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“FATHER OF BUSINESS MANAGEMENT?/font>
Our former Chairman, Sohrab Godrej, often deplored the rather Brahminical contempt for commerce, as if making money is a sin, prevalent not only among the people at large, but also in some sections of the Government. He would not have been too surprised to learn that much the same attitude prevails in that land of opportunity, America. In an article published recently in IEEE, Engineering Management Review (reproduced from Business Horizons, January-February 2001 issue), the author, Blaine McCormick, complains bitterly that students of American business history are often taught that “robber baron capitalists were at the root of most of the trouble in American history? History education tends to portray business in a negative light or, more insidiously, strips business from its worthy historical characters.
McCormick gives the example of Andrew Carnegie, whose picture in history books is captioned “philanthropist? ignoring his extraordinary business talent in accumulating wealth that was later given away, not to his family members but to several charities in accordance with his Gospel of Wealth and his oft-stated belief that “I would as soon leave my son a curse as the almighty dollar? In like vein, Thomas Edison is portrayed as an inventor rather than as someone who, with extraordinary business acumen, incorporated more than a hundred businesses. Similarly, in the Indian context, the founder of the Godrej enterprise, Ardeshir Godrej, was humorously described as a tarakuchivala, the inventor of locks and security equipment (also soaps from vegetable oils), rather than as a patriot who, inspired by the motto of self-respect through self-reliance, taught his subjugated people that the best way to win freedom was to make goods that were good enough to compete with the British variety then flooding the market.
But the central point, the inspiration of McCormick’s article, is the example of an American whom people associate with two images as a founding father and a pioneering scientist, but whom the author credits with being also “the founding father of American management? ?/i> none other than Benjamin Franklin.
Ironically, Franklin’s fascinating, unfinished autobiography stopped at a point going beyond which would, according to history scholars, have made his memoirs much more interesting ?/i> that of patriot, statesman and ambassador. But they are mistaken because it is precisely the part in his early youth describing his travails as a newspaper vendor, then as assistant in a printing press because of his love for reading, then the proprietor of his own press in Philadelphia to become a leading member of the American press trade, establishing Philadelphia’s first subscription library and pioneering social reform, all of which showed his true character as an uncommon common man even more than his achievements later in life. Benjamin Franklin can be said to have moulded not only his own but the national character of America.
Franklin made painstaking efforts quite early in life to improve his English in the hope that “I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious? Taunted as “the Water-American?by those of his companions who believed that drinking strong beer added to their strength, he tried to convince them that “the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer?
One of his early activities was conducting a newspaper in which, contrary to the prevalent practice, “I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which has of late years become so disgraceful to our country.?He called upon young printers “not to pollute their presses and disgrace their profession by such infamous practices, but refuse steadily, as they may see by my example that such a course of conduct will not, on the whole, be injurious to their interests? He liked to experiment with electricity, though his first experiment was a near-fatal one.
Franklin was not above human temptation. Visiting Paris, he felt he had “become twenty years younger, and looked very ‘galante’”. So, being in “the city where the Mode is to be sacredly followed, I was once very near making love to my friend’s wife?
In those days, too, people complained about the high rate of taxation. Franklin comforted his friends and neighbours that the taxes imposed by government were indeed very heavy, but added that there were many others which were far more grievous: “We are taxed twice as much by our IDLENESS, three times as much by our PRIDE and four times as much by our FOLLY: and from these taxes the (income tax) commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement.?/i>
That is at the core of Franklin’s story, the heart of sound business practices “as a means of obtaining wealth and distinction?
Carl Von Doran pays a memorable tribute to this autobiography in these words: “Comfortable as Franklin’s possessions and numerous as his achievements were, they were less than he was. Whoever learns about his deeds remembers longest the man who did them. And sometimes, with his marvelous range, in spite of his personal tang, he seems to have been more than any single man: a harmonious human multitude.?/i>
Reading this book is an enriching experience giving one a better grasp of Franklin’s managerial ethic, which stressed the basic values of individualism, industry and frugality, experimentation and honesty.