Dhirubhai Ambani was no ordinary leader. He was a man who gave management a whole new "ism".
There is a new "ism" that I've been meaning to add to the vast world of words for quite a while now. Because, without exaggeration, it's a word for which no synonym can do full justice: "Dhirubhaism".
Inspired by the truly phenomenal Dhirubhai H Ambani, it denotes a characteristic, tendency or syndrome as demonstrated by its inspirer. Dhirubhai, on his part, had he been around, would have laughed heartily and declared, "Small men like me don't inspire big words!"
There you have it - now that is a classic Dhirubhaism, the tendency to disregard one's own invaluable contribution to society as significant.
I'm sure everyone who knew Dhirubhai well will have his or her own little anecdote that illustrates his unique personality. He was a person whose heart and head both worked at peak efficiency levels, all the time. And that resulted in a truly unique and remarkable work philosophy, which is what I would like to define as Dhirubhaism.
Let me explain this new "ism" with a few examples from my own experiences of working with him.
Dhirubhaism No 1: Roll up your sleeves and help. You and your team share the same DNA. Reliance, during Vimal's heady days had organized a fashion show at the Convention Hall, at Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi.
As usual, every seat in the hall was taken, and there were an equal number of impatient guests outside, waiting to be seated. I was of course completely besieged, trying to handle the ensuing confusion, chaos and protests, when to my amazement and relief, I saw Dhirubhai at the door trying to pacify the guests.
Dhirubhai at that time was already a name to reckon with and a VIP himself, but that did not stop him from rolling up his sleeves and diving in to rescue a situation that had gone out of control. Most bosses in his place would have driven up in their swank cars at the last moment and given the manager a piece of their minds. Not Dhirubhai.
When things went wrong, he was the first person to sense that the circumstances would have been beyond his team's control, rather than it being a slip on their part, as he trusted their capabilities implicitly. His first instinct was always to join his men in putting out the fire and not crucifying them for it. Sounds too good a boss to be true, doesn't he? But then, that was Dhirubhai.
Dhirubhaism No 2: Be a safety net for your team. There used to be a time when our agency Mudra was the target of some extremely vicious propaganda by our peers, when on an almost daily basis my business ethics were put on trial. I, on my part, putting on a brave front, never raised this subject during any of my meetings with Dhirubhai.
But one day, during a particularly nasty spell, he gently asked me if I needed any help in combating it. That did it. That was all the help that I needed. Overwhelmed by his concern and compassion, I told him I could cope, but the knowledge that he knew and cared for what I was going through, and that he was there for me if I ever needed him, worked wonders for my confidence.
I went back a much taller man fully armed to face whatever came my way. By letting us know that he was always aware of the trials we underwent and that he was by our side through it all, he gave us the courage we never knew we had.
Dhirubhaism No 3: The silent benefactor. This was another of his remarkable traits. When he helped someone, he never ever breathed a word about it to anyone else. There have been none among us who haven't known his kindness, yet he never went around broadcasting it.
He never used charity as a platform to gain publicity. Sometimes, he would even go to the extent of not letting the recipient know who the donor was. Such was the extent of his generosity. "Expect the unexpected" just might have been coined for him.
Dhirubhaism No 4: Dream big but dream with your eyes open. His phenomenal achievement showed India that limitations were only in the mind. And that nothing was truly unattainable for those who dreamed big.
Whenever I tried to point out to him that a task seemed too big to be accomplished, he would reply: " No is no answer!" Not only did he dream big, he taught all of us to do so too. His one-line brief to me when we began Mudra was: "Make Vimal's advertising the benchmark for fashion advertising in the country."
At that time, we were just a tiny, fledgling agency, tucked away in Ahmedabad, struggling to put a team in place. When we presented the seemingly insurmountable to him, his favourite response was always: "It's difficult but not impossible!" And he was right. We did go on to achieve the impossible.
Both in its size and scope Vimal's fashion shows were unprecedented in the country. Grand showroom openings, stunning experiments in print and poster work all combined to give the brand a truly benchmark image. But way back in 1980, no one would have believed it could have ever been possible. Except Dhirubhai.
But though he dreamed big, he was able to clearly distinguish between perception and reality and his favourite phrase "dream with your eyes open" underlined this.
He never let preset norms govern his vision, yet he worked night and day familiarizing himself with every little nitty-gritty that constituted his dreams constantly sifting the wheat from the chaff. This is how, as he put it, even though he dreamed, none of his dreams turned into nightmares. And this is what gave him the courage to move from one orbit to the next despite tremendous odds.
Dhirubhai was indeed a man of many parts, as is evident. I am sure there are many people who display some of the traits mentioned above, in their working styles as well, but Dhirubhai was one of those rare people who demonstrated all of them, all the time.
And that's what made him such a phenomenal team builder and achiever. Yes, we all need "Dhirubhaisms" in our lives to remind us that if it was possible for one person to be all this and more, we too can. And like him, go on to achieve the impossible too.