How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Name:
Location: India

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Sonic boom

Today, towards the end of the QAM class, all the windows suddenly shook violently for a sharp couple of seconds accompanied by a loud sound. My first reaction was to think that this might be an earthquake, because this was how it had all begun in Amdavad back in 2001. But then, as the professor said unfazedly, it was just a sonic boom from an Air Force plane crossing the sound barrier overhead. There is an Air Force station close by, near Sitapur, and such occurrences are not rare, it seems.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Market survey

For a term project in Economics, our group in class has been assigned to research the market for cellular phones from a global perspective. Different groups have been assigned different products or services to research.

One part of the project is the collection of primary data through a survey conducted on respondents in Lucknow city. In this connection, our group drew up a questionnaire and we went last Friday to Lucknow to conduct the survey. It was the first such experience for all of us. And after the survey, we did realize how difficult it is to hold the attention of random passersby - all strangers - with this sheet of paper in hand.

Here are some anecdotes from the experience:
  • We first visited Purania Chowk & Aliganj. This area had mostly middle- to lower-income bracket people. We visited a few shopping centres and got quite a few responses. However, many of the people did not know what IIM was. This characteristic of not knowing about or appreciating any good people or institutions that exist in your backyard seems to be common across India. Some people refused us outright thinking we were actually trying to sell them cell phones :).
  • A couple of us were strolling around this area when they saw a big queue. It was the BSNL office and people were standing in a long queue waiting to submit their forms for the post-paid cellular service. They thought these two people were distributing more forms and they thronged them :). As soon as they realized the real purpose, most of them left. These two also left before someone might think they were distributing fake forms.
  • At Cafe Coffee Day in Hazratganj, we had handed a survey form to a girl about our age who was sitting with her mother. A few minutes after she had handed over the form, she suddenly came up to our table and asked us, "Are you from IIM Lucknow?" We said yes. And she says, "I'm impressed, keep it up!" with a thumbs-up sign. A couple of us were quite thrilled by this :)).
  • Most shopkeepers and some other people were quite reluctant to indicate their income range for obvious reasons, even though we were not noting down any names.
  • We entered into a cloth shop to get the survey filled by a shopkeeper. This chap was a character. He was a Kashmiri. Instead of filling up the form, he started philosophizing (at our expense), saying things like - 'meri to kuchh income hi nahin hai', 'aap to privileged hain, ki developing country men rahate hain. maine aise logon ko dekha hai jinke pairon men chappal bhi nahin. aur ek aap se bhi zyaada privileged log hain jo developed world men rahate hain.', and on and on. While he was so engrossed, his assistant could not serve a customer properly and he left. Coming down to earth, this man now snarled, "bevaqoof aadmi! hamen bulaa lete, ham to idhar hi the! main hoon naa! Kashmiri men 'hoonaa' ka matlab jaanate ho? 'kuttaa'! to main 'hoonaa'!" Pretty interesting!

But our persistence did pay off as we got quite a good general idea about the segmentation and penetration in the Lucknow market. All in all, a good learning experience, if a trifle tiring.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Distribution game

There was an interesting event conducted by the Operations Interest Group today, in which I and a friend took part. This was a Distribution Game, a software game developed by two professors of Cornell University to model and simulate a simple distribution chain. The aim is to manage the distribution chain for a set number of days in order to maximize profit.

Some details of the game:

Aim of the game: Maximize net profit from sale of goods (sales - cost of goods sold - order cost - inventory holding costs) at the end of a set number of days

Situation: You, the player, are a manufacturer of a particular kind of good. You have one supplier of raw material from whom you can order. There is one central warehouse where your finished products go after manufacturing. There are three retailers who get the products from the warehouse. Demand arises at the outlets of the three retailers in a random fashion, and this has to be met.

Opening position: The game opens with a fixed inventory in the warehouse and at each of the retailers. Revenue from sales is zero and raw material stock at the factory is zero.

Parameters of the game: Some things which are held constant throughout the game and which must be kept in mind to play the game effectively are:
  • Demand distribution - the demand figures are taken to follow one of two probability distributions: uniform or negative binomial
  • Transit times - fixed number of days it takes for goods to travel from factory to warehouse (15 days) and from the warehouse to the retailer (5 days)
  • Fixed order costs - for orders from supplier to warehouse and from warehouse to retailers
  • Inventory holding cost per unit - at the warehouse (less) and at the retailers' outlets (more)

Thus, for each day, you have to look the demand at each of the retailers' outlets, the inventories at the outlets and at the warehouse and accordingly place orders to the warehouse or to the supplier. The game automatically calculates the costs, sales and net profit for each day.

The game was played in the Computer Centre with 40 teams, each playing 5 rounds of 50 days each. It was very enjoyable trying to predict the demand (knowing its distribution) and then placing orders keeping in mind the transit times and the order and holding costs. We didn't do too well but enjoyed the whole thing.


3.4

This is the name of the music group here. Why such a name? When you come towards IIM from the city on Sitapur road, you will notice a big overhead kilometre-indicator, from where you have to turn left off Sitapur road to reach IIM. That sign says - 'IIM - 3.4', so the institute is 3.4 kilometres off Sitapur road. And the music group somehow found this figure appealing.

So the group had organized a musical show yesterday night in the auditorium (which bears the convoluted name 'Samanjasya'). It was a mix of western and Indian music, but the common thread that ran through all the performances was that of mediocrity. While I myself have zero talent in this field, my criticism is relative - compared to the genuine musical talent we had at KREC, there's hardly any here. There are some good instrumentalists and a couple of trained singers, but other than that, there is a severe dearth of vocal talent.

The group sang only one old song and for once, I hoped they hadn't sung it. The song was 'churaa liyaa hai tumne jo dil ko' from 'Yaadon ki Baaraat'. There was no spirit in either the male or the female singer, making the song a damp squib.

This morning people were saying that things improved quite a bit after we left. But then, that's Murphy's Law as applied to concerts and other such programmes: 'The best performances happen only after you have left'.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

'Toughing it out at Harvard'

I read a very interesting book called 'Toughing it out at Harvard: The Making of a Woman MBA', written by a lady called Fran Worden Henry and published in 1983. This woman had been approached by the publishers (Putnam) to write a book on her experience getting an MBA from Harvard Business School. She wrote this book almost immediately after graduating (in 1982).

The author's background included a degree in psychology and a lot of work in the women's movement and also in working at US Presidential campaigns, etc. She was thirty-two when she started to do an MBA. I had thought this age would not be very unusual in a US B-school, but it seems she was one of the older people in her class. The age range of the students was 21 years to 38 years, with most people in their mid- to late twenties. Also, the author already runs her own business for advising small companies with a partner, and wants to continue doing that after HBS, and not participate in the recruitment process at HBS.

The book describes in very great detail, the day-to-day experience in the Harvard Business School, which is particularly interesting to me, being in a B-school myself. Here are some of the important points:
  • Most of the subjects studied are very similar in terms of topics & concepts covered. But HBS follows a semester system, as opposed to a three-month term here. So the number of subjects studied in 2 years at HBS is quite less compared to here.
  • The teaching method is completely different. HBS, of course, follows the case study method very strictly, with one case discussed in each class of each subject. Prior preparation for cases is absolutely vital, because you may be asked to 'open the case' in class - i.e. summarize the case and give out your recommendations. Also, class participation makes for about half the marks weightage. So poor participation in terms of quality & quantity might actually get you failure grades. At IIML, most teaching takes place through the normal instructional method, with cases and examples discussed occasionally. And the emphasis on class participation is not that great.
  • The work pressure at HBS right from day one - mainly case preparation for the next day - is very great. Such pressure is comparatively much lighter and more manageable here.
  • Many drawbacks of the case method come out during the course of the book, namely: It puts too much pressure on students with backgrounds very different from the subject matter, concepts often don't become clear at the end of the class because of the jumble of contradictory stands taken by people, cases are written poorly with gender bias and other kinds of discriminatory attitudes, most cases belong to the big industries or companies who can afford to consult an HBS professor, not smaller businesses, etc.
  • The levels of stress experienced by HBS students are very high. Even though people have to be on their toes at most times here, the stress is not really high and very manageable.
  • The theme of feminism runs throughout the book, as the author points out numerous instances of subtle or overt gender bias and discrimination.
  • Grading is done on a relative basis, just like it is here. Some of the behaviour distortions that this relative grading causes - like lack of co-operation and help, stealing others' ideas, etc. are mentioned.
  • The stress at important times like the recruitment season is extremely great. However, unlike here, all companies do not come to campus to recruit. People may have to fly all over the country to interview with their desired companies.
  • The amount of group work assigned is less than that here. However, formation of informal groups to study together is very prevalent there, and to some extent, here too.
  • Even professors are under a lot of stress as they are also evaluated on a relative basis. Consequently, the level of research done is very high.

Overall, the author is finally not too sure that going through HBS was a good thing for her in all respects. She definitely gained a lot of knowledge, but at the expense of a lot of stress and bad moments. Also, she feels that the absence of a humane orientation at HBS, that it is only concerned with one thing - making money.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Summer project presentations - Part II

Moving on to the presentations in the areas of General Management and Strategy:
  • ICICI Property Services. The task was to study the Indian biotech industry in depth, identify the areas of growth in terms of segments within biotech, as well as geographical region-wise. The student visited six states in his study and met several state and central government officials (esp. the Department of Biotechnology) in order to get relevant data. The aim was to make recommendations to ICICI Property Services about regions where real estate (in the form of biotech parks, etc.) could be developed to host activities of biotech companies.
  • ICICI Bank. The task was to study usage of 'alternate' delivery channels of banking services (Internet banking, mobile banking, e-mails, etc.) by the bank's customers and make recommendations to migrate increasing number of customers towards these channels from the usual personal banking through bank branches.
  • Tata Indicom. The student was involved in the launch of Tata Indicom's prepaid service with the added innovation of RUIM (Removable User Id Module)-based mobile phones, which would make usage of CDMA phones more flexible compared to the existing scenario.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers. The student was part of a team which was commissioned by a client to study the power sector of various countries in detail, giving recommendations to the client on which country to enter into, in the power sector.

These projects, by nature of strategy, had a large scope and so mostly weren't fully completed in the 8 weeks duration of the training. The questions asked by the judges (professors) were pretty good in this segment. Overall, it was a good way to learn what kind of work students normally get in these 2 months.

Summer project presentations - Part I

A contest to present the projects or work carried out during the summer training by the second-years was on yesterday and today, under the name 'Jagruti'. Besides being a contest for the second-years, it also served as a good introduction to us first-years on the kind of work done in different functional areas of management in various companies or organizations.

I didn't attend the presentations in all the functional areas, but only in Systems and General Management & Strategy. Four projects had been shortlisted in each area for final presentation.

Here's what the Systems projects were like:
  • Cognizant Technology Solutions. The project was about providing a quality control mechanism to a billing-testing software in the telecom domain. CTS had developed a software to test the telecom billing software that its clients (telecom service providers) used. The student had to study this software and provide inputs on optimization of the software, making it integrable with various billing software, etc., and finally, to make it suitable to offer as an independent service offering.
  • UTI Bank. The assignment was to evaluate the utility and usage of the large investment in IT that the bank had made. The student had taken a quantitative approach and done multiple linear regression analysis to correlate profitability with IT investment. This approach, however, gave a surprising result - there hardly seemed to be a correlation between the two factors mentioned above. So the value of the whole analysis seemed to be in some doubt.
  • Cognizant Technology Solutions. This project was about optimizing the time required and minimizing the error rate in quality inspection of automobiles for a US automobile sector client of CTS. Quality inspections outside the general assembly, i.e. in the paint shop, etc., take place manually and this took a lot of time and resulted in errors in data entry into logs. A PDA-based solution was worked on by the student, which provided an online interface to the records and the interface design was such as to minimize chances of errors.
  • Aditya Birla Group. The student had to come up with the requirements of an e-procurement system common to companies across the group which would help to lower inventory cost significantly. Use was made of an existing pilot project in this area implemented by Grasim.

More in a later post.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Extra-curricular evening - Part II

Continuing from the last post, after the extempore and elocution contests were over, there was a break and then there was a general quiz organized by two of our batchmates. The classroom in which it was held was jampacked. I went with my by-now-usual partner, Samrat Sengupta (he is an excellent quizzer, and has made it to the semi-finals of 'Mastermind India').
The preliminary round seemed a bit on the easier side and we topped it comfortably. Six teams qualified for the final round. The questions now were definitely on the tougher side. Both of us were especially puzzled in the audio-visual questions. The initial lead went to another team and they seemed to be running away with the quiz. However, in one round, we really fired on all cylinders and staged a good comeback. That revival was sustained well enough to get us through all the rounds and finally, we won the quiz. Overall, it was a well-organized quiz and a good experience.

Now, as winners of this round, it falls on us to organize the next quiz. Because of time pressures later, we have to be done with this by next week. Let's see how much we can do.

Extra-curricular evening - Part I

The evening today was filled with extra-curricular activity. At 6pm, I went to an extempore and elocution competition organized by the 'Abhivyakti' club. There were lots of participants and two professors as judges.

In the extempore, I was given the topic - 'Only success is not important - others must fail'. The thinking time given was 30 seconds. This wasn't a very difficult topic since we are ourselves in a position where the success of one contributes to the failure of another student (due to relative grading). So I spoke about resource-scarce environments where this would apply and the game theory concepts of zero-sum game vs. win/win games. Basically, my speech lacked structure and seemed wandering a bit. I didn't win any prizes, but it was a good experience.

In the elocution, we were supposed to select our own topics and come prepared. I didn't get any time for preparation, so I decided to speak on a book I am reading currently ('Toughing it out at Harvard: The making of a woman MBA' - more on this book later). Basically, I drew out the advantages and drawbacks of the case method of teaching in business schools, as noted in the book. Again, I didn't win anything.
However, there were quite a few people who had come prepared with a famous speech delivered by prominent people like Marcus Antonius, Malcolm X, etc. Which means that these people confused elocution for declamation. And yet, the prizes were given to these people. They did do well, but they (as well as the judges) had missed the point of the competition. Strange to see such a big misunderstanding here.

The above incident reminded me of the only declamation competition that I have seen, which was in primary school. I was asked to anchor the competition, introducing and calling on the speakers. That was a good memory.

Topping?

The mid-term exam marks for one more subject came yesterday - those of Org. Behaviour. And quite surprisingly, I topped the class with 22/25. Combined with my QAM marks and my good show in the quizzes earlier, these marks are starting to give me quite a reputation in class.

On the other hand, I am trying hard to convince people that a few marks here and there do not make or break careers (although they do contribute to your final Grade Point Average). Frankly, I am not at all very enthused by whatever marks I get. I have had too much of that competition for marks. My satisfaction or dissatisfaction happened at the time I wrote the respective exams. I am trying to make the most of each course by extracting whatever good and lasting learning I can get.

And of course, regarding the mid-term marks, the marks for the two papers where I did not do well - Economics and Accounting - have not yet come. So I might not remain a topper. Which is fine by me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Courses in the news

Some of the concepts we are studying in various courses have been in the news recently, and it feels very good to get a confirmation that whatever we are learning is directly helping us understand various current issues.

Firstly, Accounting is always in the news, because of announcement of quarterly results by companies, the recent cases of manipulation of accounts by major companies in the US, etc. Just today the professor in class was saying that contrary to popular belief and to proper practice, the appointment of auditors by the management of a company is not necessarily free from bias. The Birla-Lodha case going on, where the Lodhas' status as auditors of various Birla group companies is being affected because of another quite different factor - that of Priyamvada Birla's will bequeathing all property of the M.P.Birla group to R.S.Lodha - was cited as an example of this.

Even a staid subject like Law is very much in the news. The Department of Company Affairs has released a concept paper on pruning of the Companies Act, 1956 - something we are studying right now. Out of the monstrous 781 sections it currently has, the government thinks as many as two-thirds are redundant or unused, and proposes to reduce the number of sections to 289 only. Every day has a new report in the Economic Times on developments in this area, and the Businessworld comment is also on this pruning and some of the flaws in the concept paper.

There is no real need to point out where Economics has made news. Although not in pure theoretic form, it makes its appearance unfailingly everyday in the newspapers. Today, I saw a report in ET on a concept we recently learnt in this subject: the difference between short-run & long-run returns, demand, etc. This report talked about an effort by Morgan Stanley India to work out the highest returns from various investment instruments over 10 years from '94-'04. And the result seemed counter-intuitive in that it was long-term government paper that gave the highest long-run returns, and not equities. However, we surely know that in a shorter-run, people can have invested in equities and got out with much higher returns.

Hostel haircut

I had a haircut in my hostel itself yesterday, in fact, right in front of my room. There is no haircutting saloon on campus, but there are two roving barbers who visit hostels as well as faculty residences, etc. The main advantage with this slightly awkward arrangement is the saving on time. Ordinarily, we would have to go to Purania Chowk in the city to get a haircut. A lot of students do go to the Chowk saloon as they don't like the services of these barbers. As far as I am concerned, I am pretty satisfied. It was quite a unique experience though.

New course and other things

Post-mid-term, we have a new course - 'Operations Management - I'. It's a most interesting course about managing the 'creation, production and delivery of goods/services'. The professor is also very energetic and witty and the first class today was really enjoyable. He is said to be one of the most respected professors in the institute.

The QAM mid-term papers have already been checked. The marking was pretty liberal and I got 28/30, a high score. There is one person in the class who scored 30, two or three with 29.5 and 29. In this subject, we will be studying linear programming for the remaining term.
We have three major projects (Economics, Org. Behaviour & Accounting) and two major assignments (Operations and Law) to be done in these 5 weeks.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Lucknow visit

I visited Lucknow with two of my friends yesterday. We wanted to watch a movie but the theatre was house-full. So we basically just roamed up and down Hazratganj for a few hours and came back. Some observations from the visit:
  • Movie halls are very expensive. A balcony ticket cost Rs. 80 in a normal, non-multiplex theatre. A movie hall showing a B-grade movie also displayed ticket prices of Rs. 50!
  • Just a few metres from Hazratganj market is the U.P. Vidhan Sabha, magnificent from the outside (draped with horizontal and vertical Indian flags on Independence Day), but the scene of some of the worst legislator behaviour inside.
  • Directly opposite the Vidhan Sabha was the BJP pradesh karyalay. The GPO and LIC offices are also close to the market.
  • Close to the Vidhan Sabha was the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel memorial park, with a big statue of the Sardar. There are a lot of statues of national leaders in Lucknow.
  • From a building opposite the park, loudspeakers blared the usual Hindi patriotic songs. But the sound quality was so bad that the songs were butchered.
  • The market seemed very lacklustre, probably because most of the shops were closed on Independence Day.
  • Bargaining is very prevalent, not just with street-side vendors, but also in shops and stores. One of my friends bought a shirt after bargaining (in spite of there being a sale) from a shop funnily called 'Montie Charlie' (no doubt, derived from Monte Carlo).
  • We had a taste of the famous north Indian chaat and then went to Cafe Coffee Day for having a cold coffee and generally passing time.
  • Finally, we caught a six-seater tempo (a cheaper means of transport than an auto-rickshaw) and came to Aliganj at the IIML City Office and caught the 8.30 pm bus back to the campus.
  • It had rained slightly in the afternoon, so the weather was extremely humid throughout and I was drenched in sweat for most of the time. Had to take a bath on coming back to the campus.

Overall, it was good fun.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

'Nirvaan'

That is the name of the programme organized on Sunday by 'Abhiyan' - the entrepreneurship cell here.
It started off with a talk by Mr. Akash Sethia, IIML alumnus of '96 or '97, who runs a software firm from Indore, specializing in geographical information systems. His talk was rooted in the ground realities of issues in entrepreneurship - the cost of failure, when to start, how to start, spreading of risk, the struggles involved, basics of preparing business plans, etc. It was a simple and straightforward talk.

The next talk was delivered on a similar subject of entrepreneurship by Mr. Mahesh Murthy, who runs a company called Passionfund from Mumbai, and 'advises, guides and occasionally invests in businesses'. He has a background in advertising where he has worked as a creative director. He is familiar to us through his column in Businessworld. He was typically blunt in his talk and busted some popular myths/perceptions. The audience was very much involved in asking questions, arguing the points etc. But he turned every argument of the students on its head, drawing from his wide experience. He gave a lot of examples which kept the talk very interesting.
Here are some of the points he talked about:
  • As a would-be entrepreneur, if you see a 'trend story' in a newspaper or magazine about some sector or industry, which also profiles the top 3 or 5 companies operating in the sector, that sector is as good as dead for you. (Sumantra Ghoshal's Rule of Threes was cited.)
  • Ideas, by themselves, mean nothing. It is the ability to execute on ideas that is most important. Ideas are a-dime-a-dozen. 'I don't invest in ideas, I invest in businesses.'
  • An entrepreneur is one who refuses to fit into any mould.
  • If you have a product or service that is sufficiently different or provides even slightly more value than the existing ones, go to market with it as soon as possible. Never wait to perfect the product or service, as that will take unbounded time. First deliver to the market what you have, promising that the best is yet to come.
  • Enter a market when the demand is down or the general condition is bad, not when the market is riding high. If you do the latter, when the cyclical forces push the market down, you will find yourself inequipped to deal with the situation.
  • Don't rely on venture capital to start your business. If you can manage the necessary resources by yourself, or with help from relatives/friends, etc., do so. As an entrepreneur, you must take maximum risk on your business plan yourself. Don't expect others to take funding or other risks for you, if you show yourself to be unwilling to take such risks.
  • The maximum returns or margins lie at the end of the value chain delivering directly to the end-customer.
  • You can very well enter a market at this end of the value chain, rather than climbing your way up from the bottom.
  • Pricing is a big weapon in building a brand. Starting out with little cash resources, you should keep your pricing structure high, not low in order to build your brand. Sustaining a low-cost product or service in a competitive market requires deep pockets, which you most probably will not have. Price undercutting is a weapon for the big companies, not small fry.
  • The companies with the biggest ad-spends are actually the worst marketers. (Examples of Coke and Pepsi given).
  • Your product or service should show enough differentiation and should be able to create enough value for the customer so that word-of-mouth publicity becomes your biggest marketing tool. 'If people come to me with a business plan with a large marketing budget, I tell them to go back and rework the plan.'
  • 'The biggest mistake you can make at IIMs is to believe that your education is going to be of any value to you.' The basic point was about people 'disrespecting' their education. A Computer Science engineer from IIT-Kanpur takes up marketing at IIM-Ahmedabad and because investment banks pay the most, takes up a banking job.
  • 'Placements are a very lazy way of getting jobs. It is like saying to companies, "main yahan aa gaya hoon, ab mujhe yahan se le jaao." Go out there and get a job for yourself.'
  • Placements are also for lazy HR people who don't want to find out the best available talent for themselves. They just assume they will get it at some of these institutions.

There might be some more major points I am missing but this gives an idea of how things went. Finally he said, 'There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of life. The gold is all to be found on the rainbow itself, provided you are looking for it. And I believe entrepreneurs just have a more colourful rainbow.'


Saturday, August 14, 2004

It's all happening

The exams are over, and activities of all kinds have started right now. Here is a snapshot:
  • There is a workshop on advertising on at this time conducted by a person from Ogilvy & Mather. The response to it has been quite good.
  • There is an Institute party (or 'Insti party') tonight in view of completion of our exams. Normally, such parties go on till 4-4.30am with a lot of liquor served. But since tomorrow is our Independence Day (a dry day), liquor serving will stop at 12 midnight today and the party will end at 1am. I haven't attended two earlier such parties since I think I won't have anything to do there. Instead I have spent good time watching some good movies on the computer.
  • The directors of the six IIMs are here at IIML to follow up on their meetings regarding fee structure. And as it has appeared in the papers today, they are actually talking about a fee hike! What a reversal from just a few months ago!
  • There is an Entrepreneurship workshop tomorrow conducted by Mr. Akash Sethia. I will be attending that. It promises to be very interesting.
  • Following this workshop, there is a talk on entrepreneurship to be delivered by Mr. Mahesh Murthy, advisor to many big corporations and familiar to us from his column in 'Businessworld'.
  • There is a teleconference session on Wednesday with Mr. Vikram Gopalakrishnan, head, private banking, Deutsche Bank, and an IIML alumnus. He had come here a few weeks ago to deliver a talk and this teleconference is going to be for hardcore finance students. It will be on popular market instruments, derivatives etc.
  • The 'Operations Interest Group' has come up with a good project. It is the renovation of the canteen ('Thapa's') here. It includes things like making of proper accounts for the canteen, streamlining procurement and other such things.

One down

The first mid-term exams got over at 5pm today. For many people it was a stressful experience, stemming mainly from the fact that they hadn't studied most subjects through the 5 weeks in a regular fashion. Personally, I don't take much tension about any exams - it leads to unnecessary disturbance of mental peace. In order not to be anxious at exam time, I try to study beforehand so that the last day is only for revision of some more important points.
I wasn't able to implement this approach in its totality in this exam, but still have been fairly tension-free and have written the exams coolly. In fact, I have enjoyed writing the papers.

There were two exams today - Economics in the morning and Communications in the afternoon. A total of 5 hours. Economics paper was full of theory except one question where a report from the Indian Express on glut of onions in the market and the plight of Rajasthan farmers was to be analysed in its economic dimensions. The paper was too lengthy for me and I could write only 85 marks worth (out of 100).
Communications paper was again very descriptive with lots of caselets to be read and analysed, an invitation letter, two essays etc. This one went much better.
The QAM professor has released solutions to the exam and I find that as far as answers are concerned, I have got all of them correct. This doesn't mean I will get full marks, however, because there are marks for specific steps and for neatness. But it's a comforting thought.

Overall, pretty satisfied with my performance. According to the new time-table, for the first 3 days of the week, classes start at 8am (it used to be 9.10am earlier). So everybody in class will have to practice waking up early.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Accounting paper

Finally, the law of averages caught up with me and almost everyone else, as most of us did moderately well or badly in today's Accounting paper. To be fair, it was a really good paper on the following counts:
  • It covered every aspect of the subject taught so far. Nearly every concept had found a place in the paper.
  • The marks were also proportionately given - only objective-type questions for the basics, and then more marks for progressively more important things like accounting standards, profit and loss accounts and balance sheets.
  • It was fully application-oriented - no theory questions. I must say that even though I had a feeling I was not doing very well, I enjoyed writing the paper.

The main thing that went against it was its length. It was an impossibly lengthy paper and I could attempt questions worth only 27 marks out of a total of 35 marks. Of course, in such situations, Relative Grading comes to the rescue. There are hardly a few (mostly C.A.s) who have been able to complete the paper.

On the lighter side, this paper makes me rework Sahir Ludhianvi's words from the Rafi-Mukesh qawwali in the film 'Phir Subah Hogi' (these lines have been sung by Rafi):

'phirate the jo bhi sikandar bane hue, baithe hain sar pakadke, kabootar bane hue
jis
subject men ye haal ho, us subject se tauba, tauba!'


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Randomization & trust

The seating arrangement for the mid-term exam is interesting: the room allocation goes according to the roll numbers. However, within each room, the seating arrangement is randomized, not sequential. Not only that, the randomization is done for every exam! So you sit at a different place in the same room in different exams. So, there is obviously a 'great deal of trust' that the authorities place on the students here.

Today's Org. Behaviour exam was based on material covered in classes, rather than from any particular book. This obviously caused a lot of problems for many people who hadn't gone through the class presentations. But I had somehow felt this would happen, and so, we (some three-four people) had gone through the slides together, while reading only a few parts from the book. And we managed to do pretty well today.
As for tomorrow, it is doubtless the toughest test among the seven - Accounting. There are lots of situations that come to mind where you can't think of a proper accounting treatment (because of ignorance) and this has created a lot of confusion. Let's see what happens tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The heat is on

The mid-terms exams commenced yesterday and we have now completed another 'LAM-QAM aalaap'.
Yesterday's Law paper was quite simple for the most part. There were about 10 legal situations to decide on, some true/false questions and a couple of short notes. I did fairly well although I couldn't remember the exact Section numbers and relevant cases. Most other people were satisfied with their performance, although there were some mistakes made in the finer points of company law cases.
Today was QAM. The paper had 5 questions, each of them consisting of some trivial or mechanical sub-parts, but with atleast one sub-part where you had to apply your mind and use some fundamental understanding of topics. I was quite confused in two of the questions, but thankfully, got over the confusion and did the problems. So I have done moderately well. But then, the performance of people in general was moderate to bad. Considering that 70% of the batch consists of engineers, this is not a good statement about our abilities. Somehow, this subject always has quite a lot of people getting failure grades (D or F).
Anyway, tomorrow is Org. Behaviour, a most descriptive paper. There is a lot to read.

The weather outside is extremely humid and the sky is very overcast. Strong winds have now started blowing and a good shower is expected.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Qualities of a student

Our Org. Behaviour class today was about stress and stress management. The professor quoted a Sanskrit shlok which enumerated five qualities that are desirable in a student so that he may have a stress-free time. These five are:
  1. kaak-cheshtaa - the persistence of a crow
  2. shvaan-nidraa - the light sleep of a dog
  3. vako-dhyaanam - the focus and concentration of a crane
  4. gruh-tyaagii - relatively detached from day-to-day and household chores
  5. alpaahaarii - eating moderately

Friday, August 06, 2004

shahr-e-Lakhnau - part II

Here's how the second visit came about:

Second visit:

Today, I caught the 2.30pm bus again to do what I left undone yesterday. I got down at Purnea Chowk and took an auto-rickshaw to Hazratganj. The courier office was at Ansal City Centre. From the name of the plaza, it sounded like this would be a posh place, but it was a rather dilapidated structure on inside streets. Luckily, the auto-rickshaw driver knew the location. I picked up the big box and came back to IIM in the same auto-rickshaw.

What's more interesting is my first real glimpse of Lucknow. Some important points:
  • Lucknow is not very large, it seemed to me. The mentality is also a small-town one, and the pace is very slow. Existence of cycle rickshaws as means of transport illustrates this.
  • There doesn't seem to be any municipal transport service. Local means of transport are auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, converted tempo-travellers and the larger cars filled to bursting capacity.
  • On the way to Hazratganj, I came across around three parks which seemed well-maintained and good.
  • Most of the advertisement hoardings were about establishments in a few areas only - Hazratganj, Aliganj, Shivaji Road, M. M. Malviya Marg, Nishatganj, Indiranagar, etc.
  • A very large proportion of the hoardings belonged to teaching and coaching insitutes. This included preparatory classes for IIT-JEE and PMT, as well as State board exams. Another very common hoarding message was 'Angrezi bolanaa siikhiye', by establishments called 'British Insitute of Languages' and 'American Center for Languages'.
  • I crossed and re-crossed a bridge over the Gomti river. As it flows through the city, it is very narrow, compared to, say, Sabarmati. But it has quite a bit of water. As usual, there are slum settlements on its banks.
  • Near the Ansal City Centre were several biryani and kebab shops, named 'Dastarkhwan', 'Naushijaan', etc.
  • I also passed by the K. D. Singh 'Babu' stadium, the huge offices of the Geological Survey of India and many colleges.

This was as much as I could get a glimpse of today. Hopefully, I will be able to visit in a more leisurely manner immediately after the mid-term exams get over next weekend.

shahr-e-Lakhnau - part I

I couldn't get a chance to visit Lucknow city in over a month of staying here. And now I have visited Lucknow twice in two days! Here's how this came about:

First visit:

Yesterday, I was supposed to go to the city and pick up a carton of miscellaneous luggage which had been sent by courier from Amdavad. As I boarded the bus, however, I saw three friends from my class also going to the city, to watch a movie in the only multiplex theatre here - 'Wave'. They persuaded me to come with them and I thought I will have time after the film to go and pick up the parcel.
We got down from the institute bus after having covered a very short distance, as the driver guided us on how to reach the theatre. We had to reach the Faizabad road by cycle rickshaw (yes, they abound here) and hopefully, pick up an auto-rickshaw on the highway. We were two to a cycle rickshaw and it was a roller-coaster ride (although very slow). We managed to get an auto-rickshaw on Faizabad road which took us to the theatre which is very far away indeed. There, we had already missed the 'Spiderman 2' show, so we watched an absolutely horrible David Dhawan film - 'Mujhse Shaadi Karogi?' The film is undescribably bad.
After the film, I felt Hazratganj (where I had to pick up the parcel) was too out-of-the-way for us, so we returned in an auto-rickshaw all the way back to IIM.
This was a big waste of time when the mid-term exams are so near, but since I had done all other work for today, I was feeling in control and so didn't feel very guilty about it.

More in another post.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Dressing

I'm just back from getting a photo shot at the Placement Office, perhaps to form some online database or distribution to companies arriving for summers and final placements. Everyone was asked to come in formal dress - initially we were asked to come in formal shirt and trousers, a tie and a blazer. This fizzled out quickly, however, because everybody realized that this was not really required. People came wearing formal shirts, but with jeans and sneakers or sandals below, knowing that the only thing required was, in Amol Palekar's words from 'Golmaal', 'shariir ke uparaardh ka lajja-nivaaran' :). Moreover, in this kind of hot and humid weather, wearing these clothes is nothing short of torture.

That brings me to a larger point - how important is it to wear business suits or dresses or such other formal clothing to conduct business well? To make my position clear, I do not, for a moment, believe that you require a particular kind of dress to conduct business well, or to do any white-collared job, in general. We'll leave out specialized uniforms, like those of workers on the shop floor of factories, miners, workers in integrated chip fabricating units, etc. out of the discussion, for obvious reasons.

Here are some of the arguments advanced in favour of 'smart dressing', 'formal dressing', 'business dressing', etc.

1. Wearing formals is evidence of the fact that you mean business, that you are serious and not casual. Refutation: The assumption here is that the way you dress is the way you do all your work too. Obviously, this is laughable. The Silicon Valley software workers showed the way by dressing casually, but doing excellent work. Unfortunately, because of the dot-com bust, people in favour of conservative dressing in the US and around the world got a chance to reimpose their views on the business world and suits were in vogue again.

2. Not wearing formals will make you the odd man out in the business world, where such dressing is the norm. Refutation: Actually, this is not an argument at all, in this case. Wearing of formal clothes is a mutual and societal attitude. It is like casteism in India, although less vicious. If we, as a society, agree to drop this norm, it can be dropped readily. But such a change might affect a lot of people badly (just like doing away with the caste system would affect a lot of vested interests) and so this is never done.

My view is that: the clothes you wear will not actively help you do your work, but they might actually hinder your work, or dampen your efficiency. If a salesman is asked to remove his formal shirt and tie and wear whatever he likes, provided only that it is neat and decent, I believe he will become more efficient and not less so, especially in a country like ours where walking for hours together in formals would be extremely exhausting and draining. In fact, I believe a tie is one of the most superfluous pieces of dress man ever invented.

And finally, it is very amusing to see the use that suits are put to in India (perhaps, learning from abroad): to be worn in marriage receptions, not just by the groom, but by all near and far kin of the groom. Most probably, people will never learn to think about these aspects. That's fine for me, as they provide good entertainment value.





Sleepidemic

This is a term I thought of in class today, perhaps I have coined it. Sleepidemic = sleep + epidemic. Why did I think of this? Because this is a condition spreading fast in the class. Slightly more than 14% of the class (9 out of 63) was actually sleeping, with their heads down on their desks, or sunk low in their seats to avoid easy detection by the professor. Obviously, this is not a healthy trend, but it has been observed over the years because of the working habits and some compulsions here.
There are several reasons for this:
  1. Sleeping very late at night, at nearly 4-4.30 am. The first class starts at 9.10am and so people would need to get up atleast 20 minutes before that. They are in the class without having taken their baths and this contributes to drowsiness.
  2. Because of the above-mentioned waking habits, there is no time for tea and breakfast. So there is no energy to absorb what's going on in class. People rush to have tea in the canteen in the 10-minute break between classes, but this does not seem to have too great an effect.
  3. Disinterest, to some extent, and also the dry quality of subjects like Law, which only a few people enjoy.
  4. Suitable conditions in the classroom - comfortable seats, air-conditioning, wide desks to put your head on.

Some professors do become angry and scold these sleeping people, whereas some have lost interest in waking up people, perhaps thinking that the loss is not theirs and the students should be more responsible.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Sikandar

That's the name of the inter-hostel sports trophy. The competition's first event - football - had been playing out for the last several days. Today was the Final, featuring hostels 3 & 4 on the one side (that is our side, I am in hostel 3) and hostels 11 &12 on the other. We ultimately lost 1-0 in an extremely closely contested match, although the second half was very much dominated by the opposing team. Some of the players in all the teams are really good and can make up a reasonably good institute team. However, we don't participate in any inter-institution or inter-college sports meet, so the talent remains confined to this campus.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Doing well

I have done very well or reasonably well in all the quizzes so far. The reason is not difficult to trace: the quizzes have all been very simple and easy. Only some basic understanding of concepts and attention in class is required to do well. The same cannot be said, I think, of the mid-term exams, which will require more focused and in-depth study, particularly in Accounting.
Here's a snapshot of my record so far, which will also serve as a personal reference at this point to me:

Communications - An essay on 'Who am I?' fetched a B+ (highest awarded was A), a quiz fetched 8/10. Another quiz is due on Wednesday.
Accounting - first quiz fetched full marks (10) and today's quiz will also fetch the same, since there was only one embarrassingly simple question to solve
Org. Behaviour - first quiz - 16/20, second quiz - 18/20 (these quizzes had 20 true/false questions to be done in 5 minutes, with +1 for a correct answer and -1 for an incorrect answer. In the first quiz, I attempted 18 with 1 incorrect answer. In the second, I attempted 18, all of which were correct)
IT for Mgmt. - expect 9-9.5 on 10 in one quiz here. Another is due on Thursday or Friday
Quantitative Analysis - 7/10 in the first quiz, 9/10 in the second one.