Great companies take the surplus cash flows created by their sustainable competitive advantages and then either return those to shareholders or reinvest those in their core franchise or - and this is the litmus test of greatness - reinvest those successfully in new activities or markets

"Unusual Billionaires", by Saurabh Mukherjea, is an unusually riveting & practical thesis. It is a collection of stories of brilliant companies that made their dent in the world by continuously innovating, providing great service, and building powerful teams & stable assets. It teaches us the unconventional yet core fundamental process of sustainably building great companies amidst this era of venture-backed rocketship dreams.

In this blog I'll be listing snippets from the book, that teach us all, the values of how great companies our built and share my thoughts on the same.  In this market of the recession of fly-high crashes of crypto exchanges, the gloom of overpowering AI agents & plummeting stock prices, I think we can all take a page out of these learnings & realize how lasting services are created.

Asian paints

  1. Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice. ~ Jim Collins (Good to great)
  2. An empire that cannot sustain a blow and remain standing is not really an empire ~ Yuval Nova Harari
  3. A great company attracts the best talent, commands respect in the business community and, more often than not, trades at a premium in the stock market
  4. Greatness is meant to be an enduring quality. Stock prices are an effect and not a cause of a company’s greatness
  5. Metrics in a great company
  6. Revenue growth of 10% and ROCE of 15% every year for non-financial services companies
  7. Loan book growth of 15% and ROE of 15% every year for financial services companies
  8. “We have consciously stuck to a sector which is growing and offers decent potential and have always strived for excellence across all functional areas. But it is not because somebody is observing us and is going to applaud us. We have just stuck to our knitting sensibly as the sector has evolved over decades - Jalaj Dani (promoter)
  9. By obsessively using tech and talent to improve on internal processes and efficiencies, these companies put considerable distance between themselves and the competitions. In particular, this focus on efficiency and cost reduction helps the champion companies sustain high levels of profitability in a way that most of their rivals simply can’t match
  10. Create and nurture an environment in which a multitude of talented minds work in harmony so that mutual competence is reinforcing rather than debilitating
  11. IBAS framework - Innovation, Brands & rep, architecture, strategic assets
  12. Innovation - shopkeeper would get 3.5% extra discount, if, without fail, he made payments on time throughout the year. adoption of computers & GPS
  13. Brands & rep - Asian Paints changed their messaging to maintain an emotional connection with their target audience. Thus came the brand ambassador of a mischievous kid with a can of paint (name - “Gattu”)
  14. Architecture - Creating a truly independent board of directors to help shape evolution of the firm. Rapid career progression for those who perform with job rotation at reg. intervals.
  15. Empowerment allows creativity. It’s about the feeling of being a family - Jalaj Dani
  16. Strategic assets - sources of competitive advantages - intellectual property, licences, regulatory permissions, access to natural resources and natural monopolies
  17. On the trust Asian paints built - “50% of dealers won’t check their accounts, despite having access to a web portal which gives them real time updates on their accounts”


The most difficult thing to change at a company is to change its people

Don’t recruit someone who is not able to do a job, just to fill a vacancy. Secondly, even if we don’t have a job, but you come across the right person, you must recruit him

In FY13, talent and skill are increasingly becoming scarce and it requires considerable effort to identify, engage and retain such talents. The report also added that salary alone is not the criteria for satisfaction of deserving employees and that the firm needs to offer a participative work environment and an open culture


  1. I strongly believe that culture can be a source of competitive advantage in an org and it is impossible to copy. The org’s culture is a major driving force in the execution of strategy. Correct culture helps in proper execution of strategy by helping everyone align on the same page (Mariwala)
  2. A promoter supporting and listening to the board, although being a 60 percent shareholder, makes indep directors feel proud because we think that we are able to contribute to Marico. These things don’t reflect directly on the balance sheet, P&L or share price, but these are inputs which go into creation of long-term shareholder wealth


  1. Many companies justify risking balance sheet & profits for fueling growth. However, Page has maintained steadfast financial discipline whilst expanding its operations and at the same time, its share prices have also kept up an upward trend
  2. ‘Our managers understand that it’s not about having power but about how you empower your subordinates & bring about the best results from your team members. Hence each member behaves like a leader and that gives us a winning culture - Sunder Genomal
  3. ‘From day one, Mr Genomal has pushed us into adopting a process-oriented approach. Almost everything we do at Page is part of an Excel sheet.
  4. ‘We want to keep our distributors’ balance sheets healthy because our business is dependent on their finances. If they have the wrong inventory stuck with them, it neither helps us nor them
  5. Even the core projects will not be taken up unless they promise an ROCE of atleast 20%

Axis bank

  1. Hemant Kaul on Supriya Gupta - My offer letter from Axis Bank had no details about compensation. But the temptation to start a new bank with Gupta overshadowed all my inhibitions - On joining Axis
  2. “When you’re in a commodity business, the only way to thrive is to be a low-cost producer. And when you’re selling money, you’re in a commodity business - Duff McDonald
  3. Shikha Sharma - I advise other companies’ CEOs not to fall into the trap where you go - Where’s the growth? Where’s the growth? Where’s the growth - They feel a tremendous pressure to grow. Well, sometimes you can’t grow. Sometimes you don’t want to grow. In certain businesses, growth means you either take on bad clients, excess risk or too much leverage - Jamie Dimon (CEO of JPMC)
  4. The shift from people to processes was critical as the bank was moving away from reliance on corporate banking to retail banking (which needs very high use of data & analytics based decision making to grow the business whilst maintaining commercial viability
  5. This operating structure makes the CEO of a pvt bank both less powerful than a promoter of a non-bank company but more influential than the CEO of a non-bank company (pg 209)
  6. Employee policies are very consistent at Axis Bank and there is little ambiguity and subjectivity in the pay hikes and bonuses. All supervisors have to clearly explain the ratings they assign to their subordinates - something that decides pay rise, promotion & bonus. You won’t find this in other pvt sector banks, where a lot of randomness prevails in salary hikes, bonuses & promotions where lower rated employees have got higher bonuses

HDFC bank

  1. Building a visionary company requires 1% vision & 99% alignment - Jim Collins
  2. An org’s ability to learn & translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage - Jack Welch
  3. HDFC Bank’s strength rests not so much on the uniqueness of tech it uses but in the way that tech is lined up in a clever process flow i.e. not envisaged by other banks.
  4. Strong focus on systems & procedures meant that the people who succeeded them did not find it difficult to take over responsibilities quickly


  1. We came to a point where our day to day business was to just survive. Sandeep Engineer
  2. We had to build scale. We made the market for CPVC in India and if we didn’t increase capacities aggressively, someone else would have borne the fruit of our hard work. Sandeep Engineer
  3. Instead of copying foreign technologies, Engineer forged technical partnerships with global majors to launch innovative products in India
  4. His biggest strength is simplicity and humility. There has been no change in his personality even after the manifold growth of Astral. He still drinks tea from a roadside stall along with his dealers
  5. Engineer would tell plumbers not to see themselves as plumbers, but as doctors who treat the big problem of leaking pipes in homes

Greatness is not Everyone’s Cup of Tea

  1. Strategy is about making smart choices and execution is about relentless implementation ~ Phil Rosenzweig
  2. The business of business is a lot of little decisions every day mixed up with a few big decisions ~ Tom Murphy
  3. Those who achieve long-lasting success in India are often those who are unflashy , introverted, determined, and intelligently tenacious
  4. Rahul Dravid’s of the business world - rare, determined and constantly seeking to improve the edge or the advantage they enjoy vis-a-vis their competitors
  5. What makes a great company:
  6. Theme A - Focus on the long term (more than ten years) without being distracted by short-term gambles
  7. Theme B - Constantly deepen the moat around the core franchise using the IBAS framework
  8. Theme C - Sensibly allocate capital whilst studiously avoiding betting the balance sheet on expensive and unrelated forays
  9. Ability to steadfastly focus on doing the same thing for decades on end whilst gradually strengthening their franchise, generating surplus cash from that endeavour and then giving much of that back to shareholders whilst reinvesting the rest judiciously
  10. Ram Charan - Leaders who say “I have got ten priorities” don’t know what they’re talking about
  11. Jim Collins(Great by Choice, 2011) - 20 Mile March requires hitting specified performance markers with great consistency over a long period of time. It requires 2 distinct types of discomfort, delivering high performance in difficult times and holding back in good times
  12. Good management teams work on proving a concept before investing a lot of capital. They are not likely to put a lot of money in all at once, hoping for a big payoff - Michael Shearn
  13. Firstly, diversifications if any, are consciously restrained, instead of breaking or stretching the balance sheet. Secondly, surplus cash, when available, is returned to shareholders when in can’t be effectively deployed without dragging the ROCE down sharply. Whilst all of this might sound straightforward, these axioms are rarely implemented by Indian promoters who all too often treat their listed companies as their personal fiefdoms and short-change the minority shareholders
  14. A company’s profitability increases as it moves up the value addition chain
  15. Competitive advantage - if value added is the difference between the cost of a company’s inputs and that of its output, then competitive advantage allows a company to add more value than its rivals. Furthermore, a sustainable competitive advantage enables a company to continue sustaining this extra value addition over long periods of time
  16. Unless innovation becomes a process which a firm lives day in and day out, the firm will appear impressive initially, and then ultimately disappoint. A product can be quickly outdated, but a successful brand is timeless