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The other day, I walked into a shop which stocks household provisions. To my utter delight, I found a brand of constipation relieving powder which I had not seen since quite a long time in Pondicherry, where I live. However, the shop owner was not amused by my decision to buy a pack. “Sir”, he cautioned, “initial results would be good, and you will end up using it regularly. But after a year, the problem will become much worse!” Well, the Good Samaritan lost a small sale, but won over a dedicated customer for life!

On the contrary, my experience in big shopping malls has been rather disheartening. The eye contact is often perfunctory. The personal touch is invariably missing. Most of the stores have some loyalty programs running, but the warmth and the courtesy extended is superficial. If I need a product exchange, the procedural complexities leave me gasping for breath. If I wish to leave behind an order for a specific product, there is a good chance I would never hear from the store again. Often, the product knowledge of sales staff is so sketchy that it leaves one wondering what professionalism in sales management is all about.

To me, the raging controversy about Government of India’s decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail is meaningless. The Government appears to be over-stating the benefits of FDI in retail, whereas the Opposition is hell-bent upon projecting this as the last nail in the coffin for all the chemists, kiryana stores and sari stores in India. 

As and when Wal-Mart, IKEA and others enter India, they would face challenges of high density of population, high real estate costs, absence of parking spaces and professionally managed supply chains, poor infrastructure and a policy environment which could spring unpleasant surprises. Anyone who imagines the Indian market to be a cake walk for retail MNCs would surely be off the mark.  

As per a recent CRISIL study, reported recently in The Hindu, organized retail penetration during 2011-12 was merely 7 per cent of the $430 billion domestic retail industry. The balance was held by the Mom-and-Pop Stores. If all states in India were to allow FDI in retail, CRISIL estimate the organized retail’s share to rise to 10-15 per cent in about five years time. 

Retail majors in the developed world are struggling to keep afloat. Internet is changing the way we buy things. Smart shoppers these days browse for books and other items in stores, but finally buy them off the internet, enjoying whopping discounts. Strong backward linkages in warehousing and logistics are quietly bringing about this retail revolution.

Closer home, we find a housewife in Surat buying a mobile phone from Indiatimes and a student in Assam ordering a book on Flipkart. A family in Hyderabad plans for a bus trip to Tirupati and makes its bookings using Redbus. A businessman from Ludhiana orders shoes off Myntra and a teenager in Cochin buys a swanky new salwar kameez from Yebhi. A health-conscious housewife in Jaipur gets her supplies of Omega-3 supplements courtesy HealthKart. An executive pursuing his hobby in gardening in Nagpur seeks the support of Costco to buy a hedge trimmer. A book-worm like me in Pondicherry orders a Kindle book reader from Amazon!

In the days to come, advances in technology and wider internet connectivity will keep nibbling at the market share of nut and bolt retail. But who can resist the feel and touch of a silk sari and the whiff of fresh printed paper when browsing a book before taking a buying decision?! Organized retail may suffer much more on this account than our Mom-and-Pop stores. They offer personalized service. Door delivery is not an issue. If one is a regular customer, short-term credit is quite the norm. There are minimal exchange blues.

The trust generated in customers is a key factor which would always ensure that our  Mom-and-Pop stores shall not only survive but also flourish! In a worst case scenario, their rate of growth may get a temporary dampener, but survive they shall. After all, David did win over Goliath eons back!

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Movies reflect what is happening in the society. In some cases, like literature, they also hint at what could be in store for us in the days to come. They not only influence what happens in the society, but also take a harsh look at its ills – including their own! There are a number of spoofs, created by some of our best known dream merchants, which reveal the level of maturity the film industry has attained.

Somehow, movies examine only some segments of the society; that too, mostly along predictable lines. Politicians, cops, industrialists and others are mostly depicted in a stereotyped manner. Business and management have so far not merited much attention from our film makers.

If business has been captured, it has mostly been depicted to be ruthless. Catering to mass appeal, the film makers have propounded the belief that big money is invariably bad. The fact that wealth is not always ill-gotten has been ignored. The reality that every business activity has social spin-offs – like employment generation and wealth creation –   has invariably been given a short shrift.

Likewise, the subject of management appears only on the fringes of the narrative. If the story revolves around a business family which is trying to modernize its factories by bringing in advanced equipment and machinery, the issue gets hijacked either as a personality clash  between the hero and the villain, or as an industrial relations dispute between the management and the workers.

Nevertheless, quite a few movies have captured some facets of management. It would be instructive for us to review a random sample and see if we could learn some lessons from these. 

Setting Clear Goals

Way back in 1992, we had “Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar” (Director: Mansoor Khan) which showed the single-minded pursuit of the hero avenging a humiliation by winning a marathon cycle race in an interesting climax.Lakshya

Lakshya” narrated the story of a youngster drifting in life, clueless as to what he wants to do for a living. Circumstances lead him to join the Indian Army and he gets involved with the Kargil incursions by Pakistan into Indian territory. In the process, he discovers himself, achieves a clarity of purpose and leads his men to victory. (2004, Director: Farhan Akhtar)

Yet another coming of age story came our way in “Wake Up, Sid”. It is the heroine (Konkona Sen Sharma) who inspires the hero (Ranbir Kapoor) to set his own goals in life. (2009, Director: Zoya Akhtar). 

Let Goals be Based on What You Excel In!pondy movie 3_idiots

Rajkumar Hirani explained this concept rather well in his immensely successful “3 Idiots” (2009). If you are passionate about a hobby of yours, and make it your profession as well, you would surely excel. Happiness, contentment, recognition and rewards would automatically follow.

Ethics in Business

Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year” (2009, Director: Shimit Amin) had a theme which spoke of ethics in business. If marketing efforts are directed at deceiving customers and if either the product or service is shoddy, the business will go down in the dumps. Philip Kotler would have surely approved!

Managing the Boss

Aziz Mirza delighted us with both “Yes Boss” (1997) and “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani” (2000). Scratch below the glitzy surface Yes bossof these slick flicks and you are sure to learn quite a few tricks on managing bosses. If “Yes Boss” was about being a yes-man, “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani” was about manipulating bosses to get them to announce decisions which were contrary to their original stands. Yes, the bosses were mere caricatures and depicted as bumbling buffoons. But the hero and the heroine could get away with it purely based on the outstanding results they brought in!

Another interesting dimension we got to see was in “Aitraaz” (2004, Directors: Abbas Mustan). The movie was based on a Hollywood flick by the name of “Disclosure”. In return for rapid promotions, the female boss ends up trying to seduce the subordinate hero. However, thanks to a zealous wife and smart technology, the hero manages to wriggle out of a tricky situation!

Handling Corruption

Hrishikesh Mukherji came up with “Satyakam” in 1969. Based on a Bengali novel by Narayan Sanyal, the movie tugged at our heart-strings by taking us through the trials and tribulations of Satyapriya, a whistle-blower who suffers in his professional as well as personal life and loses the battle against corruption.Well done abba

In 1983, Kundan Shah gave us the memorable “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron”. With sterling performances by Nasseruddin Shah, Ravi Baswani and others, it tackled the issue of corruption in real estate and construction deals in a humorous vein. The movie ends with a cut-throat gesture made by both the protagonists, signifying the death of justice, fair play and truth in an age of corruption.

Fast forward to 2010, when Shyam Benegal gave us a heart-warming “Well Done, Abba”. A great satire on our public delivery failures, the movie captured the effect of rampant corruption on laymen. Armaan Ali, a driver, plans to dig a well in his farmland to ensure adequate water supply. Depending upon a government scheme, he soon learns the pitfalls involved. How he wriggles out of the situation forms the interesting part.

Getting Hired!

Of the several interview scenes one has witnessed in movies churned out by Bollywood, the one portrayed in “Golmal” (1979, Day_of_the_JackalDirector: Hrishikesh Mukherji) remains my favorite. Facing an eccentric industrialist, Bhavani Shankar (Utpal Dutt), who believes in traditional values and thinks that all those without a moustache happen to be characterless, Ramprasad Dashrathprasad Sharma (Amol Palekar), desparate to get a job, puts on a moustache and manages to charm the boss in the interview. He not only lands up with a job with a salary higher than expected, but also manages to eventually sing his way into the heart of the boss’ daughter!

The Day of the Jackal” (1973, Director: Fred Zimmermann) has the professional assassin appearing for an interview. The OAS team is astounded by the fee of half a million dollar quoted by him to assassinate Charles de Gaulle. The Jackal responds by saying that he deserves the fee, because he is the best in the business!

In both the cases, professional capability, coupled with self-confidence, won the day!

Industrial Relations

In “Namak Haraam” (1973, Hrishikesh Mukherji), the issue of rising trade unionism was portrayed effectively. Vicky (Amitabh Bacchhan) plans to defuse the situation by getting his friend Somu (Rajesh Khanna) to become a union leader. In the process, Somu gets influenced by the workers’ point of view and a confrontation between the friends ensues. Love-u-mr-kalakaar

Management Lessons

In Rajshri Production’s 2011 offering, “Love U…Mr. Kalakaar”, Sahil, a struggling artist, is faced with the challenge of running his future father-in-law’s business empire more profitably, so as to be able to win the hand of his lady-love Ritu. In order to ensure success, Ritu, a fresh MBA, ends up giving marketing and HR lessons to Sahil. The movie, directed by S. Mansavi, also captured office politics effectively. Performance on the job and the strong bonding between the lovers eventually saves the day.

Self Confidence vs. Shyness and Diffidence  

Basu Chatterji treated us to a sumptuous fare in “Chhoti Si Baat” (1975). Both the hero and the heroine work in different offices. Love blossoms, but the hero is a simpleton and keeps losing to a colleague of the heroine – whether in social skills or in indoor games. Eventually, Arun (Amol Palekar) decides to undergo a crash course in self-confidence, comes back in style and wins the hand of Prabha (Vidya Sinha), the girl of his dreams!Guru

Finances, Share Markets

Satta Bazaar” (1959, Director: Ravinder Dave) portrayed the ruin of a family due to over indulgence in the share markets very effectively. In another Rajshri offering, “Jeevan Mrityu” (1970, Director: Satyen Bose), the hero uses share price manipulations to seek revenge from the bad guys who had got him convicted for a theft he had never committed. “Guru” (2007, Director: Mani Ratnam) was loosely based on the life of late Dhirubhai Ambani. It restored our faith in the equity markets and showed us how one’s fortune could get reversed and then regained!

Work-Life Balance

In “Chhodo Kal Ki Baatein” (2012, Director: Pramod Joshi), the hero is so busy pursuing his career goals that he fails to attend his daughter’s arangetram. His family deserts him for a weekend. The movie is all about his regaining the work-life balance, and 220px-Bumbumboleposterarticulates the current dilemmas being faced by managers. There are some useful tips on the art of living, placing the movie on a spiritual plane.


A high-risk business like producing movies can survive only on continuous innovation. Of late, the upwardly mobile middle class in India has opened up a new segment of the movie goers’ market. Bollywood themes are no longer confined to romantic duets, with the hero and the heroine chasing each other around trees. New themes have been experimented with, and the results are heartening. Consider movies like “Iqbal”, “Pa”, “Bum Bum Bole”, “Chak De India”, “Dor”, “Welcome to Sajjanpur”, “A Wednesday”, “Udaan”, “Taare Zameen Par”, “Vicky Donor”, “Kahaani” and “Barfi”. The sheer diversity of themes is remarkable, even if there is a romantic angle deftly woven into some of the plots to ensure commercial survival. 

Giving Back to Society

Swades” (2004, Director: Ashutosh Govarikar) set a good example of how rural problems can be addressed by talented people who decide to chuck their lucrative careers abroad and return to their roots in India.

A recent IFC report showcases Indian Social Ventures like Husk Power Systems, WaterHealth International and Suvidhaa Infoserve. In the days to come, trust Bollywood to come up with more variants of the “Swades” theme!pati patni aur woh

Extra-marital Affairs

If “Pati Patni aur Woh” (1978, Director: B R Chopra) touched upon the boss going wayward, “Rang Birangi” (1983, Director: Hrishikesh Mukherji) brought home the issue of a bored housewife getting her busy husband’s affection back with the support of a mutual friend. Both were excellent comedies with serious messages; one showed us the futility of romancing a secretary, the other spoke of the need to attach a better value to the needs of our loved ones.

Corporate Intrigues

When it comes to the inner machinations of business empires and corporate feuds, one readily remembers “Kalyug” (1981, Director: Shyam Benegal) and “Corporate” (2009, Madhur Bhandarkar). Even though such efforts have been few and far between, the honesty with which these movies have got made speaks highly of the directors, producers and the script writers. The underbelly of over-reaching greed, unbridled ambition and business rivalry – all have been brought home very candidly in both these works.Duplicity

Duplicity” (2009, Director: Tony Gilroy), starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen was an interesting take on corporate espionage. “Pyaar Impossible” (2011, Director: Jugal Hansraj) touched upon the issue of software piracy, though the basic theme was romantic in nature.

Team Work

When it comes to team work and bonding, who can forget the Jai and Veeru duo of “Sholay” fame? Personality-wise, both are poles apart. Jai, played by Amitabh, is sober, quiet and meditative. Veeru, played by Dharmendra, is loud and outspoken. The ways in which they go about wooing their sweethearts in the village are as different as, say, chalk and cheese. But when it comes to confronting Gabbar, they work in perfect unison, displaying a unique understanding and respect for each other. (1975, Director: Ramesh Sippy).


In the scam-ridden exciting times that Indian managers operate in these days, new social developments are taking place. Thanks to a byte-hungry media, we have a torrent of CAG reports, court cases, corporate misadventures, information tumbling out of closets courtesy the RTI Act, sting operations and confidential conversations getting recorded and leaked at regular intervals.

One has no doubt that our movie makers can be relied upon to soon start churning out movies with scripts which highlight management and governance issues with a sharper focus.  Hopefully, these would capture the business world in a more balanced fashion – depicting not only the seamier and manipulative side but also the philanthropic and CSR side, besides depicting initiatives in the realm of social entrepreneurship!

(PS: You may also like to look up https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/management-lessons-from-movies-2-0)

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For those of us who live near the equator, it is rather baffling to sit down for dinner at, say, 9 pm and find that the sun is still shining bright outside the window. The digestive juices go in for an initial phase of revolt and the stomach refuses to accept any offerings coming its way! One somehow persuades oneself to gulp down a  few mouthfuls so as to keep the body and soul together. The sun reluctantly sets at an hour close to midnight and is cheekily up again at 4 am, waking one up in a rather befuddled state of mind!

Well, this is what happens when one visits a country near the Arctic Circle. The days tend to be much longer – upto 20 hours long – and the nights shorter. Also, the night sky never turns pitch dark. It always retains a dusky-hued feel to it. That is how, a country like Norway is also known as ‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’.

A short trip to Norway – tucked away as close to the North Pole as one can imagine (between latitudes 57° and 81° N ) – was overdue for us for quite some time. Frankly, the Land of the Midnight Sun did not disappoint us! Like most of Europe, we found it to be immaculate, spick-and-span, and highly organized. The two cities we could visit during our sojourn were Oslo, the capital city, and Bergen, a commercial hub. The trip gave us a first-hand feel of the great country, its rich culture and traditions, and its warm and helpful people.

Norway has a geographical spread of 3,85,252 sqkms, which makes it somewhat larger than, say, Rajasthan in India. Population-wise, at close to 50 lacs, it happens to be smaller than Himachal Pradesh. As the largest cities in Norway, both Oslo and Bergen are small by international standards. Oslo has a population of around 9 lacs and Bergen has a population of only about 2.35 lacs.

 From Oslo to Bergen : An Enchanting Journey

The train journey between Oslo and Bergen is said to be one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys. One goes throughbabuji_028 awesome countryside with a stark beauty that is typical of Norway – endless forests, placid lakes, swamps, red-painted houses, cottages with grass roofs, and at the top, a trackless, desolate snow-covered mountain landscape interrupted by the odd frozen lake, even in mid-summer. Often, a single house quietly enjoying its isolated glory whizzes past us, surrounded by snow on all sides for miles together.

On the way, we get to experience the warmth of the people. A train conductor who sees us trying to get some coffee from the machine on the coach of the train finds us fumbling for coins of the right denomination. He comes up and offers a steaming hot cup drawn out of his own money. When we offer money, he refuses to accept it, saying we are his guests! We learn that Indians do not have a copyright on atithi-devo-bhavah!babuji_041

The mountains here rise to 1,300 meters; the Hardangervidda is the highest mountain pleateu in North Europe. It also houses Norway’s largest national park. There is a lovely biking trail through here, part of which is parallel to the railway. Eventually we arrive at Myrdal, a small hamlet boasting of few houses in the middle of nowhere that is the junction for a narrow-gauge railway to Flam.

The Flamsbana train is a star attraction. It runs up to 15 times a day, and takes an hour to descend more than 850 meters to sea level, down a steep-sided valley studded with cliffs and waterfalls. A taped commentary in several languages and overhead screens tell us all about it as we pass through. The train actually stops at one point, between two tunnels, so people can get out to view a stbabuji_043upendous waterfall. It is the Kjosfoss, that too in a frozen state!

The Breathtaking Fjords On The Way

At sea level, the first thing we see is a vast cruise ship, completely dominating the little settlement of Flam. It is on one of the innermost arms of the famous Sognefjord which is 204 kms long and up to 1,308 meters deep. Flam has become a popular cruise terminal with lots of tourist amenities, a superb little railway museum, hiking trails and a wide choice of sightseeing tours by coach and boat.

As the cruise ship navigates through the fjord, we marvel at Mother Nature’s virginity on offer. Crystal clear waters, mbabuji_047ajestic mountains with mirror-perfect images down below, absolute stillness and peace, pristine beauty, small hamlets surrounding beautiful churches after every few kilometers, and the  single odd house precariously perched – either on mountain tops or jutting out of the dizzying slopes. Occasionally, we pass by some magnificent waterfalls, their cascading waters making the only sound audible in the immediate vicinity.

The fjords were carved out during the ice age by melting water pushing its way under the ice, forming deep valleys in the mountains. The result as we see  today is a spectacular landscape. Glacier capped mountains rise more than 2,000 meters, steep above the fjords. Waters run as deep as 1,300 meters and we can easily navigate into the open North Sea. Between mountains and fjords, people have lived their lives since before the viking-ages.babuji_065

The ship eventually drops us off at another place, from where a bus whisks us off through enchanting countryside to a small town by the name of Voss. We  board the waiting train there and finally reach Bergen after another short and comfortable ride.

Bergen, A Commercial Hub

Bergen is a UNESCO world heritage city, partly because of its unique waterside, the Bryggen, which has been photographed so often it has become iconic. Originally a Hanse port settlement, it was run by German merchants, and no Norwegians – or women – were allowed on the site. On the neighborhood quay is the world-famous seafood market. And there are so many round trips to Fjords on offer that one is literally spoilt for choice.

Bergen is a lovely city, with a brand new tram line connecting new suburbs to the city centre, a spectacular fort, museums, beautiful parks, a new opera house by an artificial lake and a fountain, and so on. We visit an aquarium where sea lions, penguins and several other creatures of the ocean frolic about in their respective enclosures. The flower of Bergen is the rhododendron – there are about 300 different species and they love it here because of the mild climate and the rain.

The city is surrounded by seven mountains. There was a light drizzle, so we  take the funicular train up to Floyen, from where the view is inspiring as well as invigorating. It is fun to ride in coaches with a glass roof, affording a great view as the train takes us up 320 meters above sea level. The floors of the coaches are at an angle of close to 40 degrees, and it is interesting to get in and out. Once on the top, we appreciate how well the outlying islands protect Bergen from the North Atlantic weather. There is a restaurant and a well-stocked souvenir shop. Incidentally, all the places we ate at in Bergen made a point of serving only local produce in season – talk about sustainable living!

Oslo, the Capital City

Central Oslo has a typical big city feel about it. The architecture is imposing and the infrastructure is elegant. There is the Kon-Tiki museum, the Viking museum, several art museums and lots of parks and squares. It is easy to move around, as the city has an integrated transport system. We exercise the option of buying only a single ticket at a standard price; it is valid on trains, buses, metro, trams, boats, or all five.

The national gallery has wonderful landscape paintings. There is the Oslo City Hall where the annual Nobel Peace Prize is awarded. We also see the Royal Guard with military band parading up the main street to the palace for the changing of the guard – a stirring sight!

We are told that for a breath-taking overview of the city, one can take the tram all the way up to Holmenkollen where the newly built ski jump is. A climb up the viewing terraces leads one to the ski museum (the oldest in the world and absolutely fascinating). The adventurous can then take a lift to the very top. As well as a dizzying view down the run itself, there is said to be an impressive view of greater Oslo and a wonderful panorama of the bay with all its islands and headlands, as well as the surrounding mountains.

Major Tourist Attractions

Eastern part of Norway has stunning mountains and the Jotunheimen National Park. Northern part has the Arctic Circle and the Sami people, who are the original inhabitants of the country. For those who are fond of fish, there is salmon fishing.

Above all, one can not miss the spell-binding wonder of Aurora Bouraelis, or of  Northern Lights! Alas, due to bad weather, we are forced to cancel a visit to Tromso to witness this unique natural phenomenon. Also, on this trip, we miss meeting any lovable Viking a la ‘Hagar, The Horrible!’

We leave these attractions behind, hoping to come back once again and continue exploring The Land of the Midnight Sun on a future date!

General Information

Most people in Norway speak English as their first foreign language. The currency is the Norwegian Kroner. Even compared to other European countries,   things are pretty expensive. Both Oslo and Bergen offer tourist cards giving you free or reduced admission for museums, cultural events, tours, restaurants and parking, as well as free use of public transport. There are quite a few hotel chains which also run a line of budget hotels.

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As a manager, one is always obsessed with expansions, diversifications, setting up new projects, and the like. In other words, boosting the organization’s top line. However, another important aspect of a manager’s role is to ensure that business units showing signs of sickness do not bog the company down and erode its market goodwill. How does one do it smartly?

Out of several companies I worked for in my career of 35 years, I had the unique experience of closing down business units in four. The reasons for closure were as diverse as the culture and the size of the company I was associated with then – an over-estimation of the marketing prospects of a product or service, a shrinking marketing space owing to changes in market characteristics, high overheads leading to sustained financial losses, abysmally low levels of productivity, IR issues, supply chain bottlenecks, financial mismanagement and the like. In one particular case, a peculiar combination of these factors had led to negative financial contributions – the more the unit produced, the higher were the losses incurred!

Size and Culture of the Organization

All the closures I had been involved with were manufacturing set-ups. All the organizations were configured differently – if one was a large company with a bureaucratic set-up, another was a fleet-footed medium-sized company; yet another was a small-scale unit where entrepreneurial zeal had misfired.

Culture-wise also, the companies were poles apart. From an open manner of decentralized working to a secretive style of centralized decision making, one had a closure challenge which had to be met in tandem with the way the organization was configured. The task was surely unpleasant, but the learning was invariably rich.

Whatever the reason, the size or the culture of the organization, there was not much difference in the basic steps to achieve the goal. The difference came about only in the detailed approach to each step. The larger the size, the better the refinement in the approach towards handling an aspect of the challenge. In all cases, conceptualizing a closure was a much simpler affair than executing it.

Handling a Closure

With the benefit of hindsight, I can summarize and share my learning with those who might be interested. Here is what I believe was a common thread running through all the closures I was associated with:

  1. Breaking Up The Task: When it comes to dissolution, fixed assets like land and building need a different approach. The skills required to handle requisite government permissions are surely not the same as those required for liquidation of inventories. Admittedly, the biggest challenge is to hold the hands of customers and of the people getting impacted by the decision.

  2. Making Smaller Teams: The probability of meaningful decisions getting made and executed at the operational level is inversely proportional to the number of members in a team. It also helps to have a dissenter in each team – someone who will stand up for his/her convictions. The senior guy in each group plays the role of an arbitrator, if and when necessary.

  3. Planning Well: A typical closure may take anywhere from 9 to 24 months to plan and execute. At the planning stage, tasks may be identified and allocated to various teams. The most important priority is to ensure minimal disruption in fulfilling the order book commitments. No less critical are good relations with suppliers and service providers who can add value by remaining committed to the organization till the end of the road. Timely payments come in handy in this area.

  4. Using Grapevines: Informal networks and cliques are surely of immense value when rolling out a closure plan. To keep undue demands under check and to ensure a fair deal to all stakeholders, grapevines can be used very effectively.

  5. Listening to Legal Eagles: Before freezing a Closure Plan, allow your Legal Eagles to put it under a microscope and chew it over. Down the road, there would be lesser surprises for the teams which are tasked with executing a closure.

  6. Flaunting Your Assets: Alternate utilization of land and buildings needs immaculate planning upfront, as does the shifting/disposal of plant and machinery. Way back in 1924, the Dallas assembly plant of Ford was redeveloped as loft apartments. In mid-1980s, DCM, a textiles conglomerate in India, closed down its Bara Hindu Rao factory in Delhi and contemplated a real estate project at the site. In 2005, Alfa Romeo managed to convert its Milan factory into a museum dedicated to the automobile industry in Italy. In 2008, Chrysler estate at Delaware was shut down in USA. It was bought over and converted into a science and technology campus of the University of Delaware. Closure of several textile mills and movie theatres in India in the recent past has resulted into swank new malls and residential apartments coming up.

  7. Preparing for Role Reversals: The Marketing team pores over the details of minimizing the damage to company’s image, whereas the Sales team starts working with your distributors and franchisees to fine tune the details of stock liquidation. Just as your Purchase team dons the Marketing hat and starts liquidating unwanted stocks, the Production and Maintenance guys roll up their sleeves and start worrying about getting the conveyors and machinery prepared for packing and disposal. The Finance team starts reviewing the organization’s obligations to financial institutions, and HR honchos start finding jobs for employees about to face an onslaught of the dreaded pink slips.

  8. Communicating Proactively: If there is something worth communicating, it is worth over-communicating! All stakeholders, including the community near the plant, need to get convinced that the closure is a ‘no option’ decision of the management. Communication needs to be designed to ensure that the management is perceived to be fair, transparent and caring.

  9. Handling People: There is a limit to which the issue can be kept under wraps. People are much smarter than we give them credit for. It helps to have a time-bound plan for necessary information to flow to different levels of the organization. Sure enough, this works best on a need-to-know basis. The CEO, the Plant Head or the HR head can play the role of a PR guy very effectively, though there could be other managers who have good people skills and can address concerns more effectively. The latter option provides better elbow room to the CEO/Plant Head in adopting a flexible approach. Other than a severance package, an enlightened management would offer out-placement services and hold the hands of those who have undue anxiety. When BP shut down its solar panel facility at Frederick, so as to shift manufacturing from UK to lower wage options in China, India and elsewhere, besides three months’ full pay and benefits,it offered a severance package and placement assistance to the affected employees. Good employers would travel the ‘extra mile’ to ensure that spouses, kids and parents of those affected would get taken care of as well.

  10. Expecting the Unexpected: If either the reason for closure or the severance package is perceived to be grossly unfair, we could be inviting unsolicited interference from unexpected quarters. These could be government agencies, politicians or some disgruntled elements well-disguised as self-proclaimed well-wishers of the workmen. This needs deft handling, backed by tact and resource.

A Smart Closure

The detailed strategy, planning and execution would obviously vary depending upon whether the whole company is being shut down, or only the manufacturing units are getting closed, or only a single plant is facing a ramping down situation. With manufacturing getting increasingly shifted from the developed part of the world to the developing part, more and more organizations are faced with a closure scenario.

As Bill Taylor points out in his brilliant article ”Your Company’s ‘Obituary’ Can Shape Its Future’ on ‘http://www.blogs.hbr.org‘, much after the dust has settled down, the key questions which will get asked by different segments of your stakeholders shall be: ‘What legacy did your company leave in its industry? What contributions did your business unit make to your company? How did your brand move the needle in a market category?’

Call it by any name – restructuring, redesigning, re-engineering, ramping down or down-sizing, the key elements to be handled in a closure are Customer Relations and Human Resources. A couple of years down the road, would a majority of those affected by a closure be still speaking well of the organization? Would your customers be missing your product or services?

As long as these criteria are met, the management would have done a smart job on its part!

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The other day, I was surprised to run into a friend of mine. He seemed to have suddenly advanced in age. With drooping shoulders, he offered a rather limp handshake, a far cry from his ebullient self and the firm grip I had experienced all along. We sat down to enjoy a cup of tea. It did not take me long to figure out that his long working hours, devoid of any relaxation and exercise, had possibly led to a gradual decline in his well-being. If urgent steps were not taken, he would be soon courting trouble with his heart, a contingency which is best avoided.

Some Corporate Maxims

In the rush of living life in the fast lane, most managers today hardly find time for themselves. A high-octane careerSTRESS would often demand very long working hours at the work place. This is especially true in India, where the feudal mindset still prevails. As per some of the popular corporate maxims prevalent in this part of the world:

(1)                          A manager’s efficiency and effectiveness on the job is directly proportional to the number of hours put in at the work station,

(2)                          Promotions depend upon one’s commitment to company’s goals, where the level of commitment is in reverse proportion to the amount of leave taken,

(3)                          The company culture is designed to enforce a check-in time in the office, but the check-out time is invariably left open. After all, there is a strong belief in the old adage that those who watch the clock merely remain the hands!

(4)                          The manager has no life outside the place of work. More odd the hours at which mails emanate from him, especially those between the stroke of midnight and till about 4 AM, the more committed he/she is!

For those in the senior echelons, the communication revolution has made the task of “switching off” even more challenging. Laptops and cell phones are invariably present, even though they may be supposedly on leave with their near and dear ones. It is fashionable to answer a critical mail while on a vacation. We now have an entire generation of managers and executives who have developed an addiction to the latest gizmos. 24 by 7 connectivity is the buzz word. If you are not in the e-rat race, you just do not count!

The path of Least Resistance

The result is an early burn-out for most managers. With no time to spend with the family, let alone any quality time,WORK-LIFE BALANCE stress builds up pretty fast. Hobbies and extra-curricular activities get relegated to the background. If at all any health issue crops up, there is no time to see a doctor. Finally, when the visit to a medical specialist does fructify, a brief spell of pill popping provides instant relief and, voila, the problem is solved! A wise doctor would always work on a mix of drugs, diet, relaxation and exercise. But, as a patient, a manager is happy to find his own path of least resistance – focusing only on drugs but totally neglecting diet, relaxation and exercise.  

As to physical exercise, a “busy” manager could not care less. The physical bodies are taken for granted. If a gym is joined, the work-out keeps getting deferred on one pretext or the other. After all, the body is a sturdy one, so why pay any attention to it? On a daily basis, it is imagined that one is doing one’s duty by performing the morning ablutions, by providing the run down body with nourishment which could well be junk food, and by allowing oneself some sleep, howsoever disturbed it might be.

Recharging our batteries

It is rightly said that we are what we eat. If alone we were to focus on developing correct eating habits, with a large dose of fruits and vegetables, good results would ensue. When we eat junk food, do we realize that the same amount of money would allow us to buy fruits which we would not be able to consume in one go? When we continue to flush our digestive system with acidic foods, we cause irreparable damage to our delicate organs. Meals could also be irregular, depending upon the pressure of work at hand. The result is heartburn, upset stomach, ulcer, pancreatic malfunction and, in extreme cases, even cancer.

Why do we detest physical activity? In some cases, sheer lethargy, lack of time management skills and an over-ridingYoga Dhanurasana_Yoga-Asana_Nina-Mel addiction to desk work prompts us to lead sedentary lifestyles. Diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases soon follow. Quite a few of us end up facing the surgeon’s scalpel, with dietary restrictions and exercising regimen which we are then forced to follow.

Undoubtedly, managers perform under tremendous pressure. But what is more important is as to how they take the pressure. For a thick-skinned manager, the going may be relatively easier; for a thin-skinned one, the same assignment could involve a high degree of stress. Possibly, the solution lies in transforming one from with-in, so as to change the way a manager perceives stress because of the circumstances with-out. Regular meditation, a healthy diet and a positive frame of mind could work wonders in the long run, keeping the manager always charged up!

Need for innovative HR policies

Far-sighted managements would surely take notice and fine tune their HR policies to ensure that a healthy work-life balance is maintained for all senior employees. In one of the evolved companies I happened to be associated with some time back, an annual master health check-up was made mandatory for all those above the age of 45. The top guy resolved not to disturb his team members on weekends, unless absolutely unavoidable. A planned annual leave of 15 continuous days was made compulsory – the experiment demonstrated that the company did not collapse during the 15 days’ period! Managers learnt to plan in advance and also delegate their tasks better. Every six months, an in-house yoga camp was held. Two years down the road, employee satisfaction levels had improved, and so had white-collar productivity!

To quote Stephen Covey from his much celebrated book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”: The physical dimension involves caring effectively for our physical body – eating the right kinds of foods, getting sufficient rest and relaxation, and exercising on a regular basis. (7th Habit, page 289).

The Divine has granted us this life and given us a body to live it through. The soul strives to evolve by gaining newer experiences in this life time of ours. But it can do so only through the medium of our physical body. Should we not respect it, take care of it and remain physically fit? Just like our vehicles and household gadgets need preventive maintenance, our bodies also need to be looked after well, so as to fulfill their purpose – that of supporting our soul, the Divine presence within us, to experience what this wonderful gift of life has on offer for us.

Surely, we can summon our will power and plan as well as execute a plan to achieve this worthy goal?

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As the jetliner from Paris made its way to Puducherry, I turned nostalgic. When I had left it for greener pastures abroad, little had I June 2010 99imagined that it would take me close to twenty years to return to the town! I had left it as a semi-retired private sector honcho, and was now returning to my home base along with my wife Usha and grand-daughters Suman and Shalini. Looking out of the small window, I pointed out Matrimandir in the distance to Suman, who seemed pretty excited. The bluish-green waters of the Bay of Bengal below were shimmering in the setting sun, and a flock of pristine white seagulls was flapping along below us.

Once we landed, immigration and customs formalities got over pretty soon. The swank new international terminal looked like a smaller version of the Charles De Gaulle terminal in Paris. There were sign boards directing us to the metro station two levels below. We instead decided to take a cab into the town, so the family could get a better feel of the place.

As we settled down in the cab, the driver turned and asked if we wanted to take the toll road to town. “That would cost Rs. 750, sir”, he told us sheepishly. The normal route was also fine by him, he explained, but could take about 90 minutes to get to our place in town. We decided to take the toll road, and were delighted to be whisked off on an elevated road corridor. I could recognize JIPMER in the distance and realized that a host of elevated roads had come up in the town while I had been away.

One was a major ring road which, the cab driver explained, started off from the ECR near PIMS and ended up near Kanniakoil on the southern end of ECR. On the way, it was joined by radial elevated passages, connecting the town to the University, the new IIM, Auroville, Ousteri Lake, Chunnambar and to Arokiamedu. There were clear signboards on all the grade separators, and it was a sheer delight to cruise along the elevated motorways.

We reached our place in about 20 minutes, and were pleasantly surprised to see abundant greenery around even on smaller streets in the town. There were dedicated cycle paths all around the town. Only e-bikes and electric cars were visible on the roads. CNG buses were ferrying passengers. With a complete ban on pressure horns in force, the decibel levels were pretty low for a township of about 2.5 million people.  

In the evening, we went to the promenade. We were surprised to see a sandy stretch of about 50 meters beyond the Goubert Salai, with people and families of all kinds taking a leisurely stroll and enjoying the yellow moon which was just rising out of the sea. We could notice many safety kiosks spread all along the coast. Some skyscrapers had come up in the town, but the beach front had retained its original old world charm. It was very clean and dotted with French style wayside cafes.

In place of the old distillery, we found a multiplex, a science museum and a wine and champagne museum, the latter being the first of its kind in South Asia. Near the Kargil memorial, we found the entrance to an underwater aquarium which had been set up about five years back. A cultural performance was going on at the Gandhi Thidal. All along the beach road, near cafes, individual artists were playing musical instruments of various kinds, and the sound of music wafting through the air had an unwinding effect on all of us. From the jetty near the Park Guest House, we had the option of boarding a cruise ship, for a quiet moonlit dinner and a ride into the sea.  

Next day, I decided to take Suman and Shalini for a shopping spree. To my pleasant surprise, I found that only battery run vehicles were allowed to operate within the Boulevard area. Massive multi-level parking complexes had come up at all nodal points. Beneath each complex, there were shopping areas and food courts on the ground floor. From the basement, one could easily board a battery operated vehicle, either an exclusive one or a common one. A single voucher bought for the day allowed one to have as many hip-hop trips a day anywhere in the Boulevard area. The drivers were all well groomed and multi-lingual.

While crossing major junctions of J N Street and other roads like Anna Salai, M. G. Road, Mission Street and Ambour Salai, we noticed elevated train platforms, serviced by all-glass passenger cubicles. These were monorails, zipping across in both directions, carrying up to 20 passengers at a time. We were told that this novel mode of transportation was implemented recently with the help of foreign aid.

That night, our hosts told us about the severe smog problem faced by the town around 2015. Thereafter, the Government had taken vigorous steps to mitigate the problem of traffic congestion. Road tax on all motorized vehicles had been tripled. Parking meters had been installed and heavy charges were levied on all owners of private vehicles. The system of road usage fees had been computerized, thereby avoiding the possibility of any dilution in collections.

We were also told that to promote industries, a novel scheme had been worked out in tandem with the Tamil Nadu Government. Based on incentives granted by the latter, a 25 km wide belt around Puducherry had attracted massive investments, thereby tapping its commercial potential. Per capita income was three times the national average, and there was prosperity all around. All residents had smart cards, through which several benefits flowed to the beneficiaries. Government collected all its revenues through these cards, making the territory the first in India to do so. Crime detection and conviction rates had shot up and crime rate was the lowest in India.

The next day, we undertook a trip to Chunnambar Beach Resort where a permanent water sports facility had been created. We followed it up with trips to Arokiamedu, which had been spruced up to reflect the town’s historic links with the Roman empire. A replica of the age-old Ashram of Sage Agastya had been created, indicating the likely spot where Rama, Sita and Lakshmana would have come visiting long time back. A sound and light show at the site not only connected us back to Puducherry’s glorious past but also made our trip truly memorable.

Today is the 14th of July, 2025. We have visited Shri Aurobindo’s Samadhi in the forenoon and then made a trip to Auroville, which Jan 2010 01now boasts of being a green city, dependent only on solar and wind power. In the evening, we have boarded one of the Shatabdi trains connecting Puducherry to Chennai. Our journey takes us only 150 minutes. On the way, we look forward to enjoying fresh croissants and filter coffee from the pantry car.

As the train starts rolling out of Puducherry Railway Station, we bid adieu to the City Spiritual. The cherished memories of the trip shall forever be fresh in our minds. Surely, we shall motivate our friends abroad to visit Puducherry to enjoy its unique ambience.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/reinventing-pondicherry)




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During the course of the last decade, Indians appeared to have regained some of their pride and self-confidence as a nation which is the culmination of a 5,000 years old civilization steeped in values of tolerance, openness and adaptability. Right from the evolution of Zero to the genius of Ramanujam, from the profound concepts enumerated in the Vedas to the spiritual wisdom expounded by the likes of Swami Vivekananda and Shri Aurobindo, from the literary depth of Sage Vyasa to the artistic achievements of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, from the invincible arrows of Lord Rama to today’s Brahmos missiles, from the evocative poetry penned by Kalidasa to the genius of Satyajit Ray – our repertoire as a nation is pretty rich.  

There is absolutely no harm in enjoying the limelight and speaking high of our true strengths. If the world looks upon us for spiritual wisdom, we have an inexhaustible supply of it. If we offer a unique marketing opportunity of this century to the world at large, we might as well bask in the glory of the moment, derive maximum advantage of it and be better prepared to delight our customers.

But the risk is that of becoming complacent and leading ourselves into a lull, which could well boomerang and lead us into a phase of decadence. The need of the hour is to be objective about ourselves, plan our affairs accordingly and set our house in order.

The World Bank ranks India at the bottom of its list of countries in terms of ease of doing business. We can count on our finger tips the number of home-grown brands that have emerged out of India in the last sixty years or so. Admittedly, there are marketing innovations and truly home-grown solutions, but these are the exception and not the rule.

It is an open secret that as many as 70 percent of our so-called educated youth are not employable. Our prestigious management institutes continue aping management models adapted from the west. The wisdom contained in the words of our seers – like Chanakya, Tiruvalluvar and Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few – is equally applicable to the area of management. But it remains a neglected domain the time for which is yet to come.

Our cities are bursting at the seams. In terms of creation of fresh infrastructure, we not only lack vision and resources but also the will to implement schemes which could make them truly world-class. Garbage segregation at source, its effective treatment and handling remains a distant dream.

If we host a sports extravaganza of an international stature, thereby investing in our civic infrastructure, our corrupt ministers and babus ensure that their pockets get thickly lined up. Corruption is on everyone’s mind these days, so the lesser we talk about it, the better it might be. Gone are the days when a Minister would resign owning moral responsibility for a lapse in the area of his concern. The norm today is to cling on to one’s seat until one is proved guilty and is literally hounded out of office.

Our railways rarely run on time. There is not even a single railway station which can be called world-class. In place of Bullet trains, we boast of many Rajdhanis and Durontos. However, the sight of people defecating in the open on the side of our railway tracks is a very sobering one. Barring a few Metros that we have to show, public transport is in a shambles.

On the farm front, the long-term perspective is rather grim. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide. But we have still not woken up to the reality that the Green Revolution essentially favored rice and wheat, neglecting healthier millets, jowar and bajra. Ground water tables have plummeted all across, and our dependence on the south-west monsoon continues unabated.

At the end of the food chain, we now have an epidemic of sorts in place, with an exponential increase in lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and cardiac complications. With rising levels of affluence, incorrect eating habits and unhealthy life styles have become the norm; this alone threatens to retard our progress on the economic front.

As a country which aspires to make it to the top league in the decades to come, what we need to gift to ourselves is a vision and a will power. The government, the political class, the business houses and the society at large – all need to put their heads together and work towards achieving perfection in their respective fields. Being satisfied with the second or the third best would no longer do!

It is said that Mr. R. M. Lala, an editor, writer and publisher of repute, once commented to Mr. J. R. D. Tata that the latter believed in excellence. The great man is said to have retorted thus: “Not excellence. Perfection. You aim for perfection, you will attain excellence. If you aim for excellence, you will go lower.”

Rabindranath Tagore, in his Gitanjali, captures the same concept thus: “Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection”. Even though “perfection” may not be attainable in reality, what matters is the “tireless striving”, which could well prove to be a reward in itself. “Perfection”, like happiness, need not be a station one arrives at, but a mode of travel, making the journey worthwhile.

As a country, we have a lot of positive developments and accomplishments to claim credit for. We now have an opportunity to build on the same by stretching our capabilities and by managing our limitations, with a clear vision to succeed in our mission. Our basic struggle is attitudinal – to adopt a Culture of Perfection and to give up the Culture of Mediocrity. Our collective chalta hai attitude is passé.

On the occasion of the upcoming Independence Day, let us rededicate ourselves to shun mediocrity. Let us demand perfection from ourselves and from those around us in all spheres of our lives.


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