Sunday, May 24, 2009

Social Reforms and Economic Development

Mr. Swaminanthan Aiyar, talks about not to expect radical economic reforms from the government. Rather than that, it will be more focused on Social reforms like infrastructure, health, education, rural development etc. This has been the theme for the past 5 years and is on the agenda for the next 5 years too.
But there is no harm in following this route to economics success. Mr. Amartya Sen, in Argumentative Indian, points out the strong linkage between social opportunity and economic development. The most common notion is that economic development occurs when global trade happens in the country. This has been the case in India too specially with the IT sector. But as Mr. Sen points out, to be on par with the global competition we need to have quality products, which in turn requires more skilled and educated people. We need to be high in our efficiencies – for which we need less absenteeism and good health of people. Ultimately it boils down to how socially developed the country is.
The government is also right in focusing on rural development. In this environment of receding global demands, our local demand, especially from the rural sector has led to us maintaining a very good growth rate compared to the world. Everyone has realized the importance of that market at the bottom of the pyramid. And to sustain and develop that market, we need to shift the spotlight on them.
The mantra seems to exploit this linkage between the social and economic aspects. It may not give the magical and drastic reforms that the country is expecting but may lay a firm ground for the long term benefits of the country.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Decontrolling Fuel Prices

There is a lot of euphoria over the stable government for next 5 years in India. Already scores of policies – disinvestment in PSU’s, Pension reform etc are being talked about and expected in the near future. All these will have a major impact on the country. But one reform which will have a direct and visible impact on the people (or aam aadmi as congress likes to call) will be the decontrolling of the fuel prices. [link]

Simply put, the price for which we get petrol and diesel from the petrol will be much more variable as they will move according to the global market prices. The artificial controlled prices of fuel in the recent past have been both a headache and leverage for the government. Leverage because a reduction in fuel prices can bring about a change in sentiments of the nation in its favor and headache because of multiple reasons - various quarters pressing it for reduction in prices, deep losses for government owned Oil companies, anti-government sentiment when prices are increased. In fact often long meetings are held before an increase or drop in prices is announced.

Once prices become market controlled, a lot of this headache gets off the government’s head. Of course, there are a lot of quarters which need subsidy in fuel – agricultural sector, poor (for kerosene oil and cooking gas). But effective means are being employed for them to get the subsidy by the way of smart cards and coupons. These are much more efficient than a subsidy based pricing for the whole of the nation. The variable prices will lead to reduction in tremendous amount of consumer surplus which all of us enjoyed.

The benefit of this will also be seen in other spheres. With highly subsidized prices we could get the fuel cheaper especially when the global prices were touching $150. Now there will be an incentive for both the fuel intensive industries as well as the government to focus on greener and renewable sources of energy. The risk of variability in fuel costs (which form a major component of the costs) will force to invest in alternative sources with lesser dependency on oil and hence lesser risk.

There will also be some encouragement for companies to enter in oil and petroleum sector making it more competitive. Essar and Reliance were wiped off when they established their own petrol pumps but could not match the government controlled prices. Now there will be more incentive for private biggies to enter and may be give some challenge to the well established PSU’s who dominate the oil market in India.
The move is a good one but Mr. Prime Minister needs to look out for the initial unrest and confusion that this move can cause.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Elections 2009

For the second time my vote mattered in bringing a government (and a stable one this time) to the center. Glad that Dr. Manmohan Singh could make it with a decisive verdict.

2 major reasons for voting for congress:

- Trust in the abilities of Prime Minister. This time there is a potential of people like Shashi Tharoor, Montek Singh Ahulwalia, Jairam Ramesh coming to the decision making table. I hope people of such high caliber can really make a difference.
- Rahul Gandhi and the youth factor. The simple fact that he has been focusing on making Congress a party for the future by actively working in this regard and bringing a lot of youth into the fold. I prefer his forward looking, long term vision to the divisive politics elsewhere.
More of my views on the elections on my other blog here.

Elections and Marketing

1.Who is the target customer? – Young India
65% of India is between 18 and 35 - 2 years in my MBA this was the first line I used to write under target customer of any marketing plan.
And how do you target these young customers – Divisive Hate politics?
Not at all. We, youth are no more concerned about it. People of India are becoming so called Global Citizens erasing the boundaries between countries and here is someone who is attempting to create boundaries of religion, caste etc. No surprise that there were few takers.

2.What are you selling? – Hate or Hope
Congress and all the regional parties who won, especially in Bihar and Orissa, won because they were selling the development. There was NREGA(which affected 38 million households [Source]), Loan waiver etc for the rural masses. For the urban section, it was the image of Congress being a secular party and the prime minister as an honest man.
BJP were not selling anything except de-positioning Congress by a single minded attack on the current prime minister. One of the TV anchors, who attended many BJP rallies, commented that Modi (their only face of development) focused only partially on development. The rest of the speeches had ferocious communal agenda built into them. Many claps at rally but ‘shoegate’ on the real stage.

3. Positioning? - Weak and Strong Netas
More of de-positioning tactics used by BJP. But again they were tactics not a strategy. Weak Prime Minister Logic was only based on the fact that Sonia Gandhi was the party president and common perception held was that she was driving the government. I don’t agree to this line of reasoning but for once even if we believe that is the case, then she is there now too. Right? So she can drive the government again. So what if she sets a direction in which she wants the party and the country to move? Think of them as Mr. Narayana Murthy, the chairman and mentor of Infosys and Mr. Gopalakrishnan, the CEO. Mr. Murthy is not actively involved in the running of the company but he gives a strategic direction. Does that mean Mr. Gopalakrishnan is a weak CEO?

4. Brand Names- Gandhi
Gandhi is definitely one of the biggest brand names in India. People argue that we are enslaved to a family. Well then it can be argued that so are we to other brands – HUL, Airtel, Nokia and so on. Why do we ‘follow’ a brand or become ‘enslaved’ to it – because we think it is good for us, it gives us good value for money. Same is the case with Gandhi Brand name. In the past it has provided us stability and good governance and that is what people needed right now.

5. Brand Extension – Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi is using his family name to his advantage. So do all brands.
They are simply using the same brand name for a different product – a product which appeals to the young India, something which gives hope for the future and which people can trust.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Integrating Mass Customization and Social Networking

‘This is the era of Mass Customization”, our Operations professor has repeated this line innumerable times in each class.
Mass Customization is “producing goods and services to meet individual customers needs with neat mass production efficiency”. (definition: Tseng and Jiao (2001, p. 685)
The famous example was of TVS Scooty, where the outer frame, which is colored is separate from the rest of the machine and according to demand the plastic frame of desired color is put on ‘Just in time’.
Another example was that of Asian Paints where one has the option of mixing the colors on a computer kiosk in Asian Paint Shops and then that customized paint.
Reebok has taken the concept one step ahead in the shoe industry and combining it with mobile technology. The users have option of 3 shoe designs where they can customize what colors/materials they want in their shoes. And all this from their I-phones in an interesting, user friendly application. [Link]
If the integration of Mass Production, Customization and Mobiles was not enough, a social networking angle has been added too. These days we love to share our lives – anything from an insignificant “feeling bored” to sharing marriage pics. So why not let the world that you are getting a customized shoe from Reebok which has X, Y, Z colors and looks like this.
Quite innovative of Reebok to get into their consumer’s lives and interact with them almost one to one.
Talking of trends, Reebok will have a powerful tool once they put up all the designs being purchased on a Google Map. Interesting insights about consumer behavior can be in store for them there.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


On top right corner of Hindustan Times today there was an interesting announcement: Now you can follow HT on Twitter.
Twitter, is not yet as famous as Facebook or orkut in India but then it is not something in the league of those social networking sites. Twitter is something like only the “what are you doing” section of FB. You have 140 words. You can write what you are up to so that your friend know or may be a post a miniature blog which will be relayed to the people “following” you (in other words your friend list).
But in case of Twitter, the usages have surpassed the normal Facebook Time Pass stuff. Reason? It can be done through your mobile phone also. You just need to send an sms and the message will be ‘Tweeted’ where all your followers will be able to read it (through web or mobile).
It is this simple fact that Twitter involves Mobile Phones, that it has the great potential in the Indian Market. Internet doesn’t reach everybody but 300 million people in this world are connected by mobiles. And that makes it a powerful tool.

Journalism: Twitter is being widely used for Journalism. It can be used both for collection and distribution of news. There have been instances where people know about any incident before the conventional media even hears about it. It adds a new dimension to the aspect of Citizen Journalism.

Travel: It could work something like this. You are travelling for the first time to Mumbai. While visiting the gateway, you feel hungry, so you tweet, asking about any good place nearby. Someone on your followers list gets it, replies back: Try Café Mondegar or Try Bade Mian behind Taj. Sounds improbable? Well. Not really. There was an initiative [link] by UK Guardian wherein they decided not to plan anything but just getting feedback using twitter.

Politics: How wonderful it would be if Twitter can be used by to let know of politicians about the development work they are doing for the constituency. British PM Office is there on twitter and is used it to constantly update people. In this case, mostly may be journalists but it can turn out to be a very good way to be in touch with people. It may be limited to a very less percentage of population but well no harm trying!

Immense opportunities for Marketers. All your viral campaigns can be run through twitter (obviously you need to keep things interesting on a continuous basis for people to follow you)
These followers can also help you in test marketing any new products or give live feedbacks to any new initiatives. Of course, getting people to follow you is a difficult task if it is known that it is being done for selling something. It has to be more informal and friendly. Even if you can market it to a select group of followers who have their network of spreading the word, your work is done. As Seth Godin says, "The cool thing is that now, everyone has ten times as many friends as they used to. The social graph online is a fascinating, exponential factor in growing the list of people who might be willing to hear what you have to say (once).” [link]
By the way, I am on twitter at:

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Nano effect

Brand is important for a company. Why? Because it gives something that the consumers/customers can directly correlate to a notion, a thought, an adjective in their mind in an instant.
When you think TATA, something like Trustworthy, Reliable, Honest comes to mind. With the backing of that strong Brand that Tata has already built, next one seems to be in-line – NANO.
Already to the millions of minds of this country as well as the world, Nano means Cheap and small. And now they are extending it further with the Nano Housing.

Weeks after launching the much-hyped Rs 1-lakh car, another Tata Group company today unveiled an ambitious project called Shubh Griha, which will offer low-cost homes at under Rs 5 lakh across the country to tap the large and lucrative market for affordable houses. [Link]

The bottom of the pyramid market is really huge and the after the miniature products by FMCG companies, Tatas seem to have really caught the pulse of the funda of BoP market by entering it in Big ways. What can be expected in future. May be Taj Nano - small, low budget hotels. Or Voltas-Nano – small, inexpensive AC’s which can cool the Nano-Homes.

May be a full Nano City can be created (replacing the villages???)- Nano Houses, people only have Nano Cars, Nano Hotels, Powered by exclusive Nano-Power Plants.
Way to go Mr. Ratan Tata!!!!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Common Man and Environment

Recently, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded provided me a good dose of Environmental concerns around the globe today. It was this dose that led me to think if a common man is really concerned about environment at all or should these issues be left to the government to be solved on a macro level.
The first question is - Is it really happening? Well, the statistics, videos, photos, documentaries (happened to see one on Discovery recently) - all point to the fact that some drastic changes are really happening. And it indeed needs attention – much more attention than it is getting at present.
But are we concerned about it at an individual level? I don’t think so. We definitely complain that this time around the heat wave is terrifying and started much before it used to happen 5 years ago. There are status messages of how the temperatures in Delhi are breaking 10 year old and 50 year old records. But again we are not really bothered. If the outside temperatures are up, our AC Panel will show a lower temperature. And we can sit pretty comfy. If there is lack of water, electricity, it can be blamed on the government. Traffic problems can be attributed to the rapid development that we are witnessing. The statistics are merely numbers or a news report. Nothing can be directly attributed to the environment. And it may be too harsh to blame us for not being concerned. We are rapidly developing and urbanizing. Why can’t we enjoy a good life?
And even if we want to act environment friendly – what incentives, motivation do we have? Before that, the million dollar question is what do we need to do to be environmental friendly? Refuse take the plastic bag from the shop, don’t use the AC, refrigerators because of some Chloro-Floro Carbons which I cannot even see?

Ultimately it is up to the governmental organizations to implement plans and policies which on a macro level and in the long run will be helpful in saving the environment. But then again, it has to tread the fine line between development and environment. The priority according to the manifestos of 2 leading political parties is quite clear. Both talk of development in BOLD letters while the environment is a 10 – 15 line mention somewhere on the 20th page.
It was a funny feeling when I went through the 11 points the party had mentioned to protect environment. If you had put a question “What steps can be taken to protect environment in India” to a MBA Class, you can expect a similar kind of ‘Gas’ Answers.

Banning of plastic bags in shops has been implemented in cities like Chandigarh. Guess, that is where a start that can be done on a pan-India basis. It also ensures active participation from the citizens to some extent. Environment Impact Assessment or EIA is another initiative which is compulsory by law before start of a new project in an area. It involves active participation from citizens and people from an area where the project is coming up. They can give their feedback on environmental issues that the project may bring about. Often EIA’s of many projects have been in news for all the wrong reasons.
If right reasons and correct incentive is provided, a common man can also play his or her part in the protection of environment which so desperately needs contribution from all quarters.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Asiad to HRC: The MBA Journey

Well, strange way to define the MBA journey but this heading got stuck in the head when I entered HRC on the last day of my MBA life – which if I see in hindsight was a 2 year of dream journey. Something I had hoped but never expected in my life.
It all started at Hotel Asiad. Amit and I had just landed up in Mumbai and after dumping our stuff in the hostel-flat – later branded as 3HMV(and we as 3Hmvees), were looking for a place to eat a hearty (and economical) meal on a hot and humid day. We walked and searched till we reached Hotel Asiad. Looked fine, had AC and with some butter chicken and Naan, the Mumbai life had begun. What we later learnt was that Asiad was ‘The’ place for NMites. You won’t find a person in the batch who doesn’t know Asiad.
Our vice-chancellor on the opening day had said that time here will pass so quickly that you will never come to notice. It indeed did – specially the first trimester. It was hard work fitting in lectures of 10 subjects in 3 months. And on top of it there were those multiple assignments, tests and aahh.. the presentations.
The presentation part was a weak point and something I wanted to focus on. And indeed, it was a long journey as regards giving presentations is concerned. I remember the first presentation. Trying so hard to get it right. Consulting books whether one should prepare a script and cram it by heart or remember points and speak naturally on stage. Everything was tried. For once, I even tried recording it and analyzing it as part of the preparation. Cut to 2 years later. There were 2 presentations in the last trimester. Just before one of them, I was participating in a dance competition. Rushed to the class immediately after, saw the slides and gave some gyan. I had at least seen the case before hand in this case. The last presentation – I didn’t even know the topic and spoke for 3 slides. Un-imaginable.
The second remarkable aspect was the hostel life. It was for the first time I was living in a hostel kind of environment. Although it was not a perfect Hostel but quite close to it. And it is here that first of the 3 incredible group of friends was formed – the 3HMVees. 3 meaning 3rd floor and HMV for the building name – Hemu Villa. The amazing part was we had people from 4 religions and 4 corners of India living together. Hemu Villa was witness to innumerable discussions (especially when the internet was not working), India’s 20-20 world cup victory, playing dart games and ‘marann pitti’ at 2 in the night, coke bathing on each summer placement, Alok ki kheer, 10 different ways of studying (and non-studying) for exams and the unforgettable 3HMVee awards – all coming together. We had plenty of choices for food here but Hotel Nithyanand is a hands down winner for most orders from 3Hmvees, which includes a record of eating chicken biryani everyday continuously for more than 2 weeks – set by who else but me!! The irony is even after 2 years of ordering food from Nithyanand (conservative personal expenditure estimate of around Rs 15,000 – Rs 20,000) I have not even seen where the hotel exactly is. The best part – after 2 years he even recognized my voice and I just had to give the order!
The second trimester was similar in intensity in terms of subjects and presentations but I guess how to ‘manage’ things was being learnt. So it was not all academics now. Some extra-curricular activities started. And that led to the formation of the super group called Bulls. We started as a class project group and from that emerged a group which brought so many laurels that it got a special mention at the convocation at the end of 2 years. A deadly mix of people, we had the NM flag flying high from Mumbai to Pune to Chennai to Indore to Delhi and all the way to USA. Bulls grossed around Rs 8 lakh worth of prizes by the end of 2 years. The Bull run at the sensex – which inspired the group name, may have turned bearish but this Bull run continued unabated for more than 1 year. What the rosy picture doesn’t tell is the hard times, some failures and some hard fought debates behind the scenes. This was a group of friends largely responsible for the 2 years being a dream that it was. I remember a wonderful discussion – we had sheets of paper strewn across the table, chai and cold drink were sweating away in the side and the special part was the surroundings at Prithvi Café. Prithvi is something unique – in the center and still away from the hustle & bustle of Mumbai, creativity is in the air and you will find such a wide variety of people. From KK Menon having cutting chai, college students doing masti with their gang, people in formal suits pouring into their laptop, Shashi Kapoor idling out in his kurta pyjama, Markand Deshpande in his dreamy world, someone enjoying the intriguing peace with a book and coffee, and an occasional glimpse of other bollywood stars – amazing place.
After the first year, things became a lot chilled out on the academic side - except the 4th trimester which was intense than the whole MBA put together. Anyways, after that with the 5th trim setting in there was that placement pressure lingering on one side and on the other hand another group of friends was in the formation – the fun and party group called KIRDSS. It was KIRDSS who was responsible for the unlimited parties, hanging out, bekar ki bakar – basically chilling out and me finally falling in love with Mumbai. The times were tough (placements!!!) and it was due to this frequent chilling out sessions that some sanity could be maintained and pressure released. And it was not only fun we were having. There were discussions that helped us in our placements too. Improvement on the weaknesses, lending a helping hand wherever required, preparing for those typical interview questions were some alternative aspects of the group apart from other reflections on life as such. Now that the main aim was hanging out so it was now that some favorite addas were born. The first choice was usually Cooper Hospital Canteen. It is hard to fathom that after a meal, we used to leisurely stroll out in front of the emergency ward of the hospital where in sometimes you could hear cries of pain from inside. Ontoes was another hot spot specially after people started getting placed. It was a place when one was in a mood to be a bit lavish. More frequented and lighter on the pocket was Alfredos. Then there was the unmatchable rooftop and the Bhurji-Pav outside Cooper which was reserved for dinners after 2AM.
The last trimester was a haze. Trip to US, participating in dance, play, frequent parties. In fact it had become tough to just manage the parties by the end. Even the farewell by the juniors happened right in the middle of exams – no time for it before or after. And then that feeling of end as everyone started departing one by one. Suddenly it was the end of 2 years of post graduation. And it was decided to celebrate the last day in Mumbai in style at Hard Rock Café – the best one in town. And it was truly amazing. One huge place with rock music written all over it. The memorabilia, the music, the atmosphere– in an instant it became the favorite for all of us.
The journey which had started from Asiad where 5 people could eat stomach full in Rs 350 ended at HRC where a chicken burger cost that much. The progress from Asiad to HRC is just a metaphor to describe the unusual amazing journey which only went upwards in the 2 years at one of the most wonderful place one can have for a student life to be in.
I am one of the lucky few who have been able to enjoy a student life in a cool, laid back place like Chandigarh as well as in a fast paced, hectic, never sleeping and truly rocking Mumbai.