Posted on 26-02-2012
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

After 1991 economic reforms, we’ve heard many different stories on new India’s corporate battlefield. Everyday’s news upto 1997 was of tie-up after corporate tie-up. Then tie-breaks with mismatch of cultures and business intent. Most dramatic was the IT industry growth. Next, family business was breaking up for professionalism to take over. Corporate houses were making visible their big size by inventing organized retail without much experience. Most lost money like crazy, many have folded, others are awaiting multi brand FDI opening in India to sell and earn huge valuations. Among these activities, the corporate world saw no adventure in the artistic domain. Tirelessly in business was emerging the word differentiation. But differentiation is an art, so amidst it all, I was propelled into my quest for discovering art amongst business leaders.

Through my fine arts background, I’ve entered industrial business these last 34 years to deliver strategy to execution to companies across the globe. Art helped me to see end-customers in a very creative way, to disrupt my strategic delivery in branding, retail design, industrial design and upto creation of the corporate business identity that transforms a company’s outlook. One day in 2009 I was introspecting about how I’ve been selling my disquieting ideas to different CEOs worldwide. I understood then that CEOs are extremely creative. Otherwise they’d not have so liberally accepted my radical outside-in, from-the-public-park-bench ideas that invariably turned their companies around towards high growth. My analysis was that CEOs had to have creativity and caliber to orchestrate different kinds of people, employees, investors, consumers and suppliers. Handling human beings with their different quality, aspirations, requirements, while bringing high financial results, is already an art by itself. The immense chance I’ve had of working with global CEOs gave me the insight that unfurling the creativity hiding behind them would be extremely fascinating.

I have to admit my experience with Western society CEOs is that they’re always inspired by my artistic background. In many cases they’d want to have meetings in my painting studio instead of the office. Or just drop by to look at my paintings as their personal involvement with art is quite deep. One such visit was from Romain Nouffert, the chief of Lu Biscuit company. After we finished the work connected with the strategic platform for a new category of biscuits, he came to unwind in my studio in Paris. As he looked around, one of my paintings caught his attention and he asked, “Why aren’t you testing this one with the new concept?” So finally the product came out with my painting.

Victor Scherrer, CEO of Grand Metropolitan, once invited me to a restaurant when we were working on a pan European project. He’d brought along some textured sketch paper, brush and black ink. While eating, he suddenly displayed everything on the table and said, “Don’t hesitate to sketch whenever you want.” Sitting at Le Doyen, one of Paris’ most renowned restaurants in Champs Elysees, he knew exactly how to tempt me to create. Later, visiting his beautiful chateau I found he’s a great collector of art, but here he wanted to experience an instant art session on the dining table. I’d gone to the restaurant in a corporate mindset, but he turned it around to become totally creative. Our discussion on the project thereafter took on quite a new and lateral angle, all because we both went into a tangent, spellbound with art over dinner.

My Christmas gift to my client CEOs one year was a sketch book and set of sketch pens. My message was, “Design yourself.” You can’t believe the response I got. Many of them expressed how positive and different they felt drawing sketches, and most of them sent me their striking creations. These instances of interfacing Western world CEOs with art culminated in my strong belief that CEOs would surely have some painting talent. That started my Painter CEO journey (www.painterceo.com). In the last three years, we’ve been honoured with 36 CEOs participating in an adventure to discover their creative expressions. They were initially quite anxious, but their wonderful artistic output validates my belief about their creative abilities. Let me share their painting sessions so you can imagine them beyond the corporate world.

Arriving in Mahindra Towers, Mumbai, pulling my big trolley suitcase, got me bemused looks. Upon reaching Mr. Keshub Mahindra’s office, I had to convince all who wanted to help take the suitcase away for safekeeping while I met the Chairman, that I absolutely wanted it in his room. They indulged me. Mr. Mahindra, totally surprised to see the big suitcase, joked in his genial way about bringing in the holiday spirit. When I spoke of a painting session, he thought I’d come to show him how I paint. I proceeded to his table, cleared it up to accommodate the canvas, colors and brushes. “You want me to paint?” he asked incredulously. When I smiled in the affirmative, he continued looking at me, at a loss for words. Then slowly, very deliberately, he took up the brush, started with colors, and was lost in high engagement in his painting session. He created a human attitude with multiple layers of soft colors. He left a lot of white space at the edges, concentrating on the subject that looked quite dreamlike. I captured his absorption with my movie camera, moving from here to there. He was so engrossed, he wasn’t looking anywhere else. He did exactly what we artists do in the atelier, he even wiped his face with the small towel I’d given him to wipe the brushes. At the end he said, “I’ve never done this before in my life.” The whole painting reflects his generosity, his focus and the incredible humane behaviour of Keshub Mahindra.Take a look at him in this link http://www.painterceo.com/participants/2010/Keshub-Mahindra.php. I’ll promise you more instances of Painter CEOs in the coming weeks.

To download above article in PDF CEOs are fabulous painters

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/ceos-are-fabulous-painters/916859/0

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Posted on 19-02-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Happenings in the air: India with 6.9% growth rate, second highest in the world after China’s 8.9%, is exhibiting extraordinary miscellany. The gradual shift of economic power from West to East is becoming evident when you hear of growth 1.6%, 1.5%, 1.4%, 0.8% and minus 1% of USA, Germany, France, UK and Japan respectively. Developed nations are grappling with recession and steep unemployment. Something positive is in the air in India, you won’t believe the entrepreneurship among young working class people. They’re not waiting for Government to give them jobs.

In my nonstop research interactions with people in different social layers I find their differences are becoming spectacular and really juicy. The mobile phone and motorbike have become most valuable in money-making for 20 to 30-year-olds in macro-rural areas (70-100 kms from cities). Young professionals like electricians, TV repairmen, plumbers, mechanics and masons in macro-rurals are criss-crossing a large circumference to service their customers. They are working hard, earning more and placing enjoyment as an agenda to be fulfilled. Acquiring an experimenting mindset, their caste prejudices are quickly vanishing. A low-caste barber’s job is viewed as lucrative business. The simple haircut for men has become serpentine. You can charge differently for full hair colour, streaked look, gel finish, curly effect. The post-cut massage has segregated costs too for only head, or neck-shoulder-arms, or extended-to-back. Specialization is clearly the name of the game.

Digital livelihood: The stolid kirana shop, those about 10 million mom&pop grocery stores dotting the length and breadth of India selling daily needs, is changing when handled by the young. Following digital trends, young kiranawalas are proving that virtual power provides better livelihood with services non-existent before. In macro-rurals they are buying Rs 18,000 computers to download all types of music and cinema, from Bollywood to Hollywood. They even have a global collection of pornography. Their open sales talk with knowledge about different kinds of sex acts and exciting virtual fare they’re peddling will make porn-watching Karnataka legislators look innocent. For Rs 30 the kiranawala will fill 2GB space to the brim with porno, movies, songs. If you only have Rs 10, don’t fret. That’s worth one movie or 3 songs. Their consumers are the local Zap generation below 30 years.

Most striking in this new trend is India’s 360-degree shift from a conserving society to becoming consumption-oriented. When I asked how they store what they buy in the Rs 2500 Nokia mobile phone which supports 32 GB only, or even cheaper Chinese mobiles that support 16 GB space, they replied they delete everything after 2-3 times usage. This delete action means throwing money into the dustbin. This is real change. It reminds me of a story a Bengali friend narrated about how a Licence Raj banker, after returning from higher education in England, was given a Director’s position, and he eulogized about bank automation through computer usage. Employees felt happy when he said everybody can now discard their huge piles of paper. The Director ended his speech saying, “Before throwing away all old documents, keep a photocopy at least.” From such a savings mentality to today’s throw-away outlook, it’s certainly been a long journey.

Lipstick is like wall paint: In 1996 when I modernized Lakme brand, 25 to 30-year-old Indian women consumers had said that Lakme is the only brand that understands Indian skin and beauty. They’d attend the research sessions wearing bright lipstick, but this generation has become old fashioned now. Today’s urban young girls below 30 years loathe lipstick. They say it’s sticky, over-painted, theatrical, vanishes when you eat, reminds them of mother’s generation, and doesn’t match their attire. They prefer lip gloss only. This new trend is exclusively Indian, not happening anywhere else in the world. Just to give an idea, Western Europe generates $6 billion per year from lipstick alone, whereas India sells only $81 million (Rs 400 crores) lipsticks, of which 20% is lip gloss. This breakthrough trend doesn’t mean Indian women aren’t alert about looking good. From the language of their body hugging and revealing apparel you can observe how conscious they are of a sexy representation. About 15-20 years ago when the prevalent sari covered everything, you couldn’t gauge a girl’s figure. Today her dressing style demarcates her body shape.

Gold is yellow metal: These same young women have created another disruption in beauty. Earlier, possessing gold jewelry was the biggest craze, to show-off, indicate status, wealth and family tradition. This trend has disappeared among the young. They call it yellow metal, and find it monotonous, traditional, the older woman’s fashion, not for them. Just to satisfy parents at family gathering and weddings, they wear it but are uncomfortable. Artificial jewelry is trendy for them, far superior to mix-n-match with their dress. Enormous choice in artificial jewelry helps them change their mood, fantasize, and surprise everyone around them. If you look at their dressing drawer, you’d be pleasantly surprised. They continuously buy artificial jewelry. In the West I’ve heard women use artificial jewelry for the cost factor, but they still admire gold.

Quantity vs. economy: This young generation is not only changing trends but changing usage pattern too. Their consumption, in terms of both quantity and variety, of face and body lotion or cream is very high compared to their mothers. A pot of cream the mother uses for 3 months, the daughter will finish in a fortnight. They rationalize this by saying they are working girls exposed to pollution outside so they have to protect their skin’s smoothness. The manufacturer of course is joyous, per capita growth is unlimited in future.

In the West, collective trend forecast has been organized industry’s business model, but India’s business houses are yet to develop this practice. In so many different layers of society so many things are happening like a serpentine avenue. If as a manufacturer you’re not curious, you don’t look out for the latent trend, you may lose out.

To download above article in PDF Serpentine avenue of trends

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/serpentine-avenue-of-trends/913910/0

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Posted on 12-02-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

It wasn’t customers who took the initiative to want quality. Entrepreneurs with business ingenuity, as well as visionary industries seeking an edge in the customer’s mind, surprised them with quality they were not expecting. But today, customers have already lapped up the new that businesses offered them. They’ve reversed industry’s dominance over them. Its quality customers want (QCW), and customers have learnt to command it, making industries bend backwards to provide QCW.

Changing service rules: Let’s go back a century to see how industry raised the quality sense of the customer. In 1907, 19-year-old Jim Casey borrowed $100 to found a six-bicycle messenger service that later went on to challenge United States Post Office (USPO) in existence since 1775. Calling the company United Parcel Service from 1919, UPS totally surprised people with faster and quality home delivery couriers. Just imagine, up to 1906 nobody even bothered to think beyond the Post Office to receive parcels. This quality business model educated American masses that an alternative beyond USPO is possible. It kicked off customer expectation. Sensing opportunity, competition then jumped in with differentiated services. From here, courier service ballooned into a big industry, compelling the Government’s $ 65.71 billion USPO to downsize every year by closing down post offices. Conversely, the top 3 courier companies continue to grow like UPS with $53.1bn, FedEx $ 39.3bn, and DHL $52.76 in 2011. Today UPS alone delivers over 15 million packages every day to 6.1 million customers in more than 220 countries. To stay in business, industry has no choice but to provide better and better QCW, quality customers want.

World Wars raised the quality bar: Two bloody World Wars that claimed ~80 million lives contributed tremendously to industrial quality upgradation. Quality obsession was tremendous to win the war. The Allies were not prepared for Hitler’s war weaponry aimed to prove Germany’s technological power. America had to beef up research to make weapons of higher quality. From 1942 to 1945, Allies vs Axis was purely a quality fight of weapons superiority. Hitler’s ultimate dream was 1000 years of worldwide Nazi rule. Even the simple barbed fence pillars of Auschwitz concentration camp were accurately well built although they were rapidly constructed in 1940. The conclusion we can draw from historical evidence is that defence industry during the World Wars also raised quality bar.

Japanese changed European auto industry rules: Even dropping the atom bomb in World War II could not crush Japan’s human collective ingenuity to come out from the destruction. They have taken a single point value addition to the world which is quality. Europeans invented the automobile, the Japanese invested in QCW. I remember in my different US business trips in the 1980s, I’d become fascinated with Japanese cars booming in US markets. But Japanese cars had a hard time entering Europe as protectionism discouraged a Japanese manufacturing hub here. My French auto dealer would say, "Careful, if you have an accident you have to wait 2-3 months for Japanese spares. Also, insurance cost is exorbitant.” In those days, Europe was selling a bare-bones car; you had to pay extra for option of accessories such as air conditioning, music system, right side mirror, sun-visor, automatic window glass opener and other features. Industries regulations were galore, you had to drive the first 1000 km at a certain speed, service it after 1500 km, pay for the second service starting 5000 km and so on. In one fell swoop of ingenious quality, the Japanese handed over the car keys to the buyer. Fully loaded with all features, the car offered free service after 10,000 kms and you can drive at whatever speed you want from Day One. The Japanese simply showed customers how to increase their "want," established QCW in Europe and changed the rule of the market.

QCW for push-cart or BMW? One day in Kolkata I found a flamboyant person driving a sophisticated BMW convertible. Alongside him was a push-cart with a front-puller, a back-pusher and 3 people in the centre holding the merchandize. Both the rich and poor were enjoying Kolkata’s winter breeze under the open sky. Which customer’s requirement should the QCW of this road be based on, the BMW convertible that needs a smooth tarred road or a dirt road that would be fine for the push-cart? Living with extreme tolerance in India’s diversity, we’ve not been able to appreciate quality at the mass level. These past 60 years the common man’s been dependent on different party politicians claiming to represent the poor, There’s no single point of good and bad, as laid down in non-Hindu, one-God religions, so it’s difficult to identify the quality that politics requires in this multi-cultural society. Similarly it’s difficult to imagine what collective QCW to apply. Without commonly set standardized norms, it’s clear that business houses have a great opportunity to drive the QCW delivery model.

Indian Masses required advanced small machine for livelihood generation : In developed countries, invention through industrial design for different types of machines has raised the livelihood and lifestyle of the masses even during the great depression. India’s masses similarly require modern portable machines incorporated with mechanical and digital engineering for their livelihood.Everybody is not an office babu . The backbone of the country’s working class strength is the small farmer to independent entrepreneurs in multiple domains. This young generation of self-employed workers has huge urge to grow in life but in the absence of proper machines to ease their work they cannot earn more

For developing such engineering products, we cannot always go to developed countries to get designs done as they don’t understand the diverse quality definition of India’s common people. It is time for the Indian industry to lead the way in raising the exceptional quality bar for masses of India. Indian workers quality consciousness has risen from influence of globalization, television and user friendly mobile phones. The Indian industry need to provide these evolved workers high quality standard machines that “reduce effort, increase comfort”. “Reduce effort, increase comfort” is a framework for engineering products I’d established and wrote about in my book “Jalebi Management.” Engineering products manufacturers can apply this framework for designing products this workforce can use. This will make the workforce more skilled with the consciousness of a new kind of QCW that the Indian industry can provide them. Doing so can change the face of the country’s economy in next decade by developing poor people’s working skill. Is it not the time for Indian industry to raise the way UPS and Japanese did ?

To download above article in PDF Intelligent industries pushed the quality button

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/intelligent-industries-pushed-the-quality-button/910988/0

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Posted on 05-02-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

“Religion is the opium of the masses,” said Communism ideologue Karl Marx. Had he experienced the political scenario after imperialism and feudalism, he may have said politics is more than opium, it’s anesthesia to make the population sleep. However, nobody can deny that a country’s cultural base is always religion.

I’ve been introspecting about why, collectively, India is not quite quality-centric. In business workshops I try to project that as a deliverable’s hidden part is its real quality, companies should stretch to score here. But this non-visible quality area gets scant attention from participants, both senior and junior management. They appear not to seriously consider it. Being at a loss to understand this, let me hazard an analysis with religious roots as QCW (quality customers want) has been this column’s subject these past 4 weeks. Please take my analysis without prejudice; I respect every individual’s faith; that starts from my mother who’s religious.

France, my adopted country since I’ve been 19, is Catholic dominated. Here God is one and good and bad values well established. It’s the only credibly anchored religion existing in exactly the same administrative way for 2000 years in the Vatican. Christianity’s doctrines and dogmas have underlying rational factors that bind Christians (2.2 billion today) in a strong belief system. Catholic rules were so strong that in 1559, refusing to go to church attracted a 12 pence fine. Religion doesn’t allow killing, yet politics found a way to eliminate enemies. They’d legitimized political death sentence by pulling in a Catholic priest to certify that society is sacrificing its evil side. The guilty is told his death has cleansed society. But he’s pardoned with, "God will save you" proving how politics anaesthetizes society beyond religion.

Before the Church gave freedom of expression in art, literature and science in end-15th century, people weren’t allowed to think, create or write anything beyond God. Using this liberalization, Western society mesmerized the world with invention after invention that defied Nature to have control over the universe. But their value system called "valeur rationelle" is always recognizable. All consciously follow cultural attachment to one God, one principal rational belief system to avoid God’s wrath. If you extrapolate Christianity’s single God and belief factor, you will find it exists in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism. These believers in any country have the same understanding because their known, indoctrinated practices glue them culturally. To enter the faith you have to convert through a religious ceremony.  When a mixture of Catholics, Muslims and Jewish live together there’s constant friction, as we witness in Europe today.

In developed countries, not everyone regularly practices religion or believes in God. But their single minded collective focus in one non-visible God is so strong that everyone can easily strive for one goal. They can cooperatively subsume subjectivity towards a common discipline. Sex is taboo in Catholicism, allowed only for procreation. A section of Christians revolted against this denial of sex and abortion. But in spite of disruptions and perversions, a religious principle binds believers to their non-visible God, His representative sits in the Vatican. This collective “valeur rationelle” has made Western business practices very strong in the objective of providing quality customers want (QCW).

Coming now to Hindu-dominated India, we find hundreds of Gods and Goddesses across South, East, North, West. Hinduism is a way of life. There’s no compulsion from religious dogma. Everyone is a Hindu, every individual’s inclination towards God can differ by personal choice. Inside a region or family, 2 persons can worship 2 different Gods. This miscellany along with all other religions secular India accepts, makes ours a vast multiplicity of people requiring no sanction from anyone. So by religion itself we are democratic, even before we claim being the world’s biggest political democracy. Appreciation of this liberty is the birth of Hare Krishna movement and hippies in the 1960s when Western Christians sought sanctuary from religious domination and materialism. They looked eastwards to find spirituality.

Only in this open-minded milieu of India can you nurture flexibility to drive a $70 billion global business. That’s the strength of India’s IT industry which year on year unleashes thousands of engineers to service MNC companies in every corner of the globe. Free-thinking and tolerance have unparalleled value, however, collective discipline becomes a challenge in this egalitarian culture. Industrial business systems require quality delivery without deviation and quality customers want (QCW) requires collective focus. This is where different people having different interpretations snowballs into a huge concern. India has no QCW standard in any domain. Traditional handicrafts is India’s forte, here your expectation is not quality, but aesthetics. Is Hinduism’s diversity making it more of a challenge to achieve QCW than anywhere else?  My research and sensitive inquiry reveals that Hinduism’s go-as-you-like system is subliminally ingrained in majority of India’s population. So collectively, one standard quality has not been easy to gain.

It’s normal for every company in India to have employees of different religions and beliefs. But as company culture, how do you align them to a single-minded quality drive? In the globalized world where the scale of product and service duplication is the big business game, there’s now a clash of understanding "valeur rationelle" or non-visible quality customers want. The only way to address QCW in India is for every industry to define its quality parameters by filtering the QCW in that industry. An internal process has to then stringently drive these filtered points as a single company culture.

After all, what’s QCW but the straight route to customer repeat purchase? Living in the West has disciplined me to obsessively ferret out non-visible factors that strengthen quality in any delivery. My urge is to always fortify the working process root of every product or service by incorporating quality customers want (QCW). Businesses in India, both domestic and foreign, require huge QCW discipline. Cultural flexibility was thumbs up for the IT industry; QCW is the sure-fire win for each and every company’s growth. Indian companies will succeed in competitive global markets only when employees mandatorily drive each company’s identified QCW parameters.

To download above article in PDF Is quality cultural?

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/is-quality-cultural/907947/0

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