Waking up the Malala in us

On the occasion of Malala getting the Nobel Prize for Peace (albeit a year later than deserved), am posting a poem that I had written last year on Malala’s life, for my daughter, Adviti to recite at school…is meant for children, but possibly can be enjoyed by all!!


In the tough region of Swat
Where there was no food or television,
This brave girl started fighting
Asking for Children’s Education.

“How dare you ?” asked the Clergy
And members of Taliban
Girls need to cook, get married
This is the teaching of Quraan.

Not one to give up easy
The girl read the Holy Book
And found respect for women
Not only wash, clean and cook.

The Girl put forth this learnings
To Family, Teachers and Friends
People started understanding
Children following her trends.

The Taiban got furious
To show her what they got
One day as she went to school
They had the poor Girl shot.

Battling for life for days and nights
Millions prayed for her good health
“God, please help this brave Girl
She’s your own – your true wealth”.

She recovered, thanks to the prayers
And addressed the United Nations
And spoke to children of the world
On virtue, love, peace and patience.

She had no ill-will for her shooters
Passed to them her best wishes
Praying that their children too
Learnt well, not cleaning streets & dishes.

This is the great Malala
Who was put to the toughest test
We all have a Malala in us
Let’s wake up, do our best !

The best for the ill and the poor
Wiping away tears of the needy
To make this world a glorious place
I know It has to start with Me !!

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Fortune Global 500 – a changing world order

Picked up a copy of the Fortune at the airport and here’s a quick summary / analysis of the ranking of the Top 500 companies in the world (by revenues) – 2013.

Wal-mart leads the List with a revenue of USD 476bn (almost a quarter of GDP of large countries like India)!! The top 10 companies comprise 2 from the USA (Exxon being the other), 3 from China, 1 each from UK, Germany, Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland. 7 out of the top 10 are from Petroleum/Oil/Gas/Mining sector (called “Energy” in this piece), Wal-mart the Retail giant, Volkswagen and Toyota from the automobile sector.

Samsung, Apple and Philips lead the tech charge by claiming the 13th, 15th, 19th spots. Berkshire and AXA bring in the Financial services/conglomerate presence at 14th and 16th positions. Rest of the 11th-20th positions are again from the Retail (Total), Automobile (Daimler) and the Energy sectors (Gazprom, E.ON, Chevron).

The “smallest” company in the list of 500 has revenues of USD24bn. The 100th company has 80bn!

Wal-mart is also the largest employer with 2.2mn people working for it, the next 5 companies being Chinese, employing about 5.5mn between them. SBI with 300,000 employees was the only Indian company in the Top 50 employers.

On profits, there are 2 interesting companies at the top with USD 84bn and 49bn, the “protagonists” of the 2008 melt-down, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac themselves !!! Talk about resurgence! Of course, I am not counting Vodafone at the top which has more profits than revenues, thereby making me conclude (without validation) that there is some huge one-time item there.

Going by country, the Top 500 comprises ~130 companies from the USA, 100 from China, 60 from Japan, 30 each from UK, Germany, France. South Korea increased the count for Asian tigers by coming in next with 17 – they are not only Samsung, LG, Hyundai – the growth there has been wider (9 of the 17 are not from one of these 3 Chaebols). Of the non-China BRICs, all 3 – Brazil, India and Russia had 7-8 companies. Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy and Australia also came in the 8-12 bracket.

The Indian giants remained roughly the same as in the last couple of decades now since I started following this list. IOC, Reliance, BPCL, HPCL, Tata Motors, SBI, ONGC and Tata Steel – in order of their ranks. Starting at USD81bn for IOC (rank 96) to USD 73bn for Reliance (rank 114), the two biggies to Tata Steel at the end with USD25bn (rank 486) with all others between USD 28bn and 44bn.

With the largest companies belonging to Energy, Automobile and Retailing, it would be interesting to see if other Indian companies Essar, Jindal, Tata Motors, M&M, Future Group, Reliance Retail can come into these ranks at some point. Going through the Capital-Line List of listed large Indian companies, the following companies currently figure after the Big 8 of the Fortune Global 500 List) :
• Essar Oil Ltd
• Mangalore Refinery And Petrochemicals Ltd
• NTPC Ltd
• Larsen & Toubro Ltd
• Tata Consultancy Services Ltd
• Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd
• GAIL (India) Ltd
• Bharti Airtel Ltd
• Steel Authority of India Ltd.

TCS and Airtel are of course the new-age companies in the Wait List above…hoping to see more e-commerce, Pharma and NBFCs in the list in the coming years…

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Pre-Obit of the Tablet

Was somewhat excited with the WSJ-Mint article this week on sluggish worldwide sales of Tablets, across brands. “Excited” because I have been grappling with the intended uses of a tablet for the past 3-4 years, and wondering as to how can I replace either the phone or the laptop with the tablet? Have been unsuccessful in doing that, thought have been sheepish enough not to admit that openly. I was having a feeling of getting old too soon – by not confessing that I cannot live with only a tablet (without my phone or laptop), I was trying to pretend to be part of the young crowd. If tablets were going to revolutionise the way we accessed computing and the Internet, then of course, I was going to flow with the change!!

But thank god, the WSJ-Mint article today brings me back to normal – I can stop pretending, and confess that I cannot complete my office and personal work without my laptop and smartphone (don’t get me wrong here – I use the iphone5 for the past 2 years and this piece is not against any one company)… I cannot survive with ONLY a tablet!!

Coming to the WSJ article (and a a few other ones in the recent past), looks like tablets are getting sandwiched between smartphones getting smarter & bigger from the below, and laptops becoming thinner and “tableter” from the above. This is the similar “sandwiched” trend that Blackberry felt by the iphone & Android-phones from the top, and by the economy USD50 handsets from the below. Sales of tablets have fallen in 2014 for both Apple and Samsung, after having hit 200mn units annually within 4 years of launch (something that PCs took 40 years to achieve).

Having said the above, Tablets have gone through an interesting journey in their short lives. I am collating below MY tweets on tablets and ipads which I have sent over the past 3 years. Gives an idea of the journey of the Tablet (and of me vis-a-vis the Tablet). I had done a mini-confession on July 20, 2011 that I could not find too many uses of the ipad. And on May 22, 2011 about inability to move office work to ipad. But with passing time, and with increasing number of ipads at home, I learnt to grin & go with the flow. The June 2014 Tweet on “Microsoft working on Office for ipads and Windows for tablets” might only suggest that Microsoft woke upto the Tablet move pretty late, but there could be a blessing in disguise in the long run, if the Tablet decline continues!! Anyways, while it is too early to call this an Obit of the Tablet, but going back to Kotler – Products addressing genuine needs of customers are the ones most likely to survive and succeed!! And till those needs are met by some smarter product!!

My Tweets over the past 3 years on Tablets, ipad etc
22-05-2011 Read review of ipad2 in Businessworld. 50pc lighter than iPad. Article said that as device becomes lighter, usage increases 2-3x. Amazing.
22-05-2011 Ipad2. Read that people are moving mainstream computing from laptop to iPad. yet to figure how to move my files to iPad. & no MS-office?
20-07-2011 Am planning to write an article on ‘meaningful uses of ipad. Going to be a very short article. Hmmm…there…finished. Angry Birds.
14-08-2011 Trying to figure out how to copy movies from brick-n-mortar DVDs to ipad. If Apple will have a bane, it will be lack of smooth transfers.
10-09-2011 Anyone using the iPad effectively for their direct sales force ? Intuitively, this could be a power-tool in their hands.
29-09-2011 Airport security check – is Ipad a laptop ? What about smaller tabs ? Time we got a technology to let devices go in with bags. Mobiles do go in.
16-10-2011 Knowledge about FB, Chats, Ipad/pod will become pre-requisite for urban nannies soon. ‘Could you please help the kid with that app ?’.
09-12-2011 So it happened today. The kid wants her own ipad now.
11-12-2011 So, I tell my daughter to scribble down the list. And she hunts for my mobile or ipad. When I remind her about paper, she goes ‘oh, yes…’
25-10-2012 Most exciting time for Device Freaks. MS Surface, iPad Mini, Ultrabooks, Convertible Ultras, Samsung Note. Too much happening.
16-06-2013 So now we have Ipad4 for the kid, old iPad for wife and iPhone for me. This is Family 2020 – i.e., we will speak to each other next in 2020.
07-02-2014 My mom-n-pop real estate broker showing details of all properties on his iPad with a flourish! Developers will have apps soon! @AnujPuriJLL
06-04-2014 @satyanadella ‘s moves in Office for iPad and free Windows for tablets/ smartphones are the biggest twin moves in the Industry for some time.

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A Bangalore vacation of a Mumbaikar

So, the quintessential summer vacation with the kid is done. This time in and around Bangalore (Bengaluru for the puritans). This time around, I got a chance to have a real look at the city, where I have been flying in and out a zillion times on day-trips for business, not to mention a 2-year b-schooling about 20 years back. The recent business trips have recorded in my memory traffic snarls, long airport drives and an easier work routine among people as compared to that in Mumbai (OK, I know this is a controversial statement already). However this time, since we spent 7-8 days roaming along the Bangalore streets, I did manage to note more interesting things about the Garden City or now, the IT City.
• Of the 9mn population in Bangalore, there about 4-5 lacs IT professionals. 9mn population may translate to 2mn households. 4-5 lac IT professionals may be spread across 3-4 lacs Households, accounting for couples or siblings working in the Industry. This implies 20-25% Households having an IT professional!!! Very high !! If we look at only the middle-class and upper class HHs, then the %age might be much, much higher. So Bangalore is indeed an IT city, and any marketer of any product or service needs to take that into account while designing their marketing (and business) strategies. Offering has to be online, on social media; go-to-market should involve corporate worksites; offshore-onshore behaviour should be understood, and so on.
• There was an average of 7-8 full page ads in the Times of India every day for Real Estate properties !! Realty market is still going strong. With ticket sizes of Rs.80 lacs to 2 crore being the sweet spot, this is a breath of fresh air to Mumbaikars, who may have to own a bachelor’s (or spinster’s) pad in the outskirts with that budget. 25-storey buildings loom on the skyline in all directions. Sarjapur, Outer Ring Road, Hosur Road are fast replacing the Whitefield mania of the previous decade. North Bangalore is of course going to be the darling in the coming decade with an IT park threatening to come up there as well.
• Language of communication in the shops and markets is fast becoming Hindi, with the huge influx of North and West Indians into the city through the IT route. This might be provoking the “Kannada wave in schools” sort of movement. Having seen similar movements in the past in Maharashtra, I think commercial interests will prevail in the long run. Development always pips sectarianism.
• Housing complexes have become swanky, with many complexes having 6-10 buildings of 20-25 storeys each, having 2-3 swimming pool, large gym, hyper-market. The pools are full with people from 8am-9pm !! And then the odd post-dinner star-gazers lounging on the pool cots. This could possibly be because it was May, summer vacation for kids. 8-9am, one sees young IT professionals swarming out of the complexes in their Zens, WagonRs, i10s, i20s and many on bikes. Some amble across the complex on foot, boarding their company buses reaching outside the gates.
• Eating out is growing exponentially (no hyperbole here, I actually mean doubling every 2-3 years). There are 87 such joints on a 1-km stretch on the 100-ft road in Indira Nagar. In addition to another 100 retail outlets for apparel/ fashion-wear. Delivery still is not as rampant as in Mumbai, with overall low service levels of Bangalore hitting this space too. What I mean by lower overall service levels is seen across restaurants, shops – the sprightly, spirited entrepreneurial zest seen in Mumbai is sorely missing here among waiters, kids manning the tills, delivery boys etc.
• Very few places to see!! We did manage a few – Lalbagh Botanical Gardens (4.5 on a scale of 5), Cubbon Park (4), Suryanarayana Swamy temple at Domlur (3.5), Sankey Tank (3.5), Art of Living Centre on Harohalli Road (3), Pyramid Valley 50km from the City (3), MTR – the Mavalli Tiffin Resort at Basvangudi (3), St Marks Cathedral (2.5)
• Lalabagh was a revelation! One has to take the Electric powered Buggies to really enjoy the Garden (Rs 100 per person for a 35-minute ride, with three photo-op stops). The cotton-silk tree with the 4-metre wide trunk is a marvel (possibly the largest tree in India?). The Eucalyptus tree grove and the Japanese Black Bamboo plantations also came a close second.
• Cubbon Park matched Lalbagh in natural beauty, parts of it coming close to Hyde Park and St James Park in London. Some parts were desolate and barren, and hence one has to select the correct parts to visit (it’s huge and may be covered in 2 visits, same like Lalbagh).
• MTR was a bit of a disappointment, largely because the Menu varies widely with the timings in the day. 0630-0730, one gets Idli-Chutney, 0730-1330 one gets only Masala Dosa, Rawa Idli, Khara bath, Gulab Jamun, Kesari Bath – but all with only chutney !! Beware if you ask for Sambhar – that will expose your non-traditional roots. We hit MTR for breakfast at 0830 and were ushered into the Deluxe Family Room upstairs (behind the water cooler).
• We of course managed to overcome the MTR visit with a visit to the MTR1924, a hipper version of MTR, started in Malls. We gorged into sumptuous Rava Masala Dosa (Masala being a separate potato vegetable called Sagu), “actual” Masala Dosa, filter kapi.
• Sankay Tank (lake) in Malleswaram is a beautiful jogging spot for the TamBrahms living closeby. One could jog in Lalbagh or in Cubbon Park too. But none of them could match the class of Jogger’s Park or Priyadarshini Park in Mumbai (OK, OK, both man-made, I admit).
• Very few street eating joints like Vada-Pav stalls or Bhelpuri-Panipuri stalls like in Mumbai and Delhi. Possibly because rent is low here and such people can rent a small shop instead of running an illegal stall, as in Mumbai.
• There were at least 10 Biryani chains and 100 outlets I came across the drive from MG Road to Bommanahalli on Hosur Road, a 10-km drive. Ammi’s Exec Biryani and Ambur Biryani topped the list of maximum number of outlets.
• Other than Biryani (or Biriyani, as spelt in many outlets), one finds Bakery shops as every 10th shop on the streets. I remember the chain of Iyengar Bakery outlets from my stay here 20 years back. There are many more now, of course. Bread and Cakes remain a popular choice of Bengalurites even now.
MG Road-Brigade Road is still the same, art gallery along MG Road is a superb stunt, traffic is terrible, bikes jostle for space with cars. Energy is definitely on the rise!!

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Religious Diversity – India 70th among 200 countries !!!

Pew Research has come out with the concept of a Religious Diversity Index for all countries of the world. This Index for a country indicates the presence of multiple religions within that country. The higher the Index, the more is the diversity of religions within that country. A look at this RD Index of different countries (http://www.pewforum.org/files/2014/04/Religious-Diversity-appendix-1.pdf ) throws some surprises.

Though we Indians have been repeating the “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaai” slogan for ages, India is surprisingly at an Index of 4.0, ranked about 70th among 200 countries, i.e., our religious diversity is lower than 69 other countries in the world. Looks like it was more of an attempt through Bollywood songs of the 1950s and the nation-building efforts of our early leaders which have instilled that sense of religious diversity within ourselves. Statements like “we have the second largest Muslim population in the world (after Indonesia)” and “it is tough to govern India with its huge cultural, lingual and religious diversity” have subliminally bombarded our minds over years and made us believe that we are indeed different and more diverse than other countries. Not so, says the data…

Leading the charts is Singapore with 34% Buddhist, 18% Christians, 16% unaffiliated, 14% Muslims, 5% Hindus and so on. Another 5 countries from Far-East also figure in the “High RD Index” category (top 12 countries with score of &.0 and above) – Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, China, HK.

In the “High” category (score of 5.3 to 6.9), figure the larger developed countries – Japan, France, Australia, Germany. And some surprises like Bahrain, Qatar, North Korea, Lebanon. The “Moderate” countries (3.1 to 5.2) include UK at 5.1, Russia at 4.9, USA at 4.1, India at 4.0 !!

The least diverse countries (score of 0 to 0.2) include Vatican City, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq – one would think that it would be easy to govern these, correct ?

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Once there were brands…

There was an article some time back in The Economist, which spoke on the phenomenon of Brands losing their significance world-wide. A Survey across 23 countries showed that majority of respondents would not care if 73% of the brands mentioned would just have disappeared. This number was 92% in the more mature western markets. The neo-rich and new-to-marketing Asian markets revered brands slightly more, but were moving fast towards the western patterns.

The Internet and the ease of comparing products there is one of the single-largest reason for this impending doom of conventional branding. 46% of young American consumers born in the 2000s compare prices and online comments on their phones while shopping in a brick-n-mortar shop!

The article mentioned that Companies, marketers and advertising professionals are fighting out the above battle through 5 routes :

  • By acknowledging the scepticism of consumers in the ads themselves – “what if these things were really free ?”
  • By suppressing the scepticism with humour – using chirpy talking animals
  • By disarming consumers with honesty – seems Dominos campaign talked about their awful pizzas of the past 50 years and how things have changed now
  • By aligning with some social cause (HDFC’s Cancer Fund), and finally
  • By what they call the Holy Grail – befriending the consumers.

For making friends with the consumers, haughty-mighty sounding brand names are giving way to jollier ones. Fidelity, Bank of America have given way to Giffgaff and Ally. Close home, in earlier times in India, one had to communicate authority and reliability by using names like  like State Bank of India, Unit Trust of India, Reliance. Now we have Myntra, Zynga and Jabong. And even in the non-online world – Pantaloons and even Yes Bank!!

Making friends is of course happening in the biggest way on social media – companies are conversing with consumers and prospects on Facebook and Twitter. Very quickly, companies are realising that their brand communication has to be AUTHENTICALLY tied up end-to-end with their business vision, strategy, execution (product quality and customer service). Otherwise, they get busted sooner or later.

It will be interesting to see if brands in India follow the descending trajectory of the western brands, or will all the brands collectively be able to fight back and end up increasing their salience with consumers !!

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How to win the next Bharat Ratna

So, now that the Bharat Ratna has been awarded to the youngest winner so far, Sachin Tendulkar, we make an attempt here to deconstruct this award by analysing the backgrounds of the 43 awardees so far. For some, this might prove to be a great peek into the post-independence history of India – a humbling journey indeed! For some others, this list may possibly help to plan your lives accordingly!!

So of the 43 awardees, following is the break-up of the seven “streams” to which they belong :

  • Presidents/Governor General :         6 (Rajendra Prasad, S Radhakrishnan, VV Giri, Zakir Husain, Abdul Kalam, C Rajagopalachari)
  • Prime Ministers :                                      6 (Pt Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gulzarilal Nanda, Morarji Desai)
  • Freedom fighter-turned politicians : 12
    • Sardar Patel,
    • Maulana Azad,
    • Gopinath Bordoloi – Congress Assam CM,
    • Dr BC Roy – Congress West Bengal CM,
    • K Kamaraj – Congress Tamilnadu CM,
    • Govind Ballabh Pant – Congress UP CM)
    • Jayaprakash Narayan – socialist opposing Indira Gandhi,
    • C Subramaniam – Congress Union Minister, Maharashtra Governor,
    • Purushottam Das Tandon – Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha MP, Speaker of UP Assembly,
    • Aruna Asaf Ali – socialist who later on joined Congress,
    • Bhagwan Das – later founder of Kashi Vidyapeeth,
    • Badshah Khan (had opposed formation of Pakistan, kept on fighting for Pashtuns till 1988).
  • Social Reformers :                                 4 (Mother Teresa, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Maharshi Dhonduba Keshav Karve, and to some extent, Nelson Mandela)
  • Artists :                                                    6 (Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Subbulakshmi, Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar, Satyajit Ray)
  • Politicians :                                             2 (MGR, BR Ambedkar)
  • Others – Scientists, Economists, Engineers, Academician/author, Sportspersons, Businesspersons : 7 (CV Raman, CNR Rao, Amartya Sen, M Visvesvaraya – famous engineer who built the temples of modern India – dams and roads, Dr PV Kane – VC of Bombay University, Sachhin…Sachhin, JRD Tata).

On closer introspection of the List above, some trends emerge :

  1. The first four Presidents were awarded Bharat Ratna and none of the 4-5 after them. So, looks like the office of the President has lost some of its respect after the first 25 years after independence. Also, two of the first four Presidents (Prasad and Giri) were intense freedom fighters too. The other two were super-academics. In later years, politicians who have been Ministers of the ruling party have been rewarded with the Presidency post, and hence, possibly do not deserve the Bharat Ratna. Why Abdul Kalam then ? Well, see the year of Bharat Ratna – 1997, much before he became President. Yes, he could have been included in the Scientist category above.
  2. Six of the first seven Prime Ministers have been awarded the Bharat Ratna, two of them posthumously. The rest of the clan – Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, PV Narsimha Rao, AB Vajpayee, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and Dr MMS possibly couldn’t contribute to the nation to the same extent as the first six. Once I re-read this statement of mine, then I feel that Vajpayee and Dr MMS possibly deserve to be on the awardee list. Both of them were responsible for some path-changing moves for the nation during their tenures, and they lasted their terms as well. Shastri served for 2-3 years but he died while in office. Also, his freedom-fighter credentials are impeccable. GL Nanda, by that measure was possibly not such a worthy contender, though he had fought for freedom and later on also became the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.
  3. Looks like the “easiest” way to have got a Bharat Ratna was to have given your blood for the country’s freedom struggle. There are 12 freedom fighters turned politicians who got the Bharat Ratna award. Of course, there’s a bit of a catch- 8 of these 12 were Congress Ministers, 4 being the first Chief Ministers of states (UP, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Assam). Jayaprakash Narayan was the only person in this category who opposed the Congress later on. However, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1999 during BJP-NDA regime. Hence, looks like that if you were a freedom fighter, but did not toe the Congress line after freedom, it would have been tough to become a Bharat Ratna. Finally, speaking about freedom fighters who lived beyond independence, we are missing names like Ram Manohar Lohia (but then, he opposed Congress after independence), Sarojini Naidu (passed away early on, in 1949), Capt Lakshmi Sahgal, Sheikh Abdullah.
  4. Only three “Indian” social reformers made the cut, which could change in the coming years as the dearth of true noble politician-leaders hits hard, and as the leadership space gets filled increasingly by non-governmental social reformers (called activists nowadays). Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar, Ela Bhatt, Arvind Kejriwal could be on the list of contenders through this route. In the past, we seem to have missed some wonderful people like Baba Amte and Sundarlal Bahuguna.
  5. Moving to artists, out of the six awardees, four were masters of classical music – Hindustani or Carnatic. Some people who possibly missed coming through this route were – Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, DV Paluskar, Kumar Gandharva and a decent list of other classical music exponents. From films, some great awardees could have been Mohd Rafi for his soulful singing and Raj Kapoor for the wonderful cinema he made. There is a reason however for the classical music maestros having missed making it to the List – five of the six awards given through this category have been given in the post 1998 era. That could coincide with the evolving Civilisation Quotient of a country which was outgrowing its post-independence era, and moving to a stage where appreciation of arts, sports and business would progressively increase. Some others who could still come through this route in the future are other living maestros of classical music –Balamuralikrishna, Ustaads Amjad Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, Pandits Shivkumar Sharma, Hariprasad Chaurasia. As for films, Amitabh Bachchan is a sure-shot candidate for the Bharat Ratna along with possibly Rajinikanth (we may change the name of the award to Bharat Rajini after this).
  6. Ambedkar and MGR have been categorised into the pure politician category because they weren’t really involved in the freedom struggle. Both however lie in cusps with other categories, MGR through films and Babasaheb through social reform – one of the strongest! Looks like the post-independence quintessential politician is not a category at all for the award. In the current mood of cynicism, some people may thank their stars for this thought. However, there could be a few state chief ministers who might not become PMs and hence may not be considered for this reason. And that may be unfair. Nitish Kumar, Navin Patnaik, Shivraj Chauhan and Raman Singh might be candidates for the same, based on the millions of people pulled out of poverty in their states, possibly resulting because of their focused leadership. I am skipping Narendra Modi and Sheila Dikshit here because of them leading already rich states. Similarly, national leaders like Jyoti Basu and Kanshi Ram could have been considered and LK Advani should be considered even now.
  7. That brings us to the “Others” category which is an eclectic and heady mix of some juicy categories like businesspersons, sportspersons, economists, educationists, scientists, engineers, doctors and academicians. I believe this category should see an explosion in coming years with so many people doing great work in many of these. Names that readily come to mind of people who could have been considered in the past were Aditya Birla, Dhirubhai Ambani, V Kurien (White revolution), Dhyan Chand, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, Dr Venkataswamy (Aravind Eye Hospital). Some that could still be considered are Ratan Tata, NR Narayanamurthy, Azeem Premji, Deepak Parekh, MS Swaminathan (Green revolution), Vishwanathan Anand, E Sridharan, Dr Devi Shetty (Narayana Hrudayalaya), Jagdish Bhagwati, VS Naipaul.

Outlook for the next 50 Bharat Ratnas : With India having glided successfully into our post-independence phase of history, I am seeing the following mix of categories from where the next 50 Bharat Ratnas should emerge :

  • Prime Ministers : 2-3 (sincerely praying for a few great leaders to come from here – for the sake of the nation)
  • Presidents : Zero
  • Politicians making difference to lives of millions of people : 7-8 (should be state CMs, and given the increasing regional play of politics, there could be more. Hoping that there could be some National Education Minister, Rural Development Minister, HRD Minister who would also do something memorable at some point of time)
  • Social Activists : 8-10 (have to plug the gap created by the demise of freedom fighter-turned politicians)
  • Artists, sportspersons : 8-10
  • Businesspersons, engineers, lawyers, doctors, architects : 10-12 (need some serious nation builders)
  • Scientists and economists : 5-6 (if India has to move into the league of innovation-driving countries).

May their tribe increase…

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The spread of languages in the world

This is a short piece taking off from Ian Bremmer’s Tweet on the leading languages spoken globally by people as the first languages (called mother tongue here in India). The top 7 languages spoken as first languages along with the %age of people speaking these are :

  1. Mandarin 12.4%
  2. Spanish 4.9%
  3. English 4.8%
  4. Arabic 3.3%
  5. Hindi 2.7%
  6. Bengali 2.7%
  7. Portuguese 2.6%.

 A few observations :

  • Top 7 languages accounting for 34% of global population speaks about the wide dispersion of languages in the world. The world is not all that flat!!
  • The spread of the imperialistic powers of the 17th-20th centuries is seen well from the above. The Spanish dominance of the Latin American countries, and the British dominance of disparate countries across the globe (Australia, NZ, West Indies, Singapore, and of course the USA accepting English as the lingua franca) catapult them to the 2nd and 3rd positions in the global ranking, respectively. The Portuguese bring in the rear in the List. I am guessing that French and Dutch, the languages of the other two colonising nations should be in the top 10-15 languages!
  • 870 mn speaking Mandarin forcefully establishes it as the numero uno language of the world. The remaining 500mn Chinese speak Cantonese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Taiwanese. However, the uniformity of China as a nation comes through with the dominance of Mandarin. This has been one of the reasons for the high economic growth across the country – no communication gap and quick execution!
  • The point on China above contrasts with that on India. India has so many regional languages that Hindi, the language spoken by maximum Indians turns out 5th ranked in the world. Of course, if one were to include its twin across the Pakistani border, Urdu, then the %age would go up to about 4%!! However, the script being different prevents the two languages from being clubbed as one. I am assuming a few millions also get added to Hindi from Nepal.
  • Bengali coming in at No. 6 may surprise a few Indians, but this is because of Bangladeshis also speaking the language across the country, combined with those speaking the same on the western side of the divide.
  • The top 25 languages of the world should have Marathi and Telugu coming in (being the most populous non-Hindi speaking states).
  •  Arabic figures as the No. 4 language of the world, thanks to many countries in the Middle-East and North Africa having Arabic as the national language. Egypt with 86mn population, Algeria with 37mn and Saudi/Syria/Yemen with 25mn each are the main contributors.

 So, while the world shrinks into a global village, the first languages remain stubbornly diverse. The rose smells sweet everywhere but one should know what it is called in that country to ask for it first.

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A Layman’s Guide for New Banks of 2014 (A Bank for a Buck)

I recently read “A Bank for the Buck”, a “biography” of HDFC Bank, by Tamal Bandopadhyay, one of the most eminent business journalists in India. This was his first book, and from the ease with which words and stories flowed in this one, I am sure this is the start of a new career for him.

Anyways, coming to the book, this was an amazing way to narrate the history of a company, and I am sure that soon, there will be copy-rights on similar stories for the other new-age companies which have made it big – RIL, Infosys, TCS, Bharti Airtel, ICICI Bank – all, children of liberalisation (well, RIL and TCS were there in the dark ages as well, but they really took off only in the last 20 years). Possibly, one of the better pharma companies as well, like Sun Pharma.

Moving on to HDFC Bank, seems that the founding team members really enjoyed building up this world-class institution – the passion in each of them really screams out of each page of the book in the first half. I am not sure as to how many of the Dirty Dozen are still around in HDFC Bank, but that doesn’t matter – wherever they are, they must be remembering that stint with relish.


Some interesting points from the book (and you will have to read the book for many, many more)…

  • The initial story of training people under a Pipal tree and wires stuck with scotch tape on the floor of the make-shift office reminds many of us of our start-up days in different companies.
  • Aditya Puri’s style of hiring his A-team sounds incredible – while interviewing, he made it sound as if the person needed HDFC Bank more than the other way around – possibly, coming out of his confidence that they were going to build a huge institution.
  • Most of the founding members were people who were working in foreign banks – takes us back to that era to remind us that foreign banks have been around much before the advent of the new private banks (starting 1993). Citi, HSBC, Stanchart, BankAm and even Barclays were the hunting ground for talent for HDFC Bank (and am assuming for ICICI Bank also). Hence, culture and processes of HDFC Bank should be somewhat similar to that of the foreign banks – but, I don’t think I have heard of such a thing from the people I have met in the past five years.
  • The transformation of HDFC Bank from an uber-urban bank to a mass-diversified-rural bank in recent years has been really well brought out. That story still has to pan out in real life, and am sure Aditya Puri can have another book written about that part, five years down the line.
  • Importance given to selecting and implementing the IT system – the core banking solution – is amazing. This is leadership vision at its best – has proved to be a differentiator for them. The rural foray and the march towards financial inclusion might well be predicated on this.
  • The journey of a successful business model of a diversified bank has been captured well – HDFC Bank started off with corporate banking, a relatively higher profit business, which fed the increasing Urban Retail business later on with positive cash-flows, till Urban Retail acquired critical mass. Then, Corporate and more Urban Retail started feeding the Rural Retail & Inclusion piece with their positive cash-flows. This will continue till Rural Retail & Inclusion becomes profitable on its own – various business model innovations might have gone into that part by that time. This is the journey of many a successful diversified company – minimise front-ended operating losses by setting up multiple sub-businesses in a smart, staggered fashion!
  • Finally, the common larger purpose of “Ab desh ki seva karo” which Deepak Parekh tells Puri while hiring him, also is a subtle but very important theme. This is so because as people start becoming more senior, they need to find a purpose larger than increasing profits or adding value to shareholders.

A few things which could have been brought out a bit more :

  • A bit more about the financial services environment (or at least banking) – summary of what was happening in the other relevant banks – ICICI Bank, IndusInd, SBI – how were they looking at HDFC ?
  • Is there a similar big story in ICICI Bank also ? They are no also-rans
  • How were the HDFC Limited Board Members reviewing HDFC Bank and giving directions? – am sure there must have been directions, reviews, questions, possibly board-room tussles
  • How do their customers look upon HDFC Bank ?

But possibly, the above points might have been left out to make the book more human, and not convert it into a comprehensive Business Strategy Document!

Moving on to the environment today, this book fits in completely as new banking licences are going to be awarded soon. Industrial houses and NBFCs are making a bee-line for the licences (well at least if 24 constitutes a bee-line). Some of them have some sort of a set-up in financial services. They might be more than green-field. Some others may be setting up completely green-field operations. Also, some of the 13 Old Private banks might be forced to turbo-charge their Business Plans and consequently their Management Team to stay relevant in the increasing competitive place. Finally, the 6 “New” private banks – HDFC, ICICI, Axis, IndusInd, Kotak, Yes – might also have to re-think their strategies in light of the new upstarts coming in (recall what happened to Airtel, Vodafone, Idea after Uninor, DoCoMo, MTS came in – well, actually, not much, but only after going through the first 2 years of turbulent upheaval).

Some of the 2014 licencees might want to use Tamal’s book as a rough guide for setting up a new bank. I don’t think that’s a good idea – because, each Bank will have its own identity, own way of working, and own Team – there won’t be any book for that. The book comes post-facto…and that too, not for all companies!!!

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How to become a USD billionaire in India ?

The latest issue of Forbes India (Dec 2013) had a listing of the Top 100 wealthiest Indians. It becomes my solemn duty to analyse that list and find if there are some recurring themes behind many such billionaires, so that some of you could use that fact for shaping the rest of your lives.

I have looked at the Top 50 wealthiest here for a quick analysis. These 50 accounted for 215bn$ wealth (out of the 260bn$ for the top 100). Some observations are :

  • 9 of the top 50 are owners of Pharma businesses. Dilip Shanghvi of Sun Pharma tops the list with USD13.9bn. Poonawalla’s vaccines have earned him 4bn. The others in decreasing order of wealth are owners of Lupin, Ranbaxy, Cipla, Reddy Labs, Cadilla, Piramal Healthcare, Alkem. Of these 2 businesses have been sold already – Ranbaxy to Daiichi and Piramal to Abbot Labs. The next 50 also brag names like Torrent, Divi’s, Mankind, almost completing the who’s who of Pharma owners.
  • 8 Owners of all top 4 IT software development companies figure in the top 100 – Azim Premji at USD13.8bn leads this list, followed by Pallonji Mistry – yes, I have decided to classify him into IT because majority of his wealth comes from his 18% holding of Tata Sons, which in turn is driven to the extent of 60-70% by TCS. Shiv Nadar at 8.6bn rings it in for HCL Tech. All 5 Infosys founders (including K Dinesh) find themselves in the top 100 list, with the Big 3 (NRN, Nandan, Krish) in Top 50. Between the 5, they have USD6bn. Valuation-wise, TCS leads the race, with Infy, Wipro and HCL following in that order. But the higher stakes that Premji and Nadarji own make them wealthier than the Infy quintet.
  • 4 owners of Indian FMCG companies make it to the top 50 – Anand Burman of Dabur, Vijay Chauhan of Parle Biscuits, Harsh Mariwala of Marico and Pepsi Bottler Ravi Jaipuria. Commendable job done by these guys in light of the intense competition with global FMCG majors – HUL, P&G, Nestle, GSK etc.
  • DLF, Lodha and Raheja owners make it to the top 50. RE, as expected makes it bigger presence felt in the next 50 with Kalpataru, Hiranandani, Embassy, Sobha, Prestige, Panchshil.
  • 6 Diversified Group owners figure in the list. Hindujas at 9bn lead this list, followed by Adi Godrej at 8.3bn, KM Birla at 7.6bn, Anil Ambani at 6.2bn, Ruia brothers at 5.5bn and Rajan Raheja at 1.6. Tatas are conspicuous by their absence, let down by their minor holdings in their own group companies. I have classified Reliance’s Mukeshbhai into Oil and Gas – and yes, you are right, he is the wealthiest Indian with 21bn$.
  • Then there are 2 players each from  :
    • Steel – Lakshmi Mittal at 16bn and Jindals at 4.9bn
    • Two-wheelers – Bajaj and Munjals (Hero)
    • Retail – Micky Jagtiani (Landmark Group – Lifestyle etc) and Yusuf Ali (Lulu stores) – both based out of Middle-East
    • Media – SunTV and Bennet & Coleman (Times of India)
  • One each of Telecom (Sunil Mittal), Education (Sunny Varkey GEMS schools, Middle-East), Financial Services (Kotak), Metals (Vedanta’s Anil Agrawal), Power (Adani), Consumer electronics (Dhoots of Videocon), Airlines (Bhatias of Indigo), Cement (Bangurs of Shree Cement), Adhesives (Parekh of Pidilite), Paints (Asian Paints – again all 3 founders are in top 100).


So, looks like the smartest way up into the billionaire list is to start a pharmaceutical or IT business or surprise, surprise, venture into Real Estate (11 of top 100). But then, that was the formula to adopt 10-20 yrs back to become a billionaire in 2013. I think that, sectors from where new billionaires will come in the next 10-20 years may be coming from will be:

  • Online portals
  • Alternative energy companies
  • Micro-Financial services
  • Banks (though I think regulatorily, this might be tough to do with owners supposed to pare their ownership to 10%. Possibly, Uday Kotak will also slip from Top 50 if finally forced to reduce his ownership below 10%)
  • Rural and agri-focused companies
  • Export-oriented companies.

Hope this helps :) .


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