Sunday, January 31, 2010

I feel bad for...

A few of my favorite things would probably align a lot with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. So here is a list of things I won't say I don't like, but rather things I feel bad for. To a large extent, I guess my list will have bits and pieces from each of your lists as well. So here goes.
  1. I feel bad for the ignorant. Now, people may say that ignorance is bliss. But I guess people who don't know, lose out on the pleasures of knowing. For example, people who associate the color red with just a Coke salesperson, for lack of knowledge of anything like a Ferrari, or Manchester United or Michael Schumacher - well, I feel bad that their gamut of knowledge is quite contrived, and they lose out on phenomena like Man U in Old Trafford or Tifosi.

  2. I feel bad for those who are idea maniacs. Well, their genius as regards coming up with ideas is phenomenal. But many a time, they take the stance of the trigger happy shooter. If you come up with something, they are the first to shoot it down. 'So what is the alternative?', you ask. 'I don't know, but certainly not what you churned out', comes the reply. Why feel bad for them? I guess because they sure will find it hard when they meet another of their species!

  3. I feel bad for those who borrow things and lose them. And I'm sure you've had cases through school and college, where someone in a hurry borrows your pen and your favorite Cross is what you have on you. You lend it with a high degree of reluctance and wait and watch for the person to return it, when suddenly he says, "Oops! I guess I left it at the counter. Sorry", and walks off. Similar is the case of the person who borrows your favorite book and returns a book with dog-eared mangled pages. Why feel bad for them? Well, simply because of their gross lack of sensitivity and because of their callousness towards dealing with others.

  4. I feel bad for the egoistic, successful person. One who believes he/she is invincible, just because he/she has achieved the elements of his/her task list. Why? Simply because they are dealt the highest level of hypocrisy. Everyone around them basks in their glory, desperately wants to be associated with them, acts as if they are the person's true friends. But in reality, all these emotions manifest themselves up until the time that the emotion can bring about a worthy use.

  5. And last, but not the least, I feel bad for one who puts up with the above types of people, without raising so much as a finger of protest when any of their actions wrong them. Why? Because they are just too simple for this dog-eat-dog world, and they sincerely need to go on a treasure hunt to find their lost self esteem.

That's it. It is indeed a small list, unlike my lists of random thoughts, or Whys. Thank God for that, since a longer list may have meant more ruffled feathers! This post may have been a bit rough and acerbic. But these are just thoughts. Think about it, and you may realize that you run a similar list as well.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Success and Excess - II

Somehow success and excess always seem to go hand in hand. A while ago when the China - Arunachal Pradesh conflict was at its peak, the visa issue, the rock painting fiasco and so on, elicited 'Power, Politics, Success and Excess'. A talk about ethics and transgressions and how you always have a choice came out in 'How much is too much'. And today, again, on the topic of where to draw a line, here are some thoughts.

One of my professors mentioned a very interesting trend in hedge funds . He said, "Some firms are engineered to blow up." He spoke of LTCM and Bear Stearns' 2 funds that were forced to fold. LTCM failed in a macro sense because of a black swan that no one expected. No one dreamt that Russia, America's cold war nemesis and erstwhile feared superpower would default! But one can always argue against such exigencies and ask why risk management practices weren't more robust to prevent even the rarest of rare events from causing damage. Then when we speak of Bear Stearns that broke because of massive exposure to subprime lending and the subsequent drying up of credit markets, one asks again, isn't it a manifestation of excesses? Why didn't people stem the exposure long before the situation went beyond salvage? Take GM. Why do entities need to blow up to 'bailout size' and then justify bailouts saying that they are too big to fail?

Take hedge funds again. We came to know that John Merriweather of LTCM, recently floated his third or fourth fund after busting subsequent funds! Who would have lent him money, you ask? Well, every fund makes some money for some (to the tune of several millions) and loses money for some others. Those who make money, do so thanks to discerningly or luckily removing their money from the fund at the right time and they will lend to these fund managers in their new escapedes, despite the previous fund's having folded! They get the guts to lend again, thanks to the confidence built by having several million dollars of disposable income! The poor, loyal, unsuspecting bunch end up on the left tail of the bell curve, and these are the scapegoats who bear the brunt of irrational exuberance displayed in excesses by successful managers, or they are unfortunate souls who think that their pot of gold just needs an ounce more ! And these people, well, many-a-time, aren't able to reach even 50% of their starting baseline level of affluence! And the story goes on and on.

So more often than not, success leads to excess and this excess can catapult some to untouched heights, while thrusting some others into the chasms of lonely failures. So is regulation the key? Now apparently there are thoughts of regulating some hedge funds by a central authority. Being a strong proponent of efficient markets and classical economic theory, all I can say is - entities that have thrived through self regulation are better off being left alone. Humans never interfere in the laws of the jungle, but somehow, a justice system exists and functions (more efficiently) in the wilderness. So we are better off observing the beauty of self-regulation, Darwinian theory of selection, machinations of the wheels of fortune and the extremes of successes and excesses playing out in front of our eyes, rather than pillage the same with concrete barriers that can destroy this beauty.
Such are the ways of the world. Every black has a white, every God has a satan, every right has a wrong and every winner has a loser.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

60 years of the Indian Republic

60 years of the Indian Republic today. We do have a lot to feel proud of. Two years ago, when we celebrated our 61st year of independence, I wrote this piece on 61 years of aspiration. Yes, we do have our problems and issues, vis-a-vis all-round development, all-inclusive growth, corruption, population, caste differences, etc etc. But the hope remained. Since we are a young nation, we have a lot to learn and a long way to go. We are very very early on the learning curve and as classical global economics says, the lesser developed you are, the faster you grow (the concept applies to capital accumulated by a country, and I choose to extend it to development as well).

We have made a mark in several areas. We have won accolades in the international arena for our deft manner of handling the economic crisis. Our financial systems have been robust. When the world around us was crumbling like a tower of cards, we showed a minor dip in GDP growth, still clocking 7.9% when a greater part of the world reeled in negative growth numbers. We won 2 Oscars last year, won an Olympic Gold and we also reached the moon. Over the past 60 years, we have never had a miscarriage of democracy, with the only attempt during the emergency being cruelly punished in the subsequent election. Our democracy continues to be our strong point, with the world having more faith in the Indian story primarily because ideologically, our country risk is a lot lesser.

But we still have a lot of ground to cover. We are the only stable peaceful nation in South Asia, and that puts us in a precarious position, with our neighbors being consumed by the tentacles of terror. Our own peace and safety were very cruelly jolted in 2008, with the terror attacks in Mumbai. The perpetrators have still not been brought to book. Sardar Patel, all of 60 years ago went on a mission to integrate all our princely states and built an India. Now again, separatist movements are raising their ugly heads, demanding a separate Telengana, a separate Gorkhaland, and now UP apparently should be trifurcated! When I was in school there were 25 states and 7 union territories. At this rate of fragmentation, I hope we don't say that India is x countries, y states and w territories. All inclusive growth is still all elusive, and the repercussions of the same are train hijacks, maoist attacks and demands at gun point. We still have the dubious record of hosting Asia's largest slum, and we take morbid pleasure in this pain point, by indulging in 'slum tourism' - disgusting indeed.

This post might look pessimistic, with the paragraph on issues being larger than that on achievements. But that is not true. If anything, we Indians believe in optimism and given that by 2050, India's average age of population would only by 35, ours is indeed a young country with stars in her eyes and an ebullient enthusiasm to match. Yes, the path is fraught with challenges, but we will surpass them all and emerge developed!

Monday, January 25, 2010

ISB is 12th in the World :)

Yup! ISB is ranked 12th among global B schools by Financial Times. And we celebrated! It is indeed a great feeling when you are in the school when it gets accolades. So we had a huge cake, and several pastries with the number 12 'Jell-O' ed on them. And then rather than have a candle, we had a huuuuuge ice sculpture that read the number 12 :). The aqueducts (I like calling those channels around the atrium aqueducts), were filled with water and flowers and ISB FT 12 motifs were put in as floaters. The whole school gathered in the atrium with pom-poms, noisemakers, party poppers and a whole lot of enthusiasm and literally brought the roof down with the celebrations! What a day indeed!!

ISB as a brand is built not just by our faculty or by our current students. To a very large extent, the brand is dependent on the people who get into the outside world post MBA - the alumni. So, when the school takes in a bunch of really smart people, trains them with some of the best faculty world-over and sends them out to make a difference in the world, good things do indeed happen. And what is decidedly noteworthy is the fact that the school is hardly 8 years old.

Several people expect an MBA to catapult everyone to posts of CEOs across the board. But I'd say that MBA is not like tequila (or tech school). It is more like wine. The more time you allow between making the wine and drinking it, the better it is. Likewise, the effect of the brand would begin to permeate through our lives as time progresses. A Rolex was not the premium, respected brand on the day it was launched. Over time it has garnered the respect and that automatically rubs on to the wearer today.

But for me, the fact that I have had the oppportunity to be associated with several super achievers who were once students of this school itself is a humbling feeling. It just means that we as alumnus beginning April have a bigger role to play in taking our alma mater to greater heights. No one said being Amitabh Bacchan would be easy. But ask Abhishek and he'll tell you about the pressures of being Amitabh's son. So as we move on, the bar is higher, the expectations steeper, the effort needed greater, and the results sweeter. So with that thought and a deep level of determination, I say - ISB Rocks, and it is our job now to collectively move it higher. "20 < 15 < 12 < Next is what???"

Another snippet of wisdom

A friend sent this to me a while ago, and as is the usual practice, what I want to hold on to over time, I put up on my blog. So in continuation with 'My tryst with Ithaca', 'Where has the time gone?', and 'A life so frivolous', here is the other snippet of wisdom. (Do open the above links in a new window). The theme is constant - don't run behind something frivolous. Life is bigger, better and at the end of the running, you might reach a goalpost looking at which you wonder why you ran all this distance in the first place.

A boat docked in a tiny Goan village. A tourist from Mumbai complimented the Goan fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

'Not very long,' answered the fisherman.
'But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?' asked the Mumbaite.

The Goan fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The Mumbaite asked, 'But what do you do with the rest of your time?'

'I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, play guitar, sing a few songs... I have a full life.'

The Mumbaite interrupted, 'I have an MBA from IIM-A, and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.'

'And after that?' asked the Goan.

'With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Panjim, or even Mumbai. From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.'

'How long would that take?' asked the Goan.

'Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,' replied the Mumbaite.

'And after that?'
'Afterwards? Well my Friend, That's when it gets really interesting,' chuckled the Mumbaite, 'When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!'

'Millions? Really? And after that?' asked the Goan.
'After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings doing what you like with your buddies.'

'With all due respect sir, but that's exactly what I am doing now. So what's the point wasting 25 years?' asked the Goan.

And the moral of the story is? Know where you're going in life. You may already be there. And if you're elsewhere, aspiring to be somewhere else, find out where you really want to be

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Quick and dirty? I guess not...

So yesterday's post was all on how I'd like the GMAT life - quick, no waiting, life in perpetual motion. The more I think about how life is these days, I guess we are indeed inching towards that end goal.

Till a few decades ago, books and fiction had Great Expectations from the Mayor of Casterbridge or Tess of the D'urbervilles, where descriptions of the context covered more than half the book. Stories were replete with maps, descriptions of the perfect evenings, or detailed descriptions of a lady's beauty, ending with a strong line like 'Estella was between pretty and beautiful'! Short stories were so short that a 500 page tome typically housed 6 stories! I can understand the motivations behind the voluminous mode of writing back then! They were the dark ages, and unlike the days of today, people truly had precious little to do!

And then the Chase era began. The race against time and a villain to reach the truth. James Hadley Chase, Erle Stanley Gardner (maybe it was the fact that they all had 3 words in their names, that made them write crisper!). But that era pushed the erstwhile granddaddies of fiction into the hall of fame called 'literature'. A dusty corner of huge school libraries (where only the bold literature graduates dared to venture into) was dedicated to those who created the genre called fiction.

But even that got too slow, and Arthur Hailey and Robert Ludlum made their grand entry. Hailey and Ludlum, had a following, and they became 'thinking writers' - it took one some cogitative effort to fathom the plot, but the die-hard loyalists never left their side. For a while they caught the peoples' fancy, till a certain Mr. Sheldon made his foray into fiction. After that, speedy, crisp, page-turning writing became the flavor of the season.

Take cricket for instance. I know of cricket fans who to date spend their winter holidays watching the Boxing Day test match! But the proportion of such fans has since come down tremendously. At a point of time a decade ago, people spent hours watching a one-day series. Great duels were set as day-and-night matches to draw bigger crowds. Then came twenty20. If one can see 2 matches (4 teams) on one day, why spend time watching 50 overs per team? There is only so much a team can do, and what they can't achieve in 20 overs, they can't achieve in 50 overs, became the belief. Short and crisp was the mantra here as well!

Now I wonder how far this can go. Can it go the way we used to play cricket as kids? One over per team - since all of us used to want to bat (and only one kid used to bring the bat to the game)? That sure can be fun to watch, although unless the teams dressed in sharp contrasts like say red teams and blue teams, the viewer would be stumped! English country decorum of white cricket uniforms would have to go out the window! As for books - Shakespeare once wrote - Brevity is the soul of wit. Little did he know while writing Hamlet that this would indeed be personified in the art of writing several years thence! So brace yourselves for the one paragraph short story in the future. I sure don't think I can write those!! (My blog is a testimony to that :) )

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In anticipation

Anticipation - is a feeling beyond just one associated with waiting for something. What the emotions associated with anticipation are, is dependent on what you're waiting in anticipation for.

According to me, there are 3 main categories of anticipation. One, where the outcome is definitely positive. Like maybe waiting 9 months for your child, or even the wait before a last exam! Over here, the anticipation feels good. You enjoy the wait, although you do wish the wait would end soon, so you can get to the part of enjoying the result of the wait. But the waiting never really hurts!

Then there is the anticipation of something bad. Like waiting for a coworker to come in to work, only for you to have to let him go thereafter. That wait hurts. One, you don't know whether the guy would react. Second, you don't know whether the guy would react like you expect him to! The outcome is decidedly painful, and the wait is even more painful. You desperately wish to get it over with and move on to the more painful part of living with yourself after the task is done!

And the third category of anticipation is the one that hurts the most. And this is the wait for the uncertain outcome! Like the wait for an exam score. Or the wait for the result of an interview. or the first phone call after a date. I could go on and on, the list is perhaps endless. But the wait, you wish never existed! This wait sends your heart on a flutter-spree - (wonder whether such a word even exists). This wait involves a lot of 'what-if' analysis. You dream and imagine - 'well, if I get this score, I can do this and that and that. If he calls me, maybe I should act this way. If I don't get that job, I am up the creek without a paddle. But throughout this painful wait, there is a strong glimmer of hope. You keep waiting, hoping strongly in your heart of hearts that maybe a positive outcome would result. You ask why is this the most painful? Well, because, if the outcome is negative, the wait and the hope all comes crashing down, and any crash hurts like hell!

So while waiting may be nice in some cases, I personally prefer a GMAT style life. Click your last answer and your score pops up in less than 1 minute. No damaged nails, no guzzled caffeine, no frantic phone calls, nothing. Just finish a task, get a result and KEEP MOVING IN LIFE! Life is much too short to waste waiting in anticipation. The electric bulb was never invented in a waiting room. If only various stake holders of our lives would realize that, then the collective productivity of humanity would go up almost a million times! So anticipating a life sans waits...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bow down or bow out?

Today's post is a story.

There was once a country that had been colonized by certain powers-that-be. These powers-that-be felt glorified by their power to make the country bow to their wishes. The country was primarily agrarian and the harvests were typically very lucrative in open markets. And historically the colonizer had reaped profits from these harvests. Throughout the year, they'd send their representatives to come and check on the people, regularly, and try to teach them the right ways of farming. But to ensure that the people adhered to their code of conduct of genuflecting to them, they used brute force. Novel methods of forcing people were employed and out of fear, the country bowed low.

As time progressed, however, these powers-that-be were told that brute force was no longer in vogue and that subtlety was more respected, they backed off from their obtrusive, blatantly arm twisting tactics of exercising control to something more discrete. They decided to exercise control only in the harvesting season. by trying to build a pecking order story around themselves when it came to harvests. Yes, markets were free. Yes, farmers were allowed to sell their produce in open markets and the best produce got the best price, regardless of the buyer. All these rules applied in a weird twisted Henry Ford way (Remember - you get the choice of all colors as long as it is black?) So, the rule was that the colonizer would get right of way, at their prices and their whims on the produce. Once their granaries and coffers were full, the remaining produce could be sold off to the market, if any. All other market players were expected to wait for the colonizer to finish so that they could get their scrapings. And wait they did, for if they did not wait, they didn't get any produce. And yes, people knew that what the colonizer was doing was wrong and completely against normal economic theory. Those who did not agree to this plan - well, no one disagreed. Like I said, they bowed low, out of plain fear.

Over the years, they genuflected. When asked why, they said that the rains were undependable. It rained one year resulting in a bounty and was dry in the next, resulting in a failure. No open market would promise to buy produce when cyclical characteristics were so haphazard each year, and when uncertainties allowed no projections to ever be correct.

"But what about being cheated in years when you have a great crop and the market is willing to pay you more?", someone asked.

"Well, let's say that loss is the price we pay for security in down years", a farmer replied. "Besides, majority of the people here don't get wonderful crops. They get average harvests and average harvests typically get average prices in the open market. At least selling to the colonizer adds some snob value, if not anything else. So, people are very keen only to sell to the colonizer, and they bee-line up to the colonizer's granaries to offload their produce and get their money. So the country has decreed that we would sell to no one else but the colonizer and unless he gives us permission, we won't visit the open market. "

But one farmer (Mr X) was different. He consistently grew a good crop every year and felt himself stifled by the country's policies. He felt that arm twisting and pressure tactics served no one any good and that free markets by and far were the most efficient means to ensure profit for hard work. So, he decided one day, not to bow down to the colonizer. Everyone expected him to face the ire of the collection agents, with probable bloodshed. They sat glued to the TV watching what the news covered about the talks between this farmer and the colonizer. The dialogues went on for a while that seemed like eternity! The colonizer began to get agitated. They threatened to boycott the farmer forever. They threatened never to support him in case he had a crop failure. The farmer looked upon all of this calmly. And with a mild smile said, " Do your worst. I believe in myself and my skills. My losing you, would be your loss and not mine. But if you are so insecure about yourself, such that you need to frighten people to get your way, since you feel that other buyers in the open market will manage to get a better deal, I suggest, that you take a vacation and introspect on what you need to change about your image. Maybe you need a downward revision in your perception rating, and that would bring your true core and your perceived core on par. Maybe I am wrong, and you do have a stellar image on par with strong core values. Allow the farmers to then take a decision, based on what they value. As for me, rusticate me if you will, for I will, no matter what you do, go to the market."

So saying, he left the negotiation table, went to the open market with his produce and got double of what he had cumulatively received over all the past years. Feeling cheated, and knowing that X's precedent was on their side, several other farmers who had confidence in themselves ventured into the open market, despite threats from the colonizer. The trickle converted to a cascade as people realized the hollowness of the threats and the lack of core values in the colonizer. Eventually, prosperity prevailed and everybody lived happily ever after.

So, when forced to bow, everyone has a choice. Not everyone chooses not to bow, since they perhaps feel insecure about the unknown future, that could come about, if they did not bow. But as they say, fortune favors the brave and blaming country policies for genuflection, are unfounded claims! You always have a choice of whether to bow down or bow out.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

10 more random thoughts

  1. What hurts more? Having what you don't want or not having what you really want?
  2. What hurts more? Not getting what you want or not getting what you think you want?
  3. Why do things inconsequential in the distant future have severe repercussions on near future events?
  4. Why is the greater part of humankind frightfully optimistic?
  5. Everything is ephemeral, just the cycles of highs and lows are constant.
  6. Some people never give up on you despite your giving up on yourself.
  7. People are different, but their differentiating factors are all the same.
  8. Risk and reward are positively correlated. But where stakes are high, effort and reward are almost always negatively correlated.
  9. Your core skill almost always is of consequence only in the long run, with zero short term benefits.
  10. Clairvoyance could be such a stress reliever!!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Biting more than they can chew? M&M

Is Mahindra really biting more than they can chew? That is the question here. Just last year, they took over the dubious Satyam. Experts say that big clients are still wary and are still keen on pulling out of Mahindra-Satyam because there is still some murkiness as regards Satyam's books. People are still unclear of how far the virus has spread and what other skeletons could emerge from that closet. And after over 6 months, the jury is still out on whether Mahindra-Satyam was indeed a marriage made in heaven. At a time of such uncertainty, Mahindra's announcement of a vision to equal Brazilian Embraer is nothing short of stumping! In December M&M acquired a majority stake in Aerostaff Australia and Gippsland Aeronautics in forming what became Mahindra Aerospace. Aerospace is expensive, and such diversification even before the previous debt-laden acquisition (Satyam) could get consummated is looked upon by many as being risky. True, markets thumped Mahindra on the 7th when he announced his plans at the Auto Expo in Delhi. But can we really write off the plan?

Well, this is India - an Emerging Economy. Emerging economies are called so because in a way they are highly unpredictable - a euphemism for the unpredictable third world if I may say so. The ways of the land, the way people conduct business there and almost everything about these countries is different. Even typical Government bond rates are higher! Risk is higher as well, which is why during the Asian crisis, although the problem was mainly with the Thai Baht, the contagion spread through Malaysia, Korea all the way to Brazil, since everyone was bundled under the mysterious ways of the 'emerging land'. So conventional wisdom really doesn't apply to doing business here. Besides, Mr Mahindra is known to have walked away from the JLR deal when he realized that he might have to end up paying too much. So one can eliminate the possibility of managerial hubris in his operational methods. Besides, M&M is known to operate a strategy of initiate, incubate and cash in on any venture. So, given their past successes, one is tempted to think that some serious thought has gone in to making this decision.

Traditionally observers are averse to change. Mahindra brings to mind tractors. We can imagine the Tatas to be everywhere from telecom to steel to autos to IT. But imagining another global conglomerate spanning autos, IT, aeroplanes and more is tough. Come to think of it, it really isn't a highly unrelated diversification. Although capital intensive, they are moving from one kind of autos to another - in a broad sense. So, I guess we need to watch M&M for a year and see whether Mr Mahindra is a calculative businessman, or whether M&M has displayed classic irrational exuberance. In the same breath, another thing to watch out for is Bajaj. Many spoke of their plan of hiving off the scooters in favor of motorcycles as being flawed. They said why kill the goose that laid golden eggs in favor of an unknown swan? In both these cases, the business leaders have shown immense guts, believing the fact that fortune favors the brave. Whether this tenet holds in business, especially in Indian business in the wake of a fragile, just improving economy is what we need to wait and watch.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Right time to withdraw the stimulus???

So now, when we speak of India, we have the debate on whether it is too early to withdraw the stimulus package. India’s stimulus had a lot less to do with pumping money into the system than it had to do with tax cuts to the industry, lower interest rates and so on. So now, many feel that the recovery has been fragile and so stimulus should continue at least till September 2010. I am tempted to call in my great ‘Band Aid’ concept here :) . Are the wounds still green? And would prematurely pulling off the band-aid hurt? Observers and analysts feel, yes. I ask, was there a wound in the first place? What recovery are we talking about? We never slipped into negative growth, that defines a recession. We went from 9% GDP growth to 5.5% and now we are back at 7.9% GDP growth. Even this quarter the growth is expected to hover around the 8% mark. So, I ask – stimulus for what?

China entered into a stimulus since her economy was steeped in exports to the developed world and when the developed world was hit, it stopped consuming. And so China’s bread and butter was stolen away. But we are not so dependent on exports. And we can’t say that just because everyone in the world is stimulating themselves, we need to continue as well. If we keep up stimulation when the economy looks good to go, we’d be fuelling inflationary pressures. Through easy credit we’d be stepping into callous lending! At an extreme, we could be stepping into sub-prime territory in lending! Stimulus packages are a burden on the Government kitty and they divert funds away from much needed developmental expenditures. If India has been less hit by the Great Recession, we must thank our economy for having been resilient. We must thank the policy makers for quick action. And we must capitalize on this resilience to bounce back and out of stimulus-induced growth. The leading economic indicators spell cheer for India and so now is the time for the stimulus to be slowly decreased and eased off. This may be a bold step, but extreme times call for extreme measures.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Air India - the blunder of the decade!

‘Bailout to sail out’ spoke of bailouts and how economically they are wrong since they in a way condone wrongdoings and mismanagement. When GM asked for help, everyone was up in arms against the whole way in which they refused to change according to the times and still produced the fuel guzzling behemoths that consumers had fallen out of love with. ‘Why should taxpayers’ money go into rescuing a Jalsaghar (Satyajit Ray’s epic on pride and ego in spite of decadent poverty)’ was the question everyone asked. But then the ‘too big to fail’ card was played and the cascading effect a GM failure would have on Detroit, Ontario and the employment of millions was brought to light. I remember reading an article around 2008 Christmas in The Globe and Mail, about this family that lived in Ontario, where the only breadwinner was a 55 year old lady who had worked all her life in GM. She chronicled how her life and career had revolved only around GM, and at age 55 she wouldn’t find work anywhere. ‘Maybe this is the last Christmas we can spend together as a family, for next year perhaps we all need to move out of here to find jobs in order to survive’, she lamented. Such stories resulted in GM being bailed out, GM filing for Chapter 11 and so on.

Believers in classical economics, (me included), feel that free markets should be allowed to decide who is good and who is bad and poor performers should be penalized. Yes jobs would be lost, and there would be intermediate pain. But in the long run the cobwebs would be dusted off and quality would prevail. Keynesians believe that the State is present for a purpose and when corporate mess up, they are deigned to step in and clear the mess. So ‘the too big to fail’ funda has been bandied about and the verdict is still divided on whether it is the right thing to do or otherwise.

So speak of Air India. They have paid € 5 million to enter the Star Alliance group and another € 5 million is to be paid. They are in doldrums. They have a liability of Rs. 16,000 crores on their balance sheets. They asked for 5000 crores as Government bailout and got only 800 crores approved! And now they have engaged McKinsey at a whopping 14 crores to pull them out of this mess. Accenture and Booz Allen are already in the fray to rescue them and McKinsey has jumped on the loss maker’s band wagon as well. It really reminds of the Ferrari racing team between 1979 – 1999 when ace drivers and engineers joined the money bags team, milked it for big bucks and left without achieving that all elusive championship victory! What is the outcome of this massive bunch of blunders? Accounts payable amounts would increase albeit to consulting firms now, fat reports on glossy solutions would increase but implementation bugs would continue to persist, since clearly AI’s management team has management issues! And when AI goes beyond salvage, the eternal money bags – the Government would be called upon to HEEEEELLLLLLLLLLLLLP!!! The saga would just continue. I wonder what steps are going to be taken next in this biggest blunder of the last decade which began with the IA-AI merger, which sought to rationalize operations and ended up just spending more on painting all planes with the new logo! Integration went for a toss and from then on AI has been on a nose-diving tailspin! Perhaps its time to stop heeding the SOS.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2009 - a year that was

Ok, almost everyone chronicles the past year. On thing I like, is the one liner event history that figures on Wikipedia or the year round-up in the economist. But for me, the events come to mind at the top of my head at the end of the year, hold most consequence. Here's the roundup of things that defined the past year -

This year marked many things. It began with a bush fire in Australia and surprisingly ended with one in the same place as well - almost setting the tone for the fiery year in politics and the world ahead. Barack Obama became the 44th US President - after a well crafted, technologically and ideologically vibrant campaign. Although post election a number of factors have called into question the success of his presidency. Parleys on whether we were looking at a recession, or a depression, or whether countries like India were in a recession at all, occupied intellectual coffee table talks for a greater part of the year, while countries like Iceland collapsed, Dubai stared at sovereign default in the face, China boosted spending and India recorded 7.9% GDP growth.

Some things stayed staid, with a miscarriage of democracy in Iran and Afghanistan, which felt as though democratizing the Middle-East, an area famous for its tribal population suddenly were forced into something that they did not know how to handle! The Israel - Palestine conflicts continued. Zimbabwe saw the semblance of order with the power sharing deal to form a government, before a deadly car crash wounded the new President and killed his wife. The LTTE was finally defeated with the death of Prabhakaran, thus ending decades of civil war in Sri Lanka, opening a new can of worms related to human rights violations, displaced Tamils and alleged excesses by the Sri Lankan army. The Air France flight from Rio crashed into the middle of the Atlantic in one of the worst air crashes in history, killing all of 228 on board. The UNESCO launched the World Digital Library. Michael Jackson is gone - the music scene will never be the same ever again. This year also marked the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was much less the fall of an Iron Curtain, as it was the triumph of capitalism over communism.

Typhoons and hurricanes continued. India saw drought in the first half of the year followed by terrible floods in South India that almost wiped out portions of age-old villages. Climate change was becoming a reality and countries had to act really fast. Copenhagen came along, resulting in an eyewash of a climate treaty, which many hailed as at least a step in the right direction. Whether tangible benefits would come out of it, or whether the 'cold' war on who needs to blink first between the developed and the developing world would continue remains to be seen.

Sport faced several disgraceful moments with Lewis Hamilton and McLaren caught spying on Ferrari's technical documents, Flavio Briatore and Nelson Piquet Jr caught in crashgate, only to be topped by the great Tiger Woods proving he loved something more than the 18 holes of golf! Then again, the FedEx - Nadal duel got better, with Fed-Ex snatching sweet revenge thanks to an out of form Nadal. The Indian cricket scene never looked better, but the overdose of the willow implied that cricket now became almost akin to a 9-5 corporate job, with weekends off!! And then came the icing on the cake - the final and sure return of Michael Schumacher to competitive racing, thrilling several Schumi fans across the world.

2010 is not just a new year. It marks the start of a new decade. A decade that began with a promise post Y2K, saw the rise and fall of several governments, terrorism rise to its peak, economic crises of enormous proportions, a new Pope, an American President from a minority community, Saddam Hussein, Benazir Bhutto gone, shards of democracy in the middle east, strife in Pakistan, growth in the BRIC nations, the sudden rise and rise of China, the lost decade in Japan and a lottttt more. I could go on and on, but I'd perhaps reserve all that for another post. That said, hopes abound for 2010. Hope the economic downturn swings into an upturn. Hope there is peace in this world, with none of the disgruntled nations engaging in conflict. Hope that the blue moon that showed its face in India yesterday heralds a new beginning for everyone. Happy New Year everyone!