Amy Chua and my life lessons

Watching the interview of AMY Chua in the Berkeley series ‘conversations with history’ was a delight for me. The over one hour listening absorbed me intensely and provided some insights which I could relate to in my working career.

First let me set the scene. What Amy Chua ‘Day of empire: How hyper powers rise to global dominance and why they fall’ has to do with the business of Rogers aviation of the 80’s and 90’s? To me, Amy Chua is dealing with dominating your sphere with hyper powers.

Here are some reviews on her book to have a brief view of Amy Chua’s thesis.

This analysis of world-dominant powers …

… from ancient Persia to the modern United States yields an intriguing set of common traits and progressions. Chua’s bestselling World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic … more » Hatred and Global Instability (2002) led the pack in sizing up the backlash against global free-marketers. Now she examines hegemony and the handful of entities worthy of the title “hyperpower,” which extends to the earliest civilizations: Persia, at its peak under Darius, the Macedonia of Alexander the Great and, of course, imperial Rome. There are also some surprises: Ghenghis Khan’s 13th-century Mongolian domain, for instance, eventually extended from Vienna to the Sea of Japan, far exceeding any before or since in contiguous territory. And the Mongols did it without original technology or literacy, absorbing both from cultures that came under their dominion. Likewise, the Dutch Republic of the late 17th century, a midget among Europe’s giants, became so dominant in world commerce that it eventually exported a king, William of Orange, to England. The commonality among these empires, says Chua, was tolerance. They were diverse societies, harbouring—and exploiting—a wide range of ethnicities and unrestricted religions. The enduring model is Rome, which handed its adversaries a bloody defeat and proffered full citizenship the next day. The author notes that even China in its day of empire, the eighth-century Tang Dynasty, was a far more open society than it would be 1,000 years later. Tolerance alone won’t create a hyper power, though, says the author; the United States needed the collapse of the Soviet Union to achieve its status. Chua concludes that hyper powers ultimately tend to come “unglued” as a result of resistance to their own diversity. She cautions that the global rise of anti-Americanism today, which stems from attempts to export democracy in the service of self-interest, could be a negative sign. The author gives short shrift to forces introduced by petro-politics or the nuclear threat, but still an illuminating exploration of what makes a superpower.

Put positively, such hyper powers practice tolerance. As far as it goes, this is hardly an original observation, and while Chua attempts to offer solid examples from history of how tolerance helps build empires and how intolerance leads to their downfall, she is ultimately unsuccessful.

Translating back to my then work situation in business: Rogers Aviation was a super power in the field of commercial aviation in Mauritius in the 70’s through to the 90’s. Rogers aviation occupied 80 percent of the passenger ticket sales and over 99 percent of the air cargo sales in 1970. In a sense within its sphere I extrapolate, that Rogers was a super power. Just like any super powers of history, at a stage the super power must ask himself; “ how do I maintain my dominance forever?” I must admit that in the case of passenger sales I had no say in the formulation of the strategy. When I came on the scene in early 80’s, Rogers had lost on the passenger side its supremacy as a Super Power, the market share dropped to approximately 65 percent but on the other hand on the air cargo front it was different with a market share of over 90 percent.

With the strategic planning department of Rogers in the 80’s the team at air cargo took time to study the issue and devise strategies for Rogers to maintain a role of super power and continue to reap extra monetary benefits from this position. I was one of the proponents that pushed the thesis that our super position as super power is doomed not to last and that we had to look at enlarging our sphere by looking to conquering other areas. So there was a distinct, two legs strategy: on the local scene maintaining supremacy by joint ventures association and on the overseas scene conquer the regional areas. A smaller share of a bigger cake is better that defending our share of a small cake.

On the local front knowingly, we planned to reduce your dominance as the apparent super power by diluting our market share. One of the thoughts of that time was: the thousand of freight forwarders in the world will surely come in the Mauritius market to have their share. Will we fight them or make it easy to penetrate the market whilst retaining a fair share of the conquered market? Having experienced the fate of the passenger market we opted to control the market by making easy for our opponents to enter whilst taking a large chunk of their profits in the supply of other services. We were strategically tolerant would have been a Chua definition.

On the international scene, as we were not a super power, we had to use other strategies. We had to build our strength by working differently. In the hind sight, I have to admit that today, after listening to Amy Chua I came to realise that the strategies and mind set of our people on the international scene were not appropriate. More Guerrilla warfare strategy should have been utilised.

This strategy defined in 1980’s bored the fruits that we seeded up to 1997. Thereafter, the market situation changed and the new leaders at the helm of the company did not seem to have a clue of the strategic thinking needed to sustain the position of super power to collect the premium that the status gave you.

This phase of my working career will always be cherished. Thank you Rogers for these fabulous years.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Angi on 06.25.09 at 4:35 am

Indeed, the difference is not just in the KPIs but also in the level of accountability.
On the other hand, it is unusual for someone who claims to have been involved in strategy definition not to have been involved in its execution.

“Success comes from the ability to evolve with the context of the day”. how appropriate indeed.
Back in the old days Rogers monopoly was being maintained by overcharging customers and using part of the money to buy off the policy makers to keep the competition away.
Today the government is using taxpayers money to pay for its own mistakes and defending its position.
Times change, but it’s always someone else paying for MK position, whether monopolistic or dominant.

this brings in question the viability not only of MK, but more importantly the viability of the entire island’s economy, as it is heavily and increasingly dependent on its connectivity with the world both for people and goods.

Leave a Comment