Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bucket List #2014

This started off as a post to recount what a brilliant year 2013 has been for me, just about behind 2011 as a year in my life probably. The relief after being placed in Airtel, the excitement of watching all my best buddies get placed, the joy of the bike rides and beaches in Goa, the pride of graduating from IIMA, the nostalgia of the trips to NIT Bhopal & IIMA as an alumnus, the tears during Sir Alex's retirement and Nadal's comeback win at Roland Garros, the elation of the first salary, the nervousness during the first sales market visit, the exalted feeling after my first 'sale', the laughter during all those comical moments of Sales life, the accomplishment of purchasing my own domain name. Plenty of brilliant moments I'll cherish for life. Some that I'll regret for a life time. And then, I heard that my CEO never prefers a post-mortem but prefers planning the future. Something that struck a chord, and this post became a bucket list. 

Resolutions have always been meh, for me. Last year, I swore I would reduce social  networking activity - and posted two FB updates on Jan 1st itself. I ended up being more active than ever on social media. The blog did get revived to a decent level and the domain name was purchased as well. But, being in Sales, you gain expertise in target setting very quickly. Especially breaking down larger targets into smaller manage-able bits! And thus began my bucket list for the year, rather than 'resolutions.' 

#1: 12 months. 12 kgs. Every year, I think about reducing some of the girth I have gained in that one tragic three month long vacation in my second year of engineering. My mom recollects, "When you were a kid, we had to struggle to make you eat. Now you are struggling to stop eating." And so, #1 on the list is to reduce atleast 1kg a month. Anything more is a bonus. 

#2: 52 weeks. 52 books. Last year was good in terms of books. 28 all together. But periods in between without reading even one. And the sales guy in me broke it down to a manageable number of 1 per week. More importantly, have resolved to break free of the sports-management-Indian Fiction-biography loop I am stuck in, and explore more variety. 

#3: 26 fortnights. 26 blog posts. Midway through last year, I took upon myself the arduous task of 1 post per day on the blog. And I managed it for 7 days. That mood, that setting that I generally look for, before writing is something I hardly manage. Added to the Twitter menace where most of the random thoughts that prop up go, I manage any content to keep this place running. Hopefully with sales life kicking off soon, the experiences will keep it going. 

#4: Write something significant. Something beyond the blog. Something I have never had the patience to write. Something beyond random rants, CAT gyaan and the usual stuff I come up with. 

#5: And finally, the biggest and the hardest of them all. Complete that life long goal. That pilgrimage. That walk down the tunnel, into the dressing rooms. The trophy room. Sitting in those stands, watching United run riot and singing along to Viva Ronaldo, Five Cantonas, Ooh Robin Van Persie. And hoping that my luck is good enough to run into some player while I'm around. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ten books I enjoyed this year

28 books - 21 that I purchased from Dear old Flipkart and 7 from the IIMA library - that I managed to read this year. And due to a severe writers' block, I thought this was the lowest handing fruit for me - to list down my best reads in this year. (These aren't books that released this year, but the best among the 28 that I read this year; so all in all a meaningless list). Here we go! 

1 - Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski | Genre: Sports & Economics

This isn't really a new book, but one that I finally caught while window shopping as usual on Flipkart. If you are a football (or soccer) fan with a mild understanding or interest in economics, this one is a must read, just for that one chapter on Penalty Shootouts and Prisoners' Dilemma. 
Some real unique insights on Overperforming and Underperforming nations in Football (Where India is of course at the very bottom) - and Spain even pre-2008 is really overachieving; the illogical expensive transfers - when paying better wages is the logical step to winning; biases that affect transfers - like blonde players; how clubs rarely shut down and about the modern 'glory-hunter-plastic' fan are great reads as well. All in all, if you are looking for a logical/statistic based read about the various myths of football, this is one book you should never miss. Hard to see any book that will top this from my favourite reads list, when Sir Alex's autobio didn't. 

2 - My Autobiography by Sir Alex Ferguson | Genre: Sports Autobiography

When the book was announced, I couldn't help but eagerly count down to the release date. Easily one of the best sporting autobiographies written, partly down to the stature of Sir Alex. Rather than going the traditional chronological chapterwise way, this one settles for a Player-wise perspective, making it a unique read. His quips about the players he has worked with - Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Giggs, Rooney - his retirement; the relationship he shared with David Gill and plenty of other anecdotes and digs at rival players make the book tick. I am pretty sure Sir Alex can manage another book full of such incidents, and that would top the best sellers list too! 

Another match/season-by-season read - after numerous ones by the players - would have been boring. More than the sporting parts of it, I enjoyed the parts outside the sporting world - John F Kennedy, the 'mind games' that made Sir Alex, a really unique manager. One book you shouldn't miss, if you are an ardent football fan. 

Twitter warriors (me included) constantly harp about how a country with 1 billion people find it so tough to win one gold medal in the Olympics. Abhinav Bindra's autobiography is one heck of an inspiring read where he takes you through the blood-sweat-tears journey of his, to the elusive Olympic Gold. The tiniest margins that affect shooters, the mental pressure that one has to deal with, the expectations - the book simply leaves you in awe what Bindra would've gone through as he was pulling the trigger in the final rounds of the medal round in the Olympics. And how it is so easy to cuss at our athletes - forgetting the administrative pains and effort they put it. Looking for inspiration post a couple of failures? There isn't a better read, to boost your morale. 

4 - The Dum Dum Bullet by Sandeep Goyal | Genre: Business & Management 

The Dum-dum bullet is a collection of the author's anecdotes and experiences from his stints in various organisations in the marketing and advertising world. Being an MBA, and having seen how ad agencies work, during my internship and with my current sales experiences - this was a very relatable read. 
It keeps its promise of 'real life learnings'. Right from the first chapter - of the author's sales stint to his experience with Sunil Mittal in the stages where the name for the brand that finally became 'Airtel' was decided; the author stacks up a whole lot of interesting experiences to keep the reader engaged. The success of a book, for me, is in whether the author is able to leave the reader wanting more when the book comes to an end, and this one does just that. 

Ever thought 'Why did Rajat Gupta, with all his fame, power and money get into this whole insider trading affair?' For a person interested in some good investigative journalism on the Rajat Gupta - Raj Rajarathnam affair, this one is a definite purchase. 

While another book I read this year - 'The Fallen Angel - Rise and Fall of Rajat Gupta' by Sandipan Deb ends up being a typical Indian hero-worship version of the story (While raising some questions), this one provides a more neutral read and takes you through the back stories of all key players in the tale. Raj Rajarathnam and his rise in Wall Street, Rajat Gupta's journey from IIT-D to Mckinsey and his relationship with Raj. Anil Kumar - the one that got away; and the 'whistleblowers'. An engrossing read, it gives you a sneak peek into the level of insider trading that the markets are entrenched in today! 

6 - Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh | Genre: Sports

Lance Armstrong was a hero to me - someone who defied all the odds to triumph, and I had purchased and read both his books, and loved them. After his fall from grace, my first question was 'How did he manage it? And manage it without any regrets'. Seven Deadly Sins gives you an overview on the history of doping in cycling and Tour De France in particular; and takes you through David Walsh's relentless chase of Armstrong - despite threats - veiled and open from the Armstrong camp. 

This is more about the journalist's perspective on how his pursuit was - as the title suggests - and what he went through as he tried to uncover Lance Armstrong's doping trial. The book leaves you with few doubts about the extent to which the one-time-hero was entrenched in doping, and made fools of thousands of fans of his across the world. Superbly researched read, but at times a little too heavy for people who haven't really watched cycling but only followed it in the papers. 

7 - Simply Fly by Capt Gopinath | Genre: Business & Management Autobiography

Simply Fly - is a simple read about Capt Gopinath's rise and fall (?). The autobiography takes you through his journey right from his childhood till the point he sold Air Deccan to Vijay Mallya. The book is inspiring - the entreprenuerial streak in Capt Gopinath is evident right from his farm venture to the motorcycle dealership, and finally taking off with Deccan Aviation and helicopters - and finally Air Deccan. Chronicling every success and failure on his way, you can feel the excitement that the author would have gone through in the times close to the launch of his ventures. 

At the end of the day, the book does gloss over some mistakes that Capt Gopinath probably made in running Air Deccan that led to its various issues - and the Vijay Mallya-Air Deccan days are covered limitedly. But the book has enough in it - and reminds you of another airline & serial entrepreneur - Richard Branson - but for their completely contrasting philosophies when it came to their businesses. 

8 - The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan | Genre: Indian Fiction

This was one book I spotted while browsing through the library shelves at IIMA. A book on cricket, by a lady; was what got me hooked - added to the fact that the protagonist (a girl) was in advertising/marketing. When you think of Indian fiction, you expect a Chetan Bhagat-ish novel. Zoya Factor is a girl's perspective on romance, and the tale of the Indian cricket captain who gets lucky when the girl is watching the match - and how this ends up in the Indian team winning the World Cup, with this 'lucky charm'. 

Humour in good doses, combined with the Indian superstitions, some advertising bits and enough chic-lit and romance, the book holds your attention despite the length. The author's style is quite different from most other Indian authors and is quite likable (So much that I went ahead and bought two other books by her as well!)

9 - Conversations with Mani Ratnam by Baradwaj Rangan | Genre: Entertainment Biography

Another book in a very unique format - a super-extended interview - where Baradwaj Rangan picks Mani Ratnam's brains on all his movies so far. From Nayagan to the more recent ones like Ravanan - the book takes you through the ace filmmaker's vision and thoughts about the movie. For a director whose movies are known for their minimal dialogue portions, Mani Ratnam does speak, and speaks a lot of sense and makes the book an interesting read. Rangan manages to get Mani Ratnam delve in deep into hitherto unexplored aspects of his movie making. 

The only negative (to me) was Rangan trying to draw random parallels between Mani Ratnam's various movies - at times forcibly; that became a little repetitive; and the 'bias' towards Mani Ratnam's earlier movies than the more recent ones - that made it tough to relate to for a 90s person who came to know Mani Ratnam through say an Alaipayuthey than his older movies. The book provides an interesting insight into one of Tamil Cinema's top directors and into the way he envisions his movies! Must read. Hope Rangan can someday convince AR Rahman into something similar! 

10 - My Stroke of Luck by Vijay Santhanam | Genre: Autobiography

With an IIM author, and a title like 'My Stroke of luck'; your first instinct is to expect yet another of 'those' books that sermonize about what to do in an IIM and what not to; and romance in the red bricks. But this one is a very inspirational read from Prof Vijay Santhanam about the ordeal that he went through during his stroke episode. The author makes it clear that he isn't really looking for sympathy - but just wants to chronicle the episode. As you read through the book, you can feel the helplessness of the author and the struggle he went through during this traumatic phase. 

The motivation that he draws from his goals, despite being down and out; is amazing. Prof Vijay's story tells you that anything can happen in life, and you can never really say nothing will happen to me. Prof Vijay takes you through his hurdle filled journey from alphabet (not remembering even one of them) to becoming an author and a guest lecturer at IIMA (where he taught me Sports Marketing). The only sore point is the references to chess - one of the author's passions - in the book. But all in all, very inspirational - and shows that some of the hurdles that we crib about in our lives are nothing at all, compared to what the author beat. 

The last one was a close call as there were two other books that I found equally interesting, that led to me nearly ordering most of the authors' other works - Bankster by Ravi Subramaniam and Life is what you make it by Preeti Shenoy! Both were equally good, but the genre of My Stroke of Luck - an the inspiration it gave me, put that ahead. 

What were your favourite books among the ones you read this year?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ten Lessons from Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year

Note: This was written as part of Inside IIM's Movies & Management series this week. You can read everyone's views and participate in the discussions here: 

Rocket Singh - Salesman of the Year is one movie I loved watching, and continue watching even today! A movie with a heart, it had some brilliant performances and messages in it. 

From a management or a sales perspective, here are my Ten Lessons from the movie

1. You don't quit the company, you quit your boss: While the entire culture of the company had been in a negative spiral with bribery and poor service rampant, a sympathetic boss who was working towards changing the culture and making a difference might have resulted in Harpreet (Rocket Singh/Ranbir Kapoor) staying on in the company. Bad bosses often are the reason why people change their jobs, and it is the same case here as Rocket's boss is hell bent on insulting him and taking his case at every opportunity, from calling him a zero to reprimanding him in front of others.

2. The ability to think on your feet - When Nitin (Naveen Kaushik) finds out about the business that Rocket is running under his nose, and confronts the Rocket Sales Corp team, Rocket Singh displays the quick thinking that every salesman needs to display very quickly in his career - the knack of converting a bad situation into an opportunity by thinking on your feet. He goes on to offer a partnership to Nitin as well, and manages to convince him to join the team and work with Rocket Sales Corp. rather than AYS. Even in my short sales career so far, I have faced a couple of situations like these with retailers/customers and rather than apologising, it is better to convert the issue into an opportunity to serve him better, and blow him off his feet.

3. Partner rather than Employee - In the scene where Rocket talks to his friend, Girish (D. Santosh) about expanding Rocket Sales Corp by adding a new partner - the Chaiwaala - Chhotelal Mishra (Mukesh Bhatt); his friend is astounded that he was going to make the Chaiwaala into a partner in the company. 

Rocket replies to this saying, "If he can do the work of a partner, why can't he be one." This gesture by Rocket goes a long way in gaining the trust of the Chaiwaala, who goes on to play an important role in ensuring that Nitin does not blow the roof on their undercover operation; and made sure that everyone had that sense of belonging-ness in the company, rather than being just another salaried employee. 

4. Don't hesitate to learn from people below you in the general hierarchy - Harpreet/Rocket in the movie, allows the Office boy/Chaiwaala to do the work of a computer assembly guy. Something that people with king sized egos might not have allowed. “Woh kaise kar sakta hai mera kaam. What does he know”, is the attitude people generally display in such situations. 

People in sales or any line of work, make the mistake of underestimating or demeaning their subordinates under the impression that they aren't as good as them. That high horse is something that people should attempt to get down from, and accept that there are people lower down who might be as good or better than them, and having a Diploma from a management institute does not make them better than these guys. People, in my opinion, should be ready to learn from anyone; and accept the fact that there are others who are as good as them and respect them for that. 

5. Establishing trust by going out of the way - More than your capability, it is the trust that you build with your clients that generates the business for you, especially in B2B situations. This one is beautifully displayed at two points in the movie. Rocket's first major order - where he says he will service them in the night, and does the same; establishes his reputation and leads to his second order. 

Even at that time, Rocket is goes out of the way to sign a two way deal with his client, which might have led to a major financial loss to him if he hadn't accomplished his promise; in order to just win the trust of the client. And it was this trust and rapport that he built with his clients that served his company more, and led to its downfall when it was forcefully taken over by AYS as they couldn't accomplish the same service levels and trust with the client. 

6. Ah well, office politics! - Something that is renowned in today's 'performance-oriented' corporate world where it is what you do that matters, and not your age. Given that people often never see what you do, there is a lot of bitterness when someone else takes the post which you think was rightfully yours. Or when you are led on with a 'carrot stick approach' saying you will get a lucrative promotion, but in the end given a kick up your back side when it finally comes to the decision. You can get a complete flavour of it in the movie, when Nitin goes ahead and picks up a new guy for the role that he had promised the receptionist (Koena played by Gauhar Khan); and tells her 'Sab log to Vice President nahi ban sakte. You need a qualification for it'

7. Diversity or eye candy? - 'Tu waise saamne hi bait. Teri wajeh se orders hame jyaada mil jaate' (or something on those lines), tells Nitin to the Koena; indicating that she was there more as eye candy to impress the clients coming down to the office rather than for her capabilities. In today's diversity hungry corporate world, there still are plenty of incidents that come into light, where a woman is treated as eye candy in the team or is there just for the heck of it; rather than for her actual capabilities. It is quite an insult for the woman as well, that she is being picked up for something else, rather than her skills and talent!

8. Focus on making money than the customer - AYS with its market leadership position ends up in a position where it is hell bent on exploiting its dominance by squeezing money out of clients without giving them the value for the same. When Rocket enters the fray with his promise of amazing customer service, he captures the market leadership position quickly and it leads to AYS' downfall in the end. Equivalent examples from the real world can be seen in every field, where a new entrant has reached the very top just through amazing customer service, and treating the customer as their king - examples in point being IndiGo in the airline industry or Flipkart!

9. It is the people who make the brand - 'The brand had no value, sir. You were fooled. It is the people who made the brand', the Sunil Puri, AYS Chief is told. With a few dedicated people, you can build a winning brand. You can rise to the very top. But once those people are missing, the brand is lost. The brand has no value at all. Examples of this can be found in plenty of places where amazing start-ups are taken over by industry leaders, and then flounder completely; when the people who made the brand are no longer there!

10. And finally, "Jisko kuch nahi aata, woh salesman ban jaata" - This is something that many people, even in management schools feel. That sales is a career that is for laggards and not for the intellectual ones. Sales is something that can be done by anyone, and is generally for the people who can't get anywhere else.

In reality, sales is a highly demanding line of work, that requires its own skill sets - the ability to be persuasive, determination, the strength to deal with repeated failures and dead ends, people management and engagement skills and what not. And it is certainly not just for the dim-witted. 

It does take a great deal of intelligence to make someone pay higher for a product that is hardly very different from another competing product. ;-)

Friday, October 4, 2013

The First taste of Failure

“Ma’am, please! Please give me that quarter mark somewhere,” he begged, in a tone that would cause pity in even the strongest of hearts (or so he thought!).

“Dei, ask her for a quarter mark somewhere da. That’ll double into a half, and when it gets rounded off, you’ll be fine,” his neighbour told him. “After all quarter mark da. She’ll give it off somewhere. She can’t be that strict also.”  The teacher, though, did not look like one to budge. She had the reputation for being a strict one, but one of the best too; when it came to the subject. Tears welled up in his eyes.

“Dei, what da. 10th Half Yearly la Century. 12th Half Yearly la Half Century?” his friend chided him jovially. He tried, but couldn’t manage a laugh. All his mind went to was, to what if she refuses to give the quarter mark? He couldn’t even dare to imagine the disastrous turn that his life would take. How would he explain that tiny red mark in his report card to his parents? What would he tell his friends whom he would soon meet in the lunch break, who would ask him what his score was …

He had always been a high flyer, the ones typically called nerds, in his middle school days. One of the extra-sincere ones who completed all their home-work on time, had their books neatly covered in brown sheets, came to school 30 minutes ahead of time and the one taking copious notes as the teacher went on and on, about the history of the country and the freedom struggle. Math had always been his forte, and loved his numbers from a very young age. The kick that he got from having his name scrawled by his teacher for being the first in the class to solve a star mark problem was like none other, to him.

“Go for the IITs. Slog for just two years, and you’ll be set for life,” people told him. He thought things would be a cakewalk for him. And here he was, struggling to clear his school mid-term exams; and suddenly life seemed like a walk in a dark tunnel, filled with Tamil Cinema goons who were punching him from every corner. And he could see no light at the end of the tunnel either.

Seri, give me your paper. Let me see,” she said. His heart beat went up a few notches. If only she gave this reprieve, he would somehow manage things; and escape the agony of his first F grade. “What is this pa? I’ve asked you some derivation. You have written nonsense all over, and in the last line you have written the formula; and concluded in a pencil-underlined-neat- flourish ‘Thus proved’. What did you think, that I won’t read all this and give you marks?”

She turned the page over. “You’ve drawn a neat diagram. But this is not a drawing class right? That’s there in the question paper itself. You’ve just copied it out neatly. No direction of current marked. No this, no that. What can I give you here? Nothing. Even what I’ve given you right now, is way too much.”

One more turn of the paper. “What is this? You’ve copied out the question. But where’s the answer? Only a huge blank space. Wasn’t I the one invigilating your exam as well? When you asked me for an additional answer sheet so soon, I thought you were writing so much. But looks like you just rewrote the question paper with blank spaces for someone else to write the answer in!” she exclaimed. And his heart sunk. It looked like he had hit a dead end.

I should probably have listened to him and added some answer in the blank spaces that are there, and taken it to her and pretended she had missed out checking this question,” he thought to himself. He walked back dejected, and thought he’d meet the teacher once again in the evening and beg for that elusive quarter mark.

And so he did. “Ma’am. Please give me a quarter mark somewhere. I’ll pass this time. I’ll make sure this never happens again.”

 “I won’t give you this quarter mark,” she said; much to his chagrin. “You will remember this for life, and will make sure you never end up in such a situation ever again.”

And that turned out to be the best lesson he learnt in his 15 odd years of schooling - Make sure you never end up regretting a past mistake. “If only I had done this earlier …”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Return to the Red Bricks ...

"Sir, aap? Kahaan jaana hai aapko?" asked the ever so sincere guy as I got off the auto. The last time the guy had, was the first time I had been there - a nervy but excited entrance into a campus much revered by B-school aspirants and others alike. 

"Sir? Aap se hi poocha .." he reminded me and broke me out of the nostalgia I had sunk into so quickly! "Old student bhaiyya. Dorm 4 jaana hai," I replied quickly to avoid giving him any suspicions of a random stranger having walked into the campus. From student to old student, but it was a unique and proud feeling to tell him, I had not too long ago been a part of this wonderful institution as well! "Arre, aap log to aate hi rehte ho. Chalo yahaan sign kar do," he said, and let me pass into the campus; for my first visit back to IIMA after graduating about six months ago. 

Two weeks prior to that, I had received a call from the folks at Airtel to ask if I wanted to go back to campus for the Pre Placement Talk by Airtel; and I had no second thoughts while saying yes. Who wouldn't want to go back to the place - that gave me so many memories, great, good, bad and ugly! 

The walk up the Harvard steps took me back to the times where I sat there late into the night, talking about some crazy ideas with my friends! LKP's grass as pristine as it had ever looked resonated the wonderful memories of the convocation and the proud walk up the stage to collect the diploma. The mess, as good as ever. And the dorm, a lot more active than it had ever been in my days there. 

Random talk with friends in the dorm, the walk around campus in what else but a campus T-Shirt, going down the Old Campus classroom corridor to that place which has the photo of the graduating batch; and spot 380 odd proud faces beaming down at you. And somewhere in the bunch, you spot yourself; and have your case taken for having looked like an uncle back then with the moustache! 

The folks outside the campus were there as well. The Dosa-uncle gave a smile to show he recognized me. But made me the laughing stock of the group with his follow up question 'Shaadi ho gaya bhaiyya?' and saying I've become erm .. Healthier! The coffee that was once the solution for the headaches, the pressure, an insomnia cure during boring lectures and for time-pass when there was little left to do, now cost an insane 20 bucks! "Sir, ab to naukri mein lakhon kama rahe ho. Bees rupya hi to hai!" he said when I asked him about the inflation. 

The walk to New Campus and CR7 (not Cristiano Ronaldo!) kindled memories of the numerous quizzes, PPTs and the random bakar during the breaks between sessions! And the spaces near the canteen reminded me of the disastrous Mafia game sessions - the hang of which I never got!

And the PPT! Who knew the recruiter code, and waiting in the Placement office before the PPT. Like every other student, I just walked right up to the classroom only to be brought back to the placement committee office. The same PlaceCom who had looked so serious in the days in the institute, treated you so differently once you are an alumnus. But my biggest worry was to avoid looking like a fool in front of Airtel's top brass while sharing my experiences from the corporate world and the Airtel Young Leader Program in the PPT. 

But it really hit me the most, that I was no longer a student when eager fachchas tried to interact with me and ask intelligent questions possibly under the impression that these may fetch a brownie point some day during the placements (Just like I did in my Summer Placement Days!). And oh! The authority with which you could break the line and pick up the Sub and the cake before it emptied out. 

I took a walk around IMDC, with the grass still wet from the previous night's drizzle. A place I had sworn to avoid after the ugly memories of the tears and sadness during the disastrous summer placements of mine. But this time, my memories drifted to the fond and unforgettable hugs given to your best mates during the final placements and the relief you heaved once you had that placement offer! If only those very friends could have been here as well, I thought. 

As I walked around campus, there were stares from people who were probably wondering who is this guy walking around at such a leisurely pace, when there's so much to be done and so little time. There were these surprise meetings with people who recognized me from this very blog, that were extremely humbling. And the mandatory meeting with the PSBBians and MANITians at IIMA!  

The two days I thought would suffice to relive the campus experience (and IIMA gave it all including the splitting headache that I often got when I was there!), but the taste of those two days, only left me yearning for more; and hoping I get a chance to be back on campus soon!

When you go back to your undergraduate engineering institute after a year or two, you still have people you know from your college days. But in your B-School, after a year, all that is left for you to enjoy are the memories from your two year stay there! The next time I come down to campus, I may not really know anyone out there, but I am sure the memories and just the feeling of being back at WIMWI, will make it a memorable time :)

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Indian Gold Obsession

When you think of Gold and Indians, the first image that probably pops up in your head is that of Bappi Lahiri. Well, remove that memory now and try to think that image never came into your head.

A couple of weeks back, I went out shopping with my mother who wanted to buy something for her friend who was retiring. And what did she choose to buy? Silver. I couldn’t quite understand the Indian obsession with buying/gifting Gold and Silver and an argument ensued in the shop, about the sensibilities behind buying something that you very rarely use anyways.

And here’s the conversation that followed.
Me       : Why are you buying this piece of silver?
Mom   : It is a silver lamp da. They’ll find it useful. They can light it every day in their house.
Me       : Oh really? How many Silver Lamps have we been gifted?
Mom   : That’s there da. Quite a few I guess.
Me       : And where are they? I haven’t ever seen them at home?
Mom   : Illa da. It’s not really safe these days. They are all safely locked up in the bank locker.
Me       : Wow. And you expect your friend not to do the same with this one you are buying them?
Mom   : <Nearly agitated> See, don’t hurt my sentiments.
Me       : Now this is a sentimental buy and not a useful one? What will you do with the Silver stuff that we were gifted? Don’t they all blacken in the locker?
Mom   : Well, some of them do. These shops have exchange offers no. We come back and get it exchanged for something new at a minimal cost.

**Salesman in the Gold Shop gives a vigorous nod and talks about how high a price they give in their exchange schemes**

Me       : Wow. So someone gives you a gift in the expectation that you use it. You put it in the locker to keep it safe, and then when it blackens, you exchange it in these shops that give you an Extra-ordinary price! And buy something that you gift to someone else, who probably will do the same. I see only one beneficiary in this whole process. This sales guy and his shop!

**And the sales guy gives me a wry smile to indicate I am a mad guy to be arguing against the Holy Indian Sentiment of buying Gold & Silver**

The argument in the shop ended but I kept probing my mom and dad, and a few others on why people buy gold! And here are some of the arguments I got.

“Gold is mandatory for a girl’s marriage. So, I have started buying up now. What if the Gold Price increases later?”

What if the guy turns out to be good and doesn’t want gold. What if Gold is no longer the in-thing then, and people want platinum or diamonds or whatever. What if the rate of gold hits a rut by then and you end up getting it a lot cheaper then. And more importantly why the hell is Gold mandatory for a girl’s marriage. If at all you want to shower your love on her, give her and her husband something that they’ll actually use no? Not something that they’ll keep safely in the locker and use when their kid reaches marriage-able age!

“Gold is a form of showing love.”

What do people do with the silver and gold articles that you gift them. Put them in a locker and keep them safe, and then pass it on to their kids. What do they do. Wait till they start getting bad, come back to the jewel shops, return them and buy something new and put it back in the locker hoping for some fine day when they can do a Bappi da impression or buy something else to gift someone else!

“Having gold is auspicious. That too buying Gold on Akshaya Tritiya means wealth will flow throughout the year in our house”

And then you laugh at today’s generations who ‘celebrate’ Mothers Day, Fathers Day and XYZ Day. Are you sure this isn’t one of those more elaborate ancient versions of the ‘Archies-Hallmark Holidays’ like Rose Day, Teddy bear day and whatever crap? Isn’t this whole brouhaha around Akshaya Tritiya like those ones around the Special Discount seasons when sales get low. Because there aren’t enough marriages happening in that time, and gold sales may plummet?

“Gold is a form of savings/investment.”

Well, if your intention is to save money or investment, then do some actual investment no. Why not actually save or invest by putting the money in a bank or in a mutual fund/stock market or in the worst case one of those Fixed Deposit schemes run by Nationalised Banks and Post Offices? Or if you want to invest by buying something, buy something that you might actually use and is of value to you no.

And last but certainly the worst! “When you wear gold to marriage, you show you are doing good. That your family is treating you well”

So, if you wear gold when you go to a marriage, you display that things are going well. That you are well off. And want to flaunt your excesses through dazzling gold jewels. Why live for the society or to create a perception that you are well off, and can buy gold.

And today the Indian gold obsession has manifested itself in multiple forms. EMI schemes to save up gold by the time your daughter is of ‘marriageable’ age! Buy gold at today’s rates in the future. Gold SIPs. Gold this, Gold that and Gold what not!

And question all these with your parents or elders, they will say ‘You won’t understand now’. Next stage ’As if you not buying it as a single person is going to change the society’.
And the final bombshell: ‘Won’t you ask for gold when you get married’

Well, why the hell would I! 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chronicles of a Travelling Salesman #2 - IIM Ahmedabad? What IIM?

Pillion-riding in the heat and the drizzle; eating at every eatery - imaginable and the unimaginable; passive-smoking more in the last two months than I probably would have across the 24 years of my life; trying to make sense of what I learnt at BSchool and implementing at least pieces of it on the field. Sales has been a complete revelation. From what I heard in pre-BSchool life and BSchool life, my view of sales had varied from 'Running from Door-to-door to sell soaps and razors' to 'Buying a couple of bottles for the distributor to make up for the month-end dumping at his doorstep'. 

Sir, Good morning. I am Shrinivas from Airtel!
On a tangential view, sales has been a revelation in other terms as well. (And before someone asks, all the conversations obviously happened in Tamil)  

Retailer to me - 'What have you studied, son'
Me - 'MBA from IIM sir.'
Retailer introduces me to his wife a few min later - 'This is new Airtel guy. He has done degree from IIPM'
And turns to me - 'Sir both are same no!'

Well, BSchool did teach me about the power of advertising in the mind of consumers. But this was an eye-opener indeed, by all means!

Me: Sir, good morning. I'm Shrinivas from Airtel. 
Retailer: Good morning. New ah? Nice! Hope you service my outlet properly. What have you studied?
Me: Sure sir, I'll ensure that. I've done MBA from IIM Ahmedabad in Gujarat. 
Retailer: MBA in some other state, and then you are doing this 5000 rupee job ah? Why? You didn't get any government job? I have connections. Shall I recommend you for a better job? 
Me: *Erm*

Me: Sir, Shrinivas from Airtel sir. 
Retailer: Super pa. Come in. 
Me: Thank you na! 
Retailer: What have you studied pa?
Me: I did MBA from IIM Ahmedabad in Gujarat. 
Retailer: Gujarat? Tell me about Narendra Modi pa! Is he so good? Will he actually make our country like US and China?

Me: Sir, Good morning! How's the business going sir? Any issues?
Retailer: Come pa. The last time you came, you were saying you were from Ahmedabad some college no? Is it the one where Laloo Prasad spoke?

Me: Hi! I am Shrinivas from Airtel. 
Retailer: Vanakkam sir. You look new. When did you join? Where were you working before this? 
Me: Sir, I did MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. This is my first job sir.
Retailer: Why pa? You didn't get admission in any Tamil Nadu colleges and all ah?

Me: Anna, I did my B.Tech in Bhopal and MBA in IIM Ahmedabad. 
Retailer: Ohh! My friend also wanted to do MBA. Can you get him some management quota seat in your college? You'll know people there no?
Me: Illa na. You have to take entrance and then go. There are classes for it as well. 
Retailer: What pa. Tell me you don't know the people. Even this TN Engineering entrance is there. But people still pay few lakh and get in through Management quota no? It will be there in your college also. Ask and tell me. Here's my number. 

Me: *introduced myself to retailer*
Retailer: Oh! IIM! I've heard of this. Similar to IIT no? But I though IIM people go into hi-fi jobs and earn in crores. Why have you come to Sales?! 
*gives exasperated look*
My mind voice: Ah well, screw you media houses for this predicament!
Me: No sir, those crore packages include variable and are in foreign currency. So it isn't right to compare. 
Retailer: Enna pa. Just because you didn't get; don't badmouth your friends who are earning more than you. 
Me: Argh! 

Me: I did my MBA from IIM Ahmedabad sir. 
Retailer: Ahmedabad? Gujarat? Wow. Nice! Gujarat is like foreign countries no? I have seen pictures on Facebook. 
Me: Ohh! Is it? The cities are good, yes.
Retailer: Yes yes sir. That Narendra Modi has to become our next PM. He rescued 15000 people from flood and all it seems. He will rescue our country from this drought. 
Me: Sir, that and all is false sir. You didn't read the paper later ah?  The paper gave apology and all to Modi. 
Retailer: You are a Congress supporter ah? I like Modi pa. See. I am running a special offer for his Birthday. 
*And proudly shows me a Printout that says 'Special offer on the occasion of Tomorrow's Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday. Airtel SIM - 60 Rupees 99 Talk Time' 
My mind voice: I thought this population was restricted to Twitter alone!

And thus goes Life in Sales! Learning every day, everywhere. The learning is a lot to do with your attitude as well, as some times we guys from the ‘Top’ BSchools land up in Sales roles with a sense of entitlement and expecting royal treatment for the diploma that we have completed.

We end up meeting a lot of people who are a lot more experienced, and knowledgeable about the field than we are; but are paid lesser (?) because they don’t have that diploma that we have. And I have seen a few BSchool grads display this ‘What do you know man. I have this diploma from a B School. I know a lot more than you do, with your years of experience selling jams and shampoos’ attitude

Life in your sales stint acts as that leveler, to bring you back down to earth from the high horse that some Top BSchool graduates fly on, post the lucrative ‘cattle fair’ that placements often are.

PS: This isn't meant to demean anyone or display a 'I am better than you' attitude and what not. I know it is too much to expect people in such areas to know a post graduate institute in another corner of the country; and acknowledge the fact as well. This is just a collection of anecdotes of my interactions with people; and what they said when I did my MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. All meant in good humour. Pardon any hurt caused. :)