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Showing posts from March, 2009

India: Up, Close and Personal - Managing People

Managing in India is changing, partly because India is changing, but also because of the recession. The big change, of course, is that the power has shifted away from the employees to the employers. The party, which continued for a decade and resulted in some steepest rises in the white collar salary anywhere in the world, is finally over. While this may sound like a good thing to small entrepreneurs and business managers, the current situation is definitely hurting and creating new management challenges that must be dealt with.

I have seen the recession from close quarters in Britain. However, I think Indian labour markets are a bit different, not just because we don't have social security but because professional lifestyle is relatively new in India. Job loss is traumatic in any society, but it is far more traumatic when there is an element of humiliation involved and the people around you - family and friends - fail to stand by you. A big proportion of India's service sector…

India: Up Close and Personal - In Mumbai

I am back in Mumbai after some time. The city captivates me. Very different from any other city in India, Mumbai is India's entrepreneurial core - having been structured as such for over two centuries. This is a merchant's city - one truly enchanted by the allure of money. The message that this city gives me is about hard work and thinking big, and I love it.

I have always said I love Kolkata and would want to go back and live there some day. And, this is completely sincere. Kolkata is an amazing city - so comfortable, so oldworldly charming and so personal. I walk on the roads of Kolkata for hours, as I have done for years, and still be amazed by the charm, smell and sound of the roads. If it sounds terribly romantic to anyone, that's what Kolkata is - romantic. A relic of an era past, not much of use, but of tremendous value.

But, at the same time, it is frustrating to work in Kolkata. People don't work there. All the romanticism, all the emotions, come in the way. I r…

India : Up Close and Personal - The Opportunity

My travel in India continues. I spoke about the disappointment about the Indian reaction to returnees yesterday, but did not speak about the opportunity, though I initially set out to do so.

The opportunity is indeed the key why one should look at India - as the country to return to, as the country to start a business in. It is complicated and competitive, but India still has enormous underserved markets. My rough estimates - about 90% of India's population is still untouched by all the major commercial innovations made in last 20 years. It is not that all of them are poor; besides, the poor are also being lifted out of poverty gradually.

While it is still so, Indians are getting equated in terms of aspirations with the west. Television is spreading, and though it still has a long way to go to become an object of personal possession, some communities share television sets and satellite channels are coming in. Mobile phone has reached distant corners and diverse communities. Newspape…

India : Up, Close and Personal

I am back in India for a few days. This is going to be my last trip for a while - not planning to come back again before end-May - and I am going around the country this time. I am covering at least six cities - Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and Delhi - and meeting as many people as I can. I am now committed to spread the channel of Direct English, and hopefully I shall now make some major inroads this time around. So, the object of my visit is to review all that we have done so far, reconsider all the assumptions we have made, and see how we can now play the game by the market rules.

In a way, also, this visit of mine is the prelude to my eventual return, as I try to judge the mood and assess the opportunity in India. Interestingly, I have already seen that there is a quite a bit of resentment towards the returnees, the thousands of people who are now returning from the west and taking up jobs in India. While I was celebrating the import of competitiveness, enterprise an…

What Linkedin Means To Me

I joined Linkedin several years ago. I sent out some invitations to a few people I knew, turning down the option of adding everyone on my address book. If they were on my address book, why add them here again - that was my thinking. This whole thing was about connecting with long lost friends, so I searched the names of past colleagues and contacts. I did not go far, and after about three years of using the service, I had about twenty odd contacts, all of whom I was in touch anyway through other means, and actually never bothered to check the site at all.

In the meantime, there were other sites which competed for my attention. There were the chat rooms to start with. But then there was hi5, which was more for ladies I did not really know; Orkut, more for family; and Facebook, which I must admit was the most engaging. I did use [and still do] Facebook quite a bit and found many people I lost contact with, and there were quite a few friends who used the chat facility in Facebook, which w…

Are We At The Bottom?

For all my pessimism and preaching on the recession, I am obligated to say that suddenly the Wall Street is looking good again. I have made it a habit to watch CNBC Closing Bell throughout this last one year - whenever I am home in England - not because I am an investor, but because I wanted to have a feel of what's going on. Yesterday, I thought that zing was back - stocks going up, companies meeting [much lowered] expectation and commodities inching up. We are in such a sad state - when was oil reaching $49 a barrel good news - that any positive signals count. And, there is indeed a slight positive signal coming out of Wall Street.

The signal is that we are near the bottom. We are not out of the woods yet, there is a huge housekeeping work left to be done at the banks and other financial institutions. But, this time, it seems pessimism has beaten the market realities and the recession shock made us cut back so harshly that production is way below down the supplies. This has had a…

Corporate Training in India: Opportunities and Roadblocks

I have been working on Corporate Training market in India for a while, though it is strictly not in the scope of the business that we do. Our primary offering is English Language training, and I am often reminded that the language of business in India is English - hence, anyone with a decent job should have an understanding of English anyway. In essence, the message is that there is no market for English Language training in the corporate market in India and I should basically stay off the turf. Right?

Resoundingly wrong, but that is not what I wanted to write about here. We are making inroads into corporate English Language training market. It was not easy explaining to training managers why their employees need English training, though there were these enlightened souls who patiently heard us out. However, what we have done so far is a different subject, as this is work in progress and sort of a privileged information inside the company. However, what I can put in public domain is wh…

The Question of National Flag

I must say a friend started this and he is not even Indian. I know Farhan for many years now, and know that he is a visionary and a patriot. He is Bangladeshi to the core, and believes in Bangladesh. He, and Daniel, a German national who lives in Bangladesh as a Brand and Communications Consultant, launched a movement named AmarPotaka [www.amarpotaka.com]. It is a simple movement - it encourages people to display their national flags everywhere, on cars, office tables and windows. But it is a brave movement, something that is right for the time, this cynical moment when people don't believe in countries anymore. Truly, a national flag is a lovely symbol, it allows us to go beyond ourselves and connect to the greater identity of our nations and community.

The website says Daniel did this in Germany before World Cup 2006 and he got the idea to Farhan. I am sure Farhan sees this symbolism going far beyond football. Germany, and Europe, has a long history of national identities. The so…

Notes on The Recession

We are technically an year into the economic crisis, with no end in sight. There have been big 'stimulus' on both sides of the Atlantic, and in the rest of the world, but the demand is still failing to pick up. There have been questions raised about stimulus all the time, and now more so, as the queue is forming for government money in all countries. Corporate America rather spectacularly and brazenly giving away the money they receive to stay afloat as bonuses to senior executives, further undermining the credibility of the bailout process. Besides, increasingly, the Obama administration is turning xenophobic and protectionist, to appease its voting crowd, and sending out precisely the wrong message for the time to the rest of the world.

It was almost amusing, but for the human pain, to watch monetarism's demise. This recession is the nail in the coffin of the flawed thinking of Reaganomics/ Thatcherism. The policy that the economy can be controlled simply by monetary meas…

Hail Obama!

The most outrageous thing of last week, according to FareedZakaria GPS, is the provision on the recent bail-out legislation that all the institutions receiving US government money will not hire anyone who is not an American citizen. Which means that all the nations top banks, auto companies and what increasingly looks like General Electric, will not be allowed to hire any foreign born students or graduates. Accordingly, Bank of America rescinded its job offers made to foreign graduates in American Universities and more such moves will surely follow. Smart move to get jobs back for Americans, but is it?

The money that's been given out is American government money, earned from taxes on companies and individuals. When taxing, the IRS does not discriminate much for the foreign-born, and hence, foreign-born workers are making their contributions to keep these American institutions alive. Besides, it is not just what the government earns in taxes. The American government is hugely in def…

Pakistan Imploding

The news from Pakistan always keep getting worse. And, it is always comment worthy, because this is indeed the most dangerous country in the world, right in the the middle of Asia, with the necessary size, clout and military capability to be counted at the top table, and yet one of the political backbenchers, a dangerously unstable country which can be compared with some of the delinquent African nations.

The recent news is that the government has put almost the entire set of opposition leaders in house arrest, in view of a sit-in demonstration that will happen tomorrow. This must be a terrible mistake. You don't put leaders in house arrest in a democracy - just for saying you are doing something wrong. And if you do, you have no democracy, so someone will now walk in and take your job.

The question is, who. The government is banking on the fact that the Army is weakened and discredited after so many years of Musharraf. But one would not want to bank on it - there is a very ambitiou…

Reverse Migration: India's Chance

Recession, uncertainties and difficulties in the immigration process and emerging opportunities in India combined, have created a flow of reverse migration from the United States to India. There is a trickle added to this from the UK, and the dam has burst in Dubai. So, suddenly, Indian cities are full of returnees, with a bit of cash, trying to start a new life all over again.

Though I may soon join them, I knew about the trend reading an essay in Businessweek. The obvious conclusion was that America is no longer the only land of opportunity. Also, the same research, done at Duke University, shows that the people who are returning home to China and India are highly educated, about 35, economically successful and many of them actually are Permanent Residents or Citizens; implying that while immigration difficulties may play a part, this is not the only reason people want to go back.

As this study point out, the better 'quality of life' is the most cited reason for this reverse m…

Democratic Mindset

In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer.

So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society.

It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excellentl…

In Search of the Flea

The Elephant and The Flea, when I read the book some years back, left a deep impression. Then, I was trying to live off the elephant; life of a manager in a large company in India, carrying out plans and orders of managers senior to me. I must admit that I did not dislike it that much: It was fine, as I was paid well and well recognized. I was, in fact, sort of a bluish eyed boy, often recognized, often rewarded. There were disappointments, of course; when the salary increase did not match my expectations, or I missed out on an Excellence Award, or when I was not sent for a conference. But these were not life-shattering.

The good thing was the business card. Everyone knew the company I worked for. It was in the stock market - it was one of the index companies for a while - so everyone knew we are large and doing well. When I handed out my card, I watched with interest how the eyes of the beholder went about it - first to the logo, then to the word 'manager' and then to my face …

Northern Ireland: Yet Again

I am back in Northern Ireland for a visit to our Head Office. This is something that I do quite often, in fact whenever I am back in the UK for a few days.
I must admit I love the place. The empty roads and the beautiful countryside, all green and elegant, I have never seen a more beautiful place than this. I remember coming here with a colleague fresh from India, who was literally scared because we did not see a soul as we drove for miles. Even as we passed through town centres, there was no one to be seen, even on a workday afternoon. That was scary for him, the contrast with Hyderabad could not be more obvious.
Conversely, when someone travelling from NI asked me what India would be like, I had to tell her that they may see a lot many more people, all the time. The population of the whole of Northern Ireland is just 1.5 million, and contrast that with Hyderabad’s almost 6 million, and my conclusions seem obvious.
However, this time, I am coming here at a very uncertain time. On Satu…

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