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.

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