Thursday, 13 September 2018

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Wallowing in Nostalgia

This blogger has reached a stage in life where he often turns nostalgic. Ahhh - the good old days ... Sigh ...

Today it was nostalgia in ads. All from about 40 years ago. Colour television had not yet come to India (it came with the Asian Games of 1982). Black & White TVs were few and far between and it was perfectly OK to go to your neighbour's house to watch TV because they had a set and you didn't. Of course, there was only one channel - Doordarshan, the state TV. 

Ads were primarily through cinema. Before the movie started, there would be a series of ads shown in full colour. Those days, you eagerly looked forward to the ads as much as you looked forward to the movie itself And then when TV came, these ads morphed to TV, but the largest reach was through cinemas for a long time. Of all the ads, there were  3 or 4  that almost everybody knew by heart. We could hum along, skip along to each of them.

First Gold Spot. When Coca Coal exited India in 1977, a local entrepreneur quickly cashed in with equivalents - Thums Up (Coke), Limca ( a lemon drink) and Gold Spot (Fanta). The Gold Spot ad was a classic - Indians with a taste for Bollywood might recognise a young Javed Jaffrey. Gold Spot, alas, disappeared when Coca Cola reentered India in the late 1990s.



                                                                                      

My second classic of course has to be Liril, by Unilever.  It completely took India by storm sending the soap skyrocketing as the largest selling soap in India. The ad was so successful that the model Karen Lunel  was paid by Unilever never to appear in any other ad ever again. She will forever be the Liril girl. Liril is still going strong in India - it was , and  has always been, an "India soap". Unilever , despite being global never sold Liril in any other country, but in India it was a mega hit.





My personal favourite of them all is  Close Up also from the Unilever stable. The wonderful Close Up jingle; I can still remember the words and hummed along when I listened to the song today. Alas, the ad has been lost to history. I can't find it on You Tube at all. When Close Up was launched with this ad, it caught on to become one of India's best selling toothpastes. Today, Unilever has withdrawn from toothpastes in most countries, but in India, Close Up is still a star. The ad seems to have been lost, but the song on which it is based is very much there - Walter Navarro's lovely classic. Listen to the song and those of you old enough to remember that ad, imagine it before your eyes. Even better that way.





Why is it that my vision is a tad blurred today !

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Amazon vs Walmart in India

The war for the future of the retail trade in the world is going to be fought in India. It has happened by default, but happen it nevertheless has. The irony hasn't struck the policymakers in India as yet - they of the medieval dinosaur disposition of still not allowing foreign companies into the retail sector in India. If that makes your head reel, then this is India, true to its form.

Globally, Walmart (the old incumbent) and Amazon ( the not so new disruptor) have been itching for a gigantic fight for a long time. In the US, Walmart dominates in store and Amazon dominates online. There it is a fight between one form of retail trade and another. Not a headlong fight. In China, which would have been the logical war zone, both have failed against domestic competition - not least because the playing field is not level (actually tilted a full 90 deg). Hence India, by default, has become the battlefield.

It actually is peculiar that India is the chosen fighting arena. This is a country where foreign firms are still not allowed to open a store in India. You need domestic partners. Every rabble rousing politician has demonstrated and agitated in the past against allowing wicked foreigners into the retail trade. Most of India's retail trade continues to be the mom and pop store. 

Amazon was the first to enter. Amazon.in is now globally second (distantly) only to Amazon.com in the Amazon universe. E Commerce is still minuscule in India but given India's size , even minuscule is big. Amazon has been pouring money into India, adopting the time tested formula from the US. Their competition was Flipkart, a local E Commerce provider. Now Walmart is acquiring Flipkart. This will now become an all out battle between the two for the online market . Right now Flipkart and Amazon.in are close in India with Flipkart being the marginal leader. With the acquisition, Walmart will now be bigger online than Amazon in at least one country.

I wonder what the other global majors are thinking about all this. Carrefour and Tesco, the old European giants, are not present here at all.  OK Tesco is , via a joint venture, but you would be hard pressed to find a store. The newer European upstarts Aldi, Lidl, et al, can't point to India on a map and so, have not come. The Chinese, notably Tmall and JD seem to be interested only in slugging it out in home territory. Alibaba is of course more global in outlook, but they are  in the B2B space. So its just the Americans wanting to fight in India.

Where is the famous Ramamritham in all this. How come none of the rabble rousers are yelling their heads off against evil Americans ? The truth is that both Ramamritham and the political worthies are old foggies. Neither know how to switch on a computer, let alone how to buy anything online. Events have overtaken these dinosaurs before they have realised what's happening. The same thing happened with the Indian IT industry a couple of decades ago. The only way to beat Ramamritham is with something he does not understand.

So now the war will begin. This blogger is salivating at the prospect. You see, he is a piddling customer of both Amazon and Flipkart. "When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers",  goes the old saying. I beg to differ. When these two elephants fight, it will be the grass that will flourish. I am looking forward to all the lovely deals and freebies !

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Where have all the promotions gone ?

Many men of this blogger's vintage are seriously challenged when it comes to matters of fashion. This blogger is a card carrying member of the tribe who behaves like this when it comes to clothes

 - A few shirts and a few trousers, all looking very similar, hang in the closet
 - A shirt is plucked from the leftmost corner,  the trouser is picked from the rightmost corner and worn
 - As they are laundered , they join the back of the queue in the hanging sequence; thereby ensuring an automatic first in first out principle !
 - When a hole appears in any of the garments, it is thrown away
 - When there comes a day when not enough shirts or trousers are hanging in the closet, a shopping expedition ensues and half a dozen items are bought and the cycle repeats all over again !!

The last of the above happened recently to yours truly and off I trooped off to the mall to replenish supplies.

By way of background, you must know that this is the way men's clothes are sold in India

 - An anemic looking shirt or trouser is priced at a king's ransom. Let us say that in India it is something like Rs 3000 (circa $50 ; a ridiculous price to pay for a shirt)
 -  Random words such as 'Uncrushables", "Perfect Fit",  "Wrinkle Free", "Soft", "Smooth" , all of which are nonsense, are displayed prominently to justify the price tag. Of course they all mean absolutely nothing.
 - Then a promotion scheme is run wherein you get 2 items free, if you buy 3, or even Buy One and Get One Free (BOGOF is an accepted word in Indian English)
 - Everybody is happy

Men at the level of fashion consciousness as this blogger , shop for clothes as follows

 - Enter the store. Go to the section where their size is stocked
 - Pick the first three shirts on display
 - Pick the first three trousers on display
 - Go to the cash counter and pay
 - Snigger at the lady draping and preening in front of the mirror and  and suggest rudely that no amount of this or that garment can hide the fact that she needs to go to the gym !
 - Exit store, preferably within 5 minutes

Accordingly, I entered a store and performed all of the above maneuvers. And then when I went to the cash counter to pay, the guy said I had to pay for all of them. I told him that I would of course pay for all as per whatever promotion scheme was running. He said there was no promotion scheme and I had to pay full price for all. WHAT ? I have never heard anything more ridiculous. He repeated that I had to pay full price. I said, I don't understand. He patiently said - No promotion. The he spelt it out letter by letter - N O ; P R O M O T I O N.

I stalked out of the store yelling that he must be joking and if he expected me to pay $50 for a shirt, he must be a member of the Monster Raving Loony Party (such a political party actually exists in Her Majesty's land). I stormed  into the next shop and went through the same sequence.

No promotion. Stormed out and went to the next shop. No promotion. Next shop. No promotion. There wasn't anymore shops to enter into. And I had no shirt to wear tomorrow. So I went back to the first shop, tail between my legs, paid $ 50 and bought just one shirt and slunk back home. There is still a  huge hole in  my closet, but I am damned if I am going to pay the ridiculous full price tag to fill it up. I shall launder and iron my clothes twice a day and live with just a pair or two !!!

This facetious post underscores a serious issue. The explosion of promotions and consumer behaviour which has now been tailored to buy only promoted items. All promotions are a distortion on a fair price-value equation. The true price of a product can never be determined when crazy promotions are running all the time.  The seller tries to hoodwink the consumer, the consumer shops around for what he believes is the best promotion and this has become a complicated dance.

And so, apparel manufacturers stopping all promotions is a good thing. But then  they have cheekily not cut the price tag at all. It remains the ridiculous $50.  That's absurd. I live in India and not in the US of A. I am not shopping on Bond Street or the Champs-Élysées. A shirt should cost $10. OK $20. Not $50.

Every manufacturer has withdrawn promotions at the same time. This smacks of collusion. Is the Competition Commission looking ? Or have the stocks of shirts and trousers of the worthies not diminished enough to warrant a visit to the shop ?

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Blogger drafts a new law to be passed

There are various ways to vent out road rage.  I am trying a novel experiment here to douse the fire that is consuming me. By attempting to write a law !! Read on and see if you agree.

Office of the Frustrated Motorists of Bangalore
Middle of Nagwara Junction
Bangalore - 560045
25th April 2018

Do No 435/16/346A/FMB/2018-16

Dear Sirs

The Motorists Community of Bangalore is considering an amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act to provide guidance for vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road. It is recognised that in Bangalore the number of vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road have exceeded the number of vehicles driving on the right side of the road. It is therefore in the public interest that clear rules are formulated in this regard.

The draft rules titled "The Bangalore Motor Vehicles (Wrong Side ) Rules 2018 " are hereby being released for public comment & consultation. We are seeking your opinion on these draft rules so that they may be considered before the final Rules are framed and enacted.

Please submit your final comments to this office on or before 13th May, 2018.

-sd-

Assistant Deputy Chief Officer (Acting)
Office of the Frustrated Motorists of Bangalore

The Bangalore Motor Vehicles (Wrong Side) Rules 2018
DRAFT

CHAPTER 1


1. Short title, extent and commencement
(1) These rules may be called the Bangalore Motor Vehicles (Wrong Side) Rules, 2018.
(2) They shall extend only to the city of Bangalore, Karnataka.
(3) They shall come into force on the First day of May, 2018.
2. Need for these Rules
(1) It is recognised that in the city of Bangalore more people drive on the wrong side of the road than on the right side of the road.

(2) The current Motor Vehicles Act is silent on the rules governing driving on the wrong side of the road.

(3) It is therefore considered expedient in the public interest to frame clear rules to guide motorists to drive correctly on the wrong side of the road.

CHAPTER 2

3. Definition of Lanes
(1) The left most lane on any road is exclusively meant for 2 wheelers coming in the opposite direction.

(2) The second and third lanes are exclusively reserved for traffic going in the forward direction.

(3) The right extreme lane (often erroneously called as the fast lane) is meant for
a. Four wheelers coming on the wrong side of the road
b. Two wheelers who are preparing to dart into the opposing side of the road
c. Trucks and buses who have broken down and are denoted by some leaves placed on their rear
d. Yellow board taxis who have had a puncture and whose tires are being replaced
(4) It is expressly clarified that no matter how wide the road is , these four lane rules shall apply.

(5) When a vehicle is parked in the left most lane, right of way on the second lane is for the 2 wheeler coming in the wrong direction.

(6) These definition of lanes cater also to single carriageways where they will apply head on , on both sides.

CHAPTER 3

4. Rules regarding Lights
(1) Any vehicle coming on the wrong side of the road must have their headlamps in high beam. It is preferable that high powered lights are fitted so that oncoming drivers can be blinded as effectively as possible.
(2) It is optional for such vehicles to have their hazard warning lights on.
5. Rules regarding turn indicators
(1) Vehicles coming on the wrong side of the road should not use their turn indicators at all . (Note that Rule 4 (2) encourages them to be used as hazard warning lights).
(2) Any vehicle signalling with their turn indicator is liable to face a penalty of a maximum of Rs 1000 or simple imprisonment not exceeding six months , or both.

CHAPTER 4

6. Special Rules for Two Wheelers
(1) There must be at least 3 people riding on the two wheeler. If any of the riders are less than 12 years of age, the minimum number of riders shall be 4.
(2) The driver shall carry his helmet on the arm. Under no circumstances shall he wear it on his head. Only ISI mark helmets are allowed.
(3) The driver shall speak into the mobile phone for the entire duration of driving on the wrong side of the road. He shall not use the left hand to hold the phone and instead cradle the phone between his neck and the head with the head tilted at a minimum of 35 degrees from the vertical.

CHAPTER 5

7. Rules at Traffic Junctions
(1) Traffic lights shall have the following meaning for vehicles coming on the wrong direction of the road
a. Red means Go
b. Amber means Go
c. Green means Go
(2) At any traffic junction vehicles coming from the wrong side of the road may either continue on the wrong side of the road or change to the opposite side. Such change can be executed at any time while crossing the junction and shall have right of way.

CHAPTER 6

8. Service lanes
(1) For sake of abundant clarity it is hereby reiterated that these Rules are applicable to service lanes to National & State Highways as well. Motorists are encouraged to avail of this facility and drive on the wrong side of service lanes.

(2) It is recognised that all service lanes have either craters of a minimum dimension of 3ft by 2 ft by 4 ft or a lake of equal dimensions. Therefore the lane rules stated in 3 above do not apply to service lanes and any vehicle can occupy any lane.

Chapter 7

9. U Turns
(1) Vehicles coming on the wrong side of the road are permitted to do a U turn anywhere and at any point in time. This provision is to enable them to do an instant U turn at the sight of a Traffic Cop in the distance. Vehicles coming on the right side of the road must give way for those taking U turns.

(2) A minimum of 6 points must be executed while performing a U turn. 3 point U turns are not permitted.
(3) All vehicles coming on the wrong side may, at any time, cross the divider and move on to the right side . Both 2 wheelers and 4 wheelers are allowed to climb the divider and cross over for this purpose. Vehicles coming on the right side shall patiently wait while this maneuver is completed.
(4) Vehicles coming on the right side of the road shall not honk while maneuvers described in (1) , (2) and (3) above are being carried out. If they do provisions of Chapter 8 relating to Road Rage shall apply.

CHAPTER 8

10. Road Rage
(1) In recognition of the extreme stress faced by drivers coming on the wrong side of the road, it is allowed that they freely curse those coming on the right side of the road.
(2) In accordance with Karnataka Promotion of Local Language Act, such cursing is permitted only in Kannada.
(3) Drivers of vehicles coming on the right side of the road shall keep their mouths firmly shut and enjoy the colourful insults, especially on the questions of their parentage and the status of the female members of their family. If they open their mouth they shall be liable to face a penalty of a maximum of Rs 1000 or simple imprisonment not exceeding six months , or both.

CHAPTER 9

11. Pedestrians

(1) Pedestrians are expected to look both sides before crossing the road. If they only look right, and are run over by a two wheeler coming on the wrong side, then there is no liability on the two wheeler and it is entirely the fault of the pedestrian.

(2) Pedestrians are required to move only sideways while walking on a road. This is to enable them to look both right and left , to ensure that they sight vehicles coming on the wrong side of the road early.

(3) Pedestrians are required to do the 360 degree head rotate while they are shuffling sideways along the edge of the road. The sequence and purpose of the rotation is described below
- First right to check vehicles coming on the right side of the road.
- Then down to avoid the crater, lake, fallen board having 136 photographs of politicians looking like constipated owls, egestion output of various animals, etc.
- Then left to check vehicles coming on the wrong side of the road.
- Then up to avoid being entangled by electrical / cable TV wires.
CHAPTER 10

12. Monitoring and Penalties

(1) Traffic policemen shall be deployed at strategic locations to check on compliance with the said rules. They shall be deployed in teams of 2 - one facing the right side of the road and one facing the wrong side of the road to effectively catch offenders.

(2) The maximum fine for offences under these rules is Rs 1000. This can be compounded by a discrete folded note of Rs 100 slipped unobtrusively (amount increases to Rs 200 at monthends to ensure no loss of lifestyle to public servants in the difficult last week of the month) .

Monday, 26 March 2018

A "different" politician


I received an email from a classmate of mine, who is now the CFO of a large Indian company. It was such a lovely story that I asked for his permission to publish it in my blog. It is contextually, very Indian and the specifics may be unfamiliar to an overseas reader, but the overall story can easily be appreciated.

Here is the message from my classmate.

(On the left is Mr Konnappa, the MLA who is the subject of this post)


PART 1

The person with me is Konnappa, MLA (equivalent to a Congressman in a state in the US) from the north west part of Telangana adjoining Maharashtra.  I happened to meet him while pursuing some factory location.

He was originally elected on a BSP ticket - only one of two MLAs of BSP (Mayawati). But then seeing his good work, the Chief Minister asked him not to waste his time, join the ruling party and continue his work. So they merged. His constituency is in the vicinity of Ramagondam, Sirpur, and Singareni coal mines.

Recently the area has seen some factories shut down and many workers in the streets. He is working hard to bring some industries into the area or revive the shut ones.  

We learnt about some of the good work that he has been doing. This based on my colleagues' personal visit to the area and my interaction with him.

The closure of factories has thrown some 2400 children potentially out of school - due to loss of jobs of parents. He has supported the children attending school by paying their fees - some Rs 34 lacs ($ 50K) per annum. "Children cant afford to lose their precious years of schooling"   is his logic. "Whats the source of funds - Personal?" I quizzed. "No sir I am not that wealthy.  I ask some money from Chief Minister, some other like minded MLAs, I asked some theatre owners, shop keepers and some  industries who support such efforts. I only make up the balance. Its more of a co-ordination exercise" said he.

Konappa is providing one meal a day for some 1500 poor children in his area. "Half my salary and allowances goes in this". He had invited one of my colleagues during an earlier visit to eat with them and said  "your colleagues was very pleased to do that."

Recently some potential investors were visiting a factory closed for last 3-4 years. "To make it presentable, I worked alongside the workers to clean it and make it as good as the ... he showed the table top of our lunch table in Bikanerwala restaurant. If you start any industry here, I will work one day in the factory free to see that everything goes smooth for you. "

"When your colleague had visited my town, I made him talk to the workers of a closed factory to pep up their mood. They were all happy and appreciative."           

"From last 6-7 months back, I have started a scheme for pregnant women. Tribal women suffer  blood deficiency. This causes several deaths of the mother during child birth or poor health of children. I have started giving them 2 kgs Gude (Jaggery) +some other thing he said which he claimed is good for blood generation + 2 Kgs of Ragi which he claimed he ensures that only the pregnant get to eat' (may be thru social policing). The deaths have started coming down. Now the state has witnessed it and wants to roll it statewide' he said with a pride in his voice. 

I did not get the impression that his claims were unjustified. He seemed utterly sincere; guileless for a MLA. Moreover when the Deputy Chief Minister introduced him to us said,  "he is firstly a social worker; incidentally he happens to be a politician. Ask him for whatever help you need "


PART 2

It was supposed to be the final meeting to say Yes or No as to whether we would take over the closed factory and revive it. The MLA had done stupendous work in the last 4-6 weeks which would have taken 6-8 months for us.

It was in relation to takeover and restarting a sick mill. At stake was the livelihood of 2000 odd workers and their families, the children's education, daughters' marriage, etc. And a passionate MLA who felt the weight heavily on his shoulder.

The Secretary to the government informed us of the decisions of his govt on various help, assurances and policy incentives and assured supply of feedstock etc, we had sought.  It fell short of what we wanted. The MLA , Konappa,  and the Government had gone a great distance; yet it was below our threshold. 

My colleague and myself had a quick discussion and said that in the interest of moving forward we will take it. We said so to the Secretary and requested him not to completely shut the door on the others requests. We thanked him and got up to go. The Secretary must have sensed our discomfort.  and said 'If there are some difficulties later, you can always come back. It is also our interest that you keep things going'  

We came out. In the corridor, I congratulated the MLA for his efforts. Even while shaking his hands I found his eyes getting wet. I am yet to learn how to handle such situations. My colleague, senior in age, sympathised, and consoled the now visibly shaken man. He told him he can't be seen by others in that state and that we should get into some room and we moved into one.

Konappa said  "Sir, for the first 61 years of my life, I did not have any BP or sugar. Last 3 -4 years, I have developed both. Loss of livelihood, children's education, the future, no growth in my constituency... have all affected me. Today I see some hope return". 

"This is the first time I have stayed in Hyderabad, the state capital for 9 days continuously. To go from one person to person to plead for a solution in the best interest of the workers and their families "
 
"When the factory closes and there is no one to care, people start looting. I closed the scrap shop nearby 3-4 years ago and warned other dealers  within the vicinity against dealing in any material from the factory or they will close down for ever. I told the workers some day or the other someone will come and  not even a single bolt should be missing. I know the pains and delays such things can cause for I have been a daily labour in the very same factory several years ago"

"Sir, please  don't worry. It is my personal responsibility that you people will face no difficulties. "

He seemed much more in control by now. and we told him it was time for us to leave. He walked us down. "These are the times that give me satisfaction. Far more than seeing Rs 2-3 lacs in my bank account  (I thought their unit of thought will be in crores rather than lakhs, but this man seems stuck in a time warp of his own).  That's when I feel ... this earth (pointing downwards) which has to bear my weight. I feel I am repaying a part of the debt I owe to it, when I see some poor people appreciate it"

He was composed by now,  with some pride and a smile on his face.  But I was shaken. My mouth was quivering. In full public view at the entrance to the car park.

Some politician this. Some human being. Hope I can work with him some day. Imitation is the  best form of flattery they say. I hope I will be able to imitate him ... one day... some day.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

How do you solve a problem like CEO pay

It's very simple really to most people and that's why its such a complex problem. The problem of executive pay (lets just take CEO pay as a proxy to make it easier to analyse).

For the left, CEOs are greedy bastards who make too much money, when lower level staff in the company can barely make ends meet. Income equality is one the biggest issues facing society. Therefore the answer has to be to curb CEO pay.  Preferably by law. Where is the problem ?

For the right, who is anybody to say what somebody else earns. It's a free market and CEOs perform one of the most difficult jobs of all. When a CEO can increase shareholder value by $10 bn, why should he not get $10 m. Where is the problem ?

In the US, this issue has got into prominence because companies are now required to report how much their Chief Executives make in comparison to the median paid worker. This was opposed tooth and nail by industry, but now the law has come into effect. And the first reports are starting to come in - In Marathon Petroleum it was 935 times, in Del Monte produce it was 1465 times, in Manpower, a temp agency, it was 2483 times. In Berkshire Hathaway it was 2 times.

Governments are starting to act. In the great state of Oregon, where a couple of readers of this blog live, the city of Portland has levied a 10% tax on companies where the ratio is more than 100 times. Many other states and cities are planning a similar levy. I don't think that is right.

Remember, just because something is popular does not make it right. If you held a referendum that the state must burn down the house of every billionaire, it's quite likely to pass with a 75% majority. That won't make it right.

This is not as easy a problem to solve as it seems to the extremists. First to take on the left.

If you extend the same principle to every other domain - no film star should get more than 100 times the salary of an extra. Ditto music star. Ditto sportsman. For that matter why should the mutual fund where your pensions come from, make 100 times more than the janitor who cleans the stock market building. If you sell your property and make a fortune, then of course you shouldn't be doing that as its 100 times more than what the majority of us who have no property to sell are making. We can go on and on. Its been proven time and again  that arbitrary wage equations for everybody will only create a Soviet Union. And why should 100 be some golden number simply because it satisfies somebody's sensibilities.

Now to take on the right. 

Is anybody really worth $98 million ? Really ? That's what Thomas Rutledge took in 2016. The median CEO salary is some $ 11m, but there are also wild outliers. But more than the absolute quantum,  the real problem with executive pay is the reward that even poor performers get. Like golden parachutes if you are sacked. Like pay rises when your company results go down. Like bonuses which don't get returned even though the results are later proved to have been fiddled and overstated. Like backdated stock options. Like saying you have to honour bonus contracts even though your company has just been bailed out by the government.

And then there is certainly the reality that CEO pay has risen far more dramatically in the last 20 years than the pay of others working in the company. It is therefore natural that there is a societal backlash. No society can live with wild inequalities, whatever be the justification.

Companies must be seen to behave sensibly, else regulation is inevitable. A formula could be to more tightly link to company performance, something that's happening anyway. No contractual sweetners that would not be in any other employee's contract. In good years, distribute the bonus pool more widely. Take pay rises only when company performs very well - employees won't grudge your pay rise then. Maybe CEO's can think of contributing 1% to a staff welfare fund. Its all optics. If you not only are fair, but seen to be fair, people won't grudge your pay.

As we began the post, its not an easy problem to solve. So sit back an enjoy how a problem like Maria was solved !



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