Change again! The only constant in life!

While I now sit at the  international terminal of the Mumbai Airport awaiting the boarding announcement for our flight to Brussels, I cannot help but think of it as déjà vu –  25 months back at the same airport heading to France for an MBA at HEC Paris.

This is a new chapter though. Having spent the past two years in Europe we ( my wife, daughter and me) believe we know what to expect. Some added preparations, additional research before going in are the lessons learnt from last time.
The biggest change would be a change in lifestyle from being a student to being a working professional. It will be a transition to a much desired routine that will be accompanied with a lot of new opportunities to learn, to interact and to create an impact. Look forward to making the best of it.

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HEC Paris MBA Commencement Day – Class of 2013

About 30 months back, I took the decision to embark on a new learning curve – take a break from the roles I was already enjoying – to equip myself with new skills, expose myself to untested territories and to open opportunities in which I can create a bigger impact by leveraging my old & new skills.

June 14th 2013 was Commencement Day @ HEC Paris! This day, when my fellow classmates & I achieved this milestone, marks a closure to the 16 month roller coaster MBA. More interestingly, it sets up the beginning of the new challenges ahead.

While there is no immediate answer to the question of “what next?” there is a plan in place – the execution of which is in progress!

It would be selfish to not mention the sacrifices my family has made during this journey. My parents, my wife & my daughter have gone through a strikingly different lifestyle, when compared to the pre-MBA days.

Lastly I must admit, the final video played on Commencement Day brought a tear to the eye – surely will miss these days!

Hat ThrowingGraduation with FamilyFinalement!

Blue Ocean Strategy for a networked society.. my two cents to some interesting posts…

Recently while working on a self-imposed assignment – testing the application of blue ocean strategy on an actual business situation – I came across a series of recent blog posts by Sami Dob at Ericsson. I was delighted to see an industry practitioner write about the blue-ocean-strategy. While it has insightful recommendations, it did challenge some of my understanding of the concept.

These blog entries refer to the application of Blue Ocean Strategy to the Networked Society – defined as a combination of heterogeneous networks, connected by end-point devices and served by the cloud ecosystem.

So? Why this blog entry?

For one, I wonder if the ‘Networked Society’ is the right ‘unit of analysis’ when applying this framework here? Secondly, there are couple of smaller observations I had about the application in this particular example. And lastly, it raised typical questions about organizational challenges.

What’s this about strategy and ocean?

Blue Ocean Strategy – as per my understanding – is a business model innovation framework; it enables a firm to ‘create an uncontested market space’, gaining a first-movers advantage, maintaining a lead and keeping competition at bay (apparently as competition is nullified).

A part of this – the four-action framework ERRC (Eliminate, Reduce, Raise, Create) – is instrumental in leveraging the ‘value curve’ to create the ‘new offering’. Changes to factors of competition can be driven by a motivation to improve the value for the buyer and/or reduce costs for the provider. The focus on these attributes can thus be eliminated, reduced or raised. Attributes in Create (C) are best when borrowed from the ‘closest-substitute’ industry (there are statistical ways to figure this out), adapting only the relevant, low-cost, high-value attributes relevant to the offering. For instance, in the (often mentioned) case of Cirque du Soleil the substitute was among those that ‘Entertained’! Theatre’s could be considered the closest match – and pulling in some attributes from here enabled creating a new offering as we know it today.

Back to the dilemma

Coming back to my initial conundrum I am still struggling with the question of substitution in this particular case? What can possibly substitute an aggregation like the Networked Society? Hence, I still wonder if it is the right ‘unit of analysis’?

Then,the value-curve (a.k.a the strategy canvas) for the red-ocean of the networked society, suggests that the offering level score of ‘Price’ for current buyer is way too low. I would argue however, that end-consumers today benefit from low prices thanks to the intensity of competition among telecom operators. This makes me conclude that the offering level score on this canvas for the red-ocean should be on the higher side. (Either that, or my understanding of the Y-axis’s representation is skewed)

Secondly, in the second part of the blog, Mr. Dob suggests that regulators “should remove national roaming charges in order to stimulate voice traffic”.  If that were the case, wouldn’t it give all the players the same level of advantage – competitive parity to all! How is it going to benefit a single operator? The notion of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage would fall apart here.

The organizational challenges when applying Blue Ocean Strategy in a leading industry incumbent player are two fold:

1. Cannibalization: The new service offering strategy would have a different value curve to the existing one, impeding continuation and growth  of the existing portfolio. This surely impacts the culture in an organization and hence needs a careful change management practice.

2. Managing multiple business-models – This is a derivative of the previous. An organization can decide to stick with multiple business models for the longer term, or decide to transition from one to another. This can be tricky to manage as outlined by Osterwalder & Pigneur

The articles have driven me to put some more thought to this framework, encouraging me revisit the literature! Hopefully I shall have some more clarity in the days to come.

Market sizing, product strategy … dealing with a shrinking 2D printing market..

The slide-deck in this post is a blast from the past! 

A few months before I started my internship with Xerox, I thought of creating a nice little slide deck – in an attempt to articulate a new proposition.

It is public knowledge that the print industry is shrinking (2D printing – to be more accurate) and Xerox has been major player in this industry catering specifically to the enterprise customer segment.

I’ve attempted to do two things in this deck:

1. Proposed an alteration to the product strategy (printers specifically) enabling value added benefits for the enterprise customer and the end user – the office guy!

2. Attempted to size a new market – reaching end users through enterprise customer segment – to generate printer sales and (more importantly) raise annual ‘supplies revenues’. Needless to say, it is based on certain exemplary figures.

Note: As I said, this is a blast from the past and is purely made for personal interests – trying to gauge and hone my skills in the process!

Business Model Canvas – validating a reading – DxOLabs.com

I decided to pull out some  presentations I had created out of interest, and starting from this, I shall put these on to the blog here. 

The following content is an analysis of the business model of a company named DxOLabs. My interest in photography drew me to this company initially.

(A quick background: They’re into creating Photography editing/workflow software, providing imaging hardware solutions for the mobile world and bench-marking photography equipment under lab-conditions – http://dxolabs.com)



The synthesis in this presentation is drawn out of extremely limited public information and is based more on assumptions. As the title suggests, I have used the ‘Business Model Canvas’ by Osterwalder to represent the current & proposed business model. I have gone ahead and dared to make a couple of suggestions about proposed changes to their business model in order to exploit two new market opportunities. Feel free to challenge these.

p.s: Recent development about Adobe moving from software sale to software subscriptions was a delightful news to me. Not that I use the software myself, but that my belief about changing revenue models and (possibly) usage model (SaaS based) has been reaffirmed.

Bank Guarantee to finance the student loan @ HEC

Well this blog has become more of a place for me to scribble, than to practice and improve writing skills 😦

Nevertheless, the next September intake is due to arrive at HEC in a few months! I am sure they would have several questions on their mind! So after Satyendra messaged me with one such question, I quickly got onto this post (especially since not many have dealt with this aspect and I had been thinking of writing this for the past three months. Thanks Satyendra for the nudge)

Intended Audience: Candidates from India who want to take a student loan from France.

Others, read on if you find any similarities with the system in your country, else feel free to drop out mid-way.

Disclaimer: I did attempt this thing. Got the guarantee issued from India. But, finally backed as by the time I learnt all the aspects of this, I ran out of steam and time!!

Why take the student loan from a French Bank (say BNP Paribas)?

  • They offer a rate of only 3% as opposed to the likes of 14% APR in India!
  • A maximum tenure of 10 years with a maximum moratorium period of 3 years, as opposed to a maximum tenure of 7 years in India

What does BNP Paribas (Jouy-en-Josas) need to process this?

  1. A guarantee from a French resident that you won’t run away. And if you do, the guarantor will pay up! OR
  2. A guarantee from a Bank in India that will pay up(again) if you run away and default on your payments to BNP. If the loan is intended for 5 years, the guarantee should  be for 5 years (not lesser) [Edit: June 28, 2012: The guarantee is sent as a SWIFT message and has a format defined by BNP Paribas. You need to get in touch with BNP Paribas, France and procure the sample format to be forwarded to the Bank in India. Check the HEC website financing section for contacts details]

Beware: The process moves very slowly in Jouy. Especially since the BNP branch we deal with is in Jouy-en-Josas (which is quite small) while the international Bank guarantee (BG) is received at a head office somewhere in Paris. Yes you should be prepared to know that email travels slower than snail-mail!

I have no clue how option 1 works! I have tried option 2, and that’s what I will elaborate on

Which Banks in India can help you ? What is the product?

What do you need to ask the bank for?  An “International bank guarantee”

Stressing on the ‘International’ is essential as it changes the rules of the game. Be prepared, you would be surprised to know that barely any managers know the concept of “International Bank Guarantee”

Which banks in India do this? I tried this with: ICICI, HDFC Bank, SBI, Indian Bank, Bank of India etc etc. I got positive responses from SBI, ICICI, HDFC Bank. Chances improve if this is done in major cities (I would make that Metros + Bangalore + Hyderabad)

What do the Indian Banks ask in return?

To issue the International BG they would need collateral in either of two forms below:

  1. In full cash (in the form of Fixed Deposits)!! They must be crazy! But it is what it is!
  2. In cash + property (Almost impossible to get because of the “International” thing)

Now the math! (Put in your own numbers, this is just an example)

  • Desired Loan Amount: 30000 Euros
  • Exchange Rate: INR 70/-
  • Equivalent Guarantee Amount in INR: 21 Lakhs
  • Duration of BG: (say) 10 years
  • Collateral: Banks usually ask for at-least 110% collateral cash collateral. Say 120% here.

Caveat 1: The wonderful trend between the Euro and INR has screwed this up, and banks now ask for higher % collateral to cover their risk. (I had negotiated a 120% when banks said 130%)

Caveat 2: The first caveat also makes banks say, that they need higher collateral % since the BG is locked for several years, and they wouldn’t know which direction the Euro would move! To this, I would say: “Lock my FD for those many years, and let the interest accumulate”, in case of an unfavorable movement, your risk is covered to some extent”.

Ok now, the costs!

The Commissions / Fees

  • Banks usually charge about 2 to 3% per annum of the amount of guarantee.
  • At 2%, here, the fee would be (2% of 21 Lakhs) x 10 (the no. of years) = 4.2Lakhs
  • SBI charges 1/4th the commission % if collateral is full cash. So let’s make this 1.05L

Caveat 3: Ask the bank to issue the BG for shorter duration (say 1 yr or 18 months) on a renewable basis. The approval process for shorter duration BG is a lot simpler and moves faster as against a 10 year BG request. Advantage of doing that, upfront collateral % can be negotiated downward, but subject to annual revision depending on exchange rate. Also, the upfront fee maybe locked up as an FD and the bank can be told to break this up each period to get their commission and re-issue the BG.

So BNP Paris still gets an annual BG with a commitment to renew the BG for 10 years. You earn interest on the 4.2L as an extra bonus.

Total Money to be put in the FD: (21 x 1.2) + 1.05L = 26.25L!

If I had this money, why don’t I pay the school right away?

Well that’s your choice, but here’s the spicy twist to the tale:

This 26.25Lakh fetches you an interest ~ 9% p.a (as of June) in India in a fixed deposit instrument. You pay the commission at 0.5% and an interest to BNP of 3%. Net you earn 5.5% on this huge amount. (Keep in mind taxes and TDS to fine tune).

In my opinion, it is a good option to use, but bear in mind the RISK: Exchange Rate! It has played a big spoil sport in the recent past. So do the math right and if you have additional resources to put in in case the exchange rate becomes more unfavorable.

Why didn’t I do it eventually?

I had paid the commission for only one year, and BNP refused to accept that guarantee for the loan of 7 years. By the end of it, I had run out of energy to do this. I was working with SBI (Indiranagar, Bangalore). And yes, set your expectations straight, SBI is faster than BNP is!

Have others done it before? Yes there are people who have done this!

Now, it is clearly your call!

Please do share with others if you manage to pull-it-off! In fact, try pooling in multiple candidates together in the same city, gives you more bargaining power with the bank!

All the best!

“Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) – reportedly written by Julius Caesar in 47 BC as a comment on his short war with Pharnaces II of Pontus in the city of Zela. There was something that reminded me of this when I met Jean-Christophe Prunet, Managing Director, Rohde & Schwarz.

I had the opportunity to meet him courtesy the TEC On-Campus program in HEC. It wasn’t particularly this exact statement; I’ll present the right variation in shortly.

Let me first elaborate on this abstract idea of ‘TEC OnCampus’. The ‘TEC OnCampus’ program draws its inspiration from vistage.com (formerly known as TEC – The Executive Committee). To quote vistage – “It’s a fact of business today: Everyone’s working so hard there may be no time to step back and think, bounce ideas off your peers, or get wise counsel from an experienced mentor”

In short: Sharing with peers and being coached by a mentor from the industry. The program started off on an unconventional note – knowing our peers as we never knew them before. A realization dawned upon each of us: We all have had our share of happy and sad moments!

Our mentor in this journey is Bernard Bismuth, an industry stalwart in France, a successful entrepreneur since his early days. And thanks to Bernard and HEC, we have the privilege of sharing the lunch table with several achievers from the business arena.

Now, rewinding to Julius Caesar let me present a more appropriate analogy: “venit, audit, vicit” (he came, he listened, he conquered)

Yes, Jean-Christophe is an advocate of listening skills. He spent half a day with us, sharing his journey through life. And what came out most dominant was ‘the importance of listening’.

What I now share below are all takeaways from our discussion and interactions with Jean-Christophe. I am in no way an expert in this field.

Needless to say, listening to what others have to say has multi-fold benefits. We gain more knowledge than we already have. A discussion on a topic most familiar to us can also unravel something new for this. This is because of the exposure we get to ‘another perspective’. The more we listen and absorb, the more we’re prepared to form an opinion. A leader is expected to be a ‘know-it-all’ person. The best way for a leader to reach that stage is to garner diverse information and knowledge by listening to others. With the huge wealth of information at his disposal, a leader is therefore also better prepared to take on unanticipated challenges.

Jean-Christophe’s focus on ‘listening skills’ was particularly interesting because of the varying influences listening can have.

Listening skills impact decision making. He believes that one should be a 100% sure about the rationale of a decision (that can be easily achieved by keeping the ears and mind open to ideas). On the other hand, no-decision is better than an unsure-decision. In such cases, it often happens that the situation unravels itself in the days to come. This span can be better used to study the emerging trend and get additional clarity setting the path of the decision making process. Gut-feeling could also play a significant role sometimes. However, a strong gut-feel will only be strong-enough once one has enough knowledge in the domain under discussion. Decision making must also meet certain guidelines

Decision making process within an organization needs to be competence based than relationship based. This also sends a clear message within the organization about the expectations of the management. The fairness of this approach is often appreciated. This leads to how organizations behave when it comes to ‘people’ – what does the manager and the engineer bridge the gap?

People Management! The buzzword these days is more than a mere buzz! It defines how we influence our teams. An interesting insights shared was – a manager should prioritize his meeting-commitments with a technician in the firm, over his unscheduled meeting with the immediate boss. Seems unbelievable at first – my boss is the first person to please! BUT, I’ll have several occasions to attend my boss’s unscheduled needs and meetings, but the technician in my company deserves to be given undivided attention when promised. This helps strengthen relationships. People realize that we value our team equally, if not more than the boss’s orders (That’s too crudely put, but I hope the message is clear?)

Detecting Potential in people: the ability to figure out what a person is capable of. Someone not doing his job right is not essentially incapable. He might just be the right guy in the wrong place. To enable people to advance in their career needs us to be open-minded and alert. There are situations when your choice of a candidate for a job may not seem right to several (including the candidate himself), but if we are confident that the person can pull off the task with his under-utilized skills, then we must give him a chance.

So what’s the ‘Next Step’ like ? Often in our careers we are faced with dilemmas about the ‘next step’. When an opportunity presents itself, a lack of experience in the new role but the belief in our ability will help us move ahead. While faith in our own capabilities will be a core driver, the knowledge gained by listening will be the true navigator.

A final word of advice from Jean-Christophe – “You must try your hands at sales, at least once. Being a leader in the company, you are the first sales person. Understanding the pulse of customer expectations and behaviour will prove mighty useful in the leadership position”

It was a fabulous day of interaction. Each of us had several takeaways from this. A person so high up the ladder also finds time to travel and enjoy what nature has to offer. He is a photography enthusiast and has an amazing collection of images at http://bit.ly/w4SwQb

Our day in pictures : http://on.fb.me/xSdRbb