Old and Older Connections


In life, we keep meeting new folks in every day business and personal lives. We try to keep track of these people by entering contact details in MS Outlook for business contacts and in Apple Contacts for personal contacts (in my case). We do not have the time or focus to review these contacts and check to see when was the last time we interacted with a particular person.

The reason for inactivity when it comes to business contacts is not difficult to fathom – if we continue to do business with a business contact, then we keep meeting the person almost like every month at least. If we are not, then it only means that there is not much business activity between the two organisations. Slowly, the business contact who you had met quite some time ago, fades away from your radar and is rarely to be seen again. In my opinion, this requires a review as you should evaluate every business contact for his or her value, and reduce the importance to a lower level as the case may be – a business rolodex cannot be just ordered according to the alphabet (of either the name of the organization or the name of the business contact). It should have immediate importance and value for you to generate some fresh business lead or introduction to a prospect. So, it should be ordered accordingly.

In the case of personal contacts, the situation gets worse as most such acquaintances are driven by local connectivity rather than leverage a broader connectivity. What I mean here is that people in a specific location or area of a city oftentimes tend to get together for parties, and the proximity effect has big impact when the specific area has some big ticket condominiums with similar profiles of folks who would have got introduced at some business or social event. As people spread across a city or a country, it becomes more difficult to connect and network and build a relationship. If I look through the personal contacts (people that I have met mostly on social occasions and exchanged business cards with) list on my Apple, I encounter people that I have almost forgotten, or people who I met so long ago with no further interaction. It is strange, but that is the way it is, even in a small city like Singapore. You can then imagine the prospect of networking in a large country such as India or the U.S. Again, I eliminate folks who I have not interacted with in the past 3 years or so, and reduce the length of the contacts directory with more meaningful names.

In this process (both business and personal, more specifically personal), I identified a phenomenon which I knew intuitively but which has not coalesced up to my senses till now. It is simple – folks I had known from my old times and folks who are more mature, have always made attempts to keep in touch with me, and similarly I had the inclination to keep in touch with them almost continuously over the years in a proactive fashion. I am talking about a three decades-long experience, so there must be some truth in what I am discovering. The groups that I have been part of for a long time are still around and some of the members of these groups have been in touch with me directly. The “physical” groups that I have been part of are also active with an orientation towards its members and their well-being. In fact, we often seek out each other when we visit other cities or countries. My management school classmates are going to meet later this year at a port city in India for a long-awaited rendezvous. The success of such endeavours is based on interest level, good will, familiarity, and an utter lack of pecuniary considerations of any kind – there is just no motive other than to fondly interact and network.

I find this fascinating – I get calls from people who I know well but who have been away, and the connection is almost instantaneous with a desire to fill the gaps in each others’ lives. I have not seen business happening between personal contacts and I believe that it is probably the right thing. No point in introducing a motive for the connection or a specific interaction between two personal contacts, apart from the genuine desire to speak to each other on personal matters.

When I forward my blog posts to multiple groups, it signifies my desire to stay in touch with multiple folks at the same time. They may or may not read my posts, but they know I exist and I am quite active. I am just a phone call away. That keeps the vibe going in the group. Occasionally, I get a response from a group member, and it is an important event for me!

In a nutshell, I cannot emphasise the critical importance of “old” and “older” connections to the social well-being of oneself. We need to make all possible attempts to network and keep the association going forward. This will not only help us but also will help the person at the other end. I have always seen that folks who have been away for many many years are kind of emotional when they get back to their home city and meet their old class mates or friends – they had been missing the good old times all those bygone years!

I hope I am making sense – it is for you to “feel” what I am belabouring to explain.

Have a wonderful weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th June 2019

Hold your thought?


Many a time, I have witnessed good ideas being held back by a simple principle called conformance, which is widely and “successfully” practiced in the corporate world. What is being a conformist mean, and is it relevant anymore in today’s world?

Conformance means two things – you choose to “fall in line” with others in your team or your boss in terms of agreeing with them that the idea on the table which apparently they all support, is indeed the best one deserving your personal support as well. Not only that, you highlight your own philosophy behind your support for that particular idea that everyone else around you seem to be supporting, thereby positioning yourself well in the group and endearing yourself to your boss. Not just a blind support, but a well-thought out, philosophical support that has been so well articulated by you.

So, by being a conformist (other than when you are the main originator of the revolutionary idea yourself), you score a brownie point with your boss and your team (in general). I can tell you that some of your team members would be wondering why you are supporting an idea that they know you do not believe in. May be they will ask you later on! You better be clear and achieve a full clarity in your mind while explaining your rationale to them!!

But then such are the pressures to conform in corporate life.

Things are changing for the better, however, especially in new age companies (which are vastly different from the established traditional corporations) where dissent is accepted and even praised as a “necessity”. A different thought process accompanied by solid logic is viewed very positively in these companies where the leadership is young and energetic, completely open and transparent to an influx of new ideas, even from a newcomer or the juniormost member of the team. In essence, what it means is that the leadership wants new ideas that are different from their own, and also wants the team to reflect the current society so that business customization becomes easier to accomplish.

Why is it so difficult for older companies in traditional fields to open up their staid leadership and business models to similar influences? One reason is that they generally believe in traditional hierarchy and respect experience to the extent that they believe earth-shaking ideas can only come from such an experienced leadership. This is despite the fact their market shares and revenues keep slipping quarter after quarter. The second reason is that these older companies still believe in their invincibility with regard to their hold on the marketplace – in several fields, these very same corporations have defined and created the markets, to start with. How can then these markets just slip away from their hold? Who can challenge the status quo?

Now, we even see social media giants belonging to the new age struggle as well to control and keep hold of the markets that they defined and created. Is it not a similar situation? Yes, it is – the only difference being that in new age companies, the velocity of adjustments and idea assimilation is far higher than in older companies. Notwithstanding the same, struggles happen and continue to happen, and the government, clients, users and media can witness what is going on in a transparent manner.

In a nutshell, it is critical not to hold your thoughts on a specific topic, because your allegiance should be towards the company and its advancement via better sharing of fresh ideas and thoughts which could enhance a process or a system or a product or market strategy or competitive approach, not just to your team or your boss. May be you are moving ahead in a new discovery! Who knows?

So be open and transparent while being consultative and respectful. There is absolutely no need to confirm to an idea in which you don’t believe. Of course, if you like the idea and believe it would work out to the benefit if your company, go for it and support it by all means. It does not matter where the idea came from!

Cheers, and Have a wonderful week ahead, and Wishing all my Chinese readers “Gong Xi Fa Chai”,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd February 2019

Food for Further Thoughts and Analysis


I have almost completely forgotten my Electronics & Communication Engineering.

I have forgotten all the equations that were necessary to understand how the theory of electro-magnetism works in practice, and how do electrons and neutrons struggle within an atom. Complex equations, stochastic processes, integration and differentiation, Fourier Transforms, linear differential equations, and what not?

I have not applied a single one of those equations in my engineering/business life, even in companies which depend on some of these theories to make and sell their stuff to customers. Of course, when you look at a boiler, a turbine, a rocket, a power generation plant, a refinery, or any other engineering driven plant or business, there is some recognition in my mind that I “used” to know something about all these at some earlier point in my life.

Did any of these matter to me in my life? The real answer is a clear NO.

Let me now come to my coveted MBA. I enjoyed working through my MBA Program, no doubt. I liked the intense discussions which went on in the class on various topics of importance to corporate life.

Did I enjoy my MBA? Ofcourse, it is a YES.

Did I get to use my MBA learning in my corporate life? Not really. May be a bit of Marketing, a bit of Finance, but I would say that I would have picked it up anyway during the course of my business life.

All these education focus, is it really necessary?

May not be required for the future of our children. Things are changing so rapidly as we navigate an already very complex life, and the skills that we learnt are no longer in use or needed in business life. Did we really keep up with what is transforming the world as at this moment? The answer is also a NO, as we have a wrong and incorrect belief system (in most of us) that persuades us all to take a rather casual approach to the emerging challenges, and that is rooted on our seniority and experiences over several decades.

We continue to operate on generalities and general knowledge which have seen us through till now in our lives.

But, these tools may not be adequate or even recognized by our employers any more.

Our education, experience, expertise, and insight may no longer be required in the new completely digital and Artificial Intelligence-driven life that is fast becoming a reality. Most of us can be replaced by machine learning and AI systems.

We are all lucky we got through most of our corporate lives unscathed (apart from the usual restructuring) till now.

Now, the challenge is not from within ourselves or our corporations. The challenge is from outside, and it may not even be related to your current business.

Think about it for a moment.

We are “used” cars. In a new world, we may easily be replaced by newer models, and faster cars. Our education is now totally irrelevant. I am no longer interacting with my elite MBA institution or its representatives in Singapore.

I am trying to meet folks with “new” and “radical” ideas to transform our business going forward. Most of the people we meet in our corporate life deserve no more than a “B” rating. Few people are a “B+”, and very few are a “A”.

As we course through our life, we see that the “B+” and “A” folks are much younger, sharper, incisive, intellectual, and operate entirely on data, not on qualitative stuff and not on perceptions. Relationships are no longer sacrosanct. The “B”s and “C”s are generally people whose profiles are similar to ours. Of course, there are exceptions.

So, in a nutshell, we need to mingle not just amongst ourselves or with our colleagues in our office or in other offices, but with young people who don’t give a damn about age, seniority, experience or old expertise. We need fresh thinking, and they will provide it all the time. Further, they will take risks which we cannot. So, they will go on to create new value, while we ruminate on “how great it was during our time”.

So, I took some actions –

  1. Subscribe to few digital courses at MIT Online Courses
  2. Visit Block 71 in Singapore and meet with young startup founders
  3. Invest in the stocks of few new companies that you believe in – can be in Technology, Bio-tech, or whatever you are interested in – the good outcome is you understand what is happening
  4. See CNBC every night – they talk about the markets and the new companies ringing the bell on listing
  5. Change your mind, your thinking, your interactions, your friends/acquaintances
  6. Do a business plan for a new company that you would like to start – I did this and it was not just informative, it was completely transformative. I even set up a website and validated the business plan
  7. List out options on what you would like to do after quitting your current corporate life – this will be tough if you are so used to the routine for a long time
  8. Offer your services as an unpaid mentor either to startup individuals or to startups themselves – they may or may not accept, but it is worth trying
  9. Read up on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, how these technologies which have been there for a long time have now taken on new avatars in combination with Big Data Analytics and Cloud technologies and platforms

I am dropping point #10, not all lists have to have ten points!

Don’t you think the above is interesting? May not work for everyone, or you might have your own approach depending on your area of specialization or the industry you are from.

I am already excited and feeling younger in mood, spirit and attitude. I am trying to drop all my old baggage that I have learnt or am carrying with me. It is time to completely “unlearn” everything we know.

The world is, and will, no longer be the same one that we had known all these years.

Time to learn new things and get going.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd October 2017

The Founder Revolt and its Implications


We saw a surprising development in the Indian IT industry earlier this week when the CEO of Infosys, Mr Vishal Sikka, resigned protesting against personal attacks by founders of the company which have caused serious distraction in the performance of his duties as the CEO of the famous IT company. The Board of Infosys was fully supportive of the CEO during the onslaught mounted by the founders, led by Mr Narayana Murthy, the ex Chairman and CEO, and one of the co-founders.

Mr Sikka’s resignation sent the Infosys stock down by over 10%, wiping out almost USD 5B in its market capitalization. The market had a strong belief in the value that Mr Sikka brought to his job, and his strategy of moving Infosys’ business from traditional IT outsourcing to cloud, big data, social media driven business, transforming Infosys to take on the new digital challenges offered by the market.

While there are many commentaries (mostly supportive of Mr Sikka and the Board), it is important to learn a few things from this episode. Once the founders have handed over the CEO job to a professional, and have received assurances from the Board of Directors that the essential ethos and values of the company will be maintained and strengthened further, they should stay completely away from the running of the business. If there are issues with the corporate governance aspects of the business, there are ways of approaching and handling the same with the Board, instead of washing the dirty linen in public media glare.

Of course, it is to the credit of the founders who have built up a strong foundation for Infosys over three decades of pioneering work, that such public damage did not cause harm to the company or its business or its stock price (in a major way). Things were going on normally, despite all the attacks.

But Mr Sikka now says that the attacks by Mr Murthy turned very personal over the past couple of weeks. And, the distraction to the business was too much, leading him to make a drastic decision.

His resignation is a loss to Infosys as well as to the Indian IT industry. He was setting new benchmarks in strategic business transformation at Infosys, and was a thorough professional who made decisions without undue influence (from what can be gathered). He had the ears of the Board and the stock market.

Mr Murthy is an iconic figure in the industry and is a well-recognized name globally as well. There must be something which has disturbed him and his co-founders in a big way. But then, the way the attacks have been mounted on Infosys is not an acceptable form of protest. Seasoned businessmen and leaders do it in a different manner, without public disaffection and published letters via the media.

I disagree with Mr Murthy’s tactics, and won’t be surprised if the damage to Infosys is long-lasting. It would be very difficult to find a CEO of the calibre of Mr Sikka who would be willing to take up the CEO job now.

When I entered the IT industry in 1987, I knew only of Mr FC Kohli of TCS and Mr Azim Premji of WIPRO. I also knew about Mr Shiv Nadar of HCL. Infosys was not known at that time. But, in the Nineties Infosys built up its business nicely, garnering a serious reputation for integrity and values (similar to WIPRO). For the past nearly two decades, the stock market has always looked at Infosys as a trend-setter with conformance to global principles of accounting and transparency.

That legacy is under threat now. Hopefully, the Board will be able to make the right choice of the CEO. If it is an internal candidate from the old times, the market will assume that the founders are taking back control. And, if it is an external candidate bold enough to accept the challenge of dealing with the founders, then it has got to be a person of huge stature who cannot be trifled with.

Let us see how this plays out.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th August 2017

Capitalists in Poor Countries


Well, we are back at this fabulously greedy topic, aren’t we after a while?

There are many poor countries in the world, India being one with a per capita income of USD 1,581 as per World Bank data. This is GDP per capita and on the basis of purchasing power parity, India’s per capita income is estimated to be USD 6,088. On both measures, India ranks below more than 100 other nations. So, it is reasonable to assume that India is one of the poorer countries, though the GDP is growing at over 7% currently (the fastest for any of the largest 10 economies of the world).

One can argue that these low figures would have been even lower had the socialist policies of the erstwhile Congress governments continued to be in place. That would probably be true, but then the Congress government changed its long standing socialist philosophy in 1991 when India encountered an unprecedented balance of payments crisis. For the past quarter century or so, successive governments have improved their focus on economic development (though not at the pace required, and definitely not at the speed at which Communist China was able to pursue economic growth). Hence, it is also reasonable to say that India shifted surely and steadily towards a Capitalist model of economic growth, in simple terms. It was actually more complex than what I am stating here, but then we wish to understand the essential truth rather than analyze voluminous economics data.

So, we have now arrived at an inflection point in the GDP growth curve. In the process of the rapid growth over the past several years, India managed to create scores of billionaires, and Capitalism was no longer a bad word in the Indian lexicon. Startups mushroomed in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Gurgaon. Venture Capital Funds flocked to India. The India IT Story was going great guns. More jobs were getting created. And what not?

However, one sad thing is the ignorance of our Capitalists on how to behave and live in one of the poorest countries on earth, and how to contribute to the less fortunate in society. In essence, it was a required tenet that Capitalists anywhere on the planet who have made billions for themselves need to become real philanthropists to aid society in ways more than just creating some jobs in the economy. Their role does not stop with just creating a few thousand jobs. And, they are not supposed to flaunt their wealth by building skyscraper homes in the midst of slums. Just look at the top few billionaires in the world, mostly in U.S. and Europe – they are all philanthropists and do not flaunt their wealth. They get engaged in issues which afflict societies all around the world – in Africa, in India, in South America, etc., They apply their minds to solving some of the biggest problems facing humanity.

What about Indian billionaires?

Except for one or two, you don’t hear from the rest on what they are doing towards alleviating poverty, improving water supply, providing power to villages, enhancing availability of quality education, etc., And, surely none seem to be heeding the advice of the Indian Prime Minister on moderation in everything. Nobody is even questioning the generation of wealth by these Capitalists (though there is enough talk on how it was done with the help of greedy government officials in most cases, but not all), or creation of jobs. What is sincerely needed is their application of mind to resolving some of the most intransigent challenges faced by India and its poor people who live below the poverty line.

Now it gets interesting. India moved away from Socialism to Capitalism sometime in the early to mid Nineties. Is it time for India to revisit Socialism (as Bernie Sanders tried to do in the recent U.S. Presidential Election Campaign)? Is it important for the Indian Government to become more interventionist than it actually already is? Is its pleading for Corporate Social Responsibility falling on deaf Corporate ears of the Capitalist oligarchy? Is it critical at all for the government to be involved in any kind of business?

Well, history is not a predicator of what is to come. With Social Media, the population (at least the younger ones which India does not lack in very good numbers) is “always” connected, and the injustices in society are being discussed more aggressively than in the past. The discussion is also different this time as it is not the corporate cookies afraid of losing their jobs who are talking in hushed tones. It is really the teenagers and the early twenty somethings who are very confident of their future, who are engaged in these conversations.

All these things presage a good development for India – if there is one country which can pull together its young people power into productive causes, it would be the Indian New Age Capitalists a.k.a. Startup Ventures. Such initiatives would eventually wrest control from the traditional oligarchs by implementing suitable business model innovations.

Interesting, right? Let us see what happens in the near future.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th November 2016

 

Breadth Vs Depth


Yesterday I attended an interesting lecture by a renowned finance professional and a venture capitalist.

Apart from other interesting points, he highlighted the need for intense depth rather than a breadth of knowledge or skills.

He was addressing a group of executive MBA students with average business experience of 10 years.

I have always believed in breadth at the expense of depth, simply because I believed I needed to have a wider mental perspective to deal with complex business issues which keep cropping at regular frequency. Right from the beginning, I probably thought that I was always destined to become a general manager of sorts………that is what every MBA pass-out expects him or her to become eventually, I guess.

Things have changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, the world has inevitably changed, the business environment has transformed incredibly, and the manner in which people communicate has also change hugely.

With all this transformation, is it possible for anyone, even a guy at the very apex of an organization, to have a total comprehensive view of everything around that he needs to know ?

Surely that is going to be a very tough proposition.

If everyone in the organization tries to emulate the boss for breadth as against the depth needed for himself or herself, then most organizations will be in serious trouble, if you think about it. Job execution requires considerable depth. I met a CEO yesterday who mentioned that even in his late fifties, he trains himself everyday so that he could successfully demonstrate the latest features of his product to a potential client – he said that while the traditional wisdom is that you could always get that task delegated to a mid-level person, the customer does not think so – the customer would not only expect you to explain about your product or solution in great depth, explain how your product can solve his problems, and then if he has the time would expect you to demo ! One has to be prepared all the time for that eventuality. By doing so, instead of delegating it, the customer would gain huge confidence in your product, your company and your capabilities.

So, my new conclusion is that “Depth” is far more important and critical to one’s success than breadth. While there is no harm in knowing something about everything, it is not necessary these days as one can get any kind of information from the web; whereas, to attain depth, it requires hard work and training, not generally easily delivered for free from the internet.

This is something which we should all think about………

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
25th August 2013

Information Integrity


If there is one thing that can be learnt from the travails of Mr Rajat Gupta, it is that information is sacrosanct and should not be traded for anyone’s benefit, knowing full well that critical information will be traded. When information is shared due to the necessity of one’s job or position, it is done with complete trust and integrity and the recipients need to reciprocate the trust. When that hard-earned trust is misplaced and then misused by the recipient, then judgement of the giver and the user of the information will be called into question.

The other key learning is the deciphering of human greed. Why is it that folks who are rather well off want to make more on morsels of information that can be secured using illicit transfer of such information from the famous and powerful people, knowing that such use of information for personal gain is not only prohibited by law, but is totally immoral ?

I am not passing any opinion on the verdict of conviction by the jury in the Rajat Gupta case – the jury may or may not be right. All evidence presented in the case is circumstantial and is unlikely to hold up if the case ever makes it to the Supreme Court of the U.S.  

But the point is, should this case ever have occurred in the first place ? Why do people in high and mighty positions, sometimes misuse their positions for personal benefit ? How come a long distinguished career could just be thrown away (Mr Rajat Gupta was the global Managing Director of McKinsey) for an urge which could have been controlled by the most sober and calm individuals if only had they reflected on the repercussions of their intended actions ?

Repeated and successful prosecutions of insider trading cases on Wall Street over the past couple of years should have given a pause to any criminal conspiracy, but unfortunately the  case precedes this time period and in hindsight, I am sure that the people involved in trading of information in this case would not have dared to do things that they did in fact. Exchange of securities related information happens all the time all over the world, but such information exchange is mostly casual and based on hearsay. Sometimes it could have led to profits from trading on that information. But, in the current case which has caught the limelight given the powerful personalities involved, these folks are the originators of the actions leading to the information. So, it becomes a case of fiduciary trust and integrity.

I do not know whether the conviction will ultimately lead to a jail term for Mr Rajat Gupta. Today, there was extensive coverage of the case in The Times of India newspaper – one full page. I disagree that acts of philanthropy and good deeds should be taken into consideration while determining the outcome of the case. I also disagree to associate national or ethnic origin in any way to this case – we are seeing a case of human failure, and the ultimate determination of whether it was indeed a premeditated failure is yet to be taken by the ultimate Court of Law. So, let us not prejudge, but take in the learning from the case for our future life design, and advising the youngsters who contemplate a high-achieving life of riches in securities and banking (and for that matter, in any endeavour of life).

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th June 2012

Mumbai