Who’s got the tougher job – Ratan Tata or Manmohan Singh ? (or Immelt vs Obama)

Having a world-class scientist Dad at home, and who is retired, exposes me to a set of intermittent,  wonderful questions. The above is one of them. Having met some sincere MLA who works from 9am to 12 midnight, we were wondering if the PM’s job would be the toughest job in the country. And possibly, by extension does Obama carry the toughest JD in the world ?

The PM oversees about 20 departments / functions and signs off on decisions of all of these. The bureaucrats analyse the issue, propose alternative solutions and sometimes, recommend the ideal solution as well. But looks like most of the decisions are not taken at the Minsters’ level and come to the PM for final sign-off. So, all 3 – the senior bureaucrat, the Minister and the PM jointly sign-off on all key decisions. This is possibly to have a joint liability in case some decisions go wrong and some future Govt goes on a witch-hunt later on. This way of working easily puts stress on all the 3 levels mentioned above. Each one goes through each recommendation and each decision in full depth and possibly, 3 of the brightest people in the country spend time on the same decision. No wonder almost all these people work for 14-15 hours a day. There are so many decisions to take in a Rs 80 lakh Crore revenue enterprise, which is India.

That the above decisions are not only for maximising shareholder profits but also have to appeal to majority of people (who will be voting the Govt in or out next), makes these decisions tougher to take and implement. And then are more stake-holders like the Opposition parties, International players (if we are banking on some aid or trade decisions), which require decision-making to be a 360-degree-thought-out process.

Let’s move on to Ratan Tata or Jeffrey Immelt. I read somewhere that each one of them has 50-80 businesses / companies in their group portfolio. But from my knowledge of how large private sector enterprises work, these gentlemen would have categorised their businesses into different categories – ones which they will look at every week, another which they look at each month, another – quarterly and possibly a last set of ones which they see once a year. Even the level of decisions are categorised into those which can be taken by sub-Business heads, some by Business Heads and some select ones which come to Tata / Immelt. The rules dictating as to which decisions go to which level is decided by a formal DoA – a Delegation of Authority, which lays down the exact monetary impact of the decision, above which the decision should go to the level above.

The above way of working possibly lets heads of private sector conglomerates work for 9-10 hours a day, 5 days a week and take annual vacations too.

So, the key differences between the way the 2 Heads of Govt and Private behemoths are :

  • Lack of a very clear DoA in Govt decisions
  • Lack of the will at lower levels to use the delegation of authority in Govt (if there is one) – this arises from some of the decisions not being completely “clean” and hence the obsession of bureaucrats and Ministers to necessarily take sign-offs from superiors.
  • More stake-holders for Govt decisions
  • Media, Judiciary, Auditors looking at each decision and wanting to pry into each, in case of Govt decisions. In private giants, at best, it is the Board to which the CEOs/Chairmen are accountable
  • A last one – Govt Heads are using public funds and hence are super-accountable. They can be tried legally even after they are out of their roles. Heads of Private enterprises are managing funds of shareholders (and indeed some of them are public, but they are the discerning one who have invested knowing the risks). Of course, they can be tried too, but only if they indeed did something really illegal.
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