Amit Paranjape’s Blog

A True Punekar? PART-1 You don’t have spend your childhood here to be one!

Posted in Pune by Amit Paranjape on December 29, 2008

The uniquely ‘Puneri’ traits and personality of a true Punekar! There are many, and could be a topic of a different post…One important characteristic is the love for the city.

 

You don’t have to spend your childhood in Pune to acquire these characteristics. Pune embraces people from all over the world and in a short amount of time; they too become uniquely ‘Puneri’ and fall in love with the city.

 

I recently came across a write-up by Rohit Srivastwa who is not originally from Pune, but spent about 6 years here. He has already become a ‘Punekar’ and describes ‘Why He Loves Pune’ extremely well in his recent blog post. To access his post, please click here.

 

In a future blog post, I might try to highlight more such ‘Punekars’ and their unique attributes.

 

Your feedback and inputs would be great!

 

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Television News, Coverage of Mumbai Terror Attacks: A Distorted Reality

Posted in Current Affairs by Amit Paranjape on December 26, 2008

I have written earlier about Television News in general and my strong belief, how they are driving the common man ‘dumb’ by feeding exaggerated, hyped, often erroneous and sensationalism filled news to the consuming public. Last month’s coverage of the Mumbai Terror Attacks just further validated the point. The fact that it took such a serious and sad occasion to bring many others to question this media in India is worth pondering by itself. But, better late than never, I guess!

 

Instead of enumerating what all things the Television Media got wrong, let’s focus on the simpler part – what they got right, if anything at all! For starters, we have to give them some credit for focusing and deploying enough resources on the ground…the caliber of which, we will discuss at a later point. But that’s about it…Everything else ranged from a farce to a tragedy…and from blatant errors, to actions that were jeopardizing the rescue mission itself.

 

I am not going to pick on any one channel; I think more or less all of them were in the same league. Before diving into some of the specifics, let’s take a look at the general theme of the presentation. Somehow, these channels think that this real world tragedy is a Hollywood/Bollywood thriller movie. There is a stark music score in the background. ‘Somber’?….it is definitely not. Certain images are repeated over and over for maximum impact; and the worse part – certain clips are played in slow motion, back to back – leading one to believe that the particular scene dragged on for a much longer time, than its actual duration. This ‘trick’ is repeated very often by the news media here.

 

Now let’s look at the presenter. These folks seem to be under the impression that they are the center of the attraction. I fully understand that covering live news; that too of a very serious and tragic situation is extremely difficult. But I sincerely disapprove of people who try to overcome this difficulty by ‘steamrolling’ ahead with whatever they know/they think they know. There was a journalist who kept repeating during the operations about how a Special Forces team was getting ready to fire a RPG. He kept repeating this fact over and over, when it was amply clear that his own camera was showing a sharp shooter, with a special sight rifle. Now, what does it take to differentiate a rifle from a RPG??

 

Enough has already been written about the ‘TRP’ ratings driven ultra competitiveness between these channels. Hence suffice to say, any piece that was covered in the days following the end of the crisis was always ‘Exclusive’. This same desire also got some of these channels to compromise on the mission secrecy of the Special Forces. There ‘blow by blow’ reporting of the Special Forces movement stopped only after a direct request/order from senior military leadership.

 

The other sad aspect of the Indian society – ‘Indiscipline’, which transcends into a TV Reporter’s behavior, was also on ample display during this coverage. (We also see this every time an important event is getting coverage…). Forget the gravity of the situation of a tense security operation; or the serious and solemn funeral of a slain police officer – these reporters will literally climb over each other, while leading with their microphones and hound the person they are trying to get to. There is not even a hint of basic human decency here. And everyone’s screaming their questions all at the same time! Even an out of order High School class would seem much better behaved in comparison. When these same reporters show up in a press conference room, the shouting persists, but a new element of musical cacophony in the form of mobile phones ringers is added to the mix. I guess someone forgot to tell them about the ‘Silent’ mode on their handsets.

 

The list can go on further, but I think you get the overall idea. I remember back in the early 1990s, how as a harsh critic of the state controlled ‘Doordarshan’ News Channel, I used to long for the day when privately operated News Channels could be operational in India . However, it’s extremely ironic that today I (and probably many others) would lean towards Doordarshan to get somewhat realistic and balanced news; even when its quality hasn’t shown much improvement in the past 2 decades! Frankly, the best (but the most difficult…) way of getting a true and realistic picture, is to rely on multiple media streams – TV, Published Media, Newspapers and Blogs. One then needs to discount the ‘hype’, correct & compensate for errors, compare & contrast to do a sanity & reality check, and maybe then…one has any hope of getting some what closer to the true picture! In other words, we would need every individual to take-over the job of a top notch editor!

 

 

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Demise Of The Big 3: How Detroit Icons Lost Their Way Over The Past 3 Decades

Posted in Current Affairs, Financial Markets/Economics by Amit Paranjape on December 15, 2008

 A lot has been written about the Big 3 bailout. Majority of the articles published thus far talk about all the current problems that are faced by Detroit. Relatively few have discussed how they got here in the first place. I thought I will add my 2 cents to this angle.

 

“You bailed out the Financial Institutions to the tune of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars! All we are asking for is a fraction!” This seems to be general line of lobbying (pleading is probably a more appropriate word…) that the Big-3 automakers are taking to the Congress. This, coupled with the specter of 3 Million direct and indirect job losses, is creating an apparently ‘strong’ case for them. Yet, I am glad to see that there is still some opposition left in the Congress. The opposition might still be a moot point though, since the White House looks all set to bail the Big 3 out in any case.

 

It is worth looking at the ‘If for them…then why not us!’ argument. The big financial institutions had catastrophic failures/near failures, primarily due to the housing bubble collapse and risky investments over the past few years. In some sense, this once in a hundred year event had its origin in fairly recent past. The housing bubble began at the turn of this decade. [For a more comprehensive discussion regarding the 2008 Financial Crisis, please take a look at my earlier articles on the same topic: US Financial Crisis: Who Is To Be Blamed? and US Financial Crisis: The Role Of The Consumer ]

 

Comparatively, the Big 3 automakers have been in their slow death spiral for decades. In fact one can trace the beginning of the end for them, at the 1974 oil shock. Until then, they had a dream scenario of virtually no competition and extremely cheap oil. Hence it didn’t matter what you built; there was demand for it. Engine efficiency was the farthest on anyone’s mind. Those massive 6 Liter V8 vehicles of the 60s and early 70s, often resembling a small aircraft (with those fins!), would make today’s Hummer look like a compact vehicle!

 

The oil shock was a big wake up call, and the Big 3 scrambled to make smaller and efficient cars. But somehow design and quality took a backseat. It took the large scale arrival of the Japanese imports in the1980s that shook up the market again. Initially, the Big 3 probably didn’t even notice those ‘tiny’ Toyotas and Hondas. But soon as their loyal customers started to defect, due in no small part because of the persisting ‘defects’ in the American cars (no pun intended!), Detroit began to take serious notice.

 

Lean Production Systems, Total Quality Management seminars started filling up in the Midwest. Consultants started making money of these Japanese ‘best practices’. It was ironic that the person that the Japanese first learnt Total Quality Management Principles from in post WW II era, Edward Deming, was an American. Apparently in that time period, no American industry cared to listen to him.

 

As the Big-3 started improving their designs and efficiencies in the 1990s, they were perpetually in a catch-up mode. Japanese automakers had taken over a significant lead and they kept widening the gap. At this stage, it is worth mentioning that the legacy labor contracts of the Big 3 started becoming a drag on these companies, while they were trying to be agile and nimble. On a personal note, I can relate to this design gap through first hand experience. In 1994, as a new graduate student arriving in America, I had a chance to rent two different cars in the first couple of months. One was the General Motors Buick Skylark and the other one, the Toyota Corolla. The differences between the two completely startled me. 

 

Just when it seemed that Big 3 was narrowing the gap towards the end of the last decade; they made another short-sighted cardinal error! The 1997-98 Asian financial crisis drove oil to a low of near 10 Dollars. Suddenly, it seemed Detroit again got into fond memories of the 1960s and threw fuel efficiency out of the window. Instead of trying harder to close the gap on the automobile portfolio; they thought they had discovered a new winning strategy, to once and for all defeat the Japanese! The Big 3 always had a bigger portfolio in the light truck segment. These gas guzzlers were the mainstay of utility workers, farmers and other small business owners. With oil hitting new lows, the marketing geniuses of Detroit spun campaigns that made these trucks, an essential for a common white collar worker as well! Soccer moms were also in their target sight. By simply slapping on a mini-bus like body on top of the truck chassis, Detroit created something called a ‘SUV’. Soccer moms who till the mid 90s were confined to station wagons and ugly looking small minivans, now had a great option. Not sure, if the sheer size of these things made the white collar workers and the soccer moms more comfortable or safer?!

 

In the short run, these gas guzzling vehicles got handsome profits to the Big 3 and it appeared that they were finally back on track. Yet the foundation was extremely shaky. Japanese automakers also moved into this space in the late 1990s and once again showed Detroit how those same gas guzzlers could be made more reliable and comfortable. The final death sentence came when the oil prices began a steady rise this decade. SUVs and gas guzzlers were again out of favor and smaller, fuel efficient cars were back in vogue. And the Japanese were not sitting idle either with their R&D; even better fuel efficiency was now available from the newer revolutionary breakthroughs such as the Hybrid Technology. Detroit simply didn’t have any answer for this!

 

The 2008 financial crisis and resulting recession & downturn was the last straw. But, I think attributing this demise to this crisis is extremely short sighted. As described in this article, the demise was around the corner in any case. The present recession was just the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’!

 

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An Insider’s View Into Consumer Goods Supply Chain

Posted in Information Technology, Supply Chain Management by Amit Paranjape on December 7, 2008

 

I recently wrote an article  for PuneTech on the inner workings of a consumer goods supply chain, and how various business processes and software solutions work in concert in dealing with various challenges.

 

This is a story of ‘Star Glucose Biscuits’, an iconic brand manufactured by Star Biscuits India. The story starts off with a packet of ‘Star Glucose Biscuits’ in ‘SuperMart’ on FC Road in Pune, and traces the journey from the factory through the supply chain to the store. Various real world business challenges are thrown into the mix, as we see if the biscuits reach the customer in time for special T20 World Cup Promotion.

 

 

To access the original article, please click here. This is a slightly longer article and goes into the depth of explaining multiple business processes. Please note that this article’s primary audience consists of people who are not intimately familiar with Supply Chain Management. 

 

Feedback, comments and suggestions are welcome.

 

 

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Random Thoughts – A New ‘Wall Street’ Trilogy?

Posted in Current Affairs, Financial Markets/Economics, TV, Entertainment & Movies by Amit Paranjape on December 3, 2008

Oliver Stone’s ‘Wall Street’ made in 1987, starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen is one of my all time favorite movies. Who can forget the one and only ‘Gordon Gekko’?!

 

I was not following the financial markets back in 1987, and hence cannot relate first hand to that period. Still the way this movie captures the core human emotions; especially ‘Greed’ that transcends across generations, and multiple financial crises, is extremely revealing. And Michael Douglas is fantastic. I am surprised that a blockbuster sequel (or a set of sequels) has not been launched since.

 

Just think about it; this past decade has provided us with so many great real world plots and scenarios related to Wall Street turmoil! These should be a ‘Dream come true’ for fiction authors and script writers. They say, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’…nothing proves this dictum more than what is happening in the financial world today!

 

I am writing this short summary piece to capture my random thoughts around three somewhat distinct financial crises during this decade – with specific emphasis on representative players, events, characters, themes and people psyche, as we lived through these tumultuous periods. These three crises can together form a nice new trilogy! Maybe we can all extol the Hollywood Greats to make these into movies. (As if someone is really listening –J… I for one will definitely watch these movies and also buy their DVDs!)

 

 

1. Wall Street 1 ‘The Super Bowl Of Crazy Ads’ – The Dotcom Boom & Bust

 

Think about Super-Bowl 2000. Even though this was one of the best ever Super Bowl games, it will probably be remembered for something other than the Rams-Titans classic. Who can forget that crazy ETrade Monkey ad?! And Pets.Com? This clearly was an era of ostentatious and over the top advertising of businesses and concepts that hadn’t made a single dollar of profit!

 

The crazy atmosphere in the Silicon Valley…The BMWs as sign-on bonuses… Stock options resulting in instant multi-millionaires! The new ‘internet’ based model…The doomsday scenario for ‘Brick & Mortar’ businesses… Overnight words like ‘B2B’, ‘B2C’ entering our lexicon.

 

All this should provide a nice cocktail for a heady movie about this period. You have many rags-to-riches stories. You have Geeks; lots of them. You have teenage CEOs. You have small companies buying out industry icons! And then you have the downfall…the flawed business model, the layoffs, the lawsuits, thousands of these ‘paper millionaires’ seeing their net worth vanish as fast as it had appeared…and the tragic cases of folks who got hit by AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax)…Oh, and through all this period, those naïve average mom & pop investors who chased those ‘hot’ stocks and lost everything? Remember those days when NASDAQ had crossed 5000?! And how very quickly it was

under 2000?!

 

The media played a part too…the constant hyping about the ‘new revolution’. The ‘This time it is different…’ editorials…new magazines coming out every week…and then, as things got tough, those first references to a ‘Bubble’ with artful depictions on cover pages…Treating Allan Greenspan as a rock star…and then pulling him down into the dumps and accusing him of everything that went wrong! Those few months were just astounding!

 

 

2. Wall Street 2 ‘How The Mighty Have Fallen!’ – The Enron-WorldCom Saga

 

How the Mighty Have Fallen! This probably best captures the 2001-2002 period. First Enron, then WorldCom… From extremely complicated financial dealings and transactions to some fairly straight forward ‘creative accounting’. From shredding documents, to massive companies disappearing overnight…From backroom dealings, to whistle-blowers. The court-room dramas, the extended trials (Aren’t court-room dramas an important staple of movies in the ‘Drama’ genre?) The laid-off employees, the retirees who lost majority of their retirement savings…that small sub-segment of fired workers who posed for Playboy!

 

The sentencing, the handcuffed CEOs, the somewhat vindicated stockholders…and last but not the least, the massive overhauling of accounting standards, procedures by the regulators, including the congress, resulting in a ground-breaking legislation…this drama extends to Washington as well!

 

 

3.  Wall Street 3 ‘The Return of the Great Depression’ – The 2008 Financial Crisis

 

Well…this one, we are still living through it for the past 6 months…Critics are quick to point out that this is the worst crisis since the Great Depression! Maybe we haven’t even seen the end of the beginning! But then that shouldn’t stop moviemakers and fiction writers from creating something around it! (It didn’t stop them in previous major transformational events in history…)

 

In my view, ‘Utter Disbelief!’ is what can best describe what we are seeing around us. Who would have thought that legendary century old firms that have driven the course of not just American, but Global Capitalistic Economies and the Free Market System, should just collapse?! This was not supposed to happen in a hundred years! Even the Great Depression had spared these firms.

 

Pivotal incidents would be quite a few – Bear Stearns to Lehman…One bailout followed by the other. Freddie & Fannie, AIG, CitiGroup, the list goes on…The extremely complicated hierarchical CDOs that no one had any idea about…The absurd levels of leveraging…On one side you have these clueless CEOs, and the other side a rescue team led by a man who until recently was part of that same group! How everyone seems to act like those blind men in that ‘Blind men and the Elephant’ tale.

 

There are enough grass-roots level themes to talk about here as well…The typical suburban American family that is leading a very comfortable life by leveraging on everything from the house, cars and credit cards. The Chinese factory worker who is fulfilling the needs for the increasingly materialistic American way of life…The Indian IIT Engineer who is solving tough technology problems… (How can we forget ‘Asok’ from Dilbert?)…the stereotypical Indian call center worker… (1 or 2 Bollywood movies have already been made on this character…). There is that classic geo-political agent of brinksmanship here as well; ‘Oil’! And a presidential election to add to the mix. There are enough things here for some exciting story –J

 

 

What are your thoughts? Any good books that you have read/you can recommend about the first two crises?

 

 

 

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