Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It Happened in India - Kishore Biyani

After a long time, I read a book with excellent insights, and thought provoking. Kishore Biyani is the founder of Pantaloons and Big Bazaar, and he has written about his experiences with a refreshing candour.

Here are my takeaways from the book.

1. Innovation - Kishore Biyani has proved that you need to innovate to succeed. When most players were focused on transfering Western best practices to India, he went ahead with what he felt would resonate most with Indian customers.

2. Think masses - Most managers in India are concerned only with the elite. The majority of Indians are them, not us. As he mentioned, most of the ad agencies are filled with convent educated urban youth who think and speak in English, watch Hollywood movies, and listen to Western music. This in a country where 90 % of the people are comfortable only in their vernacular language!

3. Look beyond your comfort zone - Another thing that amazed me was that Kishore Biyani found it difficult to raise finances for his retail ventures even as late as mid - 1999. I was based in Bangalore around that time, and was familiar with the retail revolution occuring there around that time. Malls like Spencer Plaza in Chennai were already extremely popular, as were large music stores such as Music World. But as most of the finance companies were based in Mumbai, where modern retail had still not made its presence, it was not even considered a sunrise industry. If only these people had taken the trouble to step out of their AC offices to see what is happening in the more progressive areas of the country...

There are many more such telling comments in this book. I would strongly recommend this book to any marketer, entrepreneur, but, please, read it with an open mind...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Real Madrid vs. Espanyol

Last weekend I watched an exciting football (soccer) match on TV - a Spanish League match between Real Madrid and Espanyol of Barcelona. It was a thrilling affair. Espanyol had a 3 - 1 lead going into half time. But Real Madrid came out of the half time break fully charged up and quickly equalised, before scoring the winner 2 minutes from time, in front of their home crowd.

For a long time in the first half, it seemed that Real Madrid had forgotten how to play, and I could hear boos from the crowd. The mood changed slightly when they scored their first goal, but 2 more goals from Espanyol silenced the crowd. But the scene a little over an hour later was completely different - Real Madrid had gone to the top of the league standings for the first time in nearly 2 years, and the crowd were delirious, cheering as if their team had actually won the league!

In addition to the 7 goals, the match was exciting for the way in which it was played. We in India are more exposed to the English Premier League, where individual skills are sacrificed for team play, and strong physical play. Refreshingly, the European leagues are much less physical, giving scope for players to express their talent.Now if only we got better commentators for these games...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

City of Djinns - William Dalrymple

Travel writing is a favourite genre of mine. I was a member of the British Council Library in Mumbai for a couple of years, and that gave me access to works of authors such as Jan Morris, Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson, and others. But I ceased being a member a few months back. So it was with much anticipation that I started reading William Dalrymples' 'City of Djinns' which I borrowed from a cousin.

William Dalrymple has a lucid style of writing, which makes reading him a pleasure. The book is well composed, and provides very interesting nuggets of information about Delhi.

But reading the book set me thinking - considering how much urban India has changed over the past few years - the many typical 'foreigner in India' anecdotes felt very dated. With so many foreigners now working in India, and scores more traveling on business, do they continue to perceive India as a land of snake charmers and elephants? Or are they more attuned to the culture that India is not as much of a culture shock anymore?