Sunday, November 6, 2011

What is the 'Purpose'?

An IRMAN in a corporate job can lead to some difficult questions. I have had the opportunity of bumping into some eminent alumni at airports, but avoided interacting with them for the fear of revealing to them where I work.

That is less disconcerting than the questions I ask myself every night. "What is the purpose?" is something that the Prof KVR, one of IRMA's legendary professors once told us to ask ourselves. If the purpose is ensuring a good bank balance, then probably we are not doing something right. That is  more or less achieved once you pass out of a good B school and you are lucky to be living in a high growth economy.

I think the question "What is the purpose?" is less philosophical than most of us think. It is in fact a very pertinent question for managers. There is no definite answer. But it is a question we must answer. Managers in the current scheme of things are as powerful as heads of nation states and religious leaders. As leaders of coporations, they wield immense power. As the financial crisis of 2008 showed, managers can create havoc if they do not manage properly.

For the last two months, I have been in an operations role handling activities of a New Store Opening for my company. As I handle warehousing which means ensuring that the right goods arrive at the right time, the purpose is to ensure that goods worth more than 10 million are in my store and on the shelves. This involves working with manual labourers. The bigger purpose as a manager, is to reduce drudgery. It is to ensure smooth operations. It is basically to follow basic principles of management. Most of us do not care if the manual labourers work 14 hours a day. Or if we keep the truck waiting at the dock because my documentation process is slow. But it affects all of us. For example, I see truck drivers who have transported goods from far off places. They are deprived of sleep and proper food. The only thing they are concerned is about unloading the goods and leaving. If as a manager, I keep them waiting because my documentation  process is time consuming, it affects them adversly. We all hear about truck accidents dont we?

So the purpose as a manager is to reduce drudgery, to make life easy for those who are working for me. Because in the scheme of things, they will only follow directions. As a manager the purpose is to give directions which ensures effectiveness and make work little less stressful while being aligned to the company goals.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Management jargon demystified- A corporate newbies guide for MBA aspirants

"What have you specialized in?" is a common question that people ask freshly minted MBAs. The answer to that one is usually marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. Some even specialise in strategy! However, once you pass out from a B school and enter an organisation reality hits you! The above management functions take on a whole new meaning. This is roughly what they mean to me after having been in an organisation for 4 months.
  • Marketing = Selling my company's value proposition/offer (and not a product) to kirana stores in slums of Mumbai! Now, not even Kotler can help me with that.
  • Operations= Spending twelve hours in the Goods Receiving Area with truck drivers for company. 
  • Strategy= Making ppts with interesting charts and diagrams and talking GAS ( similar to the "we are selling an offer and not a product mentioned above)
On a serious note, I think an MBA tag makes it even tougher to gain acceptance in the organisation. Humility and empathy are the most important traits required for winning the trust of many in the organisation who believe that a mere MBA is not sufficient and will always look to point out flaws in your work. So while an MBA might ensure a hefty pay packet and a great start designation wise, it also invites ire and discontent of many for the same reason.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Harish Hande-The man who lights up lives!

It was sometime in Jan 2010 that Ifirst heard about SELCO. One our alumnus, Thomas Pullenkav was on a panel which was discussing social entrepreneurship during IRMA’s B school fest Udaan.

Thomas was one of the first employees of SELCO. His talk on his (then) company was fascinating. After the panel, SELCO was an organization everyone wanted to intern at for the summers. However, some practical difficulties ruled out SELCO for me. Their stipend minus accommodation in Bangalore was a disappointment. Also, they wanted engineers! One of my batchmates did intern at SELCO and had a good experience.

SELCO again came up when a doctoral student at IRMA gave a lecture on social entrepreneurship. SELCO was used to discuss the issues surrounding scaling of a “social enterprise”. In one more panel discussion, Prof. Sriram pointed out the stringent process that Harish Hande followed in accepting capital from various sources particularly the for profit venture funds. A case study in the rural marketing class drove home the point that SELCO’s business model was something that had many people fall in love with it.

Therefore I was extremely happy when news about Hande receiving the Magsaysay award reached me. That he has received this honour in a short period of time (SELCO has been in existence since 1995) is an indication of the wonderful impact that he has had on the communities whom he sought to serve when he set up SELCO.

India needs many more Harish Handes!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Life in a METRO....

....has been about travel, travel and some more travel.

I have been living out of a suitcase for more than a month. And since this travel is undertaken all alone, it gets very, very boring at times. The learning curve is very steep. And that counts more than anything else!
Personally, it has dawned on me that I will have to live alone for some time to come. It does help that one of your siblings lives in the same vicinity as you do in a new city. Since my roommate, my office colleagues and friends are the same set of people, it helps to get away and spend some time with someone who knows you since birth!

Also realised that I have, more or less, been out of sync with friends from home. And hence I suddenly find myself completely on a new base to build new and hopefully more long lasting friendships! I alsways questioned the rationale of long term relationships and in my case I have been proved right as far as friendships are concerned.

But life must go on and it will.....

Monday, August 8, 2011

Missing from blogging....

Apologies for not blogging earlier. In fact, there is so much to write but some technical and logistical problems prevent me from publishing posts. These include but not limited to

  1. NO NET. I am not a great believer in blogging during my office hours. In Bangalore, I do not have a personal laptop nor a net connection.
  2. I am living out of a suitcase for the last month or so. Been on the road to Delhi, Jaipur, Bombay. My company laptop does not allow me to log on via a wi fi connection.
  3. And maybe I have not tried hard enough.
So as I sit in a small cafe in a dingy alley in Jaipur surrounded by phoren tourists, I vow that I shall find a way to update this blog more often. Worst case scenario is September 1st week, when I head home to Mumbai for a quarter. My personal laptop and a wi fi connection awaits there. Maybe then there would be deluge of case if anyone is still interested in reading what I write.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

First Impressons of Bengaluru...

Very good weather, love it !!!
Auto guys are no match for the Mumbai autowallahs...The bangalore guys just rip you off
The authorities seem to be in love with speed breakers. They even put up speed breakers on fly overs.
People are very friendly. I guess that is a trait common to all parts of India.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

EPW edition on Cash Transfers

This week's edition of the EPW is devoted to Cash Transfers as a policy measure. It contains several articles which are for and against the move towards cash transfers.
The debates on cash transfers have intensified in the last one year. Highly satisfying to see that I worked on a project in a course at IRMA on this cash transfer aspect.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Govt. phobia at IIMs

The IIMs want the government out of their affairs. What this will do is that the IIMs will become no more than a placement agency for Indian and more so for foreign business houses.
The IIMs will be completely dependent on the industry for meeting expenditure. I am afraid this will lead to a real loss of "autonomy". There is a conspiracy theory ( conspiracy since I have only heard this from the alumni) about a B school in the eastern part of the country which give out favourable reviews of rehabilitation projects of mining companies only because a large part of revenue is derived from these companies which conduct MDPs for their executives in this B school.
The IIMs have to realise that they are a "management"institute and not a Business school. They also conduct research studies which are supposed to be unbiased and in line with the best interests of the society. This will be lost as they depend on large corporations for revenue generation.
When the government is extending a warm welcome to professionals from private sector (Nandan Nilekani of UIDAI, Arun Maira in the Planning Commission), why are the IIMs so keen on getting the government out of their affairs.
Also, the IIMs especially A, took on Murli Manohar Joshi when he decided to reduce fees. The same IIMs did not even complain when Arjun Singh autocratically and cunningly raised the quotas for OBCs. All of them increased their intake quietly.
There is a protest though against this vocal desire of getting "autonomy". Prof. TT Rammohan, a senior faculty member of IIMA has questioned the rationale of asking the government to leave the IIMs to run on their own.
I think it time the IIMs delve into some introspection and there would be no better guiding light than the vision of each IIM which would always look at IIMs as more than just producing managers for business houses.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jean Dreze on Conditional Cash Transfers

Jean Dreze in an Indian Express article is not too gung-ho about cash transfers. He does raise some interesting issues. But, given the excitement of UID being a panacea for leakage issues, I see Cash Transfers being a reality pretty soon.

'We are Poor but so Many'-The Story of Self Employed Women In India

Ela Bhatt is an extra-ordinary personality. Her life long dedication towards upliftment of self-employed women has been appreciated and honoured all around the world. Hence, when I received a copy of her memoir (We are Poor but so Many/OUP/INR 345), I enthusiastically started to read it. And read one must, if one has to appreciate the determination, innovativeness and doggedness of self employed women in today's economy. One also appreciates how much is to be done for ensuring that a large section of society, no less productive and no less hardworking than the 'organised sector' does not get a raw deal in our quest for achieving high economic growth.
The book starts with Elaben (in Gujarat, women are addressed as ben meaning sister) recounting how, a lawyer brought up in a rich family, was attracted towards working for the self employed women due to her huband's own work towards the poorer sections of society.
As a lawyer, Elaben started her career in the Textile Labour Association (TLA) in 1955. During the strikes, she realised what an important role women played in ensuring that households get by with minimum income. When the men of the house were out attending rallies, the women carried out odd jobs to make ends meet. Yet, no one recognised this vital role! This led her to form SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association) in 1972.
The book goes on to recount struggles against the bureaucracy (the registrar not ready to form the co-operative since the women were illiterate), the Government (SEWA has been known to take a different stand than the one taken by Modi during and after the riots), market actors (medical shop owners issuing physical threats to women manning the SEWA medical shops), etc.
The book is divided into various chapters on the basis of the occupation of its members and on the interventions. It is amazing to see how women engaged in occupations like rag picking, garment stitching, hawking groceries, mid wives, etc have come together to uplift themselves.
One can feel that Elaben has understated her own efforts.Nowhere one can find Elaben glorifying her own work. In fact, her co-workers who came from backgrounds similar to the members of the union provided her the strength to carry on the good work.
In fact the idea of owning one's bank came from a member who when told by Elaben that a bank requires a considerable amount of money retorted "We are Poor, But so Many"! The work done
by her co workers is immense. That many of them were illiterate and poor accentuates their contribution in building such a large organisation.
SEWA has also benefited from professionals who usually came down as interns from top Universities but stayed back and have made a meaningful contribution to SEWA. So you have Renana Jabvala who came with degress from Yale and Harvard to conduct a study but never left. Jayshree Vyas, a CA who is the MD of the Bank. Mirai Chatterjee, that wonderful personality who won many an admirer when she came for a pre placement talk at IRMA, with a Harvard and John Hopkins degree who looks at the health co-operative, etc.
What comes through in the book is this-inspite of SEWA being such an established name, it still has to struggle to get the administration and the bureaucracy's support for its programmes. One can only wonder the difficulties that smaller NGOs/producer companies, etc have to go through for undertaking their activities.
Also, all our social security measures for labour are directed at the organised sector. This sector does not constitute more than 10% of our workforce. The remaining part constitutes the "unorganised" sector. This sector is responsible for the "low cost" economy. They are all around us. And yet there is no adequate social security measures for this vast section of our population.
Hence, Elaben philosophically asks in the end " In India where a majority of workers fall outside of this current definition of work, perhaps it is time we asked, what is Karma?"

( Prof. Sriram has written a beautiful and personal review of the same book which can be accessed here)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Vodafone Experience

Since I am on a "customer providing feedback" spree, let me recount my experience with Vodafone. Now, there have been several experiences but I will limit myself to the latest experience.
Vodafone, and I am sure this will be true of other operators also, does not care about pre-paid customers.The ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) in the prepaid category would not be more than 15% of that of the post paid category. I would hazard a guess that Vodafone is in fact making losses on the prepaid category. I arrive at this conclusion since it charges 50 paise for three minutes when you talk to a customer care executive. This is free for post paid customers. Also, 9 out of 10 times, a pre paid customer will never be able to connect to the customer care executive. When you press the number which, as the IVRS tells you, will connect to the customer care executive, you are merely sent back to the original menu!
Now, last week the operator did not activate my internet services. I was forced to call the customer service guys from my Dad's phone (which is a post paid connection) and tell them about the non-activation of the service. A week and several calls later, they were as clueless as I was. The standard answer I got was "It will start tonight". So I finally forced them to register a complaint and give me a docket number. Now, the executive will try his level best not to give you a docket number. Not by trying to resolve the issue but merely frustating you. The main weapon is keeping you on hold for more than half an hour.
After receiving the docket number, I shot off a mail to the nodal officer. Now the minute you write to the nodal officer, these guys suddenly start treating you like a valuable customer. A series of calls later, they fixed my problem and sent me a mail stating the same.
So, it is not necessary to believe that multi nationals are a cut above the rest when providing customer services. Imagine what would have happened if I did not have access to a post paid connection and I did not have the free time to pursue this issue with them.
A neo-classical economist would obviously tell me that I would rationally move onto another operator. And more so now, since switching costs are relatively low given the introduction of MNP (Mobile Number Portability). But, I will not as I believe that "the known devil is better than the unknown devil"

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The SBI customer experience

Since I would be starting my career next month, I thought I might as well do some financial planning. The first step was to open a PPF (Public Provident Fund) account. One can open a PPF account at the Post Office (you can do it through an agent as well) and at an SBI Branch.
I decided to open one through the SBI since it provides the facility of electronic transfer through my savings bank account.
The branch below my building does not conduct this business and hence I had to go to a fairly distant SBI to open an account. This is my experience with the "Banker to every Indian"
There is one lady who is only responsible for the PPF business. She was very kind and helped me fill the form (not that it is a difficult one). I filled it up and gave it to her with proof of identity and proof of residence (Hail Weber's bureaucracy). Surprisingly, she cannot check the documents. For that one has to go to the "operations" manager. Now this guy goes through the documents at his own pace. In the meantime, he has all the officers coming to him for permissions regarding allowances for certain deviations. HE is the BOSS. He also finds time to call up customers and ask them if they have indeed sent some person (a domestic help) with a cheque. He checks my documents and then logs on to my SB account. Surprisingly, he doesnt find my signature in their records! He asks me whether I had faced cases of cheques being dishonoured. I say a yes only to find him asking me the reason given by my Branch. A bit shocked, I said that the reason given was "signature does not match with original". The fact was that they had never scanned my signature. For the past two years, they have dishonoured three of four high value cheques. I decided to go to my branch once this PPF business was over.
After verifying my documents, he tells me to go back to the lady and fill up a pay in slip. I do the needful and before I could submit the documents to the lady for opening up the account, I find that she has gone for lunch. After half an hour, I go to her and she opens up an account. I thought that was it. But she tells me to go back to the operations manager and take an account number. I go back to the manager and he tells me to come back next week as the branch manager is not there!! I protest and he asks me to give a cheque ( I had intended to give cash)! I give him the cheque and he tells me to come back next week. Resigned to my fate, I give back the documents to the lady and ask her whether the PPF account would be automatically linked to my online profile. She answers in the negative and points to another person in the bank. Tired of documention, I tell her I will do that next week and head back to my SB account branch to resolve the signature issue.
At my branch, the operations manager checks my account, and with an indifference attitude, tells me to fill one more form. I enquire as to whether my PPF account cheque would bounce and he answers in the affirmative. A bit angry, I tell him to hasten the process of getting my signature on their records.
Today, I downloaded the Bank Code of Conduct and was planning to write a complaint. While the document was downloading, I logged into my SBI account and I see that a PPF account has been opened. They have transferred the amount to the account (so the cheque did not bounce) and the PPF account has been linked to my account.
Do these guys at the branch do this purposefully so that I can be delighted later and probably sign off a blog post, not as an irate customer but as a delighted one? I dont know!!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Playing with semantics

In the highly popular book '1984', citizens of Oceania speak a language called "Newspeak". The book is about dystopia and the language was devised to meet the idealogical needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. The purpose of this language was to prevent free thought.Radical?
Not really because we see it happening around us today. In his book 'The economics of Innocent Fraud' noted economist and diplomat J.K.Galbriath points out in the chapter 'Renaming the system' how we have supplanted words to make certain systems more palatable to the general public. The most startling example is of course the substitution of the word "capitalism" by the word "Free Market". The word "free" is so positive that anyone will tend to believe that it is the best economic system in place and that any role of the state is undesirable and harmful.
As I think on similar lines, I see that the word "economic growth" is now used sparingly and is replaced "inclusive growth". Similarly, the word microfinance is hardly used. Financial inclusion is the buzz word among bankers and policy makers.
All in all, George Orwell was indeed someone who had good predicting ability!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

IRMA Convocation-Photos and some words

I finally convocated from the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). It was a wonderful experience to receive the angavastram and the degree from Y.K.Alagh and Vice President of India respectively.
What was even more exciting was the fact that I was on stage (like all my batchmates) and stalwarts including Prof. Sriram, Dr. Amrita Patel (Chairperson, NDDB), Rural Development Secretary of Gujarat Govt., Apurva Oza , CEO of AKRSP (I) and Y.V.Reddy, Former RBI governor were in the audience applauding the entire batch. A heady feeling for sure!!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jean Dreze on Basu's idea:A more nuanced view

Unlike Sainath who wrote a very shallow article against Basu's idea about harassment bribes, economist John Dreze, a member of the National Advisory Council has a trenchant article against the idea published in the Indian Express.

Friday, April 22, 2011

P Sainath on Kaushik Basu's idea

My earlier post on the harassment bribes idea by Kaushik Basu had a comment deriding the idea.
P.Sainath, the rural affairs editor of Hindu has criticized the entire idea in a column he wrote for the Hindu.
Read the comments that readers have left below that article. And you understand why P Sainath is really no more than a journalist who likes to whip up sentiments and emotions and nothing more ala the television anchors on news channels.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How fast food chains enhance decision making ability

In emerging economies, fast food chains like Mcdonalds, Dominos Pizza,et al have come under attack for destroying local food habits and americanisation of culture. In fact, there is a slow food movement against the fast food onslaught which has been started in Europe. Of course in India, all these chains had to adapt their menus to meet the Indian taste bud requirements.
Even though they have a limited menu, the choices they give in terms of product bundling (Ever faced with the "Sir, would you like a soft drink?" and you answer yes and then he asks you for the brand,the size(small, medium ,large) and then he does the same for your fries, sauces , etc?) is enormous.
In fact, this seemingly endless choice even made the great Prof. Yunus fear American restaurants when he was a Fulbright Scholar. He says in his book 'Banker to the Poor'(pp43) on how he was given so many choices when he had ordered for eggs at a restaurant.
The most funny rant of such endless choice comes from the movie "You got Mail" starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Joe Fox played by Tom Hanks has this take on Starbucks in the movie
The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.

(Disclaimer: The post is on a lighter vein. Except watching "Food Inc" and newspaper articles which cover such protests I really am not well informed on such protests.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Harassment Bribes: Kaushik Basu's new idea

The 2G scam and the Anna Hazare movement has galvanised the media and large sections of the population to lash out at the powers that be against corruption.However, all I could hear was criticism (even at the jan lok pal bill) and no constructive argument on how to curb corruption. Until of course, Kaushik Basu's trenchant working paper titled "Why for a class of bribes, the Act of Giving a bribe should be treated as legal" came out on the finance ministry's website
Its a very well written paper. He argues that bribe givers who are forced to give bribes to receive legal entitlements should not be treated as criminals. Currently the law does not distinguish between bribe giver and bribe taker. Basu says that incidence of such bribes (he calls them "harassment bribes") will go down once the bribe giver is given legal immunity. Under this scenario, since the interests of the bribe giver and the bribe taker are orthogonal, the bribe giver will want to report such instances of harassment bribes because he will no longer be considered as abetting the act of bribery and also he will receive the amount he gave to the bribe taker. In other words, the comfort zone that currently exists between the two parties will not exist under the proposed change.
Of course, he states that in case of non-harassment bribes, the bribe giver should not have legal immunity but the punishment meted out to the bribe taker should be substantially higher.
Of course, there are caveats in place. Basu says that giving such immunity will not lead to complete disappearance of bribes in our society.Other important steps like use of e-technology to minimise the interface between the public servant and the citizen would be helpful in curbing corruption. Also, it is only when we build up values of honesty and integrity in society will be there a great reduction in corruption. Of course, Basu does contend that economics as a subject considers human beings as endlessly self-seeking.But he does provide evidence that we are not always endlessly self-seeking and that market economies (which we are trying to build) will not be efficient unless human beings are endowed with a minimal amount of integrity and pro-sociality.

(For those interested in reading the full working paper, here is the link)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Har Galli main Hoga ek IIM

IIMs are part of the great Indian middle class (with the hike in fees, maybe the upper middle class) dream. Since only few of us can manage to get into it, there have been several people who have started their own Institutes and made a killing!
Since the brains sitting in Delhi believe growth is the panacea for all ills, they have gone about setting up IIMs everywhere. Ranchi, Shillong, Rohtak, Trichy (and I used to think Anand is remote), etc are where these IIMs have been set up or will be set up.
I always thought setting up an IIM is a tough task! In fact, I thought it was a romantic task when you set up an educational institution as big as an IIM.
The romanticism is captured in what Ravi J Mathai, founding Director of IIMA and founding member of IRMA has said "Building of an Educational Institution is an act of Faith, faith in your beliefs, in your vision, in those whom you work and in their accomplishments
Wonder any of the founding directors of current IIMs will feel the same way

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Speeches by the top guys at RBI

The RBI has a "speeches" link on its website which hosts the speeches given by RBI governor and the deputy governors. The speeches surely help in understanding various aspects of finance and economic concepts including topics like inflation, inclusive growth, etc. The most interesting one was by the RBI Governor where he spoke on the dilemma of Central Banker's communication strategy to the general public.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dr V.Kurien

It's surprising that in these two years I have hardly mentioned Dr. V. Kurien in my blog postings.I have had the good fortune of interacting with him once. Though his health has deteriorated he was very affectionate and was more than happy to answer our questions and submit to our demands of numerous photographs and autographs.
At IRMA, Dr. Kurien finds mention only during the induction week when the Amul Story is screened. Of course, some courses like Management of co-operatives and Rural Development Interventions include articles which have been written by the great man.
It is a sad fact that most people recollect his unceremonious exit from IRMA rather than the efforts that he put into this great institute.His exit of course was always mired in secrecy. Until Prof. KVR explained the circumstances in which he was forced to leave IRMA.
There are several stories about the great man. I cannot substantiate how much of it is true and how much of it has been made up. The story of how when a faculty member repeated verbatim the mission of IRMA,while disagreeing to a decision of Dr. Kurien was told by the great man " I am the mission of IRMA, so please sit down" is always told with great amusement.He deliberately made the paths to our hostel blocks long and winding instead of straight and short to make us realise that in life there are not shortcuts to success. His driver recounted how he used to tap the pillars of IRMA while it was being constructed to check if the correct proportion of materials was used.
Today as I leave IRMA, there is an overwhelming sense of sadness. This only after living here for two years. I can only imagine what the great man must have gone through when he was asked to leave after having built and nurtured this institution for 25 years!!
Like all other IRMAns, I too have a great sense of gratitude towards the milkman of India.I thank him for making me part of this great history which he and Tribhovandas Patel scripted! Thank you Dadu! And I wish you well!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Abhijith Banerjee bats for DCT

Today's Indian Express carries an op-ed by economist Abhijith Banerjee on direct cash transfers.Abhijith Banerjee is at the Jameel Poverty Lab at MIT. He along with Esther Dufelo had come out with a paper sometime last year on microfinance where they challenged the conventional wisdom of microfinance being an effective tool in poverty alleviation.
In this article he talks about UID making DCT much easier. With such support for DCT, I think DCT will be a reality sooner than later!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Takeaway from IRMA

I have completed all my academic requirements last week. Unless any faculty member is a sadist, I shall receive my PRM degree from the Vice President of India in the last week of April.
So what are the key takeaways for a PRM graduate? I list down some of them. Of course each person will have his/her own takeaways. But this is my blog and hence my takeaways
1.Excellence in everything that you do- The institute expects you to deliver excellence everytime and in everything. This quality can be seen in all the institutions that Dr. Kurien built. Also, given the stupendous achievements of our alumni, excellence is a hygiene factor in any IRMAns work!
2.Ambiguity is fine- What is rural? what is the difference between rural management and development studies? Globalisation or localisation? Are most issues "either or" or "and" issues? These questions always confronts a student when he is doing his coursework. Further, he faces so many paradoxes in the field. This prepares him for the ambiguity that every manager will face in his worklife. Thus, an IRMAN develops a high tolerance to ambiguity.
3.Integrity- I am saddened by the fact many of my batchmates resorted to unethical practices in exams. But IRMA is known to produce managers of integrity. And Integrity does pay in the long run.While one might say that people with integrity will lose the race, the truth is that they are running a different and a more fulfilling race.
4.The "Sector"- I am not joining an organisation which is a "sector" organisation. But as one of the best professors in IRMA, Prof KVR told us, it really doesnt matter where we go as long as we do our work with integrity, excellence and discipline. I am not a great supporter of this sector romance.Work as long as you get the kick out of it.
5.Get on the field- I know of some idiots who believe that only the fieldwork segment should have the village stay. They prefer to do their internships in cities. My takeaway is that more time you send in rural and semi-urban areas, the more you will be able to differentiate yourself from the normal MBAs.
6. Beauty lies in the simplicity- We had this rubbish band coming to IRMA and perform for a large sum of money. Their tantrums were absolutely stupid. And then there were Magsaysay awardees, padma winners who came across as people who followed the doctrine of "simple living, high thinking". A lesson in humility is definitely a key takeaway!
Finally, after a serious illness and consequent hospitalisation, taking care of ones health is a key takeaway. I have lost precious time due to sickness issues. Hence, health is truly wealth.And in a place like IRMA, there is certainly no time to recuperate and expect to not lose out on the academics.
Of course, these are many more takeaways. But suffice to say, that these two years has been a tremendous learning experience! And I shall forever remain indebted to IRMA for this!

Prof.Bhagwati on the Yunus mess

Prof. Bhagwati has an interesting view on the recent dismissal of Prof.Yunus from Grameen by the Bangladesh Government.
What I liked about the article were the kind words used for the SEWA Bank and its founder Elaben. Since I am reading her autobiography, I strongly endorse Prof.Bhagwati's view on the bank!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two good blogs

Though I maintain a blog, I normally do not read blogs. Reading on a laptop is uncomfortable for me. However I liked these two blogs mentioned below
1.This blog of Ajit Chaudhuri makes for an interesting read.I do not think he maintains it now, but the collection of posts is very nice. Ajit is an alumnus of IRMA and is country head for a UK based donor agency. He comes to IRMA every year for sharing his experiences on monitoring and evaluation of projects, his personal experiences in relief work and making us evaluate live projects which his agency is planning to fund. I found him to be very engaging and interesting person. The best part of his sessions was the one on relief work. He had a stint with Care India set up by the India Today Group which undertook relief work post disasters. He spoke on setting up a hospital in Kashmir post the earthquake, working on an island post tsunami and being disconnected with the world for a period of two months, etc.His insights ranged from why one should never travel with security forces in Kashmir, how the Hizbul terrorist outfit will send volunteers for relief work and not the Lashkar, and how the Indian government planned an irrigation project in Rajasthan with the intent of making it the first barrier of defence in case our neighbour attacked us. The funny part was that the entire project was funded by the World Bank!

2.The second blog is again by an IRMA alumnus, Avinashkishore who is currently at Harvard doing his Phd. I had attended his presentation last July where he spoke about the causes of agricultural stagnation in Bihar. His blog is excellent for its Bihar coverage. Also, some of the links that he gives are very good and make for interesting read!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reading List for the Summer

Faultlines By Raghuram Rajan (Have gone through some chapters but never could sit down and complete it)
The Ascent of Money by Nial Ferguson.
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
Fair Trade for All by Joseph Stiglitz
Standing my Ground by Mathew Hayden
We are Poor but so many by Ela Bhatt
When the Penny Drops by R Gopalkrishnan

Getting a book for a steal

I have always been a big fan of Australian batsman Mathew Hayden. Hence, I was keen to get my hands on his autobiography "Standing my ground". However the hard cover edition was available for Rs 600 at book stores in Mumbai.
In Anand, I usually order books at or They usually have great discounts on offer. This time however, flipkart was selling it at around Rs 550. When I checked infibeam, the price listed was Rs 150 and a discount of Rs 30 was given! I was shocked and hurriedly booked a copy. There was some delay from their end citing reasons of the book being out of stock. However, a phone call and a mail later, I received the book. The price on the website now is Rs 599!
I am not sure whether it was a mistake or a deliberate pricing strategy. My guess would be the former! But who cares, I got it for a steal!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kiran Karnik at IRMA

Just came back from a talk by Kiran Karnik, former President of NASSCOM.He spoke on issues of rural development and role of technology in poverty alleviation. He also touched on issues of social entrepreneurship and innovation.
He spoke of how UID would help in plugging leakages (largely through direct cash transfers) that are hampering effective delivery of welfare schemes. In the Q and A round that followed, I asked him about the role technology can play in identifying the the "poor". How do we solve the inclusion and exclusion problem that arises while preparing BPL lists. He was candid enough to admit that technology had a very limited role. In fact, he rightly stated that problem of exclusion is more serious than the problem of inclusion in the BPL lists.
I think identifying the poor is one of the biggest challenges we face.Universalisation is not the answer as it will lead to fiscal deficit issues!
However, it was an interesting and a nice talk with someone who has played a big role in building India's image as a global outsourcing hub!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An Evening with the Amtes

I have been fortunate to meet and interact with two Ramon Magsaysay awardees during my time at IRMA. Last year I met Dr.Kurien who inspite of his bad health was as witty and may I say as proud as ever!
Today evening, we had the wonderful opportunity to interact with Prakash and Mandakini Amte who won the Magsaysay award in 2008 for community leadership for their work in Gadchiroli district. Son and daughter-in-law of the legendary Baba Amte, the Amte couple has worked with the tribals in one of the most impoverished district of Maharashtra for the last three decades.
Dr.Amte spoke of the hardships they faced when they started hemalkasa.They lived on rice, dal and some pickle for 12 years as other items were not available due to lack of infrastructure.They were serving a community which had not interacted with any other part of society. They lived on snakes, rats and red ants. Starvation deaths were normal.Immense personal sacrifices (though they dont call it sacrifice) were also made. Their son was educated in the same school they had started and had problems completing his MBBS.But the grit, commitment never wavered.
Today they have built a hospital, school which has resulted in the tribal community having their first doctors, surgeons, engineers, lawyers, etc and an orphanage for wild animals.Videos of the family playing with leopards and snakes revealed the symbiotic relationship the family had with the environment.
Extremely humble and simple, the Amte family won everyone's hearts. That one can remain so humble and simple inspite of so many achievements is indeed humbling and remarkable

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Testing times at IRMA

I am not talking about the silly quizzes that they take here, but about the difficult time I am having in spending these remaining days at IRMA.
In his book on Jamsethji Tata, RM Lala described the great man's ability to spot some good quality in every person he met whether be it friend or foe.
My inability to do the same with some people around me has made me start a countdown of the number of days that I will be spending here.
Or maybe its just one of the mood swings that I have wherein I detest sight of people and I start sulking about everything and anything.
I hope it gets resolved soon as I have started missing classes for the same reason.Dont want an I due to my mood swings!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

NAFED:A State owned co operative!!

Today's Business Standard carries an article stating that the Central Govt. will provide a guarantee worth Rs 1200 crore to NAFED. NAFED is an agri-produce marketing co-operative. One gets to hear about NAFED when prices of commodities rise.The govt usually depends on NAFED to procure high-price commodities and sell them through govt.channels at reasonable prices.The fact that NAFED is used largely for keeping prices in check gives one the impression that it has urban consumer interests in mind rather than interests of its members i.e. farmers. In fact the bias towards urban consumers vis-a-vis producers has a long history which an IRMA alumnus Avinash Kishore highlights in one of his blog posting.
NAFED also acts as the canalising agency for agri-products in India.
Inspite of this, it has performed very badly.And hence the 1200 crore package. What is shocking is that there is a plan for the Agriculture Ministry to own 51% of the co-operative till this guarantee is present.
The reason that AMUL has succeeded is because Dr.Kurien kept ministers and bureaucrats at arm's length. He never allowed them to interfere in the functioning of co-operatives.And today, Amul is Asia's biggest food brand!
How can a co-operative be owned by the government? It is silly and disgraceful.So much for a farmer's co-operative, as the launch page of its website states!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Andre Beteille,the wisest man in India, as Ramchandra Guha calls him, was at IRMA to deliver a talk on "The Middle Class." Suffice to say that it was one of the finest speeches I have ever heard in my life.
One quote of the renowned sociologist aptly captures the differentiating factor that IRMAns have compared to other B, R or D schools.
The Indian intelligentsia has somewhat mixed attitudes towards the Indian village. While educated Indians are inclined to think or at least speak well of the village, they do not show much inclination for the company of villagers

IRMA ensures that company of villagers in a village setting is provided to understand the issues with a sensitive and empathetic mind.

Success Stories by NGOs

If you are a donor agency, you will receive pamphlets of various types of NGOs for funding requests. The most essential component of that pamphlet would be "case studies of success stories". In fact, one of my batchmates went all the way to Indonesia to document "success stories" of ILO interventions.
In the development world, case studies are preferred over quantitative methods. This is because outcome is as important as output. So you will have "before-after" stories of distressed farmers, widows, and all those of our society who are defined with that derogatory term- "beneficiaries". My strategy Professor, Prof.DPM has a better term. He calls them "community of interest".
Anyway, I was always suspect of such case studies.Many NGOs might just exaggerate benefits provided in order to alleviate donor concerns about how their money is being spent.There are very few donor agencies (SRTT is definitely one) which have a long term approach to poverty alleviation. Most donor agencies are similar to venture capital/private equity investors as far as time horizon is concerned.
I have always been suspect of "claims" made by NGOs. Except large NGOs like BAIF (whose work in Nandurbar I have closely watched for two months), PRADAN, AKRSP and some others, I will always take the "success stories" with a pinch of salt.

Education and Rural Development: Some unintended consequences

I attended a very provocative seminar by Prof. Tripathi who has been with Allahabad University in their Organisational Behaviour Department. The seminar was based on the preliminary findings of a study conducted by him which assessed the educational impact on development indicators. The indicators were economic, social, health, gender parity and political.
The study was conducted in 12 villages in Mawana located at Meerut.The study divided the 12 villages into groups of 4 villages each-classified as low , medium and high educational levels.
The findings were very surprising.Some of them were as follows
1. Though there is positive correlation between educational level and income at the aggregate level, the SC and minorities fare much worse in high educational level villages than in the low educational level villages on the income parameters.
2.Women participation fell markedly in villages which had high educational levels.
3.Preference for male child was significantly higher in high educational level villages.
The point that Prof. Tripathi made was that the largely neo liberal policy making encouraged education for prosperity rather than education for social transformation.
It was an interesting talk, especially for those in my batch who would be joining ICICI Foundation's Centre for Elementary Education.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Does any B school go this far?

IRMA has always been different. One of the differentiating factors is the convocation ceremony. The attire is white kurta pyjama and an angavastram.
What matters is the meticulous care taken to pull off the event in a perfect manner. I was reminded of this when I read the below mail sent by a staff member to the entire batch.

Dear all,

As discussed with Mr. Ahmed Fawas, Class Representative of PRM-30, we have arranged the shoe-maker to come and take the measurement of chappal for Convocation 2011. He would be coming at 3.30 pm on Monday, the 21st February, 2011 at the IRMA Students' Mess.

We, therefore, request you all to be present in the campus during that period to facilitate them to have the measurement of your chappals.

Your cooperation is highly appreciated.

IRMA placment interviews

A PRM 30 batch initiative, the link below is to the blog which has postings related to interview experiences of my batchmates.

Leaving IRMA

26th March 2011: I shall be giving the last exam at IRMA.Most of my batchmates would be leaving the same night. Some are headed home while some are going on a holiday.Most of us will come back to attend our convocation during the last week of April.
Though IRMA has been a tough place for me, I know that I will shed a tear or two when the time comes to say good bye.I always feel sad when I leave a place where I have stayed for some amount of time. I had moments of sadness whenever I left the districts where I had carried out my internships. This time too it will not be different.
Hence I decided that that I will stay back in IRMA for a week after my exams get over.I want to enjoy the campus without the rush.I want to get up late every day and go on a walk in the evening. I want put out a chair in the balcony and enjoy the sunset with a hot cup of coffee.
And I will do this all the seven days that I would be here!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The road less travelled...

Usually, an MBA degree suppresses ones risk taking ability. This can be attributed to two reasons. First, most of us who enroll for a MBA degree have to take an education loan. Hence, one is eager to take up a good paying job to pay off that liability.
Second, the course structure itself largely focuses on risk mitigation. These two reasons prevent MBA passouts to start their own ventures and "create" jobs rather than ask for one.
I was always fascinated whenever I read about MBA students from top B schools who opted out of the placement process to start their own venture. Hence, I was delighted to read in DNA about two of my own batchmates who have taken a bold and brave decision to start their own ventures.
I hope and pray that they are successful in their ventures and that they are able to create wealth, not only for themselves but also for many others in society.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finally, I managed to get ahead of the curve

Perhaps the consultancies that did not shortlist me should read my blog.
Some months back I had written about direct cash transfers for rural development on my blog.It was part of my Rural Development Interventions course.I was glad to read that the government is serious about implementing it in the near future.
As I bid farewell to the "development" sector as we know it, I am proud that at least I was ahead of the curve on a particular issue.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Eating out at Amravati, Sangli, Latur.

The wonderful thing about living in small towns is the good food one gets at cheap prices. Anand does not qualify as there are hardly any good value for money restaurants. But the ones mentioned in the title do.
In Amravati, the canteen of the Divisional Commissioner's Office is very good. For Rs 40 you have an unlimited thali which is very good.The curries served in Vidharbha region are usually laced with a lot of soya oil which can ruin the dish. But the canteen is usually moderate with its use of soya oil.He also makes palak wadas which were responsible for me gaining weight during my internship there.
In Sangli, there is a kitchen which is run by two women which is a five minute walk from Rajwada chowk. The kitchen has no name and operates out of a small gala in a building. It was unfortunate that I found this place during my latter period of stay there.The food, priced at Rs 30 for thali is awesome. It is as good if not better than home cooked food. What adds to the taste is the warmth the two women show when they serve you food. Though it is run for commercial considerations, they treat you as guests which adds to the taste of their food. Also in Sangli, is Ganesh Nashta located bang outside the police ground en route to Miraj.It reminds me of Amar Juice Centre though the variety is limited. Its the only place outside Mumbai which served very good Pav bhaji. But, its poha stands out. No wonder it is crowded throughout the day.
Latur has many breakfast centres spread all over Ausa Road. The one that I ate at was near the ICICI Branch.Its Onion Dosa at Rs 16 was just too good. Also on the same road was a home run tiffin service which for Rs 20 served amazingly soft chapatis.
It feels terrible that I did not write down the exact names and addresses of these places.If anyone who comes acorss this post and is visiting those places would have found it useful. But these are small towns and finding many of these places would be easy.
These places were the main reason that I was able to put on weight during my two internships at SRTT and ICICI Bank.

Friday, February 4, 2011


As those who have tracked my blog posting might be aware, I had been to the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra for undertaking a study on tur dal for farmer communities.
Some days back, a senior of mine who works at Basix, had this posting on his FB profile.(Yes, I had to activate my profile again to get this)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Taking Stock 1

In less than 4 days, I shall know where I am headed after IRMA.
In a little more than a month and half, I shall be passing out of the hallowed portals of IRMA.
It is time then to take stock of these two years.This series of postings will include all that I felt as I went through so many different experiences in my life. And a peek at the anxieties that I shall have when I pass out as an IRMAN.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

IRMA Admissions-Some Views

Its that time of the year when some 400 odd individuals come to IRMA campus to give their admission interviews. Some are here out of choice, some because the coveted IIM call evaded them and some who would treat it as a mock "live" interview for the bigger IIM interviews.
I have been giving/sharing gyan on cracking IRMA for the past two years. My contribution this year will be limited to the earlier post which has a link to a research paper on IRMA admissions. Two years of management + development fundas make u allergic to sites like pagalguy.
This post is more philosophical and less practical.This will certainly not help you in answering any question that the panel asks you during the D day.
1. Many get disappointed that most of their batchmates are not like the IRMANs shown in the "barefoot manager" video. In fact, most of your batchmates will start reading about Dr.Kurien a week before placements because ITC and Amul largely base their questions on his memoir "I too had a dream". But then Kurien himself gave a number to the students who would get into development and become Kuriens. That figure was around 5%. So in all likelihood ( as I vouch for my batch), you will 5 to 6 guys/gals who will venture onto development by choice.
2.Do not be disappointed if you do not get into IRMA. In fact any B school for that matter. As Gopalkrishnan, ED of Tata Sons states in his book, only 3% of learning happens in classroom. Its not important where you graduate from, but its very important of what you make of what you have got.
3.If you get into IRMA, you will convocate with many paradoxes. All fuzzy concepts and definitions will engulf your thought process.In fact, you will learn to appreciate these contradictions and maybe help you in better decision making.
4.Finally, the journey is a very lonely one. This is a personal reflection and any elucidation will not be helpful at all. Something that each one has to go through to appreciate it.
So, any IRMA aspirant who stumbles on to this site and has enough idle time to go through this post, my best wishes!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cracking the IRMA Interview...

While I (or anyone for that matter)may not be able to provide the perfect answer on how to crack the IRMA interview, the following link will be of more than academic interest for aspirants who will be coming to IRMA in the first of February to face a panel of faculty members to gain admission to this wonderful institute.
The link (given by my batchmate Uphar) is to a paper titled "A study of IRMA admissions" by Prof. M J Arul, ex-faculty of IRMA in the area of OB. Here is the link!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Rajan Memorial Lecture by Prof.Sriram

The Rajan Memorial Lecture is an annual event at IRMA instituted in the memory of T S Rajan, an alumnus of the institute who died in an accident.
This year we had Prof. Sriram as the speaker. An alumnus of IRMA Prof.Sriram is ex-faculty member of IRMA and IIMA. For those who track the microfinance sector, Prof. Sriram is regarded as one of the top researchers in this field. But he himself would agree that his interests are much wider than just microfinance.
The topic was an interesting one and was provocatively titled "Profit or Purpose:The dilemma of Social Enterprises ." The lecture was scheduled a day before Milaap which is the annual alumni meet of IRMA. One of the events during Milaap was a panel discussion on Social Entrepreneurship. Hence this lecture was perfect in its timing.
Prof. Sriram began by dividing social enterprises into three schools of thought. The first were pure not for profit enterprises (read NGOs) where purpose was the overriding concern. The promoters of such enterprises primarily played on the motivational aspects of employees who were largely payed below market determined wages. The problem, as Sriram saw it was that these institutions had issues of scalability.The other issue was that the since employees were payed below market determined wages, they would seek higher goals and achievements ( to make up for the low wages) and may force the organisation into a mission drift. The related concern was that the employees, when not allowed to grow, might end up in some sense "commercialising"the operations (though Sriram did not use the same language). Hence profits might trump the purpose.
The second form of social enterprise is community managed institutions-cooperatives. One cannot but appreciate co operatives when one studies at IRMA. Sriram argued that these are beautifully designed organisations which aligns profit and purpose to meet member interests. However, we do not look at such organisations as "social" because they are embedded deeply in the market system. Amul is a case in point. I wonder if a large section of the consumer base of Amul are aware that it is a producer owned organisation.In co operatives, the focus is on patronage and not on capital. However, Sriram did point out the "horizon problem" that arises because members force the co operative to increase current cash flows at the expense of future earning. Also there is denial of patronage when co operatives put aside a part of earnings as reserves.
The third form of social organisation is what Sriram calls the BOP school of thought. These are market based firms which seek to integrate the poor into the mainstream economy. They adhere to the double bottomline principle-doing well and doing good. But as instances in the microfinance sector (Sriram did not touch on this sector) reveal that one attracts great scrutiny when one seeks to achieve this double bottomline. So no one will question Arvind Mills selling organic cotton jeans in its stores but Fabindia will invite scrutiny if its sells garments or products not in tune with its "purpose". So as Sriram cogently put it, where you come from and where you are headed is very important for such organisations. Governance, then is the most important issue facing "social enterprises". But, as he conceded, it was easier said than done.
His talk was peppered with several examples for each type of enterprise. Some of the examples included Christian Medical College, Sankara Eyecare, Jaipur Foot, GCMMF, etc.
It was evident and as Sriram put it-he was hard selling co operatives. Not surprising for someone who was called the "co operative purist" of IRMA by Tushaar Shah in his book " Making Farmer Co operatives Successful"
Overall, it was a pleasure to hear Sriram for the first time. Not to mention the proud feeling of seeing one's senior hold forth so beautifully on a very fuzzy topic!