Thursday, September 7, 2017

Bhujia Barons by Pavitra Kumar

BHUJIA BARONS - The Untold Story of How Haldiram Built a 5000 Crore Empire by Pavitra Kumar (2016), Penguin Portfolio, p 256.

It was sometime in February 2017 that I read about Haldiram becoming India's biggest snack maker with a turnover of over 4000 crore leaving aside Nestle Maggi, Domino's, McDonalds and many others. That was the time I wanted to read the genesis and evolution of this great Indian brand and that is when I came across this title - Bhujia Barons by Pavitra Kumar. The book got into my Kindle and has been waiting for its turn. Last week I started reading it and finished it in few long sittings. I must admire the ability of strong story telling style of Pavitra Kumar. She has been excellent in putting through this piece; her style of writing is literatic and engaging and at some places philosophical. Gathering information from different sources and validating it with the people involved in the process at different locations from Bikaner to Kolkata and from Nagpur to Delhi, she has shown impeccable commitment and has successfully put all the views from different corners. Her sense of professionalism in telling all sides and shades of the story without any bias has made this title worth reading.

Rome was not built in a day and so was Haldiram brand. Haldiram as we see today is result of efforts put up by people at hand for around 75 years. I have no hesitation in saying that it is the hard work of Ganga Bishen Agrawal aka Haldiram and his concern for customer service, knack for good taste, and belief in strong value system that has made this empire that we see today and which many of their tribe envy. A product that was once sold in newspaper cones, the process which was designed by Haldiram himself through a calculated mix of besan and moth dal sieving through handmade holes on a thin steel sheet, distribution mostly through shopfloor selling, and publicity mostly through word-of-mouth, some 70 years back has traveled a long distance in order to become a household name when it comes to bhujia. It would be no exaggeration to say that bhujia and Haldiram can never be separated from each other. Such is the power of the brand Haldiram.

The book provides a rich narrative of making of the brand Haldiram and traces its sound as well as weak links through the family feud, writings of media reports, comparing attitude and behavior of siblings and treatment by their parents and children. Ambition and apathy, respect and reactions, indulgences and impunities, are all have been part of the growing of Bhujia Barons as Pavitra calls them. In the time when the government is emphasizing on Make-in-India through its policy framework, I think Haldiram’s make a strong case of backing that as apart from responding to the locale, they have spread their wings in other parts of the globe as well. They are promoting Indian taste to the people abroad whether they form part of Indian diaspora or otherwise.

The expansion of this brand from merely a bhujia maker to branded, formalized structure of sweet shops and retail chain of vegetarian restaurants or QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants), responding to all kinds of tastes is the strength that the promoters have built through their concerted efforts at different geographies in India. Till their entry to Delhi, the capital city of India, it seems there were not much issues related to the use of brand among the cousins. But as they say, Delhi has a strong division power, when brothers Shiv Kishen (Nagpur) and Manoharlal (Bikaner) [grandsons of Haldiram] plunged into exploring the opportunity in Delhi. This territorial expansion also lured their cousins who were operating out of Kolkata which has brought the families to court for settling issues over use of brand. Though there seems to be some sky-clearing, yet the matter is not fully resolved and the families are not in that kind of relation as used to be.

Pavitra has explicitly narrated the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s death on 31st Oct 1984 and its effect on Chandni Chowk workshop of Haldirams and that is how the book starts which I thought makes a good plot to a storyteller who weaves together the threads back and forth and serves a tapestry of family run business model. For a moment I got nostalgic about my college days when we had heard of assassination of the prime minister of India by her own security personnel. The whole story of Haldiram as narrated by the author makes me feel as if I am watching a Bollywood Hindi masala movie which portrays almost all kinds of moods and emotions, climax and a happy ending.

Today who does not know about Haldiram Bhujia, but very few know about their resilient journey. This book provides a good account of that journey. The book is divided in Six parts starting with introduction and family background, their movement to different places and the wrongdoings of Kolkata cousin (the black sheep), legal fights and the future ahead (final paces). It is a revelatory tale of a family business house which has built a reliable brand over the years. The author deserve appreciation for an excellent display of honest effort, professionalism and probity through this work. And I can't stop myself from saluting the spirit of great entrepreneurship, innovation and customer service as envisioned and portrayed by Ganga Bishen Agrawal. What a man he was. There is lot to learn from him for the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow.

also read:

THE MARWARIS: from Jagat Seth to the Birlas by Thomas A Timberg

Dabawalas: Lessons for building lasting success based on values

True Leaders by Price & Ritcheske

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Ostrich Paradox by Meyer & Kunreuther

THE OSTRICH PARADOX: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer & Howard Kunreuther (2017) Wharton Digital Press, p 132

The motivation for choosing is title was the force of recommendation of Adam Grant and kind words of appreciation for this title by Daniel Kahneman. Decision making is one of the very important functions of any organization or of any government. When the issue of public policy is discussed, it is the decision making which makes all the difference, just as in a business organisation it happens while devising successful strategies to compete. Decision making is really a very complex process as well as a risky proposition for state and organisations alike.

This book holding its premise in the nature of bird Ostrich makes a good sense driven by the force of nature.  System 1 and System 2 (thinking systems which drive us to use our brain cells) as narrated and defended in Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman gets blended with the perception policy makers have while deciding on their future course of action. Primarily the book is all about Six Biases that get to play while preparing for disasters or risks. It is defended that the reason why we underprepare for disasters lies in these six biases, viz., Myopia, Amnesia, Optimism, Inertia, Simplification and Herding. The authors believe that the researches on most of the disasters of past years are the result of harmful effects of these six systematic biases. These biases show the weakness while we commit System 1 error to perceive risk in haste and commit System 2 error while making decision. The first part of the book narrates these biases with the examples of disasters occurred in different geographies of the world. These examples make the arguments convincing and the biases strong.

Part 2 of the book is prescriptive and the authors provide some kind of remedial measures so that such disasters could be avoided.  Behavioural risk audit of each bias and its elaborate analysis makes the book worth contributing towards providing some practical solutions to deal with disasters. The authors propose four guiding principles to manage long term risk:
  1. Commit to long-term protective planning as a major priority.
  2. Commit to policies that discourage individual and community actions that increase their explore to long-term risks.
  3. Create policies that consider the cognitive biases that inhibit adoption of protective measures.
  4. Commit to addressing problems equitably.
These suggestions are well defended with preemptive figures. As a student of business and strategy I feel the book makes a very good case for making successful strategies while organizations handle competition. Lot of times organizations have suffered and faced these biases which gets into while dealing with sustainability issues within and beyond organization. Risk management is an important field of study where this title helps to provide some guidelines. Actuarial scientists have a lot to learn from this volume.  Some of the interesting bytes that I got from the book are:  
'while economics and statistics teach us how we should think about probability and outcomes when choosing between alternatives, we rarely follow these principles when actually making decisions. More often than not, we make choices under risk intuitively rather than deliberately.'
'The perceptions we form about risk are thus more cognitive cocktail of objective facts, subjective feelings, and emotional blend that often causes beliefs about risk to stray widely from those a statistician might prescribe.'
'It is hard to convince people that - the best return on an insurance policy is no return at all.'
Though the book is concise and written from the perspective of disaster management, it travels beyond that boundary and helps its reader to deal with problems through having a perspective.  The authors deserve credit for compiling series of disasters and developing a practical argument to look beyond and prescribe measures for preparations.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

THE DIGITAL TSUNAMI by Abhijit Bhaduri

THE DIGITAL TSUNAMI - Succeeding in a world turned upside-down by Abhijit Bhaduri (2016), Rupa, New Delhi p 187

Change is the only constant and for business organizations it is much greater a challenge to respond to changing dynamics of market, business, polity and people. Technology has driven the change much faster in the 21st century. Last two decades have witnessed much visible transformations in business and society than any two decades in the last two centuries. It has been phenomenal and exponential in scale and speed.  The emergence of social media has redefined the nature of conversation and communication and has replaced normal bar for millennials in much of their expectations, attitude and assertiveness. Millennials are writing history every day.

In these times Abhijit Bhaduri (HR expert and blogger, consultant and coach) introduces us to the Digital Tsunami through his own style of narrative and experiences. Abhijit weaves an excellent story around contemporary corporations thriving on disruption through technology and drives the reader to understand the pulls and pressures though entrepreneurial successes of some the highly valued corporations of today.  As I write this review, I learn Google has surpassed Apple in market valuation as a brand and has become world's most valuable brand according to Brand Finance.

The book begins with the science of developing a habit and takes the reader along with propriety of reference, posterity of thought and prominence of learning mindset. On one side digitalization is creating opportunities, on the other it is leading the process of automation and robotics is subject to pose a challenge for HR. The mindset has to bridge that gap through exploring new areas of innovation and entrepreneurship to be relevant and responsive.  The escapists are going to suffer the most until some unexpected disruption finds its way.  The book has lot of academic merit (as it derives strength from the contribution of popular researchers in the domain of Digital networks) and provides rich practical lessons (with corporate examples of practices and transformation).

The researches quoted in the text develop a defense for the prepositions Abhijit is putting before the readers. The ownership of ideas and practice is well explained through an excellent example of Drew Manning (of fit2fat2fit fame), Byju Raveendran (of and many others. Technology driven companies are going to lead in almost all spheres of business which was unheard in major part of the 20th century. Taxi services (uber), hotel rooms (aibnb), retailing (walmart/amazon), education (byju/coursera/moocs etc), reading (kindle), social connections (facebook/linkedin/twitter) etc are heading towards much greater valuations than the hard core traditional brick and mortar companies. The trend is going to further continue for few more decades and in order to imbibe this change the firms would have to create facilitating physical and virtual environment. It was surprising to note through the book that between 2008 and 2010, eBook sales grew by 1260 per cent. This is something which is unbelievable. Transformation is exponential whereas change is linear.  Digital world is much more inclusive than the analog world.

Companies will have to go digital not to keep up with the competitive forces but simply to keep up with customers (p 45). This is an apt observation by the author. Customers are getting engaged with the products and producers and helping co-creating products and services, hence the competition lies much around customer and his/her experiences rather than the competitor or if we put it differently the customer is the competitor. Digital responsibility needs to be carried out in such a way that it allows customers to help organizations to design appropriate products/services and to have engaging relationship with them.

The world is going to be led by digital leaders of the market to whom Abhijit gives an acronym as FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix & Google) and he offers suggestion to build a digital organizational culture through transdisciplinary collaboration, employee branding, innovation, managing workforce diversity effectively, creating digital communication infrastructure, responding through speed and scale, embracing failure, preferring fluid structures and learning to become resilient.

The author suggests to follow five behaviours to develop a mindset towards responding to the Digital Tsunami. They are:
  1. Wear someone else's shoes
  2. From internal to external focus
  3. Design, strategy and technology
  4. Rapid prototyping and rapid growth
  5. Insights allow for individualization.
Apart from this I appreciate his advice at individual level to go for some MOOCs, listen to something inspiring, and leveraging social media for one's advantage. I personally feel that the workforce has to follow a mix of traditional and pragmatic ways of learning.  May be fully moving away from traditional methods would be too early step.  The doodles given throughout the text makes the book engaging as the summaries explained through them create effective recall in the mind of the reader. He proves to be a digital artist who can draw essence of the narrative in an excellent manner. His understanding of issues is sharp, his language is simple, his articulation looks real, his ability to respond to the call of time is praise worthy, his approach towards future is optimist and his lessons are practical.

The book provides rich information from different sources and much of it is left to the reader to convert it positively into knowledge base according to one's ability. The book is small and could be finished in two sittings. But if one really wants to have some key takeaways it might take little more time.  Overall it is an excellent treat to all the young students of today who are interested in the study of organizations, technology, business, entrepreneurship, strategy and future.  I strongly recommend this title to all who believe in the power of technology and are passionate about future.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


EFFECTIVE PEOPLE by TV Rao, Random House, India, 2015, p 408

Organizations are facing the challenge of managing people effectively in order to boost organizational performance. In the competitive environment motivation of employees has become key determinant as to whether they are driven from within to work harder and help the organization achieving its goal or the force from beyond. When Philip Kotler visited India and was asked to add one more ‘P’ to McCarthy's well worshiped 4 Ps of marketing, his response was quick and focused, ‘it has to be People’. Dale Carnegie had said that for excelling business results 85% is People Management and remaining 15% is management of all other resources. It is in this context that when I learnt about this title ‘Effective People’ by the father of HRD in India, Professor TV Rao, there was no second thought but to find his take on the ways that help improve effectiveness of people. 

The book is an excellent account of some of the high achievers of India and is based primarily on personal experiences and interactions with the people the author met on his commendable journey as an academic, motivator, researcher, institution builder and author. Apart from people who have been associated with him, he has also picked some who have not directly affected him but have influenced his thinking on the constituents of those determinants which make a person effective. The criterion for selecting an effective person to be included in the volume is his personal definition of effective person which is:
‘Anyone who discovers inner talent, uses it to make a difference in the lives of other people in a way that benefits them can be considered an effective person. We are all born talented and in different settings. However, some master their circumstances and manage them through their inner talent, These people may be teachers, social workers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, civil servants, development workers, businessmen, managers, chartered accountants, scientists, actors or self-employed, etc.’
The selection of people has been his personal choice based on the above criterion and further through engagements on social media apart from the literature that he went through reading the works of authors who have written on successful and effective people. I would like to divide the book into three sections (though the author has not done that). First section as the Background (Introduction – Chapter 1), Second as Profiling Effective People (Chapter 2 to 8) and Third as Takeaways or Lessons (Chapter 9 to 16). The book profiles effective people in seven categories viz., Doctors, Film Actors, Civil Servants, Educational Entrepreneurs, Professors, Social Workers, and Other Professions. 

Out of all the doctors that he profiles and brings out their propositions for being effective doctors, Dr MC Modi (Ophthalmologist), Dr Pratap Reddy (Cardiologist), Dr Devi Shetty (known for open heart surgeries), and Dr Naresh Trehan (Cardiovascular & Cardiothoracic surgeon) stand out and their common purpose to save lives along with strong determination to leave behind a rich legacy make them effective. The lives of film actors like Anupam Kher, Kangana Ranaut, Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan have been narrated with their contribution and achievements. Though they play the role as assigned to them, as individuals their work behavior, commitment, style, and discipline make them effective. The roles they have played have left the audiences with some strong messages to carry and practical values to follow in order to remain effective. Managers can really learn lot from their life journeys, their characters, and their personalities. Learning from failures is a very strong message that one draws from the story of Amitabh Bachchan. 

Personal involvement of the author with the civil servants for developing better education system provides insights into the lives of some prominent civil servants who displayed their commitment to the cause of educational well-being of India. The names of Inderjit Khanna and Anil Bordia stand out as effective bureaucrats who played their role in drafting key education policies and spearheaded such initiatives. Apart from them the profiles and journeys of N Vittal (a civil servant known for his concern for transparency), Vinod Rai (CAG who walked extra mile to unearth some infamous scams like 2G, CWG, Coalgate etc), D R Mehta (bureaucrat who had strong concern for social causes), E Sreedharan (bureaucrat turn Metro Man), Kiran Bedi (first lady IPS and social activist), K P C H Gandhi (known for his contribution on forensic sciences and zero pendency), Arvind Kejriwal, Jaiprakash Narayan are narrated with the lessons that a manager or any person who want to be effective can learn. All these people are said to be restless, hard working, having development goal in mind, strongly driven by their value system, innovative and creative. 

The learning from effective people in the category of educational entrepreneurs is that all of them thought differently and had a strong desire to create an institution which caters to the educational needs of society. The knowledge of the task, will power to face the challenge, and the ability to engage with the stakeholders could make them effective as educational leaders. Effectiveness lessons drawn from the experiences of professors are placed succinctly as in-depth knowledge, commitment to the cause, innovativeness in thinking and delivery, strong sense of institution building, and proper succession planning through creating and patronizing next generation professors. 

All the chapters profiling different professions ended with effectiveness lessons and an interesting exercise having Self-Assessment Tool based on profession specific effectiveness requirement which one could assess based on five point Likert scale. This makes the book rich, valuable and practical. Personally I really liked all the tools given as they provide strong variables for judging effectiveness of the profession viz-a-viz., individual. 

The third section which is covered from chapter 9 to 16 deals with eight important takeaways or lessons which could be used by managers or any individual who aspires to achieve the set target. This is where the author’s contribution become most important. These eight lessons are found to be common in all the effective people discussed in the volume and as the author believes if one concentrates on these determinants, one could become effective in whatever he or she does. These eight key points are: 
1. Effective People Think Differently (Chapter 9) - so one has to find out one’s inner talent through experimentation and concentrate on capitalizing on that through thinking differently.
2. Effective People Stretch Their Talent (Chapter 10) – exploring new vistas and opportunities by stretching the limits in different situations.
3. Effective People Consider Values as Core Drivers (Chapter 11) – being firm in matters of principle and maintaining high value standards which are result of bringing up (family and environment) without succumbing to pressures and establishing superordinate goals.
4. Effective People Are Compassionate (Chapter 12) – sense of togetherness and concern for others coming through empathy.
5. Effective People Live With Purpose (Chapter 13) – strong commitment to the purpose as per their vision, mission and goal helping in achieving the goal.
6. Effective People Reach Out to Many (Chapter 14) – looking outward and connecting with the stakeholders through different modes by being perseverant and positive.
7. Effective People Take Initiative and Build Institutions (Chapter 15) – displaying strong sense of initiation and responsibility to build great institutions to contribute for good and sustenance.
8. Effective People Are Integrative Not Divisive (Chapter 16) – inclusiveness and not exclusiveness to be practiced at all levels by imbibing virtues of integrating personality leading towards organization building viz-a-viz nation building. 
These are all virtues for becoming effective. All these chapters also had series of questions at the end guiding the reader for search and resolution within in order to be effective. The examples as narrated by the author are exemplary and are very practical and many of them come from management institutes, Bollywood movies, cricket world, bureaucracy and government system. Almost all the individuals profiled in this volume have created great institutions. I was expecting a detailed profile of TN Sheshan who redefined the role of Chief Election Commissioner in India and ever since the whole process of conduct of elections in India has undergone transformation. The book is autobiographical at many places which makes it very selective yet interesting part of the book is its first person narrative as a style of writing.

All the lessons are fully applicable for any manager working in an organization be it profit making or otherwise. And to that end this project of the author is successful in guiding all its readers. The author mentions - My aim is to write a book that can help many more people to become effective (p 13). I am sure it really makes lot of sense and would certainly be a practical guide for all its readers. 

People are important resource for any organization and this book makes an effective effort to teach the nuances of leading and being effective. I strongly recommend this title to all the libraries and to all who aspire to achieve greater heights in their professional career or entrepreneurial venture.

[Published in Nice Journal of Business, vol.... no.... ]

Thursday, July 7, 2016


MATCH THE AGE TO KEEP THEM ENGAGED - Decoding the secrets of creating a happy workplace by DEEPAK MALHOTRA (2015), Bloomsbury Publishing India Ltd., New Delhi, p 204

The dominance of competitive business environment is compelling the organizations to devise ways to control cost and improve efficiency. Organizational effectiveness has become much larger a challenge to deal with especially in the last few decades. The role of HR is becoming crucial and for sustaining organizational performance, improving workplaces and retaining talent is the key. In these times Dr Deepak Malhotra brings out this volume which is based on his primary research and personal experiences to raise and answer some of the key questions to deal with employees at the workplaces and to transform these workplaces into happy workplaces.

I share my concern on employability with the author. We are in different times and we need to develop the workforce to deal with challenges at the transforming workfronts.  Employees have to develop an attitude to respond to the call of time. The figures on employability of our youth are really shocking. All of us have this challenge to deal with.

Employee Engagement has caught the attention of HR academicians and practitioners and in that continuity this book is able to attract the attention to look at the concept from a different angle. One cannot have same yardstick to measure the performance of all the employees. Similarly organizations cannot have same process of engaging the employees of all ages. This is the basic premise of the book which provides an impressive account of his research findings as well as prescriptions to the managers to follow certain paths to respond to the needs to the workforce. Their needs are different and so should be their responses and remedies.

The book begins with the research procedure and key findings which further leads the way to suggest measures to improve work environment through effectively engaging employees based on their age. There seems to be no difference in the degree of engagement so far as gender is concerned however number of years spent in the organization show difference and till one spend around 5 years, the number of engaged employees seem to grow.  I find it quite interesting to note that after spending around 5 years in an organization the number of engaged employees start falling.  This makes lot of sense and as a student of HR, I feel it could be because of the gap between expectations and the experiences.  At mid-level it occurs to employees in general.

Deepak divides the workforce in the brackets of the age groups 46 years and above (Baby Boomers), 31-45 years (Gen X) and up to 30 years (Gen Y). The generation below 30 years of age is considered as One click generation comprising of Gen G (12 to 18 years) and others as Gen I.  His concern for all the brackets is well placed and his articulation and tenacity to look at the need, expectations, exposure of One click generation is very apt.  He suggests different ways of engaging them as the needs of these employees are different. This is unique aspect of his research and it makes lot of sense when one goes through the suggestions. 'Match the Age' in the title of the book is based on this finding and a sizable part of the book is devoted in explaining and suggesting measures to increase the number of engaged or fully engaged employees at different levels. His personal experience in different organizations add value to the suggestions as well as to the whole volume.

As the author mentions, in India only around 9-10 percent of employees are fully engaged as against 15 percent as per global standards and globally around 25 percent are disengaged as against 30 percent in India. These figures pose a challenge to HR department. HR has to be considered as line function in order to increase the number of satisfied employees and thereby fully engaged workers. As argued by Vineet Nayar in his book on EFCS, one has to prioritize employees over customers to win over customer satisfaction. Only engaged employees can effectively engage customers.

The mention of entrepreneurial leadership is very frequent in the book which speaks of the author’s intention to assure engagement of employees through creative ways of leadership. This is very important in the present day organizations and the lack of effective leader is driven by this fact that mostly they do not possess the ability to take risk and lead creativity. Deepak has successfully dealt with this aspect of leadership and narrated several personal incidences. His interest in cricket and Indian movies is well reflected through the writings in the boxes and their relevance with the theme of the book 'Keep them Engaged'.

Though EE has been criticized as nothing new and old-wine-in-new-bottle experience, it has been able to convince the academicians as an area of further exploration and an activity worth pursuing by the organizations to improve decision making, follow participative management and to win over employees through their active involvement. It also leads to create a feel of freedom, choice and commitment for employees to perform their best.

One of his observation:
If you ask me, I have never seen one person in the last two decades, who has been satisfied with his/her current remuneration.  Then why do people stick with reputed brands like TATA, even when they pay lower than the competitor? (p 137).

The book is full of Engage and Match bullets which could be of good help to managers. However it does not leave the reader with the takeaways in key points except that the employees of different age needs different treatment. Though the anecdotes, personal observations and experiences connect the dots nicely, yet the generalizations take away the seriousness of the proposed practices. If I have to point out some key ways to EE across different age groups, they would be:
  • appropriate and timely rewards (performer vs non-performer, fair pay)
  • improve communication (forward & backward feed)
  • finding proper talent match (managing & retaining talent)
  • ethical behavior (leader & other employees)
  • effective work-life balance policy (flextime & flexjob)
  • develop learning teams (technology & transformations)
  • identifying training needs (self-assessment & industry requirements)
  • build conducive work environment (free flow and exchange of views)

Though the book may not have academic rigor in its approach, it makes a good read for practicing managers. I recommend it to all who are interested to find ways to improve employee engagement and further to them who play strategic role in devising HR strategies towards attaining and sustaining organizational effectiveness.