How's my Luck now?

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

Name:
Location: India

Saturday, July 30, 2005

A quiz

Two of my juniors from KREC, 2005 passouts, who have joined IIML, organized a general quiz yesterday. In typical KREC style, they had lots of last-minute problems :), and we started quite late. The one point you could have against the quiz was the inconsistency in the level of questions, which introduced a strong-ish factor of luck into play. Question framing also needed a bit of working on, but considering that they had last-minute problems, it was a creditable effort. There was a smattering of good questions too, and the teams had an entertaining time. Samrat won the quiz practically single-handedly, especially sweeping the sports questions (I was with him, but contributed relatively little; in fact, I botched a simple question :( ).

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Capping a disappointing week

The last week - the mid-term exams week - turned out to be very disappointing. I have now done badly in all three subjects which really matter (to me, that is) the most this term, including Manufacturing System Design today. I'm not worried about the grades (I've stopped thinking about them quite some time back), but the disappointment of not doing well in the subjects you like is great. Anyway, let me remember Pt. Bhushan, the lyricist for the film 'Pujarin', whose words Saigal sang: 'jo biit chukii so biit chukii, ab usakii yaad sataaye kyon?'

Monday, July 25, 2005

'Ijaazat'

After the CorVal setback, I decided to watch a film, and watched this 1986 Gulzar film with Samrat. Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Rekha and Anuradha Patel, this is a superb film. We were both quite engrossed in the flow of the story, and the typical, complex Gulzar-esque imagery in the dialogues and the songs.

The story is about Mahendra (Shah), an advertising professional, whose life is torn between Maya (Patel), whom he loves, and Sudha (Rekha), who becomes his wife and whom he comes to love. The story begins with Mahendra and Sudha meeting after 5 years of their divorce, both stranded in a waiting room of a remote railway station for a night. The film keeps switching between the current and flashback modes, as we get to learn how Mahendra's life becomes complicated with a loving wife and a bohemian, and very childish, Maya. On the same day, both leave him - Maya on a whim, and Sudha on a decision. Mahendra is shocked by the turn of events, as he had been honest with Sudha almost till the end. For the rest of the story, it would be better to watch the movie. The end is poignant.

Naseer is quite superb, as always. The simple ease with which he enters the skin of the character is to be seen to be believed. Rekha is also quite impressive in a very staid role, and does all the difficult scenes well. Gulzar's touch is all over the place, as he does the script, screenplay, dialogues, lyrics, and direction. The dialogues are quite witty at many places and Maya's dialogues and poetry quite complex (though it is composed of images from everyday life). The outdoor shooting was done in lush green Kudremukh (which brings back memories), and Ashok Mehta's cinematography is pleasing. The music is quite good, all songs being sung by Asha Bhosle. Full credit to R. D. Burman for setting lyrics like 'meraa kuchh saamaan', 'kataraa kataraa milatii hai' and 'khaalii haath shaam aayi hai' to good tunes. In 'Aandhi', the lyrics were extremely pertinent to the film (this deserves an entire post), and that happens with the lyrics here too. Let's call it Gulzar's integrated approach :).

Added later:
I forgot to mention the guest appearances of the Kapoor brothers. Shammi appears as Naseer's grandfather - orthodox in general, yet quite understanding of the beliefs of the younger generation. He does a great job, in my opinion. Shashi, appearing very handsome flashing his toothy grin that has remained constant since the days of 'Awaara', comes right at the end, for about the last ten minutes.

Poka-yoke

This is Japanese terminology, particularly used in the manufacturing context. It stands for 'mistake-proofing', and I am in need of it. I have continued my record of making silly mistakes in exams, as I made errors with some major implications in both Investment Mgmt. two days ago and in Valuation today. It is getting to be a bit disconcerting now how I am failing to improve with time.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Mid-mid-term

With 3 mid-term exams out of the way in 2 days and 2 more slated for tomorrow, things are moving at a fast pace. Today's Strategic Mgmt. exam was very enjoyable, with a 25-page case on eBay's foray into e-retailing (from online auctions) to be analysed. The case, prepared by Univ. of Alabama professors, read like a story. It was structured very well, and we got a lot of clarity on the business model and the workings of a pioneering Internet firm. The questions based on the case were also sequenced in a nice way, reflecting the kind of thinking process expected.

In contrast, the other paper - Supply Chain Mgmt. - was a classic descriptive paper, with 25- and 30-mark descriptive questions. After years and years of such exams, I am utterly bored and tired of answering questions that begin with the phrases "Describe briefly" or "Explain in detail", and end in "giving suitable examples where necessary".

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Walled in

My hostel is contiguous with the girls' hostels, and this year, the entire ground floor of my hostel has been allotted to the girls. Now, to separate the men from the girls, so to speak, a wooden partition has been erected in the last 2-3 days. As I was coming back from my walk today, the last nails were being hammered into the partition, joining it to its frame. I smiled to myself as I thought of the similarity of this to the scene in the film 'Anarkali' where Bina Rai is being walled in while singing her last song, 'merii qismat ke khariidaar, ab to aajaa', half-expecting a modern-day Anarkali to sing from within :). Of course, no offence meant to anyone.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Timing

The bricks on the path on the way to the academic complex from the hostels have been uprooted to make a paved path similar to the one it met. The timing couldn't have been better - right in the middle of the monsoon :). It is fortunate for the work that rains are very intermittent here. Once again, this reminds me of KREC, where most buildings underwent paint jobs just before the legendary monsoon began :).

Crystal-ball gazing

I just completed one assignment each in Investment Management and Corporate Valuation. They were related - we were projecting the future cash flows of an Indian IT services company and in the case of IM, were valuing the stock of the company in order to find if it was over- or under-valued with respect to economic fundamentals. This 'standard' exercise and the recent classes in CorVal have left me a bit flustered.

For most (or all) companies, the future is risky and uncertain, with the degree of risk and uncertainty varying. Valuing a company today for what it might become in the future is itself a risky job. But investment bankers and others do it day-in and day-out. The problem is: not many of these valuations match. A company is a complex entity, and then it is placed in an uncertain environment, which creates a combinatorial explosion of alternative scenarios for the future. The performance of equity researchers who value stocks is then measured by their past reports and their variance from the actual scenario (not for their normal performance appraisal perhaps, but definitely for their future credibility).

If future uncertainty was the only reason for mismatched valuations, however, it could still be pardoned. The problem is: the methodology used for valuation is often suspect - illogical or biased. We had a case study in class in which we saw that a reputed investment banking firm used a strange hotch-potch of valuation techniques to value a diversified firm, and a merger decision was based on that valuation. Another survey of US and European analysts showed that most analyst recommendations were 'buy/hold', as compared to 'sell'. And I also read about the kind of fantastic measures used to value dot-coms and Internet companies. Having done some part of a valuation exercise, I must say that the temptation to manipulate figures to suit assumptions is high :).

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Smorgasbord

The first-year students' talents were on show at 'Parichay' today. I caught only bits and pieces of it because of classes. So I don't have anything to say about it.

But I do have something to say on the dinner we had in the mess tonight. It was a wonderful spread. The vegetarian menu included paneer curry, chana masala, kofta, ruumali roti, paneer paratha, tandoori roti, pomegranate-and-banana salad, etc. The piece de resistance was the tawa-sabji, which had tawa versions of stuffed brinjals, capsicum, bhindi, arbi, karela, etc. The non-vegetarians had chicken biryani and kebabs to feast on (these were ordered from outside). Rasmalai and ice-cream rounded out the dinner. A meal to remember...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Cycling

In a change from the normal walking routine, I bicycled today, making four laps around the institute, which comes to around 12 km. I felt a bit nostalgic in taking up a bicycle again, as I remembered the days of Std. 11 & 12 when I used to bicycle close to 20 km every day. The second spell of rains has made the atmosphere quite pleasant, although it is still pretty humid. It felt nice to expend some energy in such an atmosphere.

I've noticed this strange asymmetry in me. I don't know if it holds for all people. It is this: when I am mentally fatigued, expending physical energy into a sport or exercise (but not to excess) always freshens me up and I am ready for more mental exercise. But the converse is not true. When physically fatigued, it is extremely difficult for the mind to concentrate.

Monday, July 11, 2005

'Chhoti si Baat'

Having some free time today, I re-watched this '70s Basu Chatterjee film starring Amol Palekar, Ashok Kumar, Asrani and Vidya Sinha, with a friend. After being in a B-school for a slightly more than a year now, we viewed this film, and particularly Ashok Kumar's character in a new light. The following is not meant to be serious :).

Arun (Amol Palekar) is having trouble wooing Prabha (Vidya Sinha) because of his shy nature and extreme diffidence, even though Prabha is positively disposed towards him. Nagesh (Asrani), who is Prabha's colleague at office, adds to Arun's problems by making aggressive moves toward Prabha.

Viewing Arun and Nagesh as rival firms in a market where Prabha is the customer, Arun is not aware of his capabilities, while Nagesh has developed several competencies (like possessing a scooter to ferry Prabha, having expertise in chess & table-tennis, being street-smart, etc.) and is quite customer-centric. Having made bad investments in a bid to impress his customer (like buying an antique, run-down motorcycle), Arun also tries out penny consultants (astrologers, magnetists) before turning to the big consultant firm of Col. Julius Nagendranath Wilfred Singh (Ashok Kumar). Col. Singh offers diversified consulting services to a wide customer base, including politicians and filmstars worried about managing their income tax.

Col. Singh quickly diagnoses Arun's problems, in true consultant style, as 'lack of self-confidence', 'ineffective global communication' and 'paranoidical frustration' :). He takes up revamping Arun's firm as a turnkey project, and in 20 days, has equipped Arun with various skills to match and better Nagesh's. Col. Singh has thus been an external change agent and a turnaround artist. Arun is also taught intrigue in business (delaying tactics and sledging in chess & table-tennis, salvaging bad investments by artificially increasing their price, etc.) The rival firm of Nagesh tries desperately to counter this transformed firm of Arun, but to no avail. Finally, as Arun wins over his customer, Nagesh also turns to Col. Singh for similar transformation. Will Col. Singh's transformation process framework become commoditized, with so many firms wanting to use it? Material for a sequel, perhaps.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Aftermath

The first spell of rains has come and gone, and has left in its wake an atmosphere that is saturated with humidity. As I look out of my balcony, the overcast and humid conditions remind me strongly of Surathkal. But thankfully, unlike Surathkal, there haven't been any power problems in my hostel (some of the others are experiencing voltage fluctuations). The mess is a super-pressure-cooker, boiling people within minutes of their occupying a seat under toiling fans not able to perform to their full capacity.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

'Sarkar'

I watched this latest Ram Gopal Varma film at the Waves multiplex with some friends the day before yesterday. I had read a review of the film on Rediff which had been pretty harsh, and had called it 'a dumbed down Godfather'. So I was not expecting much.

But I must say that the film is not all that bad, and the review overcriticized. It is quite impossible to create the aura of Marlon Brando with his method acting, even if Don Corleone is being enacted by Amitabh Bachchan, the ruthless intensity of Al Pacino (played by Abhishek Bachchan), and of course, Coppola's direction. However, if you just forget that this film is a kind of remake of 'The Godfather' and just view it as a Hindi film, it fares quite well.

Amitabh is Sarkar, or Subhash Naagare, a Marathi don in Mumbai. But unlike Don Vito, crime is not his business, it is his crusade against more vicious crime - a perpetual avenging mechanism. Thus, he does not take assignments to protect smugglers' consignments, etc. He has two sons - Vishnu (played brilliantly by Kay Kay), a rebellious and hotblooded character, and Shankar (Abhishek), a US-educated man who is quite proud of his father's work. As a certain assignment is rejected by Amitabh because it involves abetting smugglers, he falls into disfavour with the Dubai-based smuggler. Along with his henchmen, which include a Chandraswami lookalike and a Madrasi character Selvarmani (played hilariously by Kota Srinivasa Rao, a popular Telugu villain), he hatches a plan to trap Amitabh. They kill a popular politician called Khurana (Anupam Kher) who is anti-Naagare, and Amitabh is implicated. Vishnu has now moved over to the dark side, and Amitabh surrenders and is put in jail. Abhishek, having come to know that there will be an attack on Amitabh in the jail, approaches Selvarmani who turns out to have crossed over as well. So, Abhishek runs for his life from there (a sequence lacking thrill), and starts to transform into Sarkar himself. The rest of the tale is about his revenge on the smuggler and others, which includes killing his brother. The film ends with Amitabh living a retired existence and Abhishek being addressed as Sarkar.

As the Rediff review notes, the women in the film do not have roles to speak of. However, Supriya Pathak as Amitabh's wife does well. Amitabh, Abhishek and Kay Kay are all good, particularly the latter.

The main problem with the film is that it is like the curate's egg - good in parts. It does not sustain the tension generated in the scene where Abhishek comes in and tells his parents that he has killed his brother, in all scenes. The background music is mostly deafening and distracting. The theme music of 'The Godfather' is also copied and modified to make it bad :), and repeated in a few sequences. So, while not being very harsh to the movie, I would say that it could have been much better, particularly in character development and writing.

Monday, July 04, 2005

'Business Legends'

This is a book that I partially read in the last few days. I returned it because it was overdue and I was taking too much time to complete it, given the time pressures. Written engagingly by Gita Piramal (Viking, 1998), this book profiles four of India's greatest businessmen - G. D. Birla, Walchand Hirachand, Kasturbhai Lalbhai and J. R. D. Tata. I could only read Kasturbhai's profile and a part of Birla's profile.

Most of the action in the book revolves around the period 1900-1950, when these four businessmen really came into their own and made a lasting impact on a turbulent India. The themes of the freedom movement, Indo-British trade wars and unfair British policy towards Indian businessmen recur throughout the book.

Kasturbhai Lalbhai remained a regional entrepreneur, but he laid the base for a global business, as Arvind is today. His political influence and activism, however, was much wider than his business interests and he remained the leader of Ahmedabad industry in all political and trade deliberations with the British. He had great business acumen, but was cautious in his approach. Personally, he lived a life of great thrift and regularity. Particularly fascinating is the incident of the textile trade unions strike in 1917, when a young Kasturbhai's opponent (so to speak) was Gandhiji. Difficult times like these were weathered by Kasturbhai, and although he later warmed up to Gandhiji, he continued to have differences of opinion with him. His associations with the Sarabhai family and Vallabhbhai Patel are also very interesting. Above all, he built or helped build institutions like ATIRA, IIM Ahmedabad and ICICI, using his organizational abilities. His decision-making amid difficult times like his brother-in-law's death and other family difficulties also show him to be a very firm personality.

G. D. Birla, in contrast to Kasturbhai, had almost the whole of India in his business grasp. Along with the very capable members of the Birla clan, he saw undervalued businesses quickly and bought them at cheap prices to achieve rapid diversification. But he also set up greenfield ventures at a pace that made British interests envy and fear the man and resort to political machinations against him. A rebel all his life, he had a few quirks to his personality. His close association to Gandhiji and the political wheeling-dealing that accompanied his election to the Central Legislative Assembly in the 1920's is also fascinating to read.

Overall, the book scores on depth of research and presenting a holistic picture of each personality. The close association of politics with business is also a theme of the times. The photographs in the middle of the book are really great, and they give us a very clear cut idea of each personality. I particularly liked the photo of four Birla generations together in a photo (G. D., B. K., Aditya and Kumaramangalam). Also, the family trees of each of the personalities right at the beginning of each profile clarified things a lot. Overall, a wonderful book to read, if you like business history.