Why Founders Should Focus on People Just as Much as Technology
Tandon Magnetics used to host an annual exhibition featuring art created by employees. One year, a female employee made a picture of a sick man lying on a cot. He was surrounded by three children sitting on the floor with an empty platter. The words on the picture said “I wish I had a son,” implying that a son could probably earn some money by doing odd jobs. The employee displayed another picture next to it that showed the man and children happy and with plenty of food. The words on the second picture said: “I don’t need a son because my daughter works at Tandon.”
Tandon became the largest employer of women in India’s tech sector from 1984 to 2000 after the founder, M.L. Tandon, lobbied the Indian High Court to allow women in the technology industry the right to work at night. He says that seeing his employee’s artwork and knowing that his companies have been able to change people’s lives deeply impacts him to this day.
Respect Every Employee
“Respect for the individual” has been the cornerstone of Tandon since its origins. It’s a philosophy M.L. Tandon adopted from his time with IBM and implemented when Tandon Magnetics opened its first plant in the 1970s. This simple idea was uncommon in India at the time. With the British system in India, workers were treated differently than managers. For example, some companies had three canteens: one for workers, one for managers, and one for directors. Tandon has always had an open-door policy where any employee with any problem could speak directly with him and get his help.
“I learned from IBM that no matter how big or small the job is, the individual is important because she’s making her contribution,” Tandon says. “It’s not what your job is, it’s how you do your job.”
Communication and Collaboration
“For me, quality means continuous improvement and the best way to accomplish that is to instill a sense of empowerment and respect at all levels,” he says. “I want my workers to feel like Tandon is just as much their company as it’s mine.”
For today’s startup founders, social innovation isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a key marker of success. Developing technology is no longer enough in today’s marketplace. The founders who foster communication, collaboration, and respect for individuals, in addition to creating technical innovations that improve people’s lives, are the ones whose companies will have the greatest potential to grow.