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Showing posts from February, 2009

e-Learning in Indian Companies : Are we at a tipping point?

E-Learning, whatever the term may mean, is still a relatively new subject in India. Indeed, the whole discipline of training in organizations got a new lease of life with the economic liberalization and mass mobilization in the service industries, particularly in telecoms, retail and insurance. This led to creation of a significant training infrastructure, development of a sizable training cadre and new ideas and experiments in the field of training. The existing training companies, predominated by IT training giants like NIIT and Aptech, quickly re-engineered themselves to take advantage of this emerging, shall we say exploding, market, and a number of new companies emerged. Demand peaked for trainers, and the salaries reached stratospheric levels.

This party now seems to be over. I have previously written about the contraction in the employee training market and the plight of the training companies. The larger companies are fast running out of ideas and trying to reinvent themselves …

Bangladesh : A War Refought

The mutineers have surrendered arms in Dhaka, but they have been granted a general amnesty by the government. The true horrors of the mutiny is now coming to the fore - not what happened on the street, but what happened inside the barracks. The tortured, mutilated bodies of the officers are now being taken out, and one can see that not only the officers, but their families too, have been brutally murdered.

However, while the troubles have subsided in Dhaka, there is a battle going on in the border camps throughout the country. The army is advancing on the BDR to take over these camps, but, according to the reports, BDR men are resisting, and cutting down the roads and blowing up the bridges, just like in an war. These men, who are now killing their officers and fighting against their own country's army, and jeopardizing the lives of their citizens, are presumably covered by the amnesty. The question remains, however, what would be done with them, after the dust settles.

As I mention…

Alternatives to Capitalist Enterprise: An Unconventional Perspective

For lots of people, capitalism has failed. Their mortgaged houses were repossessed, their savings melted out in the hands [and pockets] of Bernie Madoff and his kind, their stock market portfolios look puny and they are no longer sure where to keep the savings anymore. Banks and other infallible institutions, like General Motors, General Electric and Toyota, look clueless. The leaders of the government are not proving any more enlightened than Uncle Joe down the road, who gambles upon the idiocy of the lenders to climb out of trouble every time. The deep downturn, after years of peak prosperity, is hurting more - and many people blame the greed of the capitalist, embodied in Wall Street bankers, for their trouble.

Media has caught on the mood and many respectable magazines have already announced 2009 to be the last year of Capitalism. The more conservative ones, like The Economist, which remains unrepentant about supporting George W. on Iraq to this day, have been thinking deeply where…

Employee Training In India : Recession in Perspective

I have spent most part of the last few months in India, primarily because the current recession is forcing us to adopt a complete rethink of our business strategy. What seemed obvious a few months back seems extraordinarily complex at this moment. Besides, we built a high margin business by offering business communication training to organizations. It was nice while it lasted, but staking out resources on the same feels like going to the beach to watch the tsunami now. We are probably seeing the first glimpses of a turnaround, indeed, as things come close to March and revenues start shoring up. But, nevertheless, this is a moment to stop and reflect - it is obvious that this downturn will affect training and development, and we need to somehow estimate how much.

There are some rough estimates I got from a friend, a veteran in corporate training in India. Indian employee training market is estimated to be US $20 Billion, though parts of it are internally sourced. The initial expectati…

Obama Effect on Outsourcing

President Obama finally said what he has been saying for a while - that US companies will not receive tax breaks if they ship American jobs abroad. He is speaking for many democrats, who favoured such a measure for a long time. They are hoping that this will dampen outsourcing, at a crucial time when the politicians need to be seen doing something to stem the job losses. It will tickle the economic nationalists the right way, and indeed, every recession sees them in ascendancy. So, President Obama has said the right thing, at the right time, for the Americans.

The comment dominated the discussions in India. We traditionally favour democratic candidates, but usually got raw deals from successive democratic administrations. The reviled George W. bestowed us with a nuclear deal, whereas the enormously popular Clinton clubbed us with Pakistan and tried to put sanctions on us. Obama, and Kerry before him, has been saying uncomfortable things for a while, but now this has become a policy sta…

A Mutiny in Bangladesh

A mutiny took place in Dhaka today. The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the paramilitary border guards, mutinied against the Army, who they say discriminate against the paramilitary forces. The statement, made by an unnamed BDR officer to BBC Bengali Service, said that the BDR has nothing against the government and they expect that the government will be humane. The latest reports indicate that the Prime Minister, along with her cabinet colleagues, met the representatives of the mutineers, and offered a general amnesty to mutineers in exchange of laying down of arms and release of the officers held hostage. Dhaka had a tense day - with visible military action on the streets, general panic and fear that this will snowball into something more sinister. Hopefully, it won't get there and normalcy will be restored soon. However, in my mind, this mutiny indicates how difficult it is to govern Bangladesh now and how urgent is the need for action to restore the faith in democracy and fair govern…

The Question of Culture Training

Culture is perceived to be a lifestyle thing than a hard business issue. Undeniably, most businesses spend serious money to promote diversity internally and conduct cultural familiarization training regularly for staff travelling abroad and interacting with foreign clients. However, culture is usually considered as the things done outside - food, preferences, manners etc - than what is done inside the business. In my experience, it is assumed that there is one way of doing business - presumably the Anglo-Saxon way - though people come from diverse backgrounds and have to assimilate themselves in the 'mainstream'. This implicit assumption often cloud the way organizations approach culture training, and limit its effectiveness.
There is another major issue with culture training as it is done today. The training often trains people to behave in a different way than their own, at least at the staff operator level. While researching on the impact of cross-cultural training on people…

Incredible India : Indian Tourism

Incredible India is a very good advertising campaign. It has great visuals and a simple message, it reaffirms the colours and the tunes and the great spectacles of India in an effective way. Indian government spends quite a bit of money, I am sure, as this is omnipresent in CNN and various other channels in the West, as well as a selection of high-end magazines. Country tourism ad-space is getting a bit crowded - I recall seeing ads for Pakistan [which, I initially thought, was a new version of Incredible India! ad] and Egypt [Egypt offers the Sun - specifically to British travellers, I suppose] on the same channels, apart from the regular inserts from Australians, Americans, Peruvians [Pack your six senses and come to Peru], Croatia [the Mediterranean as it once was], Greece etal.

I have also recently noticed a new campaign in the newspapers in India, fronted by Aamir Khan, a very popular Bollywood actor. Indian tourism had a campaign running for a while - AtithiDebobhobo, 'Guest …

What's Next For Me

2009 is going to be a watershed year for most people. World is at an inflection point - a recession shaking up the tree and most of us have to pick ourselves up fresh from the ground. Admittedly, this is not apocalypse yet and there are plenty of things, which are going as good as ever. Education is one of them, indeed. This is the best time to go back to school for most people and learn a new skill or get a new degree. Paradoxically, the business I run is looking better than ever, as English Language offers many people, stuck in the threshold of employability, a sure way to move forward.
However, this is not coming without pain. Suddenly, the business model we envisioned only a year back looks inadequate. We, somehow, ended up building a business around corporate training, which was like going to seashore to watch a tsunami. I spent some time talking to industry professionals yesterday and understood that Indian corporate training business has fallen by as much as 40% in the last six…

The New Sales Function

Everyone seems to agree that we live in the era of great change. Everything around us is changing - as textbooks say - and every manager worth his/her salt knows this. But, there are certain areas, this belief in change does not reach. One such area is sales, though this is the most customer-facing of all business functions and where the impact of market change is the greatest.



Let me explain. The businesses try to handle change with a great inward focus. The thought is something like, Change is more IT; Change is Diversity in workplace, modern reward management and miscellaneous improvement in HR; change is also the way the board meets over video conference. All such things are change. But, ask a CEO what change means for the sales team, he would normally only say that we live in a more competitive world, but will assert that his/her salespeople are completely geared up: After all, why are you in sales if you are not competitive.



The problem is that the changes facing the sales functio…

China & India : Billions Of Entrepreneurs

I am reading TarunKhanna'sBillions of Entrepreneurs, a study of the economic opportunity in China and India. Obviously, there are scores of books on the subject. We have seen a massive body of literature on BRICs - about the emerging opportunities in Brazil, Russia, India and China - and of late, on CHINDIA. In fact, these things do get people excited - I have been told by at least two entrepreneurs that they are looking to invest in India after reading Businessweek's compilation of articles on Chindia.
There is indeed a lot of merit in these studies, though the current recession has taken some shine off the emerging economies. Like Tolstoy observed that happy families are like one another, but each unhappy one is unhappy in its own unique way, it is easier to label developed nation economics under one broad study, but the developing nations need a far more nuanced understanding if the economic opportunity is to be fully realized. To this end, Dr. Khanna provides an excellent …

Looking at Asia

I am back in India. I came back with a new perspective altogether - one about how accepting our Asian identity expand our horizon and enrich our identity. I am travelling back from Philippines, not the most Asian of the countries arguably; but this time, I had an unique exposure to the opportunities of Asia, and the possibilities it represents for us.

Not surprisingly, one of the evening discussions centered on the idea of One Asia, pioneered by Japanese intellectuals and politicians, and espoused by Rabindranath Tagore in India. Okakura Tenshin (1862 - 1913) declared 'Asia is One' and argued that no barriers 'can interrupt the broad expanse of love for the Ultimate and the Universal, which is the common thought of every Asiatic race'. Bengali religious leader in late nineteenth century, Swami Vivekananda (1863 - 1902), saw merit in the idea, as he thought 'on the material plane, Europe has mainly been the basis in modern times' but 'on the spiritual plane, …

British Jobs for British Workers: A Note on Latest Protests

I am travelling, but reading the reports about UK job protests. Basically, the British workers are protesting because they are getting left out in new construction projects and politicians are paying lip service to them. This is one place where I think politicans are saying what they really believe - after all, the phrase 'British Job for British Workers' came from Gordon Brown.

There is no moral objection to the fundamental proposition - British jobs should go to British workers. But to do what? Produce products and services which they would want other countries to buy? Yes, such is the level of double standards these days - we want British jobs for British workers, protest against outsourcing in America and then rail against China and India because they are not buying enough British/ American products. So, this is what the politicians like Gordon Brown expects - British Jobs should go to British Workers and American/ Chinese/ Indian consumers should buy British products. Tha…

Why Recession Is Useful

It is indeed a hard thing to say, in the middle of so much hardship, that recession is a good thing. At least, to some extent. Let me explain this before I say any more.

The recessions are necessary for capitalism because they bring in creative destruction. That's the economist's term for getting rid of the dated, the tired and the inefficient. Karl Marx got ecstatic every time there was a recession - he thought that was capitalism's final gasp, and wrote about it. But capitalism emerged stronger and better every time. Creative destruction was what was happening then, actually the odd elements got swept away in recession and new, innovative forces, companies and ideas emerged.

Odd elements? Let's say, there are two kinds of surplus-making businesses - one that makes profit and one that earns rent. In economic terms, if you are earning a surplus because you are at the right place at the right time, or know the right people, or just get banks to lend you an unreasonable su…

Back in Manila After a Year

I am back in Manila after exactly an year from my first visit for Rutledge.I came last time on February the 12th, 2008, I am reminded, and since then, we have successfully started a centre and now discussing how we can take the business forward and spread it all across the country. In Philippines, I see an excellent opportunity to offer the training programmes. This is actually not very unlike India - there is a high level of English proficiency on the street, and the economic divide largely corresponds with Language divide too. The market is price sensitive and English training is largely commoditized, and therefore, we shall need to do packaging and branding with a whole new perspective.

I am an optimist, as always, that we shall be able to do this in the next few months, and the effort will be worth in the context of rewards it will bring. I am somewhat worried that the time is running out - my self-set timelines are as close as ever - and in the recession prone world, everything se…

Talking About a New Business School

Yesterday evening, I spent time talking to someone who is planning to set up a business school in Hyderabad. It was a very interesting discussion - not just because this is a very successful professional pursuing his ideas of how business education should be imparted. He was also clear why there is space for another management school - because the demand is immense and the seats in good educational institutions remain limited. Besides, he also had a lot to say about what is wrong in the business education industry as of today, and how he wants to address the problems.

To be honest, while I found his opinions interesting, his policy prescriptions, at least within the short span of discussion we had, were limited to introduction of blended learning. So, he was one of those who thought introducing an amount of technology will actually solve most of the problems the B-Schools in India face today. In my opinion, that is a rather simple view, and more must be done to enable a skills leap in …

Local Brands in India

The all too familiar trajectory of Indian businesses is to go national, almost immediately after start. I am on the same side, all my business plans always had a pan-India ambition. Of course, most Indian businesses worth its salt are 'national' businesses, and even suppliers, customers and regulators usually equate national presence with business maturity.

However, beneath this 'national' surface, lie three important facts: One, India is diverse and states and regions are very different from one another - so going national is almost as complex as going international in another country context; two, there are many very successful local brands, which are doing very well by their own right and are fabulously profitable; and three, the concept of a homegrown corporation is adored and championed by many Indian states, look how keenly Satyam was supported by Andhra Pradesh government and how closely Infosys is associated with Karnataka or NIIT with Delhi. True, all the comp…

What To Do With Pakistan?

We are already talking about a MacArthur solution for Pakistan, because it indeed presents the dangerous mix of nuclear capability, a failing state and continuing military sponsorship of terrorism. The key argument is that it is no longer enough to throw money out of helicopter and expect Pakistani government will be able to break the back of terrorists. So, what is needed is an international engagement - with a figure like General MacArthur [Tommy Franks, perhaps, or are we talking Colin Powell] taking charge, and rebuilding the country bit-by-bit like post-war Japan.

Despite the obvious appeal of this doctrine, I think there are at least three clear flaws in this thinking:

(A) Pakistan is no Japan. The Japanese adventurism was an aberration in its history - Pakistan's existence is based on its islamist identity. Japan's problem was its wartime leadership, which was replaced effectively by General MacArthur. Pakistan's issues today are of identity and purpose - much more co…

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