25 October, 2014

Et tu Your Majesty ?

One of the pleasures of life is to start the day with a strong cup of coffee in one hand and The Hindu on the other. But the dangers of such a practice was brought out today - scalding by spilling the hot stuff on a sensitive part of your anatomy, the coffee turning utterly bitter in the mouth, etc etc. For right in the front page was the news that caused me to convulse uncontrollably. Her Majesty the Queen , had sent her first tweet !

This blogger's vehement opposition to that abominable medium and  contempt for "twits" is well know. He is well ware that 99.99999% of the world are in the opposite camp. But he consoled himself that a few dignified men and women of great stature, like Her Majesty (and himself !) had better taste and sense. Now he is somewhat perturbed that he may be the only dignified man standing.

Her Majesty's first tweet is a perfect example of the inanity of Twitter. She tweeted - "It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R." If there was a more useless piece of information, I am yet to see it. But to be reduced to having to sign Elizabeth Regina (I am sure you didn't know her second name). ...... What has the world come to.

In order to update himself on the useless stuff that so called celebrities tweet, this blogger spent a frustrating hour reading them. Here's a sample of recent tweets made by these worthies

Barack Obama - "Will you weigh in on #Obamacare?"  - he has some hope !

Narendra Modi - "Lot of things we can get to know by talking. Not only information but points of view" - What fantastic wisdom.

Shashi Tharoor - "I am donating them a biogas plant of 1tonne per day capacity" - So what.

Justin Bieber -  "Life is about the journey :)"  - Stunning discovery.

Shahrukh Khan - " I think Life, Movies & other such essentials, do start after 40!"  - OK, you old man.

Neil degrasse Tyson (a leading astrophyicist) : "I wonder if social media atheists ever use "OMG". If so, they probably intended to type "OYG"  -  What a scientific insight

Sachin Tendulkar  - "Wash your hands before every meal.... Spread the word on" - Ok mommy

Paris Hilton - "There's no place like home"  - OK couldn't resist peeking into the tweets of the wisest lady in the world.

David Cameron - "I'm angry at the sudden presentation of a €2bn bill to the UK by the EU. It's an appalling way to behave and I won't be paying it on Dec 1st" - Have you heard a better rendering of the loudly squealing schoolboy ?

Angela Merkel - "Guten Morgen liebe B├╝rgerInnen und einen sch├Ânen Sonntag!  (Good morning dear citizens and have a nice Sunday) "  Doesn't she have anything better to do on a Sunday morning ??

and, of course, our own blog king and  commenter extraordinare 

Congoboy - "I swear, it peed on me."   -  OK; that one was below the belt, but I can't resist needling Congoboy. Its an actual tweet by him though !

What a colossal waste. Of all the useless, inane , pointless, drivel in the world, 99% can be found on this monstrosity called Twitter.

So having tweeted her first tweet, what is the Queen going to follow it with. Here are a few helpful suggestions

- Pip Pip
- Oh dear, my foot aches
- Coochie Coo George
- Oh God, do I have to get up and go to another boring function ?
- Toodle oo

PS : This post is at the request of my dear friend, fellow blogger and commenter, "Nancy" who made the request commenting on the previous post !

10 October, 2014

Don't ask for a raise; ask for a drop !

Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella got himself into a pickle yesterday. He was asked at a women's forum what women should do to get paid more. He replied "It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raises as you go along,” he said, adding that such patience was “good karma”.

In this politically correct world, he was, of course, asking for trouble. He has been pilloried and the only sensible PR thing to do is to grovel and apologise. Women are paid less than men, in some places (although I challenge anybody to prove this in the IT industry. I know this industry intimately. No sensible company pays women differently from men for the same job. There are less than 50% women in the IT industry, and a lot less in senior echelons,  but that is due to a whole host of other reasons, not unequal pay).

I have no desire to incur the wrath of the politically correct. So I am not going to debate whether Nadella should grovel or not. Instead, if you eliminate the gender factor from the equation, I think he was making a fair point. In fact, I would go a step farther to say that in some instances, we should be asking for a pay drop; not a pay rise !

Labour , and skills, are a commodity, like any other. Price depends on demand and supply. Every commodity's prices go up and down (even gold). Except an individual's salary, which goes only up. Unfortunately , we have been conditioned to expect a salary hike every year and that the more it is the better. Actually, the worst thing that can happen to us is that we get a fat salary hike each year. For, if we keep increasing our "price", a time will soon come when we have become outpriced. At that point, we are sure to be sacked. If collectively everybody in our unit does this, the unit will be shut down and the jobs moved somewhere where the wages are lower (probably overseas). If one is an outlier, then you can be sure that the person would be fired under some pretext or the other and we will be replaced by somebody cheaper. This is the brutal fact of today's workplace.

The trick is therefore to price yourself, just a shade below market. That way, the company cannot afford to sack you. If that means taking a salary drop, then so be it. In fact, as you age beyond 45, I submit, you should be looking to a salary drop every year. There is a far greater age discrimination in the job market than gender discrimination (try getting a new job when you are 50).  The only way you can continue to age and survive without being fired, is to keep your "price" competitive, allowing for the fact that there is a perceived efficiency bias in favour of the young. A small discount to the market is the right place to be in. Unless you are in France, or unless you are in a profession where you cannot be sacked (as one commenter to this blog is).

I know this is heresy and I am going to probably be pilloried. But I would rather hold a lower paying job than no job at all.

Thankfully, I am no Nadella. So I can afford to be politically incorrect !!

08 October, 2014

Spare a thought for Nauru

Nauru is a strange country. It's a trivia nut's delight. It is the only country in the world without an official capital. It is the second smallest state in terms of population after the Vatican. Its 10,000 odd people are the fattest in the world. It is an island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from anywhere. But this post is not to extoll the Robinson Crusoeish place as some sort of a paradise - it is instead about the strangeness of its economy.

Nauru is , to put it mildly, plain broke. Bankrupt with a capital B. But in the 1970s and 1980s it was the richest country in the world in terms of per capita income ! How did the richest country in the world go bust in 30 years. It is a strange story indeed.

Nauru's prosperity came from the most unlikeliest of sources - bird poo.  Over millions of years, seabirds crapped all over the island. The poo accumulated and accumulated and became guam. When Nauru became independant in 1968, it found itself sitting on a valuable mineral - phosphate - that was easily extractable and a key ingredient for making phosphatic fertilisers.

Nauru became a major phosphate exporter. India was one of its chief markets - a joint venture company was even set up in Orissa, called Paradeep Phosphates between the governments of India and Nauru. Nauru made a killing with phosphate exports. And climbed to become the richest country in the world . Its 10,000 odd people lived a life of luxury - no taxes, no need to work hard. In the process they got fat. Very fat. Literally.

But Nauru is a small island. In 20 years or so, the phosphate deposits ran out. Now the islanders were left with nothing.

What they did next to raise income is a unique story that beggars belief. In the 1990s they tried to become an offshore finance centre. They, of course, were incapabale of managing this sensibly. Criminals made a beeline for the place and it became a major money laundering centre. The US promptly banned it and the dreams of becoming a financial haven quickly turned to dust. They tried selling citizenship for a fee, but once criminals found that they couldn't operate there, very few came.

Next it tried to play the diplomatic game to raise some money. In 2002, it  kicked Taiwan diplomatically and recognised the the mainland - The People's Republic. A grateful China gave it $130 million. In 2005, it kicked The People's Republic out and re recognised Taiwan. It is unclear how much money it made from it.  But you can do this sort of a thing only once ! It however remains ready to recognise any country in need of recognition. It did so with Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia and a grateful Russia promptly gave it $ 50m.

In the last few years it has turned to yet another strange source of income. It takes in illegal immigrants - boat people landing up in Australia - in return for money. So some of the poor Vietnamese, Indonesians and Sri Lankans, find themselves in camps in Nauru instead of their presumed heaven of Australia. Australia pays Nauru for this "service".

The government of Nauru has been historically incompetent and useless. In that, of course, it is not alone. But it is now bankrupt and virtually shut down. It's bank accounts in Australia have been frozen. It's few assets , again in Australia, have been repossessed. It has defaulted on its bonds. Back home, it is not clear if the government can even function anymore. Australia has to save it.

The ordinary Nauruans deserve some sympathy. They have the highest incidence of Type 2 diabetes in the world, affecting 40% of the population Most people are unemployed.  If Australia does not send aid, they will be virtually in penury. The sad problem is that they are a speck in the ocean. Who cares ?

18 September, 2014

Buy Property - Gangnam Style

Remember Psy and the megahit video Gangnam style ?  Yeah, I know, two years is the equivalent of a full Jurassic Age in pop music circles, but still ..... While you were trying to prance about like a horse, did you wonder what Gangnam style really meant ??

Gangnam is actually a suburb in Seoul, inhabited by the mighty and wealthy. The song was a parody of the lifestyles of those mighty men and women. Today Gangnam district came back into the news, with a property deal that raised my eyebrows so much that they vanished into my hairline (such as it is !). A 79,000 sq metre plot was up for sale. Thirteen bidders emerged, including two of Korea's biggest corporations , Hyundai and Samsung. Hyundai won it ; apparently they want to build their corporate headquarters there. The price tag ? A cool $ 10 bn. If you do the math , that is $126,000 per sq mtr. Or if you are an Indian, preferring ancient British metrics, Rs 7.6 lakhs per sq ft !!!

What sort of a crazy world do we live in where the price of a piece of land just enough to plant your two feet in and stand still, is more than the annual income of 99% of the population of the planet. Well, that is Gangnam style.

There is an ancillary question to be asked. What is Hyundai doing trying to build a corporate headquarters for $ 10 bn ? Investors are asking that question too. The shares of Hyundai were beaten down by 9% when news of this transaction broke out.  After all Hyundai didn't make a profit of $ 10bn last year. The pundits believe that Hyundai overpaid by about 3 times !  Hyundai defended it with typical corporatespeak - "Internally, we think we offered the appropriate price, considering various factors such as our global business plan and its future value ".

This blogger bought a Hyundai car a little while ago, for about the same price as would have fetched 1 sq ft of the land in Gangnam district. He is now unclear as to whether he should have opted to buy the land instead. You see, he is somewhat ( OK severely) dance challenged. However that has not deterred him from dreaming of some delectable dance moves that would make a dozen redheads swoon (Sriram please note !). So maybe, to get the right inspiration, he should have perhaps done the property deal and stood on his 1 sq ft plot of land in the middle of Gangnam district. And then practiced some intricate moves under the watchful tutelage of Psy. Trying to contort himself inside 1 sq ft may have perhaps cured his dance challenged status !

No use crying over spilt milk now. The car is there in the basement (for some hilarity on what this blogger is doing to it, read here). However he is intending to write to Chung Mong-koo, the patriarch of the Hyundai family offering to exchange his new car for the equivalent plot of real estate in Gangnam district. After all you see, its not very obvious which is overvalued more !!

24 August, 2014

India's most admired company

Which is India's most admired company ?  The results of Fortune's 2014 survey released recently, reveals a surprising name at the top. It is ITC.

For those unfamiliar with Indian business, ITC is primarily a cigarette company. In the good old days, it stood for Imperial Tobacco Company. Today it runs its cigarette business quietly. It has diversified into a conglomerate - Hotels and Consumer Goods being the most visible elements of its business. It does a lot of good work, especially in the agricultural sector. Its work with farmers in various parts of the country is legendary. Its has a great management team and wonderful strengths. It has been there for decades and has been a proven success over a long period of time. Growth in revenues and market capitalisation over the years has been outstanding. Yet, and yet, there must be some feeling of unease of it being the most admired company. It sells cigarettes and still makes most of its money from cigarettes.

Is that right ? ITC deserves the award on most counts - growth, profitability, value creation, quality of management, social work, etc etc. But it fails a fundamental litmus test. A cigarette maker cannot be the most admired company, in this blogger's humble view, no matter what.

The results also show where the priorities and values of business people are. The ranking is based on a survey of essentially business people. I am sure it was a very scientifically done survey and a number of parameters were covered. But the corporate world does not get it, when it comes to how the rest of the world sees everything. Do this survey amongst non business folks and it is highly unlikely that ITC would come out as the most admired company. If the corporate world continues to run by its own set of values, and is not sensitive to the outside world, it can only lead to general perception that companies are exclusively concerned with money and are of dubious morals.

This blogger does not smoke, but is actually a defender of the choice of adults to do so or not. I have no problem with ITC selling cigarettes and making lots of money from it. It serves a consumer need and as long as consenting adults choose to smoke out of their own free will, I have no problems with it. There are lots of addictions in the world which are harmful to health and it is not anybody's business to be preventing others from doing what they might themselves not choose to do. So ITC's success in the cigarette business is something I won't object to, and even applaud. But that doesn't make it a fit candidate for the most admired company in the land.

ITC has been hovering in the top five of this list for many a year. But even Yogi Deveshwar, the outstanding Chairman of ITC, I suspect, would rather wish it was not at the top.

Incidentally there isn't an IT company in the top five. The top five has four companies that have each been around for nearly hundred years  - ITC itself, Larsen & Toubro, Hindustan Unilever and State Bank of India. Only Maruti Suzuki is a relative youngster at 40 years old !! Isn't that interesting ?

22 August, 2014

Windows 9 ?? Yaawwwn !

It's a sign of the times that a rumour that Microsoft is planning a preview of Windows 9 in end September is being met with a huge yawn. Remember when Windows itself came after DOS. And the launch of Windows 95 ? Each of them was a landmark event in the history of computing. Now, of course, technology has moved on and Microsoft has been left standing still. Who cares about Windows now anyway ?

Actually a lot care. Windows is now largely a corporate product - almost every company uses Windows as the operating system for the millions of computers its employees use. And every upgrade of the Windows operating system, is hugely expensive. Coupled with Office, Microsoft is omnipresent in the corporate world. There every such new version is met with fear and dread by the IT folks - for , a huge bill is coming. This is also why Microsoft remains a highly profitable company.

The rate of change in the tech industry is so fast that it seems almost impossible to create and nurture a brand in the way you can do in other industries. The sole exception to this is Apple, but even there, all that is happening is that the rate of fade is slower than that of the others. Brands get commoditised extremely fast. Do you now care what brand of smartphone you own -  Other than a few  members of the Apple Fan Club, nobody cares. Just pick the phone that is fancy at the moment and at the cheapest price. Full stop. Are you really going to get excited about the coming iPhone 6 ???

This is actually a surprise. In other fast changing industries, (OK; maybe not as fast changing as tech), brands survive beautifully. Show me a man who doesn't lust after a BMW. Or wouldn't mind a Rolex. Or wouldn't fly Singapore Airlines. And yet, it seems very few have cracked the marketing puzzle in tech. There are great products in the tech world. But a great product does not automatically make a great brand. How much ever new products come in the iwatch space, the aspirational brand will still be Rolex. Maybe its simply because the tech world is full of geeks - there are very few marketeers there.

So what of Windows 9 ? If its even remotely as painful as Windows 8, then it will be met with every curse in the land. Microsoft really is pig headed in absolutely not listening to its consumers. Refusing to reinstate the Start button and hiding behind gobbledygook is a marketing disaster on part with New Coke.  And yet, I am sure Windows 9 will deliver all sorts of great tech possibilities while exasperating the consumer. After all it was Bill Gates' mother, in the early days of Windows who told him what fool would make a consumer click the start button to close down the computer.

So if you are a geek, and reading this piece, go out and talk to your granny. She is really your customer. Or you prefer, meet the gorgeous (but intellectually challenged) blonde serving you in the pub. Get her to use your new product without a tutorial. Figure out what makes her tick (imagine the wonderful ancillary benefits of this study). Maybe you can then ditch those glasses and transform from a nerd to a marketing whiz kid. It is then that the great brands of the tech world will arise.