Friday, May 25, 2012

Priye Paha.......

It is hard not to get swayed by the temptation of Natya Sangeet. This has been true not only for the music aficionados but also for seasoned legendary musicians such as Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. 

I owe much of my interest in Natya Sangeet to my Maternal Grandfather who being an accomplished musician and a performer in many musical street-plays himself, used to sing and listen to these songs from many well-known Marathi musical plays in his times. I slowly developed a taste for Natya Sangeet and started liking that kind of music. It’s around the same time that I had a chance to listen to the records of Pt. Prabhakar Karekar, veteran classical vocalist, Natya Sangeet performances and I instantly liked his deep baritone voice.

If you are a connoisseur of Marathi Natya Sangeet and its tradition, it’s hard for you to have missed the sonorous rendition of “Priye Paha”, well-known Natyageet from the play ‘Sangeet Saubhadra’, sung by Panditji. In his resonant baritone with a slight hint of nasality, he enthralls his audience with his beautiful rendition of ragas and Natya sangeet.

I was not able to find much information on panditji’s life and work on internet. Then I chanced upon two fine articles(here and here) published in The Hindu at times when he was on a tour to Bangalore for his concerts in 2004 and 2009. In these articles, we get to know about his musical journey. Very inspirational read…..

Listen to this beautiful rendition...
Marathi Natya Sangeet - Priye Paha

Monday, May 14, 2012

Civic Sense or the lack of it..

In the midst of big hue and cry following the CWG scam, there was another issue that went all over in the media: Paan (chewed betel nut) stains in the bathrooms and filthy toilets in games village. One of the enlightened souls in the organizing officials even attributed this to cultural differences in perception. He also needed to remind that an Indian traveling abroad easily assimilates this difference in perception into his civic sense and quickly gets adjusted. But when he’s at his home country he finds it irresistible to spit on the walls, trash the garbage on the road. As much as these events try to jolt us to the reality around us, they still remain a passing affair. 

A common sight in my locality every day - I commute to office by bus and wait at the bus stop that is in the market area adjacent to my house. Throughout the day the market place bustles with commercial activity - swarm of people, shoppers, vendors, snarling traffic, honking cars and buses etc., all pass through a narrow one-way road. End of the day the road is littered with trash dumped out of shops, disposed bottles, half-eaten food, broken bags and plastic cups and bunch of other random garbage. The garbage keeps laying around on the road helpless, rotting until morning when the sweeper comes to clean. The garbage lays right there, off the sidewalk, where I and my fellow commuters wait for the bus. There is no dumpster around (at least I haven’t seen any). This garbage creates considerable nuisance with its stink and gives an unpleasant sight. 

The commuters are visibly ill at ease with this “Sight & Smell” spectacle. Occasionally, cows or stray dogs wandering aimlessly, on catching glimpse of it, seize the opportunity to rummage through the garbage for feast. Fully enjoying this activity, they further scatter the garbage pieces. One could often catch a glimpse of the underpinning of men clothing laying in tattered conditions. At this point, while I stand there, my senses overwhelmed still recovering from this sight, I spot two women pass by me hurriedly, carrying a container full of stinking trash. They empty the container, in full view, onto already reeking garbage, and in the process disturb a huge colony of cockroaches, so far living peacefully but now scurrying for cover. Sometimes passers-by also consider it their civic responsibility to give something back to society by contributing to this mess, so they spit into it.

This illustration is not from any small town in India but from IT hub Bangalore that is proud of itself for being called as Silicon Valley of India. 

The barrage of reportage and accounts presenting a consistent image about India, that of a dichotomy of a rising democratic superpower fueled by growth of information technology, yet mired in poverty and hunger, have blunted our senses to the point that we no longer get troubled by this civic mess around us. Instead we have learnt to live with it and accepted it, the vary same way we have accepted and internalized corruption as usual mode of Indian civic life. The Condition of our cities and utter apathy of its residents is a living testimony of this fact.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nazi Military-Industrial Complex (Global corporations and their Nazi connections)

Last century saw the rise and clash of three dominant political ideologies capitalism, Marxism and fascism. The inherent conflicts between these ideologies created a deep and sinister impact on the world politics and humanity at large. Towards the end of 1920, the meteoric rise of National Socialism in Germany, and with it of Nazi dictatorship, emerged as a major threat to communist Russia and Capitalist United states. 

In those eventful 12 years of Nazi rule (1933-1945) that culminated into WWII, Germany created a powerful industrial -military complex which was far more potent and interconnected than anyone had ever seen. As a result of this alliance between Nazi leadership and industrial-military complex, many big corporations in those times witnessed a sudden upsurge in their profits. Industries big and small all over Germany became part of Hitler's massive war machine. In fact, many of the most dominant corporations of our time made fortunes funding both sides of the war and this not only had German firms but also some of the major US and European companies and banking giants. This blogpost is an attempt to explore such mutualistic relationships between some of these big corporations and the Nazi leadership.

I.G. Farben
The foremost name in this list is that of I.G. Farben, the colossus nazi industrial trust that created the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp. I.G. farben was a chemical conglomerate formed in 1925 bymajor companies such as BSAF, Bayer, and Hoechst among others. I.G. Farben’s top officials were staunch Nazi followers and some of them were SA officers who personally knew both Rudolf Hess and Ernst Roehm. I.G farben had a very pivotal role in the creation of Nazi war machine. As post-war investigation by US war department revealed – 

Without I. G.'s immense productive facilities ,its intense research, and vast international affiliations, Germany's prosecution of the war would have been unthinkable and impossible; Farben not only directed its energies toward arming Germany, but concentrated on weakening her intended victims, and this double-barreled attempt to expand the German industrial potential for war and to restrict that of the rest of the world was not conceived and executed "in the normal course of business." The proof is overwhelming that I. G. Farben officials had full prior knowledge of Germany's plan for world conquest and of each specific aggressive act later undertaken ....

I.G. Farben obtained all major government and military contracts, thanks to its nazi connections, to build factories and provide rubber, gasoline, lubricating oils, magnesium, fibres, explosives and other chemicals. In its most infamous plant at Auschwitz, it even installed its own patented pesticide Zyklon B in the gas chambers. It didn’t stop there. Farben used unwilling inmates in these camps as guinea pigs to test their chemicals, pharmaceuticals and vaccines resulting in disturbing consequences.

In this due course I.G Farben immensely grew in size and power and acquired controlling interests in numerous German and foreign firms.  Its reach was not restricted to Europe alone. It formed complex cartels with US firms such as Standard Oil of New Jersey (Rockefeller owned), DuPont, Alcoa, Dow Chemical, and others to acquire the raw materials from abroad. It also received heavy financing from Wall Street bankers such as National city bank, Federal Reserve Bank of NY. In the Nuremberg trials, all directors of Farben were charged guilty of war crimes.  

Thyssen and Krupp
Thyssen, a major German steel manufacturer set by by influential German industrialist August thyssen, merged with another German firm Friedrich Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp in 1999 to form ThyssenKrupp, a large conglomerate world famous for its elevators. Krupps were a very prominent 400 year old German dynasty and famous steel manufacturers. After Nazi seizing power in 1933, Hitler appointed Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, then controller of Krupp industry, as chairman of the Reich Federation of German Industry who eventually succeeded by his son Alfried Krupp. During Nazi rearmament program, Krupp was the principal German maker of large caliber artillery, armor plate, and other high quality armament, the largest private builder of U-boats and warships, the infamous German Panzer tanks, and the second largest producer of iron and coal in Germany. On the other hand Fritz Thyssen, son of August thyssen, was influenced by Nazi ideology of supression of communist and social democrats but could not swallow the idea of anti-Semitism. While trying to emigrate to France but was captured by Nazi army. He was sent to Dachau camp and remained there till he was liberated by axis forces.

Volkswagen and Porsche
German Volkswagen group and world famous expensive car manufacturer Porsche was founded by Ferdinand Porsche, who threw himself in the services of German war machine and eventually benefitted by it. Ferdinand Porsche enjoyed a strong reputation with both Hitler and Josef Stalin. Designed under the Nazi regime, VW beetle became the famous “people’s car”. Hitler helped Porsche with land, fund and other means to set up his plants close to autobahn and canals. Being obsessed with the productivity concerns, Porsche turned to his SS friend, Fritz Sauckel, responsible for the mass deportation of workers. With his help, Porsche employed forced laborers sourced directly from death camps at VW factories at minimum or no cost which allowed for pocketing huge profits.  Ferdinand Porsche himself served Hitler during the war as the head of his tank commission.

Likewise, The Quandt family empire, which became a major shareholder in BMW after the Second World War building it up to become one of the most desirable car brands were linked inseparably with Nazis. Family patriarch, G√ľnther Quandt and his son Herbert collaborated with Nazis and used estimated 50,000 slave laborers from concentration camps in their factories to supply arms contracts to the regime.

Similarly, another giant in the German automobile industry, Mercedes Benz accepted that its  armament production accounted for an ever-growing proportion of the company’s revenues up to the start of the war. The company focused on the manufacture and assembly of military components for the army, navy and air force. Daimler-Benz also used forced laborers. These prisoners of war, abducted civilians and detainees from concentration camps were housed close to the plants. Forced laborers from Western Europe lived in guest houses, private accommodation or schools.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

In this daringly innovative book, author Jared diamond posits a thesis that in the last 13000 years of evolutionary history of the continents, environmental and geographical factors effected a far greater influence in deciding the course of events that finally led to the world of today than a set of biological,moral or inherent genetic factors. He beautifully draws together diverse fields of knowledge such as bio-geography, history, archeology, evolutionary biology and presents a very cogent argument.

Jared contends that owing to the then prevailing environmental factors such as continental areas and axes, isolation and internal geographic barriers, Eurasian continent got a head start; especially in the area of plant and animal species suitable for domestication and an early development of farming which subsequently led to societal transformation unlike that seen by continents such as Australia, south America and Africa due to unavailability of similar conducive factors in favor of such developments. Moreover, these early farm based societies instinctively progressed into large complex societies of industrial and military dominance and began conquering those socially and economically disadvantaged societies that were either left behind in this transformation or did not get across the minimum threshold to trigger it.

In essence, Author talks about three crucial factors that were largely responsible for this eventual pre-potency of Eurasia over North America, Australia and Africa. These were the Guns (Military technology), the Steel (Industrial technology) and germs (immunity to diseases).

His arguments seem plausible, convincing and radical to a large extent in the light of various examples sited in the book...However, a weakness in the approach is that the whole argument seemed to be Euro-centric and no consideration has been given to important cultural or political .dimensions.........but then that's where i feel the book is worthy of being given a sincere consideration...I enjoyed it to the hilt!!

P.S. while i understand that the author has chosen a very wide canvas to cover as much possible as part of this monumental effort ...however i feel that it does not answer all fact some of them as intellectually overwhelming as the the central subject of the book such as how the climate variation across Indian continent may explain the degree of difference between the mannerisms, the food habits and the enterprenuriaship across the wide expanse of India.....the Indian continent, where i feel, has not been a serious or detail treatment in the book and thats where lies another weakness of the book...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Reinvent, Regroup and Re-think

I came upon a very insightful and inspiring speech  by Anand Mahindra, vice chairman and managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra. While this speech was delivered  in 2008 at Nasscom Leadership Summit, it still holds and will continue to hold relevance for Indian economy in the time to come, as we step into 2012. I am reproducing the complete speech below -

In order to walk the talk, every time I’m asked to speak at a conference, I have made it a default option to ask what the audience–my customers–might expect of me. And so I found myself wondering what this conclave of IT wizards expects from a predominantly right-brained character like myself. You certainly haven’t called me here to deliver a sermon on technology. And I wouldn’t even risk doing that with Nandan (Nilekani) and Kiran (Karnik) sharing the dais!

Of course, I might have been able to do that by getting one of my IT colleagues to write this speech, but then it would have been comprehensible to you, but incomprehensible to me!

And although the title of this session is ‘Building a Knowledge Economy for Growth’, I believe that a) All of you out there have helped build the foundations of a knowledge economy, so again, you don’t need me to pontificate to you about that and b) I think there are some urgent pressures and imperatives the industry has to deal with at this point.

So, I’m going to talk about something completely different: I will talk about the Trimurti.

Most of the Indians in this audience will know the Trimurti – the trinity in Indian mythology of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer. There is a wonderful depiction of this in stone, just ten kilometers across the bay, at Elephanta. Both as a businessman, and as someone who tends to see life in visual images, the Trimurti reminds me of India’s IT industry. Think of it.

You people have gone through a stage, where like Brahma, you created something out of nothing. You created a new and global industry. You created a service sector that is today, a major pillar of our GDP. But most importantly, you created a perception of a new India, both in the world and in Indian hearts and minds.

CK Prahalad once told me that in universities in America today, there are almost unfairly high expectations from Indian students, because there is a huge perception that all Indian students are brilliant, outstanding. You created that perception. And within India, what you created was self-belief. You showed us what Indians could do, and now the rest of India believes that Indians can do anything. Brahma created a physical landscape; you sowed the seeds of a new mental and psychological landscape. In that sense, you are truly the Brahmas of the age of liberalisation.

But creation is only the first phase. You then have to move on to the next phase of sustaining that creation – to the realm of Vishnu the preserver. Creation is a one-time affair. Sustaining that creation is obviously a longer haul, subject to many attacks and crises. Perhaps that is why Vishnu comes not in one, but in ten incarnations.
Every time there is a new danger, he changes his avatar to a form best suited to meet that danger. At various times he has come as a fish, as a tortoise, as a dwarf. But his most interesting avatar came when he had to fight the demon Hiranyakashyap. Hiranyakashyap was a bad guy, who had obtained an amazing boon from the gods. Neither man nor beast could kill him; he could not be killed by daylight or at nighttime, within his home or outside it, on the ground or in the sky. All this made him pretty invincible – he went on a rampage, and only Vishnu could tackle him.

The IT industry today faces challenges every bit as complex as those Hiranyakashyap posed for Vishnu. It is hit by a macroeconomic tsunami of adverse currency changes, rapidly escalating costs in both salaries and infrastructure and inadequate talent pools below the tier 1 and 2 institutions.

At the Company level, firms are begin to feel the penalties of poor differentiation and lack of focus (trying to be all things to all people); and an over-emphasis on high volumes and price competition. Suddenly, the industry seems to have fallen off its pedestal; You are facing your very own Hiranyakashyap.

It’s interesting to see how Vishnu dealt with him. How do you destroy someone who can’t be killed by man or beast, inside or outside, by day or night etc etc. The demon pretty much had all bases covered. So Vishnu took on the Narasimha avatar to bypass the boon. Narasimha was a hybrid creature, half man half lion, and therefore neither man nor beast. He killed Hiranyakashyap at twilight, which is neither day nor night. He killed him in the courtyard, which is neither inside a house nor outside it. And he killed the demon by placing him across his knee and tearing him apart, thus circumventing the terms of the boon that he could not be killed
either on the ground or in the sky. Now that’s what I call an innovative algorithm!

So what are the lessons for the IT industry in this story? Well, the first thing Vishnu did was to reinvent himself. It was not the gentle and contemplative Vishnu who fought Hiranyakashyap – it was the fearsome Narasimha avatar. Vishnu reinvented himself to suit the circumstances. The circumstances have changed drastically. Reinvent yourselves.

Do I have all the answers on the modes of re-invention? No, obviously not, otherwise I’d be out there filing patents, although I can suggest two broad approaches.

First, why don’t we design business models that challenge traditional industry approaches and then transform our organizations, people and processes to execute. If we simply keep knocking on the doors of clients with our traditional offshoring options, we’ll meet the fate of hearing aid salespersons: our best customers won’t hear the doobell!

For example, software-on-demand and open source models changed the rules of the software game. Can we not try to change the rules of the game this time around? Why didn’t we invent Zoom technology or Virtualisation? Thus far, India’s brand of innovation has been identified with the IT industry, but is it truly innovative. Is it really game changing? Ironically, you can now look to the old smokestack industries for inspiration.

A few weeks ago, an Indian car company made a game-changing move. Maybe the Nano will ultimately not retail for a hundred thousand rupees. Maybe it won’t have great margins, or replace as many motorcycles as it would like to, but it was a game changing move; it fired a shot that was heard around the world. Can the IT world make any such claim?

There was an old saying, apparently adopted by the IT industry, that the secret of success is to jump every time opportunity knocks. And how do you know when opportunity knocks? You don’t, you just keep jumping!

So when are we going to stop simply jumping every time a client seems to sneeze, and actually create products and IP that become their own opportunities?

Let’s look at new areas where India may have natural advantage. I remember C.K Prahlad telling us that we didn’t realize how important it was to leverage emerging innovation ecosystems in our country. He gave us the example of how, due to a fortunate coincidence, India’s IT and automotive industries were situated in roughly the same geographic clusters. So why wasn’t, according to Michael Porter’s competitive theories, a world beating automotive telematics industry taking shape here.

Why aren’t IT companies using the massive potential of India’s soft power, the film and TV business to exploit technological dominance of what Telco’s call the ‘last mile’ but is actually the ‘first mile’ in the brave new interactive world?

Secondly, why don’t we try to focus on a vertical industry (e.g., telecom) or horizontal domain (e.g., supply chain management) selecting the key dimensions of competitive differentiation – product vs. service, breadth vs. depth, speed of delivery, customer service responsiveness, fixed or outcome-based pricing, proprietary technology or intellectual property, and so on.

And let’s be prepared to make hard decisions along the way – change people who don’t fit, walk away from businesses that doesn’t fit.

It’s essential, while attempting this, however, to recognize that focus, differentiation and brand building require time and investment. Selling value or doing business differently than the norm tends to elongate sales cycles, which tends to put pressure on cash flow and we need to resist the temptation to broaden our offerings or slash prices just to win the business and keep people busy.

Along with re-invention, during the course of reinventing himself, Vishnu figured out the loopholes in the boon, and regrouped his physical and mental aspects to take advantage of these loopholes. That’s something the IT industry can do as well. Its often been pointed out that in the Chinese word for crisis is also the Chinese word for opportunity I love that mindset. I truly believe that the adverse rate of the dollar can be viewed as the glass half empty or the glass half full. Sure it affects margins. But it’s also a chance to take advantage of the loophole and buy yourselves what you don’t have, so that you can regroup your structure to meet the challenge.

To me the fact that our currency is more valuable and our price earnings ratios are still higher than average, means that we can acquire the front-ends and the large IT businesses that we never thought we could before. And the bigger the better. If people are egging us on to leapfrog, then they should also cheer as you bid for companies that seem bigger fish than you. It’s happening all the time today in the manufacturing sector-Tata Corus being the stellar example-and we at Mahindra, while starting from scratch, have inorganically compiled together a portfolio of acquisitions that make us the fourth largest steel forging company in the world today.
This is not without historical precedent. If you look at Japan and South Korea, both of them went through a phase of enduring the worlds’ skepticism, then painstakingly building strong and competent domestic businesses, and then on the back of global liquidity support and strong price earnings ratios, compressing time by acquiring global firms and their customer credibility.

In effect, by acquiring the strengths and skill sets you need, you will regroup your profile and create a new entity, which can vanquish your challenges as effectively as Vishnu vanquished Hiranyakashyap.

And finally, while reinventing yourselves, you will have to bring in some of the aspects of the third element of the Trimurti – that of Shiva the destroyer. Destroy for example the premise that cost arbitrage is the way to go.  Recognize that the low cost, high volume offshore outsourcing battle has already been fought and won. Often, when strategic frames grow rigid, companies, like countries, tend to keep fighting the LAST war. If you are not already on the winners list, you need to think of other ways to compete  on value and differentiation, rather than price and scale.

Destroy the premise that success comes only from size, and desist from comparisons with other Indian companies. There are still many IT companies in India who define success as “we want to be one of the top ten Indian IT companies”. Why not, for example, “we want to be the world’s #1 banking back office solutions provider”?

And lastly, perhaps the time has come to destroy the notion that the world may be your oyster but India is not. There is a huge domestic market in middle class and corporate India that has not been plumbed. Even selling to the bottom of the pyramid is profitable today. But it needs a creative destruction of the current mindset and a re-think on many of the assumptions we hold dear.

So, in conclusion, perhaps there really isn’t that much distance between avatars in the mythological sense and avatars in the technology sense. Perhaps they are both symbolic expressions of the same reality. In their different ways, they both underline the same message – that it is necessary in any situation to reinvent, regroup and re-think our way out of whatever challenges confront us.

I’d like to close with one of my favourite quotes-such a favourite, that I can’t even remember where I first read it:

My father thought the world would be same;
My children, however, wake up EVERY day thinking the world will be different.
Let’s begin emulating our children. Time to wake up and make the world different.