How Small is Big Enough

Not all SMEs are similar in their world view, their history and their ambition. And not everyone wants to remain small or medium just so that they can be treated with kid gloves

Ravi Kiran
Updated: Dec 30, 2011 01:10:57 PM UTC

As a child, I used to wonder where mosquitoes in winter hide, why fish keep swimming, how birds learn to fly and other such 'un-natural' occurrences. After a career in marketing & communications for over 20 years, building and running businesses of excellent sizes and in many a geography, hiring and training dozens of successful managers, I continue to be aggressively curious about beings and things. In 2011, I co-founded Friends of Ambition, a Business Growth Platform for Middle India. It works with growth-minded businesses in Middle India and helps them professionalize their operations, build internal capability and become agile. Our focus on Middle India [a.k.a Tier 2 towns] stems from a strong conviction that the next several decades of explosive business growth in India will come from that geography. As I often find myself in cities and towns I might have only heard of just a few months ago, meet business owners there and hear their stories, dreams and challenges, I feel a sense of elation and sadness, sometimes simultaneously. This blog is a chronicle of my experiences in Middle India - mostly gleaned from real life encounters with business owners, their influencers and well wishers.

The favorite phrase the world uses to describe businesses which have not yet reached a certain size is SME, sometimes referred to as SMB, the Small and Medium Enterprises. World over, Governments and industry associations take extra care to nurture such businesses through regulatory support, exposure through training and workshops, and financing. That’s the good part of being an ‘SME’.



Then there is the part that many businesses find a tad insulting. This is what I started discovering as I started a very interesting and ongoing field trip to understand businesses in India’ Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns, beginning January 2011. First thing that hit me is that not all SMEs are similar in their world view, their history and their ambition. And not everyone wants to remain small or medium just so that they can be treated with kid gloves.

It’s a simple observation, but if you sit down and think about it, the underlying issue is quite inspiring and sometimes, disturbing. While there are a lot of advantages to being small in size, businesses which have a real big ambition, somehow don’t feel flattered being called SME. They would rather be big, employ hundreds and thousands of people, drive great social value in the communities in which they live and create a legacy the future generations will be proud of. While collectively they are lauded for their contribution to GDP and employment, individually they are mostly treated with a tone of patronization and condescension.

Years ago, the small or medium entrepreneur didn’t mind that, partly because his ambition was limited. That world is no more. Ambition has a new meaning and a new address today and the earlier we recognize it, the better for our common good.

Some people say, “what’s in a name?” In my view, a lot. No matter what your child’s height, how would you like it if his friends call him ‘shorty’?


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