How Would You Like Your Case – Raw or Cooked

29 04 2008
Yale University-School of Management has developed a new method for teaching in Business Schools. They informally call it the ‘Raw Case’ method. Raw cases are delivered online by creating a web site to make use of the multimedia capabilities of the Internet. Raw cases present a complex, often real world and almost real-time business situations
A raw case aggregates a lot of materials re[presenting  a variety of perspectives and culled from multiple data streams that can include original source documents such as 10-K filings and analyst reports, news media reports (print and broadcast), faculty-authored notes and background readings, scholarly articles, interview videos or transcripts with the parties involved, as well as other multimedia tools, such as Google maps. Raw cases consist of hundreds, even thousands, of “pages” of data. So, in addition to the lateral synthesis of many disparate piece of information, part of the student’s assignment is to determine the most efficient allocation of time and attention in order to answer assigned questions or perform the required analysis.
The coventional B-school cases of 15-20 pages are written with the objective of explaining a concept to the students. This is being referred to as a “Cooked” case.
I feel raw case  is a great innovation in management education. Real world problem solving for managers or  consultants is closer to a raw case than its cooked counterpart. Information overload is a reality which all need to cope with. Information does not always come in the written form and tables as is often neatly presented in the conventional management cases.
Explosion of other media beyond the print media is another reality which students need to cope with. The use of multimedia capabilities of the Net to deliver these “raw cases” is an excellent use of the medium.
An example of a raw case can be seen in this link.
– G. Mohan

An Enigma Called Siva

29 04 2008
NRI prowler, deal-maker exraordinaire, serial entrepreneur are labels that are often attached to  C. Sivasankaran or just Siva.
Strangely, there is not much in the  public domain about this maverick  busnessman. For someone, who runs a US$ 2 billion company called Sterling Infotech Group, there is hardly an interview of his in the business media.
Would you believe that Siva apparently started off as a  humble fabrication contractor at Madras Refineries ( now CPCL)?
However it was with  Sterling Computers that he first tasted success. Sterling was a business which he bought from Robert Amritraj ( Vijay Amrtiraj’s father). Sterling Computers gained a sizeable marketshare in late 80s when it sold Siva PCs at basement bargain prices.

Siva’s name sprung up again when he was involved in the Tamilnad Mercantile Bank (TMB) deal. In a complex deal involving Siva, the Nadar community and the Essar Group, Siva bought and sold significant stakes in TMB and profited greatly.

Siva hit the headlines again he secured cellular licences in a few states including Tamil Nadu and Delhi.  He sold the Delhi licence to Essar. He bought the RPG Cellular business and merged it with his company Aircel. Aircel achieved significant scale and success in the South and in 2006 he sold it off to Maxis Telecom for over US $ 1 billion. Aircel is, probably, the only instance of Siva building a sucessfull business from scratch. 
Cellphone services were not his only interest in telecom. He also started Dishnet in 1998, an Internet Service Provider based on the DSL technology. During the dotcom boo,  this business achieved some success. He sold it to a Tata group company, VSNL.
Siva and Ratan Tata probably came together for the first time during the Dishnet deal. Their friendship is now an open secret. Mr. Tata has publicly acknowledged that Siva is close to the group and that the latter had helped  the group to bring down telecom purchase costs significantly.
The Tata-Siva friendship has led to a few more deals. Siva bought 7 % stake in Tata Teleservices Ltd. He had sold a significant stake in Barista to Tata Coffee which he later bought it back and then sold it to Lavazza, an Italian chain.
Apart from the Tata Group, Siva seems to had a close realtionship with the Essar Group in the past. It is hard to fathom though  whether Siva and the Ruias are friends or adversaries now. The TMB and the Delhi cellphone licence deals are , of course,   public testimony to their relationship in the past.
Vijay Mallya is another person with whom he has had many a deal. In the 90s, Siva bought a 9 % stake in UB Group through open market purchases and there was even hint of a takeover, but  this never fructified. Later ,  news appeared that Siva had taken over Best and Crompton, a Chennai based engineering company belonging to Mr. Mallya. Whether Best and Crompton shares were traded for Siva’s UB Group stake, is not known.  
Siva surely has friends in political circles too. But, you will never see him sharing diases with any politician. Recently one newspaper published from Mumbai suggested that Siva has funded Kalaignar TV, a channel started by Tamilnadu  CM M. Karunanidhi.
Siva has expressed his interest in investing and entering media and entertainment business. He had made a statement that he would enter the regional TV business through strategic stakes in regional TV channels. Apart from a 15 % stake in Sahara One, nothing much is publicly known of his media business. 
After making a windfall profit though the sale of Aircel, Siva created an investment company called  Siva Ventures Limited. Through this firm he is entering new businesses, through a mix of organic and inorganic growrth strategies. He has acquired a Norwegian shipping company and a wind-farm company in Finland. He has also started greenfield plants to produce ethanol from corn in the USA.
Nothing much is known about the other people behind Siva except two of his advisers- Vijay Bhatkar and V Srinivasan. Looks like Siva is a lone ranger, without an organisation behind him.
While Chennai remains the headquarters of the Sterling Infotech Group, its businesses span the globe. Siva himself is an NRI, who has been changing his home ever so often. After living briefly in Dubai, he now lives in San Francisco.   
Is Siva an industrialist ? In many ways, not. He has definitely managed a few companies for few years, but you can hardly associate any industry with him. He is definitely not an institution builder or a top-notch manager.
Is Siva a value investor in the Warren Buffet mould ? Perhaps not.  A look at the TMB or UB Group stock deals would indicate that he is a value investor, but he hardly has a portfolio of high quality companies which he has nurtured over many years. He appears to be an opportunist, who smells deals through his network, rather than by analysing balance sheets.
Is Siva a stockmarket wizard ? Maybe yes, maybe no.  No doubt, he is a consummate deal maker. He holds on to his investments till he gets the target value. He held on to his Aircel business for a long time and did not yield to lesser offers. He also does not shy away from selling and buying stakes back, like Barista or TMB. However, he seems to be reluctant in taking any of his company public. Had he been  a stockmarket wizard, he would have understood that lot of value can be unlocked by taking companies public. is he afraid of the  transparency requirements and the scrutiny by shareholders and analysts?
Is Siva a venture capitalist who takes big risks in new technologies ? In some ways, yes, in many ways no. His investments in ISP, ethanol and wind energy would indicate he is interested in entering new technologies, but then  how do you explain his huge investment in shipping,  among the oldest  of old economy businesses?
Is Siva a dodgy businessman with a shady background ? I’m not sure. He has been in business for over 20 years, which is a fairly long period of time. It is diffcult to survive this long with a dubious track record for that long. His businesses are now in countries which have strong corporate governance rules. He has a friend in Mr Tata, whose sense of ethics and morals are unquestionable.
But, if everything is above board, why is Siva so secretive? ” “Behind every fortune there is a crime ” said Blazac once. Could that be true for  Siva as well?
– G. Mohan

Brand SRK : Milking It to the Max

24 04 2008



I am no fan of Shah Rukh Khan (SRK).  Though I happen to have seen most of his movies, I don’t really like him as an actor. He hams much too much . Chak De India and  Swades are the only exceptions.


Ironically, it is the IPL tamasha which has helped me to develop a grudging respect for SRK, the businessman. If you have been watching the matches and the media jamboree around them, you just can’t miss SRK and his high jinks.



First thing first, SRK didn’t cringe to spend top dollars to hire the best in the business for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). Be it the coach, the CEO, the physio, the trainer and , of course, the cricketers.



He then threw himself completely into the job. SRK’s inexhuastible energy and hunger for success are there for all to see.


SRK also knows how to use his charisma, tact and PR skills. He is exploiting them to the fullest in his attempt to take  Brand SRK beyond the silver screen  by five powerful forces  –  the small screen, the journalists, cricket, moolah and politics. The interesting thing is how  Brand SRK and the five forces are feeding into each other.



Now, let’s look  at  a few of  SRK’s clever moves.



SRK bought the franchisee for Kolkata though he has stonger ties with Delhi ( his birthplace) and  Mumbai (his workplace).He knew it well that if he could fill up Eden Gardens, he would hit the jackpot. The Eden Garden is the largest cricket stadium in the world, not just in India.



Mukesh Ambani had to pay huge sums for Hrithik Roshan’s star power. Vijay Mallya has to bring in cheerleaders from the US. G M  Rao too had to shell out a lot  for Akshay Kumar. SRK, on the other hand,  just had to pay himself!



He also brings along his groupies like Karan Johar, Arjun Rampal,  Manish Malhotra  et al to KKR matches,  adding to the glamour quotient. Last Sunday, SRK displayed his political clout by  getting his friends from the first family of India to make an appearance at the Eden Garden.



SRK gives away 1000 tickets free to Shah Rukh Khan Fan Club for every KKR match.


In the endorsement race too, KKR seems to be ahead of the rest. SRK has got  quite a few companies whose brands he endorses, to sponsor KKR.



Is there no stopping the SRK juggernaut?



I’m not sure. Brand SRK is running  a serious risk of wearing itself out.  Super celebrities are known to have killed their brand mystique  by stretching the brand  way too thin. 



As for me, I’m rooting for Kolkata Knight Riders, not because  of SRK.  In spite of him.


– G. Mohan.

Bona Fide Cause or Wilful Lapse

20 04 2008

Yesterday, The Economic Times reported a claim made by the General Manager of Bank of India (Gujarat Region) that hitherto the bank had only two defaulters on  their education loans extended to IIM-A students.


Why even two? It is the collateral value of the brand IIM-A that is at stake here. IIM- A Alumni Association, are you listening?


 – G. Mohan

Smelly Indians

18 04 2008
Deodorant is now the fastest growing FMCG  category in India. The market is growing at 40% as reported by the Economic Times the day before yesterday.
Looks like  a growing number of Indians are now rich enough and ‘cutivated’ enough  to undo the noisome side effects of eating spicy food and living in a hot and humid country.
But what is the core underlying driver of this demad – personal hygiene or personal grooming?
– G. Mohan

What’s in a Designation

18 04 2008

Mr. Bill Gates is the Chief Software Architect of Microsoft.


Mr. Narayana Murthy and Mr. Tarun Das are the Chief Mentors of Infosys and CII respectively.


Now I read Mr. Subroto Bagchi, has started calling himself Gardener of Mindtree Consulting.  What next? Mr. K. V. Kamath getting anointed as Vaultkeeper of ICICI Bank?


– G. Mohan.

Singh is King

18 04 2008

Mr. K.P. Singh and his company DLF are now all over the media. The media has suddenly found a new rich guy to cover ever since Mr. Singh got listed as the 8th richest billionaire in the world by Forbes. 


While allowing Mr. Singh his place in the sun, let us spend a few minutes in trying to understand how did he amass a net worth of $30 billion in just three decades.

Mr. Singh’s wealth comes from real estate, particularly the huge valuations that the DLF land banks enjoy. Real estate is a murky business. It is a kind of business where political, muscle (read crime) and money power are inexorably interwoven. Unless you are at the top of the game in all the three areas, it is hard to be a real estate tycoon. Although, there are no evidences ( at least, not yet proven) against Mr. Singh, there are legions of stories of how he  had acquired land using all the rules in the book “Saam – Daam – Dandh – Bhed” to snare away  land from the farmers  of an erstwhile Haryana village now home to glass-and-granaite megapolis called Gurgaon.


However, credit has to be given though where it is due. Mr. Singh has shown a wide range of relationship management skills. On the one hand, he could befriend  Haryanvi village sarpanches , sipping lassi  with them, sitting on their khatiyas.


On the other hand, Mr. Singh proved to be equally adept in winning over the trust and admiration of  the  then American deity of the corporate world – Mr. Jack Welch. Let’s not forget when Mr. Singh met

Mr. Welch first, the former had very little of his current day clout.


Not only, GE turned out to be the first major international client of DLF in Gurgaon, Welch proclaimed Singh as his friend and credited the latter for introducing GE to India (and vice-versa) in the former’s autobiography.


DLF had a huge IPO last year. DLF IPO had its fair share of problems, being deferred many times due to various reasons. DLF IPO went through but the share has been very volatile ever since. Its current share price is very close to the IPO issue price.


Mr. Singh is now trying hard to improve the market perception of the real estate business in general and DLF in particular. Yesterday, he was on CNBC talking to a cub reporter on the former’s private jet, talking up the DLF stock.


As if being the lead sponsor of the Indian Premier League isn’t enough of a promotion,

nowadays, Mr. Singh is found delivering convocation addresses at the Indian School of Business, 


G B Pant University (they even conferred him an honorary Doctorate!) and some such hallowed portals.  Such PR events doubtlessly do a lot of good to Mr. Singh’s image. But what does it do to the image of the academic worthies who run these prestigious institutions?


–  G. Mohan

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