Archives for posts with tag: Delhi

Trawling through the Internet, I came across a report on McKinsey Insights that spoke about the gender diversity still gaining ground in Latin America as well as our advancing society. I wondered whether it is a good idea to have a good women boss around or some incompetent person with his qualification being simply male. Am I turning metrosexual raising this question? No, not really – just trying to convey a point, as growing up in all boys’ school in Delhi, relationships with girls and women were an aspiration in my all-male cohort.

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In that school we had women teachers, and mine were excellent. Later I had male teachers and they too were excellent. That Indian school was rather hierarchical – teachers gave orders and students obeyed, and certainly submitted homework or else… I think that early training to follow women as well as men made me rather open to learning from, taking orders from and reporting to women, just as comfortably as to men. I have never visited Latin America and cannot comment on their situation, but I suspect early exposure to some kind of gender diversity in positions of power could help overcome resistance to taking orders from women.

Women As Managers:

I have had women teachers and have worked under a woman manager only once. My personal experience is that they can be very good managers. Additionally, they are just as susceptible to bias as any other human, just as managers of either gender may be susceptible to bias based on other factors, such as race, sports group, club membership etc. My own feeling is that a good manager minimizes biases in favour of good management, and therefore a logical extension is that since women can be good managers, they can work with unbiased attitudes to the extent human. Similarly, in a biased environment, such as an otherwise all-male environment women are just as likely to succeed as  I suppose any other biased situation.

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Do Management Rules Differ Based On Gender?

Most of my work experience since the late eighties has been in or with Japan-owned companies. In my early days in Japan, women recruits from the same university as a male counterpart were assigned very different nature of tasks, and it bothered me. Gradually over the last 25 years I have seen this gender discrimination reduce, but fellow male Japanese workers who are in their forties still speak openly about gender-based roles.

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In Hitachi however, I notice that younger managers in their twenties are less discriminatory in their mindset about gender based assignment allocation. So, I think these things take time. Certainly Hitachi benefits by accessing a greater proportion of a declining Japanese population for their managerial cadre. I think in Hitachi’s case the Human Resources Department made conscious efforts to promote gender equality to opportunity. Such forward looking HR Departments can help others improve over time. The Indian situation is better than Japan’s with visible role models, for example in finance industry, heading leading banks such as State Bank of India, ICICI Bank or Axis Bank. If these banks found it prudent to place the best person for the job at their help, surely others should too!

I think the gradually increasing visibility of women in positions of senior management is successful in propelling more in the same direction. The snowball effect is encouraging. It is even more encouraging that in the realm of business this has been entirely based on merit, rather than reservation. Perhaps development programs across the world that rely on reservation need to be reconsidered in the light of this success case. Something to study about!

One of the perks for international businessmen, and especially their wives, in India is the comfort of having servants, something that would be a luxury they could not afford back in their home country. However, for the Indian middle class, servants or house helps are still more a “necessity”, rather than a “comfort” or “luxury”.

Sanjay Agarwal, a power industry professional, eloquently speaks about “The exploitive Indian Middle class: looking through the prism of ethics- Social commentary” (http://isanjay.in/archives/582) in his blog. Here he talks about the problems of unavailability of maidservants that are so much the talk of the best of parties in the Indian metros. Additionally, looking at the arbitrary steps taken by governmental institutions such as the police in the rural districts of East India, the problem is compounded, as it invariably is when government starts to interfere in economic activity.

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In Sanjay’s weblog, he brings up the exploitation of the underpaid maidservants in our country. Upper strata people have always hired help. In the current scenario of nuclear families and both partners working, there is a need of someone to take care of your house or children in your absence. Thus, this is not a sudden growth and this phenomenon of keeping house help has been around for ages. Getting and keeping maid servants seems to boil down to economics and supply and demand.

I am reminded about my studies of Economics 101 (and I have forgotten most of what came after that). I then read that prescribing minimum wages went against the grain of employment creation (in the case of over-supply of labor), and, unions that seem to create better employment conditions for those that got through actually erect barriers to entry for those who haven’t made it. This is for the simple reason that higher cost of employment makes it all that more difficult for the employer to justify hiring one more person.

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Sanjay identifies the common complaint of the Birkined class (sometimes also referred to as the Chanel class), of maid servants that don’t return from “home leave”. That alas is on the other side of the transaction; the maid that chooses not to return from her village is simply deciding not to enter into that transaction with the “exploitative” auntie.

Additionally, it seems that now police forces prevent young women from boarding trains from their villages, lest they be exploited in faraway lands for purposes other than what their agents (read: pimps) might be promising them. This in my opinion is a matter of inability to enforce law in the faraway Delhi, resulting in checks in the interior, the legitimate being checked along with the illegitimate.

This police action in the hinterland causes an under-supply creating an upward pressure on wages. The maid servants become choosy, leaving the employing aunties aghast at demands of the working class.

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In any case, in any dealing with fellow humans, I agree with Sanjay that it is good to remember everybody’s feces stinks, including our own. Let’s be polite to our fellow humans, while not forgetting the human forces of economics. One of the attractions of Singapore for international businessmen and their families is the ready availability of maid servants. I wonder how they mange it there and in other countries.

Something to think about, by those wishing to create employment….

I can picture child labor returning. My daughter is a college sophomore hunting for internships. My high school senior son, seeking university admission is counseled that his lack of internship experience puts him at a disadvantage and he is only 17!

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I remember the time when as a returning sophomore at Williams, a freshman asked me about my summer holidays. I had spent the over 3 month vacation at home in Delhi, mostly relaxing with friends. My day started with a sumptuous breakfast that was followed by another round of sleep, wake up and meet friends, have lunch followed by an afternoon siesta and then again hang out with friends until dinner. My freshman American friend Hal was shocked. It was so unlike an American student’s summer break, often used to earn sufficiently for term-time pocket money. I was glad India was not fast paced then.

A few years ago, one of the students from Williams contacted me during her summer break, asking to meet me. When I met her at home, I learned she was already doing an internship with a leading consulting firm. What a shock! Americanization of the Indian summer break was at my doorstep.

My family has not remained untouched by this new-spreading norm and last summer I had to see my daughter spending her entire vacation as an intern in Gurgaon. It has become a norm in the current times. However, the internship is an added bonus on her resume while she sends off her cover letters. Proof of success is yet to be confirmed.

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As my son applies to study Engineering at foreign universities, he was told that many successful applicants at leading programs demonstrate their interest through internships they have held. Does that mean that 16 year olds are interning at General Electric (GE) now? If not GE, well somebody must be accepting them. What starts as a favor to a friend’s son, will well soon enough open the floodgates for survival of the fittest.

This trend of organized child labor or internships is certainly advantageous and helps the youth in making informed choices based on firsthand experience. But will they not be sacrificing their youth experience, is one concern that still rings my thoughts…

Last week I was invited to the Embassy of Japan in Delhi for the pre-launch reception of Suraj – The Rising Star. What is that? Exactly the question I asked my wife when she told me we were invited. Now I know the answer – it is the title of a cricket based cartoon, inspired by the Japanese baseball anime hit Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants) of yesteryears.

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Many years ago when I was in Toyota, I was asked to review the Japanese program Oshin for possible sponsorship to telecast in India. Ambassador Sakutaro Tanino had been approached, because it seems that Oshin was run once, to popular acclaim, but could not finish as a series for lack of funds. Sponsorship for Oshin was never revived, but since my review work I have been convinced that quality Japanese programming could be well received by Indian audiences.

In my previous entrepreneurial business promoting Indo-Japanese cultural and business relations, I often shared opinion that it would be people to people contact that would get the two nations closer. There was talk even then, about 10 years ago of translating Japanese Manga (comics) to the vernacular. Now Kodansha, the Japanese publisher has made the localization happen, a fantastic leap for international business – who said you can’t make money out of culture.

Sarbjit Singh Chadha

Indian enka singer, Sarbjit Singh Chadha who was at the embassy reception told me, “Ashok, I used to follow the original Japanese cartoon when I lived in Japan. Believe me this will have wonderful lessons for Indian youth on the importance grit when facing life’s challenges. According to Colors, which will air the program, the series will present viewers an inspiring story of a young boy who dares to chase his cricketing dream.

Newly appointed Ambassador, Takeshi Yagi, was excited about this development in cultural exchange. Talking to Itochu’s honcho in Delhi, Mr. Ichiro Shimizu, I learnt that the original series featuring the Giants was popular in his days. He is in his 50’s. Alas, contemporary Japanese youth that has moved from TV to smartphones for entertainment does not get that some education he complained. Fortunately, a vast majority of Indian youth still access television. Moreover, since it is a remake, I hope that they have additionally adapted it for smartphone viewing.

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Actress Karishma Kapoor who was at the reception said she will make sure that her son who is a budding two and a half year old cricketer shall watch from 10 AM every Sunday. I, too, plan to be in front of the box on 23rd December when it debuts. Time will tell if I am able to sacrifice my golf every Sunday. 10 AM also clashes with my son’s karate class – perhaps its time to invest in a recording device.

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As I landed at Phnom Penh airport last week, there was a certain déjà vu feeling. The smallness and atmosphere at the airport, even as seen from the runway, was so much like Accra in Ghana that I had experienced a few years ago. The efficiency inside and the traffic situation on the way to the hotel also reminded me about my trip to Ghana.

In terms of poor countries, Cambodia seems to be worse off with per capita GDP in PPP terms at 2,727 USD compared to India’s 3,751 USD. However, unlike Ghana that is shackled by its African location, Cambodia exists in a geographical location central in Southeast Asia, the engine for global growth. In my first email from Phnom Penh to a friend I wrote, “Cambodia will overtake India within 5 years”.

Why do I say this? Well, the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are already pouring money in, not only as aid but also part of international business investments. The streets and basic infrastructure of Phnom Penh is neat and tidy compared to Delhi. The first thing my Japanese colleague asked me to notice as we drove from the airport to the hotel downtown was the lack of traffic noise, the honking and weaving in and out that is experienced on India’s chaotic roads.

One of the basic start points for Kaizen (=improvement) at any worksite is 4S. 4S is a production management concept referring to a state of sifting, sorting, sweeping and cleaning and the resulting spic and span condition that forms the basis for productivity growth. Based on my experience with worksite Kaizen I am convinced that Cambodia with 4S in place is ready to improve productivity; India lacks 4S in its cities and countryside and is therefore going to be left behind.

The second thing I noticed was the right pricing of services. Though, I stayed only at the Sofitel Hotel, its superior facilities and excellent services that out performed most Indian hotels were priced at about half of what top class branded hotels in Delhi charge. In that sense too, Cambodia will be more attractive.

Of course, with the national population that is about one per cent of India’s, or roughly the size of Delhi’s, Cambodia’s economic size has its natural limitations. This means that Delhi will be further lulled by a false sense of security in its market size and shall continue to slumber. My expectation is that international business shall continue to clamor for this sleeping giant India to wake up; meanwhile Cambodian people will get better off. They just talk less and do more, while Indian politicians are easily massaged by reference to the country as a tiger oblivious to the adjective “sleeping” being used in description.

Just last week, I was making my travel arrangements for a trip to Mumbai. To find the right flight as per the timing of my visit, I first logged into the travel portal Yatra.com. Here, I noticed that the “budget flights” Jet Konnect, from the Jet Airways wing was priced higher than Jet Airways, the full services provider. Both Jet Konnect and Jet Airways carry the 9W code. Due to these discrepancies, my own preferences have recently has changed to Indigo (6E), and I wasn’t too perturbed about this. However, I mentioned this to my colleague and came to know that he too has been noticing this of late and has changed his preference to Indigo.

As I have been increasingly hearing about the growing preference of Indigo, this small incident got me thinking about how hard it is to stay on the top in international business. Though, Jet Airways is primarily a domestic route airline, with a few international routes, it is the main private airline whose tickets can be purchased from outside India. Thus, an international businessman in Europe planning a trip to India can make his booking conveniently on Jet as part of his British Airways or Lufthansa or other European airline itinerary.

Additionally, since the late nineties, Jet Airways has built itself as the leading brand in India’s domestic travel. It seems to me they decided to milk that brand name in the name of cost efficiency, a few years ago. Hence, they introduced their “budget” wing Jet Konnect

Pricing it essentially at the same level as the full service wing, they stripped value-adds such as blankets and newspapers and started to charge for catering services. Travelers who boarded for the Jet experience were shocked, but Jet could claim that Jet Konnect is their “budget” wing. Jet Airways still has a few flights on the full service, but instead of raising standards on Jet Konnect, they are now stripping away standards on the so called full service, removing refreshments on demand and so on.

As a result, people like my colleague and I now find airlines like Indigo more attractive. I suspect that half that battle was won by Indigo’s diligence keeping a young fleet etc. However, the remaining half was of the battle was lost by Jet, lulled by loss of competition from Kingfisher and Air India. It will be interesting to see if Indigo can remain on top; the challenge to do so will be tough.

In a similar vein, ITC Hotels that was one of three leading chains in India is also now showing signs of decline. Recently, there was a booking at one of their hotels through a travel agent. Later, when the hotel recognized the name of the expected guest, the Relationship Manager (or Sales Assistant) informed the travel agent that they would not honor the booking because the expected guest had previously stayed at the hotel at a higher rate.

This incident reminds me about roadside mango sellers in Delhi, who charge according to how they perceive the customers’ potential to pay. For example, if you approach in slippers, they may ask for Rs. 50/kg. But, if they see the potential customer stepping out of a chauffeur driven car the rate increases to Rs. 60/kg or more. They charge money according to the customer’s ability to pay. Despite the variable prices, the roadside vendor does not go back on the agreed price once the deal is struck, and this is important in the realm of international business too; honoring commitments. ITC Hotels should not compare itself to roadside mango sellers of Delhi, but, if it must, it should adopt their positive qualities too and retain commitments made.

As per the HBR (Harvard Business Review) blog piece – “Staying on Top Image

, Mancur Olson has suggested that the actions taken by Jet or ITC could lead to the classic corporate stall. Here, the companies are becoming captive to their own success and are facing vulnerability to low-cost rivals. They are probably in crunch of innovative ideas that could lead them out of it.

Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore was visiting India last week. He talked about how difficult the business environment is in India. It does not help that even leading businesses such as Jet Airways and ITC Hotels do not keep up their end of the social contract. This is a primary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and no amount of separate CSR programs can hide their fundamental shortcomings, as was proven in the famed Satyam scandal a few years ago.

My own former company Toyota allowed quality sag and was bashed (disproportionately, in my opinion) in American media a few years ago. This resulted in drastic drop of sales. I read recently that Toyota is now poised to gain World No. 1 spot after many years. I wish my friends and former colleagues the very best.

My message: Getting to the top is tough; staying there is tougher. Hence, maintain your social contracts to remain the leader.

India as an economy, on its way to success, has grown into one of the most famous and popular destinations in the whole world for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Our liberalizing trade policies and growing technology & telecommunication sectors are bringing India forth to some of the most productive, profitable and secure foreign investments. However, India still needs to fulfil several basic requisites for realizing its potential for FDI.

Array of Taxes

India has been sending mixed signals to investors by changing its tax and tariff policies without notice. The recent decision to arbitrarily impose taxes retrospectively, is also hardly confidence inspiring. The taxes levied in India are exorbitant and are segregated in various parts. Sales taxes are levied by individual states and so these taxes vary from state to state. This complex sales tax structure impedes FDI.  We need one common tax market so that the overall confusion about taxation is reduced to a larger extent. For example, a traveller to Delhi’s neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh has to pay a state entry tax. This leads to needless queues and time wastage. If the vehicle is a goods carrier then state entry taxes are levied on the goods.  The convoluted tax laws would confuse the most intelligent of businessmen struggling with feasibility studies on market entry. We need to devise a firm and stable tax law for the country to bring in a buoyant FDI.

Age-Old Labour Laws

Antiquated labour laws also come as a big hurdle for FDI. A World Bank report titled “India Country Overview 2008” says that these laws are said to be among the most restrictive and complex in the world. India is ranked very low in the Global Competitive flexibility related to labour. This inflexibility is embedded mainly in the laws and regulation relating to disputes in change of service conditions. One of the biggest impediments to privatization in India is the lack of an exit policy, that is, a policy to govern the dismissal of redundant workers. Law reform is required for attracting foreign investments. Recently, Honda faced a hit in its production as one its key battery suppliers were facing labour issues. The company received a setback in its despatches due to these age-old labour laws. These laws have never been changed in the past 60 years and need immediate addressing in order to bring in better FDI. Foreign government leaders like Singapore’s Goh Chok Tong have been pointing this out year after year at forum after forum.

There is also lack of educated workforce and right-skilled workforce in India. The workforce needs to be educated and trained in their respective skills. The lack of skilled-labour does impose big obstacle in bringing foreign investment. More than anything, to unleash the power of human capital, basic education for all is a must. Measureable progress shall be the fundamental foundation that determines the strength of an economy.

Transparency International (TI) Ranks India 95

The Transparency International (TI) ranking placed India at 95 in its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The CPI published by TI ranks countries as per the perceived levels of corruption, which are determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys. Corruption, as defined by CPI, is the misuse of public power for private benefit. CPI rankings scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). Our current ranking gives out a perception of India being a highly corrupt estate.

Before every investment, an investor intends to invest in countries that are free of corruption or at least have lesser amount of it. There should be proper regulations on all business activities to avoid negative implications of the same. Hence, in order to attract clean and stable foreign investment, our aim should be to reach in the measureable goal of top 20 of the TI ranking.

The Ease of Doing Business (2012) survey by the World Bank has ranked India on 132 among the 183 economies that are a part of its survey. The ranking has gone up (7ranks) from 139 in 2011, but it still has a long way to go. As per Wikipedia, these rankings are based on the study of laws and regulations, with the input and verification by more than 9,000 government officials, lawyers, business consultants, accountants and other professionals in 183 economies who routinely advise on or administer legal and regulatory requirements. Higher rankings indicate better, usually simpler, regulations for businesses and stronger protections of property rights.

Higher ranking simply boost the morale of an investor about the country and the way of doing business there. So, to bring in healthy and stable foreign investment, India needs to gear up to bring ourselves in the Top 20. Government needs to set up an attainable goal of moving up 10 ranks per year so that a more progressive future becomes visible.

Based on mentioned parameters for CPI and Ease of Doing Business ranking evaluation, India needs to draw the basic sitemap for bringing in better FDI and better growth for the country. These are some of the most important parameters that India has to work on. If these pointers are taken care of, India will be on a faster road to progress and will gain more investments.

In my opinion, should a single barometer be needed, it is perhaps the Ease of Doing Business ranking that is most important to judge how effective India is in attracting FDI.

Recently, Toyota sponsored a pan India golf tournament. Assocham, one of the Indian industry bodies also has an annual Japan-India corporate golf competition. Many leading newspapers and business magazines also get involved. Apparently, Golf seems to be the lubricant of international business.

We normally associate Japan with sushi but the uber corporate Japan can be better associated with golf. At least in India, it seems to be the only recreation that most Japanese enjoy.

When I was younger, I never imagined that I would play golf one day. My college’s golf course was used more for late night walks discussing philosophy rather than the actual game. Later, when I joined Toyota, my father-in-law encouraged me to join golf, but it did not seem like an alluring thought back then. I assumed it to be an old man’s sport. However, after some years, my boss in Hitachi managed to convince me that I ought to play the game for business reasons.

Initially, golf turned out to be tougher than I had imagined. Connecting ball to stick is not as easy as when seen on TV. A friend of mine, Pankaj, got me out on the golf course and from then on there was no looking back.

In Delhi’s concrete jungle, the manicured greens at Qutab are a refreshing feast for the eyes. I competing against myself brought out the old sportsman in me, trying to do better than before. A double bogey is good, a bogey is satisfying, a par is something to talk about and with a birdie – the caddies get a treat! Eagles on the course are just as rare as they are in Delhi’s skies.

Going out with customers creates a healthy bonding. Strictly speaking, I haven’t concluded any deals on the course, but spending so much time on the course and thereafter on the 19th hole does enhance friendship.  I do find it more enjoyable working with friends.

In addition to the joy of natural beauty and socializing, I also find the kilometres walked to be a good exercise. Depending on post-golf action the calorie count may eventually be neutralized, but whenever I resist the temptation it does work in my favour.  It reduces my fat, it increases my stamina and it improves my concentration. Though, I have a long way to go in terms of score improvement, I convince myself that with every extra shot I hit I get extra exercise!

I’ll be back on the Golf course from mid-June, I promise.

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