Legends of leadership and management: Norman Borlaug (1914-2009)

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He identified a global problem and then worked hard to find a solution. Once he had found the solution, he implemented it on a global scale and the results were glaringly obvious. He was short on resources and time, so he found creative ways to overcome the constraints. TIME Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential minds of the 20th century. For ushering “the Green Revolution” across the globe, Dr. Norman Borlaug makes it to the list of legends of leadership and management.

Identifying the problem: Very early in his career, Borlaug was approached about joining a fledgling research project being initiated by the Rockefeller Foundation in rural Mexico, in 1944. There, he first saw the plight of poverty-stricken wheat farmers barely able to sustain themselves due to repeatedly poor harvests – the primary culprit being the fungal disease, Rust, which perennially ruined the harvest. This had a huge impact on him and he shared his thoughts in a letter to his wife – “These places I’ve seen have clubbed my mind — they are so poor and depressing. I don’t know what we can do to help these people, but we’ve got to do something.”

Borlaug honed in on one thing: increasing yield. For him, the complexities of poverty and hunger could be reduced to a single problem: not enough food. From there, the answer was simple: grow as much as possible, using whatever technology available.

Acknowledging and overcoming the constraints: Technology was the answer, but there was an instinctive hesitation to adopt untried new technologies on the part of the farmers, especially from an expatriate American college boy who didn’t even speak their language.

Though extremely discouraged, Borlaug was determined to succeed. He started by learning the local language and that eventually induced him to get his hands dirty in the fields and connect with the local farmers.

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Norman Borlaug with Vice President Henry Wallace and Mexican Minister of Agriculture Marte R. Gómez. in Mexico, 1944 (source: achivement.org)

Dr. Borlaug’s initial goal was to create varieties of wheat adapted to Mexico’s climate that could resist the greatest disease of wheat – the fungus called rust. Time was of the essence and manipulating wheat blossoms to cross different strains to test their resistance to rust, was time consuming. Once again, he got around the time constraint by breeding in two places – the Sonoran desert in winter and the central highlands in summer. Though this imposed heavy burdens on him and his team, it cut the overall time to come up with the new strains, in half. And it produced wheat varieties that were insensitive to day length and capable of growing in many locales.

The Mexican farmers were impressed and started adopting the new varieties and the wheat output began a remarkable climb in Mexico.

Taking technology to the next level – raising the bar: Once the problem with the rust fungus was resolved, Dr. Borlaug started focusing on increasing the yield for the Mexican farmer. At that time, the general perception within the scientific community was that huge yield gains could be induced in wheat by feeding the plants chemical fertilizer that supplied them with extra nitrogen, a shortage of which was the biggest constraint on plant growth. But the strategy had a severe limitation: beyond a certain level of fertilizer, the seed heads containing wheat grains would grow so large and heavy, the plant would fall over and ruin the crop.

Dr. Borlaug acknowledged the problem and realized that a potential solution lay in shortening the plant so it could withstand the weight of the bigger, heavier grains. So in 1953, he began working with Japanese dwarf strains which he crossbred with the varieties being raised in the hot, dry climate of northern Mexico. This had an unusual gene that had the effect of shrinking the wheat plant, creating a stubby, compact variety. The most important result was that the seed heads did not shrink – so the short plant stayed stable with the bigger, heavier grains.

Dr. Borlaug and his team transferred the gene into tropical wheats. When high fertilizer levels were applied to these new “semidwarf” plants, the results were simply astonishing.

The plants produced enormous heads of grain, yet their stiff, short bodies were able to support the weight without falling over. On the same amount of land, wheat output could be tripled or quadrupled. Later, the idea was applied to rice, the staple crop for nearly half the world’s population, with yields jumping several-fold compared with some traditional varieties.

This novel idea of increasing yields by shrinking plants became the central insight of the Green Revolution across the globe.

By the early 1960s, many farmers in Mexico had embraced the full package of innovations from Dr. Borlaug’s breeding program, and wheat output in the country soared six-fold from the levels of the early 1940s and as result, Mexico obtained self-sufficiency.

Implementing on a global scale – laying the foundation for success: While Mexico was getting self-sufficient in wheat, a crisis was brewing on the Indian subcontinent. The population was growing so much faster than farm output that it was not clear how mass starvation could be avoided.

Borlaug and his team now faced the seemingly impossible task of convincing the leaders of both India and Pakistan, to embrace an entirely new approach to agriculture. Once again, the pragmatic and prepared Dr. Borlaug presented the options available to the senior most political leaders of both countries. With the support of key Cabinet ministers and young scientists like Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, both countries made the courageous decision to adopt Borlaug’s breakthrough technology.

One vital shipment through the Port of Los Angeles was delayed by the Watts riots of 1965, and Dr. Borlaug spent hours yelling on the phone to get it through. Finally the seed ship sailed. Borlaug went to bed thinking that the problem was finally solved, only to wake up to the news that war had broken out between India and Pakistan.

Undeterred by the armed conflict on the sub-continent, Borlaug and his team of scientists planted the first crop of dwarf wheat on the subcontinent, while working within sight of artillery flashes. Sowed late, that crop germinated poorly, yet yields still rose 70 percent. This prevented general wartime starvation in the region, though famine did strike parts of India.

Indian and Pakistani farmers took up the new varieties, receiving fertilizer and other aid from their governments. Just as in Mexico, harvests soared: the Indian wheat crop of 1968 was so bountiful that the government had to turn schools into temporary granaries

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1960s: Dr. Borlaug in India, with the sacks of wheat he grew (source: achievement.org)

Having learnt the importance and power of engaging with the locals, Dr. Borlaug extrapolated that on a global scale by working with local scientists notably M.S. Swaminathan in India, and Robert Chandler, Henry “Hank” Beachell and Gurdev Khush at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. In the Philippines, it led to the creation of semi-dwarf varieties of rice that caused rice yields to soar. Chinese scientists ultimately followed suit and using semi-dwarf varieties, established food security in China, setting the stage for its rise as an industrial power. Latin America was next, notably Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Brazil. Together, with countless others, they helped avert famine and starvation in much of the developing world in the second half of the 20th century.

Dr. Borlaug kept his team of young scientists motivated by impressing upon them the urgency to help feed the world. The key to success was exploiting the short window of cross breeding opportunity when wheat flowers were ready for cross breeding – you worked from sun up to sun down, because the window of opportunity closed rapidly.

“More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world,” the Nobel committee said in presenting him with the Peace Prize. “We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.”

Dr. Borlaug was a visionary who was passionate about achieving results, in spite of the constraints.

“We must recognize the fact that adequate food is only the first requisite for life,” he said in his Nobel acceptance speech. “For a decent and humane life we must also provide an opportunity for good education, remunerative employment, comfortable housing, good clothing and effective and compassionate medical care.”

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Ireland – greenery, dairy and the land of Guinness

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The first thing that stands out when you land in Dublin, Ireland, is the rows of colorful shops and restaurants with pots of flowers hanging from the top. It feels like a picture straight out of a travel journal. Then you notice a lot of hamburger joints and pubs and you realize you’re in the land of Guinness – one of the most successful brands of beer, worldwide. While the rest of Ireland shuts down by 7 PM, the pubs come alive, just around that time.

 

Dublin airport is not designed to be grand – it is functional and operationally efficient – the passage past immigration is quick and in a short amount of time you’re out, ready to get to your place of lodging. The  Airlink Express bus service is an economical way of getting to central Dublin, from the airport – set schedule and set stops.

River Liffey runs across Dublin and supplies most of the water to the city. About 21 bridges from the James Joyce Bridge to the Samuel Beckett Bridge connect the northern and southern halves of the city. The Samuel Beckett Bridge is one of the recently built bridges and stands out because of its unique harp shape – a tribute to the Guinness logo,

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Dublin – River Liffey

O’Connell Street is one of the busier streets in Dublin and is lined with colorful shops, hamburger joints and Pubs. It appears a little littered at times and on evenings, one can see a mini-truck sweeping out the trash along the pedestrian walkway. The trees dotting the pedestrian walkways are laid out such that their branches overlap, creating a green umbrella of shade – this is a very pleasing sight across Dublin.

St. Stephen’s Green is just a few paces down from O’Connell Street – it’s a well laid out park with flower islands, lakes and jogging tracks. The park was first opened to public in 1880 and among various busts dotting the park, is a statue of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore – this was a reciprocal gesture for a street in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi that was named after former Irish President, Eamon De Valera, in 2007. Besides the greenery and the colorful flowers that are a highlight of the park, the lakes are home to ducks, swans and pelicans. This is the ideal location for quiet relaxation or just an intense morning/evening jog.  

Grafton Street connects St. Stephens Green to Trinity College. Grafton Street is an elegant high end shopping area in Dublin – meandering through the street window shopping, is a relaxing experience.

You end up at the entrance to Trinity College at the end of Grafton Street. The entry is free, but if you want to see the famous Book of Kells at the library, you need to purchase a ticket. Founded in 1592, Trinity College is one of the 7 ancient Universities of Britain and Ireland. The alumni include Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Erwin Schrodinger, Jonathan Swift, Ernest TS Walton and the current Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar. The Trinity College Campus is massive and you come across lush green fields, various labs and several sculptures – the ‘Sphere within Sphere’ bronze sculpture by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, opposite the Berkley Library and the ‘Splitting the Atom’ sculpture honoring physicist Ernest TS Walton are the notable ones.

No trip to Ireland is complete without a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. You travel from Dublin towards the west coast of Ireland. The Cliffs are in county Clare. The Cliffs run for about 14 km at the southern end with a max height of 120 m (390 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean and 8 km at the northern end, with a max height of 214 m (702 ft). The O’Brien’s Tower a round stone tower is located at the northern end of the Cliffs. The rain was heavy on the day of our visit – so visibility was a challenge. The cliffs still looked majestic in the mist. The heavy rain made the lush green Irish countryside stand out, making our drive through the day, full of soothing landscapes.

The lush green Irish landscape covering parts of three counties, Limerick, Tipperary and Cork, is considered the best land in Ireland for dairy farming and as a result, is aptly named, the Golden Vale. You pass by herds and herds of cows relaxing in the rain. Ireland’s dairy industry processes approximately 7 billion liters of milk annually, supplied by 18,000 family farms. Irish dairy is exported to 155+ markets world-wide.

As you keep driving along the wild Atlantic way, you come across the Burren – a region of environmental interest dominated by glaciated karst landscape of bedrock incorporating a vast cracked pavement of glacial-era limestone, with cliffs and caves, fossils, rock formations and archaeological sites. This is aptly described as a strange lunar landscape.

We drive past the Burren towards the town of Galway and we continue to witness verdant landscapes, the scenic Galway Bay and some beautiful views of the ocean. Our guide is full of stories about the Irish origin of a lot of English terms and phrases like “daylight robbery”, “lynching” and “crossing the threshold.” In fact, Galway is home to the Lynch Castle – this majestic building stands as testimony to Galway’s splendid medieval past – it was home to one of the most powerful families in Galway.

Galway is a quaint town with great shopping and eating experiences – you could sit in a street corner and get inspired watching the crowds meander by. The world famous Aran sweater, known for the quality of its stitching and design is one of the Irish products you can buy in Galway – the prices are reasonable and shipping is free!

The lush green landscapes, the Burren, the food and colorful cities make Ireland one of the great places in Europe, to visit, besides the ubiquitous pubs of course.

Spain – a vibrant culture with culinary delights

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Madrid:

An easy passage past security and customs at the Madrid airport is a good start to our visit. The city is well connected via public transport, so the €30 cab ride to the hotel ends up being on the expensive side.

 

After a piping hot breakfast, we’re off to the Royal Palace of Madrid – it’s within walkable distance and covers an imposing 135,000 sq. meters across 3,418 rooms. The gilded lampposts in the verandah show the opulence of the Spanish royalty. Our guide tells us that this is the biggest palace in Europe, but the Hofburg Palace in Austria is bigger at 240,000 sq. meters. The Royal family occupies the palace on special occasions – the current princess stayed at the palace to drive over to the nearby Almudena Cathedral for her wedding.

The Sabatini Gardens adjoin the rear end of the palace – the gardens are lush green and dotted with statues of Spanish kings. The adjoining Plaza de Orient garden has even more statues of kings.

 

The interior of the palace is notable for its wealth of art and the use of many types of fine materials in the construction and the decoration of its rooms. These include paintings and frescoes by Giovanni. The Grand Staircase at the entrance is composed of a single piece of San Agustin marble. Two lions grace the landing. On the ground floor is a statue of Charles III in Roman toga, with a similar statue on the first floor depicting Charles IV. The four cartouches at the corners depict the elements of water, earth, air and fire. Other collections of great historical and artistic importance preserved in the building include the Royal Armory of Madrid, porcelain, watches, furniture, silverware, and the world’s only complete Stradivarius string quintet.

 

In the evening, we treat ourselves to a round of tapas – tapas abound everywhere and actually are free – we just pay for the drinks. Post tapas, we stop by Gino’s – an Italian restaurant, for salad. They start us up with fresh tomato bread – fresh tomato, grated over bread – you can taste the freshness of the tomato and the bread. The caprese salad does not disappoint at all, when it comes to taste and freshness! Fresh ingredients in the cuisine will be the hallmark of our stay in Spain.

Plaza Mayor is the right spot to start a walking tour of the downtown area of Madrid City. Plaza Mayor, with over 200 balconies is Madrid’s main square and fills up with locals and tourists for dinner and drinks. As we walk through the alleys, we come across the oldest restaurant in the world – Sobrino de Botín, founded in 1725 – the restaurant is mentioned in Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises.’ We are told that occasionally even the King dines here. Through the inner streets of Madrid, the elegant and varied colors on buildings, stand out.

In the evening, we decide to walk our way through Calle Gran Via to the San Anton Market. Gran Villa is busy, vibrant and buzzing with crowds. It is the place to shop and enjoy international stores in Madrid. The dogs are not on leash – but they are so well trained, they hardly stray from their tracks. From Gran Villa, we make our way into narrow streets dotted with some excellent food joint and bakeries – the Coca de Cristal at one of the bakeries awakens our taste buds.

The Anton Market is spread across 2 floors – fresh fruit, vegetables and meat on the 1st floor and eating joints on the 2nd floor. Freshness is key here and when I say fresh meat, the bacon is carved from the pig, right in front of you – its sheer artistry. We order the lentil salad and plantain fritters – the taste is divine!

The next morning, we take the metro to the Atocha Train station – we are taking the Eurail to Barcelona. We dump our luggage in the cloak room and spend some time at the Plaza de Cibeles. A huge sign “Refugees Welcome” greets us as we look up the City Hall. At the center of the plaza is the Cibeles Fountain – it shows Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility and nature holding a sceptre and a key while being pulled by two lions on a chariot. Notable sights along the Paseo Del Prado include the Obelisco del dos de Mayo – a monument to the heroes of Spain and the Botanical Garden.

Barcelona:

From the Atocha station, we are off to Barcelona – a 3 hour ride through open plains and a bright Sun. Barcelona appears more upbeat than Madrid. We pick a nearby restaurant, Patron for a round of seafood Paella – it’s a wait, but the Paella is delicious

The following morning, after a hot breakfast of croissants and eggs, we decide to walk our way through downtown Barcelona. It’s early morning and street cleaning seems to be the focus – as trucks pick up garbage, a few workers alight and ensure the streets are clean. Our walk starts at Avenue Diagonal – yes this street runs diagonally across Barcelona and is lined with stores and restaurants on both sides. The streets are wide and leave ample room for stops for local buses.

We saunter our way towards the sea – the Mediterranean Sea and chance upon a 60m tall monument – the Columbus Monument. It was built in 1888 to commemorate Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas. At the very top of the monument stands a 7.2 m (24 ft) tall bronze statue of Columbus pointing towards the New World with his right hand.

We cross over to the overbridge to get over to the Moll d’Espanya – it’s dotted with shops and restaurants overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The view of the sea invigorates us and we walk our way back to Las Ramblas – the street performers add to the color – this place is buzzing with energy and excitement. We follow the crowd into the Sant Joseph market. The market is a huge collection of stalls – everything is available – fish, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, condiments – it’s irresistible.

Barcelona is the home to the soccer club, FC Barcelona – so a visit to Camp Nou is mandatory – the soccer field is immaculately maintained, but it is the museum that steals the show – currently, it is a shrine to FC Barcelona’s super star – Lionel Messi. Superstars from yesteryears – Johan Cruyff, Romario, Luis Suarez, adorn the walls of the museum, so do a host of championship trophies – definitely worth a visit!

Barcelona seems to love modernist buildings – you can see several of these along Passeig de Garcia – Casa Batllo, especially at night, stops you in your tracks. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, Casa Batlló looks like it has been made from skulls and bones. The “Skulls” are in fact balconies and the “bones” are supporting pillars.

Cerveceria Catalana – a premier tapas restaurant beckons after a long evening walk through Passeig de Garcia – an hour long wait is worth it – the food is unique, authentic and delicious.

Encants Barcelona is Barcelona’s biggest flea market – it is 2 levels huge and sells junk like rusty bikes and gems like antiques, furniture and books. My wife is looking for antiques – she is not disappointed – she picks up a display plate and a ceramic/bronze fruit bowl.

Plaza de Espanaya is the busiest and most important square in Barcelona. Once you land at the Plaza, you need to decide how you will see all that’s worth seeing – from the Venetian towers to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. We make our way towards the Art Museum, walking past the Venetian Towers, the 4 columns and the Magic Fountain. The 4 columns were originally erected in 1919 – they symbolized the four stripes of the Catalan senyera, and they were intended to become one of the main icons of Catalanism. They were demolished in 1928 during Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, but were subsequently rebuilt in 2010, not quite to the original design, which used then fashionable brick, rather than concrete. The two 47m high red-brick Venetian Towers were inspired by the bell-tower of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The towers are topped by large viewing galleries but unfortunately they are not currently open to the public. The Art Museum is one of the grandest art museums I have come across – covering 540,000 sq. ft, it exhibits Romanesque art, Gothic art, Renaissance and Baroque art, and modern art. You need a good 3 hours to enjoy and absorb the amazing art on display. The view from the top is panoramic – one can see the Basilica of the Sagrada Família – the most amazing and most frequented landmark in Barcelona – it is still under construction. We leave the museum close to its closing time and witness a concert in progress opposite the museum – the view of the plaza, from the museum is vibrant and enthralling.

We are completely in love with Barcelona as we make our way to the airport, the next day – move here after retirement? A definite possibility!

Legends of Leadership and Management – Adolfo Suarez (1932- 2014)

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He was a results oriented leader who negotiated his way to a democratic Spain. He was an insider who changed the system while being a part of it. He firmly believed that success of democracy lay not in winning, but in the participation of the entire spectrum of thought. And when armed rogue commanders took over Spain’s Parliament for 22 hours, he stayed in his seat in open defiance, to protect the freedom and democracy for Spain. For his indomitable courage, the ability to work across the aisle and establishing a huge change in the political structure of Spain, Adolfo Suarez makes it to the list of legends of leadership and management.

Adolfo Suarez, then 43 was picked by King Juan Carlos to form a government in 1976 following the death of Gen. Francisco Franco – a brutal dictator who ruled Spain since World War II. At that time, Suárez was a relatively obscure member of the Franco regime. Not many thought he had the ability to heal decades of wounds from an autocratic regime.

Suarez knew that reconciliation across the diverse thought spectrum was the key to a stable Spain. In a speech to the lawmakers in 1976, Suarez said, “The point of departure is the recognition of pluralism in our society — we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of ignoring it.”

 

This pluralism included the Communist Party, which had been banned under Franco. In a secret meeting with Santiago Carrillo, Spain’s long-exiled Communist leader, Mr. Suárez offered to legalize the Communists in return for a pledge that they would join the election. Democracy was not about winning, it was about giving opportunity to the entire spectrum of thought.

Clear vision and Speedy Execution:

Suarez had the vision of a democratic Spain where no college of thought was left behind. And he was equally brilliant with the execution.

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Suarez’s biggest obstacle to reform was the Francoist establishment. The strategy he used to overcome this obstacle, was speed. He introduced measures faster than the Francoist establishment could respond. He recognized popular sovereignty, promising a referendum on political reform and elections before 30 June 1977. Throughout the summer of 1976, Suárez talked to opposition figures. Concerned that the pressure for change from the left might provoke a brutal reaction from the armed forces, Suárez met senior generals on 8 September and explained the reforms.

Within a year of his appointment as Spain’s then-youngest prime minister, Suárez had passed a law establishing a two-chamber Cortes (Parliament) and universal suffrage; had legalized the left-wing parties, including, most vitally, the communists; had declared an amnesty for political prisoners, legalized trade unions and dismantled most of Franco’s four-decade-old political machinery; had got his reforms heartily approved by public referendum, as well as by parliament; had called free elections, formed the Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) to fight them, won, and was on his way to drafting a new constitution. He had only one agenda, democracy. He went for it with all the impatience of a man.

The approval of the constitutional text by the congress and senate on 31 October 1978 and its ratification by the referendum of 6 December marked the peak of his achievement.

Despite abstention calls from the opposition, political reform was approved by 94% in the referendum.

An artful negotiator and a problem solver

Though relatively young at his job, Adolfo Suarez possessed immense talent for political intrigue. He could sniff out the ambitions and weaknesses of colleagues. He could cut deals, after taking people into his confidence with a ready laugh and a slap on the back, and for making even enemies feel—as he charmed them with the offer of a cigarette and a light—that they were intimates, and could do business with him.

Suarez-Carter

His mantra was to get Spanish politics back to normal, out of the long and bloody shadow of the civil war and set Spain in the modern world.

In the run up to the June 1977 elections, Suárez opened secret negotiations with the Communist leader, Santiago Carrillo that paved the way to legalizing the Communist Party in April. This infuriated reactionary military officers, prompting a rash of golpismo, or military conspiracy. He countered them by courting more liberal officers, especially Gutierrez Mellado, and sacking hardliners.

With elections ahead, in the spring of 1977 Suárez united groups of progressive Christian Democrats and conservative Social Democrats into the Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD), Even the Francoist elements of the Movimiento joined Suárez, in the hope of electoral victory.

In February 1981, when armed rogue commanders took over the Cortes for 22 hours, only Mellado, Carrillo and Mr Suárez stayed bravely, or recklessly, in their seats: right, left and centre in open defiance to protect the freedoms he had won.

Marketer par excellence – optimal use of the media

By June 1977, when Spain held its first democratic election since 1936, Mr. Suárez “epitomized the changing face of Spain and the emergence of a new middle class. Per Robert Graham, a foreign correspondent in Madrid: “His clean, youthful looks were in themselves a breath of fresh air. He represented what many Spaniards aspired to be — a provincial boy made good, with a devout wife and a large happy family.”

Suarez_Family

For a society torn after decades of oppression of a brutal dictator, Suárez established an immediate connection with the people. He refused to make most of his TV appearances from the opulent setting of the Spanish Parliament, opting instead to address Spaniards from the comfort of his own living room.

Spain’s national broadcaster spoke to experts who argued the country’s first democratic Prime Minister was blessed with rare telegenic traits: an appearance or manner that was very appealing on television.

The run-up to the elections of June 1977 assumed an air of popular fiesta, but Suárez’s campaign concentrated on the media, where his resources were virtually unlimited. His other advantages were overwhelming. The banks funded a huge advertising campaign. Every housewife in the land was sent a letter from Suárez outlining his plans to improve living standards and the UCD propaganda machine worked especially hard to build on Suárez’s film-star looks. Sixty per cent of UCD voters were to be women and they carried Suárez to victory with 34.5% of the vote; the Socialists polled 29.2%.

Honest, upright and a graceful exit

In January 1981, as divisions mounted among his own UCD supporters, Suárez announced his resignation after four and a half years on the job. He concluded his resignation speech with, “But I do not wish to see this democratic coexistence become, once again, a parenthesis in the history of Spain.”

After leaving office, Suárez could have done with extra financial aid to cover his wife and daughter’s medical costs, both of whom suffered breast cancer. Instead, he chose to auction off his home in Ávila and use only the earnings from his law firm.

Suarez_Funeral

In the last decade of his life, clouded by Alzheimer’s, he gradually forgot that he had ever been prime minister, or what he had done for his country while he was. A poignant photograph, soon famous all over Spain, showed him in 2008 with Juan Carlos, the burly king with his arm round the shoulder of his diminutive first prime minister, in shirtsleeves. The two men were walking away from the camera as if to say, job done. As indeed it was

 

 

 

The first US woman President – the elusive quest

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Hilary Clinton was not the first woman to run for the President of the United States.

In 1872, Victoria Chaflin Woodhull became the first woman to run for the President of the United States. The irony – she herself was ineligible to vote!

Black Americans got the right to vote in 1870 – very soon after the abolition of slavery, but women had to wait another 50 years to get the right to vote.

Why were women prevented from voting in the first place? The argument was that women needed to focus on the household and let men dabble in politics. One of the big voices against giving women the right to vote was the organization National Association OPPOSED to Woman Suffrage. In the 1910s it published the pamphlet below explaining why women should not be allowed to vote. Several reasons were listed, but I found this one the most interesting – “because in some states, more voting women than men will place the government under petticoat rule.”

barkhorn_womenvoters1

 

So the woman suffrage opponents were not as concerned about granting women the right to vote, as much as being under women rulers. And that explains the key reason behind women in the US not getting the top job in the country.

But why did the mental block against women leaders exist in the US, when the rest of the world continued to have women heads of government?

The answer – Democracy! Yes, DEMOCRACY – the system that was supposed to be for the people, did not seem to be for women.

MONARCHY – on the other hand, allowed women to become rulers in the absence of a male heir – long, long before the advent of democracy. Although, it did not improve the social status of women, but it warmed the male population to the concept of a woman leader.

The 19th century alone saw several powerful women rulers – Queen Victoria of the British Empire, Isabella II of Spain and Empress Dowager Cixi of China.

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The world acknowledging the leadership abilities of women, is best evident in the evolution of the game of chess. In earlier versions of the game, the queen was non-existent – the deputy to the King, being the minister. The Queen replaced the minister in the 10th century, when chess first encountered European royal courts. But her movement was restricted within one diagonal square. In the 15th century – inspired by powerful women such as Queen Isabella of Spain, the Queen was given the freedom to roam the entire chessboard, making her the most powerful piece on the chessboard. By then, Europe and the rest of the world had acknowledged the power and authority, a queen could wield.

Irrespective of the country, there are 2 factors that go hand in hand towards attaining the highest position in government:

  1. acceptance of the candidate by the voters
  2. a platform to launch the bid for the top job.

Acceptance of the candidate by the voters: As highlighted earlier, countries that experienced female monarchs through the course of their history, seemed more accepting of female leaders than countries that didn’t.

So when Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the first woman Head of Government in 1960, to Sri Lankans she was another woman ruler in a line that started as early as 47 BC with Queen Anula of Anuradhapura.

India’s Indira Gandhi too, in 1966 joined the ranks of Queens Razia Sultan and Rudramma, when she became India’s first woman Prime Minister.

The US on the other hand, never had a monarchy – so never a woman ruler. So, to the common man, the woman was just the manager of the household, as highlighted by the thinking of the National Association OPPOSED to Woman Suffrage.

Acceptance of a female President by the populace is less of an issue now – finally, in the 21st century! In a survey I conducted recently, though I had a 48% to 52% participation between women and men, an overwhelming majority – 71% felt that it was high time that the US had a woman President.

A platform to launch the bid: The launch platform is another key factor in attaining the Prime Ministership or Presidency. Family ties has been a key launch platform for women leaders in several countries around the world. Srimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became a natural choice for the top post after a period of turmoil following the assassination of her husband Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike. India’s Indira Gandhi rode the popularity of her father Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s first Prime Minister) to become India’s first woman Prime Minister.  Hillary Clinton too first caught the public eye during the Presidential tenure of her husband, Bill Clinton. And she almost made it – almost!

In the US though, the Vice Presidency and Governorships are the two most popular platforms to launch into the Presidency. Thirteen former vice presidents have later become president. So far, only two women– Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008 – have been ever nominated for vice president, both alongside presidential candidates who eventually lost.

Getting more women on the Vice Presidential ticket demands a higher proportion of women in the executive and legislative branches of the government. On the Executive side, only 31 women have held Cabinet positions so far. But 19 of these were from the last 4 administrations – so there is a steady increase, albeit at a very slow pace.

The legislative side has had an equally poor showing – the current 114th Congress comprises a mere 19% women representatives – 74% of them being Democrat and a measly 26% Republican.

So the key factor in the US now, is the launch platform. And the key to resolving that, is higher participation by women in the political system – as legislators or the top posts in various government agencies.

This aligns with the survey response regarding key traits that the respondents wanted to see in the candidate for the first woman President.

Leadership at the helm of a government or business organization was the top trait, followed by previous experience in Congress.

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One of the quotes from my survey summed it up well:

“The odds of becoming president are low to begin with. But, given the disproportionate representation in Congress in favor of men, the USA is more likely to produce male candidates. However, I think the reason that there are not more female representatives is because of historical disenfranchisement and social gender norms.”

Among women leaders across the world, Gro Harlem Brundtland – Norway’s first female Prime Minister stands out. She served as Prime Minister for 3 terms between 1981 and 1996. During her tenure, she appointed women to almost half of her cabinet posts – and this informal quota became a benchmark – so much so that 40% of government posts in Norway, have been held by women ever since. Norway also became the first country to enshrine a similar quota for boardrooms.

The chart below depicts the spread of women leadership across the globe. Besides the US, Canada, Russia and Japan are glaringly missing women leaders. The key to overturning this trend, is a higher participation and representation of women in the political arena. Men across the globe have been writing legislation for women since the dawn of time. It’s high time that women started writing legislation for themselves!

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So another woman candidate for President in 2020? The list of potential candidates is long – Sen Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Maggie Hassan, Sen Kristen Gillibrand, CIA Deputy Director Avril Haines, Gov. Mary Fallin – and the voter is ready to support the right candidate – finally!!

Seychelles – clear waters, tropical paradise and the capital of the borderless world!

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If the world were without borders, then Seychelles would be its capital. Seychelles is borderless indeed – you don’t need a visa to fly into Seychelles – you are granted the visa upon arrival – at the airport!

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Victoria – overlooking the ocean

Part of the Indian Ocean Island trio of Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles, it is right in the center of the Indian Ocean between the Indian subcontinent and Africa.

Seychelles comprises of 3 main islands – Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. The Capital, Victoria is located on Mahe Island and so is the Seychelles International Airport.

Once you land in Seychelles, you are advised to take a rental car – there is one main road that runs along the coast in Mahe Island – The Coast Road. So, getting lost is out of question – as long as you can drive on the left side of the road.

The vibrant colors of the ocean and the warm tropical weather inform you that you are close to paradise – fresh tropical fruit and hospitality galore. No breakfast in Seychelles is complete without an assortment of fresh tropical fruit – bananas, papayas, mangoes, star fruit, pineapple, coeur de Boeuf

 

The Botanical Gardens are one of the first places you want to visit in Victoria. The Botanical Garden is one of Seychelles’ oldest National Monuments, dating back more than a century – they boast of the Coco-de-mer – a gigantic member of the coconut family and only found in Seychelles. They’re about three times the size of a regular coconut, and the tree is immense. The gardens also house a wide collection of mature, exotic and endemic plants within an area of five acres. Besides these, the garden is home to a wide variety of spice and fruit trees like the nutmeg. An added attraction is the population of giant tortoises from Aldabra, some of which are over 150 years old – you are allowed to enter the tortoise pen and feed them, for a small fee. The latest feature is an orchid house which holds a collection of brightly colored orchids including Seychelles’ own native orchids.

 

The Victoria market is another must-see – it’s bustling with activity and fresh fruit and fresh catch of seafood abound. It is on the more expensive side, but a stopover at one of the local eating joints is an experience. The Clock Tower in the heart of the Capital is a 100-year old landmark. It was shipped from London and was erected to honor the reign of Queen Victoria over Seychelles

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Victoria Clock Tower

If you continue along the Coast Road in Seychelles, going westward, you will be induced to stop by Beau Vallon – the bay on the north western coast of Mahe. Its clear waters and coral reefs make it sought after by divers and snorkelers. You can look forward to a treat of fresh coconut water from the fresh fruit stalls, on your way back.

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Beau Vallon

The Eden Bridge links the Mahe Island to the Eden Island. Eden Island is an upscale island and this is evident by the luxury garden villas, the shopping arcade and a private deep water marina. It is worth visiting to experience the quiet ocean and some elegant upscale dining in Mahe Island.

 

St. Pierre Island is a raised reef island, which belongs to the Outer Islands of the Seychelles. It has a distance of 457 mi southwest of the capital, Victoria, on Mahé Island. It’ really a mini-island – a rock formation in the middle of the ocean With clear waters and pristine surroundings, it is a clear favorite for snorkeling and swimming next to schools of tropical fish.

Steering forward in a north-easterly direction, you come across Curieuse Island – a small granitic island (1.78 sq mi) close to the north coast of the island of Praslin. Curieuse is notable for its bare red earth intermingled with the unique Coco de Mer palms. Visitors to the Curieuse Islands disembark at Baie Laraie to the sight of clear waters, pretty rock formations and giant tortoises lazing near the rangers’ headquarters.

The trail from Baie Laraie to Anse José is a 45 minute walk and takes you to the other side of the island.

It passes through a thick mangrove forest and is one of the most breathtaking sites on the island. You will also come across some giant crabs and the ruins of a leper colony, now well blended into the landscape.

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Clear waters – Anse Jose

Southwest of Curiese Island is the Anse Georgette Bay/Beach – outstandingly beautiful, and an unsung hero of Praslin‘s beaches.

While Anse Lazio wins awards worldwide, Anse Georgette is the quiet and pristine beach – untouched and a wonderful shade of blue. What makes it so unique, is that there isn’t a single rock or piece of coral in the bay, allowing the white sands on the sea bed to create a wonderful turquoise colored water that is unblemished.

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Anse Georgette

 

Legends of Leadership and Management: Itō Hirobumi (1841-1909)

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He is considered the father of modern Japan. He was instrumental in influencing the transformation of Japan from a feudal, isolated regime into a modern, democratic and global economy. As home minister in 1878, he focused on boosting and westernizing the economy of Japan. As Japan’s first Prime Minister from 1885, he ensured Japan was viewed on par with global western powers from an economic and political perspective. For placing Japan on the global economic and political map, Itō Hirobumi makes it to the list of legends of leadership and management.

The vision and its execution: Itō Hirobumi had a vision of Japan as a regional superpower, at par with other Western superpowers. He achieved this by sailing with the wind, not against it – he chose to modernize Japan along the Western ideals of democracy, capitalism and military strength. As a result of his policies, by 1894 Japan had established itself as a regional super power and abolished unequal treaties with Western powers.

The education and enlightenment: Itō Hirobumi was not born great, he achieved greatness – through education, observation and remarkable foresight.

In 1863, prior to the Meiji restoration, Itō Hirobumi went to study sciences at University College London. His studies in England convinced him of the necessity to modernize Japan and open it to the rest of the world. He subsequently became one of the leaders of the Chōshū and Satsuma rebellion that eventually led to the Meiji Restoration.

In 1870, he went to the United States to study western financial and currency systems. Returning to Japan in 1871, he established Japan’s currency and taxation systems.

In 1882, he departed to Europe to study the constitutional systems across Europe and returned to draft Japan’s constitution.

Economic Reform – education and foresight: After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Itō was appointed governor of Hyōgo Prefecture, junior councilor for Foreign Affairs, and sent to the United States in 1870 to study Western currency systems. Returning to Japan in 1871, he implemented several economic reforms to lay the foundation for making Japan an economic superpower.

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Itō Hirobumi on the 1000 Yen bill

The economic reforms included a unified modern currency based on the Yen, a sound banking system and a new set of tax laws. Japan now had the infrastructure of a vibrant capitalist economy with a new stock exchange in Tokyo and a bank of issue modeled on the US National Bank system. Hirobumi preferred following the U.S. financial system because the Japanese economy in the late 19th century was decentralized and more closely resembled the economy of the United States than that of the European countries.

Drafting of the Constitution – vision and pragmatism: Itō Hirobumi had a vision, but he was very pragmatic when it came to execution. This is clearly reflected in his drafting of the constitution for Japan.

In March 1882, Itō Hirobumi departed for Europe to study its constitutional systems. He spent most of his time in Berlin and Vienna, learning the technical details and theoretical justification of the German constitutional system. On his return to Japan, he set to work to devise a new political system which would accommodate conservative pressures within the government for an autocratic monarchical system, yet provide a modern and up-to-date alternative to the English model of constitutional government demanded by liberal and radical elements outside the government.

The drafting of a constitution began under Itō’s supervision in 1886 and was completed in 1889. A moderate in temperament and political outlook, he aimed at setting up careful checks and balances which would restrain the rasher elements in the political public and yet permit gradual evolution and progress. The document was highly authoritarian in many respects, yet flexible enough to accommodate itself to the exigencies of future political growth and change. The emperor was entrusted with most of the legal powers of the state, and the Cabinet was given most effective powers of decision over national policy. To ensure that the government consulted the people, especially on matters of public finance, Itō’s constitution provided for a bicameral national Diet, the lower house of which was to be popularly elected.

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Itō Hirobumi statue outside Japanese Diet

 

Foreign Policy: Diplomacy backed by military strength and a good understanding of the environment: Itō Hirobumi had a long term vision for Japan as a political heavyweight in Asia. In the 1870s and 1880s while Japan was building its military strength and expertise, Hirobumi favored a compromise and diplomatic caution with respect to the Korea problem. Another reason for this stance was that he didn’t want to jeopardize the goal of abolishing unequal treaties with the West, because of an aggressive stance.

During this time, Japan was building its military strength through adoption of German system of military schools, including curricula, as well as the German divisional structure, with organic artillery support. Even the Army Ministry was re-organized along German lines. Japan also realized the importance of naval superiority and sought help of Great Britain – the dominant naval power of the day. This included warships built by British Shipyards.

By the mid 1890s, Japan’s military strength had reached western standards and Itō Hirobumi ’s foreign minister Mutsu Munemitsu had successfully negotiated the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of 1894, removing some of the onerous unequal treaty clauses that had plagued Japan for a long time.

The time was now right for Japan to establish its military superiority over the region and Itō Hirobumi as Premier, led Japan into a war with China. Japan achieved a decisive victory in this war. Itō Hirobumi, along with foreign minister Mutsu Munemitsu negotiated the Treaty of Shimonoseki – China recognized the independence of Korea and renounced any claims to that country. It also ceded the island of Formosa (Taiwan). China also agreed to pay Japan a war indemnity of 200 million Kuping taels, payable over seven years. Most notable was the signing of a commercial treaty similar to ones previously signed by China with various western powers in the aftermath of the First and Second Opium Wars. This commercial treaty confirmed the opening of various ports and rivers to Japanese trade.

The victory signaled Japan’s emergence as the dominant East Asian power. It also marked the point at which Japanese foreign policy began to emphasize Western-style territorial and economic/commercial expansion.

Itō Hirobumi was a brilliant strategist and an opportune planner. He had strong mastery of the English language which he used very effectively in negotiations with the Western powers. He followed a very results oriented execution style which is reflected in one of his famous quotes – “Even if you succeed in study and business, if your nation collapses, then what good is it for?”

 

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Los Angeles Herald reports death of Itō Hirobumi