Categories
Education India Opinion People

We all need a pick-me-up sometimes

So I got this wonderful update from one of the recent campaigns I was fortunate to be part of – something that has become very close to my heart. It concerns the lives of one of the most backward of regions (Elavanchery) in my home state (Kerala) – on an aspect that is very close to my heart owing to my past involvement and experiences (education). Everything about the intent and the expected outcomes of this was so beautiful that I remember getting sold into this by line 3 of the campaign brief. Now, I may have my biases considering that the person behind it has been someone I have admired for a while – from a distance, for various reasons. This woman (in her mid-20s) had quit her very comfortable desk job in one of the Big 4s in the consulting world because she “wanted to do things that she really wanted to do”. Things like this. Wow!

It’s almost an unexplainable feeling when some things (or people) turn out right – I guess this was one such moment. The update read as follows:

A big thank you to everyone who supported my small initiative to help the kids in my village.
Due to the amazing response, we exceeded the goal amount and were able to buy essentials for all the students in the school. 180 upper primary students and 230 lower primary students were given school bags, notebooks and other stationery.
The kids are really, really thrilled and send their love to each of you for your kind gesture ūüôā
Thanks!
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What Athira and her parents are managing to do there is pretty amazing and I wish them all the luck in their endeavors. Just look at those¬†smiles! ūüôā Best thing that happened this week, hands down. How’s everybody doing so far this year?
Categories
India Opinion

On Independence and Real Independence

If this is what we call as independence, imagine what real independence would feel like.

Happy Birthday, India.

Categories
America Education India Life Opinion People

Hello from the USA

Well, this is the longest since I haven’t written something here. 3 weeks shy of 9 months to conjure up a few lines has never been me. But somehow life had been taking centre stage in a variety of other ways and it just seems to be coming together now. Or so I think.¬†In hindsight, the last eight and a half months have been quite telling of the crests and troughs that come upon us. Like a wave – which hits the shore and takes a part of the sediments with it, leaving behind a few other things which it will take back with it along due course. The last eight and a half months were fulfilling in the sense that this was a time when I ticked off a lot of squares – professionally and personally.

I worked for five months in Bangalore as a transport planner in a very well known organization. What was best was the fact that the tasks involved in finding interventions to common issues of urban mobility. Transport planning in the mega-cities of India has reached a saturation (with no certain end towards a sustainable solution) and the work to make mobility a better experience was thoroughly challenging. I met a lot of people who had the power to influence decision making in the country. Being a positive influence for change, like everyone, gives me a high too. Besides, work took me to the lives of few wonderful people – colleagues who had a lot of stories to share. I love story tellers. I would like to believe that I myself am one of that ilk too. Afternoon conversations with chai became a memorable affair, conversations were largely free flowing and there was no dearth of it. I was a happy witness to a friend overcoming her fears and anxiety about choosing a partner and getting married to her boyfriend. I somehow felt like I had a role there and it was brilliant.

And then USA happened. I already had applied for my doctoral degree in Transportation Engineering in the beginning of 2013 and I hit the North American shores in the month of August. If life in Florida over the past 4 months has to be summed up in one word, I’d say its interesting. I ended up switching research interests after some timely advice and I am still learning the nuances of Autonomous Vehicles (or more simply put, driverless cars like the Google car). PhD is a great leveller. You come in thinking of the wealth of experience that you have been witness to and it simply humbles you yet again. I guess this is what keeps you grounded and sane through the course of the study. Teaching is another element in that category. I am lucky to be appointed as an assistant instructor for an undergraduate course here, at USF. Tasks involve lecturing, grading and evaluating the students over the course of the semester. Not bad for someone who is just into the doctoral program. Teaching in US schools requires an attitude shift, especially if you are from Asia. It’s a nice change though and I am wholeheartedly embracing this.

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Learning to let go is something that has come up in my personal resume over the course of this year. When things are not going great, you understand and appreciate the fact that you are only in control of the one half of many things that you intend to be good at. So long as you are doing your bit about it, there’s only so much hope that you can pin on the conflicting elements that together make these things work. Essentially, I learned the important difference between being a bad loser and being a sore loser. I realize I am the former.

Tampa has led me to a newer set of wonderful people and life has merely become an optimization struggle – every time something happens to you, you go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate. Like a never ending SWOT analysis. Somebody told me I was too complicated and wound about, with my thoughts. I told them that they were too plain for my liking.

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PS: Hopefully, I have seen the last of prolonged inactivity here. Wishing you all a merry Christmas and a very happy & prosperous new year 2014.

A little something on what I am working currently (well, broadly..)

[Photo credits: self]
Categories
India Opinion People

The Tendulkar Opus

y day today started by waking up very late and was soon engrossed by the mob violence at India Gate and the Super Sunday that followed that when I heard Sachin had retired from ODIs, I was starting to take it in a much more easier way than I had thought, I would.

Maybe it was the fact that there were more disturbing events happening in the country, maybe it was his indifferent form and the constant calls of retirement (including mine) to avoid what happened to Kapil Dev – somehow it all seemed way too easy to be believable.

And after sundown, I was sitting down calmly, reading through the dozens of eulogies that have already cropped up on the master and I realize, I am not going to see him bleed blue any more. Not even once more, for the series against Pakistan. I am sure many of my friends had booked their tickets in the intention of seeing the master and they would all be gutted by now. We have just seen the last of Sachin Tendulkar in a Team India blue jersey. No, it doesn’t sink in so easily.

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This was supposed to be a colossal event. There was supposed to be a statement saying that the Pakistan series would be his last and wherever he went, cricket fans were supposed to get one final chance, one final glimpse of the little master in action. Cricketing greats would have flown in to see him, one last time from across the world. “The Don” himself, would have risen from his grave and grabbed the nearest TV screen. One last time. Even the BCCI were supposed to make money out of this event as well – raising ticket prices and asking for tax exemptions for the Pakistan series. Because in India, people would give their own life to see the man take the field. Only in India would the railways stop to see him get his 100 and then continue their journey. Only in India would life come to a standstill and would keep the citizens stand in front of a little TV screen in bated breath, gaping, their mouths wide open, in anticipation of a Tendulkar special. Only in India would then people carry on with their lives, shutting off their TV screens in anguish when he got out (despite 9 more wickets remaining), because he has always been the synonym of hope for them. He had that golden chance to arrest a billion hearts, all over, once again, one last time.

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Instead, there were no such grandstand finishes, no standing ovations, no commemorative speeches or felicitations – just a small press conference where everything was revealed to a shell shocked cricketing fraternity. In his own words –

“I have decided to retire from the One Day format of the game. I feel blessed to have fulfilled the dream of being part of a World Cup winning Indian team. The preparatory process to defend the World Cup in 2015 should begin early and in right earnest. I would like to wish the team all the very best for the future. I am eternally grateful to all my well wishers for their unconditional support and love over the years.”

I am sure many of the cricket fans in the country have given up on the game today. Many believe that One-day cricket will always be synonymous with him and it would be almost impossible to see Team India without Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. I do not agree to the last statement personally, although I am still of the opinion that my passion to the game has surely gone down a few notches today. It started being on the decline when Gilly (Adam Gilchrist) hung up his boots. That was followed by dada (Sourav Ganguly). Warney (Shane Warne) and the Prince (Brian Lara) had already decided enough was enough 2 years ago and they had moved out. Murali (Muttaiah Muralitharan) followed up soon and then recently did Jammy (Rahul Dravid) and Punter (Ricky Ponting). I grew up watching them. I adored the game for what it is today, watching them and keeping them as my cricketing role models. Who could possibly impact me more than any of them? MS Dhoni? Alastair Cook? Dale Steyn? Though all these names have been remarkable in their own right, none like those mentioned apriory.

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Like most successful business models from across the world, the journey of Sachin Tendulkar – from being one among the 1000s playing the game to being the epitome of perfection in the game hasn’t been anything like bread-and-butter. Its been a constant re-invention process – identifying the chinks in the armour and doing away with them by bringing on newer innovations. All successful people and businesses have constantly been involved in a¬†learn-unlearn-relearn¬†process and he has not been left behind there as well. Another important word I would like to emphasize is¬†customization. In cricketing terms, acclimatizing to the alien conditions and managing to give out the most desired results. There is no continent where he hasn’t scored a century, no opposition against whom he doesn’t have a world record. And thus, seeing his exploits in his domain, people in India call him GOD. For it is felt that only god could be the epitome of such colossal awesomeness.

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What I and most of India would miss the most with this retirement would be the ability of a man to single handedly influence the decisions of a billion strong cricket Рobsessed audience. To lift the spirits up with one glorious cover drive or the trademark straight-past-the-bowler drive. To electrify any cricket stadium and television screen with the traditional Tendulkar style, bat-in-one-hand-helmet-in-the-other reverence to his father and god (his usual pose once he reaches a landmark). To shut up a sledging bowler and make him regret for sledging the master Рnot by sledging back at him but by dispatching the next ball out of the stadium.  To have that re-assuring presence of a man, short in stature, yet with a massive heart, whose presence in the middle has a calming influence on most number of people alike. India breathes well, when Sachin is playing well.

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The day is not far when we shall forever lose him to retirement. The day is not far when he will, through another press conference decide to tell the world by way of his soft spoken demeanour that enough is enough and he feels the need to leave the stage forever. My only wish is that he decides to take it upon himself to bow out rather than giving the onus onto the selection committee and the captain to decide on his fate. Champions like him and all those names mentioned above have taken it upon themselves to decide their fate and it would be a shame, if it happened otherwise.

Ask me who was the best cricketer to have ever graced the planet was and I will point you to this man. Ask me where you want to keep a cricketing yardstick for defining greatness, and I will mention this man’s name, show you his records and tell you to wake me up when somebody breaches them. Because for me, there is Tendulkar…then there is daylight…and then there is the rest.

Categories
Airlines India Opinion Transportation

Kingfisher Airlines : A dream that never really flew

The inevitable has finally happened. With the DGCA cancelling the flying license of the¬†beleaguered airline from Bangalore, it¬†effectively¬†puts the lid on a chapter which has led to the biggest aviation crisis in India ever [No, I am not forgetting the Air India debacle, but this one especially could have been saved unlike the story of the “maharaja”.]

This might sound cliched, but I only hold Vijay Mallya to be¬†responsible¬†for where his airline is, today. That said, we all know its not the last we are seeing of him, but certainly the last we will be seeing of his airline. Optimists can say that there will finally emerge a buyer for KFA and that we can see it flying again, but this time both the pessimist and the realist would have firmly put the lid on the future of the Fly Kingfisher brand. All those planes grounded in Mumbai shall remain so, for a considerable amount of time, from what it looks like. One might wonder how the airline reached rock bottom in a matter of 3 years. I have a few answers to it, not all ofcourse, but definitely a few teething questions which are always worth having a look at. The comparison of the business models of Kingfisher Airlines and IndiGO, which is supposedly the world’s fastest growing airline (true story! ) gives a very interesting perspective on the whole story.

Kingfisher Airlines : The debacle

Kingfisher started as a full service carrier in 2005, offering single class configuration on all flights. Not a year later they were back tinkering that model and going on the lines of airlines such as Emirates or Singapore Airlines, offering five star travel facilities for its users. Facilities included live in – flight entertainment, virtually the first time ever in the asian subcontinent for all flights. It was an instant hit with the business travellers’ segment who were already disappointed with the monopoly of Jet Airways and Sahara back then. Quite obviously that the airline suffered losses in its first year of operation due to its nascency.

Year 2006 saw Kingfisher getting into serious talks at the prospect of acquiring Air Deccan. Air Deccan, the premier low cost airline in the country at that time had started getting slippery and Capt Gopinath, in my opinion, was the most street smart man on earth to have thought of bailing out, seizing the opportunity at just the right moment. I say this because Air Deccan worked on a business model which was virtually opposing the KFA model. Gopinath’s Deccan was built around a single fleet, ¬†no frills, cost minimized approach which made flying accessible for the first time to every economic class of people in the country. I remember how my grandmother’s sister flew for the first time in her life, thanks to Deccan.

And Mallya was serious about acquiring this airline, which any expert in aviation would have advised against. Anyway, he went with his gut feel and acquired the airline in 2007. The main idea surely was to gain more market power with the increased fleet strength of 70 odd jets in the sky. But that opened up three segments for Mallya: Kingfisher First (Business Class), Kingfisher Premium (Economy Class) and Kingfisher Red, the new low cost entrant from the residues of Air Deccan. 2008 and 2009 were by far, the best years for KFA despite the merger with Deccan. He had a lion’s share in the aviation market and Mallya quite rightly brandished that feeling of power in his hands. Awards and accolades did come in his way and all looked promising for a while.

Three different business models with none being sound had already had chaos written all over it. Mallya was the only one who denied anything of this sort. Year 2010 saw his fleet strength go down and the re-emergence of Jet airways at the top. What was also significant was this little airline called IndiGO. IndiGO had an outstanding passenger throughput exceeding 90% on all flights and had the best on – time flight record. Addition of international routes did not do much of a favour to KFA and it continued to rapidly decline market share wise. 2011 was the first year when they seriously started reporting cash flow issues and simply attributed that problem to the rising fuel costs. I agree, rising fuel costs was an issue, but certainly not the only one. Had it been the only one, other airlines should have suffered equally as well. Airlines like the Jet Airways and IndiGO had continued to flourish in comparison with KFA. And that was due to the age of the fleet. IndiGO, for example has an average fleet age of around 2.4 years, SpiceJet has around 3 and I am sure none of us want to even think of Air India. The older the fleet, the more the fuel, the more the cost. Simple logic.

And so, the pilots left, flights and payments got delayed and the way downhill was almost inevitable now for Kingfisher. Curtailment of schedules, ensuing strikes by employees over the non payment of compensations has brought the airline to a grinding halt.

Business Model Analysis -Kingfisher

  1. If there is one aspect at which we could pinpoint the demise of KFA to apart from Dr. Mallya, it would be the failure of the company to read the business models carefully before they went into acquisition. The KFA model was a blind adaptation of the internationally successful airline business models and lacked any localization to the region it was operating on. I mean, why would an airline acquire a low cost company which made money on flying to airports such as Rajahmundry, Gulbarga, Trichy Vijayawada & Coimbatore and then put those flights to compete with the regular Delhi РMumbai, Bangalore РDelhi routes?  It was astounding, the confidence of KFA on the low cost brand that it blew away all the Air Deccan strategies and created a few themselves, which misfired.
  2. Another most common flaw that is easily pointed out is the fleet mix and the dream of¬†buying¬†jets at a nascent stage rather than leasing them. This was effectively the reason to shut down Paramount Airways, if we remember. And more than that, successful carriers which fly low cost have always adopted a single fleet composition. All the leading low cost carriers in the world like Southwest (B737), Easyjet and Ryanair (A319/320) have all gone in with this diktat and it works. Because, single fleet reduces the costs involved in training of personnel and also on the maintenance aspects. KFA was too young to take more than 5 different types of Airbus’ and work without incurring huge losses. A good deal of it would have been negated with a sound business model and marketing strategy, but KFA sadly had none of it.
  3. The lack of technical expertise on the airline affairs. It won’t be surprising knowing the nature of Dr. Mallya that KFA had only two CEO’s in total for all the airline departments and Mallya insisted on running the airline most of the time. This might sound very familiar to that when Air India is run by a politician, and assisted by¬†bureaucrats¬†instead of a group of aviation experts, as is the practice with other airlines. Mallya might be gifted in many ways, but surely not gifted enough to manage an airline since he lacks the formal training in doing so.

Business Model Analysis – IndiGO

  1. IndiGO had a business model which was clearly a no – nonsense one at it. Single class configuration, no frills, quick turnaorund times (25-30 minutes in Indian airports is like magic), They leased flights instead of buying them and vowed to add one flight every four to six weeks. Possessing a very quirky advertising and marketing campaign, IndiGO quickly got onto the top ranks by possessing a record for the biggest percentage of on time flight records. This can only be attributed to the rapid turnarounds observed, which is one of the signs of a sound business model.
  2. They had a CEO on board as early as 18 months before they commenced operations. Not just that, they did not believe in exploding to life with a big bang as Kingfisher did. They were rather skeptical of slipping down and thus took baby steps into the aviation industry in India. Acquiring jets was not their  forte and instead they decided to lease them in the beginning, for leasing was a far more cost effective solution.Working this way up to the top has ensured a very firm base from where IndiGO can command and exert exceptional control over its strategies and the overall aviation scenario in India. And this has precisely got it into the position of the leading airline in the country, the fastest growing airline in the world in the world and quite obviously, the only airline in India to register profits.
  3. The gawkiness in getting deals done the way they want deserves a special mention because they have managed to do just exactly that. With 220 orders for the A 320 family lined up [one of the biggest deals ever], they managed to strike one of the best deals in aviation history with Airbus, as part of their expansion programs started in 2010, four years since their inception into the flying business. Whereas Kingfisher managed to reduce its fleets by 4 years because they had bought all of it and were experiencing mounting losses already.

Thus, quite clearly the demise of Kingfisher had everything to do with a flawed business model and the inability of it to live upto the needs and wants of the growing and increasingly ever-so-complicating global airline sector.