Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When every drop counts...

The economic downturn has given such a beautiful veil to incompetent managers to hide their own flaws and mistakes. Any and every mistake can be quickly blamed on the "bottom 5%" and wash your hands off it. In some cases, they can take this corporate cleansing to rather extreme levels.

Take the case of this Filipino worker, had his ass fired for.. well.. not ass-imilating well into the Australian culture. Philippines is one of my favorite countries (not counting Europe). The reason is they are closest to India in terms of their food habits, zest for life and "kindly adjust maadi" attitude.

It appears that they are closer to India than I previously thought. This news article may well apply to any of us. 'fess up, people, did you never do this in firang land yourself?

Corporate 'culture' going down the drain-- the Australian Way :-P

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kya Aap Montessori Pass Se Tez Hain?

An office bearer of a slum dwellers’ body has filed a defamation case against music director A.R. Rahman and actor Anil Kapoor alleging that the award winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” calls Indians dogs and slum dwellers slum dogs.

Meanwhile, the Thackeray's are contemplating action against film director Kevin Smith for calling all mothers Dog, in his controversial 1999 movie -- Dogma!
(In this case, they may even get the Vatican's support!)

This can happen only in India! More here

Come, let's bomb them!

"We were in our office when hundreds of people barged into the hotel and started ransacking the lobby. We locked ourselves inside a room," said a staff member.

Nope, this isn't a news report about 26/11. Although, to my mind, the staff of this hotel must have experienced the same fear and helplessness in those 60 seconds, that their colleagues at Taj and Oberoi endured for 60 hours. This was a news item about Shiv Sena launching its election campaign in Mumbai by attacking a 5-star hotel. For all our outrage against Pakistan, we are helpless when the bouncers of Mumbai follow in their footsteps.

With elections around the corner, both MNS and original Sena have decided to go for some top-of-mind recall campaigns. On their next pit-stop, in Pune, they decided to vandalize a movie theatre. It's crime? They were exhibiting a movie in Kannada, a language recognized by the Indian constitution but not by Supremo (as the Sena party leader is called).

If some of you, lost in the haze of blaming the 'foreign hand' at every drop, care to remember, our fight with Pakistan is over a piece of land. We refuse to concede territory that we believe is ours, they believe is theirs. We are ready to bomb them, scar them and ban them for their assault against Indian pride.

The aforementioned vandalization is also over a piece of land. Karnataka refuses to concede Belgaum, a town it believes to be hers, Maharashtra believes is theirs. Whether JeM or KRV or MNS, the ideology is the same, the actions are the same. The intellectuals, willingly or unwillingly, refuse to acknowledge the "divide and rule" ruse. Linguists and activists on both sides of the border fuel the fire with support and justifications, ignoring the fact that terrorism must be shunned whether it is commited by non-state actors or own-state actors.

The hurt, in the latter case, is deeper. Who do you bomb when it's your own brothers assaulting the Indian pride? Or isn't their anything called "Indian" left anymore?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Up next: Anti Greed Act?

Read this interesting article on WSJ.

Echoes my thoughts on the mindlessness of the new buzzword: "Bailout". Like the other American export-- "lay offs" -- this policy celebrates and perpetuates incompetence while kicking the "worker" in the balls. I do not believe all that Ayn Rand wrote was gospel, but I do like the way this WSJ analysis compares her vision to today's greed-infested times. As if "1984" wasn't bad enough...

An excerpt from the article:

One memorable moment in "Atlas" occurs near the very end, when the economy has been rendered comatose by all the great economic minds in Washington. Finally, and out of desperation, the politicians come to the heroic businessman John Galt (who has resisted their assault on capitalism) and beg him to help them get the economy back on track. The discussion sounds much like what would happen today:

Galt: "You want me to be Economic Dictator?"

Mr. Thompson: "Yes!"

"And you'll obey any order I give?"


"Then start by abolishing all income taxes."

"Oh no!" screamed Mr. Thompson, leaping to his feet. "We couldn't do that . . . How would we pay government employees?"

"Fire your government employees."

"Oh, no!"

Abolishing the income tax. Now that really would be a genuine economic stimulus. But Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Washington want to do the opposite: to raise the income tax "for purposes of fairness" as Barack Obama puts it.

The irony is that the current economic chaos was spawned by greed. The generous, free money being given to the same greedy corporates is turning "bailout" into a cottage-industry. It's come to a point where if you are not asking for bailout and ordering lay-offs, your reputation as a CEO is at stake. Once the dust settles, we will have large companies where the best talent has been lost or demoralized during the "cleansing". All that would remain are sharp-clawed senior executives with the wily to hang on, engorged on all the free food.

The top down approach to tackle this economy fails to appreciate that it is the collective hunger of individuals that drives "growth". The lop-sided actions today focus on the corporation while continuing to render the individuals jobless, homeless and helpless.

It has been proven time and again that the "Government has no business to be in business". Instead, they can do a world of good if they focused their energies on providing the infrastructure and security for "small people" to keep working without fear. In any case, the average Joe does not depend on any bailout to keep himself and his family afloat in this flood.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Simple Truths

Sandeep has linked to this personal finance website for a long time. I found this post extremely useful in making sense of investments today, and hopefully using this as a reminder to look better before leaping into the investment market of the future. Click here to find out how much returns your investments are really earning. Unfortunately, he does not specify how to calculate the CAGR values. Maybe someone can enlighten me in the comments?

You can also catch some more financial planning tips here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Web 2.0 gets active

For all its expertize in writing software, Indian developers tend to have a weak sense of UI and intuitive features. Whether it is home-grown software or desi websites, the flow and look of the UI is always secondary, as long as it works. Maybe the roots lie in our chalta-hai attitude, proven by narrow lanes being laid out even in recently developed parts of the town. Or our easy acceptance of long queues instead of 'token' systems at the passport office. This is why I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of B2C Indian-owned and operated websites recently. The navigation, feature-set and after-sales service from both Picsquare and CAMS have left me rather optimistic.

Picsquare is a photo-printing start-up based in Bangalore that provides excellent quality prints and gifts (like personalized calendars and tee shirts) at half the cost of others like HP Snapfish and Kodak. In our experience, the creative designs at Picsquare have been much much better than the amateurish samples we saw at Myntra, GK Vale and other competing shops. Their revamped website makes great use of Web 2.0 to allow quick and easy customisation of gifts with your own photos. Interestingly, the output on screen was a close match with the final product-- something I frankly did not expect.

CAMS is a registrar for mutual fund investments for many companies in India. They sent me my usual statement this morning by email. Only, this time, the statement was on fire. The tiny 37KB PDF contained a wealth (no pun intended) of information. It provides transaction history, account details and charts in neat tabbed layout. The best part is, they allow many service requests to be made right there at one click. This "paperless" approach has been long missed, with most funds and banks still requiring us to visit the branch for signing forms for every little request. Except for the requests, all other interactive content is visible even when offline.

The reason I was excited enough to blog about this is how Web 2.0 allows even Indian websites, that are traditionally weak on intuitive user-interface, to "look pretty" and "act smart". While the fonts are still large, the color combinations tacky and security suspect, these initiatives are still a leap from the baby-steps that B2C websites have taken in the past. I have already waxed eloquent about Ixigo earlier, an sophisticated travel-search engine that beats MMT et al hollow. Picsquare, CAMS and others like them now bring a similar "comfort" to delivered-goods services as well.

That said, I strongly caution you against using shopping websites like IndiaPlaza, Rediff and Indiatimes. Unlike the start-ups, these brands have missed the point and use e-commerce as a sly tool to palm off duplicate and/or tacky products. In many cases, their delivery systems still remain unreliable and customer service/ after-sales service is conspicuously absent. Despite the market of a billion users, Amazon and its clones have yet to bless our shores with their awesome service and prices.

Given below are some snapshots of the CAMS "Active Statement", just to give a feel of the new service. While I loved the UI, I wonder if it appeals equally to less tech-savvy account holders?

The "ActiveStatement" Home Page

The Missing Information Tab

Friday, January 09, 2009

Common Sense has No Nationality

Found this beautiful article from Dawn News, Pakistan's leading news daily, at another blog. How can we still hate them after this? :-)

It is amazing how far politicians and media can go to fuel a war. These are the two groups that depend upon war for their very survival. The third group to benefit is, of course, the armed forces but their gain is splattered with heavy losses. The former two, on the other hand, profit from war while having nothing to lose as people forget serious governance lapses, stay glued to TV and generally find something to distract them instead of pigeons at Taj.

Both these groups unarguably have the greatest influence on public opinion and public thinking. Contrary to popular perception, urban and intellectual "classes" are the first to fall for media-led bull. They make it easier for the masses to succumb. India quickly decides to forget Ashoka and embraces Ghazini (not Aamir, the other barbarian from Mongolia or Turkey).

At the other end of the spectrum, we have feeble voices of dissent in a country reviled for its war-mongering. We must all pray that in 2009 these voices grow louder and drown the sounds of madness. We must look at history and realize (before it is too late) that there are no victors in a war.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tax Tool for Dummies

Since this is the time we start thinking of taxes, linking a useful tool that I often use. It is not made by a CA but a software chap. It may not be 100% accurate but I find it very useful in arriving at a ballpark figure and seeing how various items impact the tax liability. It also helps in understanding the "real" gain (after taxes) from a salary hike, if any.

If anyone has a better tool out there, please post it in comments. I have been looking high and low for one. I am especially interested in whatever tools Raju used over at Satyam.

Until then, Nithyanand's Tax Calculator available at

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I S o B

A few months ago, I posted on what I believed to be India's proudest moment-- the establishment of Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad. Over the last few days, I am shocked to learn that the institution responsible for churning out strong, ethical and socially aware managers might have been led by a Dean guilty of greed, corruption and mismanagement. It's again a case of Who guards the Guardians...

Satyam's chairman resigned about an hour ago. He admitted to large scale (to the tune of $1.04 Billion) fraud in Satyam accounts over the last several years. The company looks set to disappear and reappear in a new avatar, a la Arthur Andersen & Co. I pray for the well-being and security of those trusting employees at Satyam who gave their everything to be left with nothing.

What were the Auditors doing?
What was the Board doing?
What was the SEBI doing?

The fact that a Chairman has confessed that it was going on for years, makes the accountability swamp across the spectrum of regulators and guardians of policy. This will also be its shield. I am guessing the story will end with many lay-offs and exile in Mauritius for the Raju's and Rao's. Beyond that would be like expecting surgeons to amputate their own arms!

I am sure industry leaders are learning from the fiasco. They are asking their managers: "How the hell did Satyam manage to do it? What were you guys doing?". All they need to do is avoid Raju's last mistake and the secret of Satyam can take them all the way to Swiss banks. Maybe even help them become PM.

Once again, my heart bleeds for those thousands of trusting employees hoodwinked by the system. SoB.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Under the Wheels of Progress

I loved these 2 articles on Fast Company, a management webzine.

In the first one, the 4-day work-week is cheered. The author makes a case for an extra day off contributing not only to family health and bonding, but also to a greener and cleaner planet. Contrast this to the typical 60 hour work-week in cities like Bombay and New York and you see one reason for all the bad decisions that led to this economic crash. Unfortunately, in board-rooms across the world, this will be nothing more than idle sermonizing. Sharing doesn't come easy, especially sharing time.

The other article talks about recognizing bad managers. These are not just unpleasant people, but leaders that can lead their teams and even companies into ruin. Ironically, most of the symptoms mentioned by the author are what society generally upholds as good professional and workaholic attitude. Like junk food, we do not realize until it is too late that just because something claims to be "breakfast", does not mean it is healthy. Inaction and conventionality often provides a cloak of invisibility for incompetent managers to outlast achievers in any organization.

This post was provoked by this entry about an insecure boss. I have had managers gloat about never taking a day off, not taking coffee breaks and working through weekends.

What do you feel about the correlation between productivity and the obsession with long hours, procedures and Blackberries?