Saturday, April 29, 2006

'These BMWs Look Abandoned'

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The weather in Shanghai is pleasant, mostly between 13 and 20 degrees celsius. And its great to walk around, particularly if most of what you are doing is in one part of the city. At one junction, after seeing our nth street-corner parked BMW, my friend remarked, "The way these BMWs are lying here, it looks like people have abandoned them."

Actually that's true. The number of BMWs, Audis and Mercedes cars on the road are just staggering. Remember, this is a communist country that espoused equality not too long ago. Not to mention Volkswagen Passalts. The most common car is the Volkswagen Santana. Most of the taxis here are Santanas as well.

The interesting thing is that it was not just me and my friend who gazed in amazement at another BMW 5 series that whizzed past on a busy Shanghi intersection. Our Taiwanese-Chinese associate Lee seemed to concur. "That car will cost at least a million RMB (1 RMB = Rs 6 approx)," he would say, as an Audi A8 would slow down in front of us. Or, "That one will be 1.2 million RMB," he would point at Mercedes S 350.

I Can't Figure It Out !

Lee lives in downtown Shanghai in a office cum apartment and faces one of the two major elevated roads in Shanghai - translated, a flyover that runs all around and through the city. Lee says despite knowing of all the opportunities, he himself is amazed by the amount of money people have made here. "I just can't figure it sometimes, actually most of the times," he says.

China does not have much of a stock market so this is real money then ? Yes, both my friends think so. For the early settlers, including Indian traders, China has been like a gold mine. The sheer manufacturing and production opportunities have created thousands of entrepreneurs who in turn have created maybe millions of prosperous young Chinese, who working in these very enterprises or deal with them. Like Lee.

And there are the other, state funded opportunities. The massive public cum private infrastructure spend is a strong GDP kicker. China is adding expressways like there is no tommorrow. And realtors are erecting skyscrapers like they are going out of fashion. Indeed the first thing that hits you as you enter Shanghai are the umpteen skyscrapers. "When did they build this ?" you wonder.

Living In Balance

Yet, mega cities like Shanghai live in balance. Because the transition is still on. On the way to an industrial estate on the outskirsts of the city, we drive past the equivalent of an urban slum. Brick houses with `Mangalore' tiles and narrow roads with people walking briskly, dodging cyclists. And little shop cum garages with old men frying dumplings in large cauldrons. And people standing around, buying, eating. Like the guy you might buy samosas from back home.

And there is urban poverty too. Step out of the ornate Peace Hotel and you are accosted by beggars. Ditto with Bar Street in Beijing as I discovered during my last visit. Foreigners are preferred. Despite the trappings of a somewhat tough state, beggars survive. Its pretty clear that they can be dispatched, if the authorities really wanted. Perhaps that's China's own way of reminding itself of the task ahead. And being fair. And while the BMWs and Audis may multiply, so will the beggars. Unless the growth miracle truly envelops everyone.

Monday, April 24, 2006

China: A New Story Of Balance..The Bar Rouge View !

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Isn't The View Spectacular ? (Travel Site Photo !)


Green & Clean Neighbourhood, Our Apartment Complex In Downtown Shanghai


From the open deck of the top floor Bar Rouge in downtown Shanghai facing the busy Huangpu River and the glittering Pudong skyline across, you realise, once again, the relentless pace with which China is growing. This breathtaking image combines everything, China's strategy, the vision and the hard work that will take it there. Except that there seems to be a greater than ever effort to balance growth and the environment.

Driving out of Pudong International Airport three days ago, I saw the new airport terminal coming up. As structures go, its futuristic, as scale, gigantic. And seems to stretch for ever. What you can see now only is the superstructure, which will be ready by 2010. By then, Pudong, along with this terminal, will have five runways and should handle 80 million passengers.

The older Hongquiao airport, which is closer to the center of Shanghai, itself will have two runways and will be able to handle 30 million passengers - just in case you wanted to compare Bombay's struggling old airport with one runway and the proposed new airport (for the last two decades ?)

Metro As Well

And yes, for the metro and train lovers, a new 13-line rail network with 512 km of lines is coming up. Yes, there is a larger objective, the 2010 World Expo. And there is another larger target, making Shanghai a global hub for business, trade and commerce. Looking out on to the ships and boats sailing purposefully past on the river, it looks like all this will happen.

Right where we are standing, braving chilly winds, a 2,000 yard stretch of the waterfront is being redeveloped. Also coming up somewhere here is a modern passenger ship terminal (so its not only about airports and fast trains) and of course the world's fastest commercial train service.

The high speed magnetic levitation line from Shanghai's Pudong airport will be extended to Hangzhou, 100 miles south. The mag lev runs only 30 km or so now and serves as an exhibit of sorts. Even so, its not often that you can travel at 430 kmph, stay on the ground and survive to tell the tale. Its a dizzying run to say the least.

Maintaining Balance ?

And for all the scorching construction and development, the city of Shanghai and its neighbourhood seems to trying to maintain a balance with the environment. Shanghai already has 4,000 skyscrapers, 2,000 more than New York. Another 1,000 are coming up. And yet, the apartment complexes, including the one we are staying are well laid out with greenery. And the air never seems polluted.

Even the Shanghai-Hangzhou expressway is lined with beautifully landscaped trees. In other industrial zones like Huzou, armies of workers are putting up thousands of transplanted trees along the main thoroughfares. Having noticed the same raw infrastructure to polish transition in cities like Shenzhen today, one thing is clear. Some lessons have been learnt somewhere. Almost quickly as the mistakes began piling up. The story of China is as much today of balance with the environment as it was of reckless growth.

As the music throbs inside the cozier confines of Bar Rouge (with a cover charge so ridiculous it can't be printed here) the brilliant lights illuminating the buildings around us begin to power down. Including at the space needle like TV tower across. Lights are out at 10.30 pm. But life on the 8th floor of Bund 18 is just begun stirring. Not a table can be had and the DJ seems to have just begun. Like the rest of the People's Republic of China, he's just warming up.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Why Did Aamir Khan Swing For Narmada ?

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He is not the first celebrity to do so. But he’s turned out to be the most radical, activist Bollywood filmstar by far, all in day's time..at least as far as my memory serves me.

The reasons why he would back the Narmada Bachao Aandolan
could be several. Ranging from the fact that a cousin associated with the movement influenced him to the fact that he was in and out of the Kutch for six months whilst the shooting of Lagaan.

Lets assume all that contributed significantly. Still, why join the protestors in the manner he did ? Why become a face for the movement ? Knowing well there could be consequences that may not be the most desirable.

Dammed If You Do..

To his credit, he did not buckle to the mob frenzy that followed his signing up a few days ago. Instead, he calmly called the attention of all and sundry and asked if these were really the politicians and political parties they wanted to be led by ? He even accused the political parties of trying to bully him.

There are those who debate whether the dam should have come up in the first place and others who debate on the end-use for the water that will get diverted or..dammed. And then there are the rest who are debating the resettlement of those displaced by the dam. Some 300,000 people would have been displaced as per the original roll call it appears.

Lets focus on the last angle. Going by reports, some 35,000 families are still to be accounted for. The governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madha Pradesh (the Narmada flows through all states) individually and collectively have not been able to find land to accommodate these people, at least in their own books. The option, it appears, could be to buy the land from farmers, probably rich ones. No government will do that easily, particularly when the rich farmers represent a strong lobby of their own.

The Mighty Narmada Project

Couple of asides. First, there are 29 major, 1,335 medium and 3,000 minor projects proposed with the objective of irrigating 27.55 lakh hectares of land and power generation of 3,000 MW. Of which 11 are close to completion. Of which the Sardar Sarovar Project and the Narmada Sagar Project are the big guys. These are the dams which will obviously create the maximum impact and displacement as the waters rise.

An aside, why is the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam (163 metres on completion) a key point in the controversy ? Simply because the higher it goes (present target to raise from 110 m to 121.92 m) the larger the water body becomes and the more the people that get displaced. Seen from the other side, a dam’s efficacy as a source of power generation is perhaps better as the water levels rise and the pressure increases. I am not an expert on dams. I have visited a couple though and reckon I understand the basic principles at work.

Now, my first question is why are the displaced people nobody’s problem ? As in, why does it take an Aamir Khan to step in and argue for their rights ? Or for the rest of the world to wake up when he does ? Clearly, if tribals are being evicted from land they’ve tilled and lived on for decades if not centuries, they deserve a better deal.

Whose Problem Are They ?

There are slums that came up a few years ago in Bandra (Mumbai) where I live and they sit there defiantly like they’ve always owned the land. And they’ve not. This is public property. And guess what, the politicians rush in to protect them at the slightest threat of eviction. Let me name a few. The late Sunil Dutt, the present Baba Siddqui (local MLA) among others.

Anyway, no one seems to care for the displaced thousands in Gujarat. Except of course Medha Patkar. Who does not quite grab the attention of an increasingly liberal, market-economy driven media - yes, this writer is part of it. So, either these folks can’t vote or their number is finite. Or even if they do, there is something beyond that matters more. Something is not adding up from the politician’s point of view. What precisely I would like to understand.

Medha Patkar and friends have agitated against the very concept of a dam. I am not very sure about that. My pro-development, right leaning, marketised conditioning forces me to disagree in principle. Maybe its time to have a relook and a rethink. At least so that one understands both sides. The Bhakra Nangal dam is being revisited. A three-year study of the dam and its impact on environment by Sripad Dharmadhikary has come up with some startling conclusions. Including that the dam didn’t do a fat lot of good.

Not Screaming Headlines

This report came a year ago. For obvious and not so obvious reasons, it didn’t make screaming headlines. Though it was reported on. Yes, it wasn't the subject of live and continuous coverage on national telly. At least from what I can remember. Am not debating the merit of that. Except that it slipped under the broad radar. While our school text books will continue to gush about Nehru’s temples of modern India, I now think it is only fair to mention the dissenting note as well.

To return to Aamir Khan. If I were him and you were me or him, having heard about the Narmada Bachao Andolan, maybe we would try and look at the facts as they are. And not the mass media representation of them or the lack of it.

Why does Aamir react so ? Well, he has his own reasons, I know some. They are not relevant here. The fact is that he does charge media for not doing its job. Let me quote him directly here (The Telegraph, April 9)Its partly out of context, but only partly, because he speaks about Medha Patkar here.

The problem, according to the actor, is that information on what is happening across the country and how to intervene are not readily available because of the media’s obsession with fashion and glamour.

“It is obscene, this obsession with fashion and film stars. I want to know what happened in Assam, students were fired at by the police. And I have to ask around. The newspapers don’t tell me that. They are busy writing about some fashion event,” he said. “I’m not saying that they shouldn’t do that, but isn’t their main job to inform and educate?” the actor signed off.

Do We See Things Similarly ?

So lets assume for a moment Aamir has no hidden agenda. And is not using this to `get back' at media which he well could and might. And we see things similarly. Do you see what I see ? Someone is not getting a good deal. For no fault of theirs, except that they lived in a certain place. Rather, an extremely raw one. I am still talking about displaced people. So we may want to examine the facts a little more closely. As the Supreme Court did. And then draw our own conclusions. Like the Supreme Court did. That’s what I think Aamir did. And that’s why I think he landed up next to Medha Patkar. What do you think ?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Shame On Bangalore

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This writer usually takes up for Bangalore and its citizens. For their determination, grit and perseverance. A city which is now on the itinerary of just about every head of state. And of course anyone to do with information technology.

Yet, its the same city where thousands of youth, among others have taken to the streets following actor Raj Kumar's demise. Pictures of mob violence are streaming in. The contrast between the engineers working in glass towers on cutting edge technology projects and the mayhem on the streets couldn't be starker. At last count, four people including a policeman were dead. The policeman was killed by mob.

The 77-year-old Rajkumar gave up acting almost a decade ago. Its tough to believe that the youth pelting stones at policemen across the city today watched too many of his films, if any. None of the television images showed them to be grieving. Instead their faces showed the thrill one usually associates with the satisfaction of inflicting damage on the establishment. Many were performing for the cameras,leaping with joy.

Shut Down Or Else..

Major IT companies including Microsoft, Infosys and Wipro have shut down their offices. Not really out of choice, considering that the option would be to see their beautiful campuses wrecked or the glass facades shattered. That happened anyway. The government is leading with a two-day state holiday that began yesterday.

Rajkumar was a giant in Kannada cinema. His career spanned almost five decades. He was a receipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke and Padma Bhushan awards and the Karnataka Ratna, the state's highest civilian award. He also won 10 Filmfare awards and recorded his loyalty to the Kannada language by not acting in films made in other languages.

His stature does not explain the burning of buses, cars and tires though. Or the beating up and killing of policemen. Mobs went on a similar rampage six years ago when the actor was kidnapped by sandalwood smuggler Veerappan. There is nothing wrong with mourning. Except that it must be voluntary and not forced. To that extent, Bangalore's mobs have proved to be no different from Shiv Sena in Bombay or the communist party cadre in West Bengal.

Poor Showing

Two points emerge. One is that the the city of Bangalore was not sufficiently prepared for the fury. As was evident by the small groups of policemen cornered by the mobs. Nor was it prepared for the sheer frustration that boils beneath. And explodes on ocassions like this. The (mostly) young men running about on the streets don't look like they work for BPO companies. Or IT firms. Many may not have jobs at all. And this is an outlet for venting their frustration. And getting away with it. Mob fury in India can achieve almost anything, without facing the consequences. Recent history has amply demonstrated this.

The second (related) point is to do with the country's image. Bangalore is India to most of the world. And rightly so. This story has already been splashed across world media. Few will note the death of Rajkumar. Most would remember that India's IT capital has been held hostage for two days. In a flat world era with processes being outsourced real time, this is not a healthy proposition. This is not a natural calamity.

Cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, among others, will have to be better prepared to deal with such contingencies in future. Because the knowledge industry depends on people moving, not machine parts. This cannot be an Infosys, TCS or a Wipro problem. State governments must work doubly hard to understand and contain their citizens.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

IIT, IIM Alumni, Come Up With Solutions, Or Else..

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The draft Reservation of Seats in Central Educational Institutions, 2006 is ready. If implemented in this form, upto 50% of all seats in 32 central educational institutions (IIT, IIM, JNU, AIIMs etc) will be reserved for students from scheduled caste/tribe or other backward class backgrounds..

The Cabinet secretariat has put it on hold for now. Not because its bad in principle. But because the move could technically violate the model code of conduct laid down by the Election Commision (EC). At least on the face of it. Elections in five states are coming up. The good news is that matters have risen to a desirable crescendo. The bad news is that no real alternatives or solutions are still on the table. Till that happens, this problem ain’t going away.

In my earlier post, I made a strong case to descend to the streets to protest the government’s move. Not because I am an alumni of any of these institutions. Rather, it’s a move that’s most unimaginative in concept and terrible in principle Thanks to the media, yes, the media (not sure our politicians and their advisors rise every morning and Google Search for what the blog world is saying) the issue is right up there. Yes, Salman Khan’s incarceration is also up there.

Silent Approval..Or Rejection ?

Arjun Singh’s defiance is matched by the deafening silence of most of the political system, notably his own party members. It’s a political weapon which Singh, with silent approval or otherwise, is carrying alone. The accompanying silence points to one thing. That there is a good chance the whole thing will either get deferred or even scrapped. Of course, that is the optimistic view. There is a pessimistic view too, but no point getting into it now.

What can now make the ghost of reservations go away once for all ? Very little. Because it is this writer’s instinctive view that there needs to be a a solution that will address both constituencies. The OBC students who possibly feel alienated from the higher education system and the politicians who want to find a quick fix solution like reservation.

We’ve had a great economic going for the last few years. Thanks to the BJP’s disasterous tryst with India Shining, no one dares use this term any more. But the fact IS that Urban India is shining. And how. The fact also remains that demographically, there are more young aspiring Indians out there. Many of them are students. Remember, this is a country with a median age of around 25.

Talking Higher Education

Just to put things in perspective. An student who is classified as belonging to OBC would have had to finish Class XII or graduation as the case may be. So as to apply for IIT or IIM. The school or college he or she would hail from may or may not be noteworthy but the fact is that there has to be one. So, we are not talking about people who’ve been denied primary or basic education. That’s a different lot altogether.

Now this lot has witnessed the last four years of glitzy growth pretty much the way you and I have. Their education and exposure allows them to experience, through mass media and the like. More importantly, it makes them aspire. Their aspirations would be the same as you and me again..graduation, B-School education, jobs in good companies and so on. Or if it’s a JNU, then a platform for a good career in academia, government. Or medicine in the case of AIIMS.

The glitzy growth I speak of does not embrace this class of youngsters entirely. At least not yet. Much of the growth has been jobless so to speak. And yet, the mass media impact of urban prosperity on these aspiring youngsters cannot be ignored. Its simple. Ten, twenty years ago, most aspiring young workers fled to the Middle East. Because they were not so poor or downtrodden that they could not have the basic education and skills. And they were not so lucky so as to hit the `mainstream’.

Euphoric Growth, But Does Everyone Benefit ?

It’s a little different today. There is as much euphoric growth in India, or parts of it, as perhaps many other corners of the world. Yes, Shanghai and Dubai are building and growing at stratospheric rates but a city like Bombay, with 55 new malls coming up, sea-links, Mercedes cars as common as normal cars were a few decades ago, is no less alluring, or puzzling. Or Gurgaon. The traffic-clogged roads are as much as a sign of prosperity as of the utter non-existence of urban planning.

Is Arjun Singh and the political class trying to address this class of young India ? Is he really concerned about them ? I don’t know and would defer to the experts. Does this class of young India stand to benefit with reservation ? Yes, in some way. In appeasement if not results. And that’s the politician’s solution. But the politician can retire (as Arjun Singh might, soon) but the ghosts will remain.

The aspirations of this class of youth will have to be met. In my mind, among the best people to do it are those benefited from the same state’s model of excellence. Alumni of IITs and IIMs need to put their heads together (as they’ve done admirably elsewhere) and come up with workable solutions that will address this constituency of India.

Bottom Of The Pyramid Approach To Education ?

They need to come up with a education and growth roadmap that will address, either with private or public-private initiatives, the larger aspirations of this young India. The IT industry often asks the government to build new townships. Because existing cities like Bangalore are creaking under their people-intensive needs. The Special Economic Zone solution, with all its tax holes, will address this in some way. And pretty soon.

A similar thought process needs to evolve for education. Industry can’t find all the solutions. Nor should it. Or the jobs even if the education system was strengthened. But industry has the brains and the ability to put its mind to it. It needs to demonstrate the desire. And show the way with real master plans and solutions to attack this issue head on. Whether with a new breed of colleges (for profit) or a bottom of the pyramid approach to education. Because industry and the economy will in turn benefit from a stronger workforce. Think about it. Because its not Arjun Singh’s problem alone. Its ours as well..

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Why ISB will surely beat The IIMs (Thanks To Mr Arjun Singh)

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Last year, as a panel member for HSBC's annual scholarships, I (with my co-panelists) was struck by the brilliance of a young boy from a village near Delhi. A farmer's son, he had pulled through his academic career almost entirely through scholarships. And here he was applying for the big one, perhaps the biggest.

There was no debating his sheer grit and raw intelligence. And yet, the boy had had an advantage. He had, somewhere in his first few years of school, applied and enrolled for the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyala. These are not schools some of us living in cities are likely to see while driving into work. For the simple reason, they are not to be found here.

The residential Navodayas are another model of excellence, like the IITs and IIMs. They aim to create a class of bright, young students, mostly from rural and small town India. They give the opportunities that the current schooling system does not. And allows some of them to compete on equal footing from the (snobs !) from St Stephens in Delhi and St Xaviers in Bombay. Notably for scholarships like this one.

Rajiv Gandhi's Idea

The Navodayas were a brainchild of Rajiv Gandhi. I will admit I didn't know about their existence till that day. And two members of the panel, Business Standard editor T N Ninan and author/writer Ramachandra Guha subsequently entered into a lively but furious debate about Rajiv Gandhi's contribution to India. Two sparkling lines I recall from that exchange were, "The problem with you economists is that you forget history." And the retort, "And the problem with the historians is that they don't understand economics."

Lets accept that this model of excellence works, whether for Navodayas or IITs/IIMs. And the fact is that it has stood the test of time and delivered. Actually, much more than it was perhaps ever envisaged. But that's the true test of any great model, in business or otherwise. Im pretty sure the Navodayas will deliver too, to greater heights. They already are. But possibly they escape the attention of people like me.

And yet, we are intent on destroying this model. By adding even more reservation to our premier institutions of excellence. Its plain shocking to see the government pushing through reservation in the IITs and IIMs. The recent constitutional amendment allows the government to add another 27.5% for OBCs for a host of other institutions as well. These include AIIMs to FTII and NIFT, as I learn from the Indian Express this morning.
That takes total reservation to 49.5%. Wow !

More Seats Not A Solution

HRD minister Arjun Singh's (the architect of this plan) response to the protests is that the institutes should increase the number of seats to allow for the reservations. Theoritically okay but practically disasterous. An increase in seats should be driven by the economic models of demand and supply. And capabilities. Not by fiat. As is the case here.

But a HRD minister running educational institutions cannot think like a Railway Minister. Announce more trains whenever a constituency grumbles. When he should be thinking of a brand new railway system. What's worse is that in doing all this, the Congress government seems to strike at the very Nehruvian model of excellence that has brought so much of equity to India. And to themselves. At least in the past.

I compared (in my previous post) the Indian School of Business with the Indian Institute of Managements. That comparison reflected some familiarity and bias in favour of the number two. As opposed to the entrenched number one. It also assumed that the IIMs are more or less on an equal footing when it comes to developing world class teaching systems, getting the best professors and creating the best learning environments. And finally, taking in the students they WANT to take in.

How An Institution Goes To Seed

Arjun Singh wants to change the rules of the game. Halfway. I cannot now make a fair comparison between an IIM and an ISB or a AIIMS and lets say, the Manipal Institutes. Because the model of excellence that these fine institutions represented is being taken apart. In addition to diluting their present and past equity. I should know. I belong to a south Bombay college which once boasted the best and finest this country has produced.

I would once count the number of alumni from my college whose statues adorn various streets and corners of south Bombay. Incidentally, that includes a gentleman by the name of BR Ambedkar ! Whose statues of course are to be found all over the country. Anyway, all this is truly history now. And one key reason I would think is that Elphinstone College one day was taken over by the state government. Nothing wrong in that per se. Except that there was no model of excellence applied. And all attempts at meritocracy went downhill.

Which is why I think Arjun Singh's move must be opposed strongly. With all the vehemance at the command of every existing and past student of these institutions. The quiet manner in which its been pushed through is menacing, to say the least. And the fact that all political parties support it, is sad.

Protest And Offer Solutions

There is a larger problem here. Of our inability to understand what is going or has gone wrong with our education system. Of how there is a very large India out there that is reaching out to the politicians to do something for them. Possibly because they are alienated from the great IT/BPO story that we write about everyday. Or the live images of Lakme Fashion Week on all-time television.

But that's no excuse for the politicians to respond with such terribly unimaginative moves. The politicians seem to have guaged an undercurrent of discontent in the polity. As they often do. Their solutions to address this discontent are retrogade. While we oppose the moves, we must offer solutions as well. Even as we acknowledge that India is not about what you and I see everyday, with the booming stock markets and glitzy malls. That's how Nehru would have thought.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Why ISB Might Beat The IIMs

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Im pretty sure these headlines are unintentional. I saw one this evening which said, "ISB declines to reveal boy's identity." Another one, "ISB is not revealing boy's identity, yet."

Im sure you had the same thoughts I would have had. Some heinous crime has been committed and an organisation that goes by the initials of ISB is refusing to give up the accused.

The Indian School of Business is in the news. A graduate student has bagged a $233,800 (Rs 1.04 crore) job. That beats the previous record set by the IIMs.

Recently, IIM Bangalore kicked up a fuss saying they didn't want to turn their placement season into a circus and their students into animals in a temporary zoo. Makes sense I guess. ISB has picked up from there. And refuses to part with the lucky chap's identity. That makes him lucky twice over. He earns the money and gets to keep it, since the Bhais won't find him easily.


Totally Biased

For various, totally biased reasons, I would like to state that I always thought ISB would score in the longer term. Now, one does give educational institutions a little time to grow and mature, maybe a few decades, if not centuries. But this is the era of instant karma. So, even management schools are in the reckoning within 2,000 days of launch. Long term is only a year more now.

I am not an expert on B-Schools. I couldn't have made it to them or through them. I would like to say Ive found the IIMs pompous in their demeanour. Or ineffective. But that would not be fair. I've never dealt with them. But Ive met with IIM A alumni who've toured Harvard Business School as case studies. And yet they've never been considered as good enough for similar exercises by their own alma mater. And have made it a point to point it out.

I have `dealt' with the ISB though. And visited their campus at least on two occasions. Once to be part of a panel discussion. I may not exactly be a big catch but this guy who visited the ISB two months later surely was. His name was George Bush and he is the President of the United States of America.

Why It Will Pull Ahead

As an aside, the ISB, as I noted in the latest issue of ISB Insight, is understandably thrilled about Bush's visit, the first of its kind. And yet, they didn't devote a whole edition to it. Like many people would have been tempted to. So they score reasonably well on modesty.

Ive met with some of the ISB faculty as well. They seem lively and vibrant. Maybe its because they are a new team, who've just got together. Both the dean and the deputy dean are warm and friendly. And so are a whole lot of other people in the sprawling campus, a little outside Hyderabad. So, the cockles of my heart warm at the thought of an ISB graduate taking home a crore, in dollars. And yes, its possible Ive encountered him.

Why do I think the ISB will pull ahead ? For one, its not because some lucky sod got a Rs 1 crore job. Not at all. Nor is it because they were kind enough to remember me. Its simply because they work extremely hard at being what they are. Maybe because they are number two or five or whatever, the faculty and students are extremely competitive. They know they've got a while to go before they are truly in the reckoning in the hall of fame of Indian B-Schools.

But they seem to be doing a few right things. Like creating a truly international atmosphere. At the panel discussion I was part of, exchange students from Wharton (if I remember correctly) were firing questions in the classroom. They also have a Chinese B-School exchange program, among others. Students are thus exposed to a global, multi-cultural environment, in Hyderabad. ISB has affiliations with Wharton and Kellogs School of Business. This, in my mind, is a very critical requirement in the shaping of a global manager.


Quality Interaction


The other point that I can touch upon quickly is interaction and research. The ISB is trying hard to ensure its students get a well-rounded exposure to leadership, issues, academia, public policy, politicians et al. Im sure institutes like IIM Bangalore are doing well in this race. But the ISB is pretty much there too.

And then there are case studies. The ISB is yet to reach somewhere but the IIMs, who've been around for so long, have not. Their output often reads like a series of droll Planning Commission like papers. At least from what Ive seen. And heard. Totally unreadable. Having recently walked through a Harvard Business School case study in some detail and sat through a couple of classes after that, I have some idea of what it could be.

These two or three ingredients may not be sufficient for success, so to speak. And a Rs 1 crore salary slip does not mean you hoist the victory flag. Particularly since the student in question may have dollops of experience, particularly the right kind. And someone found the right fit. Oh yes, Ive met a lot of IIM grads who are mostly neutral to indifferent to their institutes. A few have gone out and thrashed them. And there must be others who absolutely adore these institutions. I've yet to meet them though. The ISB grads on the other hand seem more connected with their instutition. And even look at the ISBs shortcomings as temporary glitches rather than as a sign of decline or decay.

There must be many reasons for all of this but its interesting. Note that only four or five years have passed. Am sure the ISBians won't rest. From where they come, they would work harder. Or so I would think. In my biased way of course.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Needed, A Bangalore State of Mind

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Two years I penned an intra-organisational note about the need to step up coverage on Bangalore. I argued the nation’s IT capital represented an interesting and exciting new agglomeration of people, views and thus news. And this deserved tapping into. For not just what it was but how it could lead by example, in a manner of speaking

What was interesting about this new agglomeration ? For one, it is a high concentration of knowledge workers. From across the country. It also represented a fair smattering of expatriate hands and diaspora. Many of the latter have returned to India out of choice. Together, they constitute a modern, contemporary world-view that has not, perhaps, been commonly heard.

Finally, there are the fighters. From ordinary citizens to CEOs of companies, they are unafraid of expressing their views. And band together at the slightest provocation. And despite everything the system does to bend their will, they somehow triumph. Or so subsequent events always show. Collectively, they represent the Bangalore State of Mind.

Children Protest

Last June, I was driving towards Bangalore airport in the morning. And hit a long traffic jam. The problem, as always, was a build-up at the Indira Nagar intersection. There should have been a flyover here several years ago, but wasn’t. An attempt to build one ran into pointless litigation between the government and the contractor.

After crawling for maybe 20 minutes, one found an additional cause for the slowdown – 250 children of the New Horizon English School with colourful banners protesting the stoppage of construction. They were brought together by the Public Affairs Centre, headed by former IIM Ahmedabad director Samuel Paul.

Floods wreaked damage in parts of Bangalore in August last year. The picture was eerily similar to Mumbai’s deluge a month earlier. Down to the causes, like choked drainage systems. And the residents of affected Bannerghatta responded, by bringing traffic to a halt. Mind you, this was middle class Bangalore, not displaced slum dwellers.

CEOs Who Fight

The Bangalore CEO fraternity is equally militant. Karnataka’s annual IT jamboree, BangaloreIT.com, has been greeted with howls of protest for three consecutive years now. Philips Software CEO Bob Hoekstra (an expatriate) usually leads the protesting brigade, demanding that the state provide better infrastructure for existing players before laying out the red carpet to new ones.

Infosys MD & CEO Nandan Nilekani made his displeasure known when he compared the inaction on the (same) Indira Nagar flyover with the lightning infrastructure progress in China. Infosys chief mentor N R Narayana Murthy fought a messy battle over the Bangalore airport, with Deve Gowda again. And CFO Mohandas Pai is known to march into offices of public servants and demand accoutability. More recently, Jerry Rao attacked the tax hole caused by the Special Economic Zones. Nilekani and Rao vented their ire in columns in national dailies. So no chance of being misquoted.

Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises (NICE) CEO Ashok Kheny has fought pitched battles with the state government. He even threatened to take a senior politician and a former prime minister (HD Deve Gowda) to court, for defamation. His Bangalore-Mysore expressway project has meandered through the most amazing roadblocks. Ironically, Gowda, as chief minister in 1995, cleared the project. Kheny lived in the US for 23 years before but hails from Karnataka.

A Playback Singer Protests

Contrast all this with the Peddar Road flyover mess in Mumbai. The focus seems to be playback singer Lata Mangeshkar's threats to leave the area if a flyover was built through this south Mumbai arterial. Local residents' associations are fighting the proposal. Only because the flyover might sail over their balconies. The singer first opposed the project in 2001, threatening to relocate to Dubai. Five years have passed since and the might of Mumbai with all its influence and money did not move to find a solution.

Not one individual of some influence, particularly in business, has said a word. Either for or against. Like the problem went away the moment the noise died down. The same businessmen have created billions of dollars of assets elsewhere. So, this is the Mumbai state of mind. Tackle the problem by working the corridors of power if you can. Or keep shut.

Bangalore’s problems are no less than other cities. With matching official apathy. And yet the people there clearly have a fighting streak. From Azim Premji and Jerry Rao (both have homes in Mumbai) to the school children at Indira Nagar. There is clamour for execution, as opposed to announcements and intentions. And, despite the scepticism, there is also a desire to tackle problems of governance. Even realtors in Bangalore talk about public-private partnerships. And have actually contributed to building roads. And, I suspect, are viewed a little more favourably than their counterparts elsewhere.

Balance, If Not Solutions

Which is obviously not to say that Bangalore has or will find all the solutions to its many infrastructure problems. This is the same city where the landmark public-private Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) initative was rendered defunct by the Dharam Singh government. And the metro rail project drags on. But the state of mind surely helps. In finding a balance, if not quick solutions. And of course in pressing on without losing sight of the larger objective. Cities like Mumbai can learn from this.

This article appeared on the edit page of Business Standard on Tuesday, April 4 !
 

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