The spread of languages in the world

This is a short piece taking off from Ian Bremmer’s Tweet on the leading languages spoken globally by people as the first languages (called mother tongue here in India). The top 7 languages spoken as first languages along with the %age of people speaking these are :

  1. Mandarin 12.4%
  2. Spanish 4.9%
  3. English 4.8%
  4. Arabic 3.3%
  5. Hindi 2.7%
  6. Bengali 2.7%
  7. Portuguese 2.6%.

 A few observations :

  • Top 7 languages accounting for 34% of global population speaks about the wide dispersion of languages in the world. The world is not all that flat!!
  • The spread of the imperialistic powers of the 17th-20th centuries is seen well from the above. The Spanish dominance of the Latin American countries, and the British dominance of disparate countries across the globe (Australia, NZ, West Indies, Singapore, and of course the USA accepting English as the lingua franca) catapult them to the 2nd and 3rd positions in the global ranking, respectively. The Portuguese bring in the rear in the List. I am guessing that French and Dutch, the languages of the other two colonising nations should be in the top 10-15 languages!
  • 870 mn speaking Mandarin forcefully establishes it as the numero uno language of the world. The remaining 500mn Chinese speak Cantonese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Taiwanese. However, the uniformity of China as a nation comes through with the dominance of Mandarin. This has been one of the reasons for the high economic growth across the country – no communication gap and quick execution!
  • The point on China above contrasts with that on India. India has so many regional languages that Hindi, the language spoken by maximum Indians turns out 5th ranked in the world. Of course, if one were to include its twin across the Pakistani border, Urdu, then the %age would go up to about 4%!! However, the script being different prevents the two languages from being clubbed as one. I am assuming a few millions also get added to Hindi from Nepal.
  • Bengali coming in at No. 6 may surprise a few Indians, but this is because of Bangladeshis also speaking the language across the country, combined with those speaking the same on the western side of the divide.
  • The top 25 languages of the world should have Marathi and Telugu coming in (being the most populous non-Hindi speaking states).
  •  Arabic figures as the No. 4 language of the world, thanks to many countries in the Middle-East and North Africa having Arabic as the national language. Egypt with 86mn population, Algeria with 37mn and Saudi/Syria/Yemen with 25mn each are the main contributors.

 So, while the world shrinks into a global village, the first languages remain stubbornly diverse. The rose smells sweet everywhere but one should know what it is called in that country to ask for it first.

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A Layman’s Guide for New Banks of 2014 (A Bank for a Buck)

I recently read “A Bank for the Buck”, a “biography” of HDFC Bank, by Tamal Bandopadhyay, one of the most eminent business journalists in India. This was his first book, and from the ease with which words and stories flowed in this one, I am sure this is the start of a new career for him.

Anyways, coming to the book, this was an amazing way to narrate the history of a company, and I am sure that soon, there will be copy-rights on similar stories for the other new-age companies which have made it big – RIL, Infosys, TCS, Bharti Airtel, ICICI Bank – all, children of liberalisation (well, RIL and TCS were there in the dark ages as well, but they really took off only in the last 20 years). Possibly, one of the better pharma companies as well, like Sun Pharma.

Moving on to HDFC Bank, seems that the founding team members really enjoyed building up this world-class institution – the passion in each of them really screams out of each page of the book in the first half. I am not sure as to how many of the Dirty Dozen are still around in HDFC Bank, but that doesn’t matter – wherever they are, they must be remembering that stint with relish.


Some interesting points from the book (and you will have to read the book for many, many more)…

  • The initial story of training people under a Pipal tree and wires stuck with scotch tape on the floor of the make-shift office reminds many of us of our start-up days in different companies.
  • Aditya Puri’s style of hiring his A-team sounds incredible – while interviewing, he made it sound as if the person needed HDFC Bank more than the other way around – possibly, coming out of his confidence that they were going to build a huge institution.
  • Most of the founding members were people who were working in foreign banks – takes us back to that era to remind us that foreign banks have been around much before the advent of the new private banks (starting 1993). Citi, HSBC, Stanchart, BankAm and even Barclays were the hunting ground for talent for HDFC Bank (and am assuming for ICICI Bank also). Hence, culture and processes of HDFC Bank should be somewhat similar to that of the foreign banks – but, I don’t think I have heard of such a thing from the people I have met in the past five years.
  • The transformation of HDFC Bank from an uber-urban bank to a mass-diversified-rural bank in recent years has been really well brought out. That story still has to pan out in real life, and am sure Aditya Puri can have another book written about that part, five years down the line.
  • Importance given to selecting and implementing the IT system – the core banking solution – is amazing. This is leadership vision at its best – has proved to be a differentiator for them. The rural foray and the march towards financial inclusion might well be predicated on this.
  • The journey of a successful business model of a diversified bank has been captured well – HDFC Bank started off with corporate banking, a relatively higher profit business, which fed the increasing Urban Retail business later on with positive cash-flows, till Urban Retail acquired critical mass. Then, Corporate and more Urban Retail started feeding the Rural Retail & Inclusion piece with their positive cash-flows. This will continue till Rural Retail & Inclusion becomes profitable on its own – various business model innovations might have gone into that part by that time. This is the journey of many a successful diversified company – minimise front-ended operating losses by setting up multiple sub-businesses in a smart, staggered fashion!
  • Finally, the common larger purpose of “Ab desh ki seva karo” which Deepak Parekh tells Puri while hiring him, also is a subtle but very important theme. This is so because as people start becoming more senior, they need to find a purpose larger than increasing profits or adding value to shareholders.

A few things which could have been brought out a bit more :

  • A bit more about the financial services environment (or at least banking) – summary of what was happening in the other relevant banks – ICICI Bank, IndusInd, SBI – how were they looking at HDFC ?
  • Is there a similar big story in ICICI Bank also ? They are no also-rans
  • How were the HDFC Limited Board Members reviewing HDFC Bank and giving directions? – am sure there must have been directions, reviews, questions, possibly board-room tussles
  • How do their customers look upon HDFC Bank ?

But possibly, the above points might have been left out to make the book more human, and not convert it into a comprehensive Business Strategy Document!

Moving on to the environment today, this book fits in completely as new banking licences are going to be awarded soon. Industrial houses and NBFCs are making a bee-line for the licences (well at least if 24 constitutes a bee-line). Some of them have some sort of a set-up in financial services. They might be more than green-field. Some others may be setting up completely green-field operations. Also, some of the 13 Old Private banks might be forced to turbo-charge their Business Plans and consequently their Management Team to stay relevant in the increasing competitive place. Finally, the 6 “New” private banks – HDFC, ICICI, Axis, IndusInd, Kotak, Yes – might also have to re-think their strategies in light of the new upstarts coming in (recall what happened to Airtel, Vodafone, Idea after Uninor, DoCoMo, MTS came in – well, actually, not much, but only after going through the first 2 years of turbulent upheaval).

Some of the 2014 licencees might want to use Tamal’s book as a rough guide for setting up a new bank. I don’t think that’s a good idea – because, each Bank will have its own identity, own way of working, and own Team – there won’t be any book for that. The book comes post-facto…and that too, not for all companies!!!

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How to become a USD billionaire in India ?

The latest issue of Forbes India (Dec 2013) had a listing of the Top 100 wealthiest Indians. It becomes my solemn duty to analyse that list and find if there are some recurring themes behind many such billionaires, so that some of you could use that fact for shaping the rest of your lives.

I have looked at the Top 50 wealthiest here for a quick analysis. These 50 accounted for 215bn$ wealth (out of the 260bn$ for the top 100). Some observations are :

  • 9 of the top 50 are owners of Pharma businesses. Dilip Shanghvi of Sun Pharma tops the list with USD13.9bn. Poonawalla’s vaccines have earned him 4bn. The others in decreasing order of wealth are owners of Lupin, Ranbaxy, Cipla, Reddy Labs, Cadilla, Piramal Healthcare, Alkem. Of these 2 businesses have been sold already – Ranbaxy to Daiichi and Piramal to Abbot Labs. The next 50 also brag names like Torrent, Divi’s, Mankind, almost completing the who’s who of Pharma owners.
  • 8 Owners of all top 4 IT software development companies figure in the top 100 – Azim Premji at USD13.8bn leads this list, followed by Pallonji Mistry – yes, I have decided to classify him into IT because majority of his wealth comes from his 18% holding of Tata Sons, which in turn is driven to the extent of 60-70% by TCS. Shiv Nadar at 8.6bn rings it in for HCL Tech. All 5 Infosys founders (including K Dinesh) find themselves in the top 100 list, with the Big 3 (NRN, Nandan, Krish) in Top 50. Between the 5, they have USD6bn. Valuation-wise, TCS leads the race, with Infy, Wipro and HCL following in that order. But the higher stakes that Premji and Nadarji own make them wealthier than the Infy quintet.
  • 4 owners of Indian FMCG companies make it to the top 50 – Anand Burman of Dabur, Vijay Chauhan of Parle Biscuits, Harsh Mariwala of Marico and Pepsi Bottler Ravi Jaipuria. Commendable job done by these guys in light of the intense competition with global FMCG majors – HUL, P&G, Nestle, GSK etc.
  • DLF, Lodha and Raheja owners make it to the top 50. RE, as expected makes it bigger presence felt in the next 50 with Kalpataru, Hiranandani, Embassy, Sobha, Prestige, Panchshil.
  • 6 Diversified Group owners figure in the list. Hindujas at 9bn lead this list, followed by Adi Godrej at 8.3bn, KM Birla at 7.6bn, Anil Ambani at 6.2bn, Ruia brothers at 5.5bn and Rajan Raheja at 1.6. Tatas are conspicuous by their absence, let down by their minor holdings in their own group companies. I have classified Reliance’s Mukeshbhai into Oil and Gas – and yes, you are right, he is the wealthiest Indian with 21bn$.
  • Then there are 2 players each from  :
    • Steel – Lakshmi Mittal at 16bn and Jindals at 4.9bn
    • Two-wheelers – Bajaj and Munjals (Hero)
    • Retail – Micky Jagtiani (Landmark Group – Lifestyle etc) and Yusuf Ali (Lulu stores) – both based out of Middle-East
    • Media – SunTV and Bennet & Coleman (Times of India)
  • One each of Telecom (Sunil Mittal), Education (Sunny Varkey GEMS schools, Middle-East), Financial Services (Kotak), Metals (Vedanta’s Anil Agrawal), Power (Adani), Consumer electronics (Dhoots of Videocon), Airlines (Bhatias of Indigo), Cement (Bangurs of Shree Cement), Adhesives (Parekh of Pidilite), Paints (Asian Paints – again all 3 founders are in top 100).


So, looks like the smartest way up into the billionaire list is to start a pharmaceutical or IT business or surprise, surprise, venture into Real Estate (11 of top 100). But then, that was the formula to adopt 10-20 yrs back to become a billionaire in 2013. I think that, sectors from where new billionaires will come in the next 10-20 years may be coming from will be:

  • Online portals
  • Alternative energy companies
  • Micro-Financial services
  • Banks (though I think regulatorily, this might be tough to do with owners supposed to pare their ownership to 10%. Possibly, Uday Kotak will also slip from Top 50 if finally forced to reduce his ownership below 10%)
  • Rural and agri-focused companies
  • Export-oriented companies.

Hope this helps :) .


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Why Rahul should become the Prime Minister of India…Rahul Dravid

The thought started off with the newspaper report on Sachin Tendulkar’s polite refusal of the Congress Party’s invite to him for campaigning for the Madhya Pradesh elections. This reminded me of the time when Amitabh Bachchan’s star value was sought to be tapped during the 1984 elections. And of my subsequent conclusion that stars from other fields who have no experience or more importantly, temperament, should not try their hands at politics just because they are famous – it is an easy observation that some political party is trying to cash in on this fame of theirs. Having said this, there have been enough and more instances of this having happened – Ronald Reagan, MGR, NTR, Jayalalitha, and in sports, Pele among the more famous ones. (Not counting Imran Khan, Navjyot Siddhu, Marat Safin who have just about only stepped into politics). Some of them have been successful too, but that is more because they have had the temperament and gritty attitude to understand the new field (politics) and the will-power to persist as equations become clearer after a few years.

Well, put the words “temperament, gritty, attitude, persistence” together, and viola – the image of Rahul Dravid comes to mind! Possibly, that of Sachin and Hrithik Roshan as well. But for some reason, I see both the latter celebrities too focused on their art – cricket and movies respectively, to be able to do too much beyond that. Let me put forth a few more points on why Rahul Dravid should be the PM of India.

  • Honest to the core – none of the various allegations of match-fixing etc have ever been mentioned in the same breath as Rahul’s name. It’s a no-brainer that India needs an honest leader.
  • A Team Person – whether a captain or a team member, Dravid always contributed to the team’s larger cause. Most important for the PM of India today – the way the current PM has been unable to show a team display of intent (PC vs Pranob, Jairam vs others), and the way the prospective candidate from NDA is not really known for taking people along, it will be very tough for either of them to make any big change for the country. It is a well-researched fact, at least in corporate life that as business/governance is getting more complex and multi-variable driven, carrying the team along is a necessity.
  • Leading from the front – which Top 5 batsman-captain in the world drops himself to No. 8 when few overs are remaining and some mindless hitting is required ? Dravid has the amazing penchant for putting the team’s cause above his own. Even at the cost of slipping away from the score-board and from the individual records-book.
  • Humility – We saw this when he used to share credit for success with all his team members. He never put himself ahead of Sachin and Saurav while speaking with the media. His humility was also borne out from playing under Kumble as a captain (as under Sachin and Saurav and Dhoni too).
  • Middle-class, educated background : Well, I don’t want to come out as biased here, but I personally think that this is an asset – to understand what makes the huge middle-class tick, use technology and social media well. And most importantly, education brings the power of thinking and the power of accepting change – something which are a must for a growth as an individual.

While current leaders of political alliances bring their strengths to the table, I think what is needed for the India of today is a unique leader with ALL the above qualities to lead India out of the mess we are in, and into an era of success.

(I think Priyanka Chopra is also a great Role Model for such a leadership role – intelligent, modest, hard-working, meticulous, understands youth. But what am I doing ? Rahul, Priyanka ? I think I should stop now, before I become frivolous from my current state of being only naive & ideal :) ).

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Hi-touch style of management : A must in turbulent times

I have been blessed to have worked with a few different types of Leaders/Managers. Some of them have been strong on Strategy but slightly weaker on people contact. Some of them have driven strategies to execution through extremely strong people “control”. This piece is about the latter type of managers – the High-Touch Manager !!

The High-Touch Manager believes that no Strategy is great till it is broken down into programs and actionables, and till each of these actionables has a single name against it. And then a date by which this actionable has to be completed. Of all these steps, she gives the most importance, time and thought to the step of “Naming of the responsible person”. Once the Actionable Table is completed, she sort of “forgets” the Vision and Strategy, and converts her life into tracking the people responsible for executing the actionables. She understands from each such person the risks attached with their respective actionable, gauges the human limitations of each such person, and the inputs that she will have to give this person till the actionable is completed. She sits with each person and explains what is the importance of his Project/actionable in the overall business. Depending on what drives that particular person, she sometimes has to explain as to what is the impact of the Project on Society and Environment.

 So, in essence, after the initial effort in finding out “What to do ?”, most of the “How to do?” comes from working with People, for the High-Touch Manager.

The High-Touch Manager maintains a list of people reporting to her, and the key people reporting to her reportees. She maintains a People Reach Out Program – PROP with her so that she is in touch with all “her people” (first liners, second liners) on a periodic basis. Depending on the inputs required by each person, and the criticality of their roles in the business, she is in touch with different people at different periodicity – some daily, some bi-weekly, some weekly.

The High-Touch Manager also likes to meet her frontline employees (if different from the list of “her people”). Many of such Managers meet the frontline staff during market visits, or during visits to offices in other cities. However, some of the Managers miss out on the frontline employees in their home city and in their own offices. That requires discipline. Some High-Touch Managers drive the PROP more diligently to include formal one-to-ones with frontline employees in their monthly calendar itself.

The High-Touch Manager tracks on her system birthdays and joining anniversaries of her people. She wishes the people, and many times sends gifts. Some Managers send cakes / cards to the homes of the people, and make their people look good at their homes – the ultimate compliment for many people.

Businesses with High-Touch Leaders/Managers at the helm show lower attrition, higher employee engagement, higher employee satisfaction. Most of the times, this way of working finds its way into the Culture of the organization (or that of the relevant Business Unit).

At the same time, this does not mean that such Managers are necessarily good Strategists. However, from my experience, inputs on Strategy also many times comes from the people working for such managers, and if such managers are humble enough to keep on taking inputs as well, then, chances are that overall strategy will also be correct, or can be corrected.

Coming to the current environment of macro-economic gloom and business slow-down. A high-touch style of management is easily the best way to keep the Team together and get the best out of them. Almost a must !!

Finally, the role of communication in High-Touch Management can never be under-estimated. But we will leave that for another time…

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10 different ways Lunch-box could have ended

Hope you have joined the ranks of people who have seen “Lunch-Box” and have salivated over the surrealistically romantic movie as well as over the lovely food shown throughout the movie. If you have not, and still intend to see the movie, then I would advise you to skip this piece and re-visit after having seen the movie. Somehow I feel that it may make more sense.

OK, now for the boxed-up people, many of us were wringing our hands in despair at the end and were trying to guess as to what would finally have happened in the lives of the protagonists. Well, think not – here are a few possible endings. You may choose the one that is closest to your hearts.

  1. Saajan Fernandes takes the slow local to Malad, gets down at Malad East, brisk walks to Ila’s apartment. He sees Ila and her child going in the cab to Bhutan (I mean through the airport). Saajan stops the cab, and asks “May I come along please ?” and Ila smiles. They discuss later about Saajan not having a passport, and go instead to Nashik, where the kid goes to Boarding School, and the two live happily ever after.
  2. Saajan stops the cab and thanks Ila for the lovely food. He says he has thought it over, has reaffirmed the age difference in his mind, and wants to adopt Ila as his daughter. Ila gets the Bandra bungalow, and the kid goes to a Bandra West nose-in-the-air school.
  3. Saajan realises that he is on a Borivali fast, which doesn’t stop at Malad. He sees Malad station whizz past. Ila is standing on the other platform with the kid (she came to the station in the cab). She has the Lonely Planet of Bhutan in her hands. Saajan vows to learn about the funda of “Fast vs Slow” Trains well for the future. Realises that living in Bandra, where all trains stop, had spurred him into a false world of convenience and ease. He also learns the hard way that Ammi was wrong – “a wrong train can never lead you to the right destination”.
  4. Saajan is chatting with the dabba walas in the train coach. Ila’s dabba wala tells him that he is the dabba wala who used to pick up the dabba from Ila’s home. He narrates how he was paid by Ila’s husband to deliver the box to a wrong address, so that the husband would not have to eat her lousy food everyday. Saajan rushes to Ila, informs her that her marriage is over, and they proceed to Nashik (please see Plot 1 for “why not Bhutan”).
  5. Ila’s dabba wala hints that Ila and her husband have hatched the entire plan of purposely sending the dabba to Saajan to earn his confidence. Then Ila will move in with Saajan, marry him and inherit the Bandra bungalow (they feel he doesn’t have anything more than that). Then, Ila would hasten Saajan’s death by feeding him high-calorie stuff (in dinner too). Her ex-husband would rejoin her, and they would live in Bandra West happily ever after. Possibly, get the bungalow redeveloped into a building, and become wealthy too. And the kid will say in Bandra speak “what yaar, he was a gone case only”.
  6. Saajan reaches Ila’s place, but Ila has had a re-think. She thinks that any husband who has survived on aloo-gobhi for months without complaining much is not all that bad. So, what if he has a couple of flings at work place. She politely refuses Saajan’s proposal and gives her ticket to Bhutan to Saajan. Saajan gets a tatkal passport, gets a visa-on-arrival,  and spends his last days in Bhutan.
  7. Ila has found out that her husband works in a perfume factory in the second shift, to make ends meet. And the perfume on his shirt is from that (the dabbawala reveals this to her). Ila is really ashamed of her lack of Bharatiya naaripan. She apologises to Saajan for flirting with him over kheema-pav (almost), and decides to live happily ever after with her husband and kid.
  8. Saajan bumps into Ila’s mom, Lilette Dubey while walking from Malad station to Ila’s home. He finds Lilette prettier than Ila and more amusing and well, ahem, of his age. Lilette is a gold-digger anyways and coquettishly entices Saajan – mein to non-veg bhi bana leti hoon !! Saajan informs Ila that he sees her as his daughter, and well, meet your new mom…er…old mom…whatever.
  9. Saajan reaches Ila’s home and sees “Aaunty, Aaunty…” hanging the basket down. He imagines Bharti Achrekar’s husband lying on bed staring at the fan. And shudders to think that he may end up in the same stage, with such an age difference with Ila. He bids Ila good bye and goes back to Nashik. This time, he meets an older woman in the train, and proposes to her over kaali maina in Igatpuri.
  10. Ila and Saajan and the kid board the plane to Thimpu. They don’t like the scenery as much had been promised in the kid’s geography book. Saajan grumbles, “Nashik would have been better”.  They meet the king, Jigme Singhye Wangchuk, to complain to him. When the camera pans from the king’s towel-like dress upwards, the audience is shocked to see that the king is…Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The movie gets over in THIS incomplete way than the one it ended in the cinema hall.

Hope you found the ending of your choice from the few that I have described above. Apologies for this frivolous post about a film which should have made it to the Oscars as our official entry over the “Good Road” Gujarati movie because Lunch-box was so much better than Good Road…shall write something about Good Road after I have seen it !

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Attribution Analysis of “The Fall of India”

Finger-pointing is the worst use of an Analysis. Using the outputs of an Analysis for learning to avoid similar mistakes in the future makes the Analysis worthwhile. It’s with the latter intention that I am attempting an “Attribution Analysis of The Fall of India” – why we are where we are ? Seeing the deluge of articles / news-stories on the state of India, I thought that it might be useful to try to find as to which of the many factors are really responsible for our current state, and how much has each factor attributed to our fall.

What is “Fall of India” ?

“Fall of India” refers to a combination of :

  1. Fall in the real Economy (Slowdown of GDP growth, Increasing Fiscal Deficit, Increasing Current Account Deficit (CAD), Rising inflation, High interest rates, Poor corporate earnings growth)
  2. Fall in the Capital markets – Equities, Commodities
  3. Fall of the Rupee.

I don’t think anyone can debate that there has been a Fall of India after going through the above list of KPIs defining the state (situation) of India. Some people may debate that some “qualitative factors” have improved and that too, especially in Bharat – Poverty has fallen by 15% points, rural economy is growing. But then, I shall show parameters on quality of education, healthcare, sanitation, employment, law & order and corruption, and the argument on these qualitative factors will also be convincingly clinched.

Key factors behind the Fall of India

Now that we have laid down a seemingly decent foundation for the fact that India is not doing well as a country, let us try to identify a short list of key factors / theories explaining this Fall :

Failure to carry out meaningful economic reforms from 2009 onwards; High fiscal deficit, caused by subsidies on fuels, agriculture and now food security.

  1. Not managing the Import-Export balance well structurally; not encouraging enough exports and not being able to rein in imports. Leading to widening CAD, and hence bigger impact on the Rupee (especially, knowing that QE had to end some day).
  2. Global factors :
  • Slowdown in economies of developed countries
  • QE…and then of late, stopping of QE
  • Worsening condition in West Asia & Middle East – Syria, Iran, Libya, Egypt.
  1. Obstructionist parliamentary Opposition & sometimes Allies, clamorous & Quixotic media, over-zealous CVC & Judiciary
  2. Vociferous opposition to large-scale projects from Environmental Ministry and Activists
  3. Series of scams from 2010 – Commonwealth Games, 2G, Mining, Coal, Railways, and hence Anna Hazare and hence slow-down by bureaucracy; Moral degradation of people at large.

According to me, out of 100% total impact that the above factors had on the Fall of India, my attribution to the 6 factors would be 20%, 15%, 40%, 10%, 5%, 10%, respectively.

 Attribution Analysis of Fall of India – chart


1. Impact of global events

We all would have understood by now that there is no such thing as “Indian markets are decoupled from the world”. With Quantitative Easing starting after 2008 crash, emerging markets clearly benefited from easy money coming into their equity and commodity markets…without any positive change in fundamentals of the economy. This trend has been noticed across all emerging markets, and it has wrought havoc on interest rates, inflation, forex rate and hence on the economy. The battering of the equity markets is a logical fallout. Hence I rate point 3 above as the single most destructive factor in the “Fall of India”.

Europe slowdown has hit revenues of companies exporting to these countries. USA Itself had slowed down till 2011. To that extent, the real Indian economy got hit. However, the easy money coming in to “better” markets like India kept the equity markets propped up – and at that time, no one was complaining on why the markets are so high without an accompanying change in fundamentals ?

Besides the Western economy factors, the serious situation in Syria, Iran, Egypt, Libya have a straight impact on price of crude oil increasing, which increases our Imports bill and widens our CAD further. One thing which amazes me is the time it takes for the (global) equity markets to factor in these changes. Once it’s known that Syria has used chemical weapons, it should be expected that US & allies will attack Syria or impose some strong sanctions. This in turn will hit crude and hence the Rupee. But our markets fall on the day USA makes a statement that they are contemplating to attack Syria, a whole one week after the first revelation of chemical weapons.

Having said all of the above, please note that I hold Global factors to be 40% responsible for our situation, and domestic factors for the rest 60% !

2. The simple Job description of a Govt

We have been guilty of not pushing ourselves on economic reforms, cleaning up the system, correcting exim balance during this wonderful 2009-2011 period (wonderful because our economy was growing faster than western countries, and monies were pouring into our capital markets). There’s no better time to repair the roof than when the sun is shining bright! Points 1 and 2 above represent the sheer Job Description of any responsible Government. And this particular one has fared miserably on both. Many analysts have explained this strange behaviour of a Govt with avg IQ of cabinet >130 as a calculated one, which was thinking that 2009 election victory through NREGA and other populist measures can be repeated and hence nothing needs to be done on points 1 and 2. This is again manifested in passing Food Security Bill in such haste – it could have waited for 6-9 months more till Aadhar and other enabling infra could have become more stable.

Because of sheer macro-economic mis-calculation (IQ of 130 and not 140 J), the UPA2 think-tank did not reckon that economic growth will slow down so much because of no work done on points 1 and 2…and that QE3 tapering will be the death-knell of the irrationally exuberant stock markets too.

Also, coming to the subsidies, while a big song-n-dance has been made regarding the Food Security Bill, the fuel & fertilizer subsidy is more damaging in terms of quantum. In fact, most of the arm-chair analysts criticising the food security subsidy must be driving in their diesel cars / SUVs and have been contributing to the burgeoning fuel subsidy.

At 35% collective responsibility, this is the second most destructive factor and almost equal to the impact of the Global factors.

3. Obstruction from the “Enablers”

Since Sep 2012, as Chidambaram became the FM again, they have been trying to solve the situation on the economic front, but now points 4 & 5 started coming in the way. The other enabling pillars of our Democratic system refused to play ball with the Govt, and after 4 years of requesting/pushing the Govt to act responsibly, their frustration is not completely unfounded. Hence, I hold these blocs only 10% responsible for the state of affairs (not zero though).

I have personally been a huge fan of the role of Media in our nation-building, and think that it’s usually been a great watch-dog on people in power. Without their pressure, some of the more brazen elements of the powerful elite would have shamelessly walked away with bigger portions of funds meant for the needy. However, at points of time in the past two years, Media has been unable to rein itself on a few issues and have caused the bureaucracy to be extra-extra-cautious and to slow down. Media has also had an unintentional impact of glorifying street protests over parliamentary debate, one of the most dangerous things to happen in a democracy.

Coming to the other alleged obstruction – from environmental ministry and activists – someone has attributed 2.5% GDP growth Loss to the over-activism of Environmental Ministry and social-environmental activists. However, when a country is growing at 7-9% pa, then the quality of this growth should also be watched. In corporate life, there have been umpteen cases in which a reckless CEO has grown the top-line aggressively, but has ended up (or his successor has ended up) with a business having many non-existent customers, with unsustainable revenue streams, quick-fix one-time revenue deals. This has required years to correct and to bring the business back to original levels. So, for the country also, growth should not come at the expense of future environmental issues or through opportunistic land-grabbing from original owners. 2009-2011 was a good time for the environmental ministry and activists to ask such questions to ensure long-term foundation-building. However, 2013 is possibly a time to relax some such rules, be tactical and knowingly increase speed, with a note to correct things later on.

Hence, I don’t think that this is a factor deserving more than 5% credit for the nation’s woes. However, if this continues for some more time, it could become a more damaging factor.

4. Moral Degradation

That brings me to the last point (No. 6) in the list above and one of the most destructive long-term internal factors. While economic growth course correction can be done through a series of measures, moral course correction can take an entire generation. Kaushik Basu in a speech this week actually cited this as a bigger issue than “these short-term economic issues”. At some point of time, we forgot the positive lessons from the great entrepreneurship model of the 1990s decade (Infosys, TCS, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank). Newer companies which have grown fast in the 2000s are all in the rent-heavy industries like Power, Mining, Coal, Real Estate, Telecoms – politicians and bureaucrats are talking about personal incomes in billion dollars – I mean, come on…with 22% people not having even one square meal a day, these people need to have specially armoured skins to be able to sleep straight at nights. Anyways, I rate this at 15% but super-destructive for the future, since newer generations might just accept this as the new normal !

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TV – the opium of the masses…and it’s role in nation-building

I had visited an office on the 10th floor of a building in Bandra East, and saw the view from there. The view was brilliant since there were no tall buildings close by, and hence one got a clear view of a few kilometres. As I saw lower and closer to the building, bam ! Dotting the many terraces of the LIG buildings (Low Income Group – believe it or not!) and the roofs of the shanties were at least 2000 DTH dish antennas – in a radius of 500m!

And this is the scene of a country, of an economy which has seen one of its worst times in the past 4-5 years, almost ever since DTH started mushrooming across India. Easily, television is recession-proof. In fact, I almost think that it is counter-cyclical, i.e., worse the economy goes, more the usage of TV increases in Indian households. After all, eating out has become more expensive, movie tickets are Rs 290 a piece, a roadside tea costs Rs 8…in such an environment, families are best placed in front of their television sets.

I have heard somewhere that TV viewing per person is 28 mins per day in India vs 42 mins in developed world. But I think that the huge denominator of our population spikes this indicator adversely, and am sure that the weekend viewing of all the households that I saw from the 10th floor must surely be at least 3-4 hours per day. This time in front of the TVs is a sure-shot way to forget the worldly worries – of onion prices, EMIs, falling bonuses, disappearing jobs, fees for computer classes, withdrawn job offers, and so on.

TV is indeed the opium of Indian masses…along with Bollywood and cricket!

So, how are media companies addressing this need, while simultaneously making a profitable business model ?

I would say quite well – news channels are a constant watchdog over politicians and the bureaucracy. And easily is a strong pillar of our almost fragile democratic system. Holding the fort on the other side are Entertainment channel s, which are feeding the insatiable appetite for entertainment of different segments – the housewives, the working women, kids, the youth, and the lifestyle builders. Tough considering that India is a nation of nations, a melting pot of cultures. Am sure the top 5% elites might be feeling a bit left out from the barrage of programs on such channels. But then, the P&L of channels will dictate putting their minutes where their money is…or going to come from. (I don’t know if there is a business case for an elite channel…I think Fox History, National Geographic serve some of that purpose).

Where I feel some of our mainstream channels missing a trick is in educating the backward segments. There is so much education to be done – from basic medical programmes of the Govt  to hygiene guidelines to traffic guidelines to even character-building (corruption is not the “normal”). I discovered to my pleasant surprise that Doordarshan National plays that role quite well – there are many filler educational programs there. Even their re-plays of Chanakya, Mahabarat etc play a great role of teaching our history, our culture and Values to our kids.

We are a young country, moving very fast – partly on our own, and partly being pulled ahead by global forces. I think Television has a great role to play in building our nation – we should not miss that opportunity…actually, it’s almost a responsibility….I also think that if TV doesn’t do it, Internet might…but then, that’s a different topic for some other day…

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Delhi Airport Metro Express vs Paddington Express

So, I sat in the Delhi Airport Metro Express for the first time during my visit to Delhi this week. I had heard about this Express for some time but because I have been flying Low-cost airlines (non-Jet Airways) whenever on official work, I have not been in the T-3 Airport Terminal for quite some time. So this time when Indigo seems to be losing their cost competitiveness over Jet, I snapped the opportunity…it was a “T-3 + Express” driven reason to fly Jet.

I called the local office cab to Shivaji Stadium railway station instead of at the airport, smart decision because the last 1.5 km from Shivaji Stadium to my office in Connaught Place might not have been physically possible in my suit and dragging my overnight bag.

The journey took me 16 mins flat !!! Am still to get over it. The 1.5km cab ride from Shivaji Stadium to Baarakhamba Road took another 16 mins. A normal cab ride from the airport to my office would have taken 1 hour in the peak morning hour that I had landed.

Anyways, coming to the COMPARISON, I had the opportunity to use the Paddington Express on my family holiday to London a few months back. Heathrow to Paddington in 20 mins flat (normal London tube would take 45 mins and a black cab would take 1 hour). So here goes Delhi vs London :

Delhi 9/10. London 7.5/10 !!!! Our Express is a clear winner.

  1. Fare for Delhi Express ride from airport to Connaught Place (Shivaji Stadium) is Rs 120. Paddington Express fare was 20 Pounds ! Even at purchasing power parity of a 1:4, it come to an equivalent of Rs 450 !!! Also, (Meru) cab fare in Delhi for same distance would be Rs 400 and in London 80 GBP.
  2. Cleanliness of Delhi Express is 9/10 vs 8/10 for Paddington, largely because you are not allowed to eat in our version. A bit authoritarian but smart…People in London start eating the moment they enter their Train and over the years, the trains get spoilt. Indian solution – NO EATING OR DRINKING ALLOWED J. Cruel but effective. I sipped in my water bottle surreptitiously.
  3. There is an indicator in Delhi Express which tells the passengers as to which side the platform is going to come. Amazing !!! I have not travelled in Mumbai locals for past 12 years but when I used to do that, for new travellers, guessing which side of the train does the next railway platform come was a great game. And it was not funny. As crowds moved from one side to the other, and shirts used to get ironed both sides. Not there in Paddington or for that matter in any of the London Tube trains.
  4. Announcement of the next station – available in both Expresses
  5. There is an LED map of the entire route (Dwarka to Delhi Railway Station) – a series of LEDs lighting the route. The LEDs keep on getting lighted as the Express covers the proportionate distance on the real route. So between Dhaula Kuan station and Shivaji Stadium, which is a non-stop run, one can know roughly as to how far Shivaji is. The LEDs were lighting in 24 seconds per LED (40 LEDS, 16 mins).
  6. Connectivity from the Express Station to other places in the city – Delhi 3/10, London 9/10.


Other aspects about our Delhi Express : Ticket was easily purchased from inside the airport itself. A blue plastic token with Reliance ADAG written on it. ADAG have given up operating this route since last month because of not being able to break even. However, the token tickets remain.

Occupancy at 9:40am train was 60% – not much in demand. Should be unprofitable. 50% of passengers were young lady executives from Dwarka, easily a preferred mode of travel for them – all power to them – more such alternatives need to be generated. Trains leaving every 15 mins.

A must-do !!!

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HUL Chairman’s Speech – Learnings galore

Thanks to the AGM of HUL being held on Friday July 26, the full-page speech-text was printed in The Economic Times only on Saturday, giving me time to read and re-read the entire speech. And man, what an amazing bouquet of thoughts ! My attempt here to summarise key highlights, and possibly to glean out some learnings…

  • The post-2008 world has been acknowledged as the key context of doing business itself. The war-term of Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) has been picked up to describe the extent of chaos in the global business world. SNAFU is another one which comes to my mind (Situation Normal, but All Fouled Up).
  • The speech identifies three mega-trends within the VUCA world, which are transmogrifying (I learnt this word from Calvin & Hobbes) the way business is being done –
    • Digitisation : Telegraph invented in 1840, Telephone in 1880, TV in 1920, IC in 1960 and Smartphone in 2000 (combining all of the above) – the world is never going to be the same again !
    • Shift of power to the developing world, and
    • The Importance of keeping Environment at the centre of business strategy.

Any company intending to do meaningful business globally has to understand, nay, internalise these mega-trends as part of its core strategy.

  • Historically, Business Growth was supposed to be comprehensive only if it was :
    • Profitable Growth,
    • Competitive Growth and
    • Consistent Growth (consistent over the first 2 dimensions).

Now, to win in a VUCA world, Responsible Growth has to be added to this list quite irreversibly. Society, Community has to be kept in mind while planning Growth.

  • Leadership required to achieve the 4-pronged growth and to succeed in the VUCA world should have the following traits :
    • Have an optimal mix of foresight and agility, the ability to balance the short-term with the long-term
    • Be consumer-centric, especially as consumers move across income bands, geographical regions and needs clusters
    • Ability to think local, act global : consumer insights are local, processes & best practices to act on these insights could be global
    • Values-led : values have to be non-negotiable, especially in bad times like now. Unilever Values can be described as “Spirited IRR”, covering Integrity, Responsibility, Respect and a Pioneering Spirit. Each company, each business has to firm up their set of values, and stick to them through thick and thin
    • Purpose-driven : purpose of the enterprise has to be over-arching, should far exceed the boundaries of business strategy,  and should be adding value to the lives of people  – both, consumers of the business and others.

Many Business Leaders may have thought through most of the above points for their Business; however, I found it interesting to see at one place such a beautiful amalgamation of inter-related variables, required to succeed in the new world order. And another point, I don’t think your company has to wait till it becomes of the size of HUL before one starts working on the above comprehensive landscape. In fact, if your company is small but growing, now is the right time to adopt such an all-encompassing, multi-directional approach…before it’s too late !

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