Thursday, December 29, 2011

A different experience!

Business School education is not all about Leadership, Corporate Strategy, Pricing, Financial models or JIT manufacturing. I believe now a days, many B Schools focuses equally on other important topics like entrepreneurship, international economy and politics, social entrepreneurship One thing I noticed in the last 1.5+ in B School interacting with students and faculty in IIMB and other B Schools is that, each B School follow roughly some philosophy while designing the curriculum.Likewise IIM Bangalore gives thrust to topics like entrepreneurship, public policy and new venture creation through inclusive business models etc. along with the usual courses. Last quarter, we had an elective course on Social Entrepreneurship by Prof. Trilochan Sastry. Yes, the name may ring a bell to you - he was behind important contributions to the country like Association of Democratic Reforms, Election Watch, Farmer Cooperatives etc.

As part of the course, we had to work with a NGO to understand its activities and get a hands on experience of running an NGO.We decided to work with AKSHARA Foundation as part of this project. After a few discussions with the volunteers at AKSHARA, we decided to focus on a project that they were currently undertaking. Essentially it was to conduct the feasibility study of adding a technological solution to the manual process of ASER.Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is a manual data collection exercise done by 25000+ volunteers across India under the guidance of Pratham to study the effectiveness of school eduction in Government Schools in Indian Villages.

The learning from projects like these is enormous.We had no clue that such a humongous activity is done every year just to understand the effectiveness of education in India. Even though the volunteers at AKSHARA stressed its importance, we had this question - is it really a required one? The answers were provided when we read former ASER reports that showed the real pathetic condition of Government school education. Its importance was strengthened when we visited a few schools in the villages in Hoskote taluk in Bangalore. We visited few schools in the villages of Muthukadahalli, Karpnahalli,Naganahalli and Sidanpura.It was the first village visit for all of us.We had no clue how different it will be to be in village schools.

The first school that we visited was in size not more than that of a dining hall!! It was a single teacher school. Believe it or not, we noticed the peculiarity of this school - 5 classes(Standard I to V) in a single classroom!

After spending some time with the children, we headed to the next school. It was some what better with two classrooms - Standard I to III in one room and Standard IV to VII in the next room!

Our professor used to stress on one fact that people in rural areas are far more receptive that those in the cities. They don't need freebies, they look for empowerment. This was clearly evident in our interaction with the teachers and children in these schools.We were like the 'School Inspector' visiting each school :) After some interaction with the teachers, each student came to us showcasing their talent in writing, painting, paper crafts and so on...

Personally for me, it was embarrassing as I had no clue on what to expect from these visits and such a welcoming reaction from children! I wished I know to speak Kannada.The more embarrassing fact for me was that - whenever we visited classrooms, we removed our shoes noticing that the children were not wearing anything. We thought it may be a custom not to wear chappals inside classrooms. I never thought at the first instance that they didn't have the financial ability to buy food or dress let alone chappals.
How disconnected am I from the real world!

We also got the opportunity to talk to few parents. It was really interesting to see the importance and enthusiasm they show in their childrens' studies. We noticed the other extreme also - where the family is in a big turmoil, that the children come to school escaping from those or just for the mid day meals.

In another school visit, we ate the mid day meals provided to children. Once again, it was a surprise visit for them; the school authorities didn't get time to prepare a separate meal for us. The children and teacher promised us to prepare payasa and kesari bath during our next visit. How nice of them.....we had to promise in turn, when we will come back!!!

PGSEM Alumni meet

As the sun began to set last Saturday, a few people from the corners of Bangalore and outside, slowly inched back towards IIMB. The destination was well known to them. And some had been sorely missing these trips for a long time..

For the current crop of students, the evening promised to be something special. Could they see a reflection of their own futures in the seniors whom they were about to meet..

The event started in the most comfortable way.. some even helping themselves for a second round of samosas and the wonderful fruit-cake. And then, settling down in a classroom comes naturally to all PGSEMers. Seniors came from everywhere - Cisco, HP, Infy, Wipro, etc etc.. And then there were the special ones.. the Entrepreneurs.

The interactions began. Stories and incidents flew. Over the din were heard comments like 'I got rejuvenated here', 'Never missed a class unlike Engineering!', 'demystified my life', 'upgraded my skills', 'made great friends', 'life felt like an action movie', 'grew more confident' and on and on. Some in the audience had horror written on their faces when one senior recalled an incident of copying which was caught. And as the elegant Ms. Uma Balakrishnan reminiscenced the guidance she received from Professor J.Ramachandran for a knotty problem in her new venture, it reminded all of the greatness of this institution.

It was the 10th year reunion for the first passing batch of PGSEM in 2001. And that class of 50+ students was well represented. The old and the new compared the course, then and now. There now was the new classroom block. A more expansive list of electives on offer. A race among professors to offer some of their best courses to the PGSEM students. The swiping system of attendance (the unwelcome offspring of technology revolution). The thick cover of trees having grown a little less wild. But some things had not changed - mid-career crisis/confusion among students, the break-neck speed of academics, the mystique of our ageless professors and the wonderful administrative support.

Charm was added to the light-hearted evening as Vikram.JS and Vikram Parthan took to the stage and played the guitars. Who would not enjoy a 'purani jeans' or 'summer of 69' once more?

The dinner buffet was tastefully laid out. The soft lighting and green lawns reminded all of the holiday season and the coming dawn of a new year. It was all apt - after all the the best of networking happens over good food! 

So, with the start of Alumni reunions this year, the family of 1000+ PGSEMers has found one more chord to connect back to their alma mater. Its only natural to thank the Alumni organization of IIMB, especially Mr. Rakesh Godhwani and Ms. Rohini for the joyous evening.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Unethical Indian?

The atmosphere in college is soaked in finance these days courtesy the India Finance Conference. So, the first thing that came to my mind on hearing the composition of the panel was Portfolio theory: Greater the diversification, greater the returns. Well, here goes the list of the panelists (straight from the invitation mail)

"Dr. Samuel Paul- Former Director, IIM Ahmedabad, and Founder of the Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore. Professor Paul co-edited a book titled Corruption in India: An Agenda for Action, and pioneered the use of Report Cards to enhance the accountability of public service providers in India.

Professor Dipankar Gupta-One of India’s foremost sociologists and recently retired from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is the author of Ethics Incorporated, and advised KPMG on setting up an Ethics practice in India.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, journalist and author with over 20 years experience in print, radio and television. He was one of the first media professionals to expose the iron ore scam in Karnataka through his path-breaking video titled Blood and Iron.

Meena Ganesh-CEO and Managing Director Pearson Education Services, which includes innovative brands like Tutor Vista and Edurite. Earlier CEO of Tesco, Co-Founder of Customer Asset , spending the earlier part of her career with Microsoft, PwC and  NIIT.

The discussions will be moderated by Professor Rishikesha T Krishnan, Professor of Corporate Strategy at IIM Bangalore."

You can do the math and figure out the correlation.

Prof Paul started the discussion espousing the need of a) Individuals who hold certain values close to their heart and b) Institutions that nurture and support these values. He pointed out the high level of tolerance for corruption in our society due to various reasons like lack of education and other social institutions which could have implemented these values thus reducing the elasticity of the morals. In essence what we need is fewer laws and better implementation.
A worse problem is the predatory nature of our political institutions. If there is scope for collusion there is lack of transparency leading to greed and corruption. We need a transformation from predatory to more accountable form of political institutions. This has already been achieved eg in property tax collection in Bengaluru which has become much more transparent after publishing the formula for calculating the due amount. Prof concluded with the remark that we need to move from a culture of cynicism to that of hope.

Paranjoy dwelled upon the nuanced nature of perception of corruption in India eg taking bribe is a bigger corruption that giving bribe. What is shocking is the scale and the brazen nature of corruption today which makes scams of yesteryears seem trivial. He said that the root of corruption is in the way elections are funded in India. He added that there is a (misplaced) perception that corruption like inflation and inequality goes hand in hand with growth and development. The problem we have is that resources of our country are up for sale and that Governments which should ideally be the custodians of these resources are the ones actively taking part in this sale. Talking of the collusion between media, Government and corporates he quoted this witty ditty from "Uncelestial City"

You cannot hope 
       to bribe or twist, 
    thank God! the 
       British journalist.
    But, seeing what 
       the man will do 
    unbribed, there's 
       no occasion to.

He concluded his talk on an optimistic note saying slowly but steadily we are moving forward from corruption towards transparency thanks to proactive judiciary, vigilant sections of the media and the civil society, so much so that we can expect our children and grand children to live in a world that is less corrupt than the one we live in.

Meena brought the corporate perspective in the discussion adding the dimensions of i) Excellence, ii) Behaviour with other people iii) Integrity that together comprise ethics. Talking of the importance of leadership in nurturing ethics she noted the opportunity in education with a focus on ethics at various levels. She explained the concept of Jugaad which has a place of pride & affection in our hearts as a mixed bag which leads to creativity and innovation at the same time providing avenues to misuse loopholes in rules thus transgressing ethical boundaries. She discussed how strictly implemented laws like ABC (Anti Bribery & Corruption) policy in UK which while perceived as being draconian by most sections of the corporate world was instrumental in structural changes leading to increased transparency. Providing a possible solution for corruption she said the first and foremost thing is that we keep our stable clean and then go on to bring robust businesses which will generate employment, thus reducing scarcity of basic resources and curbing corruption at the grass root level.

Dipankar provided the "aha moment" of the session when he explained the distinction between Morality and Ethics. Morality, he said was a private matter while ethics was a public affair out there in the open. Thus while a vegetarian may hold a "moral" high-ground, it is restricted to his personal view. Ethics on the other hand is based on rules stated upfront eg behavior in Traffic on in sports. He said that a team leader may not be the best player in the team but brings out the best from the team. Thus, ethics lead to professional excellence. Talking of his experience in setting up the ethics and corporate governance practice in KPMG he said that ethics and business were considered oxymorons for a long time. However ethics is not something you do after you make money rather it is something you do in order to make money. He explained CSR as having 3 dimensions viz. i) Consumer ii) Competence & iii) Community which together should benefit the company. Bringing democracy into the discussion he added that "the good thing about democracy is that it eventually listens". Although we currently have patron-client relationship at all levels in our society, hampering transparency and ethical behavior, with efforts for universal education and universal health we should see a growing middle class and growing empathy thus increasing the room for ethics.

PS: The title as was pointed in the Q&A session is meant to be rhetorical; not a statement on the ethics of Indians!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dr. C. Rangarajan's address in India Finance Conference 2011

Dr. C. Rangarajan inaugurated the India Finance Conference 2011 earlier today at IIMB. Dr. Rangarajan is currently the economic adviser to the Prime Minister. An eminent scholar, Dr. Rangarajan has been a professor at IIM-A and also been its director. He has been awarded with Padma Vibhushan and has served as the Governor of Andhra Pradesh.

In his inaugural speech, Dr Rangarajan addressed the gathering on the 3 topics of - Reforms, Regulation and Financial Innovation.

Talking about reforms he pointed out that the share of PSB's (public sector banks) in the Indian economy has gradually but substantially come down from over 90% in 1991 to about 72% in 2010. Private banks command a share of 10-12% and this seems likely to go up. Speaking about banking and finance sector reforms, he said there are many distinctive features that make Indian reform story unique, like - (a) Usage of domestic expertise (b) Banking reforms not driven by any crisis (c) Done along with other economic reforms (d) Creation of space for public & private along with domestic and foreign. He elaborated on the various transformational roles played by the Financial Intermediaries like risk, size and maturity transformations, and explained the challenges in the coming year. Dr. Rangarajan said that currently the Indian PSB's are under-capitalized and there was a need to infuse more capital into their systems. He pointed out that Indian banks are moving towards accepting new regulatory frameworks emerging across the world - the Basel II and III standards - and there was a need to do so.

Going on to regulations, Dr. Rangarajan pointed out that the current crisis in the west can be attributed to both the things - no regulation of certain financial activities and under-regulation of some. "Regulatory arbitrage" was created as funds moved from regulated to non-regulated parts of the market freely. Speaking of the need for regulations to cover all segments, he stressed that regulations be applied to uniform degree as well. He said that 'coordinated' oversight is required across geographies in the present crisis as well as going ahead. Dr. Rangarajan called for creation of institutions to build buffer in good times so that they can be used in bad times. Speaking about maintenance of good quality assets, he stressed that excessive leverage needs to be contained.

On Financial Innovation, Dr. Rangarajan brought to notice a recent report by Joseph Stiglitz Committee that says much of the innovation was helping only short-term profitability and was not the long-term. He called upon the FI's to keep in mind the social benefit/impact as they roll out new innovations. Saying that more study needs to be done to uncover risk taking and leveraging behavior, the FI's need to discourage excess use of either. Pointing out the need for an efficient debt market for corporate bonds to help liquidity needs as Indian markets mature, he extolled that there is a lot of room for innovations in the Indian context.

The three day conference at IIMB hosting many noted speakers from academia and industry promises to be great event for those interested in the Indian Financial system.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Know Your Alumni Series : Samyeer Metrani

Samyeer Metrani
VP - Design Services, Mistral Solutions Inc.

Total Years of Experience: 22 Years.
Role Before Joining PGSEM: Group manager - Embedded Systems, Encore software Limited
Role After Completing PGSEM: General manager @ Encore Software Limited.

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself. [Family, Education, hobbies]                         

I’m married; I have two children, Saket (11) and Saatchi (6), and a lovely wife. My father was in the Airforce, so my education was all over India. For some time I was in boarding school too, at the Lawrence School, Lovedale near Ooty. I have an unconventional education, I am a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, but have been a technical geek playing with computers since I was 12. Computers for me were a hobby, and have become my life.

Q. Please describe your current job/role that you perform?

Mistral is an Embedded Design Services company. We help our customers design embedded products, and help them take those designs all the way through prototyping, firmware development, testing, product validation, certification, all the way to shipping product.
I head the design services group for Mistral in the United States. It is primarily a front-end role. I interface with customers and partners to manage the business that we do in the United States.
On one hand, I focus on building strategic relationships with silicon partners. For example, Mistral is one of the key suppliers of development platforms for the Texas Instruments OMAP processor. We leverage the expertise developed, towards building solutions for customers who would like to use the OMAP processor in their designs.
On the other hand, I work closely with the end customer, keeping a finger on their pulse, and making sure projects are going well. Keeping communication channels open, and making sure that issues, both sides of the planet are open and discussed.

Q. What would be the most challenging aspect of your role?

That’s easy…its keeping communication going...we operate in a global relay race, with teams working all over the world. We have to make sure that all information on everything that is going on is available to everybody who needs to know.
I spend a lot of time listening; to our teams, to customers, and am always looking for that “small thing” that got missed. Big problems get the visibility and because of that are pretty easy to solve, it’s the small ones that get ignored and become the real problems that we sometimes face. Problems/mistakes happen; keeping communication going through a crisis is the primary requirement to come out looking good on the other side.

Q. How did PGSEM help transform your career?

I remember my first day at PGSEM. You know how it is, you go through life, doing well in school, college, at work, did well at the entrance exam, and here I am…and generally think… “Damn! I’m good!” …and then you walk into a classroom full of people who feel exactly the same way about themselves. A humbling, and a very learning experience.
PGSEM really took me from trying to do everything myself to working out how I can work together with others to achieve a common objective. It changed my approach towards colleagues, suppliers, partners and most importantly customers. It also helped me focus on structure and technique towards doing things. Studying, while working, had the powerful advantage that I could test my understanding of what happened in the classroom, in the real world of the workplace.

Q. What are the trends that you see in the business space today in terms of the skill requirements and the supply of the same?

There is a convergence and consolidation that is going on across all sectors our industry services. The big are getting bigger, and the small are getting swallowed up. This introduces new challenges as we look for ways to differentiate at what we do. The customer is not always ready with a problem they are looking to solve, it is up to us to come up with new concepts, new designs, new products and services…
In the words of Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses!”
The industry needs people who can change, who can innovate, who are willing and able to tear up the status quo to create a new reality, come on…10 years ago Google was a search engine!

Q. Describe THE incident which has influenced you the most to be what you are today.

It was in 1982, I had just come back from boarding school for the summer and we had gone to Bombay (now Mumbai) to meet my grandparents. Sitting there in front of the TV was a Home Computer, the ZX Spectrum. That was when I was introduced to the virtual world of computing. I spent a lot of time that summer learning basic, and showing off to my brother and cousins how I could make it do what I asked of it. I was hooked, that wonder has not worn off, and I hope it never will. I no longer have that ZX Spectrum computer, but I have the manual, over the years the pages have rotted, and have stuck together, I can no longer open it, and I don’t want to lest it comes apart, but it holds the pride of place on my bookshelf as a reminder of my introduction to computers.

Q. What do you think are the key attributes of a good leader?

1.       Decision Making – The ability and the willingness to take a call.
2.       Consistency or actually Clarity – a leader needs to be clear about what he stands for, and consistent (even predictable) in standing by it.
3.       Willingness to be wrong – and taking corrective action quickly.
Q. Whom do you consider as your Role Model and Why?

That would be Mr. Subroto Bagchi. I first met Mr. Bagchi over 14 years ago. At that time I was running a small startup from a house in Bangalore, he was a senior figure in Wipro, much before he started MindTree. He treated me with the same respect that he would give to somebody from a much larger company. Every time I have met him since he not only remembers those times, but takes the effort to know a little more about me.
I am not surprised to see how far Mr. Bagchi has gone, and I hope that I live up to the picture of myself that he set up for me.

Q. What is your take on the importance of a value system in business?

While I believe that business should have a value system I believe more, that a value system is what the individual lives by. No business can impose a value system onto an individual or a team, but people who believe in similar values can come together and become a very powerful force. I sincerely believe that if we treat the other person (customer, partner, colleague…no matter) exactly the way that we would like to be treated, we will do well. A slightly tongue-in-cheek example that I give often to people starting a new career, “May the person who builds your house do his work with exactly the same commitment that you give to your work!”

Q. What is your Mantra for work life balance?

This is a tough one, especially because I am a bit of a Workaholic. I have a fantastic wife who will tell me when I’m going too far…and I guess to my credit, I listen. I do the work, she provides the balance.

Q. Your message to students at IIMB-PGSEM today?

There is a significant need for leadership in our industry. After the PGSEM you are ready to take it up…but nobody is going to come to you and say, “You are ready, now lead!” You need to step up and ask for it, and make sure you get it. Knowledge and ability is of no value unless it is put to use, go ahead and show the world what you can do.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Plunnge and Product Managers meet

The start of quarter is always an exciting time. You get to know new courses, new professors and feel fresh..

But many will remember the start of Quarter 3 for more reasons than that. For the 2 wonderful interaction sessions we had today - one with head of IIMB Alumni initiative Mr. Rakesh Godhwani and the other with 3 senior Product Managers from Google, Oracle and Nokia.

Rakesh, being a PGSEM alumnus touched the students chords almost instantly. His has been a deep personal and professional journey - one which is difficult to capture in mere words. To leave a lucrative job.. the self belief to chase your dreams.. to have faith in family, friends and god's ways.. these are not things that one comes across even once in a while. Would recommend one and all to have a look at his book's website - and listen to his interview.

And in the late evening we had the product manager's meet. Three product managers, all distinguished alumnus of PGSEM and wonderful speakers..
  • Mr. Sai Sreekanth - Product Manager, Emerging Markets group, Google
  • Mr. Abhinav Agarwal - Director, Product Management & Strategy, Oracle
  • Mr. Subodh Sachan - Senior Product Manager at BORQS
Abhinav held the audience to a rapt attention as he described his role and work followed by Subodh. Sai, with his flowing beard and deep probing eyes seemed like a perfect geek and an anti-thesis to a conventional manager.. but once he started speaking you knew it.. he knew what he was doing like the back of his hand.

The three gentlemen took pains to explain the workings of inbound and outbound product management.. of the distribution of their time in market research, sales interactions, PRD making and developer interactions.. of the importance of domain and the importance to leverage ones prior experience.. basically the whole art and science of product management.

It was a interesting and thought provoking start to a new quarter. Thanks to all who made it possible - the Guest Speakers, Organizers and the participants.

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