What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School!

Book Title
What They Don’t Teach you at Harvard Business School

This best seller book was published in the year 1984, and was authored by Mark McCormack. I had bought this book during the same year just because the title attracted my attention. The book was worth reading as it had many lessons and insights for me. The book fills the gaps between a business school education and the savviness that comes from day-to-day experience of running a business and managing people. It shares the business skills, techniques and wisdom gleaned from twenty-five years of work experience that the author had at that time.

Although I haven’t gone back to reading the book in the last couple of decades, the title, author and the content are still fresh in my memory. Every time there is a new learning for me based on my experience with a street smart savvy business man/woman, who hasn’t gone through any management program, I remember this book.

Yesterday I had one such experience. There is this grocery store in Gurgaon that sells South Indian items. We have been buying from this store for about 15 years now and more frequently in the last 5 years. Every time Bindu and I go to his shop, we spend at least 20-30 minutes interacting with the owner of the shop, Selva Kumar. Selva Kumar and his family hail from Tirunelveli, which is Bindu’s  birth place and my mother-in-law’s family hails from there. Because of this connect and the common language Tamil, we tend to discuss state (Tamil Nadu) and national politics, people and personalities, PM’s schemes, appeasement politics, etc. Though he sources a number of products from different parts of Tamil Nadu that don’t sport big/reputed brands, we buy from him because they are of  excellent quality, and hygienic.

I spoke to Selva Kumar yesterday to enquire about the order we had placed a couple of days back. I asked him about how Covid19 has impacted his business. I shared with him what I had heard from other shop owners that I knew. Selva Kumar told me that he had set up this shop (inside Powergrid Apartments) in the year 1995 and before setting it up, he had done an informal survey of the locality to understand the number of South Indian families, their affluence (imagine this was way back in the year 1995 when Gurgaon wasn’t anywhere near what it is now), buying habits, credit patterns of small shops etc.

For many decades now, for South Indians in Delhi NCR, Rama Stores in Munirka is an iconic shop where you get everything that you would get in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad or Cochin. Rama Stores was  set up in the year 1973.

Sree Rama Stores
Sree Rama Stores


The smart Selva Kumar went to Rama Stores several times to understand the success factors of the iconic store, including having a conversation with the owner’s family before setting up his shop !!! He opened his shop only after he was convinced that he knew all that had to be done to be successful. Selva Kumar’s shop today has a regular, dedicated set of customers who don’t buy from anywhere else and would rather wait for days or weeks to get their chosen item from his shop.

In our conversation yesterday, he shared his pearls of business wisdom.

  • If you take care of your customers, they will take care of your business.
  • It’s all about building a genuine relationship with your customers.
  • Do not be “pushy” and let the customer choose what they want.
  • Sell good quality products always
  • Pay suppliers/vendors immediately. Have no debts.
  • Track your earnings and expenses every day and square off at the end of the day.

Now read the above list of business practices and compare with any article or case study that Harvard or other Ivy league business schools have put out. Selva Kumar has got his basics right and some homegrown wisdom, which helps him succeed, without any formal business education.

Its no wonder that his business continues to do well even in these difficult times. Customers are not allowed inside the gated community where his shop is located but he takes orders over the phone and delivers at home, or you can collect the items outside the gate. There are delays in delivery sometimes but his infectious smile keeps his customers smiling too.

Selva Kumar and his pearls of business wisdom are not spoken about at Harvard business school but they should be !!



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