The government of India recently engaged MB Interim Leaders to provide an Operations and Supply Chain executive for the Taj Mahal. The project: improve operational efficiency and tourism, increase revenue from entrance, transportation, guide fees and impulse retail purchases. Having previously used MB Interim to procure an entertainment exec to drive their “Bollywood Goes Hollywood” campaign, they were confident that we could be of help.

Our Interim Leader conducted his due diligence by simulating a foreign tourist’s experience. He hired a driver in New Delhi to make the six hour journey to the Taj Mahal. The driver’s high-speed weaving between cars, rickshaws, motorcycles with entire families aboard (sans helmets), dogs, cows and the occasional water buffalo, can only be compared to a video game for adrenaline junkies.

Here is the new process a visitor now experiences based on his recommendations: Upon arriving at the parking entrance on the outskirts of the grounds, a government tour guide will offer his services. Since your travel book strongly suggests hiring a guide and this gent is the only guide around and his fee will be 100% at your discretion, you’ll quickly agree and set off to one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Your next decision will be how to get from the parking lot to the entrance. Your first option is a camel-drawn cart, which has the advantage of costing 50 cents and providing a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. The downside is that it’s a camel-drawn cart. Behind door #2: a rickshaw (bicycle with a two-seater carriage); double the price, but still only $1.00 and eliminates any chance of getting hit with projectile camel dung, which would dampen your overall experience. Option #3 is an auto rickshaw. All you need to know about this is that it includes a motor. Four dollars and three minutes later, you’ll be at the entrance.

Acknowledging the significant income disparity between the average Indian and foreign tourist, there are separate entrance fees: 40 cents vs. $17.00, but your 17 bucks includes a bottle of water; significant in 95° heat when beverages are otherwise prohibited. Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out the logic behind the policy of not providing water to Indian tourists.

Your first view of the Taj Mahal will likely cause you to exclaim the name of whatever deity you believe in. The Bengali poet Tagore referred to it as “a teardrop on the face of eternity”. It was built by Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his favorite wife who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Her death devastated him (not to mention her), so he commissioned construction, completed 22 years later in 1653. The Shah then began construction of a colossal black mausoleum next to the Taj Mahal for his own remains.

One of the Shah’s younger sons who was not heir to the throne, resented that his father committed so much wealth to these projects. He also resented his older brother, who was to inherit the family empire. The second construction project proved too much for the younger son to bear. He killed his brother and seized power from his father. (If there isn’t an HBO pilot in the works, there should be.) Anyway, the ambitious new emperor imprisoned his father who, according to folklore, spent his remaining days holding a mirror out of his cell window to stare at his wife’s tomb. He was eventually buried next to her.

Your guide will give a comprehensive lesson on marble, of which the Taj Mahal is constructed. Coincidentally, he will also caution you to beware enterprising retailers at the exit selling poor quality gifts made of limestone, not marble. He then leads you off the grounds, not via the main exit (where you entered) but through a deserted, dark, back-alley labyrinth that will have you reaching for your spouse with one hand and your Swiss Army knife with the other. Since both would likely be useless if something bad were to go down, it’s for the best that you suddenly return to lights and people…and store after store of the low-end shops you were warned about. Your guide accelerates past them, making a beeline into a high-end, air-conditioned boutique with an American Express sticker in the window.

One hour later, you exit, holding your genuine marble Taj Mahal replica, saris (traditional Indian attire) for the special women in your life, although they will never wear them to anything other than that masquerade party fundraiser that your brother-in-law roped you into buying tickets to; and if you’re a particularly ambitious shopper, you’ll also leave with a receipt for the 6’ x 10’ hand-made rug that you’re shipping home.

With a slightly broader grin, your guide leads you back to the same auto rickshaw that dropped you off. Amid the frenzy of people and vehicles in the massive dirt parking lot, your Delhi driver pulls up to your rickshaw. How? Since you will refuse to use your cell phone and incur egregious roaming charges, your guide and driver seamlessly coordinated a rendezvous point. You tip your guide more than the recommended amount on the official tourist guide card he showed you. Another satisfied customer.

Okay, the Indian government didn’t really hire MB Interim Leaders and the “Bollywood Goes Hollywood” tagline only exists in my imagination (but it’s catchy, right)? All humor aside, I showcased the “Taj Mahal Supply Chain” not just because I recently visited with my wife and was overwhelmed by the edifice. I was also impressed by the simple, yet effective process that enables millions of tourists to experience this humbling teardrop, while providing employment and income for many hard-working locals.

As the prevailing economic climate continues to challenge U.S. companies to maintain or even increase performance with fewer resources and weaker demand, I considered how the Taj Mahal strategy might be applied locally:

  1. Know your stuff – whatever your stuff is. Be able to clearly communicate it to anyone.
  2. Provide clients with choices and the opportunity for discounts.
  3. Be innovative with pricing and terms but be fair.
  4. Provide customized service.
  5. It’s okay to instill a little fear in your clients. As long as no one gets hurt, it builds trust.
  6. It’s okay to speak ill of your competition if your marble really is better.
  7. Use MB Interim Leaders to strengthen your organization. (I couldn’t resist the shameless plug.)
  8. When anyone visits your office, always offer them something to drink.

India is a complex country with abject poverty and significantly lower median incomes than many other nations but is the world’s #2 software manufacturer and its economy is on track to soon eclipse England’s. It is wrought with contradiction, and I’m glad I experienced it. Strangely though, ever since my wife and I got back, she keeps muttering something about turning my man-cave, uh, I mean my home office, into some sort of shrine…