Saturday, 27 July 2013

This is not a lascivious post !

Does man (and woman) have a foot fetish ? I think so. What is it about feet that makes people get completely bowled over by the marketers and pamper and cosset it. No I'm not talking about the ridiculous pedicure. I'm talking about footwear and the amounts we splash on it.Each one of us is an Imelda Marcos - before you snigger, go and count the footwear in the shoe rack.

Hyperbole dominates the footwear marketing industry. To think that by wearing "LeBron Zoom Soldier", I'll be able to dunk a basketball is pure fantasy, but it appears I am willing to buy the dream for $299 or thereabouts.  The sight of a Rajalakshmi tottering on high heels on the mistaken assumption that it makes her a 6 footer is equally humorous - I don't have the heart to tell her that her width is somewhat more than her height ! But surely the game has been taken to an altogether new level by Under Armour.

Under Armour is a sports outfit company. They mostly make sports clothing, shamelessly exploiting our fascination with looking good on the sports field about which I ranted here. Their footwear division is still small - so to pump up sales of footwear, they have hit upon the idea of a "bra for your feet" !!!

Apparently its made in a bra factory in China. It features a "cup" for your heel that is without any stitching. The whole shoe is "seamless".  It has a great fit and feels "smug". It feels like " a second skin". Multicolour no less. Can you please part with $150; thank you !

It has also been advertised that the equipment is built for linear motion, rather than horizontal jumping. I am not sure whether this advice has also been inspired by the concept it is trying to borrow from !

Under Armour's Senior Creative Director of Footwear (how does that sound on your business card) explained the concept with much delight and puns galore, but I think even he missed the delicious irony of this statement ; "Prototyping mostly took place in China at the bra factory for a more hands-on approach" !!

I must say I was much intrigued when I read all this. I am not sure I want to wear a bra on my feet, but perhaps there are some weird males who might relish the idea. Although I am not sure that its an aspirational thing - you might want to feel like Michael Jordon, wearing Air Jordan, but wearing one of these ...... Perhaps the aspiration is that its "eye catching" although as any sensible male will tell you, its not the covering, but what's inside that counts- the feet I mean :)

The more knowledgeable on these matters (women, I presume) might sneer saying that the shoe absolutely will not fit - given that its inspiration is also  notorious for that problem. And the damn thing always has a tendency to show, when it would have been far better to be discreet. And Yes,  I know that "Burn the Bra" was a 60s thing; but if it does catch the fancy again, what would happen to Under Armour shoes.

I am delighted to say, that for those of you who are captivated by the idea, you can order it for delivery in India too. The new revolutionary product is not yet on their online store, but it will soon be. And when you order, remember to specify Size 9.  If instead, you mention a large double digit with two alphabets after it, the store will not believe you :)

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Knock Knock ; Who's there ? Nobody !

By any reckoning, this should be an extremely successful business. You have a fantastic distribution set up - reaching every nook and corner of your geography that nobody else can - in what is essentially a distribution business. You have an envious relationship with the consumers. In many places your representative was a trusted friend and confidante. People looked forward to his arrival. You had a state sanctioned monopoly. You have a significant price advantage. You enjoy innumerable fiscal benefits that no competitor enjoys. You have a great brand , so great that collection of your merchandise was a major hobby with an English word specifically only for this. Songs have been written about you that have reached the top of the charts - here (this is the first version - the Beatles and the Carpenters came later) , in case you are musically inclined. 

With such advantages. you should be roaring away to glory, shouldn't you ? And yet you are a colossal failure and a sitting duck in almost every country. I am referring to the business of postal services. Everywhere in the world, the Post Office is a massive white elephant and a complete dinosaur, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphors. When was the last time you licked a stamp and sent something by post  ?

Popular perception is that the business has been made obsolete because of technology. The advent of E Mail and then subsequently, the mobile phone has made postal services. fit only for a museum. Nobody writes a letter any more. So goes the wisdom. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The postal services have failed because they have a been a government monopoly, have never considered themselves as a business and have been the best example of the worst management in history. That's why they have failed. If you need any further proof of it, simply consider the number of courier companies, who essentially offer the same services and who are thriving.

There is actually a colossal increase in the volume of physical mail. The amount of commercial mail is massive - just consider the amount of stuff, you may consider as junk mail, but which still arrives at your doorstep. Just as the advent of computers actually increased the amount of paper consumed, the advent of email has done nothing to reduce the volume of snail mail. Yes, you may have never written an inland letter for a decade or more, but consider how many times you have couriered something. 

Postal services in every country, and especially so in India, have been subjected to such bad management that it must be considered almost a crime. There is a bloated workforce. There is very poor management talent working in the organisation.  There has been no modernisation and investment whatsoever - just peep into the local post office, in case you can find it, and you will be looking at the 18th century. Governments have contributed by keeping prices of some products ridiculously low - for example to send a post card anywhere in India costs 50 paise (provided you can find a 50p coin which is almost not legal tender nowadays).  If ever there was an example required of the grossest inefficiency of the public sector and a shameful case of a proud organisation brought to its knees, this has to be it.

Why is this so. There have been other government monopolies which have been threatened by technology, but which have still done reasonably well. Why is the Post Office an universal failure ? I can postulate, but I shall leave it to Distinguished Academics (at least two members of this species are readers of this blog) to perhaps present their research findings.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Reorganisations - the last refuge of the incompetent

There is one ritual that happens in all companies periodically without fail - an organisation restructuring. Old structures and divisions are thrown out of the window and new structures are announced. HR types take great pleasure in redrawing organisation charts, rewriting job descriptions and the like. Communication types have an orgasm designing communication packs and writing words like "restructuring to stimulate growth", "bringing the organisation closer to consumers" and such other waffle. CEOs like to stand up to the press and announce the change , to make up for lack of anything else to say about their companies. MIcrosoft did just that today, the trigger for this post. Steve Ballmer's version of the blah blah is "We are ready to take Microsoft in bold new directions". Balderdash. I have never seen a more futile activity than an organisation rejig. And yet companies do it all the time.

The pattern is all too predictable. If the current organisation is based on product lines, it will be made regional to "get closer to the consumers". If it is regional, it will be made based on product lines to globalise and take advantage of scale. People will be moved around in boxes on organisation charts. The new guys have to go on a round the world trip to familiarise themselves with their new responsibilities. Lots of presentations and power point charts. Every four years or so the charade is repeated.  None of this matters one iota to consumers and shareholders. The only gainers are probably the management consultants who make lots of money.

What a thorough waste of time and effort. Structures are important in organisations, but they matter less than you think. The primal instinct of marking territories and defending against invaders, is what structures are. Structures are boundaries where defences are erected , by petty minded egoistic manages who need to feel important. Much effort is actually expended in organisations in crossing structural boundaries. Seasoned operators build alliances and have informal channels through which they get things done.Formal structures matter little to the determined go getter.

The root of the problem is man's territorial instinct. Man likes to draw boundaries and defend everybody inside the boundary from everybody outside. Alpha males who inhabit the business world suffer from an acute affliction of this instinct. Chief Executives and Boards struggle to overcome this and get the entire organisation to operate seamlessly. Fat chance of that happening. In this quest, organisational restructuring is the placebo. The placebo is particularly touted by the HR function, as a magic cure, which gullible CEOs swallow all to easily.

If Microsoft's leaders think they can solve their fundamental problems and compete better with the likes of Google, by an organisational revamp, well, perhaps its time to write their obituary.

Friday, 5 July 2013

No men please

Apparently men are heavier than women.  Did you know that ?  In many parts of the globe, that is probably true, but in India ?? Can you believe that Rajalakshmi, she of the considerable proportions, is inferior to Ramamritham, when it comes to the weight stakes ?? I somehow, seriously doubt that. But not, it appears GoAir, an India based airline.  This is the news from GoAir, that set off this post.

Cabin attendants, flight attendants, stew, whatever name you wish to call them, are predominantly women, everywhere in the world. It all started in the initial days of flying. A pretty young air hostess was part of the decor of the plane. Nervous travelers, usually pot bellied men, could relax by looking at a smiling pretty face. As the years went by, the pot bellied business traveler remained the same, at least pot belly wise, but the nervousness disappeared. The flight attendants meanwhile aged, and age discrimination laws in the US and Europe ensure that these days its a matronly woman giving you a geriatric smile. It is not the most pleasant of sights, unless you have a major mothering need. That's why every regular traveler instantly closes his eyes and goes to sleep on entering a plane - those that don't are just waiting for the booze to come before doing exactly the same. Asian airlines however still consider a pretty flight attendant as an important component of air travel - the Singapore girl continues to be, well, a Singapore girl.  The strong preference of this blogger for Asian airlines, should not go unmentioned.

GoAir, being a sensible Asian airline, wants to do exactly the same.  But then, it is extremely incorrect politically to say so. They have therefore announced that they would only recruit female flight attendants, because ( wait with bated breath)...... because women are less heavier than men and therefore they can reduce the total weight of the aircraft and achieve fuel savings !! Wow ! Double Wow !! That is the most ingenious explanation you can ever imagine. Not only has it flattered all Rajalakshmis, who will rise in defence of this move, but it has also cleared the way for the airline to recruit petite sweet young things.  Isn't that brilliant ?

Well, airlines have been known to do all sorts of things to reduce weight. ANA took the cake, by asking all passengers to pee before boarding, as a means of reducing total load on the aircraft. Ryan Air tried to achieve the same thing by thinking of charging passengers to go to the loo onboard - thereby forcing them to go to the loo before boarding. American airlines achieved this by abolishing all food on board and replacing them with peanuts. But GoAir is scaling new heights by trying to reduce the weight of its crew.

Perhaps they will now do some in depth research on the weight habits of Indian travelers. You see, the men are mostly those, who can only see their toes by looking at the mirror, because there is a significant protuberance that obstructs the natural line of sight. The women have a different problem - they can only walk down the airplane aisle sideways as, the width somewhat precludes a straight-faced progression. In such an environment, imagine the plight of a petite flight attendant. When the aircraft lands and she opens the doors, the onrushing melee will probably knock her off the plane altogether !

GoAir has probably scored a march over its competition. India's "national airline", Air India, believes that it should accurately portray a representative Rajalakshmi in its cabin crew - they are therefore, shall we charitably say, non petite. Kingfisher, which practiced the policy of all flight attendants being hired personally by the Chairman, could have probably beaten GoAir hollow - the Chairman's ability to spot the right talent in this matter being somewhat legendary. Unfortunately the airline went bust, pun unintended. So the field is ripe for GoAir.

This blogger is significantly underweight. He therefore intends to fly GoAir next time and ask for a weight discount. And while flying, he can appreciate, the petite cabin crew. Of if you prefer , as the verbatim technical specs the airline has put out says - cabin crew with a minimum height of five foot three inches and weight proportionate to the height !!

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