There was a way of developing a business: A company captured its local market first and then went abroad. Indeed, we are excluding Trading Companies such as the East India Company, which was set up as an overseas trade monopoly, and restricting ourselves here to more everyday sort of business. While not comparable to the spectacular rise and ignominious fall of the East India Company, many other businesses trading globally were spectacularly successful. The pinnacle of the 20th Century corporation was the Multinational Corporation, which attained unparallelled power, prestige and profits.
But in the Twenty-first century, even this shining example of business success is considered dated. 'Global' took place of 'multinational'. The usual model of building advantages in the home market before venturing abroad fell out of favour and we had born-global start-ups instead. And, a decade into the new millennium, this idea has spread from the domains of purel on line services - such as-Google or Facebook - to everywhere, from Finance to Education, to Dating and Taxi-Hiring. The underlying idea is nations do not exist, regulations are a necessary bureaucratic evil living on borrowed time and there is a thing such as 'global consumer'.
My contention is that this view - withering of national boundaries in business - is not empirically sustainable. Even if one looks at Google, a very global service, one would see the Indians, the Chinese, the Brits and the Americans, all in their splendidly specific preference of searches, but no 'global consumer'. However, we look to create boundariless global flow of capital, and see the illusions of destiny in the formless model of Bitcoin, even Finance and money remained resolutely national. The architecture of Trust remains closely wedded to the tangible and known, education remains culturally driven and defined, work and labour markets vary along the national lines and most of the people, Middle classes more than others, remain staunchly loyal to their national and ethnic roots. Just as a French Royalist once said, that he saw the French, the Italian, the Spanish and even the Persian, but 'no Man', the global market for middle class exists only in the dreams of rootless world of colour-free money.
Pankaj Ghemawat of IESE calls the flat-world illusion many of the Start-ups engage into a 'globalization apocalypse', an ideological position with little semblance of reality, and yet, this is how businesses are thought of today. Everyone, even the multinationals of the previous era, would call themselves 'global', claiming an erasure of national identities just when, as the Daily News will tell us, nationally assertive politics is taking over the world. Worse still are those start-ups, which want to be 'global' in the first place so that they pay no taxes, aim at breaking regulatory structures, which are democratically agreed rules in most countries. They are always disrupting and transforming, with little accountability to anyone except their shareholders, and are blissfully oblivious of the complexities of the cultures and markets, wishing them away as mere inconveniences.
Most of those businesses fail. They may look for reasons elsewhere, but such naiveté is usually the main reason. They insufficiently assess the 'distance' between markets, and have no idea of what Mr Ghemawat would call the CAGE framework (Cultural, Administrative, Geographical and Economic Distance) that should define their choice of and approach to a market. They fill the Board with very similar backgrounds and ideas, and seek to create an open world with a very closed mind. For them, a different culture than their own is merely the lack of enlightenment, and the Indian and the Chinese can only exist until the 'global consumer' in them wakes up. Their investors, often sharing this world view, see the whole world as a spreadsheet, where the profits may magically appear following ratios and multiples, rather than any understanding of preferences or idiosyncrasies.
This apparent self-inflicted mindlessness arise, I shall claim, from two sources.
First, there is a common bias in favour of expertise over local knowledge, which is seen as a subordinate thing. The cultures of companies and its languages promote expert decision making in companies. To be considered an expert, one needs to speak a certain language, usually in meaningless jargon and replete with numbers, and have to do a lot of spreadsheets. On the other hand, the talk of nuances, rather than generalised models, are seen as, variably, pedantic, academic or sentimental. This divide also emphasise Theory over Practise, big ideas over practical details, birds-eye views over hands-on action. This causes disasters: My favourite example is the kind David Halberstam talked about in his 'The Best and The Brightest', the chronicle of Vietnam era decision making. But companies big and small suffer from this blindness on a day to day basis, and it is often fatal when companies venture out of their home market (which has the least CAGE distance) without having a solid operating base.
Second, it is the culture of money, and particularly, of the post-Gold Exchange Standard of money creation. Money possibly had no colours ever, but in the WTO age, it has become simpler to move capital between markets and the politics have been subservient to global money. It is an illusion to think peoples' lives and preferences would be just as amenable to diktats of money as the pliant politicians in different countries are (even that is changing with the over-reach of global capital), but that is indeed the culture privately funded start-ups inherit very quickly. This is paradoxical, as most VCs would invest only in local business and back entrepreneurs who are culturally familiar, and yet they believe that the business can impact people thousands of miles away without any real engagement, commitment or understanding.
My job, the way I see it, is to make sense of the 'global' phenomenon, working at the fault lines and trying to build strategies with a commitment to the practical, rather than just spreadsheet models. It has been a hard job: Often my pleadings for greater local knowledge were taken for a lack of expertise of more esoteric sort, like writing Excel formula. My deeper commitment to understanding markets have boxed me as a 'country expert', giving me lesser leverage on decision making. My orientation to build deep and long-lasting relationships classified me as 'soft', supposedly unfit for the unemotional world of business decision making. Over the last several months, I intentionally grounded myself to think through these issues - indeed reflect where I would have gone wrong - but came up with the understanding as I stated above: There is something fundamentally wrong about the ideas and rhetoric of the global. As I seek to re-engage in the global markets, I am trying to reinvent my work (some part of it is speaking in acronyms, such as the CAGE) and re-advertise my Excel skills (after endless Excel work during my time at NIIT, I got somewhat tired of it). But I hope to bring some sense into the conversation about the 'Global' even when I am playing the game as it is usually played.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
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 excell
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.