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Showing posts from January, 2009

Argos Exits India

Argos - the leading British retailer - has now decided to exit India. Argos had a limited presence in India, six shops in Mumbai suburbs. In fact, many people did not even know that Argos had a presence in India, and their decision to exit will go largely unnoticed. However, there is some significance of this announcement for the British businesses looking to go into India.

The conventional wisdom is that Argos is following the path of other British retailers, who are closing down underperforming operations abroad to focus on home operations in this troubled times. Tesco has decided to go slow on its United States expansion and Marks & Spencer is having trouble in China. DSG is pulling the plug on its slow moving Italian operation and trying to concentrate back at home. Argos' decision to exit India, which will mean 'single digit' million pound loss for the chain's owner, Home Retail group, will largely be seen in the light of these experiences.

However, with a close…

Comments About Slumdog Millionaire Before I Have Seen It

I have not seen Slumdog Millionaire, but I am already being compelled to comment on it.

This is because it seems to be such a decent movie, but the critics are after it already. It seems to have shown India as a Third World Underbelly - which Amitabh Bachchan quoted, unquestioningly as he does, on his blog. This is already making a quite a bit of noise everywhere, and as you can see, I picked this up on facebook.

This post isn't about the movie, obviously. I haven't even seen it. But this is about this particular line of criticism, which we have heard before - almost every time a good movie was made about India.

What we seem to love is Ghajini, obviously, one that allows us to keep forgetting things. We love the fantasy of Lagaan, the comedy of Singh is King and all the impossible sets and incredible dresses. We love those soaps where people have sanskritized names, sleep with party dresses on and behave like animals as far as their conjugal lives are concerned.

I saw Indians pro…

Day 11: What Does BBC Stand For

I am still struggling - there are far too many things to complete before I go again, and it is only 36 hours away. My fault, surely - I am trying to live as normal a life as possible, when I am travelling three weeks a month. When today the electrical connections went down, I thought I sort of reached a nadir - but then that's the time you start picking yourself up and see what you can do. That's what I have done yet again - the last 10 days was extremely difficult, my car's frozen, all the regular payments due, my expense claims not filed, my computer crashing, my email account out, and now electricity - but then I think that's all and wondering what else can go wrong. The bottom, is the correct expression, so I am feeling optimistic yet again.

I am still working on the Mumbai agreement. This is one thing about India, negotiations never stop. I am sure some people believe that this is the best way to get value, but definitely not in my view. I am actually getting an in…

Day 10: Rethinking the Indian Republic

I got used to the greeting - Happy Republic Day. This is a new trend, I would not recall being greeted with this ten years back, but something has caught on since then. I would be tempted to think that we Indians have become more conscious about the republic, but may not be so - it is more like Happy Diwali and Happy New Year perhaps.

However, as we return again to our Happy Republic Day, it is important to look back to ourselves, and also our constitution, that unusally long document which wanted to say what we ought to be. It was adopted by our leaders full of hope, who wanted to govern India as a modern country. They were ambitious, otherwise who will talk about universal adult suffarage in a country of millions of poor, landless and illiterate; they spoke about secularism in an ancient land, where daily lives are governed by traditions and beliefs; and they believed in socialism while the riches of the country was mostly concentrated. They wanted to forge an united identity, above …

Seeing Through The Bad Times

Jim Collins is researching how companies respond to downturns, and he speaks his mind in the current issue of Fortune. He is obviously researching great companies and he is looking at this with the perspective of History.

Bad times? Jim Collins says this is going to stay, this is going to be the normal life. He points to Post-War period and wonders how the face-off between two nuclear empires actually gave us stability and a period of continuous prosperity. 'Danger, yes, but stability', to quote him. Surely it looks like that now - with the perspective of science - though it is funny to think what makes Cold War look like springtime.

However, the key point is what, in Collins' opinion, makes great companies tick in a downturn. He points to two things - values and having great people on board. He talked about the examples of P&G, which never thought about cutting corners and undermined quality and customer service even in a downturn, and H&P, which never let go the o…

Day 9: Ready to Go

I spent the day - which was rainy and depressing - planning my trips and getting my bags packed, somewhat. This is a bit of an improvement, that I am thinking ahead about my travel plans and getting the bags ready. Usually, I always pack the bag last moment, often on the day of travel, and the travel plan remains up in the air.

It still is, indeed. Though I have now put this neatly on Excel and got at least one round of air tickets, my travel plans have so many dependencies that it can change any time. I am increasingly aware that I need to have greater visibility of my work plans, and days like this, I solely attempt to achieve that. But I do think that I have spread myself too thin - and the fault is all mine - and paying the price for that.

Steep price, I must add. My health is one. Besides, I, like other people, would love to stay home and know what I do tomorrow. Often, I don't. It feels like being up against the wall all the time. Once I am over with this current task, I shall…

Day 8: On Becoming British

My Saturday started as usual - late start, no breakfast, resolutions to complete but no progress and a purposeless visit to library - and at 5pm, looks like it will end as usual if I don't do something soon to change it. But, still, I shall pause for a moment to reflect on what's up next. I had a busy week, which ended somewhat satisfactorily. But I have been here before and took a break, only to see all the gains fritter away.

So, not again, and work starts now, etc. But the most nagging thing is that I have to travel soon [which is not that bad] and I have mountains of work to complete, not least turning in my tax returns. The Inland Revenue seemed to have gone crazy and mandated that anyone filing their tax returns after 31st October will have to do so online. While they told me this clearly in advance and I can somewhat understand their logic of driving people to online filing, they have kept the process as complicated as before. Now I have to go and apply for an activation…

Market Rebels & Radical Innovation

Market Rebels: How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovations, by Hayagreeva Rao, Professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, was published by Princeton University Press in January 2009.

Day 6 & 7: Moving Forward in a Maelstorm

I actually had a good day today. Relatively, at least. This is the first time in many weeks a Friday evening feels like a Friday evening, when I can cosy up with a book somewhere for a well-earned rest after a hard day's work. I know why this is happening. I travel too much, run around too much. It upsets my routine - I work odd hours at different time zones - and while I am working so hard, the work never actually ends. It keeps coming as I hop from one place to another, one project to another. Then, when I come back, I am like a Zombie for at least a week. I fail to allow myself the rest, or if I try to do this, others jump in. So, I live on unmade beds and dusty kitchens, my car does not start and often important mails get lost in the interminable pile.
I am feeling settled now because I was in England for a while now. I did go to Ireland for a couple of days, but that was not too long to disturb my schedule. I am more or less coming back in step in now, though I can see mountai…

Day 5: Reviewing The Priorities

Yesterday was interesting in terms of work, though I spent nearly seven hours on phone! I am sure I need to cut this down, because there will be times when I have to take stock of, and give estimates to other people, what I have done, and these seven hours of phone conversations will possibly come to appear as one or two points on a long list. Does not look too good, surely.
Interesting, that gives us a perspective on Taylorism - the system of measuring work by time spent. This is still the dominant management method among employers, who want to see whether they are getting value for money. However, this is less and less relevant in service industries when it is hard to put a benchmark - how much time a particular job should take - though the habit lives on. Consider this - I had an hour's phone call with a partner who was unhappy about a particular thing. What should I have done when the conversation crossed five minutes? I am sure in the call centre context, a flag would have gon…

E-Learning: Into The Future

A friend asked me a question : What are my views about where e-Learning is heading in the next five years. I, as always, chose to give a fairly public reply through this blog. But, before I comment, I must also remind myself that this is indeed curious timing to talk about e-learning into five years in future. Nero playing violin while Rome was burning probably would have been an apt analogy, but I am no Nero and can not do much to stop the mayhem. But, one thing for sure, there is very little certainty in the economic climate right now, and it is hard to see much ahead at this time. Having said that, one can safely project a significant change in e-learning usage, in Academia as well as in Businesses, over next few years. There are a number of reasons behind such assertion:
(a) The business climate is not going to improve any time soon and there will be increased pressure of cost cutting across businesses. Training usually bears the brunt of cost cutting very severely. However, tough b…

Day 4: Into The Deep

Barack Obama got sworn in, and after his inauguration speech, where he talked about the resolve to take on the financial crisis, but warned that there are challenges ahead, the Wall Street sank. How much of it is Barack Obama, and how much of it is due to the continuing bad news coming from banks, it is difficult to tell. But it seems it is mostly banks, as they continue to pour bad news, despite clear evidence that they are now hoarding cash, clawing back on loans and obviously passing on their troubles to the broader economy. The British government, over last couple of days, took some extraordinary steps to give the banks confidence about lending money, basically by insuring their loans. Despite this, question marks are being raised about the financial health of Britain's largest banks, Barclay's for one. Across the pond, it is Citi, yes the world's largest financial institution supposedly, which is in trouble. It is interesting to learn that in Citi, it is only its brok…

Day 3: Waiting for Obama

I am still on the ball - went back to the habit of drawing up to-do lists in the morning and ticking it over once done; got a few things done during the day that way. Most importantly, I had to write and finish the Research proposal for the university, and all my non-working time went there. So, when I finished, well past midnight second time in a row, I was feeling a bit zombie-ish (sic!) - haven't moved out my chair much through the day and that is a depressing feeling.

But, I am over with it now, for the moment. Obviously, the work starts now and I have to do the research. Sometimes, I feel tempted to think that I am better off completely focusing on such work - writing, reading, research - rather than trying to keep so many balls on the air. There is, of course, no better time to take a career break than this year, when everything is topsy-turvy and the world economy has decided to go back a few years, as if in a time machine. But then, the work I do is not just work - this is …

Day 2 of 100: Getting There

I almost wasted the whole day on my laptop, which refused to start in the morning - resulting in a panic that took the whole time away. I tried almost everything, concluding at some point in the afternoon that I have to go out and buy a new laptop, only to realize that how hopelessly dependent on computers my life is at the time - I was thinking of buying a DELL online! But, anyway, I could salvage the situation somewhat, though this did require a full hard disk format and rebuild of the operating system, and almost six hours of work backing up and restoring all data. A colossal waste of time - or in another way, an useful lesson to learn very early in my 100 day experiment.
The lesson is simple : don't leave for tomorrow what can be done today, and I just quoted Benjamin Franklin. I was to write an article on Bangladesh's election for a journal, and while I was almost ready on Saturday evening, I decided to sleep early and send it over on Sunday morning. I wanted to have a las…

India and The New Bangladesh

Democracy's Comeback
The overwhelming victory of the coalition led by Awami League and its leader SheikhHasina, in the elections in Bangladesh, has been celebrated widely in India. It is indeed good news, and the contrast to the year-end 2007, when Pakistan was tottering on the brink after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, could not be more stark. The expectations are that Pakistan will now be almost irreversibly ruled by a democratic government, however weak, and that in Nepal, hostilities are over and a government, whatever its allegiance, will be firmly in control. With SriLankan government finally winning the war against Tamil Tigers, and Maldives and Bhutan successfully implementing democratic transition, it seems that democracy and peace are finally making a comeback in the South Asian region.

This could only be good news for India. Gone are those days of cold war policy making, when we played zero-sum games with our neighbours. The concept of sphere of influence lingers on…

Day 1 of 100: New Season

I am living a new 100 days.

This time, I want this 100 days to transform to my life. And, the change is that I am not going to wait till the 99th day for the change, as I have done before. Change starts now.

Last week, I had a very productive visit to Ireland. One which changed my perspectives and the way I saw things earlier. I must admit that I went with an open mind, the way I am trying to do these days, and it helped. I was putting that extra effort to figure out why people think / do the way they think/do, reaching out to hitherto indecipherable individuals.

I mus admit, I could see how wrong I was on certain counts, especially when the prism of my own perception was removed.

I got one very valuable feedback. I am not ruthless enough. That's something which I knew from before, but did not get the right word. I thought I am a people/relationship person. But that's a nice way to say this thing. Ruthlessness is indeed needed, when most people take advantage of niceness. And, if …

Why Bail-outs May Not Work

The New Year is yet to start.

I was hoping, like everyone else, that there will be something magical on 31st December night. 2008 was a year like never before: Shall we say it was the best of the times and the worst of the times? Or, more appropriately, it was the season of darkness and the spring of hope, perhaps. A recession, worst in many years, was setting in. But, at the same time, a historical American election took place, wiping out the disappointments and disconnects of last eight years, giving people, across the world, something to cheer about. And, this, apart from the usual flipping of the calendar, will bring a fresh start, I was hoping, along with the usual New Year confectionary.

Recessions are painful, but one can not avoid them. Recessions, as the economists see it, are instrumental in moving forward our economic system and sustaining the cycle of innovation and progress. Joseph Schumpeter talked about creative destruction as the principal driver 0f efficiency and improv…

Top Brands in India : The Pitch Magazine Listing

I picked up the latest issue of the PITCH magazine, which had a very interesting feature called Marketing Lessons for The Best. They picked up five very successful brands from India, and talked to respective CMOs to understand their approach. I am attempting to produce a summary of what they said, with my own comments, as usual.

First, the list. The five chosen here were Titan, Kingfisher Airlines, Big Bazaar, Airtel and LG Electronics. I thought this is very appropriate listing, as I could not think of any other consumer brand as good as the ones above. There are a few corporate brands indeed - like Tata or Reliance - but that was not what this feature is for. One could argue that ICICI Bank is a consumer brand and could feature in this list. And, may be some of the car brands too - has Maruti 800 died? - as can be Tata Tea, though they have been considered in a separate section of the same issue. But, overall, a very appropriate list.

Let's start with Kingfisher Airlines first. It…

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