Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Not so Yummy

Kentucky Fried Chicken is owned, by a company with a distinctively “uncorporate” name – Yum! Brands, complete with the exclamation mark.  This blogger is a vegetarian and therefore has not really sampled its wares. But I am reliably told that its fried chicken, is fairly delicious.  But these days, alas, KFC is not sounding very yummy.
The problem is in China. KFC is everywhere in China. I mean everywhere. Sometimes I wonder if the icon of Americanism in China is not McDonald’s or Coca Cola, but KFC. Every street corner seems to have one.  The Chinese were happily munching or chewing or licking, or whatever you do with fried chicken. All that changed in December of last year. CCTV, that great bastion of broadcasting  and China’s answer to Doordarshan,  aired a program that claimed that local suppliers to KFC had given its chicken excessive amounts of antibiotics.  CCTV is more renowned for informing the world that Xi Jinping had a good night’s sleep rather than do investigative reporting. But, expose, it did. I am not aware of the merits or the details of the case, but you can imagine what happened to the sales of KFC in China. It dropped by a vertiguous 41% in January.
Ouch. KFC has recovered from earlier unfavourable events – SARS and Bird flu, although it was responsible for neither. Apparently, the Chinese can’t be kept away from fried chicken for long. But will it recover from this latest blow ? The Chinese are fed up with food adulteration. Remember baby food adulterated with melamine some 3 years ago.
Yum! Brands , is of course, not just KFC. Its also Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. So the company will ride this crisis. But its exposure to China is massive.  Half its global sales of some $4 bn comes from China. And this is the dilemma of China. The opportunity is massive. But the risks are also high.
This incident also calls into question the issue of safety or desirability of processed foods. Popular perception is that all processed food is bad. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact the so called “fresh” product is often the most unsafe.  Just compare tap water with Bisleri. If you knew what the “fresh veggies” went through before they landed in your shop, you might be tempted to turn non vegetarian. If you bought that raw turmeric from the store – well, I will spare you the gory details of what that goes through. Will you buy milk from the milkman if he brought the cow to your doorstep ? The less said about hygiene in the neighbouring  Udipi, the better.
In general, responsible companies that process food take greater care; from the farm gate to the time it is processed. Like for like, processed food is actually safer than “fresh food” – unless you grew it yourself.  But as the KFC incident, or the horsemeat problem in Europe shows,  there can be disastrous lapses there too.  In the quest for profitability – individual or corporate, risks are taken with food; chiefly pesticides in crops and the cocktail of hormones and drugs with animals.
Any takers for retiring to the ancestral village (Sriram – the distance from Eugene to Pattamadai is rather long !) and growing your own stuff in the backyard ?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Papa, pray for us

Joseph Ratzinger has resigned. Joseph who ? you may ask. And what's in a resignation - after all somebody is resigning from something all the time.  Ah well; its not just anybody. It's Pope Benedict who resigned about a week ago. Popes rarely resign - its one of the few "jobs" for life. The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory in 1415 to end the Western Schism - a complete mess when there were two competing claimants as Pope.
Pope Benedict stated that he was getting on in years (he is 85 after all) and that the leader of a billion catholics around the world needed "strength of body and mind".  While he cited the lack of strength of his body, I dare say his real reason was the strength of the mind.
It has been a period of great tumult for the Catholic Church. It was during his papacy that the child molestation scandals in Europe and America burst into the open. Leaked papers from the Pope's butler showed the Vatican in very poor light - messy politics and  the whiff of corruption seemed to permeate even at the top. The Vatican was also involved in financial matters which did not cast it in favourably. The Pope was said to have tried reform, but was said to have been rebuffed. Maybe he was just tired. Maybe God called him to step aside. We will never know. Joseph Ratzinger is retreating into a convent to do what he probably always wanted to do - be with God. Not be a CEO.
A CEO is what the papacy is increasingly turning to. The Vatican is a massive organization which needs to be managed just like any other organization. It deals with large sums of money. It deals with global affairs. It deals with thousands and thousands of "employees". It is challenged by globalization - the centre of the catholic world is increasingly no longer Rome, but Latin America. In short, it is facing what every other organization which deals with more earthly matters, faces.
It would be a pity for the Papacy to become a CEO's office, although that is the direction in which it is going. The world badly needs spiritual guidance. There is much moral failing in the world, and traditionally, it has been men of cloth who have given mankind, the moral steer.  You could argue that organized religion has done more harm than good - witness the atrocities that have been committed throughout human history in the name of religion. But that would be a one sided view. Religion has also brought great comfort. It has healed many a heart. It has shown the way to many a soul.
The world's major religions are in crisis. Islam seems to be driven in a number of directions. Hinduism has had its fair share of godmen and leaders who have fallen from their pedestal - some literally. TV evangelists and faith healers seem to abound. Money seems to have overwhelmed even the spiritual, much as it has done to the temporal.
Atheists may disagree with me that the fall of religion is not a bad thing. They may be right. But I am lost in an ocean of despair. Moral failings seem to abound. I am rocked by the tides of sorrow. I see much evil around me. I am not able to accept the value systems that are the norm today.  I am adrift in a frightening sea, searching for a beacon from a lighthouse.
Witness the betting going on as to who would be the next Pope. Apparently Canadian Marc Ouellet and Ghanaian Peter Turkson are favourites at odds of 7 to 2. Betting on a Pope ?
Papa, Latin for Pope,  pray for us. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What on earth is a KRA ?

I am in trouble because my KRA with CDSL consequent to having submitted some change of KYC, is apparently pending, which I have no recollection of. Therefore I am stuck with my DP who is quoting arcane SEBI rules to make my life miserable.
If you don't understand one word of all this, welcome to the club. I don't understand it either ! And I am supposed to know something of finance !!
This perfectly sums up the status of how consumer unfriendly the financial sector in India has become. Try doing anything - opening a bank account, or buying a mutual fund  or even changing your address. You will tear your hair in frustration. Such is the state of affairs.
This is all because Ramamritham and his political masters have , over the last five years, exclusively been framing rules for catching Kasab.  The starting assumption is that everybody is a Kasab unless they prove otherwise. Rules and procedures have become so complex that an honest simple  man has no chance of understanding, let alone complying.  No wonder that the percentage of the population which even has a bank account is miniscule - fat chance the RBI has of achieving financial inclusion. To understand why they are failing, all they have to do is go and try to open a bank account themselves.
I have a Passport Number, a Aaadhar Number, a PAN, a DIN, an IEC, a Cust ID, a DL No, a ST No. It appears that is not enough for Ramamritham. I now need a KRA.
Laws must not be framed for the law breaker. They have to be framed for the vast majority who will follow the law if given a chance. Yes, crooks must be caught, but it is even more important to make it simple for the 99% of the population who are not crooks.
A beautiful example of killing an entire industry is what they have done to Internet Cafes. In a country like India with a miniscule computer population, but  burgeoning educated class, you would expect a zillion internet cafes at every street corner. No chance. Have you wondered why ? This is what an idiot who wants to start an internet café has to do.
  • Every cyber cafe owner has to register and obtain a  licence
  • Every user who comes to the café has to prove his ID. 
  • The cyber cafe owner has to maintain a log of every user, his ID, his photo, and sundry particulars
  • The owner has also to maintain a log and submit the return of the log each month of
    • History of websites accessed using computer resource at cyber cafe
    • Logs of proxy server installed at cyber cafe
    • Mail server logs
    • Logs of network devices such as router, switches, systems etc. installed
      at cyber cafe
  • Partitions of Cubicles inside the Cyber Cafe should not exceed four and half feet in height from the floor level. The screen of all computers shall face the common open space of the Cyber Cafe.
  • Cyber Cafe owner must ensure that all the computers are equipped with    safety / filtering software so as to the avoid access to the websites relating to     pornography, obscenity, terrorism and other objectionable materials. Cyber Cafe shall take sufficient precautions to ensure that their computer resource are not utilized for any illegal activity.
  • They will be visited and inspected every now and then to ensure that they are complying with rules (of course, those visiting are extremely honest and straightforward and there is no question of a bribe)
Now you know why there are no internet cafes to be found anywhere. I am yet to determine whether they need a KRA too !!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Humanising Business Relationships

There is something about the world of business that dehumanises relationships. The other is seen usually as a competitor to be trampled, or a boss to be hated, or a subordinate to be kicked or a peer to be beaten. We often gripe at everybody and anybody around the water cooler/coffee machine/whatever. Office parties are largely gossip sessions where everybody trashes everybody.
I met her not so very long ago. She is a confident, consummate professional, very competent in her job. She is poised, articulate, easy to work with and with a ready smile. So it was easy to picture the typical upwardly mobile, confident business executive and deal with her exactly in that manner.
Quite by accident, I came to know of the tragedies she had been, and is, going  through.  Tragedies you would not wish on your worst enemy. But you could never ever guess from any of the professional interactions. She is, as I said, poised, articulate, easy to work with. But now that I know, I can relate to the small things, I should have noticed before, but didn't. Yes, she was, and is,  bearing it all with a courage I can only marvel at.
People who go through difficulties and tragedies have a remarkably different view of the business world. They are far more tolerant. They are not easily tempted by greed, jealously, impatience and anger - vices that are in small or large measure, endemic in corporate life.  They take victory with equanimity and defeat with grace. They seem to have an altogether different view of the world - a more mature and wiser view, if I dare suggest.
Those of us who are crushed by petty office defeats or exhilarated by a pyrrhic promotion would do well to pause and reflect. Does any of this matter in the larger scheme of things ? Why have we let our lives, and even our very being, be defined by the necessary, but mundane, goings on in the office. In ten years time, or even five, would anybody care ? 
This post is a plea to view others we come into contact in the business world as human beings. There is a human heart beating with emotions, with hopes, with sorrows,  and with all those cauldron of feelings that define us as a race. That is not Employee No XX Or Supplier YY we are talking to. That's a member of the homo sapiens species. They may have had a great day. Maybe they are at the peak of joy. Or maybe they are troubled. Maybe there is sorrow being borne.  Whatever; it would do us good to try and understand. Maybe just be that little bit kinder.
Meanwhile, I am rooting for the lady to win. Win with a capital W. But then she defines "winning" differently. I should really be rooting for her to win in the truly important things in life, and "win" where , and how, she would want to.