Tuesday, February 14, 2017

PIXAR - a metaphor for the Middle Way

Just finished the book: "To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History"  by Lawrence Levy

I heard about this book on Knowledge@Wharton Podcast with the author. Felt connected immediately. 


- It was about Pixar, one & only...

- Naturally, it was also about Steve Jobs & author's own 'unlikely journey with Steve'

- The author was a lawyer by education (Harvard). He was recruited to the role of the CFO at Pixar. He was now an author. 


- He has a beautiful (Pixar) story to tell. 

- A CFO's perspective of everything would be an interesting one. 


Some of these really touched me, Lawrence:

  • For a CFO, the author is a master story-teller. Not that CFO's can not be story tellers. We all are story-tellers. Some just does it better!
  • Author's relationship with Steve was so professional & deep, minus all drama that is generally associated with the Genius. I am a fan of Steve Jobs. The fact he was very sensitive, temperamental, actually makes him special. 
  • It was great to hear how the author moved into Pixar (reminded me of how Steve reached out to John Scully...Pepsi to Apple)
  • It touched how the author went about professionally handling diverse challenges within & outside. 
  • Handling DIsney part was great stuff, as it was about the creative thrust.
  • The decision as to how to handle the creative element at Pixar & how to retain the unique DNA of Pixar even at Disney, most inspiring.
  • Author's effort to get credit for the supporting staff showed the emotional quotient of himself, and all others who found a way of doing it. 
  • I always maintain a supporting spouse is critical to professional success. Hillary was a beautiful example (It is valentine's day today!) 
  •  A lot of lessons for corporate leaders. Also a lot of inspiration about building a unique brand. 
While Steve is associated with brand-apple, Pixar is as much a part of his brilliant legacy. 
  • The changing geography is brought out very well. We have moved away so much from Nature. 
  • The experience of going through two accidents, second almost fatal. 
  • It was a beautiful journey. And somewhere it made sense to let go. No better way than to move to spirituality? Isn't that is the ultimate goal, purpose of life?

Pixar is indeed a metaphor for the Buddhist concept..The  Middle Way


BIG Thanks, Lawrence for this beautiful book. 

Link to the Audible book:

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Morning Blues in Bangalore


- Late night flight, lack of sleep...
- Misplaced car key prompted me to look for Uber. The app showed ten minutes.
- Checked Ola, not available!
- Went back to Uber, waiting period was now 22 minutes. These are "official" indicators only. The actual may be much different.
So, decided to opt for "ola share".
With Bangalore likely to cancel the "share" option by Ubers & Olas of the world, I was more "aware" of the option to 'share'.

Ola has introduced two options within the share! Ola keeps bringing in new initiatives frequently. At times the add-ons become 'too many-too soon'! I finally opted for 'Fast Share' and decided to walk to the main road - "just 6 minutes", indicated the app. But not the heat & dust of the stretch, from apartment to the 'State Highway', not a 'stately' highway though.

I kept waiting... several cabs passed by, not the 'share' cab assigned to me.

A passing auto driver (smartly) sensed a business opportunity and stopped. In spite of all taxi options, auto drivers stick to their pricing strategy, continuing to demand exorbitant fares. I demanded a 25% reduction. He readily agreed. I knew I would be paying a cab fare for a bumpy, noisy, dusty/non-AC ride. But reaching the workplace quickly was more important. As the auto driver, a gentleman (except for his pricing) in his fifties took off, I canceled the Ola-share!

What should ideally take 15-20 minutes, took a full hour. As the cars patiently waited in a line, my auto-guy, a veteran on Bangalore roads, took short-cuts to move ahead. He mostly got away with all his histrionics, except a traffic cop. The latter let off with a big shout at the auto guy. I 'compensated' by paying him what he had originally asked for. He had to endure a 60 minute ride too. But for him, I would have taken longer.

It is a normal day at work for both of the cop & the auto guy, but not for me... Monday morning can't be so 'cruel'
An audio book kept me going. I saw so many professionals on the way to their office, badly stuck - in buses/cars/company transport vehicles, two-wheelers.

Many of them already had their ID cards around their neck or clipped on to somewhere on the body, shirt to belt. Most of them, almost all of them (yours truly included) had an expression of frustration & anger on their faces.
I wondered... 'are we living our life-purpose? Is all this worth it?" 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A day in the life of an entrepreneur - Between banks for a Rs 100 DD

Chandra is a former banker, who left the corporate world to spend the second innings of his career as an entrepreneur. Any resemblance to anyone living/dead is coincidental (no pun intended).
- There is nothing like a "former banker". Banker once, banker for rest of life.

Chandra was sitting at the third branch in less than 2 hours, and looking at his phone... a conversation among one Whatsapp group on entrepreneurship caught his eye. It was all about 'being' an entrepreneur... "Who is most affected when we take the entrepreneurial plunge"? More so if they are first generation entrepreneurs, who left corporate jobs?

Chandra participated in the discussion and also reflected on his own journey from a banker to an entrepreneur.

This image was shared by one of the group members... 

As he looked around the new branch and also outside the window, he felt grateful, he was out of it. That is when the story unfolded...

2017: Chandra is back from his New Year break. Three days away can do wonders to you, at all levels of existence. So, this morning, when he volunteered to help someone with a demand draft (DD), it was with all its purity.

- - Why a Rs 100 DD in this era of demonetization and digital money (and some demonization thereof)?! That is a story by itself...

- - As an entrepreneur, Chandra is clear of his priorities. He always was but was less vocal about it. These days his son threatens to call him, 'Priority Pops'!

Thanks to his obsession with priorities, he went about doing some urgent work in the morning hours. After all, it was his first day at work in the new year.

Bank#1, Branch #1 - Late in the morning he went to his bank branch:
- At the 'May I Help You' counter, there was a new face. And not a friendly one. The old staff, one of the best, was missing. The new staff was seeing Chandra for the first time. And Chandra is not one who is very good at making first impressions, esp at banks!
- He enquired about DD. She said, "that line, sir". The lone teller-counter had some ten customers in a queue. 
Who said only Mumbaikars stood in line, with discipline and patience. Or has demonetisation taught us to be more patient at banks? Not in case of Chandra...
- He said, 'I am your affluent customer (not cattle-class, Shashi Tharoor may add?). Should I also stand in the queue?" Priority/preferred/wealth management being the tag in different banks. Banks also believe in priority! But sadly only lip service, not in terms of banking service
- She looked offended with an expression that said, "reservation at the bank counter?" type.
- Chandra,  an ex-banker, would not relent.
- She said, "try (your luck) at the next counter"
- He walked up to the 'next', empty counter, like a parent to his child's class teacher and asked for a DD.
- She took her eyes off her mobile and said, "pls join the next counter". She was free. Also, a couple of other employees in the bank. The branch manager was around too, blissfully unaware of the travails of his customers. But, those who are destined to stand in a queue, better stand, quietly. That is Karma!
- Chandra wanted to get out of the bank. But he had a promise to keep... to get a 100 rupee demand draft. 
- It was now Chandra's turn to look at his mobile and clear some mails, all official of course. One of his resolutions for 2017 was to reduce time spent on gadgets. He is off the target at least today...
- As he stood there he reflected, 'as a kid, when I accompanied elders to a bank or as an employee at various banks, banking was a lot more personal. Not any more'.
- As he was just getting used to standing in the queue, just like a lot of Indians since Nov 8, he was distracted by some commotion at the entrance.
- Another banker was asking, 'whose i10 is it? Traffic police taking it away'.
- A lady, who was ahead of Chandra, stopped talking to her mom, to raise her hand and an alarm..

Chandra was more agile. As he rushed to the door, the compassionate banker asked, 'is i10 yours?' 

Chandra said, 'no, the one behind it'. Chandra's car was parked right behind the Hyundai i10.

At a different setting, he would have updated the banker, his evolution from a company-owned Fiat Premier Padmini to Fiat Uno to Maruti 800 Deluxe to (own) Santro to Swift and beyond.... also, how he helped thousands drive their dream cars, as a car-finance banker in his previous avatars. No time for all that. He did not want to depend on the inefficiency of Bangalore's traffic police, notorious for their speed for action, often lack of it.

Chandra reached his car, took a quick look at all four wheels, for any lock. He was relieved to see his car was untouched. The car had just got a wash at  3M, before reaching the dusty road-side at the bank.

It was well past 1 PM, so he rushed home for a quick lunch.

- Why do banks open branches with nil parking space? And they are no. 1 car financier in India!
- Why do local authorities to RBI, allow opening branches at such inconvenient locations?

Bank #1, Branch #2 - After a quick business lunch at home, he went to another branch of his bank, which was near his flat. The area was at least away from the scrutiny of traffic police.
- At the 'May I Help You', he asked the lady if he can go to the counter for a DD. She said, "yes". Perhaps she had not had lunch or not kept herself sufficiently hydrated, her energy was low. (Chandra's interests include wellness)
There was one elderly lady withdrawing cash at the counter. Then it was Chandra's turn. He felt, "thankfully, no queue"
- Teller at the counter told Chandra, "Can not issue DD. Speak to madam at counter #5"
- Chandra went to counter no. 5. The lady said, 'system down sir, can't issue today'
- Chandra said, 'ok'.

As he stepped out he wanted to tell the lady at the counter, "you could have actually helped me more if you had told me your branch systems were down, instead of wasting my time"! Chandra was getting used to the inefficiency of the system and lack of empathy of professionals.

Bank #2, Branch #3: Chandra had to complete the task, not carry it over to next day. He remembered there was a new branch, not far away. Another leading private bank, and also where he worked for 6 years in early 2000.
- The new branch was brand new, so clean.
- Hardly one or two customers, more employees. They were all busy with their stuff/discussing.
- There was no "May I Help You" counter at the branch. That was better than misguiding clients.
- Branch manager, a young looking guy, was busy with some paper work.

Chandra does not expect red-carpet welcome when he enters any branch of the bank, where he spent 6 years and remains a loyal customer. The account is still his old salary account. "Misplaced sense of loyalty?",  he has asked himself. But he was comfortable being old fashioned.

- Chandra went to the first counter and asked for DD form. He was directed to the Personal Banking counter, with a disclaimer, "it will take some time, as madam having lunch". At 2:20, she was entitled to her lunch.
- He still went to the teller and enquired. She directed to the desk of a deputy branch manager. 
- Deputy branch manager gave the DD form (why it has to be asked for, why not on display?) and said, "it will take 20 minutes, as the person-in-charge was having lunch".
- Chandra sat down to fill up and found it was half filled form. He asked for a fresh, blank DD form.

He filled up and went back to his phone to participate in the conversation on 'being an entrepreneur', on WhatsApp. He looked around, outside the window, It was clean and professional settings inside, including the color-code of the interior. It was sunny, but clean outside. Chandra felt
... the bankers operated from high IQ, not from EQ.  That is poor leadership, professional & personal.
- Branch manager left, promising to come back tomorrow.
Very optimistic? Chandra's family lost the senior most cousin of his mother early morning. He was mourning, as his mother was very close to her cousin.

- After few minutes, Dy BM started the process. By then, the DD-madam was back from her lunch. She signed the DD and handed over to Chandra.

As he stepped out, he was more at peace. That bank had given him a lot. Still, did he want to come back? Not sure... Loyalty has its own limits. Afterall priorities matter to Chandra.

Post Office: Chandra rushed to post office, checked for registration-counter. The guy at the counter said, "closed sar".
- Chandra enquired on the timings, he said "930 AM to 3 PM" It was 3:20 PM. (These timings are not customer-friendly)

Chandra did not feel like using his persuasive skills to get the post office staff to accept his letter. If banks were not working for him, how can a sarkari post office deliver the service he expects? He would rather come back tomorrow...

Gandhiji's quote on the customer is no longer part of bankers' DNA. That was not the case in the past.

Banking was always people driven. Whatever be the level of tech-penetration at our banks, it was still people-dependent. Technology did not provide seamless service to the hassled customer. Jugaad still rules...

- ET said, 'Not happy with restaurant service? You can opt not to pay service charge'. What about banks? (ET 3 Jan 2017)

Any amount of external effort to demonetize will not help.
Demonetisation has to happen from within. 
The transformation has to happen from within, for the bankers. A shift from IQ to EQ, for sure, if not SQ. We are far away from that, as of now. If people can not service, they should not be in the service industry. These white collar bankers do not know, AI can do most of their jobs, in the near future. (Consumer-oriented tech to shine in 2017 - ET 2 Jan 2017)
Ease of doing business ki aisi ki thaisi . . . It is day-to-day hell for an entrepreneur
Sir Richard branson's advice to young entrepreneurs: "Just do it..." (ET Panache 2 Jan 2017)

For Chandra, the banker-turned-entrepreneur, tomorrow is a new day. He will pursue his dream, in spite bankers, post office, government, connectivity (mobile or 4G). 

He passionately lives his life-purpose...

Thursday, November 24, 2016

#Demonetization Demonized @ Bank Branch

I got this message from the bank, a private bank, rated one of the best, globally (financial performance is no proof of customer service!) 
Dear Preferred Customer, visit your branch in person to deposit your old currency. Call your RM to fix an appointment @ ##### ##### for a seamless experience at the branch
- Got 2 mails from the CEO of the bank, yday & day before. No option to respond, except to the usual link on website! "If you have the option to write to me, I should have the option to write back to you. Else don't write to me"!!


- Why so late? What took you so long?!

I visited the branch to deposit (a small amount) and withdraw, having managed without cash all these days. 
"Bank staff don't even recognize me"!! A humble preferred customer. 
I was made to show original ID proof, copy thereof with my signature; my signature on the cheque was verified for withdrawal and asked to "stand in line" (meharbani?!)

Then why the SMS in first place? 'I would have been better off without the tag, 'preferred' customer!" Pls re-define 'preferred'!
A customer is the most important visitor on our premises…”   Mahatma Gandhi
- Customer sitting next, with exactly 10X my cash (Income Tax may be interested in him!), mentioned, 'people were a lot more disciplined here. But that was not the case elsewhere'. He seemed to be visiting multiple branches, like the Bangalorean who spent his Sunday morning visiting all the ATMs in the area. Of course the ATM attached to the branch remained 'No Cash' for last two days! 

Other customers were heard saying...

- 'I am sitting here at the bank. I will take time' (for lunch?!)

- 'If you don't respect my time, I will not achieve anything in life' (profound!)

- 'What is status of the order?' (he was working, must be an entrepreneur)

- 'I am at the bank, not at a bar'! (No comments!)

- 'No I am not standing in a queue. But 'sitting' in a queue' (Time is precious)

- A child was crying and the mother was struggling to pacify him. Naturally he would have felt the negative energy at the bank!

All the bank employees went about doing their work, but were 'disconnected'. They were professional. But then a machine could have been a better option, instead of human being. The machines were counting notes already.
Literally all employees at the branch seemed to be on demonetization fire-fighting.
But they were fighting someone else's battle. 
There was no empathy for the customer. Bank manager was conspicuous by his/her absence.  Banks, including pvt banks, have lost the plot, an opportunity to serve customer.

I walked out with a slight tilt to my right. It was not due to back-pain or a new style. The cash in my kurta pocket was causing the tilt. Felt heavy, emotionally. I was suddenly conscious of the safety of my cash too. 


It has been two weeks since India was hit by #Demonetization tsunami. Is 'demonetization' the right word (juste mot!) is still being debated in the press. The customers are being demonized.

PS: We train our bankers for the  demonetization 'war'. Let's train them to come 'home', too... To Serve Customers during war & peace
Inspired by TedTalk: We train soldiers for war. Let's train them to come home, too.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Sacred Grove by Daman Singh

Set in interior MP, a geography I am familiar with, having lived there for three long years!

Ashwin tells us
- What it is to be son of a government servant, even if King of a district (as a collector)
- Being a student 
- How adults take kids for granted. They are a lot more intelligent than we think they are
- The world from the view of a boy. And how it impacts him. 
Light read. Loved the humor, the flow and setting.

goodreads

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Chandra CashLess, PennyLess in T Nagar, Chennai

Chandra landed in Chennai on Friday, with Rs 210 in his wallet . He left Rs 100 at home for 'emergency'. (What can you achieve with Rs 100 in case of emergency is another discussion)

His cash in hand, as the commerce student in him would claim, remained Rs 210.  He stayed at a guest house, had breakfast and dinner there (No eating out). Facilitated a workshop at a five-star hotel over the weekend. He went around in Uber & Ola. Just as digital wallets played a big role in facilitating the demonetization initiative, these taxi-aggregators played a key role too. 

Ola fare for the one trip he took was double the Uber fare. He was unable to book Uber. Ola accepted      booking without the internet ('smart buoy'!). Was it surge-pricing or mere premium for booking without internet?
Airtel is spending a fortune promoting Open Network.  But connectivity remains very challenging. He lodged a complaint and got a complaint number. Their complaint number is like Sunny Deol's 'tareek- pe tareek- pe tareek, Your Honour' in Damini! No much hope  on that front. At least airtel should stop boasting about their network & connectivity. (After 3 days, Airtel called to confirm Chandra had exhausted his data-plan. With next billing cycle just two days away, he 'decided to live with it, as he did over last one week'!)

A haircut was overdue, no time/mood for a fancy & expensive spa. A simple, clean saloon will do. The way Chandra was losing hair, even that may turn out to be a luxury in the near future. 
He had not been at the tender-coconut seller over last few days. His regular 'outlet' under a huge tree, on T Nagar main road. 
He normally spent for some small stuff at Chennai, on toiletries or fruits or Sri Krishna sweets,  thus contribute to the local economy. 
He wanted some cash badly...

He picked up two debit cards and stepped out for his morning walk on Sunday, 14th. He could activate the runner app, but not podcast (Airtel!!)

Spotted a police van. A cop was standing next to it. He was slim, fit, dark and had vibhuti on his forehead. There was something positive about him, Chandra felt. He was on duty and looked all set to take on the day ahead, head-on. As Chandra reached near him, he surprised with a 'good morning'! Chandra responded with a 'good morning' and a  grateful, wide smile. If all cops were like him....! Cops in Chennai always had this work-ethic - they are 'at work' and diligent. Not the case in many other cities...

Chandra went around looking a clean & safe hairdresser. Found one on the main road. Checked, 'if by any chance they took card payments?' One of the staff smiled and said, 'no saar!' He spotted several other hairdressers, with simpler interiors. Hence did not even check. He was sure they may not have POS machines. 

He went around in search of ATMs. ICICI had two, shutters were down. Situation was same with other ATMs, BoB, Central Bank and others. Shutters were either half down (mourning!) or fully. As he went about searching for ATM and clocking distance on the runner app, he observed he was unable to give any help to the old, seeking help or otherwise. For the short distance, he saw disproportionately high number of old men, who seemed to need help. While he avoided his regular tender-coconut guy, being cash-less, he saw there were many more temperory stalls. Once he covered the main road and some of the lanes, he lost interest and hope of getting some cash.

He landed back in Bengaluru and was unable to book Uber. Ola confirmed 'no cars in the airport'! He went to the 3rd option of cars, mainly KSTDC & Meru. Meru rep was very helpful to look for someone with Paytm option. But it required me to download Meru app and I just could not do, even with his hotspot (Airtel!!). Thankfully, one of the drivers agreed to barter diesel at a petrol pump in lieu of cash. Of course when we reached Shell pump in Seegehalli, it was closed!! Shell used to be a 24X7 open outlet. We were saved by a HP petrol pump nearby. The Meru driver was so well behaved and cheerful, unlike Chandra who was getting restless, at 1030 PM ('Devudu Unnadu')

5 days after PM announced the initiative, he went in search of ATM & Cash. But had to come back empty handed. Wonder how others are coping with the development. Especially the poor with no access to bank account, digital wallet or variants thereof. Hope banks would rise to the execution and does not mar the initiative with poor execution.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

DeMonetization Demon

We were on one of the usual, weekly call... As the discussion went beyond the allotted time, a message appeared on my phone. 'PM to address the nation at 8 PM'. I was worried and in a hurry to leave the call and check the idiot box. 

The news went viral, to put it mildly, when PM made the announcement. There were Whatsapp messages, facebook updates, tweets and of course, good old face to face conversations on "500 & 1000 Notes"! 

- for many of us, for once we felt it paid to be clean & ethical. 
And, that was a huge moment for India's middle class. 
- some were happy to be in possession of less currency, for a change

- a friend was glad he had given up the habit of carrying a wallet a year ago. (I got to find out more about this)

- Most of the politicians had taken the stand on expected political lines. They were expected to toe their party line, even after seeing what common man/woman can do when they chose to vote (#Trump)

- When will we stop politicizing everything? Can we not rise above petty political lines when it comes to our motherland? 

One of my first teachers/friend (a 'Guru') used to say, 'if one generation can choose to sacrifice for sake of country, India will overcome all its problems' (And I was in 5th Std!). Not everyone is blessed with such teachers. 

We love drama. This news gave us all the opportunities to be most dramatic. 

The ceremony held at Rangastala, Rangoli Metro Art Centre, last week began with an insightful lecture -- ‘The Hidden Life of Words’ by Suresh Menon. He spoke about how some nuanced emotions sometimes escape expression. He also observed: “Words are charged with meanings, popular culture, movies, the television. We have no control over how words can be distorted. (http://m.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/taking-a-writers-call/article9291235.ece)

The heartiest laughter came from sister, on phone, in the company of mom. The word at home used to be 'Underground'! An art identified with mom.