Oct 19, 2005

Tom acknowledges Ram Charan

You might think that in the rarefied universe of management gurus, jealousy and backbiting would be rife (I mean, how many people could afford their fees, anyway)

So it comes as a pleasant surprise when Tom Peters calls Ram Charan a "strategy uber-guru".

And here is one of the more brilliant pieces of writing on the elusive Ram Charan by the best magazine for business readers, Fast Company.

He does not own a home--or even rent one--has no nuclear family or significant material possessions, and he has his assistants FedEx his clean clothes to him. He doesn't play golf or vie for the best tables at power lunch spots. Irresistibly drawn to the corporate world's danger zones, he is in perpetual motion, working for the largest and most powerful companies seven days a week, 365 days a year. Most people would call such an existence bizarre, but for Charan, it's the ideal life. "I tell you, I am a lucky man," he says, brown eyes sparkling like his ever-present cuff links. "I get to do what I love to do."

What Charan loves to do--what he has concluded is his life's purpose--is to solve business problems. With his plainspoken, Socratic approach, he helps demolish organizational silos or persuade entrenched executives to change their points of view.

Unlike most consultants, he has no Web site, newsletter, or marketing team. His business comes by word-of-mouth referrals. "He is an Indian guru who found that consulting was his life's calling," says Noel Tichy, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan who has worked with Charan for more than 20 years.

Charan, 64, has become an indispensable right-hand man for hundreds of top managers. After Jeffrey Immelt took over from Jack Welch as CEO of General Electric, for example, the first outside person he turned to for advice was Charan. Equally telling, he serves as a minister without portfolio; companies seek him out for his "wise man" approach rather than choosing a consultant with a narrow specialty in reengineering or organizational behavior. He's considered such an asset, in fact, that many of his clients are willing to do something that's awfully rare in the executive suite: to publicly acknowledge a consultant and give him the credit for helping them change their companies. "Ram will take an idea and make it better," says John C. Hodgson, executive vice president at DuPont, which has been working with Charan in different capacities for close to 15 years. "I use him as a sounding board. I value his thinking, his creativity, and his unbiased view of the world."