Thursday, December 27, 2007

A journey within - I

I haven't been updating this blog that often. And the reason isn't work pressures or blog-fatigue. There are enough interesting things to write about - from the new Flying machine ad (isn't it a decade too late to be inspired by The Matrix?) to the Indian School of Business (Yes, I came, I saw and I am impressed!)

All that and more in due time. But as the year draws to a close and reams of newsprint are devoted to 'best of 2007 lists', I find myself in a more reflective mood. This year, for me, has been a journey... but an inward one.

And although I rarely get personal on this blog I feel the need to share this experience. So many of us, outwardly qualified, content and cruising through life are actually restless and raging inside. For no apparent reason.

Some say this is the scourge of modern life. That may well be the truth. But there are deeper and more eternal truths which I, a born skeptic, stumbled upon. And if it happened to me, it could happen to you too.

So bear with me, as I deviate into unusual territory. This is a 5 part series. If you choose to follow it, keep an open and inquiring mind. Let the journey begin..

A journey within - I
It is a mildly chilly March morning. I am at the German cafe in Rishikesh, a quaint little place which serves fantastic fluffy brown bread and coffee. And offers a great view of the Lakshman Jhula bridge.

I am the only Indian at the cafe. This is white-man-seeking-salvation haven. Elderly English ladies, youngish European lads. Most are sipping honey lemon water and discussing their progress on the path of yoga. They've been here months - some even years - and long after it was truly fashionable to be a hippie.

My mind says they're escapists - floating through life on the strength of a favourable exchange rate. But my heart feels otherwise. They could just as well be lying on a beach in Goa sipping tequilas. But they're here, on some kind of quest.

Clean as it is, there are flies buzzing around the place. Some make a landing on the honey-and-lemon-sippers legs. No one reacts. It's like this is a most natural and beautiful thing. Human beings, flies - they co exist in peace and harmony. I can't help but wonder: Are flies in Rishikesh different from flies elsewhere in the world?

Or is it just that these people are so much at peace - with themselves, and the world - that the fly ceases to bother?

And keeping with the metaphor of the fly, is it possible to be so much at peace with yourself that these 'flies' - the many irritants buzzing around in our day to day life - cease to bother??

The answer, I have discovered is 'yes'. Unlikely as it sounds at first, this is possible. And we don't need to be in Rishikesh to achieve this state (although it's certainly a very beautiful place and I would not mind spending a few months conducting lemon, honey and fly experiments @ the German Cafe in particular).

In fact, to the majority of Indians the idea of leaving home, family, job and all worldly commitments to someday achieve 'enlightenment' is laughable. Which is why an entire generation of spiritual teachers have taken it upon themsleves to create programs that fit into our world. And happen at our doorstep.

From Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to Swami Sukhbodananda, we have a wide variety of 3-5 day 'courses' designed to make us introspect, and to learn some simple techniques of meditation. The program you choose to take up generally depends on who you encounter that persuades you to 'give it a try'.

And so it was that I joined the 'Art of Living' basic course close to 5 years ago. Did it change my life? Well... it could have. I went into the course a complete non-believer and came out thinking, "haan isme kuch hai". The main takeaway from Art of Living is the 'sudarshan kriya' - a breathing technique which allows you to get into a meditative state.

The first time I did the sudarashan kriya I felt hot and feverish. Like something yuck was being released from inside me. Apparently this happens to many people.

Besides sudarshan kriya, the 'Art of Living' (aka AOL) is full of mini sermons, exercises and platitudes. But, it works. That bit reminded me of ERI (Exploring Roles and Identities) which we went through as second year students at IIMA. Taking time out of your daily routine to introspect and connect with your fellow human beings is always a cathartic experience.

The trouble is, it does not take long to get swept away by the torrent of day to day life once again. Of course, you are supposed to keep doing the kriya - and for a while I did. Then one morning you wake up late and skip, ditto the next day. And poof! You fall out of the habit and gradually forget usme koi faayda bhi tha.

The good people @ Art of Living will contact you from time to time and say,"Come for a refresher course (free of cost)... Come for satsang." But somehow I never did. So I can say the 'Art of Living' failed me... but the truth is that I failed 'Art of Living'.

The trouble is, a part of me just did not believe that this breathing in and out, shallow breaths, fast breaths, ujaya breaths etc can really make a difference.

Exactly 4 years after AOL I joined Isha Yoga. The truth is I had no idea what 'Isha Yoga' was. I was going through some inner turmoil and during this period I happened to see a poster for Isha Yoga stuck on a tree near my house. The introductory session was at 6 pm, not far away. It was 5minutes to six and for reasons I cannot fathom I rushed there.

I thought they would be teaching some yoga poses and possibly, that would be good for stress relief. Turns out Isha Yoga is very similar to Art of Living. Much of the course is talking, introspecting, fables, exercises. And of course they teach you a breathing technique called 'Shambhavi Mahamudra'.

Although in action it is different from sudarshan kriya, the ultimate result is the same. By focussing on one's breath through a precise sequence of events, you are able to rid your mind of all its chatter. And that, is a state of pure bliss.

Isha Yoga worked wonders for me. This does not mean it is 'better' than Art of Living. It is a little different in that it is more intense (they actually ask you to do 'homework' each day!). The Isha yoga 'Inner Engineering' program involves greater number of hours, and also explains some of the science behind what still sounded like spiritual mumbo-jumbo to the skeptic in me.

Lastly, they actually put up a projector and screen bits of discourses by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the force behind Isha Yoga and a rather charismatic personality.

However the real difference lay not in the courses, but in the person who took experienced them at two different times. Perhaps AOL was a preparation - it opened my mind to possibilities but I did not have the commitment to follow through and make it happen.

I entered Isha Yoga also without any expectations of radical or dramatic changes. And I continued to be a skeptic. But half way through the person who could not sit still in one position for more than 5 minutes began to experience physical and mental calm.

After the 'initiation', the yuck feeling which I first became conscious of during Art of Living, left me permanently. I can't describe how or what happened. All I knew was if doing this shambhavi maha mudra every morning can keep me at peace, I am going to do it.

And so I completed the 21 days of the Isha Yoga kriya. And I continue to practice it at least 5 times a week. I can feel a real difference. My mind is free of nnecessary thoughts and worries. And I don't get that easily irritated by flies - real or metaphorical.

You can choose any of these paths - or some other. The important thing, however, is to figure out what works for you and then commit yourself to doing the daily pranayam or 'kriya'. If it does not work for you, the reasons are within.

You could be closed and skeptical, or just plain lazy. Life chal rahi hai, your 15 minutes of extra sleep each morning are more important.

But it will happen, in time, if you need it and want it badly enough. So keep an open mind, keep exploring. Keep swatting those flies... Until one day, you decide, "That's enough!"

Note: I have the highest regard for Sri Sri and the Art of Living program. Please treat this as a deeply personal observation and not a declaration that 'Isha Yoga is superior'. You are welcome to share your own experience here, but let's not get into debating and defending :)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Welcome to Club JAM

A decade before the term 'UGC' came into currency, JAM magazine had done just that -powered itself on user generated content. In its very first issue in August 1995, JAM had instituted the concept of student reporters and writers (also known as JBCs or JAM Bureau Chiefs).

These young people - their thoughts, ideas and energy form the core of the JAM spirit. Guided and mentored by the editorial team, we've seen a few generations of young people pass through our portals (a 'generation' in youth terms is roughly 3 years :) And so many of them left their unique imprint on the minds and hearts of our readers.

Over the years, the volume of contributions and contributors has grown. And the cycle of news has changed. JAM remains a fortnightly print magazine but a lot happens every day, every hour and we have struggled for some time with how to let the energy and content of the JAM junta flow online smoothly.

We did not wish to be a me-too of an orkut or facebook. At the same time we want to empower the JAM community to network. To express themselves dynamically and in real time on a JAM-centric online creative platform.

After much thought, trial and error we have launched Club JAM ( This is a space where jammers that has all the cool stuff you see on any social network but it's also a space for creative expression in all forms. Articles, photos, videos, discussions, forums - and much more to come.

The site is currently in beta and has 400 + members since its launch on Dec 1 2007. On Jan 1 we will migrate the 35,000 existing members of to Club JAM as well. The best of Club JAM will be published in JAM - the print magazine as well.

I invite you to come, experience and participate in this online experiment. Especially the many, many of you who write to me everyday expressing an interest in 'writing for JAM'. I am no longer the 'gatekeeper' - the power is in your hands.

Hope to see on Club JAM. Join the party :)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

MBA ki amar kahani

The MBA is more than a degree – it’s the last refuge of the studious, the seeker and the scoundrel. A tongue in cheek look at why the MBA is here to stay.

(written late one night under the influence of Maggi noodles - which kept me alive in my MBA days)

Mere paas gaadi hai, bangla hai, daulat hai, shohrat hai… tumhare paas kya hai?
Abhi toh kuch nahin… par main MBA ki taiyyari kar raha hoon!

Two hundred and thirty thousand young men and women with stars in their eyes and hope in their hearts gave the CAT – or the Common Admission Test – for entry to the IIMs and assorted other MBA institutes in the year 2007. And there will be more next year. Because the MBA is no longer a degree, it’s a declaration.

What you declare depends on where you do the MBA from. There’s first and foremost the guys (and a few – way too few - gals) who get into the ‘best’ institutions. And they enter the program with the “King of the World” declaration.

Hello fatcats from London, Paris and New York. I‘ve just cleared the most difficult exam in the world to get here… Come get me!

As urban legend has it, an IIM degree is the gateway to a life of cash, caviar and oops! I’m vegetarian, could I have more cash instead, please? The trouble is not everyone can get into an IIM (and not everyone who does gets the caviar!) but as they say, “Aim for the sky and you’ll fall on a jumbo jet… circling Mumbai airport.”

So we have a host of young people joining business schools which are waiting to land at “We have arrived” airport. And theirs is a “Smell the coffee” declaration.

”Look at us – we’re no less than those IIM grads. Heck, we work harder and smarter, just give us a chance to prove it.”

Lehman. McKinsey – are you listening? Evidently, not yet but this bunch is snapping up a whole lot of plum posts which the IIM types see as prunes. And the aroma of that coffee - it’s getting stronger.

Now the next lot also aimed for the sky but ended up on the terrace of an under construction building. Plenty of those, these days, by guys who’ve just had terrific IPOs. Everything’s swanky here – good to look at, feels great to be here. Of course, we all agree it’s overpriced but do we have a choice?

Na huh. Need house, will buy. Need employee, will employ. Retail, banking, insurance, IT, BPOs – these sectors need hands and legs with a moderate amount of brains to match. And not in the dozens but hundreds. Thousands, actually.

So they swoop down on the ‘Jhumritalaiyya’ variety of MBA colleges and recruit large numbers. Yes, if nothing else these graduates ‘look like MBAs’. They carry laptops, wear formals, carry pink papers under the elbow and generally look self important. Just the kind of firepower needed to subdue the hapless consumer into signing on for ULIPs, NFOs and other acronyms which easily roll off the MBA tongue. Assuring him a generous slice of your ‘better tomorrow’.

Last but not the least come the ‘MBA as timepass’ variety. Of course, all education can be said to be a form of timepass – but who’s actually awake to notice? Nevertheless the MBA program now attracts the unlikeliest of species. For example, girls who have no ambition or intention of climbing the corporate ladder. Or running a business.

These are girls who simply wish to get married.

The catch is that “acche ladke padhi likhi ladki chahte hain”. And these days, Home Science does not qualify. As more and more boys from bijness families take up the MBA – at Indian institute for people with money (with sham entrance exam) or Australian business school for people with money (with sham entrance exam but dollar pricing), the girls are following suit.

As doctor once married doctor, MBA now marries MBA. A quick scan of the Sunday matrimonials reveals how the once revered MA has fallen out of favour. It’s now about MBA and LPA (lakhs per annum). Working for a year or two after graduation is encouraged. How many will continue building their careers after marriage depends on DRA (Dulhe Raja’s Attitude).

Phir bhi, progress hi to hai. Once upon a time thousands of young people struggled for a few hundred seats in the administrative service. The majority eked out a life after the dream faded away. Now thousands struggle for a few hundred seats in the most prestigious bschools. But the rest have a chance to start somewhere – even if at the bottom of a rickety ladder.

With hard work and a bit of luck, all these MBAs will climb upwards. They will grow the economy, and grow with it as well. “Do we need to pay 22 year olds 25,000 a month just because they can now use Powerpoint,” is a question the Older Generation often ponders. The answer is, not really.

But in a world where no one has the time or the energy to sift through hundreds of carbon copied, error-ridden-despite-being-spellchecked resumes, we’d rather take our chances with the ‘MBA”.

The MBA is a necessity because our education system is in shambles. Young minds go through conveyor belt colleges and come out unchallenged, underconfident and not even used to the idea of ‘working hard’.

In India, business school is the ultimate ‘finishing school’ – it finishes up the work 15-16 years of previous education was supposed to. MBA courses are all modelled along ‘boot camp’. Projects, presentations, surprise tests, case studies, all night study sessions – this is the stuff of the average student’s worst nightmare. But ultimately, the badge every MBA proudly wears.

And for this alone, HR managers will tolerate the jargon, the attitude, the insouciance of the ‘is this what I did an MBA for’ MBA.

Speaking of finishing school, the MBA – from the student point of view – is crossing the final finish line of education. There’s nothing more you can do beyond this to ‘better your prospects’. Escape from a boring job into something glamorous (or at least better paid!). The MBA is like “Incredible India” advertisements. The brochure can sometimes be more attractive than the actual sights.

And yet, you crave that experience. Happily, it no longer matters how old or young, smart or dumb, rich or poor you are. There is an ‘MBA’ for everyone. 1 year executive programs, 2 year distance learning MBAs, 3 year part time course. Qualifications which would earlier fall under the uncool sounding ‘vocational’ now attract tons of students by renaming themselves as ‘MBAs’.

So you have MBA (Retail), MBA (Insurance), MBA (Telemarketing). The last one is a figment of my imagination but I wouldn’t be surprised to see such a course in the market very soon…

In the ultimate analysis, ‘MBA’ is whatever you make it to be. Or whatever you make of it. The MBA is here to stay, until another degree which captures the imagination of our people comes along. That could take a while.

And hey, we just might subvert it and convert it. “Let them eat cake… and let us all do MBAs.” Amen.

Heh he heh
In the hit movie ‘Partner’ Govinda plays an ‘IIM Ahmedabad graduate’. Now many IIM grads are nerds who have no idea how to woo a girl. But a salary of Rs 30,000 a month at age 30? Tauba tauba.

Surprising the IIM types did not take out a morcha to the scriptwriter’s house, sue the producer for maligning the fair name of IIM A, and start an e-petition imploring the all television anchors who need a ‘Question of the Day’ to take notice. Guess they were too busy with placements…

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The wonder of Ellora

This is a panoramic view of the Kailasa temple at Ellora. To take this picture you have to climb up a pagdandi and huff and puff your way up - not many visitors do. But the effort is worth it.

And all I could think, from up there, was wow! Which ancient genuises whittled down an entire mountain to create this... and how?? Much is said and written about the pyramids and the Taj Mahal. Those are amazing feats in engineering and architecture but at the end of the day they were built bottom up.

Which is difficult but not impossible.

How do you humble a mountain into submission with a mere hammer and chisel? Even if you have several hundred years at your disposal?? "Shayad unke paas chemicals thhe... to loosen the stone," was the explanation from one local. Phir bhi.

And all said and done, we've heard of Ajanta-Ellora but they just haven't got the hype they deserve. The Kailasa temple is a 'world heritage site' but how many of us living in Mumbai have visited it? Or plan to, in the near future? I for one experienced it for the very first time a couple of days ago. And not because I had planned a trip as a tourist.

Kuch aur kaam se gaye thhe - khaali time mila so sightseeing par nikal gaye. And I simply couldn't believe my ignorance. I mean I vaguely knew Ajanta mein paintings hain, but had little clue about Ellora. Maybe we read it in our history textbooks but I had long forgotten the details.

Despite it being December - peak season for tourism - there were not that many visitors. Among foreigners, mainly Japanese, all with guides and taking the tour in the most systematic way possible.

The Indians generally wandered from one cave to the next (there are 34 in all - Buddhist, Hindu and Jain). None of them had guides (the standard rate being a steep Rs 450 as against an entry ticket of Rs 10). And of course, the ASI or government or whoever is responsible has not bothered to even put up signs outside the caves, explaining their significance. "Ek number (first cave) par board laga hai... uske baad pata nahin, baaki chhod diya," shrugged one of the 'caretakers'.

These are the guys who take care to switch on a flashlight and point out sculptures to foreign tourists so they can take snapshots with fancy cameras, flash et al. Which is explicitly prohibited!

The one thing I must commend ASI or whoever is in charge for is the fact that the caves are very clean. No garbage lying around, no paan stains, no urine ki smell. I guess we Indians are pious but certainly vigilance also plays a role.

Speaking of Indian tourists sights like this one really pained me. This guy was typical of the bhartiya sightseeing party. The kind who go from cave to cave amusing themselves with how much 'echo' they could generate. There was a huge bunch of schoolkids also doing the same thing but you can forgive the bachchas. The glee of bunking school for 'picnic' is something we've all experienced. Although I am sure if someone took the trouble of bringing history alive for those kids, they would be most receptive.

Then again, it's the overall chalta hai attitude we have towards our own culture. And I am no one to point fingers. Just that I was overawed, not just by the sight but the energy that vibrates at this place. The ancient wisdom that went into its creation. And the devotion to a divine power which made it possible

I will be back one of these days (there was no time to visit Ajanta!) and I hope you guys put this on your must-see list as well. Wonder if National Geographic or Discovery have made a documentary feature on Ajanta-Ellora... would love to see it.

And finally, no piece about the attractions in and around Aurangabad would be complete without a mention of the 'non-attraction' - 'Bibi ka Maqbara' also known as the poor man's Taj Mahal. Built by Prince Azam Shah, son of Emperor Aurangzeb, in the late 17th century as a loving tribute to his mother.

It has none of the grandeur or the romance of the Taj. It's a soulless, bonsai version of the original - a futile and boring me-too!

Friday, November 30, 2007

A million dollar dream

Ankur Shanker, like many of you out there, has a dream. To study in a well reputed college abroad. In his case, LSE (London School of Economics).

Ankur got an admit to LSE for the September 2007 session. But, he deferred it to 2008. Because he does not have the 55,000 pounds (or USD $ 100,000 )it would take for his tuition, boarding & lodging.

A Delhi College of Engineering grad (2005 batch) Ankur has some savings from a job as sr business analyst at evalueserve. And yes, he will apply for a scholarship. "Loan is not an option as I don't have collateral," he shrugs.

But Ankur has a 'plan'. He read an article which basically said,"You can earn millions from Adsense" and so he decided to put the theory into practice. Ankur has created a blog called His plan is to write 1 short story, everyday, for 180 days.

And he hopes enough of you will come to read the stories, and perhaps click on the ads, earning him cash.

It's a crazy plan. Can it really get you $ 100,000? I have no idea. But one must admire his spirit. His gung-honess. He is an average Joe in the literary sense (engineer, no great past writing experience, has read only a couple of short story collections - Jhumpa Lahiri & Rohinton Mistry).

But he thinks he can do it. And that's where it all begins, doesn't it. The will, the passion, the determination. It comes through when you speak to him. Which I did, before deciding to write about it.

The first story goes up tonight.

On my part, I am giving him this plug and wish him the best of luck in this endeavour. I hope the stories are of interest to readers (failing which the idea will, as well). But regardless of the quality of the stories, I think it's rather inspiring.

It's all about having a dream - and then doing a little something about it! Which is something we all ought to do more often.

More on the project here.

Update: the first story is quite interesting, in a Dilbert sort of way. Of course I did not feel compelled to click on the ads... But hey, it's a decent start!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Young Entrepeneur Series - III

Vibhor Agarwal (IIM B 2005) quit A T Kearney in Nov 2006 to join his family business in heavy engineering 'Multimax' in Meerut.

Over the phone he told me: Everyone keeps asking,"Why?". When I visit a marriage, relatives will ask - even though I am from a business family. “Why did you leave such a good job. There are so many headaches in business. Excise problems and yeh woh”.

But Vibhor was very clear.

I worked at Deutsche Bank London for summer and then at AT Kearney. So I saw what banking as well as consulting was about neither fit into my long term goals. I made a very informed decision to join my family business.

Last 12 months I have not missed consulting even for a day although I enjoyed that job also.

For me it was not so much of a risk as I was getting into an existing business, not starting from scratch. Hence no financial implications.

My dad started this business 27 years ago after graduating from IIT B but it did not really take off so he went into jewellery retailing and this business was just languishing, not professionally run, v small scale running on auto pilot. My dad was planning to shut it down so I took it over

It's a manufacturing business - hardcore mechanical engineering. I had to relearn all my engineering fundaes in the first 3 months. I am a chemical engineer, incidentally. From working on a laptop 24 hours I had to go to the shopfloor and get my hands dirty.

What have I been doing? Trying to make the company more professional (small things like documenting things in a proper format). Attract people from bigger companies with experience in this field to work here. It's v hard - giving them the right package + job security.

My dad was very hands-on operational, he never thought of getting in experienced people and delegating work to others.

The company right now is small – really small. But Vibhor has big plans. What follows is a longish description of the journey so far. (via email, in his own words). But hang on, coz it's worth reading!

Name: Vibhor Agrawal
Age: 27
Education: IIT Bombay (2003 batch), IIM Bangalore (2005 batch)

Born in a business class retail jeweller’s family with not much background in academics except for my father who is also an IITian. Family known very well throughout Meerut. Schooling from LKG to Std. XII in St. Mary’s Academy, ICSE, only boys convent school, topped through most classes, passing out as school head boy and best student in school award.

Aspirations as a child, and an adult:
Wanted to be an engineer from starting. Nothing else. As adult, now am aspiring to be a successful businessman who gives back to the society through capitalism.

Would you describe yourself as a ‘regular’ child or a little different from others:
Regular child

I would describe myself as: (in terms of personality traits)
A typical Piecesan, day dreamer, soft spoken, determined, competitive, socialist in the disguise of a capitalist, patriotic, shy, etc.

Any work experience:
pre MBA: none

summer training: Deutsche Bank, London – commodity trading and securitization research desks

post MBA: 18 months with AT Kearney, management consultancy firm

Learnings from this work ex which you can apply in your current project: Several learnings – made me more professional, disciplined, more polished in dealing with people, wide experience of sectors and functions to talk about, good network of people to leverage, improved excel, powerpoint skills greatly.

Even I before IIM was a nerd. The importance of softer aspects I learnt only at IIM

Did you know you would be an entrepreneur before you joined the MBA program or was the decision taken on campus.
Knew it before joining the MBA, it was only a matter of when to take the plunge.

Was there anything like an 'aha' moment when you 'knew'?
Might not make sense, but going through the Fortune 500 companies. I just knew I had to build one that made it to that list. Otherwise also, everyday in ET when I read about some businessman doing something or read about some entrepreneur making it big, I felt I was wasting time doing consulting.

Was there any course during MBA which helped to at a psychological or practical level to make the decision?
Corporate Finance and Financial Services both taught me all I needed to know about business financing.

People who helped/ hindered your decision
My father – my biggest influence and teacher
My IIT thesis guide, Prof. Shenoy – a very practical businessman prof who runs a very successful net based business while teaching in IIT. He kind of pushed me to take the step sooner than I had thought.

How did your family react and how did you handle it?
Contrary to others, my family was extremely happy considering I was coming back to run the business.

I knew I could not get into my family’s traditional jewellery business as it was not my cup of tea. I liked the little heavy engineering business my father had started 25years ago but was lying dormant. So I chose heavy engineering even though it was not even one-tenth the size of jewellery business.

We are manufacturing heat exchangers and pressure vessels (tanks and columns) for chemical plants, power plants, fertilizer plants, sugar plants, etc. Basically plant equipments.

Are you enjoying it?
Yes very much. I liked engineering as a subject and am glad to be back to it.

How is it different from what you would have been doing as an MBA employed by someone.
As a consultant, I was building financial models, powerpoint presentations, process design documents and other analytical work.
As a businessman, I am meeting different people, taking decisions, doing a bit of everything from marketing and sales to IT and operations.
The basic setup was already there. I planned the experienced team of people I needed, the infrastructure improvements and the companies to target for getting orders.

Which MBA models/ fundas, if any, are you using in this project. Or is it a question of unlearning everything :)
The funda of people management which I guess I learnt a bit while doing team projects in MBA and during my job.

What is your business model. Is there anything new or different about it vis a vis the general industry practice?
Our business model is to deliver on quality and time while matching competitor’s price. In general, most small businesses of our size in our industry, try to get by with low quality work.

Any example of how your company is taking a fresh or different approach to the business in terms of strategy/ marketing/ product design etc.
As an educated MBA, I know the worth of having good experienced people in the business, the worth of providing them the right environment to work, of motivating them when they are down and of paying them well for their services. Unlike services sector, manufacturing sector is not that people friendly. My approach has been to apply some of the basic things of services sector to manufacturing such as strong HR, good website and a good working environment.

Is your relative youth and inexperience an asset in some ways?
It helps to be asking basic presumption breaking questions to my employees and my father. I am teaching my company to leverage the computer more greatly while doing design and costing (earlier done on paper), to cooperate with customer rather than fight, to imbibe quality not as a statutory requirement but as a basic need for good business.

Was raising funds an issue?
Until now, it hasn’t been as it has been bank rolled by my father, though he is a tough investor making us justify any demands. Next year, we will have to take loans from banks. Might rope in some businessmen friends of father to invest.

Your experience with banks and institutions (negative or positive)
Slightly negative.

Your experience with angel investors/ VC funds.
Not yet approached any, as ours is an old economy business.

Current turnover is Rs. 1 Cr flat. I expect to reach Rs. 100 Cr. in 5 years.

Key milestones, so far:
Conversion of company from Proprietorship to Pvt. Ltd. This meant an evolved employee policy with all benefits. Also cleaning up, painting and formalizing all the processes in the factory according to ISO 9000 framework.

Are you satisfied with the pace and scale you have achieved so far
Nope. I’ve taken my time to learn our business, to learn customer expectations and employee expectations. I haven’t yet cracked any major order myself.

What is your vision of the business 5 years from now
A national brand name, known for its engineering solutions.

Do you see yourself running this company 10 years from now
No, I hope to give over the operational work to professionals. I also hope to get into other sunrise sectors 5 years later.

Would you actively seek a sell-out before that time?
No, not as of now. Unless I am assured of the benefits of a sell out to the company and its employees and to me, I wont sell-out.

High points of being on your own
1. Do work at your own pace, sometimes very fast sometimes slowly.
2. Immediately take decisions that have an impact. Not having to do unnecessary long analysis.
3. Being able to put in place systems and procedures that have streamlined the work instead of the daily fire fighting that was going on before me.
4. Most importantly, not feeling as if I am doing work. So there are no work hours. The time in office zips by since there are so many things to do. Every little achievement brings immense satisfaction. Every little challenge pushes my thinking for new ideas.

Low points of being on your own
1. No company of similar aged colleagues to socialize with, to bounce ideas with, to take breaks with. Working alone and aloof in a cabin.
2. No more frequent flyers or stays in 5 star hotels. Not that it matters much.
3. No more multi-crore projects for big clients. No more meeting with rich and famous clients.

At such a time, what kept you going
The dream of seeing my company name in the papers, the dream of recruiting people from IIT/IIM for my company, the motivation that I have to go forward in life rather than go in circles of a job.

Things you wish you'd known when you started:
On a practical level, the whole tax structure such as excise, etc. On a personal level, how to recognize the right and wrong people and how to do business negotiations.

Any particularly tricky areas/ problems. How you overcame or are tackling them.
Business negotiations. Its complex and you have to be really tough. I am still learning the tricks by doing little negotiations and by watching my father and others do it. I was aware of this lacuna in me during my MBA as well hence I took a negotiations course. But that was a bit theoretical and naïve compared to real business situations.

Is the execution of your project going along planned lines, or is reality very different...
eality is very different. Many times I think I’ve achieved success only to return from near end point. This applies to many situations of recruiting key people or getting orders from customers. But with each failure, I am learning and doing it a bit differently next time.

Running a family owned concern – any issues of who is the boss etc?
Generation gap was one of the concerns floated by my AT Kearney superiors as well. However, me and my father have divided work between ourselves nicely. I handle all HR, marketing, development initiatives. He handles all finance and government related statutory issues. While there are debates and differences of opinion sometimes, there is a healthy mutual respect that lets us own our decisions in our domain. Since he too is well educated (IIT Roorkee, IIT Bombay), he understands and appreciates reasoning and logic. I think we compliment well.
Going forward, he plans to pass over his part of the job to me while I find competent people to handle my department. He would then concentrate purely on the jewellery business which he now finds more peaceful to do.

Any chance you'll go back to corporate life?
Not as of near future. This business has to go down really for me to think about returning to a job.

What happens when you meet batchmates who are I-bankers and consultants? Any regrets?
Absolutely no regrets. Luckily I’ve worked through both I-banking and consulting environments. So I know what I’ve left willingly. It was a well calculated and thought out move and I haven’t regretted it one bit.

If you had to do anything differently what would it be?
One is I would have left consulting after another 6 months of experience by which time I would’ve been promoted to be an associate. Various personal and business factors pushed me into leaving earlier than I had planned.
Second is I left behind several small opportunities to leverage which I would’ve leveraged had I known my own business better that time. For instance, I interned in Toyo Engg during IIT. Today, I know Toyo can be a major customer for us, but I don’t have any personal contacts left in that company to leverage.

What are the factors which you think will be key to your company's success
1. Change in mindset of our shop floor people from a ‘chalta hai’ attitude to ‘chalta nahi hai’ attitude. They need to develop their skills and imbibe quality in their daily lives.
2. An owner’s urgency to business actions and decisions needs to be inculcated in every employee. Once he starts thinking of this company as his company the change will be there to see.
3. Meeting customer’s delivery times. Many big competitors in our field are failing in delivering quality product on time.

Any advice to ppl like you who may be choosing to become entrepreneurs after and MBA.
1. Select courses that you think will help you become better entrepreneurs than better grades for jobs.
2. Know your business better. Have a broad business plan on paper. This will help you spot opportunities early and leverage them better.

Should one go for work ex of 1-2 years and then undertake entrepreneurship?
I seriously think one should work for few years before taking the plunge. It really makes a huge difference once you’ve worked under somebody. Plus it makes you more professional, more responsible, gives you a few initial networks to leverage, etc. etc.

Is what you are doing now your ultimate goal or more an interim learning period

My ultimate goal is not constrained by any sector or type of business. The ultimate goal is to build a sustainable company – one that stays long after I am also gone – managed by professionals and in the process make a name for myself. My goal is also give back to the society by recruiting people, through corporate social responsibility and to contribute towards making India an economically developed nation.
Starting with a running business has saved me atleast two years of entrepreneurship pangs of building basic infrastructure, getting government approvals, getting initial finance, etc.

Living in Meerut after Mumbai and Bangalore. Is it an issue at any level with you?
Only at socializing with my IIT/IIM friends most of whom are in Bombay Delhi or Bangalore. Yeah in addition the traffic sometimes frustrates me. But otherwise, I am so involved in my work that it really doesn’t matter whether my office is in meerut or Mumbai.
In future, yes it will become an issue once I have family and kids. In this regard, I plan and hope that my business will reach a size where I can move my offices to Delhi while still running the work shop in Meerut.

When you speak to Vibhor you get a clear sense of his passion and determination. And you can't help but feel he is going to make a huge success of whatever he decides to take up in life. Meerut ya Manhattan.

We’ll keep track of his progress - watch this space!

Earlier in this series
Young Entrepreneur - I (Prakash Mundhra, Blessingz)
Young Entrepreneur - II (Mom's Kitchen)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You are invited to the JAMCAT concert

On Sunday Nov 18 @ 6.30 pm in these cities:

St Joseph's Boys School, Museum Rd
Bands playing: White Noiz, Junkyard Groove and Motherjane

College of Vocational Studies, Sheikh Sarai (south campus)
Bands playing: Prithvi, Them Clones and Parikrama

SNDT college ground, Juhu
Bands playing: The Works, Gaurav Dagaonkar and Zero

Elysium, Koregaon Park
Bands playing: Black, Brute Force and Agni

Music aur CAT ka kya vaasta? Well, after the toughest exam of the year we think it's time for you to let your hair down. Of course the concerts are open to all music lovers but those who land up with their CAT admit cards get into the VIP section :)

You can print out as many invites as you want to this FREE concert (thanks to sponsors Bindass and LG Shine mobile phones) from the JAM website.

Or you can sms JAMCAT 53636 + City of your choice for an m-invite. Those of you with college or office lans it'd be great if you could put up the invite so junta can download it.

Lastly if you land up a bit early u can audition for Bindass TV's 'Go to space' contest.

P.S. We are also distributing passes outside CAT centres right after the exam. Have a pretty big list but details re: your test centre in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Bangalore would be very welcome. Would like to cover as many as possible :) Email rashmi_b at

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A chikna in IIT...

Saawariya has not exactly had rave reviews but Ranbir is a runaway hit. The latest is that he's replaced Shahrukh Khan in Raju Hirani's adpatation of Five Point Someone.

Which is great because no amount of plastic surgery or visits to the gym could turn the 40 plus Shahrukh into a believable 18 year old... that too the IIT type. Not that Ranbir makes a believable IITian with his chikna chikna good looks. I guess he would be playing the role of Ryan Oberoi and not that loser Hari.

Other actors who were apparently keen to work in the film include Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham... Bollywood can certainly be stranger than fiction but since it's Raju Hirani at the helm of this project one still has hope!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Are you on facebook?

When four different people I know - including my brother - asked me this question I succumbed. Yup, I am now on facebook.

Not that this is the first social networking site I have joined... Sometime in Nov 2003 I signed up for friendster and ryze - just on a whim. The next morning half a dozen people had dropped by to say hello on ryze and I never ever logged into friendster again.

At the time I joined, ryze was quite a happening place - a lot of media types and students from India were on it. I reconnected with a lot of ex-JAM writers and ex-colleagues, as well as made some new friends/ contacts. In fact, I attended a couple of the offline 'mixers' held in Bombay and one in Bangalore. I think I was pretty active on ryze for about 6-9 months.

Then it kind of fizzled out. For reasons unknown, ryze just wasn't able to attract enough new and interesting people. People of a certain standing/ professional background felt it wasn't worth wasting one's time on a networking site. After all hum to bahut logon ko jaante hi hain. Increasingly then, the folks joining ryze were MLM types, insurance agents and the like whose idea of 'business networking' was thrusting their card in your face and trying to sell.

The other problem with ryze was there was no reason to check in and do anything on the site on a regular basis. Except for maybe checking out postings on say Mumbai Business Networking messageboard - a kind of classified/ forum area.

Around this time I also joined a few more online networks. This however was part of the research for an article I wrote for Businessworld magazine in September 2004. Some of the sites I checked out:

1) UK centric and pushy, much too pushy for my liking. 'Chairman' Thomas Power keeps bugging me to upgrade my membership ... even today.

2), They were reasonably hot back then - dunno what their status is now but certainly there is no buzz around them now!

3) 3 years ago there were a mere 1100 members from India on orkut. Then, something happened. Now I get at least 3-4 requests a week from folks who want to be 'linked in'.

4) Lastly, orkut. At the time I wrote the piece orkut was just another SNS (social networking site). Hi5 was, I think, equally popular. But somewhere along the way orkut outpaced hi5 and took over as the # 1 online social network in India. The media discovered orkut and suddenly I found my cousins from small town India had embraced it as well.

Yeah, I too have an orkut profile but I never became an avid orkutter. That's because a lot of people would stop by and say hello but again they were mostly current or former readers/ contributors of JAM magazine. So again, it was important for me - as editor of a youth magazine - to be on orkut. To understand what it was all about and interact with my constituency.

But there was nothing to take forward most of the initial conversations further. And people of my generation were not to be found in large numbers. There was too much timepass and no 'utility' value for the 30+.

Finally that attitude is changing/ had changed. One morning I logged into Linkedin - after perhaps two years - and found 150 requests to be 'linked in' pending. I confirmed all of them, although I don't know 80-90%. Initially I thought I'd be choosy and confirm only those who had sent a personal message but then I said, what the hell.

Let's treat this like one giant online cocktail party where you have a chance to meet new people and exchange a business card. You never know when there may be a reason to connect with each other. Especially in my profession!

Of course this does not mean I will endorse the work of a complete stranger (don't ask me why, but people do request such odd things!).

So currently I have 250+ linked in connections - and growing. And that's why I was hesitant to join 'one more network'. For a while now, I've been getting 'I've added you as a friend on Facebook' kind of emails and I'm like - "No!! Not again!!"

But then I realised, hey - this can be different. I am using facebook only to connect with folks who are family, friends or acquaintances I know in the real world. So if I don't add you as a 'friend' - kindly don't mind it.

In any case, most invites come through the 'global signup route' where the site scours your address book (and even yahoo/ gmail inbox) to send a friend request to every id it can find. People have the option of only selecting their friends but guess what, most are too lazy and send the invite to everyone anyways.

Aside: I think various sites allow this because it's cheap and easy marketing. When you get 3 requests a day to join 'Shelfari' you think I better check it out coz everyone is joining it. Incidentally I did join Shelfari but... never used it.

Getting back to facebook - using it for just 2 days I'd have to say it has a certain addictive quality. Besides, my brother and I have exchanged more emails on it in 48 hours than we had over the last 2 months! Which means... it's working.

But will this really be the last SNS I join? The Google Open Social alliance is working hard to topple Facebook! The action continues... sigh!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Saawariya vs Om Shanti Om

Saawariya.. tintintinaning
Saawariya.. tintintinaing
Saawariya.. o ho o ho

This is my daughter's favourite song right now. It's not mine for sure.

The big Bollywood showdown this Diwali is Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya vs Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om. And in a way it's a battle of Youth vs Experience.

Saawariya uses one of the oldest formulas in Bollywood's book: launching a new lead pair. There are a number of big stars who were born that way:
- Bobby (Rishi Kapoor, Dimple)
- QSQT (Aamir Khan, Juhi Chawla)
- Maine Pyaar Kiya (Salman, Bhagyashree)

Note: Technically MPK was not Salman's first film , and QSQT wasn't Juhi's either but whatever they did before that has been long forgotten. Everyone remembers these as unki pehli picture.

Then there were actors like Kumar Gaurav who made a smashing debut with Love Story. Neither Kumar nor his heroine Vijeta Pandit made it big in Bollywood subsequently par kam se kam ek picture to hit hui!

The 'young love story' is actually a favourite way to launch star sons. I think it fell out of favour when the last chappie launched this way - Abhishek Bachchan - did not make it for about 4 years.

But that was a while ago. India is once again ready for a new chocolate hero and new candyfloss heroine. And a new generation of star kids is ready to be launched.

Lekin there are interesting differences this time. For the first time, a star daughter is being launched with full blessings and fanfare from the family. Poor Karisma had to fight for her career while even Kareena took a backseat to Abhishek in Refugee. This time, Ranbir and Sonam are getting equal footage and so are both sets of parents.

What's more, although either of the Kapoors could have produced a film to launch their kid they have put their eggs in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's basket. And both sides have formed this mutual admiration society.

At the music launch of Saawariya Bhansali gushed: "I am so touched to see Krishnaji here" and made glowing references to Raj Kapoor. While Ranbir came on stage and said in a small and humble voice:"I am grateful to "sir" for considering me worthy of this project." Vagairah vagairah.

Makes sense for both sides. Bhansali has this grand and opulent cinematic vision which India loves. While a debut pair which can generate so much free press and public curiosity can only boost the film. And lead to profitable though bizarre marketing tie ups like this one.

On the other hand, there's 'Om Shanti Om'. Also a love story but with a 'reincarnation' twist. And a reincarnated Shahrukh 'six pack' Khan. And the whole '70s era reincarnated as 'retro cool', actually.

OSO also has a new heroine - Deepika Padukone - but clearly she is not the USP of the film. In fact - in an exact opposite strategy - Om Shanti Om is pitching the star card heavily. The song 'Deewangee', currently on air, features '31 top stars'.

Bottomline: OSO is old wine in a new bottle while Saawariya is new wine in an old bottle. If I had to choose just one I'd go for 'Om Shanti Om'. But then... I'm old.

P.S> Regardless of who 'wins' the box office battle, I think Ranbir will go on to do very well. But hey, I thought Rishi Kapoor (in Karz) was really cool. And Ranbir does have a jhalak of Rishi... Before he graduated in size and had to hide behing horrendous checked sweaters!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fortune Global Forum finalists

Thank you for the tremendous response to my call to 'speak your mind'.

The 'important international forum' is the Fortune Global Forum in New Delhi from Oct 29-31 which brings together the leaders of the world’s largest companies with policymakers and scholars to address key issues facing multinational corporations today.

The four outstanding young people selected to represent Indian youth in a panel discussion at the forum are:

1. Abhishek Nayak, 20, student, BITS Pilani
2. Nikila Srinivasan, 19, student, SVCE Chennai
3. Akanksha Thakore, 21, student, IIM Ahmedabad
4. Akshay Mahajan, 21, college dropout and freelance photographer

The panel they will be speaking on is titled 'Our India: Reflections of Rising Stars' and is part of a Roundtable on India: Snapshots of an Evolving Culture. I will be moderating this session along with Barkha Dutt of NDTV.

Once again, thank you to all applicants. The level of energy, entrepreneurship and enthusiasm was amazing. I will keep in touch with you guys and I am sure we will get a chance to do something together in the near future.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

'The Odyssey Generation'

David Brooks, coined a new term for 20-45 year olds in a recent Op Ed piece in the New York Times: the Odyssey Generation

There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.

During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.

Hmm - reminds you of the characters on 'Friends'.

Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there's bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don't even detect a clear sense of direction in their children's lives. They look at them and see the things that are being delayed.

They see that people in this age bracket are delaying marriage. They're delaying having children. They're delaying permanent employment...In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.

Brroks believes this trend will become more pronounced because that's how it is in Europe. He quotes William Galston of the Brookings Institute who notes that Europeans delay marriage even longer than Americans and spend even more years shifting around jobs, careers, degrees.

And of course, we're seeing all this happening in India also - although in small pockets. Social pressures in India are far stronger but young men and women who are economically independent and strong-willed are deferring marriage, for starters. Quitting your job to go 'back to studies' is acceptable (especially for MBAs), even with spouse and kid in tow. Even drastic career switches are not shocking and unheard of.

And kids from affluent families with liberal-minded parents are living very experimentally in their 20s. Taking up one job after the other merely to 'try it out'. Going abroad for esoteric courses with little or no employment value. Living without a real plan or idea of 'where I will be 5 years from now'.

All things considered however, I see more scope in India for odyssey in careers, education and search for overall meaning than odyssey in personal relationships. There are a few, very few young people who 'live in' but generally even they formalise the arrangement in due course. As one close friend who is getting married put it,"Nothing will change after marriage... but at least we can attend the Society dinner without having to answer awkward questions."

And overall sab log kitne khush hain. Both sides of the family are busy shopping and planning and plotting the various ceremonies and simply for the sake of the smiles on your grandmother's face you say, "Heck, kar lete hain."

Aur uske baad ek-do bachche wachche bhi.

So we in India will see the modified odyssey. The thodyssey. The urge to paraglide at 35. Get six pack abs at 40. Wear jeans - perhaps forever.

The warm cocoon of the Great Indian Family is hard to resist. We're a tropical species... Beyond may lie great adventures, but it can be lonely and cold.

Monday, October 22, 2007

5 month HR project

If you're a BMS/ BBA or even a plain BA/ BSc/ BCom graduate looking to work hands on at something other than marketing credit cards/ insurance/ retail/ BPO - here's a golden opportunity. Especially if you're keen on an MBA in HR (or at least considering the same).

The 'job' is a 5-6 month long project with an interesting outfit (not JAM magazine, in case u r wondering!) who is assessing HR practises within top name companies and then bringing out a high profile report. It will look very good on your CV for sure. And pays well (Rs 15,000 a month). Two people is all they're looking for.

So if you are interested, OR, know someone who is then drop a mail right away to rashmi_b at Attach your CV please and a contact number and I'll let you know further details!

Bhaag ke shaadi

Young couples eloping against their parents wishes used to be a standard storyline in Hindi films. Rich boy, poor girl/ Hindu-Muslim/ naukar-maalik wee some of the disparities which led parents to screech: "Nahin, yeh rishta hamein manzoor nahin hai."

Then came DDLJ, where Shahrukh Khan refused to elope with Kajol. No sir, I will get married only with papaji's blessings. And so began a new era where parents and kids turned over a new leaf. The kids decided it was better to 'win over' the oldies while the parents eventually realised, 'Agar hamare bachche khush hain, hum khush hain'.

Give and take became possible - and a happily ever after full family photo as well. The Ek Duuje ke Liye / QSQT genre of scripts died to make way for Saathiya where the young couple does elope but without any great fuss or drama following it. The prents are displeased but life goes on and the movie is more about how life isn't a bed of roses even after you marry the person of your dreams.

And then there was Pyaar ke Side Effects where there are some parental doubts and murmurs but the bigger villain is the groom himself who is afraid of making a commitment.

A tongue in cheek take is captured in a recent ad for Maruti Zen Estilo where a young couple elopes and is stopped by the girl's father (an army type). But he is so taken in by the car's features, he lets them go. It's kind of silly but at a deeper level rings true because hey, if the guy looks decent, drives this kind of car and makes my daughter happy, who am I to play spoilsport?

So all this sounds like wonderfully progressive stuff but at ground level, things aren't that cool and easy. The drama around Chiranjeevi's daughter eloping with her boyfriend last week is a case in point. TOI report:

On a day of dramatic developments, megastar Chiranjeevi's younger daughter 'went out for a walk' from their home in Jubilee Hills on Wednesday morning, but surfaced little later at an Arya Samaj mandir in Secunderabad and married her lover of four years.

The drama unfolded at around 10 am when Srija, dressed casually in jeans, went out of the house for a walk and on the way wanted to meet her aunt. She left in a frend's vehicle. An hour and half later, Srija surfaced at Arya Samaj mandir, New Bowenpally. Her lover Shirish Bharadwaj (21) was already there. The couple, both majors, exchanged garlands and took marriage vows as per Arya Samaj tradition at around 11.30 am in the presence of friends.

Soon after the marriage, the couple asked for help from police and the media as they feared for their lives. Speaking to the media, Srija alleged her family members forced her to discontinue the relationship from the time they came to know of it...

The couple said, she was in a state of 'house arrest' after she turned 18 on November 9 last. In a interview to a news channel recently, Bharadwaj reportedly alleged that Chiranjeevi and his fans were threatening him.

Sources said, Srija probably feared her love story would meet the same fate as her sister Sushmita's. Srija's elder sister was engaged to upcoming hero Uday Kiran, but a few months later the wedding was called off citing "incompatibilty" between the couple. However, the real reason was Uday Kiran was forced out of the relationship, they added.

Phew. Now there are two issues:
a) Chiranjeevi may feel 'my daughter is too young' to be able to decide who her life partner should be. Fair enough The solution would be to let the couple go out - have a relationship - and maybe it would end on its own. How many such affairs last more than a few weeks or months anyways?

But nahin, this is not the Indian way. We do not 'date'. We do not make out before we marry. And if we do, our parents certainly have no inkling...

b) Forget age, even if Srija was not 18 but 28, Chiranjeevi would not want her to find her own life partner. After all, that is the job of a parent. In fact, the most enjoyable and exciting job of an Indian parent. By making their own choices, kids are depriving their parents of their shining moment in the sun. Their 15 minutes of fame. The raison d'etre of their very existence.

Exaggeration, you think? Often enough, I think not. And more so with the rich and/or famous. As Sunil Sethi pondered in Business Standard : "Do the new-rich shed their liberal spots first and revert to neo-conservatism?"

To which I would say, who said they shed those spots in the first place?

The irony of the Chiranjeevi case is that his recent film 'Shankardada Zindabad' is a remake of 'Lage raho Munnabhai' which promotes Gandhigiri, inter caste marriage et al.. Magar apne ghar mein scene ekdum opposite hai.

Equations have changed, of course. 'Inter caste marriage' is the issue but Srija is from a lower caste than the boy (who is a Brahmin).

Even that might be seen as progress... In 'OBC reservation' India.

Update: It seems that Chiranjeevi has finally forgiven and blessed the couple. Certainly a better ending than the Priyanka Todi - Rizwanur Rehman love story, or this gruesome case of a mother killing her daughter for marrying against her wishes.

Spy vs Spy; Parent vs Child
And oh, this is really... funny. But a new trend, for sure.

DNA reports: As Hyderabad woke up to the news of Srija’s wedding, movie tycoons as well as real estate and corporate groups virtually clamped the shutters on the freedom of their kith and kin.

Parents are apparently hiring private detectives to keep a 24 X 7 watch on their kids, look into the background of their friends and provide surveillance of eating and watering holes. Armed escorts to teens and even house arrests are being talked of!

While in Ahmedabad: Parents in Gujarat are hiring private detectives to spy on their teenage children during Navratri when late-night dance celebrations attract tens of thousands of youngsters.

"It is strange to pay someone to keep a night watch on my daughters but it is better than regretting later," said S. Doshi, a 42-year-old mother of two girls, aged 17 and 19.

Ah, brave new worlds for spies to conquer... James Bond on an exciting new assignment: "I'll have a sandwich dhokla and mango lassi - shaken, not stirred!"

Also read my earlier take on the subject: Pyaar ke asli dushman

Friday, October 12, 2007

And what about distance learning?

Pure distance learning is like trying to review a restaurant by merely looking at its menu. Despite best intention and sincere effort, you will lose out on the actual experience.

Much of the learnings in an MBA come from student-teacher and peer to peer interaction. You get none of that when you simply order course material and pore over it alone.

Much of the value of an MBA comes from its selection process. While full time MBA admissions are highly competitive and grueling, and even good part time programs apply some selectivity, distance learning course dispatch their courseware to anyone who’ll fork out the cash for it.

The two most popular distance learning programs (apart from IGNOU, which most discount) are offered by Symbiosis Centre of Distance Learning (SCDL) and ICFAI. Students are quite happy with the quality of courseware from both institutes. They’re not happy with its lack of effect on their careers.

Delhi based Jaspreet Chandhok is pursuing a PGDBA (Marketing) from SCDL. A BCA from IP University, he joined BPO Convergys soon after his final sem exams. “Fortunately, I got chances to excel and kept learning lessons of the "Work /Job World", and hence am still sticking in the same organization, “ says Jaspreet. Hungry for a post-grad qualification, he joined SCDL (“considering the hype of Symbiosis”).

He now feels, however, that the course is of absolutely no use. “I did gain knowledge but much of it was pretty basic. One doesn't need to go though books and "online exams" to prove his skills in these areas.”

He’s seen no gains in his career linked to distance learning – and isn’t about it even in the near future. It’s much the same story with Harikrishnan J, an Infosys engineer who completed his “Online MBA” from SCDL 6 months ago.

“The courseware is very good, lucid and manageable for a working person. It has given me good understanding of business concepts”. But job prospects wise - no gains. “ None of my technical work (I work as a Software Engg @ Infosys since 2003) deals with management and hence it hasn't helped me in this regard. And since my company doesn't accept this kind of MBA this course doesn’t help me climb up the coporate ladder yet.”

Try shifting? You can get a higher paying technical job but not a functional role. “Most openings, when advertised, give a disclaimer that Part-Time / Distance MBAs are not considered”. Of course Harikrishnan believes many full time MBAs (leave out IIMs and ISB) are in a similar boat. “I know a guy here who did his MBA from Cardiff Business School UK and came back to Infosys . He is working as a software tester”.

The verdict: Keep a distance from distance learning, from the point of view of impact on earning. Of course, there’s no harm – if you really just want to learn.

first published in March 2007 in Businessworld's Mega Indian Bschool Guide.

also read: The Part time MBA puzzle

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Part Time MBA - to do, or not to do?

Practically every single day I get a couple of emails with the following query:

I am working with XYZ company as a software engineer/ BPO executive/ something-else but-fed-up-with-it. But for ABC reasons I cannot do a full time MBA. What is your opinion of part time MBA? Can you recommend a good one?

And some put it even more bluntly: Please give all the information about Mba part time and crosspondance courses

The funny bit is they write this after reading this piece written by me on precisely the same subject.

While my overall assessment of part time courses remains the same it has been close to 3 years since that was published. So here's an update for those still looking for answers. To do or not to do: the Part time Puzzle was published in Businessworld's annual 'Mega Indian Bschool Guide' earlier this year.

As readers of this blog were an important source of feedback and the guide has been out for over 6 months now, I am sharing with you my findings. Besides, I really can't reply to each of you personally - answering practically the same Qs!

To do or not to do: the Part time Puzzle
- by Rashmi Bansal
published March 2007

Why does the Leaning Tower of Pisa lean? Why is George Bush such a clown? What is the secret of eternal youth? These are mysteries which may yet remain unsolved. But there’s one puzzling question I do have some answers to.

“Should I do a part time MBA?” is a subject weighing on many minds. Assuming you can’t – or don’t wish to - give up your job to pursue a full time course, is it worth spending time, money and effort on? Given that no part-time or distance courses offers placements, will it offer a tangible boost to your career?

The answer is: it depends. Part time courses definitely lack the prestige factor of full time MBAs. But choose carefully and you will reap benefits.

When Zubin George joined JBIMS’ 3 year part time MIM (Masters in Information Management) he was a developer with Innovative Systems. He’s now moved to Citigroup’s information technology division in a management role.

And he has no regrets. “The quality and depth of learning was far greater than what I would have got from a full time course. The kind of questions raised and the quality of answers from the faculty were outstanding”. In other words, more practice than theory - direct application value. That must be why, despite the grueling after-work and weekend timings the classes had a healthy attendance statistic of 65-70%.

Managing work and studies is always the dilemma for the part-timer. The PGPSEM (Post Graduate Program in Software Enterprise Management) program offered by IIM Bangalore is no exception. 33 year old Abhinav Agarwal completed his PGPSEM in 2006. “There are students who manage to excel at work and get straight As but then something’s gotta give. Their personal life suffers”.

Classes are held on every Friday and Saturday but there are also weekly tests and of course, assignments. Is 2.5 years of this self inflicted stress worth it?

Yes, asserts Abhinav. “Over 500 of us have completed the PGPSEM program since it kicked off in 1998.” Unfortunately, no formal survey has been conducted to assess its co-relation with individual career growth. But anecdotal evidence suggests many direct and indirect benefits. “I was a product manager with Oracle,” says Abhinav. “I am now a Principal Product Manager. And yes, I do believe the PGPSEM has accelerated the process.”

There are many interesting twists that PGPSEM has introduced in some careers. Arun Narasani, also from the batch of 2006, started ‘Brain League’, an Intellectual Property services company. The company was incubated at IIM Bangalore’s NSRCEL (Nadathur S. Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning ).

Another student who was working with Oracle when he entered the PGPSEM program, joined venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins midway. He is now a VP at a mobile applications company funded by the same VC.

“Besides what you learn in class I definitely see a networkng effect,” says Abhinav. “You meet a hundred odd people from outside your company and your immediate line of work”. That’s certainly an aspect of the 18 month Executive MBA at S P Jain that Siemens engineer Rashmi Das enjoys. Interestingly, she is based in Bangalore but travels to Mumbai once every 10 weeks for the 10 days of classroom contact sessions. The rest of the time course delivery, quizzes and assignments are conducted online.

Rashmi is extremely pleased with the faculty, the quality of case studies and group work. One semester into the course she says, “Meeting people from other companies and altogether different industries has broaded my perspective.” It’s a similar story with Sunil Malik, Senior Manager Public Relations and Corrporate Communications at XIM Bhubaneshwar, after he enrolled in the broadband assisted long PGCBM (Post Graduate Certificate in Business Management) offered by his own institute.

While Sunil happens to be on the XIMB campus, other participants log in from Reliance centers in their respective cities every weekend. Assignments and quizzes are conducted online, and so are ‘endterm exams’. The highlight of the 12 month course is a 7 day campus visit during which participants meet and interact on the XIMB campus. As far as impact on career goes, the immediate effect can’t always be pin-pointed but participants are confident of a boost in the longer run.

Akhil Agarwal, a CA rankholder and a CS to boot, was part of the inaugural batch of the XIM PGCBM (2005-6). Midway through the course he switched jobs (from Reliance to ICI Paints), with a significant shift in role and salary. But this, he believes, is a break he would have got whether or not he enrolled in the XIMB course.

His classmate Shekhar Rao, however, attributes his mid-course job shift within the telecom industry to his enhanced qualification. “I am getting double the salary today and a responsibility for which ‘an MBA’ was a necessary requirement.” The XIMB name, he says, definitely helped tip the scales in his favour. “Besides, I learnt a lot from the course itself”. And additional benefit: he can refer back to professors for advice and mentorship on problems.

The verdict then is clear: a part time program from a brand name institution does have its value. Although ‘official’ placements may not be part of the deal, the informal network does contribute to a career boost.

While part time MBAs don’t command the same kind of respect as full time ones, some companies do value them more than others. Case in point: 20-25% of the 2006 PGPSEM class comprised of Wipro employees. Infosys also actively supports the program and recently helped IIMB expand it to Chennai.

Says Rashmi, “If you are working in the regional development centre of an MNC, a part time or Executive MBA may not have that much value. But it will really help you in an Indian software company, particularly product managers.” She also believes that one should have 5-6 years of experience and be extremely self-motivated to truly reap benefits.

Much also depends on the attitude of your company. Around 50% of students in part time courses like PGPSEM are sponsored. But it’s not clear how many companies are simply using their sponsorship as a retention strategy, and how many have actually chalked out a post-MBA career path for their employees.

Of course, none of these courses come cheap. While the 3 year Bajaj course sets you back by Rs 1 lakh, S P Jain’s Executive MBA costs Rs 2.65 lakhs (excluding
travel cost to Mumbai for contact sessions). XIMB’s broadband aided PGCBM is Rs 1.5 lakhs for 12 months. Similar certificate courses are also offered by XLRI, IIM K, IIFT, NMIMS etc in collaboration with VSAT provider Hughes Direcway.

In conclusion, ‘cause and effect’ are palpable but not always as tangible as in the full time program. But the very act of stretching onself, of seeking knowledge and opening up to new ideas and opportunities is what perhaps makes a difference.

Speaking of success in terms of ‘formulas’, a participant on an online MBA forum obseves, “Whenever a chemical reaction happens where A mixes with B to produce C, this catalyst helps speed up the process so that C is produced sooner... The catalyst CANNOT alter the chemical reaction to produce D instead of C”.

Given quality raw material, a good part-time MBA could be that career catalyst.

Tomorrow: The dope on Distance Learning MBAs

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I-Pill: let's talk about family planning

"Had I known my wife had forgotten her birth control pills, I would've been careful last night."

"My husband and I are worried our family planning method might have failed last night."

Now what to do? The ad copy explains: Take the I-pill - an emergency 'day after contraceptive pill.

You can't miss the hi voltage campaign Cipla has unleashed for its product. What's interesting is how safe the advertiser has kept his communication. Husbands and wives, birth control and family planning. You know - we Indians have sex only when married and more so use contraception because producing another child into this world would mean additional burden to the nation.

OK, seriously, words like 'family planning' disappeared from our vocabulary approximately two decades ago, along with slogans like 'hum do, hamara do'. The inverted red triangle which was everywhere you turned when I was a kid has been banished.

Heck, we're no longer ashamed of our billion plus population but flaunt is as a dhinchakly large consumer market.

But getting back to the i-pill you can see why the advertiser is treading soo..o cautiously. He wouldn't want to be accused of corrupting our Indian youth and so on and so forth.

Indian Express reports:

As the revelries of Navratri draw closer, condom once again has become the bad word. While the NGOs working for AIDS control are steering clear from condom promotion programmes that they usually launch during the festival, the Bajrang Dal has said it will not tolerate any condom promotion or HIV/AIDS awareness programmes around Garba venues this time.

Talking to Newsline, an NGO worker, on the condition of anonymity, said they used to put up stalls at various Garba venues to create public awareness about HIV/ AIDS. This time, however, they will not do so, he added.

“Last time, some activists claiming to represent the Hindus, had beaten up NGO workers in Baroda during Navratri while they were distributing condoms,” the NGO worker said, adding that they have decided against carrying out overt intervention programmes this season. “We will carry out one-on-one intervention programmes instead, and supply condoms to hotels and guesthouses” he said.

Wonder whether the dals will stake out these venues as well!

According to a pharmacist quoted in the report, "sale of condoms rise by about 70 per cent during Navratri". And this year I am sure the I-pill will rock as

"After iPod, I-pill gains popularity with youth", says Midday:

Alka Kumar, a consulting gynecologist at Gurunanak hospital in Bandra, says, “This product is a boon for married women not planning to conceive. But it may be misused by the youth especially during Navratri when unmarried pregnancies go up.”

The reason for all the action around Navratri is related more to opportunity than anything else. A lot of young people, esp girls, are allowed to stay out late. Dressed in sensuous chaniya cholis and whirring to the dandiya beat , hormones are bound to get into a tizzy. Pehle hota tha, ab bhi hoga. Instead of a botched abortion, many a young woman will opt for an i-pill.

But the two messages "prevention of pregnancy" and "prevention of HIV/ sexually transmitted diseases" have become independent of each other. The i-Pill can help with the first bit but do nothing for the second.

It would be terrible if young people decide to adopt the convenient route: Condom nahi hai? Koi baat nahin - you can always use the i-Pill. So let's go ahead anyways.

That's not what the advertiser has intended, but I bet a lot of folks will interpret it that way. If we accept that the i-Pill will be used by unmarried guys and girls, we can address this issue.But hello, yeh hai India. We will have to continue the charade and keep promoting 'family planning'.

Why not bring back the red triangle as well? Dunno - it just makes me nostalgic :)

Thank you

For the response to 'Speak your mind'. A preliminary shortlist has been made. Entries are now closed.

Details re: who finally gets selected, and the event itself, in a week. Watch this space!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Speak your mind...

... At an important international forum.

You must be
a) born in 1985, or after
b) an articulate speaker
c) have achievements/ interests in one or more of the following areas - social work, entrepreneurship, arts, music and literature, leadership (at college or community level). The list is only indicative - any evidence of initiative taken by you is welcome.

If you think you fit the bill, write in to me with a 3 para description of yourself and a pic.

I am specifically looking for 4 guys and 4 girls, and at least one person originally hailing from a small town. Email rashmi_b at

Do include your contact number!

Small town syndrome

The key trends that define India today are being formed in the chai tapri's (tea stalls) of Ludhiana and not in the pubs of South Mumbai, according to a recent study, 'The Bunty Syndrome' by advertising agency Euro RSCG.
- report in Business Standard

Yes, there is a lot of energy and desire to consume in tier 2 and 3 towns. And that is something relatively new for India.

But to recognise the rise of small town India as a 'trend' is one thing. To stretch that point into small town India is a 'trendsetter' (as BS declared in its headline) is quite another. It's not clear whether that's a leap the sub editor has made, or whether the Euro study has actually used the term in its report.

A trend is defined as a 'general direction in which something tends to move'. Or a 'current style'.

A trendsetter, on the other hand, is 'somebody or something starting trend: somebody or something that starts or popularizes a new trend or fashion'.

And I don't think new trends are being started in small towns. They may be ready to jump up and embrace trends but the action originates elsewhere.

Take Ludhiana. Till very recently there was not a single decent theatre in that town, let alone a multiplex. The happening folks of Ludhiana did all their shopping in Delhi. If they felt like visiting a classy restaurant, the closest option was Chandigarh.

(How do I know? I visit Ludhiana every year. That's where my husband's side of the family is from :)

Sure, they have this thing for Mercedes S Class (as the Euro study notes: Eighty out of every 100 Mercedes S Class sold in India are sold in Ludhiana). But that's because it's a really wannabe city.

The equivalent of the exporter in Ludhiana who buys a Mercedes S class may be a Mumbai yuppie who's happy with a Honda Accord. It's like Lokhandwala/ Juhu new money vs South Bombay old money or investment banker profile. The former is intensely attracted to brands which shout "You have arrived".

The Ludhiana guy will always look up to Mumbai, Delhi, London and New York. Large cities which allow individuals freedom to think differently and experiment with their lives are the cauldron which produce 'trendsetters'.

And that's why Buntys and Bablis will continue head there. Despite bade shehron ki dukaan aur aisho aaraam heading to their doorstep!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dress code for CAs?

DNA reports:

The Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAI), a statutory body for regulating chartered accountants in the country, has tied up with retail major Provogue to provide a dash of colour and style to the profession.

“A professional should be identified by his knowledge, garb and panache. I believe the new dress code — blue blazer and tie — will give chartered accountants a new identity,” said president of ICAI Sunil Talati.

A well intentioned but poor idea. Doctors wear white coats and lawyers may don black ones. But, they work in specific work settings like hospitals and courtrooms. By ICAI's own estimation 75,000 of the 1.4 lakh CAs registered with the body work in industry. ie. regular corporate office. Can you imagine them wearing 'uniform'??

The remaining 65,000 must be in private practice. But here too, a blue blazer and tie is not going to help 'market the brand'.

A dress code is merely cosmetic, it cannot solve an overall identity crisis.

I have nothing against CAs, despite what you may think after reading this piece.. I do believe however that the MBA has impacted the CA profession. CAs have more 'core skills' but in a world where showmanship, branding, soft skills and a macro view seem to matter more, the CA loses out.

The acid test of a professional's worth is: do I get the last word? If a doctor scribbles out medicine X, you take it. If a lawyer advises defence Y, that's what is argued in court. If you don't agree you can go to another doctor or lawyer. But whichever you finally gets to be the expert. You have to trust him or her.

With a CA, what happens. He advises. The client may or may not agree. Or even believe he knows better. CAs are manipulated or coerced into signing audits they know are false. Inflating or deflating figures. And so on and so forth.

And this is not just in India. As the Financial Times noted after the Enron scandal:

Over the past five decades, accountants have changed from watchdogs to advocates and salespersons. Auditing has become one of a number of services, including consulting and tax advice, in which accountants "sell" creative tax avoidance and financing structures.

No doubt black sheep exist in medicine and law as well but there the regulatory body when it comes to accounting is particularly weak. I have not heard of CAs being 'unchartered' for malpractice. If it does happen, it's an event so rare and invisible that no one is afraid when signing off on doctored audit reports.

Again, not to suggest MBAs are highly ethical but that's a separate story.

As a core skills profession, bound by a charter, CAs need to live up to high standards to regain their rightful place in the sun. And then, they won't need those ties and blazers...

Terribly unsuitable for Indian weather in any case!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chak De Kudiyaan - II

"We live in the same house, yet my 14 year old daughter sent an email requesting an appointment as she felt it was the only way she could meet me. It shook me up."
- Indra Nooyi, CEO PepsoCo worldwide, speaking to the Economic Times

Ironically, I read these words late last night, just after my daughter flopped off to sleep waaaay past her bedtime. Her reason for staying up most days: You came home late again.

I haven't got an email from her yet but this essay she penned recently for Hindi class on "Meri ma' was an interesting insight into the world as it looks from her side of the dining table.

"Meri ma bahut acchi hai.
Wo mujhe bahut pyaar karti hain...
Meri ma ravivaar ko khana banati hain".

Actually I would amend that to "kabhi kabhi ravivar ko..." but hey, I'll accept her version.

So what's the point I'm making? Just that it doesn't seem to ever get 'easier'. Kids need you at age 1, age 3, age 6, age 9 - and far beyond that. So when is the 'right time' really, for women to get back and give all to their chosen professions...

When the other parent chooses to stay home and shoulder family responsibilities instead, perhaps. But that is something we don't even sit down and discuss. As I scanned through yet another Business Today 'Top 25 women in Business' list a couple of days ago, I wondered if any of them have such an arrangement.

If they do, it's a well kept secret.

I mean at least one very high profile banker kind of fits this bill but she's never talked about this aspect of her life publicly. No glory - in India - being known as 'Mr Carly Fiorina'.

In fact in India most of the women on the 'look how we've come' list seem to have spouses with equally high profile and high pressure careers. Obviously there are grandmoms and maids in the picture but that kid is probably gonna need to send two emails...

So what's the answer?
Yes, men can't have babies but do they have the guts to 'downsize' if their wives are obviously more talented or more driven than they are?

Are women okay with having a husband who looks after the stuff 'moms have always done' without being racked by guilt?

And if they are, can the rest of the world please stop wondering '"Is there something wrong with this guy - why is he not 'working'??"

If only we could move beyond our roles - as defined by society and our egos - as defined by our insecurities.

If only...

We could at least admit there is a huge problem instead of putting on a smiley facade. As top cop, tough woman Kiran Bedi recently admnitted in an interview to British writer Zerbanoo Gifford:

"If I were to be reincarnated and had to do it all over again, I would want the same mother and father but not necessarily the same husband. There's room for improvement there..."

Wonder what Mr Bedi has to say, in response.

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