Archive | September, 2012

Gaining Momentum, Losing Altitude

22 Sep

When my niece was graduating from REC (NIT) Surathkal I urged her to join Wipro or Infosys. Explaining that it was a great place to learn in your formative years Vs joining a MNC. Her response was that MRC (Mass Recruitment Companies) are the last option in  campus and only those who do not get any jobs land up in these companies.

Things have changed a lot for these companies. I recollect in the 1985 – 95 era Wipro & Infosys used to attract  the brightest talent from India’s best institutions. Students preferred these companies to leading Banks, FMCG and at times even Global Consulting brands. Having worked in one of these companies for nearly 14 years I have fond memories of their golden years.

As I drove past Salt Lake at Cal last week and saw a dull, faded, torn signboard of the bright & radiant Rainbow Flower I was reminded of a quote that Scott McNealy made of DIGITAL (DEC) in the height of the dot com boom. We were lucky to have Scott in our induction program at Santa Clara and  Scott is the epitome of  a sharp, intelligent, aggressive CEO –   on being questioned about the future of DEC he said ” DEC was a great company but its now gaining momentum and losing altitude” .  I just hope this is not true of Bangalore’s leading companies.

There are many thousands who owe their first salary, first car, first trip abroad, first house, kids US citizenship, and many more fond memories to Wipro & Infosys. A whole generation has benefited. But sadly the sense of loyalty and passion that was exhibited by employees a few decades back is grossly missing. When you visit any online TOI / ET article about these companies  almost all the comments are negative and downright nasty – and I ask myself what went wrong ? How could the Bangalore Tiger & modern Indias global picture boy take such a beating  and plunge from its global high’s?

Yes the market has slowed and there is global recession, but these are companies that are still growing 15% + YoY and delivering margins in excessive of 20% – both of which when compared to the manufacturing industry or global IT consulting companies are still very very creditable. They employ over 150,000 people each and are juggernauts who even in recession hire in excess of 10,000 employees every year. So what is the possible reason for this negativity both internally & externally ? Is  the 20 year wave  getting over or is there more to it ? I spoke to many old friends in both companies , some who had just left and a few interesting observations emerged. These companies still have amazing leaders and people like TK Kurien are razor sharp, hard working , analytical wizards who are doing all that they can to turnaround, but I hope that some of these constructive suggestions help them in accelerating.

1. Where do you want to go, what do you want to be ?    

20 years back this question had a clear answer, Vision was to be a leading player , get to 1B then 5B and be a global player to be reckoned with.  The thrust was on Quality & Value for Money – Six Sigma , SEI CMM all of this made the mantra work. The dream was realized. What next ?  Most people don’t see the dream for the next 5 – 10 years. Is it just chugging along with Growth , is there a radical change , how do we move from one plateau to the next high ?  This question needs to be answered – not as poster across the company but a clear direction on where you want to be and what you want to be in the future. One needs to look beyond the quarter results, the 1% dip in EBIDTA,  and the fear of losing the 2nd or 3rd position.

2. Applying Thought & Powered by Intellect – is it a ground reality ?

Thanks to amazing visionaries Narayan Murthy & Azim Premji the companies did practise what they preached for many many years. Applying Thought & Powered by Intelllect on the foundation of Integrity & Values was deep rooted. Every employee inculcated it & personified it. At a young age responsibilities were demanding  and the sense of ownership was high. People worked 6 days, long hours and were thrilled and excited. Managers were fair, worthy were rewarded and competition  amongst peers was healthy, attrition was rare.

Somewhere down the line the whole equation broke down – as quality of hires started going down , future managers were weaker, not all decisions were fair , growth slowed down  – while expectations continued to rise , 15% + annual hikes and a promotion every 2 years was demanded. The fear of attrition resulting in many unworthy employees getting pampered and the work culture changed from brilliant hard working to arrogant mediocrity.

Add to this press reports on  misuse of B1 Visas & financial irregularities  have all cast a shadow on the impregnable fortress of integrity & principles which was the hallmark of these companies.            

3. Managing scale – too fast growth a dangerous thing.

When you have 10,000 employees and a 30 % bench its manageable, but when you have 150,000 employees and a 30% bench you are paying salaries to 45,000 people for doing nothing. Thats killing. Thats exactly what is happening to these companies. The scale and size they have reached is unprecedented in India. Only the Indian Railways or SAIL probably have the experience of managing so many employees. Systems have struggled to scale, the personal touch is missing and the juggernaut is indeed huffing & puffing and like my niece pointed out – a MRC that no smart kid wants to join. Whats the solution ? Maybe its time to create smaller companies of 25 – 30 K employees each and allow them the roadmap of growing to 50K employees in the next 3 – 4 years. Restrict the size of each business with a CEO to a max of 50K and create scalable units.

4. Grooming managers with values

This is tough if you have high attrition. But what stops these companies from starting their own colleges in their own campus. Focused on CS & EC – a 4 year program that is geared to get them productive on day 1 , no finishing school training needed. Inculcate not just competency & skills but also embed values. If you do it right people will stick to you for long stints with no bond. I am happy to see that at least Wipro has started a University and I hope that in the near future they embark on a venture to backward integrate and start a graduate school for engineers.

5.The role of Finance Managers

In both companies the role of Finance Managers has far exceeded their scope. The whole purpose of functioning appears to be to squeeze that extra % of profit by cost cutting or innovative accounting. This is hurting and the core business team seems to be quietly resentful but helpless. Partly this is linked to the obsession with the Stock Market & the quarterly results – that obsession needs to wane down.

When Hema Ravichander the successful HR head of Infosys moved on and was replaced by the finance director it started to spell the beginning of the end of good robust people practices. A decline that accelerated over the years.

6. Are you a true blue Global MNC ? 

Or just another Indian company with offices abroad. The desire to hire & integrate people of other nationalities has been attempted again & again but not worked. At a top level the core team of 20 people who on an average have spent 20+ years each in both these companies do not allow outsiders to integrate. Of the total 150K employees how many are Non Indian , if  90% of work comes from outside Indias shores should there not be at least 30% employees who are Non Indians ?

Are you an equal opportunity employer? Or do you have different travel limits, hotel limits, food limits for different levels of employees.

Many Sr Executives from Wipro & Infosys have left and joined Indian IT Companies or Startups –  will say a company like Accenture look at hiring the top talent from these companies at C level jobs ? I doubt – or at least there is no history of the same.

Its time these companies stepped back and took a real hard look on the way forward. For the sake of  Bangalore , for the sake of India lets hope they Gain Momentum & Gain Altitude. Here is wishing them all the best in the years to come as they traverse this challenging journey.

Shhhhh ! Quiet please Parents

14 Sep

We are very fortunate to have an excellent Bharatnatyam teacher in our complex, Mantri Classic. Amrita is a dedicated, passionate teacher. She conducts classes literally gratis and we would not hesitate to pay her 10 times her fees for the value she delivers. Its rare to find someone like her in todays commercial world. She and her friend Neeta had put together a wonderful dance show by the kids (all costs & effort incurred by them) recently.

This is a letter written to the parents who attended the show from the kids who participated.

Dear Parents,

We are disappointed. We put in so much effort, practiced for months , our teachers put in so much effort, time, money for making this event happen –  Do you know that it took us over 3 hours to get dressed for this show ?  and you folks couldn’t sit quietly for 90 minutes !

Normally its you telling us – Stay Quiet ! What happened today – the roles reversed, we felt like coming up on stage and saying – Parents, please be seated and stay quiet till this program is over !

Most of you seem to be bothered only about your children –  when they are on stage you come to the front row and keep clicking snaps and once your daughters show is over you keep walking & talking all over the place . Not Done folks !

Kids as small as 6 years were performing – most of them for the 1st time on stage – this is an art form that requires so much of practise to perfect – we  hoped you would encourage not just your children but everyone who performed. But sadly you disappointed us

You could have at least maintained some discipline when Kittu Sir (Professor Krishnamurthy – our Teachers Teacher) came on stage to talk a few golden words. But that was the time when there was total commotion – guys some respect for a 76 year old man who has spent his entire life for the cause of Bharatnatyam !

And when the show was getting over not one of you came on stage to thank our teachers – look at the Salsa & Kathak teachers who come to our building – they charge Rs 5,000 from every student whenever there is a public performance – they make a profit out of it – our teachers spent time & money and none of you came and even offered a word of thanks to them on stage ! Thats the least you could have done ( or were you busy pushing your  children’s photos on Facebook)

Guys we are very disappointed – you teach us to be disciplined, respect elders , maintain quiet in public places – and here you were walking around , eating Pizza , talking loudly – shouldn’t you practise what you preach ? What standards are you setting by behaving like this.

I just hope that when we have our next program things are different. Please do not disappoint us.

Thanking you

All the Children who Participated in the show

My daughter – Anvitaa 

Peace @ Hyde Park

10 Sep

Thanks to my company I am fortunate to be able to visit London frequently. Again I am lucky to be able to stay in the heart of Central London off Oxford or Regent Street. However short, a trip to London is not complete without a walk @ Hyde Park. Many a  time I miss it because its too cold or its raining. But today was the perfect weather.

Thanks to the jet lag I was up early and left the historic Courthouse Double-Tree at Marlborough Street at 5 AM and was at Hyde Park by 5.15  AM.

I walked briskly in the cold breeze … Hardly a sign of humanity. But I had nice companions –  a few magpies, squirrels, and a woodpecker chipping away at some massive Oak. The sound of leaves rustling as the willows and oaks gently swayed. The sound of peace & solitude.

The narrow roads beckoned as they led you from one mystery patch to another – everywhere it was neat and clean. (Not a sign of trash or plastic bottles). And as the sun casts its warm rays  a few more early morning walkers appear.

And then the lovely water body emerges in front of you.  and the first rays glisten on the water as the ducks swim by.

I pay my respect to the wonderful city of London and the beautiful Hyde Park and complete my 50 “Surya Namaskars” in record time.

A plane flies by – with its engines shut gliding down slowly – respecting the peace & quiet of the neighborhood. I remove my shoes and walk on the grass. It tingles my soles and pacifies my soul. And I feel eternal bliss.

A few horses canter past and you can hear their horse shoes on the cobbled pavements.

Its nearly 645 and I have spent well over 90 minutes. Its time to leave. I look for the closest exit and see that I am at Kensington Garden – having walked all the way thru Hyde Park. I step out from Queens Gate to see the majestic Royal Albert hall.

I look at my map and realize that I am a long long way from my hotel. I break into a run and as I keep jogging a few thought enter my mind.

1. Was India’s  independence a bad thing – should the brits  have stayed on !!

2. London is the perfect place to retire (If you are Rich) – its got parks, excellent public transport , free medical, language is not a problem, a Cosmopolitan city, well connected ……..

3. And as I reach my  hotel and enjoy my English breakfast , I  wish I had my family with me –  now that the kids are old enough , its time to get them to London for a nice long holiday. And maybe subtly influence my 11 year old daughter that Oxford & Cambridge may be a better choice than the colleges in US.

Invasion of Chota Bheem

6 Sep

Fortunately we have two TV’s at home. This Sunday one was booked by my wife & elder daughter watching a cookery program on TLC followed by a song & dance show. On the other one I was shifting channels between NDTV, CNN IBN, Times Now & KTV – trying to avoid the Ads when my little one (all of 5 years old) put her foot down and said it was Chota Bheem time.

I observed her quietly as she transported herself to Dhaulakpur and the land of Chota Bheem, Chutki, Jaggu & Kalia. For a kid whose attention span is less than 2 minutes – it was amazing to see how this TV serial on Pogo captured her attention for a good 30 min ( that too for a episode which she claimed she has watched many times).

The world of cartoons and comics have changed very fast.  From the time we were kids in the 70’s to when my elder one was an avid cartoon fan (6 years back) to now, its amazing.

We grew up when there was no TV and when it did come with Asiad and DD we were too old for cartoons. So our childhood was full of comics. The masked Phantom from Denkali with Goran and his band of Pygmies in an island surrounded by piranha infested waters was one of the most popular reads. The cave brimming with treasures and adventure after adventure used to keep us captivated in the simple easy to read Indrajal comics.

Then there was Dennis the Menace the innocent little naughty boy and his neighbor uncle Williams.

And of course as we grew older there was Asterix &  Tintin. The only Indian masala was from Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama – which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Every year during summer vacations our club used to have at least 1 show of Laurel & Hardy  and Charlie Chaplin. The antics of Olly & Stan would make us burst with laughter till our sides ached.

As TV became more prevalent thanks to DD we  got to see Lucy , some Tom & Jerry and a few more english comedies – and of course who can forget captain Spock & Star Wars.

On the books front we were slowly graduating from Enid Blyton , (3 Golliwogs, Noddy, Mr Meddle, Five Find Outers, Malory Towers, St Claires….) , to Alfred Hitchcock ( 3 Investigators), Hardy Boys , Nancy Drew , Archie, JT Edson , Louis L’Amour, Sudden, Agatha Christie , Alistair McLean, Desmond Bagley, Jeffrey Archer and finally graduated to Judith Krantz & Harold Robbins.

As Kids we used to trade comics & books. 1 Tintin = 5 Chandamama’s, 1 Hardy Boy = 3 Archies etc. So we learnt the art of value & positioning very early. New books fresh out of print used to have higher trade value and the day  these books landed at the local library there used to be a big Q to grab them (with some getting thrown out of the window to a friend standing below)

Things changed 10 years back. My elder daughter tastes were very different. Yes Tom & Jerry survived and was still the favorite. But there were new entrants.

Equally famous were the Power Puff Girls and cute little Dora (These were the birthday party themes for many years) and the wise & mature Arthur.

In less than 6 years things have changed. Japanese Doraemon & Chota Bheem hold total sway over the kids today.

And I ask myself – What captivates Chota Bheem to the kids ? He is a rural hero – has a band of followers – is simple and straightforward – its always good Vs evil – the Laddu is his magic potent – the formula works. He has universal appeal  in big cities, small towns and villages. . The simple innocent kids love it. Finally  we have an Indian cartoon that has overthrown Disney – and that is no mean  achievement.

I don’t know who is the creator of Chota Bheem – but  the people behind this deserve a big pat on the back. The brand is growing – you now have Chota Bheem Bags , T Shirts, Mugs , and I hear even branded Laddu’s are expected to come out shortly. The movie was a big hit and with the right investments we could even have a Chota Bheem theme park with his entire gang. That would be our own version of Disneyland. A theme park  set in a lovely village called Dhaulakpur.

As I watch Chota Bheem with my daughter I realize that it is indeed entertaining and a pleasant change from corrupt politicians shouting each other down in a TV debate or the loud & garish dance & song sequence that seems to pop up in every other channel.

I have a new choice. The virality has begun and Chota Bheem has one more member in his fan club.