Monday, September 28, 2009

My first week at school a year ago!

Just as the new set of students on the MBA ‘conveyor’ start their year long journey tomorrow, my memories go back to my first week at Warwick. Excitement levels to their hilt. It was an amazing amalgam of excitement and nervousness. Many amongst us were getting back to books after over 10 years.

Fellow students were regaling the groups with their past achievements. The class seemed infinitely large because of the urgency to speak to each one of the fellow students and make friends. Some were loud, some were muted, some were interesting and some……..

The first week was action packed. While we coped with the schedules of introductory classes, alumni meets and tried to make our airplanes to take a flight of success and achievement, some stumbling blocks came our way in the form of settling-in blues.

Bank Accounts – It’s a struggle, we needed to get a letter from the University house that we were registered students - to open a bank account. And this needed to be done fairly early on as the first instalment of fees was due soon. HSBC and Barclays charged 6 pounds a month just to keep our money with them. NatWest didn’t charge anything like this and was happy to give you a connect card (more easily acceptable in most establishments and online transactions) if your balance was over 5000 pounds.

Mobile phones – We were required to give our mobile numbers for the talent book that had an alleged life of a year and beyond. Most mobile companies have arduous procedures of giving out contracts. The least requirement is a proof of address in the form of bank statement and the first statement can take about 2 months to arrive. A pay as you go card can be as expensive as 20p for a minute’s call and 10p for a sms but a contract gave us almost 600 mins and unlimited texts in under 20 pounds. My advice – do not worry. Take a pre-paid card and convert it into a contract at a later date and retain your number.

Lunch – University house that is 5 mins of walk gave us a lunch in under 5 pounds and Rootes (Ist floor behind bar fusion) that is 8 mins of walk from the school served an elaborate buffet that costed less than 4 pounds. Needless to say – if we did justice to the buffet, it helped us better in catching up with our sleep during the afternoon class. Else for the benefit of pocket and weight watchers, the school – kindly and appreciably, served a splendid variety of fruits and muffins at the coffee lounge.

Grocery – Cost cutter (next to Rootes) was really a pocket cutter. It took many of us a month to realise this. Tesco is 30% cheaper. Is open 24 hrs Monday to Friday, till 2200 hrs on Saturdays and 1600 hrs on Sundays. Residents of Claycroft had an advantage here. Its 2 mins away. Residents of Heron Bank and Lakeside struggled a bit more as they stacked up their freezers etc in the initial weeks. But 2 or 3 of us always enjoyed our walk from lakeside to Tesco and took a taxi back in 5 pounds.

Extracurricular – Warwick has over a hundred societies to suit every enthusiast. Polo, salsa, golf, cricket, sailing and many more. This we could figure out only in the 3rd or the 4th week as we began to settle down.

Hostels – Computers took a while to adjust to the new environment. A data cable could be purchased at Tesco or Costcutter. Irrespective of our previous attachments with our old IP settings we had to let our computers find their new IP. The accommodation service was fast and efficient. If at all we had an issue with our accommodation we used our login starting with bs….. and logged in an online complaint. We only realised much later that all the spiders that we found in our rooms were pets. But if there was a strong aversion we could politely request their removal.

A high point of the first week was Nicholas Bate and his introduction to discipline and self development.

In retrospect I feel academics were a miniscule part of this amazing experience that we lived. Work smart and party hard was the mantra. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to make new friends and nurture relationships. Some amongst us made the most of it, some faded away into oblivion.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The rules of the global game have changed

US, Japan, Germany and UK (top 4) contribute roughly 40% of the global GDP and have held this position for a relatively long period of time.

Settlement in a western country used to be a thing of pride at one point of time and in some pockets of the world - it still is. In the hinterland of Punjab in India many people would erect large concrete airplanes on their rooftops to indicate that someone from that house is either settled in Canada, US or the UK. Within the village community, that family would be looked at with respect.

Employment opportunities were galore. The great Western dream (derivative of the great American dream) was a reality and anyone who had the will could have his way.

The biggest catalyst that drives an economy is its infrastructure impetus. Roads, Dams, Bridges, Power plants, Industry. For a long time (many decades after the II world war) these sectors were in a constant state of development and progress.

Steel consumption in the US rose in the post-War boom years from 50 million tonnes in 1946 to peak at 110 million tonnes in 1975 and then started declining to reach around 90 million tonnes last year. More significantly, employment in the US steel industry has gone down from over 500,000 in 1974 to less than 150,000 now. The second fundamental structural change has to do with a decline in the cost competitiveness of western manufactured goods arising from a steady increase in the wage costs. This has caused a shift to low wage countries in the east, first of manufacturing and, later on, even of services. Ironically, the unionised labour in the west, which was responsible for the high wage spiral, has been the worst hit by job losses in the current slowdown.

More than often I wonder that if all the infrastructure that is required for a given country is in place, what will drive the economy of such countries with an aging population and torn social fabric. My assumption is that the infrastructure demand of the top 4 peaked out at the turn of this century. Smart people saw an opportunity and shifted focus to financial products that started driving the economic indicators. CDO’s came into being and the ‘top few’ managed to maintain that position for another decade before the bubble burst and the world almost reached a precipice of collapse.

And the rules of the global game changed!

The western world has made itself totally uncompetitive by its wage system, social system and artificially expensive currencies that have killed the local industry.

Protectionism in immigration policies and trade policies is providing a seemingly effective shield to the western world. It cannot last.

The world is flat now and if Darwin is anything to go by – “Only the fittest will survive”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Creation - Preservation - Destruction - Creation (CPDC)

Strategy Module has been intriguing. Many of my dear friends were punished with abysmally low marks. I only have one question to ask – is the marker’s belief in his connotation of strategy the final word in the subject? If yes, why can’t his/her ideas be utilized to strategise about dozens of things that are of immensely improvable order in an otherwise excellent school. (This isn’t a forum to ejaculate my frustrations) but strategy is neither about past nor present.

It’s about future. And to comment on future as mortal human beings is assuming oneself to be GOD.

We aren’t GOD!!

Companies continue to be cosy in their streak of luck or past achievements yet very few lessons can be learnt from the past. Past teaches you nothing. It only opens your eyes a bit more. The basic tenet of life is defined by CPDC. The three Hindu deities personify CPDC. Creation (Brahma), Preservation (Vishnu) and Destruction (Shiva). This applies not only to life form but also to product lifecycle, inventions, management styles and strategy.

The dynamic nature of every atom that makes this planet and millions of others ensures that life form keeps travelling to a higher plane (evolution) before it dies and paves way for new one. Strategy is dynamic too. It’s about future. It’s about the constant change in the state of things.

Companies can only ‘hope’ to address the following to survive:
What can we do to address future challenges and capture future opportunities?
What kind of leadership and culture we need to develop to tackle the unknown future?
What can we do to retain present customers to sell future products?

Are there any companies that have seemingly achieved this? Well if I was to say anything against Apple; half a dozen of my friends esp. Kasmira would put my life in danger because of their unflinching love and adulation for Apple products. So I suspect Apple has achieved customer retention for future products.

Leaders should continuously strive to define their future while addressing their present and believe in the CPDC cycle.

That’s all there is to it.

My last musing – Can strategy be theorised?
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