Showing posts from September, 2016

Who's Going To War?

War is only bad for those who have to fight it, but it is good for everyone else. For governments, war is a good way to remain in power. Every President or Prime Minister wants to be a war leader, which allows them not to worry about hard promises such as economic development or jobs, and keeping power just by sending a few poor people to their death. If things go really wrong, one can just blame that on anti-national elements, suspend rule of law and put them in jail; and indeed, one can suspend elections altogether and stay in power as long as the war goes on. It's a pity we do not have the 'hundred year wars' anymore.  For businesses, there may be a nervousness about risks, but on the aggregate, war is good as it means new contracts, and good replacement demand. A bloated real estate economy can do with rebuilding some houses, and housing some displaced people, as long as the government is paying for it. For the media, it is news. How much better is it to report on real

The Politics of School Choice

The unacknowledged symptom of middle-class midlife when personal arguments and political choices converge into a farce. So was last week for me! For me, with a 9 year old, it is that time when the conversation about school choice starts. The British middle class wisdom - State (schools) till 8! - knocks on the door. The juggling of post codes, entrance examinations and school ratings overwhelm dinner table conversations. The conversation about happy children looks quaint, and the intense race for 'future' starts.  My protestation that the Secondary school is still a good two years away is pointless. I live within an enclave of Indian professionals, striving suburban middle-classmen who grew up in scarcity and embraced oneupmanship as a positive virtue: I am starting the race for future way too late.  But, indeed, there is some truth in the obsession about schools, and that hits home as I google the local state schools. The story I see is consistent, ranging

Global E-School: A Plan

B-Schools had their day. There was a time when we thought we knew how to do it - capture the future in a web of models and processes - and created the big, successful institutions charging top dollars for educating business leaders.  Then, a few things happened. We overdid it. There were just too many B-Schools and too many business 'leaders'. We also lost faith in big businesses. According to a recent Pew survey, only 40% of Americans have a positive image of big businesses, down from 75% a couple of decades earlier. And, big businesses stopped creating jobs, as they continued to automate and spread their global supply chains. And, then, came the Great Recession, sweeping away the dreams of middle class life of the most, and what emerged is a completely different future. No wonder that only a small fraction of MBAs now find appropriate employment, and all but the top B-Schools are able to fill their seats today. The truth is, today, not the company men but those wi

My China Pivot

Over the last several months, I have made one significant change in my work. I have pivoted to China. It is fashionable to do so, and my own little project has nothing to do with the geopolitical shift of the Obama administration (though it was handy to borrow the term). It is also interesting. Only back in 2012, when I was starting my business and when the potential investors asked me endlessly which countries I should target, I was not sure. At best, there was this hyphenated pair of India-China, as two big Higher Education markets, and I spent the good part of the last four years focusing on India. But, as it would happen, my work shifted, somewhat on its own momentum, to China. Despite spending more time on India, the business got more students in China. And, more generally, when we explored new ways of doing education, we realised the difference between India and China: We got polite nods in China, though the Chinese partners mostly accepted the ideas for their own use

The Democratic Turn

There are many possible ways of looking at history. One could be a pessimist or an optimist, see progress or decline, and believe in either preserving the past or reinventing the future.  Indeed, the facts or truth, if there is such a thing, should perhaps be free of such ways of seeing, but then facts, without such interpretation, however subjective, may have no intrinsic value. History is most useful in shaping our ideas of the present and of our future, through these narratives or processes of making sense. And, the way we look at history makes all the difference. And, besides, one could see progress either as a straight-line and a continuous story, or one of struggle - two steps forward and one step back - to make life better. And, which one you see depends on what side you want to be on: One could see progress as providence and destiny, or a gift from the great and the gifted, or a few hard-earned accomplishments through accidents and agitation. These are really wa

A Programme for Entrepreneurs

Among various projects that I am considering doing is one that involves creating a global programme for Entrepreneurs.  As always, things that I do represent a coalition of interests. The current conversation involves someone I have known for a long time, and respect for his business savvy, backed by investors wanting to leverage UK qualifications in the global markets, and primarily in China. My role will be to craft a programme that works, and I am setting myself to the task as earnestly as I can. However, I have always harboured doubts about degrees that look to certify entrepreneurship. For one, I think it is a purely defensive move: I can not think of a person who would be a successful entrepreneur in the end trying to an MBA in entrepreneurship first. Besides, while I do not deny that there are things entrepreneurs need to learn, I would always see entrepreneurs as men (and women) of action, who needs to learn not from text books and lecturers but from the action itself

Three Rules of Survival

I have always maintained that Start-ups and established companies, small, medium or big, are two kinds of organisations. Rules that make one thrive at Start-ups do not necessarily hold in larger companies, and indeed, they could jeopardise one's prospects seriously. But then, it is hard to distinguish between Start-ups and Small companies. This is because, however much we talk about company cultures and values, it is people who carry them. So, it is not whether a company is a start-up or not, but whether the people that run the company are company-people or startup-people. And, indeed, one could have a start-up full of people who succeeded at big companies, because that is what investors really want. The other is quite rare - companies full of start-up people - though it is now a deliberate cultural objective, and even IBM would say that they want to hire 'failed entrepreneurs'. All this is relevant because of a strange third kind of people, who work for start-ups

A Pivot All Too Necessary

I resume the rest of my life today.  That sounds good. All it is, though, is a return to work, after a forced break of two weeks, as I had to go away to India to attend to my father. But, as forced breaks do, this was a break in all senses - a reordering of priorities and focusing of minds - and there is nothing better to restart on an unusually warm, sunny, mid-September morning in London. Timing is right otherwise too. It has been two years I had to step back from entrepreneurial life, primarily as money was running out. It was like going back on time, taking on a limited role, doing what I would have done several years ago in my career, and settle into the usual balancing acts characteristic of 'corporate' life. In my mind, it was always temporal, a compromise, a tactical retreat - two steps forward, one step back - meant to build up to the point that I am at today. The trick, though, was to keep remembering this. For all its faults, monthly paychecks can serio

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