Recently I attended a meeting to plan the “World Conference on Ancient Wisdom in Management”. The conference was to be organized by a person who has lot of media connections and connections at high places. He appropriately chose a CEO of a large company to be the Chairman for the conference. The CEO also has a lot of contacts and at high places.  He seems to have been quite excited by this conference and has even donated a good sum of money to make it happen. He strongly believed in the need for and use of such a conference. He believed that we have a lot to learn from our own ancient wisdom and the modern management Gurus should know that all that they have been talking is already there in Vedas and Upanishads. The larger world must know. He thought very genuinely that this conference would help Indian managers to save a lot of their investments on foreign consultants and also bring to the notice of world wide management experts would get to know about Indian values.

Finally on the meeting day there were about 40 persons whoa attended the meeting. All luminaries in the field of ancient wisdom came. Some of them CEOs, some other management Gurus, and most of who is who in management were there. The meeting was in Mumbai and about 50% of them were from Mumbai. The meeting lasted for a full three hours (180 minutes) and closed with lunch. Of the 180 minutes I found the Chairman speaking for nearly 40% of the time. He had to respond to each comment made by the committee members. This is what normally all chairman of committees and task forces do. They think that the main responsibility of the coordinator or chairman is to initiate the meeting, explain the agenda, raise or sort out controversies etc. So our chairman spoke for nearly 40 to 50 minutes (you may wonder how 40 to 50 minutes of the time constitute 40% of 180 minutes. The rest of the time is for pleasantries, tea break and introductions of members. I have deducted this time in my calculations). It looked as though the Chairman called all the select luminaries to listen to him and his ideas than to get ideas. I barely got three minutes to speak. And so were most of my other fellow invitees for that meeting. If you simply divide the effective time of about 120 minutes out of these 180 minutes by 40 it would work out to be about 3 minutes. If you are a demanding speaker you may get about 9 three to four transactions and about seven to eight minutes. Otherwise about four to five minutes on an average. Some members never get an opportunity to speak. Special invitees like me are invited to speak and get drawn in even if we don’t speak.

I spent my own money to attend this meeting s this CEO is good friend of mine and I did not want to offend him as his office called me repeatedly to attend the meeting. I have paid nearly Rs. 6,000 for my air travel and  a conservative estimate my time is valued at Rs. 10,000 at least per day. I spent Rs 7,000 directly including the taxi fares and  another Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 30,000 (at a conservative estimate of my per day salary costs to my company to Consultancy fee a normal IIM professor is  charging at that time) and all to make a three minute speech and to listen to my CEO friend. The conclusion of the discussion was to appoint another Conference Committee which will work out the agenda and speakers for the conference. I was asked to be the advisor for this conference which I politely refused.

Now calculate that on an average each person who attended this meeting for half a day would have cost to their respective companies collectively; On very conservative estimate every single individual in the group drew more salary than me and would have cost to his company the time of Rs. 10,000 and if half of them paid their airfare at again a conservative cost of Rs. 5,000 per head and only 20 of them traveled to reach Mumbai it is another Rs 1, 00,000.

Thus my estimate of this large meeting cost is:

Salary costs: 40 x Rs. 10,000 = 400,000 (opportunity cost of the time for these people will be at least three to four times = 16 Lakhs of rupees.)

Travel costs of 20 persons X 5,000= 1, 00,000

So the meeting cost at lest Rs 5 lakhs to 15 lakhs. Who paid for this? If all of us in the team donated half a day to a day of ours and offered an Executive development program we could have offered twenty one day programs in Mumbai on Ancient wisdom and taught in each program five lakhs of rupees if appropriately priced and earned a crore of rupees with a capable organizer like Mr. K. K. Nair of Ahmedabad management association. If not a crore at least forty lakhs of rupees. That is the opportunity cost of planning a conference with large participation.

Not the conference not the person who invited the people. All this to listen 40% of the time to chairman and share five minute wisdom with each other. The Chairman is proud and happy at his capacity to mobilize 40 people at a short notice. The organizer is happy that he ahs a support of 40 luminaries for his conference and in the end there is a task force to take the conference forward. My way of looking at this is that there is many other ways o doing the same. With this money at lest hundred adults could have become literate or at least twenty students could have had their school fee paid for the entire five year term or five MBAs could have been produced and or a five hundred patients could have got their treatment in the hospitals free of cost or a thousand hungry men could have been fed for a day or lakh of test books could have been distributed to poor students.

But we are not going to do that> who says India is a poor country. Poor people don’t waste their time like this?

I don’t believe any more in attending meetings as I have seen in the very body I founded and nurtured every quarter the top team of twenty to thirty meets to review the progress of the society. They spend a day, have bonhomie’s. Their companies meet their costs and at the end every one returns home feeling that they had a great meeting and the local host did a great job of hosting the meeting. Who pay for it? Their respective companies.

I only wish our fellow citizens become more aware of how they are spending other people’s money.

Every time you attend a meeting next you should ask the following questions?

How much am I spending?

Whose money?

For what purpose?

Who is the beneficiary?

Can the same thing be done with low cost and with the same or even better effects?

Be honest to your self!!!

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