On Leadership…

Leadership has always fascinated me.I believed that I was a born to lead but the myth was broken as soon as I was put to test in the real world entrusted with the task of leading a real ‘team’.

I failed but I figured out a few things :

1.Its one thing to be great as an individual worker and it’s another to lead a team to greatness even to achieve desired results

2.In a corporate set up its not always that your management wants you to succeed and they can use your team to set you up. Dynamics of a corporate environment are no different from the social set up we live in and struggle for survival continues be a basic instinct.

3.Still as a leader  you don’t necessarily stop being your self and emerge as someone who is real and is able to inspire others

4.I learn’t that saying what you do and doing what you say is the simplest and most effective way to build trust.Sometime people do take time to understand your words an actions but they ultimately do.So you don’t need to explain your actions and do what is right.

Have since continued my efforts in the direction of learning more and more about leadership more from the standpoint of a scholar than from the view of a stakeholder or practitioner.

I just picked up a collection of  10 HBR essays on the subject of leadership.Here are some nuggets of wisdom :

1. Technical expertise or knowledge of subject matter is just a first level qualifier. It does not mean in any way that the folks who report into you directly or indirectly will look up to you as a leader.

2. Emotional intelligence is perhaps the most important ingredient of leadership and a leader just cannot survive without it.It must be learnt and developed consciously and with effort if required but there is no way you are going to the top being emotionally bankrupt.As a leader you are dealing with emotional beings who will stop at doing nothing or everything depending upon your emotional connect with them.The sooner you learn this the better.

3.The next big thing is social skills. Sounds cliched but you will be amazed how many top executives don’t even understand the meaning of the phrase.Social skills do not mean sending flowers on birthdays and wreaths when someone passes away but they imply a constant alertness about your day to day behavior.Again these are skills so they can be nurtured and cultivated but only if leaders realize that they lack them.

4.An important point that the book also makes is about why should people be led by you. As humans we are egoistic beings and our ego does not allow us to surrender ourselves at someones will very easily. For leaders to emerge they must demonstrate a superior ability to take decisions even tough ones when everyone else is not so sure.Leadership is all about change and change is always challenging – if there are no wars there will be no generals as they say.Regardless of one’s positions they will looked up as leaders if they provide a direction when there is none.If you can take a lead or initiative and prove that you have been able to steer the group to glory you can be accepted as the leader.

5.Leadership is not about holding the top positions.Leaders can emerge at all levels regardless of the hierarchy.In fact most leaders have very humble beginnings and while their superiors continue to languish they rise very fast through the ranks to surpass everyone else to the top.Leadership is not about surrender but about adulation, praise,acceptance and trust. Those who win these keep increasing their circle of influence until most of the organization falls under it.Again this influence is not about servility but about camaraderie and friendship. A friend whom you like and also look upto as a guide and a philosopher so to say.

6. One last phrase that struck me was about the difference of being a good a good manager versus being a great leader.

The book says that a manager deals with complexity to organize systems and processes so that the organization become people Independent and drives consistency. Leader deals with change to motivate and inspire people to not only accept and imbibe the change but also to innovate so that change is no longer a challenge but an opportunity.Believe me this is easier said than done. Where as a manager will try to kill creativity by streamlining ways of working a leader will do something exactly opposite – instill and nurture creativity to encourage people to come up with new ideas and ways of working. It may mean a higher risk but that’s what a leader is all about – taking chances, at best taking calculated chances.

Will keep adding to this piece as i highlight my notes and ponder and delve little more. Keep track if you want to be the CEO or the President of your place….

Fortune at the top of the Pyramid…

A few months back I had a chance to meet up with a friend after a long long time.We decided to catch up somewhere convenient and since New Delhi can be a nightmare during peak hours I checked if my friend could make it to my hotel.”  I was parked at a 5 star courtesy my company but was it a good idea to pay through the neck for the drinks which would probably cost 5 times less at home.After all we just have to get sloshed.

My mind started racing at the options – ask my friend to buy a bottle on the way, go and fetch a bottle myself and ask for room service for the glasses and ice.I could probably afford soda from the mini bar.

As I checked the guest services folio I found something-  a gift coupon which announced that the hotel had a buy one get one policy for house guests during happy hours from 6-8 PM. So that’s half the price already and I get to show ff the  free thing as a smart move from a regular.Both of us drank like fish did not occur to me and the ‘free’ part will probably bring out the animal in us even more.Anyways there was hardly any time..

My phone rang.It was Ashwin my friend – the NRI venture capitalist.I directed  him to the hotel’s pub ” wellington”.

As soon as we were seated Ashwin waved to the steward and before the poor guy could offer any greetings he ordered – two Glenfiddich large please.we resumed our conversation thereafter which basically went around good old days…

The steward returned and I was surprised to see that he had just got two drinks.

” where are the free ones??” I asked.

” of I am so sorry sir.That offer is only for the weekdays and today it’s a saturday” He answered.

I picked up my drink  and put in a bunch of ice cubes eager to taste my favorite drink just the way I liked it.Ashwin did the same. We were bottle buddies.

We had a good time and after 4 – 5 large Glenfiddich’s when we could barely stand up we asked for the check.It was some 8 thousand rupees including the snacks.Both of us offered to pay and finally after a lot of argument I managed to snatch the folio from Ashwin and shoved my credit card in.At that point I did not even register what the bill amount was.I did not even want to show off or proove anything to my partner.We had grown up together and wouldn’t have cared if either one of us had bought over the hotel at that point in time.We went to the parking singing a Jagjit Singh loudly and promised to meet again soon.We knew “soon’ would be a couple of years.

Next morning when I woke up there was a nagging feeling apart from the hangover.I could nail it down to ‘why the hell did I spend so much money?When I could not get it off my mind I decided to analyse my behavior :

1.I had decided to host Ashwin at the hotel bar because I wanted to do it or because of the free drink offer ?

2.If I was sure so sure I could not afford 8000 bucks I should have let Ashwin pay. It was just a couple of hundred dollars for him after all.

3. Did I really bother that I had spend all that money.The fact was that even I was making enough to do this once in a while if not everyday.

4.Did I have a good time and was it worth ?

So what was it that was bothering me ?

As I recalled the events of last evening I got stuck with a line from the Ghazal we were singing last night :

हमने माना कि कुछ नहीं गालिब ,मुफ्त  हाथ आए  तो बुरा क्या है …

I know for sure that Ghalib is worthless, but what’s the harm if I can have him for free.

That was where my answer lay.I was feeling cheated !! No it was not the hotel but I was feeling cheated that something that was rightfully mine for free had been taken away by putting up technical barriers.How the hell it mattered if it was a Friday or a Saturday – I was entitled for a FREE drink which I did not get.I was lured into the trap by careful fine print.It was a privilege that was taken away unjustifiably.You don’t get to drink single malt at a five star for free all the time.It was foul play and nothing else.

Should I stay back till Monday and take revenge ?? I laughed at myself but a big lesson in pricing had been learnt :

1. Not having to pay up for a product or service is something etched deep inside our psyche.It is a measure of our “privilege Quotient” and our smartness.

2.While the service provider wants to get paid X , the customer wants to pay nothing for it.

3.Nothing is worthless as long as it is free.

4.We are as much gullible as our greed and we will see what we want to see not what we should see.

5.The “want” for freebies has nothing to do with our economic or social status.When it comes to paying as close to nothing as possible we are all the same.

6.There is no price for anything , only cost. You can sell anything for any price staring from zilch and taking it upwards with the customer’s aspiration or need.

These tenets do not simply follow the laws of supply and demand as has been proved by the sultan of Retail Sam Walton.He had mastered the art of creating exponential demand with the least drop in prices, keeping the supply angle out of picture for his customers.More than keeping the products at Wal Mart cheap, it is their ability to keep their customers feeling that they are cheaper everyday as compared to their competition that makes them the world’s largest and most successful retailer.

CK Prahlad proposed that there is a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid.In terms of increased accessibility due to a low cost of acquisition it might be true.A company can therefore make money by profiting not so much on per transaction basis but on a bulk of transactions which are undifferentiated , with the low cost of delivery and last mile.

I have been thinking – Is there a fortune at the top of the pyramid too ???

Sourcing – India or China ?

Off late there has been a lot of debate as to which is a better sourcing destination – India or china.Going by just volumes China is far head of India in both value and variety of products shipped ,especially to the US market, but India is emerging as a strong contender with recent changes that shift the balance in its favor.

While India will not be able to overtake china as a sourcing base  it will be able to take away a major share in low technology manufacturing such as apparel,shoes,Handicrafts and the such while China will continue to lead in high tech goods.India will emerge as an “alternate source” for those looking for a more stable,quality conscious and environmentally freindly supply source with a long term horizon.

A few compelling reasons for retailers to develop a sourcing base out of India :

1. A stable supply base governed by democratic economic policies which are linked to the world unlike China where demand is artificially created and supply is pegged to control price and consumption.

2.Almost all regions in china have raised labor wages.The rise is varied from 20 % in coastal china to 65 % in cities like Shenzhen.They now range from $150 to $300 where as they are low and stable at about $100 to $ 150 in India.At most they go up to $ 200 for skilled labor in some of The Indian Factories.

China has done this to lower the income gap which was giving rise to frustration among the working class and also to boost domestic consumption.

Being a free market economy Domestic consumption in India has always been high which is one reason for poor export outlook.Companies can make a lot more money by selling to Indians and they only go for export for engaging spare capacities or for securing bulk deals.With an increased focus on world markets this manufacturing base will drive the export growth.

3.Chinese currency Renminbi which was pegged again in 2008 to help the exporters fight recession , may be allowed to free float under pressure from IMF and other world bodies.

Indian Rupee has always been free floating and remains stable at about Rs.45 to a dollar with maximum 10 % fluctuation on either side beyond which the government may need to intervene.It has not happened so far except during the 2008 economic crisis when Rupee became too strong effecting dwindling exports negatively.

4.As customers ask for products which have been produced in more environmental friendly and sustainable manner the retailers will be forced to ask for questions such as chain of custody,effluent treatment,carbon footprint,labor friendliness etc.With strong laws governing Indian Manufacturing it will have a definite win over China which has ignored these for a long time.

If China pushes for the environmental compliances now they will most certainly scar the low cost image it has created for itself.I understand that many Chinese provinces are pushing environmental issues which is adding cost to the manufacturing bases there.Many others may follow soon.

5.Infrastructure has been a major concern for India for a long time.But the last few years have seen the strengthening of the rail road network and development of sea and air ports.Today India can boast of some of the best airports in the world and soon the number of sea ports with container handling capacities which are many times over their current capacities will be a reality.Public Private partnership model has not only brought in the required investment but has also ensured before time completion of projects as most projects have a severe penalty clause for overruns.

6.Last but not the least – India today has the largest pool of skilled English speaking manpower which is below 35 years of age.As they work hard and play harder a new consumption pattern is beginning to emerge which will fuel domestic consumption and thus attract huge investments in manufacturing of goods and services.The rise of the “Indian middle Class” which is as big as the US population is now a reality.

Manufacturing industry in both SME and large scale industries has to gear up to keep up with the rise in demand.Most of the MNC’s which were earlier importing are now having their own manufacturing bases in India now.This will help in raising the production and quality standards of Indian enterprises as they will have to compete with International competition.It will certainly help in making the “made in India” label more valuable than ever before.

NREGA – Good politics Bad business

While the government is basking in the success of the NREGA (National rural emaployment Guarentee Scheme) and the opposition is crying fowl from the rooftops,the real  impact of this scheme on the economy is something no one seems to be bothered about.

Many years ago IBM computers was in the dumps and it had to do something drastic to turn around its dwindling fortunes.They had a huge workforce which they could neither fire right away nor could keep for always in its current form.Driven to the wall the team at IBM told its employees that we would like to retain everybody so long as they can prove themselves to be employable.This simply meant that there are no free lunches and whoever contributes can be a part of the party.This simple idea turned out to be one of the most important case studies in HR history as it brought back IBM computers from the brink of bankruptcy to the centre stage of IT revolution as we know it.

Professionals like us  have no issues with sharing our destiny with our less fortunate brethren but the only worry is that can we sustain it for long.If the dog starts biting the hand that feeds or in softer words if we cut the branch on which we are perched its going to be sad tale of foolhardy for all of us.On one hand the money is being ill spent and on the other the sources from which it came are being attacked at the same time.


Lets look at some very compelling situations which I am putting here not for starting a debate but to sound a red alert for ‘fools’ who keep living in their own  paradise :

1.Today you go to any of the Industrial cities such as Ludhiana , Moradabad, Tirupur ,Kanpur,Cochin etc and there’s one thing you will find common on all factory gates – a sign declaring labour required for packing,polishing stiching,cutting,weaving and so on.So what’s new ? well there is no labour !

And where have they all gone ?? Nowhere.They have just not turned up.Who would bother to lead a harsh life of hard work when you can enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor for free at home.A share has to be given away in bribes but that’s OK.I did not do anything do deserve it anyways.

2.NREGA may be a great scheme but its implementation is seriously flawed.Has the government come up with a white paper on how the country has benefited by keeping the nations working hands tied up to their place of origin.Displacement to urban centers could have been a problem but is this the right solution.What are the metrics applied and how the performance of the workers,supervisors and babus is being measured.NREGA is supposed to build check dams,community roads,wells etc but how have the parameters for achievement been set against the work being done by a private contracter.

3.In order to be ’employable’ by world markets our industry needs to be competitive.But we have floating exchange rates compared to China’s fixed ones,we have all kinds of industrial policies that hinder free flow of men and material,we have excise duty which encourages export of raw material and discourages export of finished goods,We have labor laws that were fit for the 1950’s but no one has bothered to change them,we have the lowest productivity of workers and highest cost of transport and duties.

4.India is touted to be on the growth path as more than 70% of its population is under 35 years of age and we have the largest pool of working population.But with schemes like NREGA we must question if the working hands are getting utilized optimally.Whats the differential when you have a skilled tailor work on a machine producing merchandise for exports vs. the same guy working in his village and digging a canal.

5.Those who earn much more that what NREGA offers and have skills which are far beyond will continue to rise on the economic path but what is the government doing to upgrade the skills of those who work for NREGA ??What about those who have under utilized skill sets.I am sure their numbers far exceed those of the few software engineers we keep talking about.

6.If the factories cannot produce goods for shortage of labour or become uncompetitive in world market place who will take the responsibility and how will the deficit in export earnings be made good.What are our options and what are we doing about mechanizing processes that are labor intensive.Is the government giving incentives to SSI’s and Exporters so they do not suffer due to lack of cheap labor which has been their competitive advantage for so long.

I am not predicting a doomsday scenario here but if you go to one of the centers of export excellence above you will be as aghast as I was when I saw half the units either closed already or on the verge of it.

When last season our supplier in Ludhiana told us that he can’t supply the goods due to shortage of labour we went to an importer and bought Chinese sweaters.I wonder what will hold the buyers in other countries to act any differently if we in India continue on this path of self destruction.

The Link below to NREGA website does not measure any of the stuff I have mentioned but interestingly shows the lowest levels of Funds utilization and sanctioned in states like Goa,Himanchal  and Uttarakhand which have done far better on the industrialization and improving quality of life for their people.


Making (Fab)India work

I am currently reading ” Making India work” by William Bissell( MD of Fab India). I have always been a big fan of the FAB India concept and have patronised the store for a long time.In the late nineties when there were just a few stores (first one being in the GK Market) I used to take foreign buyers there and they just loved the stuff – I wondered why ? After all it was just cotton and that too kind of very plain and simple.I guess somewhere down the line I got hooked to the casual comfort and comfortable pricing.It also made me look more intelligent than I actually am.

And then whenever I visited Lucknow and went to buy stuff for my parents from the Khadi Gram Udyog outelt I found the concept very similiar to that of Fab India.Khadi Shirts,Home made Pickles,Shampoos,Kutir Neem Soap, Herbal Medicines,Home linen etc…The only big difference I found was that of customers who frequented these two places promoting Gandhian Way of life and Community based enterprises.While Fab India was thronged by the Firangis and the Elitist intellectual types the visitors at Khadi Gram Udyog were more rustic in appearance and represented people with limited means, at best the middle class.

Over a period of time Fab India has grown to be a profitable chain of stores across the country, the Khadi Gram Udyog is languishing in its semi comatose state  surviving on life support provided by the government.Well the reasons for its failure are multiple but the most prominent ones :

Lack of Focus on Bottomline

Positioning and value preposition

And Of course the midas touch of Babus who literally mess up with anything that they ever lay their hands on.They should be actually prohibited to bless children else they would stop growing.

Anyways , what pains is that while Gandhi has caught the fancy of the world in a big way as more and more have realized the non sustainable nature of the material pursuits , his ideas are still being promoted in his own country by an American who has made India his home.Even the Organic line of products at Fab India comes from a company promoted by Bharat Mitra who is an Israeli settled in Lucknow.

In a way it epitomizes how we are.Years of colonial baggage has ensured that the Indian Psyche keeps looking for affirmation from the white skin.Unless reaffirmed our faith in our own self  and our own knowledge keeps flickering. I do believe in Globalization and have tremendous respect for both gentlemen but this attitude needs to go.

Coming back to the book.The central idea is how India can grow and join the league of developed nations without putting pressure on an already bursting at the seams and fragile planet.The book argues that we must put a value to all natural resources and the communities that live in these habitats must be able to command a price for the clean air and fresh water.

While I agree that a self sustaining community might be an answer to a happier and more content world around us I found the ideas presented in the book simplistic in their approach.

For Example – If Reebok starts pricing its shoes at the product cost + distribution + profit + the cost of getting rid of the pair in an environmently friendly way it can then be called the real cost of the pair.But I understand that Reebok already prices its products at 6 times the cost of production so how come ? and then would not the same logic be applied to a Paragon chappal ? So what do our villagers with fresh water and air do ? The chappal is already beyond their reach as it is now a sustainable chappal.

There is lots of bibliography and Mr. Bissell goes on to propose a new system of Taxation ,Politics,  Govenment. To me the ideas will never go beyond the drawing board even though they are simple to understand and execute.India is much more complex a nation and what makes it even more so is the fact that for 70% someone else needs to tell them what’s good or bad for them.How else do you explain Mayawati becoming chief minister the third time.Politics and Government in India is a 2nd class game played by third class people for those who belong to the 4th class.And unless my vested interest of building a nation is same as your vested interest of providing for next 3 generations things will never change.

In all this I see a ray of hope for me – with everyone imagining their own India may be its time for me for think of my own version and publish it.As it is my poems and short stories are not going anywhere…

Let me start :

Aisa hoga sab log Ice cream khaa rahe honge …samjhe.Itte mein mercedes se bhikhari utarenge aur golden bowls mein bheekh maangne lagenge.Aur tab main ek dialogue boloonga ‘ saala nagar basa nahin kangal aagaye.Goli maar do sabko.’

Chote chote bachche apni guns nikalkar chalayenge.Usme se Gems choclate nikaleingee goliyaan nahin aur sab log khushee khushee apne ghar jaane lagenge ye gaate hue ki saare jahan se achchaa hindostaan hamaara ….

Not bad. hai na ?

Lucknow Chikan Work

Chikan kari, was strongly rekindled by Moghul patronization and attained perfection as the exquisite needlework and hand work underwent further honing and refinement.The name chikanhas been derived from the Persian word Chakin or Chikeen meaning a kind of cloth wrought with needle work. Chikan is said to have originated as a court craft, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir, by his wife Noor Jahan.

Traditionally, the chikan embroidery was exclusive white items, decorations similar to the cottonjamdani, and woven traditions. The Nawab Shujaudaula of Avadh was greatly attracted by this craft. It was his keen initiative and interest, which promoted this craft in present day Lucknow. Another record of the travelers of the sixteenth century describes that during the sixteenth century, white work from Bengal, was influenced by the Portuguese traders, the residents of the port Hugli, north of Calcutta of that time. The Bengali migrants who came from Dacca in eighteenth century to settle in Lucknow brought this art of surface ornamentation to Lucknow. Chikan work came into production by the nineteenth century. During this period similar work was also produced at Calcutta and Madras. It is reported that earlier brass, bone, copper or iron needles were used, now only steel needles are used.

Originally embroidery was done on white tanjeb; the muslin from Dacca, using only white untwisted cotton or some times tussar silk for embroidery. A large number of men were practising this art of embroidery since nineteenth century. Trade is now predominantly practiced by woman in Lucknow and adjoining villages. Some of the popular motifs are: Kairi (mango motif, generally made using taipchi stitch ); dhaniya patti (corriander leaf); phanda is made and a straight stitch is done to make the base of the stem; dhum patti (leaf pattern made of cross-stitch); ghas patti (grass leaves V-shaped line of stitches worked in a graduated series); murri (grain motif – diagonal stitches are worked several times on a basic stitch to form a grain shape); kangan (bracelet-made by combination ofkeel, murri andjali stitch);joda murri (pair of grains);maharaki (close button hole is done around a hole, and finished with murri); sadi-maharaki (no hole is made, the part made in the centre is finishedwith tapichi and murri); daraz/katub (two fabrics are overlapped, stitched and extra fabric is cut, the cutting is called katub); pechani (taipchi stitch is covered by entwining the thread over it in a regular manner to provide the effect of a lever spring); tanjire (for lining the motif, looks like a chain); gitti (circle is formed with minute hole in centre); phanda (single chain is made, then on its top 3-4 similar chains); keel (first phanda is formed then the needle is inserted over and over the chain stitch to form a keel); kangira (seam allowance of fabric is folded such that triangles are formed on the wrong side of the fabric).

Below is program on Sakshi TV , a regional channel which featured Anubha explaining the Lucknow Chikan work.

Deccan Chronicle also featured Anushree Chikan Art in their Sunday Edition.If you are interested to know more about Lucknow Chikankari please post a comment and we will get back to you.