Wednesday, January 14, 2009

World Bank and Indian IT - is this professional racism?

The biggest names in the corporate world have been doing the rounds in the last few days - Enron, Satyam, Wipro, Infosys, World Bank, SEC, NYSE, SEBI, PwC, ICAI, you name it. All this, thanks to the massive INR 7800 crore fraud done by the infamous Mr. Raju, of the even more famous, Satyam Computers.

In all this, I have been seeing the World Bank hurling ban after ban on Indian firms, especially the IT outsourcing folks. Fine, there is eminent reason for the World Bank to slap a ban on Satyam, even before this fraud took place, given that there was so much scrutiny on Maytas Infra and all associated parties with Satyam. But, a couple of days ago, the World Bank pretty much "de-listed" Wipro. God knows who is next.

I am not for a minute suggesting that any firm is above water in its accounting disclosures, be if of their own accord, or as a result of their "hand-in-glove" relationship with their auditors. That is how accounting has been done for a long time and am not too sure if one Satyam will resurrect the way accounting will change overnight. Yes, there will be greater scrutiny and checks & balances. But that is not my point.

The moot point really is, why the World Bank hurling these "bans" on Indian firms, one after the other? What is the World Bank doing about throwing out names of firms from other parts of the world? Are they even trying to suggest that their relations with companies from all other parts of the world, except India, are cordial and above water? More than anything else, is the World Bank so sure that no other firm in any other country engages in financial fraud? What are they trying to prove by picking so hard on Indian companies?

Granted, there is an Enron-like scenario that has catapulted India into the world vision in the last 3 weeks. But, the World Bank seems to be using this as an opportune moment to hit the iron while it is hot, on India. Does it mean that this famous financial institution is going to wait for all the frauds in different parts of the world to crop up, before it de-lists/bans its relationships with different companies?

If the World Bank thinks that it is the custodian of all financial discipline around the world, especially in the case of its relationships with its clients, then, they should not single out one country like this; especially, when its steeped in a crisis, in a recessionary environment. It is actually OK for the World Bank to be calling out the names of these companies where there is so much of nonsense going on. But, it is in sad taste that one country and its most famous industry is being singled out like this (deservingly so, I add!). The World Bank might jolly well call out all the fraudsters that it has any hint on; let's see what happens then and how many more CEO's buckle down and own up their mischief (like Raju did).

Also, in the interest of cleaning up the system, the World Bank should ideally throw out all the names that it wants to de-list around the world, along with adequate proof. These nicely-worded press releases from PR gurus in the World Bank on de-listing companies will do no good. If anything, such press releases will only alert the other companies that are engaged in financial bungling to be wary of the World Bank. Such companies, in the light of such PR exercises by WB, might even end up cutting down on the business volume with this major financial institution and slowly fall out of the radar. That will still not stop fraud around the world.

If what the World Bank is currently doing is not coined as professional racism, what else qualifies?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Golden Globe Awards,Oscar Awards ...A.R.Rahman..and India!

The man has the humblest of beginnings possible. Not so much of a rags to riches story, but certainly an amazing success story of a man with extremely simple roots, who has reached the epitome of musical success. A.R. Rahman stunned me with his "Kaadal Roja Ve"(Tamil version) or "Roja Jaan-e-man" composition in 1992, that resonated so deeply inside me that I sit static whenever I see/hear that song even now. I guess, it was his way of announcing to the world that there was a supreme musical power from the south of the Vindhyas, ready to dismantle Illayraja from his iconic position; possibly, dismantle is too aggressive a word; take over from the Illayraja genius is more appropriate.

And take over he did. Rahman brought in some incredible sounds mixed in technology that created notes through the times that India liberalized and globalized. He put Indian music on the world map, pretty much by the dint of his own compositions. The man's contribution was so immense that he managed to bring in a Rs. 6 crore musical set from Germany into his troop, that doled out some of the most amazing compositions seen in the last 2 decades.

Golden Globe is one of the many glories that this genius has reached. Deservingly so! It always makes me proud to see an Indian take on the world and come out on trumps. More so, in the case of Dileep Raghavan (that's Rahman's real name, before he converted to a Muslim in 1989), because he beat the tide in an extremely tough era.

Also, I think there are some careers in India that started in the 1989-90 period which have gone on to stump the world in different spheres of life. Think cricket and you have Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble; think chess, and you have the legend of Vishwanathan Anand; think music and I possibly cannot think beyond a Rahman. All these people have done yeoman service to the nation and deserve the accolades that they are getting.

Rahman has gone a notch higher, what with 3 nominations to the Oscars for his own contribution. I just hope, for the sake of billions of ambitious Indians, who are out to take on the world in the 21st century, this genius wins at least one award. It will be a fitting tribute to a man who changed the complexion, role and contribution of Indian music.

Three cheers to A.R.Rahman. Hip hip -hurray! Hip hip-hurray! Hip hip- hurray!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A nonsensical question in a B-school interview

I was shocked to see a news clipping on CNN-IBN a few minutes earlier. The show was about how to fight the current tough times and how the average citizens are coping with the strenous times.

One of the people interviewed on the show was a 21-year old boy from Delhi - a Muslim from India, aspiring for his MBA in a top business school in India. His dreams are to head the operations of a top multi-national in their Indian operations. So nice & I genuinely wished him luck, because I know the difficulties in getting into a top business school and then scaling the corporate ladder, so to speak. But, there was a problem in his MBA dreams recently.

Apparently, the business school interview panel asked him this question, "What do you feel about all terrorists being Muslims?". The candidate was dumbfounded, stuttered his answer and was really not prepared for that missile. Cannot blame him; nobody in his right senses and in a well-meaning way with dreams of a fine corporate career would expect this sort of a ridiculous question thrown at him, at the point where it all starts - business school admissions interview. It appears, from that news report, that this 21-year old was angry with that, but has slowly learnt to handle this and had the heart to say, "It was Sikhs in the '80s, Soviets before that, who were associated with terror, now its Muslims, so, this will go on". Fantastic maturity for a 21-year old.

I guess this candidate naturally was tested on this question for his temperament, ability to handle a pressure-cooker situation. But this sort of a test, is the MOST ridiculous way to assess a candidate's ability to handle pressure. What did that panelist think he was doing by asking such a racist question? If he was trying to prove a point, I am afraid, he has sent out racist connotations about his business school to the public at large.

I also hope that this candidate does not enrol into such a racist business school, as he deserves better. Nobody has any business to be asking a Muslim candidate or any body from any religion, who has passed the same exam as other candidates, questions about his religion and connection with terrorism. A business school is supposed to be a temple of learning where values, ethics, constructive thoughts of development are built in the formative years. It is certainly not a place to sow seeds of religious factionalism and ridiculous divides like this interview panelist has done to this candidate.

I just hope business school interviews are slightly more mature in their questions; these panelists would do well to remember the struggles they went through before they got to the chair that they hold. They have no business to question candidates in this light. Such panelists might as well be summarily be banned, as one never knows what sort of inputs they will pass on to candidates, once these dreamy-eyed hopefuls enrol into such business schools.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

2009 - its all about dreams, isn't it?

The New Year is here! The one thing that I still feel, despite the economic recession, is that unique ability of human beings to dream and hope. To dream and hope for a better future; to aspire for something that each individual wants to achieve in his/her life. I therefore look at the New Year with that same, strong, basic human emotion of dream and hope.

It is actually all about dreams and hope, simply because we as individual entities do not control many things - market dynamics, global economic policy, government policy, bilateral relations and so on. But, what we do control is our ability to get past all this, within our sphere of reference as Stephen Covey called it, in an ethical and legal manner. Its the fire in the belly that matters.

Each of us hopes for so many different things - some hope for financial freedom, some dream about the most exotic and expensive experiences in life, others aspire for a better standard of living, many others look at getting past just the poverty line and into basic subsistence, few others look at sharing some of their greatest moments in their lives with the MOST special human being that they care about and so on.

I am a firm believer that, this ability for us to hope is not going to disappear, despite any world disorder. Man has seen wars, devastation of many other kinds and has only come out of it much stronger. I do not see any reason not to believe that the current economic rape that we are undergoing will weaken us. If anything, I am only going to get more resilient and look for an even better future.

After all, in despair, lies hope. Happy New Year!!!!

Singapore - a few seconds of discpline

Of all the moments that I will remember from my Singapore trip, one of the most memorable was on the morning of Jan 1 at around 3 a.m. After the New Year party, when the whole city was jostling for cabs and the streets were extremely populated, I hailed at one of the few cabs that were running empty. Next to me were 2 girls and 1 guy, all waving at the same cab.

But, the minute the cab stopped next to me & they figured that I had waved at that particular cab BEFORE them, they backed out. Infact, it was so evident, because that girl right next to me, just turned right and waved at another cab.

This may seem like a very menial and normal thing to do i.e. backing off when somebody else gets the same cab that you waved at; but, coming from Indian conditions, where public transport is generally a nightmare + the indiscipline of the public here, it was a great moment to see the self-discipline on the part of the Chinese. I could never dream of anybody in India letting go of a chance to get a cab at 3 a.m. in the night, especially when no cabs were available, to somebody else. That too, JUST because, somebody else waved at the same cab BEFORE you did.

This sort of discpline speaks volumes about the culture of a land. It also speaks immensely about the kind of discpline that people in a nation are brought up with. I LOVED it and respected it immensely.

I will remember that level of discipline for life. It can be very well applicable to numerous other streams in life, not just public transport.