Monday, May 25, 2009

Make competition insignificant

As a Master of Business Administration each one amongst us continues to search for an elusive formula that can make the competition insignificant. Whether it’s Strategy or Marketing or “The blue ocean” - the quest is the same.

As the General Manager of Springfields, Simla, I had many challenges of dealing with a hotel marred with a union problem, high fixed costs because of a relatively small size and extreme competition from the 3 other 5 star hotels in the city. The competition had the advantage of scale of economies as those hotels were a part of the ‘Oberoi’ group.

I had to find a way to create an edge. And there were not many choices.

Bishop Cotton School is one of the most popular boarding schools in Simla (Eaton of the East), and one of the very few in India where parents want their sons to read. As a habit I have always invited one or the other guest for a drink in the lounge every single evening of my working life. During one of these evenings a visibly upset parent shared his difficulty to find a local guardian for his 8 year old son as that was the pre-requirement of the school.

I offered to be the local guardian and took the responsibility and subsequently would visit the child every Sunday and take some “Butter chicken and Naan” (very popular with Indian kids) – all this outside the call of my duty.

This word spread so fast that within a year I was the local guardian of some 2 dozen kids and their parents would always keep a line of credit open so that the children could have meals and sweets over weekends. It just took me an hour or two to make these kids happy and ‘Uncle Manu’ became popular.

The word of mouth is definitely the greatest marketing tool and the hotel was full not only with parents visiting their kids but also their friends and relatives. Many guests who could afford a three times more expensive Oberoi’ Hotel, also shifted to my hotel. Parents knew that the child was being taken care of and the hotel staff were authorised to serve food to these children and simply retain the bill to be collected later.

A new market was successfully created and if Porter is anything to go by – without the threat of any entrant or substitute.

Customer service is an art and has to be given from ones heart. Just be a good human being, a considerate human being – and watch the competition become insignificant.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

India has finally matured and is shining

Irrespective of what the intellectual capital of a country is, the election results of the largest and most successful democracy of the world are a reflection of the ideology of the country’s population at large. I am ecstatic that finally religious fundamentalism and baseless contentions of regional parties (that had been a drag on the country’s progress since the last 5 years) have been resoundingly ignored by the populace.

The father of Indian reforms Dr Manmohan Singh who steadfastly stood by his principles and was ready to sacrifice the government rather than submit to the demands of the realpolitik is back – and with a resounding majority.

What does it really mean for anyone reading this blog, which has a rather international audience?

1. India grew at over 7.5% in the last 5 years despite a great political drag. With a clear mandate, Dr. Singh will usher India into the next phase of reforms and divestment of humongously giant public sector that will bridge the country’s fiscal deficit. A double digit growth in just a few years would not be surprising.

2. The conservative nature of Indian banking and the values of Indian borrowers saved the system and not a single bank collapsed. Albeit the banking sector grew at over 60% YOY when the financial system of the world was bleeding. With the lowest number of bank accounts per 1000 still, this sector will shine. And every foreign bank is likely to have a base in India.

3. Relationship with the US will improve even further. President Bush pushed for India’s entry into the nuclear club and this status will get a further impetus. America Was, Is and Will remain a superpower and the nucleus of world trade and economy. This axis of power might be an area to watch out for as the US is fed up of an artificially cheap Yuan that has caused unmanageable trade imbalances.

4. Stock markets will give thumbs up to this outcome as markets like stability. Watch out for sensex crossing previous highs before the end of this year.

5. The verdict is a clear indication that over 400 M people who were below the poverty line and uneducated are slowly getting educated and improving economically. The middle class will be a formidable force the size of which is likely to be double the population of the US.

6. Politicians are seldom economists and great economists stay away from politics. The diminutive 76 year old economist, Dr M, who was almost forcibly made the Prime Minister 5 years ago, is a stronger, mature, intelligent politician. And back with a Bang!

7. Young India (average age of population under 30) was always marred by old politicians who had wrested the power with themselves. The present government has a significant number of young highly educated politicians who have the eagerness to make a difference.

I would be happy to allow the Economists and the Capitalists of the world to draw their own conclusions..…….

For the rest, I would simply say “Watch out for India!”

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Doing your best and a bit more..

This is a pleasant and a welcome week while we are attending Prof. Robert (Bob) Johnston’s Service Management. Having spent a bit of time managing luxury hotels, I wondered what all and how much I will be able to take from this module.


Prof. Johnston (a senior hotelier himself) has put together one of the most interesting modules using more than 30 different models in which managers can reflect upon, assess and improve service standards in their organisations. Prof. Johnston shared his amazing life experiences and peppered the week with some fantastic humour.

His passion for the subject is an inspiration. And he gives his best to the class. The seemingly endless supply of chocolates that strategically start flying around the classroom like UFO’s whenever the afternoon begins to take its toll on our attention span keeps us well engaged.

Excellent service is a consequence of a few simple decisions and initiatives that managers can take.

· Articulate and communicate the service standards and service aspirations to employees - Remove ambiguity.
· Connect with your employees. Customer delight and profitability is incidental to your employee satisfaction and motivation.
· Empower (through adequate training and behavioural change) employees to solve issues right there and then. Immediate disposal of issues saves enormous time and money.
· Benchmark yourself against the best – AND ACHIEVE IT.
· Manage customer expectations and match those expectations.
· Treat your customer as you would treat your family member.


Do a bit more!! That’s what delights the customer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Green shoots of recovery

The world markets have shown resilience in the last few weeks and while DOW is up by 29% since the black Monday on the 9th March, some other markets have gone up by over 50%.

It is believed that markets discount the future roughly 12 - 18 months in advance and if history is anything to go by, recessions do not last a lifetime. And recessions of this magnitude perhaps happen no more than once in a lifetime.

We should consider ourselves lucky that we have seen so much unfold in front of our eyes while we were trying to learn similar concepts in the classroom.

This is also a great opportunity to start investing. Some of us who have not had a taste of stock markets yet could think of making some informed investments decisions. Stock valuations are still at life time lows and there is some cherry picking to be done out there.

Warren Buffet made the majority of his investments in early 70’s during the oil crisis and he invests when everyone else is selling and is fearful. Most of us miss the bus because we follow the herd.

This opportunity to invest in stock markets might never ever come back in our lifetime!!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

MBA is almost over and the goodbyes are going to be killing

I have seldom had a sinking feeling. Today as I think that it is just a few more months before we go our separate ways, my stomach churns. Because the opportunity for the 78 of us to get together under a single roof might not come again.

I cannot begin to express how delighted I am to be here with wonderful set of people from such diverse and rich backgrounds. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and there is a purpose for which each one of us is here. Some of us are here for just the piece of paper, some of us – to prove a point, some of us – to have a good time. Whatever be the purpose, I have no doubt that each one of us will achieve it with flying colours.

We are all having a great time, we are all here on a steep learning curve, and these experiences and memories are worth billions. This experience will be vouchsafed with us for the rest of our life. We always try and take a big leap but small steps make a difference and these steps would define what we will make of our life. We need to move step by step in our lives. And these steps will make a giant leap. And these small steps are not just about us. These are about others. These are about the difference that we can make in the lives of others and in everything that we do. Great moments are born from great opportunities and that’s what we have here. The opportunity to make a difference. We are here to win. And we shall win. And this bloody recession be damned.

Some of us are already basking in the glory of momentary success that we have achieved with our internships or our jobs. Life is about being a member of a team because all great victories have been achieved by teams and effective groups. Believe you me just the 78 of us are enough to push and pull each other towards achieving our objectives. We don’t need the support of professional networking sites, the effectiveness of which is questionable . We just have to start lending a hand. This group has an opportunity to become the greatest group and that is OUR choice or we will all fade away into the recesses of oblivion.

Chance seems to form the surface of reality. But deep down other forces are at work. The moving finger writes and having writ moves on. If the universe is a living one, if it is spiritually alive, nothing in it is merely accidental. Our presence here is not a chance it’s an opportunity. Let’s grab it.

I am sick and tired of hearing what a great school Harvard is, what a great school Stanford is. F@#$ them. We are the greatest and this we shall go on to prove during the course of our lifetime. Because we must and not only because we must, but also because We CAN.

Let us become the brand ambassadors of our school and help it achieve the seemingly insurmountable task of becoming one of the top schools in the world.

I refuse to believe that any moment can be tough enough. Because I have a dream that I have protected all my life. We all have dreams that we must protect and eventually achieve.

Hold on to your dreams; Just believe that you can
Nothing s gonna stop you; That’s the story of man
If you should ever loose your faith; And stumble in your stride
Remember that the dream you hold; Is your purpose is your pride
Never think of loosing; Your place is in the sun
To have the courage – to have a dream
Is to have already won.
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