Not all who wander are lost..

All of us travel. And for most us travel is something joyous, something fulfilling, something to look forward to. But can we say the same thing when we travel for work ? If you are not sure then read on..

I for one, used to hate traveling for work. I used to balk at every opportunity that demanded me to pack my bags and be off to a foreign land. Then slowly I realized that it was not really the journey that tired or irritated me but it was my attitude. I had this notion that I must feel uncomfortable – long flights in coach class, stale airport food, no “Indian Vegetarian” meals, jet lag for days on end and so on.

As time elapsed, it became clear that there was no escaping this reality of my corporate existence so I decided to make peace with the situation. It did not come in a day and I had to train my mind to focus more on the positive aspects of travel than the ones that bothered me. I now enjoy my business day out and travel for me is a chore no more but a great friend, philosopher and guide. I have learnt that what travel can teach us in few days and sometimes in a few hours, it may take a whole lifetime to learn, to imbibe. Let me list few of the lessons I have learnt from my journeys. I will start from the physical and move towards the meta physical. 

1. Fear of the unknown – This is one of the most common impediments for anyone who wants to enjoy discovering new places and meeting new people. We are so used to our comfort zones that to step out is a challenge. Somehow our minds have been trained to the concept of “aliens” who are to be feared no matter how good or friendly they may turn out to be. We assume a lot of stuff and keep asking questions to which there can be no answers unless they actually happen. These are questions like – what will happen at the immigration? will I get a cab at the airport? will my baggage arrive safely? hope the hotel is good, I don’t even know the language and so on. I have figured out that the probability of everything working out just fine is quite high as things have been structured not to fail and even if they do there are mechanisms to take care of the eventuality. And just by the way, I am not the first traveler who arrived in a country. What ever happened to everyone else would happen to me as well as long as its not North Korea ! The joy comes when we decide to turn our anxiety into an adventure. That is what it makes it all so exciting. Isn’t it ?

2. Your body can endure much more than you can ever imagine – While this may be true for the mind it’s absolutely misleading for the body. One thing that all of us who are on the wrong side of 40 believe is that we are old now and our bodies are no more fit enough for 30 hour journeys. Not true at all. It’s all in the mind. Once you put your body to the endurance test you will realize that it has an amazing capacity to come back to its normal form in a short time. In fact if you practice Yoga or Meditation, Travel can be a very good time to relax. While on the plane you can perfect the Art of stillness, watch your breadth for hours, sit straight or practice Yoga postures while no one is looking. Once your meetings are done, you can go for long walks to explore the new environs, a different culture and even shop (something I never do willingly in India). I have walked for 15-20 Kms in a day on weekends and not felt tired at all ! No road is long enough if you can stop by to smell the flowers.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking newlandscapes, 
but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust, French novelist

3. People everywhere are all the same – Trust me on this one. Folks in Japan & Saudi Arabia are the same as those in Europe and America. They have their quirks but apart from looking different they feel, think, communicate from the same level of human intellect and understanding. Once you start getting the hang of it you will actually start enjoying the differences. Through years of experience for example I can tell from just the way a person is speaking English from which part of the world she belongs to. I may be wrong sometimes but then it’s like a quiz in which my chances of winning far outweigh my chance of losing. When I meet someone from another part of the world I try to guess their origin and if I am wrong I promptly offer an apology in their native language and they are so pleased to know that I tried. As long as you know how to say “I cant speak xyz. English please”, you will be able to make friends. Cab drivers can be your best buddies in case you are looking for unobtrusive company. My phone has numbers of cab drivers from all parts of the world 😉

4.At the end of it there are rich rewards – No matter which airport you transit from the duty free stores have the best collection of Whiskey, Wines and Chocolates. I usually transit through either Dubai or Doha and both airports have a great selection to offer. And the price they are available when compared to India, you really don’t have to think much before you swipe your credit card. Now, some may argue if these qualify for the meta physical as promised earlier in the article but for me they do. Single Malts, Wines and Chocolates represent the finest that the world has to offer to the human mind and palate. All the culture that you soak in on your trips to foreign lands can be distilled and made part of your eternal being once you are back home as you sit quietly nursing your drink and nibbling on the coco from Ivory Coast that traveled to Belgium or Switzerland just for you.

After all, ours are not the only journeys that there are and some business traveler like me would have made it possible through his own share of exploration, discovery and adventure…

Indian E Commerce – Is the party over ?

I wrote a post on Linked in March 2016 which went viral and was trending as top posts from India on the Linked in Pulse platform on 15th March 2016. Here is the link :

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/indian-e-commerce-party-over-rajnish-kumar

Later it was published by other websites :

http://www.oneyearmba.co.in/is-amazon-profitable-is-flipkart-making-profit-e-commerce-profitable-industry-bubble-india-unit-economics-why-failing-customer-acquisition-high-cost-online-shopping-marketing-bleeding-retail-business/

Business Today carried the same cover story ( with exactly the same title ) the very next month in April 2016. It could very well be a coincidence but then it would be a very wonderful coincidence 🙂

हिंदी में बोलें तो बहुत हसीन इत्तेफ़ाक है ये !

Some African Wisdom..

The guy who came to drop me at the Cape Town airport owned a fleet of cars and dabbled in some other small businesses. As we chatted I came to know he had left his well paying managerial job to be on his own. Upon asking about his decision to “quit” while still in his early 40’s he had this profound wisdom to share :

“There comes a time in an organization when there are only two kinds of people left – the ambitious and thcabbiee insecure. Both are extremely dangerous. I know the organization has been there for past 50 years and it will still be there for the next 50 but the same is not true for me. My time on the planet with my kids, my family and my friends is limited. Yes, I don’t make that much money but I am my own boss. I took you guys out for sightseeing before the drop to the airport and nobody can ask me a question. What sort of value one can put to such freedom, such liberty ? If I consider small things like this I have more happiness, more fulfillment than I was ever having before.”

Usually I drink red wine on flights but this time it was double scotch on the rocks @#$$%&

 

Speed of the team….

A couple of days ago I read this wonderful quote in the Newspaper by Lee Iacocca – Speed of the boss is the speed of the team.

At the first instance it didn’t seem like much but as I pondered over it contrasting Mr. Lee’s wisdom with my own experiences over the last 17 years of corporate existence, I  discovered how deep and true was the meaning. Let us look at the word speed which comes twice in the sentence. Now speed could be either slow or fast which is obvious but at one level it also means alignment of goals and objectives along with the timelines  set for their achievement. I have seen many times that the goals set by the Bosses for Themselves are not communicated to the team and even if they are it is not necessary that the team believes in the value that they will bring to the individual or the organisation. An individual will always link the growth of the organisation to their own growth and if they cannot see this critical connect the ‘speed’ does not match, in direction and therefore not in velocity. The team feels that they are direction less and the Boss feels that the team is too slow. Ultimately it leads to friction and low motivation levels.

A classic case in point are the Indian elections. We have The BJP all aligned and motivated and running towards their goal of making Modi the PM, the congress slogging it out somehow, fearing the eminent defeat with little chance of victory and finally the AAP which is a congregation of headless chickens running in all directions not knowing why and where to?  While the BJP and its cadres are rejoicing in the sunshine they could have well been facing the heat as their counterparts are, had it not been for their Boss. Can you imagine if Advani was named the PM candidate ? Would BJP still be having the same drive jumping all over the rivals pumped up with their winning spirit ? Election results are due and we will have to wait and see if Modi was able to achieve the goal but at least the campaign was charged with energy and enthusiasm.

Going a step further in our analysis we would realise that it is the belief in the ability of the leader to win not only for himself but also for the team which makes all the difference.In a highly competitive environment this becomes paramount and the team looks up to a Boss who can show the way. The teams are pitched against each other and they know that the one which has not only got a great strategy but a plan to deliver effectively will win.The decision to make Modi their PM candidate was not an easy one but they were almost forced into it as he was the only one who had the vision, the capability and the plan for execution. And yes he also had credentials.  Rahul Gandhi had none of these and Kejriwal probably had the vision but is lost as far his execution plan is concerned. His Delhi exodus also put a big question mark on his credentials.

So much for the team…but let us also look at the Boss. Not every Boss is a Modi to be able to do some 1400 3 D rallies, travel 300000 Kms, work tirelessly for 18-20 hours and still have the energy to think and walk straight. Most bosses are not born leaders or supermen but are pushed up the hierarchy riding  on age and experience. It’s  quite possible therefore that the sparks of vision and creativity allude them or what they feel as the next big wave may just be a hump in the continuum.  They may lack the same energy level 24x7x365 and even suffer break down once in a while. What about Bosses alignment with their own Bosses ? They might have a great idea but it may not fit in well with the overall strategy of the company. While Modi played favourites and got away with it, not everyone would be lucky enough not to end up with a fractured group with small power centres within.

Can members on cross purpose achieve the same goal ?The resultant drag speed will certainly get compromised for the team and for the boss too. Managing aspirations within the team is a challenge as individual ego stems from self image as well as how others perceive you. Then there are comparisons made between grades, levels, remuneration where understandably most would not be willing to understand the Bosses point of view unless backed by impartial data and unwavering trust.

So while the statement made by Mr.Iaccoca  holds true in case of a great Boss and a good team to back him, it takes different dimensions when a gap exists and there are limitations. In my personal experience there are more gaps when we look around us than there are ‘ made for each other’ stories. I am not sure if a solution exists but I feel that if we replace the word speed with ‘pace’ things would get more sensible for lesser mortals like us.  While speed is about competition and keeping up with others, pace is about doing things that you believe and enjoying the journey more than constantly being anxious about the destination. Whether the pace will be gentle or  intense can be decided by the Boss and the team but one thing is sure they will be happy with the overall results.

 

 

 

 

 

Six Men, Elephant and FDI in retail….

Watching the circus on TV  for the last two days since FDI in Retail has been announced I could not but help comoparing the situation to the famous parable of the elephant and six blind men. While each has its own opinion based on what part of the elephant they are holding ( like the opinions of our learned media,business men and politicians) , no one exactly knows what the animal ( in this case quite literally ! ) looks like. For someone like me who has worked closlely with the farmers as well as in retail for a long time the picture is quite clear. We are talking two different business models here : one is based on scale and the other is based on service and convenience. If you just look around : has a single mom and pop store closed down even when you have a number of so called organized big box retailers are all around them. Within a Km radius of my place in Bangalore I have a Big bazar super centre, a More Super centre and a number of Nilgiris, MK Retail,Reliance and others but I still order from the store next to my place or go and buy it from there for day to day needs : No ques therefore quick transaction or homedelivery that gets the store to your doorstep being my simple drivers.

For farmers there is absolutely no link between FDI and what they will get for the price of their produce. They sell to the mandis governed by APMC act today or just sell their produce to anyone that gives them a better price. On what basis are people debating that farmers will be adversly effected beats me completely.Typically in all economies with dominance of organized retail farmers realize 2/3 of the retail price of their produce vs. just 1/3 or lower in economies where such a mechanism does not exist.It’s quite simple if You know that at what price the retailer is going to sell what he buys from me and if all farmers know what price their produce sells in organized retail are they fools that they willl give it up to a Wal Mart just like that ?? It is this non transpareny that kills them today.When we are buying Onions at Rs50 a Kg the farmer is still getting just 5 Rs for it , so where does the Rs. 45 go ??No one knows or those who know are crying wolf wolf !! I don’t even want to go into the efficiencies in supply chain etc which will of course add a lot o value to consumers, producers and retailers alike. I have seen Wal Mart very closely and I know that it is one of the most hoenst, forthright and efficient companies in the world. What a lot of people say about Wal Mart is mostly out of ignorance or their own selfish interest. It’s a giant that competition is afraid of and fear always brings in insecurity.

Anyways you enjoy the poem and try to figure out which of the blind men is Politicians, Media, Businessmen, shopkeepers, farmers and general public :

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

For the complete version click here : http://www.wordfocus.com/word-act-blindmen.html

Let’s first see the elephant and then we can talk about it.

You can’t escape Big Bazaar

The latest issue of Business world has the cover story on how Biyani is in a bad shape and it will take his company more than innovation to stay in business.

http://www.businessworld.in/index.php/Retail-FMCG/The-Burden-Of-Debt.html

pantaloon_figures2

The reason cited for the downfall was a high unserviceable debt in a recession scenario.As customers choose to stay away or downtrade(read buy at discounts)  profitability will be the first victim.Retailers will try to save face by at least showing some top line growth by either adding stores or increasing top line by giving exceptional value to customers through promotions,deals and offers.

Many analysts have already dubbed Pantaloon retail a Satyam in the making due to their refusal to be transparent and their deftness at creative accounting practices.In the cover story I am talking about Kishore Biyani refused to talk about any Financial details.I fail to understand what’s the big secret.If I have shares or a house that I have to sell to be in business that I built over the years,so be it.

Anyways,you can read all that in the magazine.This blog is to bring to you more sinister secrets of the corporate world.

Just think about the below scenario :

1.Where does your money go ?

a) You Spend it

b) You save it

c) You invest it

d) You give it away but that’s small one  so we will leave it

Let us take Pantaloon retail and you as a case.

No matter what you do you will be at a loss just as in Casinos.If you spend your money you will pay Pantaloon a hefty Margin – as much as 40-80% in case of Apparel.That’s twice what the product is worth !I am assuming that you still got value for your money which is not the case else Retail would not be falling apart like it is.The biggest reason why sales and margins are falling is that retailers in India are offering over priced products from a costly platform.Wal Mart is a success for a number of reasons but the biggest one is that when you pick up a product and you think that it should be worth X ,you flip the tag to find out that it is much less.That’s when you are compelled to buy more and more.It is estimated that Wal Mart keeps the US economy in check and saves Americans billions of dollars not only at their own stores but basically by being the benchmark for the retail industry – like a price index.Which retailer in India does that?So much so our friends even jack up the prices in SALE and then give you schemes such as Buy one get one free etc.But ‘customer is no moron,she’s your wife’ as David Ogivly said during a session at Sam Walton Institute for retail.Many of them have realized this Quickly and have decided not be lured by such cheap tricks.

Having established that it does not offer exceptional value and takes away unjustified amount of profit from your pockets let us see what they do with that money.

In a race to have more floor space,roll out faster and borrow more money Big B will be prone to buying products from inefficient supply chains and will have to stock them at  stores in expensive malls with crazy rentals.Keep in mind that they have no long term partners and every new factory they walk in will try and fleece them just like they did with the customers.With a highly leveraged working capital position Big B’s ability to pay on time is compromised and suppliers add interest cost to their own margins,making the product costly to start with.Big B is still doing a good job on negotiation partially because it has better reach and scale but it is nothing when compared to ‘Buy, build,own and operate” model of Wal Mart.If the pace of roll out was not an issue even Kishore Biyani will agree that the best way to focus on your retail Model and not worry about shifting value preposition and cost disadvantages is to own the stores.But Reliance came and spoilt the Party.I know that’s another sad story.

Now where does Big B go for money? To one of the Banks.And why would they give him cash? For interest.And whose money was it – Your’s. But there is a small catch here.There is big gap between the interest rate that banks pay you and what they ask from you let us say when you take a Home loan.Now it is fine that you will save money and the banks will lend and give you interest but what will you do when you have a substantial chunk.Buy  a house or a car right? Remember Alice in wonderland” Come into my parlor,said the spider to the fly” You will get a loan at a floating rate which will keep going up ap and away.In my case my home loan EMI increased from 9000 Rs 4 years ago to 14000 Rs now even with my term getting increased from 15 to 25 years !

So what ? ICICI bank will make profits .The truth is ,in this particular case it won’t.Remember we are not talking about overall banking but Big B ,you and banks.ICICI Retail Ventures has a huge stake and so do a lot of other Banks in other Retail companies.Venture funds stand to loose if the investment does not yield good results or if the value is not unlocked in an FDI deal or an IPO.Venture capitalists also have a substantial knowledge of the businesses they invest in and nurture good start ups and growing companies.This is not the case clearly in India.

Now how will ICICI bank cover up.You are damn right- by upcharging you on your outstanding loans.That explains their tendency to make a fool of everyone who was unintelligent enought to take a home loan from them like me.

It is for these Venture funds that Enterprenuers get pushed against the wall and not having enough resoures of knowledge,expertise,manpower,merchandise and supply chain go bankrupt like Subhiksha did.Subbu promoted his brand like anything so he can somehow get to do an IPO and get a good valuation so everyone gets a chance to party at the cost of the investor but I guess the Gods were in your favor so he had to walk away empty handed.Had he got a chance even he would have opened his stock at a price of Rs 350-400 just like Vishal retail did and the investors would now be weeping their hearts out while the share languishes at Rs 43 falling further with each bad news.

Sorry I went a little of the story.Well not really I think I was able to set the stage for what comes next.Option c) You invest in Pantaloon shares.The market capitalization of PRIL has fallen from Rs 12000 crores to Rs 2400 crores in just about 18 months.It simply means that a ruppe that you invested in PRIL share has become about 16 Paise only.And all the while you thought that what great saving I am doing by buying at Big Bazaar.The equation is quite simple.You shop for Rs 5000 ,think you saved Rs1000,comes back and invest Rs 2000 in PRIL.It becomes Rs 320. – a net loss !!!!

No matter what you do spend,save or invest you are bound to get jacked.You know why ?There is no real value being generated and so in the long run we are all dead.In hindi they say Jab tak Topi Ghum rahi hai gaadi chal rahi hai.Satyam would have never happened if the ball kept rolling but Raju was pushed into buying Maytas as he had no more money to support operations with the fall in share market.It could be the same for the retail players too. As per Warren Buffet ‘s suggestion we may see a lot of naked folks running around as the tide of high share markets withers  away.

Moral of the story -Next time you go shopping please do not bother about this article and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

(wanted to use another word starting with R but my Kapersky blocks my own blog if I did)