Chirdeep Malhotra . Updated: 12/8/2021 2:50:25 PM Books and Authors

Author Interview: Shailesh Sheth

Shailesh Sheth is an eminent independent corporate advisor and a Board Member at Bharat Fritz Werner Ltd. In a career spanning over four decades, Sheth has earned the reputation of being the Guru of the machine tools industry. Sheth’s long association with BFW and his ringside perspective of the machine tools industry place him at a unique vantage point to tell the story of BFW. He has recently come out with the book “The Alluring Protégé”, which details the corporate transformation in Bharat Fritz Werner. In a candid chat with Chirdeep Malhotra, he talks about his latest book, his writing journey, his favourite books and authors, and much more. Read on!

Please tell us more about Shailesh Sheth as a person.

I am an intense person, constantly in quest to acquire knowledge and new experiences. Speaking, reading, and writing are my passions. Aha, not to forget eating variety of foods. After all, I am an Oswal Jain. I come from a conservative family but received progressive education. Frequent foreign trips for work helped widen my horizons. Finally, I love to engage with anyone who wants to learn, particularly students.

Has writing always been a part of your life? Or did you chance upon it later on and then instantly fell in love with it?

I was weak in English language due to my rustic Gujarati background. But a super teacher at school and later my cosmopolitan friends helped me to have a proficiency level in the language. I received the Best Student Award at college, which got me a bunch of English books, and that started it. Writing is the best way to learn. I write essays, articles, and research papers, and have also edited magazines, so the habit of writing developed over time. Add to that an intense desire to share knowledge and you get the right attitude to write.

Please tell us more about your book “The Alluring Protégé”.

“The Alluring Protégé” is essentially a Corporate Biography, but it is different from other similar works. It is written as a story, so it is easy and interesting to read. It pursues this 'Case Study’ format as it would appeal to practicing managers. It derives key management lessons, so readers get practical examples of what the Gurus’ preach. Overall, it is a case study based managerial history of a company and its future outlook.

Why the title “The Alluring Protege”? What does it convey to the readers?

The title “Alluring Protégé” comes by as the company is rich in technology, product range, market share, work culture, brand value and scale up potential. Thus, it is attractive for business associates, prospective employees, bankers and other stakeholders. So, it is an ‘Alluring’ company. ‘Protégé’ because it came out as an off shoot of the public sector giant HMT and in time overtook it in all spheres. Our scriptures say that a good Guru is one whose ‘shishya’ outshines him. Therefore, BFW is an Alluring Protégé.

What was the research process for the book like? When did you start writing this book and how long did it take you to finish it?

A book such as this requires robust homework and research. This involved talking to multitudes of people, who at different stages, were involved with the company. It also meant getting all stories fact checked and diving deep into company archives. It is hard work and took two years till its release.

What challenges did you face while writing this book?

Several challenges were encountered while writing the book. First was to be impartial and transparent about all aspects. Here the promoters and professional managers of the company gave me full freedom to enquire and write about whatever I thought was necessary, which included narrating setbacks, wrong decisions as well. The second challenge was to segregate facts and fiction. Once put in print, everything you say will be double checked by someone, particularly the ex-employees. So, meticulous cross checking of all events and discussions was required. The third challenge was that I wanted the book to be institution driven and not individual driven. This idea also received sound support. Overcoming these challenges was a tough task but was accomplished due to support from the Promoters and Board of Directors.

What are the most important takeaways you want people to remember after reading this book?

Most important takeaways from the book are:
• No one has monopoly over Innovation and Technology.
• Theory of core competency should not be narrowly applied.
• It is possible to synergize risk taking appetite of shareholders with performance driven professional culture of managers, so it is not an either/or situation.
• Most important lessons are from setbacks and failures, not so much from achievements and successes.
• Past success does not guarantee future success; you must continuously re-imagine your business and organisation.
• The job of a leader is to lead and prepare the company for the future, not to get embroiled in day to day working.
• Not to forget your ‘Purpose’ in single minded pursuit of ‘Profit’.

Can you recommend five books from any genre, for our readers to add to their reading lists, that you particularly cherish?

The five books that I would recommend are – “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt, “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” by C.K. Prahalad, “Not for Bread Alone” by Konosuke Matsushita, and “Wings of Fire: An Autobiography of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam” by Dr. Abdul Kalam and Arun Tiwari.

What are you working on next?

My next project may include writing on a much wider topic of how India can become a manufacturing hub. The preliminary "Proof of Concept” work has already started. I hope that it comes out in 2022.

There are many new writers and poets who are aspiring to get their work published. What would you say to them?

Write what you believe in. Write fearlessly, write without personal agenda.

Can you share with our readers a motivational quote that keeps you going?

“You are the creator of your own destiny.” – Swami Vivekananda

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