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Showing posts from August, 2008

India Meets The World

I am travelling for the first time in three months and my first flight - Gatwick to Dubai - was usual, tiring and boring. I saw two movies and listened through two audiobooks! One of them was Grassroots Management, a feel-good business book which tells the story of a fictional garden and explains how tp create an innovative, involved workplace. It is okay to listen to - the production and all that was good - but hardly makes a new revealation. I also did A Tale of Two Cities, just to explain how boring the last part of the flight was, and saw a movie called 88 minutes, a complex thriller starring Al Pacino. However, it is indeed the other movie - Outsourced - that I intended to write about.

I liked the movie, and I shall suggest anyone involved in outsourcing, or who has any part to play in making the world flat, should see it. It was a story of an American salesman, Todd, whose department gets outsourced to India and he comes to the country to train the new agents. It is Todd's Di…

Singur: Where Do I stand?

RatanTata today expressed his dismay in Kolkata on the ongoing violence and agitation in Singur, the village outside Calcutta where Tata Motors is building a factory to make world's cheapest car - Nano. It is a big decision for Tata Motors, and I am sure they will consider all aspects and pull out only if the project is completely unworkable. This is a big moment for West Bengal too - the state of India I come from - as a pull-out will land a significant blow on the state's future prospects of inviting investment and development. It is a moment to decide, which side one's in, even if someone is as distant as I am. However, it isn't easy to take sides, considering the issues and personalities involved, and this is why so many Bengalis worldwide are in a state of confusion over this issue.

Let me explain. At about $2500, TataNano cars are bound to change the urban middle class of India - their consumption pattern, the way they shop and ultimately they think about their li…

Day 67: Starting to Make Sense

Some time back, in fact exactly 66 days ago, I charted out a 100 day journey. At that time, I ran out of my visa to stay in the UK and needed an extension. I was just back from a business trip and that being the 80th day of travel in just 4 months, I was tired and exhausted. I did not have any plans for future then - and not even a plan for the present. I was not completely satisfied with my work, but did not have any idea what I want to do about it.

My aim - to be achieved in 100 days - was simple. I needed to restore focus in my life. Migrant life is always pulled to different directions, not least by the frequent changes in the government policy. I came to Britain four years back without any clear ideas about what I wanted to do, and while I moved up and did something better every year, I did not achieve any greater clarity towards what I wish to do in the end. So, my day's work was often fragmented - doing little pieces of work without having any idea whether they are going to …

The Education Salesman

I have spent most of my working life selling education and I sure want to get out of it when I get the first chance. I do not mean I hate it - I quite love it. However, I have done it for last 15 years day in and day out, and the truth is - I am bored. Yes, I do get bored quite easily, but don't think anyone can blame me for being bored with a job after 15 years. I had my variety - worked in different countries and sold different things - IT Diplomas to Management Training to English Language Certification now. However, the point is selling education always seems to have a pattern, some sort of a formula, which gets repeated regardless of country or type of education.
Let me explain. Let's take this great myth of QUALITY in education. Every institution talks about great/unique/world-class quality of education. I am not doubting that quality plays a great role in education, and some institutions do a far better job than others. But I am a humble salesman, and from that point of …

Should Our Business Have a Blog?

I am still on the subject of blogs, though my life has become considerably busier. I am all set to travel next week - I have missed all the bank holidays except one this year and going to miss the one in August too - and getting back to travelling habit is a bit of work. But, one of the things I address while in India is the question of a new website - not just the one for our Indian business but also the whole website family for our company - which I am supposed to build. So, my studies about blogging are not too much off the mark, we need to take some quick decisions on this.

The first of these questions, indeed, is whether we should consider blogging at all. One may reasonably feel that one needs to move sequentially - first get a decent website up. The extreme point of thinking is that blogging may actually be a marketing fad, which will not last long as the recession bites. In fact, despite spending countless hours on writing this blog, I think such thinkers may actually have a po…

About Business Blogging

I am reading Blog Rules, a best practises handbook for business blogging. The book is indeed useful, at least in answering some of the key questions I had in mind. For example, why blog for business? I have always found this blog an wonderful platform to talk openly and honestly about my life and feelings. Though I would have made occasional comments on my employment and the project I am involved in, the same candour was impossible to achieve.This isn't just because of any rules laid out by my company. As far as I know, my employers are yet to set any policy for blogging. However, business is a social activity and it is impossible to exclude information about other people and their work if one has to talk about the workplace. And, while one can be candid about themselves [or engage in a 'blind conversation'], it is immoral to do so involving other people.However, indeed, blogs are important for business. This is just because they are an important communication medium today…

Where Do I Go From Here

My career is at a crossroad right now. Or, so I feel.

I have spent exactly 15 years doing various things - mostly in education business and mostly setting up franchise networks. My roles, well mostly, as it is today, involved helping independent entrepreneurs setting up training centres in small towns and villages in South Asia. So, this meant doing everything from sales to managing human resource, managing finance to writing contracts. Like small businesses do. Watching over everything, being careful - lest the business slip out of control. And, being able to be optimistic, dream about things and believing in the greater purpose of the business - changing lives and whole towns as a consequence - was an essential part of the job.

I must admit that I took my job seriously, possibly a little too seriously. I lived and breathed my job. I was fairly good - this is possibly because I had enormous respect for those entrepreneurs who ran these education centres and made things possible. I know…

The World According To .. ME

Interesting times, these. Only a year back, the British Chancellor was talking about the 'longest uninterrupted period of prosperity' since the war. It was only twenty years when the Cold War was finally over, and the supremacy of United States was completely established. Only four years back, American public believed that George Bush can indeed make America a safer place and put him back in office. Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history - the human civilization reaching its highest form.

But, in 2008, we are staring at a different world altogether. Under George W Bush, America started believing that they have won the cold war and went out to shape the world in their own terms. And failed. Like all great empires before them, they overestimated their power and stretched themselves thin. They walked into a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lost the moral superiority and the hallow of the winner, which they needed to sustain the global empire. They forgot, like other gr…

Day 59: Whatever Happened So Far

I started writing a diary and then got diverted. That's me - can't complain - this is why, my teachers would have told you, I remained an underachiever in school. I am entertaining myself thinking that I have an adolescent streak.
The thought invariably flatters me as I am getting old. But, anyway, as I always found a justification, I wrote about Georgia, Creative Capitalism and everything else as if they are part of my life. In a way, they are, but let's face it - I was bored.
I was bored being out of action. I was bored sitting at home, while my passport sat on a long queue at the Home Office waiting to be stamped for two months. This time was useful - no doubt - I got those few days to pause and think what I am doing. However, I run a business, for someone else, in some other country. Or, countries. My head office is in Northern Ireland, I sit in London, and the business I am supposed to run are in India and other places. Without a passport, it seemed I did not have a jo…

Creative Capitalism

Bill Gates spoke about 'Creative Capitalism' in Davos and recently wrote about this, at length, in TIME. [see How to fix Capitalism].
The idea is essentially to pick up opportunities of business among the poor, in poorer countries. Gates is influenced deeply by Prahalad's work on Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, the key premises of which is that businesses tend to overlook the huge economic potential of the low-income countries and low-income consumers. This is because the existing business thinking - the framework of risks and returns, for example - can not estimate the potential of such consumers. Prahalad cites a number of examples from Business Strategies of multinationals - of Cemex, ITC, Hindustan Lever and the like - to show how companies can turn this unexplored 'bottom of the pyramid' market to an enormous opportunity. Obviously, Prahalad's vision of this opportunity is its sheer size - that is why the 'bottom of the pyramid' imagery - and…

Georgia : Does It Matter?

At the time of writing, Russian bombers are still bombing Georgia and United Nations in currently discussing the crisis. It is expected that the security council will call for an immediate ceasefire, if it can get past a possible Russian veto. The civilian casualties are rising - so there is indeed an urgent need to do something. However, is this important - given that there is Beijing Olympics and US Presidential Election around the corner - to be counted as the most significant news at this moment?

Georgians certainly need all the help they can from the international community. Russian Military superiority is overwhelming. Russia is, of course, interested in teaching Georgia a lesson and from the recent interview Mikhail Saakasvili gave to CNN, it seems they don't have much time left before their military is wiped out. Of course, Georgia has offered a ceasefire to Russia, and obviously Russia isn't interested at this time, when they are winning the war.

What will the world do?…

What is happening to THE CUSTOMER

Remember the Customer Revolution? The lofty corporate announcements that customer is king? And always right. The lovely things said about quality, the great commitments made towards customer service and the theories about the loyalty effect - the way to continued business survival through loving thy customer.

The fact is that most companies forget the poor customer first whenever there is an economic downturn. He still pays the bill, yes, but it seems that whenever whatever hits the fan, he is asked to mop up. It is 'counter-intuitive' - indeed it is. That's the problem of seeing the world through numbers and contract codes - they were not on Noah's boat, we forget!

Consider this. This August, the holiday season is already looking grim in the UK. Mortgage approvals are at half their last year levels, and home repossessions have doubled. Inflation is 4%, double their target levels, Petrol is £1.19 a litre - up from 85p same time last year, and recession is more than a the…

A Future for Kolkata

I wrote about various disappointments with Kolkata, and how the lack of political leadership has dragged the city, and also the state of West Bengal, into the current state of hopelessness that it is in. However, as I said earlier, it is imperative that Kolkata changes and progresses, as this will be critical to bring change in the poorest parts of India, and in the neighbouring countries too.

I talk about neighbouring countries here, because I do think national boundaries essentially distort our perspectives. I was explaining to someone yesterday how, when we talk about ancient India, we refer to great emperors of Ujjain and Kanauj, some of which are little more than city states in size. My essential point was how our perception of space changes with the advances in transportation and communication technology. As an extension of this thought, I think Nation is a very 19th century concept, which is past its prime, and we are moving towards a world of opposites, great regional clusters …

Recounting Kolkata's Past - How we got there

Yesterday, I wrote rather flippantly about Kolkata. I was not thinking, but I was happy and feeling light, particularly after finishing a few tasks which was sitting on my to-do list for ages. However, I did not know I was touching a few raw nerves there. At least one person reminded me that it hurts to be reminded that Kolkata has fallen so far behind. Another mused that everyone knows that Kolkata needs a future, but there isn't one - it missed the boat. A friend complained that I stated something that I did not justify - how to turn around Kolkata.

I shall keep this for tomorrow. Because, before that, we need to talk about how we got into this current mess in the first place. I do think that the politics is primarily responsible - as politics plays such a central part in life in India and it is one of the least professionalized (I don't mean in money terms) disciplines. However, it is plain to see that West Bengal, and Kolkata, lost out the promise it had at the time of Indi…

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