or extremely hot climate conditions, often without even the most basic infrastructure of roads, electricity, decent hotels or restaurants, especially in the developing world? Or to run a stone factory, where every block, every slab, every tile, every container, every machine, every employee, every customer, is a world in itself, and a permanent potential problem? Add to all this, in most countries, dealing with the tons of endless and often mindless paperwork, constantly demanded by the pen pushing bureaucrats? Or try to understand and navigate through the often unclear, confusing, contradictory and ever changing rules made by the authorities?
But the great entrepreneur has gone through it all, handled all the problems as they came, was sharp enough to identify the opportunities and exploit them before anyone else, and is now at the peak of his business life.
That is the Glory.
Now this great entrepreneur, apart from having a strong forceful character, usually has some defining style in managing his company. Moreover, according to the management gurus, this style seems to be common to most entrepreneurs, whatever be the industry or country, or culture. What is this management style, so unique to entrepreneurs, and so obviously common in the natural stone industry?
This management style is very simple. The entrepreneur, now the Big Boss of a typical natural stone company, has the habit of poking his nose in EVERYTHING, and making ALL the decisions. This was unavoidable, inevitable, when the company was in its early stages, when it was tiny, but growing. But now the enterprise has become a solid medium sized company by any standards, there may be several quarries located far away from each other, all with local employees, the factory is big now with dozens of expensive and sophisticated machines. There are now managers with theoretically well defined responsibilities, the monthly salary bill is big enough to keep anyone awake and worrying all night. A lot of supplies involving big sums of money need to be purchased constantly. Bankers have to be dealt with too. The customers are much more numerous, perhaps located all over the world, all with their own particular requirements and idiosincrasia. In other words, it is now a very complex organization.
But there are still only 24 hours a day.
How can one single person now make all the decisions? Almost any decision made now is important, involving huge amounts of money, even those which, in theory, are minor administrative decisions. Getting any decision wrong can mean losing serious amounts of money.
Our great entrepreneur never delegated anything before, when the company was being built, and was small in size.There was no need to do so either. Yes, there were were and often are family members and relatives also involved in the business, often handling key aspects of the company, but it is usually clear to everyone who really calls the shots. After all, it had been the founder´s risk taking ability and his judgment that laid the foundation of success. It was he who decided which quarry was worth investing in, where and when to set up a factory, which machine to buy, it was he who travelled where it was needed, to find customers, and decided what price and credit terms to give to the buyer. He alone staked his company and his personal wealth and perhaps, even his house, time and again.
But time moves on.
Decades later, the children have grown up, often with a more privileged education and used to living a very comfortable life, with different ideas and expectations in life, often with new thinking of how a well-established company should be run. Perhaps they are interested in working in the family owned company and have the aptitude, or perhaps they are not, and want to do something else.
The business environment, too, has changed dramatically as the years go by. There are new markets and new alternative products,and new trends. The old contacts with whom so much profitable business was done in the past, have often retired. There are dozens of new competitors now, sometimes with their own establishments just a few metres away, others thousands of kilometres away, often in a different country and continent. The world, too, is very volatile and uncertain.
One thing, however, did not change.
The Big Boss still continues to make all the decisions.
It is a ONE MAN SHOW. And, by and large, with some exceptions, the natural stone industry is a ONE MAN SHOW INDUSTRY.
The Big Boss, being a very intelligent person, is, of course, aware of this big weakness in his creation. In the solitude of his hotel room, for he still travels a lot, or, late at night in his office when he may the only person in the company still working, he is anguished by the thought that everything depends on him being in good health and not being run over by a bus. He is keenly aware he is also a mortal like everyone else.
But the habits of a lifetime have stuck to him. He is still obsessed with knowing every single detail about his company, how every single machine is working, how the production line has been planned, what price has been given to the latest enquiry, whatever happened to that truck that was supposed to have reached the factory yesterday... Yes, there are the managers in administration, production, sales departments, and perhaps, the grown up son(s) and daughter(s) are assisting him, but he overrules everyone´s decisions all the time without a thought, because he knows best. Very often his own decision made just last week is suddenly reversed without any explanation, leaving everyone around him totally baffled and confused. His people just cannot be trusted to make decisions, is his thinking, they make too any mistakes. Of course, he too makes mistakes, he will readily admit, but then he forgets about this five minutes after making this admission. In any case, he is the Boss of his Universe. There is no one to question his decision, there never was.
The Big Boss has not become aware that the very qualities that were great strengths and virtues before, have now become a weakness and a threat to the company. The great virtues that created a profitable company out of nothing, that decision making ability which only he possesses in his mind, are no longer what the company needs if it is to survive beyond him. He never delegated, not even to his own children, if they were working alongside him in the company. He never allowed others to make decisions and thus also learning from the mistakes that are an inevitable part of decision making, growing up and developing the self-confidence of a person. He never understood that MANAGING a company requires a different set of skills and human qualities than the ones needed to CREATE a company. The Big Boss always knew everything about the smallest tiniest detail regarding his company, and now feels frustrated there are so many things he cannot control, or is aware of. Trusting no one else but himself, he gets angry all the time with people around him for the most trivial of reasons.
Little by little, the company he has built, starts stumbling. Competitors which did not even exist a decade ago, now seem to be growing faster than his company, chipping away at the customers and orders that were always his. Many of the people who were with him from the early days, have left him. He cannot seem to find good managers and other employees, and even when he hires apparently good people, they soon leave the company for better prospects.
What went wrong, he wonders? Why are there no longer good people in the market to hire? Why do the clients now prefer to work with his competitors? Why are his company sales and profits going down?
That is the Tragedy.
The world badly needs entrepreneurs. In a world where, almost everywhere, unemployment is the biggest challenge of societies, there is a limit to what governments can do. When companies are built in the private sector, employment is generated, wealth is created, there is economic development, and a country moves forward. The entrepreneurs in the natural stone industry, or any other, whether they are big or small, or somewhere in between, are the unsung heroes of our times.
The heroes, in all the mythologies of different civilizations and cultures, tend to be glorious figures and, simultaneously, also tragic ones. But not just in mythologies- in the natural stone industry too.