Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lean Banking....anyone?

Well, I am always amazed by these 1 room, roadside banks in France…. This is a branch (agency; as they call it) of LCL (Le credit lyonnais: if I got it right) bank just down the road from my place. Accepted that it’s in a residential area, but still how lean can it be? And despite that, you can do almost everything in the branch may it be International wire transfers or opening an IBAN.

To my amazement there are only 2 people working there and one of them is the branch manager. The other guy is a one stop shop for everything starting from exchanging Forex to learn signing a French chequebook (Yes, it’s different). He is always cheery and ready to help. If you drop in to take a look into the branch manager’s area, she will offer you some chocolates and some more help if you want....! Each French bank & many public offices have a bowl on the employees table’s filled with candies & chocolates and you can help yourself while the guy is stamping your tc’s.  

May be something Indian Government offices can learn...rather than harassing common people..? 

Friday, January 30, 2009

Absolutely Amazing!

Watched 'Swades' once more today.... What a movie..... what sensibilities... sheer heart-warmer!
.... 'Yeh taara woh taara' , 'Yeh jo des hai tera....' These songs in particular are masterpieces. It's so touching.....

Love it...!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cross cultural observations

I was just reflecting on some of my experiences of working with people of different nationalities. In the past one year during my MBA, I got a chance to work & study with various people from around the world. Out of around 45 nationalities in the school, I must have worked closely with atleast 15 nationalities (until now) during some case-study or in the class. And this has been a real eye opener to the kind of cross cultural team issues which might face an organization. Even in daily life, its just so exciting to see the reactions of people from different nationalities & cultures on the same issue..... You can be almost sure that in a case team of 6 people with 6 nationalities; you will get radically different reactions on the same issue being handled.

That's when we realise that 'Diversity' is not just a buzzword; you have to experience it to know its power. If you want to be a global organization, you need to have a diverse and global workforce: It's as simple as that!

Just compiling a brief summary of what I observed. Some of these observations are positive & some are negative. May be I am quite wrong in judging those people while saying some negative things about them. It is also true that what I observed may be a peculiar characteristic of that particular person and cant be applied to the whole culture of the nation. So this is not about generalization, it's just an observation....

  • Germans: Very friendly people. They are analytic, extremely organized & structured (in thinking, behavior & working style). Will be eager to start the conversation. They are quite straight-forward without showing unnecessary diplomacy. Overall nice human beings.

  • Italians: Will crack jokes in situations when you dont expect to even think of one. Italians are famous for their laid-back attitude and I won't disagree with that either. Another peculiar thing I found is that these people feel they belong more to their respective city than to their country. "Italy" is a concept which probably isn't as important for them compared to Rome or Venice or Tuscany and so on......So, if you happen to meet a girl from Milan, make sure you dont praise Paris being the fashion capital of the world, it's offcourse Milan :-)

  • British: Mentally tough people and generally they still love India. A typical British (as the French will tell you) "eats his chicken with sugar...". No comment there- I am a vegetarian....haha...

  • Chinese: Believe it or not, the Hindi-chini bhai bhai stuff really seems true. We do feel a kind of synergy with chinese people though there is no similarity at all. May be being 'Asian' seems to unite the feelings.
  • French: How can I not talk about my hosts... French people(& Europeans in general) are pretty much relaxed about life. They are a lot subtle when it comes to attitudes. I am trying to limit this blog-post only to cultural and behavioural aspects and hence wont divert into other things. A separate blog-post on France in general is due short anyway.
  • Georgians: I am sorry guys, but you people are a real pain to have in any team. Its been twice that I have worked a case-study with georgians and both times I found the same thing.

  • Russians: Same like Georgians. No wonder Georgia was a part of USSR. I just cant understand the wavelength of these people. Coupled with that they have big egos (I wonder about what). They will never agree with you for anything and keep proving that what they are suggesting is the best option. And god forbid, if you have more than 1 Russian or Georgian in your team, be sure that they wont let go a single chance to start talking in Russian and crack jokes amongst themselves. I really feel sorry for posting such a strong comment about these people, but cant help to write otherwise from firsthand experience.

  • Irish: I had previously heard lots of jokes about good-old Irish people, but I found them really friendly. Careful listeners and good thinkers. Nice to have in any team.

  • Americans: Easy going people. Though an average American doesnt know that there exists a world outside the states but the ones I came across here were a lot better.

  • Azerbaijani: This is a small country in Middle east Asia border and I just came across one person from there who is in my class. Friendly and analytical.

  • Swiss: As this community consists mostly of Germans & French, so they carry the same European characteristics.

  • Mexicans: They not only look like Indians, but also quite similar in characteristics. Long live BRICM ...! And most importantly, their 'tortillas' are a life saver for roti-craving Indian tastebuds :-)

  • Brazilian: Lazy is the most apt word I can think of about the brief interaction I had with a Brazilian in my school. He was in the previous year's MBA batch so cant tell much.

  • Romanians: You can listen in peace when Romanians do all the talking..... Offcourse this couldnt be true for all Romanians but my experience is that they are compulsive talkers. And dont bother to ask any Romanian about which undergraduate school do they come from. Because you are sure to get the same answer :- "Academia de Studii Economice Bucure┼čti" It sounds very strange, but probably whole of Romania completes their high-school and bachelors studies in this one university....

  • Japanese: Peaceful, hardworking, sincere, friendly. But I have come across only one and she too is not a pure Japanese but a French-Japanese. So this remains an unexplored species.

  • Dutch : Easy going and so much like Germans. The legal status of M***juana in Amsterdam might be a good proof of the easy going nature of the Dutch... haha :-)

  • Scandinavians (Swedish & Finnish):- I don't know why, but the scandinavian people ooze entrepreneurship (or may be I came across only those scandinavians who were entrepreneurs). Cool customers overall, but a bit selfish sometimes.

  • Indians: I am not saying this just because I am an Indian, but believe me, we are one of the best species around. (and this is others opinion, not mine. And it is a general opinion about Indians and does not apply to anyone in particular). Highly Intelligent, excellent listeners, good team players & numerate, we are like the dream people to have in any team. But I really wonder why this attitude mostly comes through only when we are outside our country ? What happens to our attitudes when we are in our country? Why we try to run a rat race there?
(Later addition:- Although the above opinion about Indians is true in a setting such as a Business school, but when you come across a local guy on a street in a western country, he/she still has in mind many stereotypes about India.....for ex:- many such people still associate India ONLY with Taj Mahal, Bollywood, spirituality, spicy food, elephants, cows, BPO's or more recently, a 'Slumdog Millionnaire' ... Do these things really do justice to representing one sixth of the world's population?

While the answer to that question is a vehement 'no', unfortunately, Indians have to deal with such stereotypes of India, be it in their professional lives or social settings, while interacting with atleast a section of 'westerners' if not more......You have to be always ready with a voice-tape recorded on your tongue to tell them that one cannot really 'know' an Indian by the above stereotypes or by watching bollywood movies.....!

  • ??

Saturday, December 6, 2008

History Repeats... and how..!!

Consider the Following (A random article which I read somewhere) :- 

" Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers."

Who said the above?

I am sure each one of you must have come across similar lines at one point or other.

Those of you who have grown-up children may have said the same things to them. Our grandparents may have similar opinion about today's generation. But have you ever wondered when this statement was first recorded?

Any guesses on the year?

No, it's not today... and not even 20 years back. You have to go back very far away in history to trace it. It is 2,400 years ago that the great philosopher Socrates (469 BC-399 BC) made this statement. 

Amazed, perplexed, bemused, shocked?

I'm sure you are.

But that's the way it is. Human nature and emotions remain the same irrespective of the era one is in.

History Repeats... and how..!!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I recently came across an awesome poem in a UN forum. It's written by a 14 year old African kid and named as the best poem of the year by UN.

When I born, I black
When I grow up, I black
When I go in Sun, I black
When I scared, I black
When I sick, I black
And when I die, I still black

And you white fellow,
When you born, you pink
When you grow up, you white
When you go in sun, you red
When you cold, you blue
When you scared, you yellow
When you sick, you green
And when you die, you gray
And you calling me colored?

I went speechless after reading it.....


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Voice of Numbers

Ask any doggedly working Business school student about which are his 3 silent killers and if s/he is seasoned enough, the answer will come pat: Balance sheets, cash-flow stmts and income stmts. Well, there are many others as well , but these three innocent looking tables are sure to give you some headache.

I am emphasizing on "Innocent", because thats what you feel like when you take that nice looking annual report in your hand. You see some smiling faces on the cover page which has lots of colors in it and also some artwork. (Reportedly, one Paris based Big technology consulting firm even hires famous French artists each year to contribute glamourized sketches on its annual reports.) The numbers look all rosy at first sight with double digit growth in everything. So you think, wow, here are the numbers, divide everything by everything else to get your ratios, go to your library to access Moody's and compare your numbers with those of the analysts. Done!

Is there only that much to it? Yes, for the starters.....But then you receive an assignment which states " Please write a report on the Strategy of *** Inc. and critically comment on the management's moves". What the heck !

After ruffling a bit and dawning yourself with the realization that those numbers were just the upper layers, you start worrying. Let's think a bit more about these in an analogical manner. Just compare it with Cricket. On any old cricket ground, you will find a big wooden scoreboard and 2-3 scorekeepers. They hang & sit on that scoreboard in order to keep changing the wooden number plates whenever a run is scored. If there's a dull phase going on in the match and not much changing of the wooden plates is required; those boys also fit in their faces through the holes meant for the number plates and look animatedly towards the whole stadium. Basically speaking, the dumb accountants are just those boys i.e. the scorekeepers who mundanely update the numbers on the wooden manual scorecard. The real match is going on in the dressing room i.e. in the corner office. And the special benefit which is enjoyed by the corporate matches is that you can always manipulate those scores sitting right in the corner office! You can always order your dumb accountant to shift numbers, manipulate depreciation rates et cetra and most of the top management in the world does this.

So, you have just been asked to scratch those bald skulls and write a report on their strategies 'to critically comment on the management'....... Best of luck.....

You have already finished reading each and every number on it and have dug your nose into the Notes section as well. I told you, there's more to those innocent statements. You end up eating, drinking, living and cursing those 3 innocent tables.

Best wishes once again..! Tommorrow is the deadline for your assignment! Spend your night scratching those bald skulls a bit more. In between that, write a blog post to curse the situation.....
But during all this time, keep your ears open : Those numbers might just whisper something to you in a bushy voice.....

Happy hunting the numbers!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Life without Indian Food

A sudden craving for Indian food…… 22:30
Realization of nothing being available in the vicinity...22:32
Going to the Indian store....22: 45
Trying in vain to find something fresh...22:55
Sudden discovery of Gram flour on the rack...22:55:02
Obliging to buy it and happily back....23:05
Onion, gram flour, oil, water, tomato sauce arranged...23:10
Quick trip to neighboring dorm of Italian student to borrow hotplate...23:20
Managing somehow to fry some crisp Bhajiya (pakoda) with my limited cooking...23:50
Bhajiya and coke to accompany the completion of tommorow’s strategy-management case study: Yumm @ 24:00 ......

By the way, this is the humble Indian store located 2 minutes from my place.

Read the name of the store..?? As funny as it may sound, but it's called as 'Rajah Bazaar....'

(The king's market:- translation for the unfortunate souls who dont speak Indian languages)...

I wonder since when the kings started visiting neighborhood grocery stores..!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Oh..what a gruelling time...

The day I landed in Paris was a very hectic one. I had a morning 6 o' clock flight from Mumbai and I hadnt slept almost the whole night before. Infact the situation was not too different from the time of the GMAT....... The exam preparation, exam, the app' ing, the calls, interviews, conversions, scholarships, edu loans, packing, forced shopping, resigning from TCS..... The process was already taking a toll on me.

After finalising the packing until 3 AM, I still had an hour before I had to leave. I decided to use it productively by sleeping. I was also counting on the time during the journey to fullfill my quota of sleep. But I could barely sleep and the clock moved on. It was 04:30 already. In between cursing myself for careless-ness & checking the luggage for the last time, I hurried towards the airport.
It was a boring flight with people asking for an exchange of seat citing the reason of their kids. The sight of a lady with 2/3 kids looking furiously for a potential hunt to exchange her seat warned me of the trouble brewing up....two 7 year olds with their giant mother entered with a wretched smile on their face and a searching look in the eyes. I am not sure whether its written on my face that I will oblige, but her eyes rested on me and with a winning shine of having found the hunt, the family approached me. I dont know how but these creatures dont bother about their seats while boarding and once inside, then their search starts.....And I find myself meekly obliging to see the kids and their mothers seating happily together....Long live everybody!

Thanks to my exchanged cranky middle seat, I was not able to catch up my sleep. When I reached CDG airport , it had totalled 32 hours since I had last slept. I was tired as hell but still I had to go to my university city of Grenoble which was a further half hour connecting flight (to Lyon & further). I was hoping to have a nice sleep after reaching Grenoble soon. But some more testing times were served for me... Just after my arrival at CDG, there was a bomb hoax at the airport and all subsequent flights were frozen for the time being. I decided to catch a train and after 3 more hours I finally reached my hotel in Grenoble.

There it was.... A cozy bed and a blanket....What more can a tired soul ask for.... needless to say, I threw my luggage and slept with peace......

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Aspirations of the herd....

Few years ago and until last year, it was the time of software engineers. Every Tom in the neighourhood wanted to be a software engineer because of the attraction of high bucks, social status and trips abroad. These Toms didn’t know where their own mind or strength lies. They just felt happy to follow the aspirations of the herd. They spoke excitedly about latest trends in open source, neural networks and artificial intelligence. The wave was so intense in the period of 1998 that software engineers were seen as demigods. This phenomenon lasted quite long until 2002/03.

Then the herd collectively changed its mind and thought that oh, actually finance is also a good profession, isn’t it? Now the same Tom in the neighbourhood started talking about balance sheets, hedge funds & private equity. He still didn’t know where his own mind or strength lies. He was again following the herd.

The same story had happened with Tom’s uncle Mr. Harry in good old days when the herd was unanimous that either medicine or government or administrative or accounting or xyz is infact a nice profession. Being Tom’s uncle, Mr. Harry was not much of a thinker and he didn’t know where his own mind or strength lies. He was just following the herd. The same story is poised to happen with Tom’s daughter, Elena. And will probably happen with her son & grandson.

May be I should have used Indian names rather than Tom et al, but the fact remains. No wonder that our nation doesn’t produce enough sportsmen, right? Because everyone believes in following the aspirations of the herd. The attitudes seek fast money & fame and go with the profession of the era. So first you have a less supply & higher demands but the demand curve takes a ‘U’ turn in a relatively shorter time because of the Toms and Harrys. Isn’t this attitude a potential threat to the nation? May be I am wrong, but I believe that the real long term problem for the nation lies not in less that expected GDP growth, not in burgeoning population, not in indirect effect of subprime crisis, not in increasing foreign debt, not in rising wages & potential threat to outsourcing advantages by more cost effective nations like Philippines, BUT it lies in the attitude of the nation to follow the herd.

Let aside a sportsman, try to think whether the Tom in your own neighborhood will ever aspire to be a professional violin maker, for example ? Or to be a behavioral economist ? Or to be painter, an author, a clay animator?

The answer is ‘Never…’ .He/she will follow the attitude of the herd. The nation will loose one more sportsman or pianist. The story will go on…