Monday, April 30, 2001

In search of enough

Reinvent yourself while pursuing new goals and you will move up.
Gautam Chikermane
He is the richest who is content with the least: Socrates
When I started my career, it was at a low-paid job in the low-paid profession of journalism. My first paycheque was for Rs 1,650. I would take a morning bus to office and an evening bus back home, watching with great delight the spring blossoms in Delhi. I would not eat out or buy too many things. I was happy, but... I thought if I made Rs 5,000 a month, I would be a rich man. When I did begin to earn Rs 5,000, I would sometimes take my wife out to a Chinese joint and splurge Rs 250 on a lavish lunch. I was happy, but... I thought Rs 8,000 was a salary to aspire for. And this aspiration has gone upwards in a spiral dance, making me prance from one foot to the other, in search of ‘Enough’.
I am not alone. So many people leave so many jobs everyday because they aren’t being paid Enough. When they look at their investments, it’s the same story: in the best case, their investment in Infosys has trebled, but they think that’s not Enough for them to sell–it could treble again, they feel. When they drove a bike, all they wanted was something, anything, on four wheels; now their Maruti 800 isn’t enough–it’s not big enough, it’s not cool enough, it’s not worthy of their status; it’s just not Enough.
Opinion in Outlook Money

Saturday, April 28, 2001

Schools that Learn

New, interesting ideas for old, moribund institutions.
Gautam Chikermane
As my daughter readies to enter school, I am filled with dread. Cursory research tells me that what is imparted to kids in the name of education will only destroy whatever true learning they are capable of -- classrooms like prisons; teachers who treat pupils as trophies to be marketed or as pariah dogs to be ‘disciplined’; institutions that neither question nor allow questions.
Schools that Learn is a collection of 191 pieces by 113 writers, which discusses advances in education. It explores new ideas, pursues new thoughts, and presents exercises that people are adopting to help make institutions more like learning organisations. It suggests that the one-size-fits-all education system that serviced the 19th century industrial world may not work as effectively today. I agree: our children will be more ‘global’ citizens than we, and will need to be creative, original, individual -- things our schools neither provide, nor can provide. A new way is needed. What that is, I have no idea -- neither does the book, but it gives interesting directions, stimulating possibilities.
Book review in Outlook Money

The Internet Bubble: Inside the Overvalued World of High-tech Stocks

Time you geared up to face the internet shakeout.
Gautam Chikermane
The epilogue says it all:
An Open Letter
To: Internet Company Investors
From: The Authors
Re: Sell Now!
The bottom line to our analysis is very simple. With very few exceptions, every one of the 133 public Internet companies listed in our Internet Bubble portfolio is overvalued. Our advice to Internet investors is equally simple: If you hold any of these stocks, it's time to sell.
Book review in Outlook Money

High tech, high touch

How technology has become the god we love to hate.
Gautam Chikermane
The 70-year-old man couldn't understand it. All he knew was that the Indian Airlines flight to Jodhpur had been cancelled. For this man, a metals trader in Jodhpur, the computerised schedules were formidable. He hobbled behind the customer services man but the customer services man was busy with other younger, more aggressive, stronger men. This went on for a while, and as I boarded my flight to Mumbai (three hours late), I noticed him being taken to a taxi, his tension-filled creases intact.
The old man lingered in my head for a while. Being not as old myself, I thought it must be his "industrial age" thinking that prevented him from understanding the simple things in life -- the various technological screens we live with (computers, TVs, cellphones, and their application to airlines). I didn't understand that what he needed was the human touch. Or so John Naisbitt told me in the two hours to Mumbai in his latest book, High Tech, High Touch.
Book review in Outlook Money

Profit patterns

The key to business success is to see the ever-changing shifts in patterns.
Gautam Chikermane
Profit Patterns
Are there really "30 ways to anticipate and profit from strategic forces reshaping your business", as Profit Patterns claims? Or even 10? My opinion: no. But I believe books like this have a function: they study businesses, they relate and marry theories and practices, they provide insights. The last is the most valuable -- which is why I read them. And the five authors, all from Mercer Management Consulting, don't disappoint.
The book "is the 'codebook': the specifics of how to identify the shifts taking place in your market so that the performance of can be raised to a level similar to that achieved by reinventors."
Book review in Outlook Money

Management Challenges for the 21st Century

Peter Drucker never disappoints. This time, he's got valuable lessons for the future.
Gautam Chikermane
A couple of books ago, Peter F. Drucker, the father of management, had declared that like the brilliant composer Giuseppe Verdi did at age 80, he too would continue to strive for perfection. This is what he wrote in his 1997 book, Drucker on Asia: "I resolved that if I ever reached an advanced age, I would not give up. I would strive for perfection even though, as I well knew, it would surely, always elude me." Drucker today is 10 years older than Verdi was then. And, like Verdi, he doesn't disappoint: Management Challenges for the 21st Century remains, as all his earlier 31 books, refreshingly -- and predictably -- insightful.
Of course, if you have been following the works of this master, you would have read much of what he has to offer earlier: the chapter on new paradigms of management was published in Forbes; the one on knowledge worker productivity in the California Management Review; the ones on information and managing the individual in the Harvard Business Review. There is a sound strategy of a learner behind this: "The best pilot-test for my writings, I have found, is to pre-publish sections of a forthcoming book in magazines." I might add that the one other place where you can see Drucker's forthcoming book is following his thoughts in the interviews he gives in magazines -- Wired and Inc, among others.
Book review in Outlook Money

At any cost

At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit
There's more to it than a good-looking bottomline. For one, there's people -- you and I.
Gautam Chikermane
The bottomline: this is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. One that is making me question my beliefs, convictions, and expectations out of my money, in a way that no other has. It is harsh in its straightforwardness, unpretentious in its balancing of values that run counter to one another. The hypothesis -- that beyond a point, capitalism, competitiveness and the free market need to be controlled -- is convincing: reduntant workers committing suicide on being laid off, dangerous radioactive chemicals running amuck in clear streams, bribes, illegal price fixation, ugly defence deals. The treatment is ruthless. And it reads like a thriller.
The book is not so much about Jack Welch and the company he heads -- General Electric, the world's most valuable company (its market capitalisation on November 23: $309.2 billion, or Rs 12,97,800 crore, against India's GDP of Rs 11,49,000 crore) -- or the management trends of the US economy, or even the ghastly acts that respected companies commit in trying to reach their ends, as it is about you and I, and our place in the new capitalism. An otherwise fine -- possibly the best proven -- system that has reached its nadir. A point where the bottomline is everything.
Book review in Outlook Money

Friday, April 27, 2001

A Future Perfect

Neither worship it nor throw stones at it -- just learn to live with globalisation.
Gautam Chikermane
Hindustan Lever is an ‘Indian’ company, with brands that are part of many Indians’ lives -- Dalda, Lux, Lifebuoy. But 74 per cent of it is owned by UK-based Unilever. Infosys Technologies is an ‘Indian’ company, almost all of whose turnover -- and profits -- comes from services delivered outside India. Americans can buy its shares on the Nasdaq as easily as you can on the National Stock Exchange. ‘Foreign’ institutional investors own a huge chunk of this company. So, how ‘Indian’ are Lever and Infosys? Globalisation affects your investments like never before.
You worked for a head-hunting firm that had good business from a big software company. Then, the software company got taken over by a US-based leader, which had its own German head-hunting advisor. Your company closed down. You joined a Finnish cellphone company at four times your last salary, stock options (at the Nasdaq) aside. Globalisation affects your very source of livelihood.
Opinion in Outlook Money

Sunday, April 15, 2001

A deadly mistress called greed

When you invest in a stock you think will quickly give you 30% be ready to lose as much as quick.
Gautam Chikermane
WHAT ON earth could make a man kill his children? When the answer is ‘money’, a crime that could have been tragic seems only appalling. Forty-year-old Sanjay Agarwal and his wife Sapna (33) decide to do away with their lives–and take those of their two innocent children, Ashita (10) and Chirag (6), as well. They killed themselves and their children by hanging from a fan in their house in Delhi on March 21. Reason: Sanjay, who worked with Omkar Securities, suffered heavy losses in the recent stock market crash, the second in 12 months, lost his money, his clients. And his life.
Five days earlier, on March 16, Virender Kumar Aggarwal (48) of Hissar (Haryana), and his wife Ramkali committed suicide at a hotel in Delhi’s Paharganj. In his suicide note, Virender, a head cashier at Punjab National Bank, admitted to pilfering Rs 70 lakh from the Bank Employees’ Cooperative Society. He was a known stock market gambler, but no one believed he would gamble the society’s savings away. He did. Why?
Opinion in Outlook Money