• Reflections On The Night Of Terror
    1 December 2008

    It was sheer luck, providence, kismet, that some of us live to tell this tale, while many of us were not so lucky at all. The pain on the faces of their loved ones is devastating for all of us watching - a pain that seems to come all too frequently nowadays. While television stations are going up the learning curve with each such episode, the Government seems to have not learnt at all. Not even learnt that we need a different Home Minister, someone better equipped to do such a big, important, and complex job. These past few days, as we weep with the victim's families, and listen in horror to friends tell of watching people being killed in front of their eyes, my mind has been screaming, "It is NOT the economy, stupid".

    Read on
  • Growth and Inequality
    March 14, 2013

    Inclusive growth is when more and more Indians benefit from the growth of the economy, by way of better incomes and a better quality of life. Has this happened so far? The answer is yes, it has happened to a certain extent, but has not happened enough. To say that there has been no "trickle down" at all to the common man, of the benefits of economic growth is belied by all available statistics of income and consumption. Practically, everyone is earning more today than they were the previous year or the year before that, or even the generation before that. Yes, those who were at the top half of the income ladder to begin with, have had their incomes grow much more than those who were in the bottom half. But the rising tide has lifted the average income of the bottom 25% of Indians also.

    Read on
  • The Helping Hand
    EYE - February 12 - February 18, 2012

    The changing paradigm of a domestic help in a changing world.

    AFTER BEING used to Mumbai's sophisticated domestic help, it always is a jolt back to earth to meet the ones that float in and out of my mother's house in a smaller city. It is probably not just the city demographic but also my mother's age and feistiness that has something to do with it. Yellamma, the latest, is a 50-year-old former construction worker with negotiating skills of a good sales manager and a learning curve that puts all my erudite theories about the necessity of high school education to shame. When she came, she was like a bull in a china shop in a modern kitchen with gadgets and now, with the same shraddha of preparing a pooja thali, she readies the washing machine, and invites my mother to come and press the button. My mother says that she feels like a VIP cutting the ribbon, every day of her life, and is pleased with this arrangement.

    Read on
  • The Old Order Has Changed
    EYE - January 29 - February 4, 2012

    In ads and soaps, watch the women have the last laugh.

    VIRGINIA VALENTINE was a brilliant semiotician who, through cultural analysis, helped marketers get a better understanding of how to connect with the world of consumers. She must turn in her grave at this limited and prosaic description of her work. But when she explained it at first meetings, clients' eyes glazed over, and her business partner, husband Monty, gently interrupted with, "I work as the bridge between Ginny's world and the real world." She had flaming white hair, and made riveting presentations, putting to good use her study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Her substance matched her form, and her take on marketing and popular culture almost always made CEOs of her client companies do a double take. She analysed advertising and decoded popular culture, and opined whether brands were in step with popular culture or not.

    Read on
  • The Fuel that Fires Anna-ism
    Business Standard, Mumbai - 20th Aug 2011

    As we watched the irony of the tables turning, with the government telling Anna Hazare that he was free to go and Hazare saying he did not want to leave jail, my husband commented wryly that it was blue ocean strategy - "how to create uncontested market space by reconstructing market boundaries" - being played out. Sections of India that rallied under the Hazare banner are devising their own blue ocean strategy too. Earlier NGOs used to try and force the government to act but recognised the limits of their own role as one of being a pressure group only. The Maoists, on the other hand, don't recognise the government's role in doing anything at all, and step in to do it all themselves.

    Read on
  • The Bare And Simple Facts
    Rama Bijapurkar / November 20, 2010

    There is this interesting scene from a movie on the singer-saint-composer Tyagaraja. He goes, at the behest of his guru, to a musical gathering at Thanjavur where the assembled virtuosos are sneering at him as a janaranjakudu (an unsophisticated, common mass entertainer). One of the assembled virtuosos sings first, rendering a technically astonishing, intricate piece that requires a great deal of musical discernment and knowledge to appreciate. Tyagaraja then sings one of his hauntingly beautiful kritis, "yendara mahanubhavulu, etc." (to all the great ones, my salutations). Amid the thundering silence that follows, the virtuoso says, "I have so far done callisthenics on the swaras (the notes) and thought that was music, but now, I have had an epiphany!'

    Read on
  • Learning to Read Social Change
    Rama Bijapurkar / October 16, 2010

    There were two thought provokers for me this week on the implications of demographic and lifestyle changes: an article reprinted from The New York Times in The Indian Express titled "How marriage survives" by Justin Wolfers (Wharton professor and Brookings fellow); and a chat with Jagdish Sheth, marketing guru at Emory, whose early work on consumer behaviour was path-breaking. Sheth researched the implications of changing social events on consumer behaviour in America.

    Read on
  • Too Many Cooks Make The Broth Cost Effective
    Business Standard, Mumbai - June 19, 2010

    After a week in small town Europe with lousy service (by my spoilt Indian standards) and lots of avoidable D0 - It - Yourself, a few pennies dropped in my head about our services economy. It was further clarified by a conversation I had with a receptionist in a hotel in a town with 1,50,000 population - when I explained to him that we were undertaking a census, his mind boggled and he said that we probably needed to use half of India to count the other half! And actually something like that seems to be happening. In my building in Mumbai, the census person came and told the manager of the building society to distribute the questionnaire to all of us and to keep someone at home on a particular day, briefed with all the answers. He in turn told the watchman of the building who informed each flat via its domestic staff and then via a circular from the society that was distributed by another watchman .

    Read on
  • Anklets in the Boardroom
    Is their jingle out of place among power suits?

    It was a very formal meeting with the usual coding of corporate power. Lots of men in dark suits, bright ties, polished wooden table, bone-china tea cups and crystal glasses with water and, of course, the controlled bonhomie that happens almost as if there is an invisible orchestra conductor in the room signalling when it is time for a "lighter moments" break!

    Making a presentation that day was a young lady from an accounting services firm that had just completed a project for them. She was ethnically dressed - not ethnic chic but traditional ethnic - and was turned out in a bright sari with traditional jewellery and a big bindi. The ensemble would not have merited a second glance on the street but would make her more sophisticated, global citizen, corporate sisters cringe.

    Read on
  • An Encore from Dr Manmohan Singh
    Business Standard, Mumbai - April 17, 2010

    As a country, we have now understood the model of business very well indeed, with all its variations and nuances - entrepreneurial business, corporate business, mixed but mutually dependant ecosystems, mega-scale, small-scale and micro-scale businesses, and so on. It has taken almost two decades to get us to the position where, most of us would agree, we have an excellent and richly diverse portfolio of business models. Despite the present spat between two important financial regulators, we have modern regulatory frameworks in place and a system of institutional checks and balances - this is very different from the old license raj days of interventionist checks and permissions.

    Read on
  • More Than Just a Glass Ceiling - March 8, 2010

    By Rama Bijapurkar & Chandra Iyengar

    We underestimate the role that gender conditioning plays in our lives, and it’s not just in India. American psychologists opine that if men are worried about failure, women are worried about success. Women the world over worry about how success will alter their equations with family, their marriage or boyfriend prospects, and about whether doing a “man’s job” in a “man’s world” will alter their personality in some irrevocable, unattractive way.

    Read on
  • Celebrating Diversity is Unity
    March 08, 2010

    There is something that everyone else seems to get except the SEC A1+, 'modern', English speaking, large metro, "progressive" "cosmopolitan / global" Indian. That there is no single, pure, pan Indian identity, 'cleansed' of ethnic / linguistic / community or region origins and characteristics; and that despite their feverish search for it, there is unlikely to be one. Worse, that it may even be undesirable to have one. Their belief is that modern Indian utopia is to have many more of us shed our specific community based origins and influences, and assume a more uniform Indian-ness - one that blends well globally, and does not make us stick out like the peacock (or a sore thumb) abroad.

    Read on
  • Inside the Mind of Young India
    February 08, 2010

    Do we know what young India is thinking? The English media give us their take based on surveys that they do, which, as has been pointed out often in this column, represent less than 5% of youth in India. Often its hard to even figure out what segment of youth such surveys represent, because the write up  is most economical about facts like which income group or social strata the study was done amongst, merely stating "xx number of respondents aged xyz, from the following cities and towns". The Internet surveys give us a window into the minds and worlds of the internet enabled youth; but this sample universe leaves out large chunks of those who form part of our much promised demographic dividend. That's why it was so wonderful to see a book titled "Indian Youth in a transforming world : attitudes and perceptions".  Jointly published by CSDS and Sage Publications, it is the report of a high quality survey of 5000 people, aged 14 to 34, drawn from all states excluding the north east, Uttarakhand, Goa and Himachal, and representing all socio economic classes.

    Read on
  • IIM Review Committee
    February 07, 2010

    Opportunities and Challenges ahead: The IIMs are on the cusp of some amazing opportunities, but are facing some serious threats that can marginalize them forever.

    They can collectively provide a bouquet of offerings which can make India a world class management education hub and knowledge capital for the world. This is because (1) the rest of the world is focusing on emerging markets, particularly India and China; and now recognizes that they pose new challenges and need new solutions. (2) there is no "from within" knowledge being created as yet on emerging markets (3) India, through the IIMs, may have a better shot at achieving this than China.

    Read on
  • Made in India
    Corporate Dossier - August 1, 2008

    A few weeks ago, the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) at IIM Ahmedabad organized a conference where alumni entrepreneurs were invited to share their experiences with the centre and with students interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Most of us would assume that very few people showed up on either side, since the popular perception of IIMA is that it is the bastion of straight-and-narrow corporate executives, and not the breeding ground for off-the-beaten-track entrepreneurs who march to the beat of his own drummer.

    Read on
  • Let a thousand Indias bloom
    Cover Story, The Week - 13 April 2008

    Lots of debate is happening around how to build "Brand India". There are two commonly voiced dilemmas. One, that some of the harsh realities of India are so harsh (poor infrastructure, poor human development index, poor responsiveness from Government to potential investors, corruption etc.), that they will always appear as ugly black warts, marring the credibility of any 'beautiful India' or 'powerful India' branding that we do. The other dilemma is that there is no single India, and that it is impossible to reflect, under a single brand, the ancient heritage and the modern accomplishments, tourism's "incredible India" and ITES's 24x7 "industrious India", manufacturing's "innovative India" and the magic of handcrafted artisan India, the budhist stupas and Nehru's temples of modern India, yoga, medicine and the IITs.

    Read on
  • Music of the Hemispheres
    Economic Times - June 27, 2007

    What sets Corporate India apart from its western counterparts is to do with their differing responses to chance. We will experience such differences more intensely as India gets further globalised.

    It isn't fashionable to say so in these days of globalisation, but my last few encounters with global corporate America have been tough. The difference in cultural wiring is becoming obvious by the day and cope strategies that enable me to be myself, and not a poor imitation of them, must be devised.

    Read on
  • Sarinomics
    The Mint Newspaper - June 2, 2007

    Why every working woman should give pleated power dressing a shot

    The other day, I was reading an article in the British press, where the author said she was very surprised that some young women in Britain said that they actually wanted to wear the hijab. It occurred to me that people must be equally surprised when young women in India say that they want to wear a sari. Who in their right mind would want to be bundled into 18ft of fabric(Yes, that is the standard sari length). Surely, it is one more form of cultural gender oppression?

    Read on
  • But what do the 'have-nots' want?
    The Economic Times - May 28, 2007

    The poor do not have the mind space to be concerned with how much the ‘haves’ have, or how they spend it; they are totally occupied with whether their own quality of life and amenities are improving or not, says Rama Bijapurkar.

    The newspapers have commented sharply on the prime minister’s CII speech urging a ceiling on exorbitant corporate salaries and curbing of conspicuous consumption. He says that the ‘haves’ showing that they have too much will upset the have-nots and sow the seeds of resentment in them, and ignite social tension. While his motives for saying so are beyond question, because he is an honorable man and an intellectual worthy of the utmost respect, he does seem to be totally out of sync with how the very constituency that he seeks to speak on behalf of, is thinking. 

    Read on
  • The New Indian Women
    Business World - March 19, 2007

    I recently heard a point of view from a society watcher on Indian women that had me scrambling for my research boots. Had I got it wrong? Had the women's liberation and empowerment revolution happened in the few moments when I was not paying attention? The point of view was that the mainstream urban Indian women never had it so good before. She has truly become the all powerful ghar ki rani, a long way from her naukrani status of not so long ago, and has a career to boot.

    Read on
  • Igniting Women Entrepreneurship: Who and How?
    The Economic Times - March 8, 2007

    The new buzz in the conference circuit is the arithmetic argument that there could be a big GDP boost if more Indian women became economically active (77% of urban housewives, 60% of rural do not work outside the home). To me, a more compelling pay off of women earning is the resultant increase in their self esteem and negotiating power with family and society and the resultant social and human development benefits. More importantly, if we could get the poor and the ill educated women to earn their own money, we would have more warriors in the fight against poverty, and more champions of the girl child.

    Read on
  • "Rural Academies: Way to Go"?
    The Economic Times - December 2006

    This is an exciting strategy because it is both holistic and flexible, and because it is extendable with easy to make changes, for different employer requests and different community constraints, says Rama Bijapurkar

    It's always nice to begin a new year with a note of real hope and inspiration, and here's the story I have to tell of the Rural Retail Academy, a vocational training initiative from Andhra Pradesh. The first batch of 700 rural youth have "graduated" from three academies, with 90% placement in large and well known retail companies like Future Group, McDonald, Food World, Spencer's and Reliance, at salaries of Rs 3,000 plus per month. What is even nicer is that this is a government initiative, which is built around the mantras of "being totally market driven" and "private sector partnership". And nicest of all is the gender ratio of the graduating class - 40% women!

    Read on
  • It's a Global Problem: Innovate the Solution
    The Economic Times - August 2006

    I had a set of questions posed to me by the ET team: Why do career women in India struggle so hard with their work - life balance? Are lessons from Nooyi's experience relevant to Indian career women? Who needs to change first, India Inc or the women? They requested that I write a "sharp piece" - which I think means cut out the politically correct BS and get straight to the heart of the matter as you see it. And so I shall, based on the many exchanges I have had with career women around the world, and from my own experience with five "proper" jobs in big and small organizations and then working for myself, while doing the maa, bahu, biwi, beti roles in the forever soap opera that is the typical Indian extended family.

    Read on
  • The Message of Rang De Basanti
    1 May 2006

    The block buster success of the movie Rang De Basanti forces us to re-examine the picture that media and social commentators have been drawing about India's urban, educated gen next - that of a bunch detached and disengaged from their national context and interested only in maximizing material well being. My nephew who goes to a snooty Mumbai school where the latest on Nike attracts more discussion than the latest on Narmada, says that his friends loved it and discussed it a lot. A young lady who went abroad at 17 says that she and her Indian friends in college saw it and wanted to head back home. Kamlesh Pande the writer of Rang De Basanti (RDB), says that he was surprised at the way he was cheered at a college convocation and had loads of young people who said "thank you for opening our eyes with RDB".

    Read on
  • Vive la Difference!
    The Economic Times - 08 - March 2006

    The two of us, writing this piece, are battle hardened though somewhat exhausted sufferers of a debilitating physical and mental condition. It is called "trying to be super woman-itis". Some symptoms of this are "muthering heights", and "we are just like men in the work place". But we are now going through treatment for all these, and what better timing than International Women's Day to tell it like it is and bring relief to millions of other sufferers like us, professional women who are also home makers and family nurturers, and for whom life is a giant balancing act.

    Read on
  • The Anatomy Of Social Tension
    December 26, 2005

    So, what did I learn in the past year? Other than the fact that the problem of traffic in any given city is inversely proportional to the quality of shopping in that city; or that the MPs seem to work on a cost plus basis to price their questions, rather than on a perceived value basis - hopefully!

    I learnt yet again, that India changes so insidiously that you can never see the change that you are watching out for, until it comes and bites you in the butt in some other form. Over the years, whenever I have shown the income distribution and income growth pattern of post-1992 to foreigners, they invariably ask, "so will there be a lot of social tension, as some get more visibly prosperous than others"?

    Read on
  • The Year of Implementation
    The Economic Times - August 2004

    A new year of nationhood. What should the national resolution for the year be? I think that this should be the year when we try very hard to make the Great Implementation Leap. There is awareness, knowledge and discussion, steeped in every pore of this country, on what needs to be done to solve our several problems, and make us totally proud to be Indian, not just proud in parts. Fix infrastructure, ensure that visitors from abroad, especially potential investors, have a great experience at least for the first 72 hours, till they get over their culture shock and biases! Make civic bodies accountable. Get more children to stay in school. Repeal antiquated legislation that was created for a non market driven paradigm. Improve delivery to the end beneficiary of so many existing relief schemes, etc. etc. There are sound and innovative ideas on what to do for each. But practically no ideas on how to "actually get things done".

    Read on
  • The Consumer Vocabulary / Explanation for Anti Incumbency
    The Economic Times - May 2004

    Ever since election results were out, there has been an avalanche of comment by politicians, political watchers, journalists, pollsters, intellectuals, advertising and marketing experts and more, analysing the who - what - why of the results. But conspicuous in its absence has been the voice of the voter. "What", some might say in horror. "This whole thing is about the voice of the voter". But as I said in as earlier article "Let's have real vox pop please", in a business we would insist that market share and sales data numbers, especially when unexpected, be explained through the lens of individual customer attitude and behaviour i.e. what customers did, and what they thought, which made them do what they did. The election result is like market share and sales data. Real explanations are what we are yet to get - too few facts straight from the horses mouth i.e. from the people that actually voted, on why they did what they did, and too much conjecture from the rest of us. Confusing, because every explanation provided by some one of repute has been contradicted by someone else of equal repute!

    Read on
  • Can We Have Some Real Vox Pop Please?
    The Economic Times - January 2004

    I certainly don't want to be a party pooper but I do feel uneasy reading the results of the Census of India and assorted Development reports side by side with the India Shining campaign and the English newspapers talking about the 'feel good' factor. I know both are true, and I know which one I want to believe as the larger truth that the good macro economic numbers translate into. But I can't help thinking that there are human beings that all these macro statistics represent and that we haven't really heard what they have to say. In a business, we would insist that sales data be backed up with data from the customer level on performance, both behavioural and attitudinal - percentage usership, repeat purchase rates, brand perceptions and loyalty, customer satisfaction levels, etcetera.

    Read on
  • Privileged Midnight's Children, It's Time for Serious Nation Building
    The Economic Times - 18 - August-2003

    I am writing this especially for my age cohort and culture class, 'privileged midnight's children', and articulating what many of us already feel.*(An Age Cohort comprises a group of people born at roughly the same time in the same place or country, and consequently experiencing the same major economic, political and social upheavals at about the same stage in their lives; their lives are punctuated by the same crises, they share the same nation-memories and they encounter every new decade, each with its own particular challenges, at similar stages in their lives).

    Read on
  • Taking Charge of Perception
    The Economic Times - 17 June 2002

    Everyone I discussed this piece with was of the opinion that it was not the thing to write about. In addition to being politically incorrect, it was not really my business, and what good would it do to pontificate from an armchair? However fools rush in where angels fear to tread and I have taken courage from Arun Maira's earlier piece on this page, asking "is the business of business only business"? I would like to write to all of us in business and say, can we figure out what we can do, individually and collectively, to improve the way we communicate about our country to the outside world and take charge of the way events relating to us get positioned in the outside world? I don't think we deserve to be painted as the next Gaza strip, where no one in their right minds should want to locate a business; nor do I think we need to be painted as the land of the barbarians despite the horrific events in Gujarat.

    Read on
  • Repositioning the India Brand
    The Economic Times - 14- August- 2001

    Here we are, 54 years old and a decade after liberalization  fighting for our 'rightful' place in the world, distressed with the world's perception of the India brand. Sure there are a lot of things wrong with us, but there is enough right with us that we are not getting credit for. Our hypothesis is that this is because we have not proactively managed our brand perception, in a scientific and focused manner. Our brand speaks in many voices, sending out mixed messages, suffering from not being anchored around a clearly articulated brand vision or positioning statement that all spokespersons of the brand have internalized.

    Read on
  • India Needs a Communication Strategy
    August 14, 2001

    We have all watched with a mixture of upset and grudging admiration, the way Musharraf communicates to the world, via the media, far better than the way India does. While we clearly don't want to be like him or say the same things as him, surely an equally forceful, equally unambiguous, equally engaging and attention getting communication from India would help us in the eyes of the watching world?

    Read on
  • Rescripting the India Brand
    The Economic Times - August 2000

    The image of the India brand in the eyes of the outside world is poor, and like everything else about India, fragmented. The 'Political India' variant of the brand is not powerful enough to get us our security council seat, or brand Pakistan a rogue state. The 'Economic India' variant is not powerful enough to be the unquestioned destination for global investment, or be unequivocally acknowledged as a future engine of world business growth. A few infotech entrepreneurs are improving the image of "Economic India', but the world seems to perceive 'Infotech India' as yet another variant, and is not transferring its goodwill on to the parent brand. Similarly the 'Well Educated Indian' brand has an image that we can be proud of, but as Swaminathan Aiyer wrote, Indians win, but India loses.

    Read on
  • Demon Slayer and Beautiful Beloved
    She is the original feminist and her brand variants are endless

    It is that time of the year again when the road that I live on in Mumbai is chock-a-block, 24x7. It has three places of worship: the temples of shopping, the Mahalakshmi shrine and the Haji Ali dargah, and Id and Dussehra- Diwali season often overlap. The 10 days of Dusschra see a 2-km-long queue of women outside the Mahalakshmi temple, waiting for a glimpse of Her. Not for us the debate of whether God is a Him or a Her.As we say, it is 'his his, whose whose'.

    Read on