Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Selecting Stocks for Long Run - Value Investing

The markets have been languishing at sub 19k levels for some time now after a home run. Though timing the market is not something that is recommended, this could be a decent time to enter the market cautiously with a long term view in mind. The points I have mentioned below are primarily from my understanding of stock selection based on value investing methodologies espoused by Benjamin Graham & Warren Buffet. 
1.Use a free custom stock screener such as Capital 4 or Askkuber to filter stocks that meet certain criteria such as 
·         Price/Earnings ratio < 18
·         Price/Book ratio < 3
·         Return on Net Worth > 15%
·         3 Yr Earnings Growth > 15%
·         Debt/Equity ratio < 1

2. Once you get a list of companies which meet the above mentioned criteria , go to moneycontrol or any other such site and enter the company name to get details of the stock & company. Go to Co financial section and then to Ratios. Check the EPS ( Earnings per share) for the company for the past 5 yrs.Is it consistent and showing an upward growth ?

For example :


Most of the companies get eliminated in the second stage itself :- ) For those that survive , move onto to step 3.

3. If you can analyse whether the company has a strategic advantage compared to its peers and/or has high entry barriers which might desist competition or delay new players from coming into the market and eating up the market share , fine. Shortlist those companies. 

4. Use an earnings growth formula/excel worksheet to predict earnings growth for the company 5 yrs down the line. One major factor is to ensure that you you use only a weighted Avg ROE for 5 to 10 yrs and also use only a historic PE in order to calculate future value of the share price. If and only if the compounded growth rate of value for the stock is > the cost of capital which is measured by Beta of the stock, should we consider further analysis.

5. If the investment in the stock is projected to give you sufficient returns, then the next step is to look at the price.Is the price of the stock high in relation to its fair value ? How do we determine the fair value of a stock ?
DCF or the Discounted Cash Flow is one of the best valuation methodologies used in order to determine the fair value of a stock. It discounts the future value of cash flows of a firm to its present value. Cash flow is a true measure of value of any firm in the long run.

6. Once we have calculated the fair value of a stock , we can compare it to the current market price at which the stock is selling. If there is adequate margin of safety which is more or less subjective based on your risk appetite , you can go ahead and invest in the stock. As per Benjamin Graham , the ideal margin of safety ( Difference between current market price of the stock and its fair value) should be in the range of 40-50%. Warren Buffet, the most famous disciple of Graham, however did not mind investing in stocks at a fair value provided he was confident about solid future earnings growth for the company. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bin There Done That

I’m no foreign policy expert.  But I read an argument by Scott Adams on his blog about the Paki folks being no better informed than the neighbors who lived right near Bin Laden’s compound at Abbottabad.  He says, If the neighbors  who lived right next to his house never knew about him then how could the military which had a base a mile away know about Bin Laden’s presence?

Now are we to assume that the Pakistani military and intelligentsia are no better than the small time farmers who lived next door to Bin Laden’s compound at Abbottabad?  With Ex President Musharraf now claiming that he used to jog along that route sometimes passing by right in front of the compound, I wonder if he ever went in for his morning coffee and cookies inside the compound.

If you have been reading the newspapers or listening to news, you would by now have got a rough jist of the fact that Pakistan has several power centers. The civilian/political and military establishments are poles apart and there is still some amount of distrust among them.  As Hilary Clinton mentioned in one of her interviews sometime back, there are some elements in Pakistan who may well be aware of Bin Laden’s whereabouts. There is every possibility that these elements could be a part of the all powerful Pakistani   military.

 I remember a nice financial anecdote by investment Guru Warren Buffet “  You only know who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out.” The tide has just gone out with the killing of Osama Bin Laden in the heart of Pakistan and we all know who is swimming naked now!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Are You a Non Vegetarian ?

The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten and 99 Other Thought Experiments , by Julian Baggini is one hell of an awesome book that I am reading as and when  my frame of mind permits. I’ve always believed that when you want to do something , your mind must be ready to accept that task which you are about to do. Time is a non issue. It’s the frame of mind that matters.

I loved the word, “ Thought experiments ”.  There is an excellent chapter with a bizarre title “The Pig That wants to be Eaten” , which is a take on vegetarianism Vs non vegetarianism.  It says, most people including non vegetarians have an issue with the way slaughter houses are run. What if animals are kept in the best possible conditions given a humane death ? There again, rises the issue of killing a living breathing being. The author goes on to tease our supposedly rational brain by asking us this strange question - What if that animal has no desire/feelings and is not even aware of its existence ? Would killing it prick our conscience then ?

Well, in that case, one could argue that human beings could be ‘reared’ in the same way for their organs to be harvested as and when the need arises from wealthy folks who can afford to do so. But would we do that ? I doubt.

Meat has become such an irresistible craving that no amount of power point presentations on plight of   poultry can prevent us from having that crunchy Zinger burger.  That being said, I would perhaps love to be reborn as a vegetarian in my next life. Perhaps : )

Self Development

Most of us, who land up a job soon after passing out from college, get completely immersed in the day to day affairs that our job demands. In fact, we get so busy with getting that task done, that we seldom look beyond. We are of the belief that if we stick to what the boss says and do our job well, growth would come automatically. When I mention the term growth, I am referring to it both at a personal and professional level.

From what I have come to understand, growth, both at a personal and professional level does not come about without self development. At work, we get to learn many things purely because of the systems and processes of which we are a part of. This is just the default way of learning which would happen if you are just earnest at work. You need to do much more than that to really grow.

Get yourself nominated for certifications, trainings in your organization. This would help you keep yourself abreast of the required knowledge in your domain. Check with your HR and supervisor as well on the training schedule in advance and convince them on why you should be nominated for the same.

Enroll for a course : Go enroll yourself for some short term course related your domain. Most universities and education institutions have correspondence courses on a wide variety of subjects with contact classes on weekends. Remember, learning is continuous. Management Development programs from prestigious institutes would also, surely be a very good option. The MDPs from IIMs may cost a bomb but the quality of faculty and teaching imparted would be the best.

Read Read Read: Always keep reading and learning about any area of interest to you.

Volunteer: Volunteer yourself for any activity on or off work site. Volunteering is something which could give you a sense of happiness which comes out by the act of giving. It also gives you experience. You see more. It helps you develop yourself into a mature person.

When you invest in learning and self development, it reflects on your character and personality. Those are the differentiating factors that people look for in you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Just Back from the Barber Shop

I am just back from a Barber Shop. Not 'Saloooooon' . Read Barber Shop. One of those places where Barbers (Not stylists) look at you with a glee in their eyes if you present yourself with an unruly mop of hair.  The look is akin to those that are found in the eyes of Sheep farmers who are about to shear the wool off their sheep.I was asked if I had come for ‘Hair Cutting ‘. A very precise description of what actually happens there at the barber shop. No further questions were asked or suggestions given. To hell with what the customer wants. We are here to cut hair.  And mind you, there is no dearth of customers waiting to have their haircut at this shop.

I have always had this strong belief in three businesses. Food of the retail variety, laundry and Barber Shops. I have never ever come across anybody not making money in either of these businesses unless they screwed it up from their end.  Among these three businesses, I find Barber shops the most promising. You can’t stop hair from growing can you? So a monthly haircut is a must for those who still have some hair left.

India currently has only two or three types or Barber Shops.  The first are the old local ones which have been around for two generations at the least. They still use the same old chairs and benches with duplicate after shave lotions and creams. The second variety would have air conditioning and better hygiene. The third one refers to the branded saloons such as Jawed Habib/Naturals etc which promise a better overall ambience as well in addition to personalized styling.

However, on the pricing front, there exists a huge gap between the second variety and third variety as described above. The second variety of shops roughly charge about Rs 60 to 100 bucks for a haircut whereas , the high end ones start at Rs 250 and may go up to Rs 500 or a thousand bucks. If some smart aleck could work out starting a chain of saloons which offer personalized styling at a reasonable price, I’m dead sure that it is going to be a HUGE success. Training the people makes all the difference. And that is going to be the key differentiator along with implementation.

It is my fervent wish to see a chain of Saloons who care more for our hair while its still there and charge a reasonable price for styling it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva

Shot this at about 5pm when the sunlight  had an orange/yellow hue. Real water flowing from top added an amazing effect to the serene look on this beautifully made sculpture of the Lord. Shot with a Canon Powershot S3 IS in manual mode. Don't remember the settings though. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Light & shade


Got tied up with work and have had little or no time to write. Thought i would post a few photos taken with my camera. Its a Canon Powershot S3 IS all of 6 megapixel. But as they say, Its not the gun , but the man behind the gun eh ?   Just kidding ; )

This photo was taken at Shilparamam which is an arts/crafts/cultural village in Hyderabad. Noticed a riot of colours and the warm evening light falling on these bags through the trees.Found it interesting enough. I am a natural light/ambient light person so indoor/table top photography is not for me with those flash guns and other razzmatazz.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Flickomania !

India ranks No: 1 as the world’s biggest shoplifters topping the Global Theft Barometer survey. A small percentage of these shoplifters could actually be suffering from Kleptomania.

I happened to witness an interesting incident at a big retail store near my house. While I was grudgingly awaiting my turn in the que for the billing to commence, I could hear , what appeared to be the beginning of an argument between the security guard at the store and a girl in her early twenties.  The girl was seen arguing with the guard while holding a small green plastic bottle(Mouth freshener/hair oil or whatever ).  It would hardly be worth about 35 or 40 bucks max. Since the conversation was in Telugu, I could sense my listening ability and rudimentary language skills being tested to the limit on account of my curiosity. From what I could figure out of the conversation, the girl was trying to give the lamest excuse I have ever heard in my life, that too for an obvious shoplifting case.  I heard her explaining in vain to the security guard that it was billing clerk’s mistake that he had not billed the item! Two of her friends who had accompanied her to the store kept looking in all directions except towards their friend, extremely embarrassed at the turn of events and the attention the whole event was generating at the store. She was let off after getting the item billed and paid for. It would be too preposterous for me to judge if she was a kleptomaniac or just a young girl who needed some severe reprimanding.

In another instance, a friend of mine had been to this famous mall in the city and was shopping at big clothing and accessories retail chain. She had noticed a well dressed couple with a cute kid at the store. A while later, she was aghast at seeing this lady coolly grabbing up a shawl   from the rack with one hand and thrusting it in her bag in a deft maneuver.  Her husband and child where oblivious to the whole thing and so were the others at the store. Before my friend could react, the lady just walked out of the store tagging her husband and child along. The shawl according to my friend could be worth not more than a few hundred bucks. Something which this lady could easily afford.  The question now is, was she a kleptomaniac?

I would however, like to place some bare facts in front of you to have an informed opinion or at least think about it.  Kleptomania is said to begin in ones teens or twenties. It refers to the irresistible urge to steal. The object being stolen would normally be of very small value which they could easily afford to buy otherwise. Kleptomania tends to occur more in women than men.  0.6% of the population could have this disorder according to studies.  Diagnosing the same is a challenge as no kleptomaniac would come forward and admit to stealing.  Once diagnosed, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one form of treatment to get rid of this disorder.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pissed Off Customer Oh God !

I have written my second article at IdeasMakeMarket.com on customer service.
Please do read it and post your comments.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Photography for Beginners

Most consumer cameras allow you to experiment in various modes which are in built into the camera. I am referring to the small letters printed on your camera dial such as P (Program), AUTO, TV (Shutter Priority),AV( Aperture Priority)M (Manual) etc. Unless you plan to move on step ahead and are particular about the output that you wish to have, I suggest you stick to the Auto mode, which is the default mode in your camera. This mode takes care of most situations in everyday photography.

While it may seem rather obvious and simple, your way of holding the camera is very important in getting a steady photo of your subject. This is particularly important in low light situations such as night photography where chances of getting a blurred photo are on the higher side even with the slightest movement of the camera.  Hold the camera close to your body with a firm grip. Hold your breath for a second while you click. Keep it steady, till you see the output/photo on your LCD screen. Always wear the camera strap unless it is absolutely necessary to hold the camera considerably away from your body.

There are photographers who love to use the flash creatively and then there are these hard core ambient natural light lovers who use minimal flash that too  if absolutely necessary. Since most consumer cameras come with smaller sensors, the ability to get quality pictures during night time without flash is less. Most small consumer cameras have a harsh flash which makes the photo look very artificial. Hence daylight would be the best time to try experimenting particularly with outdoor photography. In fact the best time would be early in the morning (7 am – 9:30-10 am) before the sun builds up that sweat on your forehead.  It’s less about the sweat and more about the fact that light coming from the sun would not be harsh at that point of time. It would be bright enough to light up your subjects optimally. 3pm to 5pm would also be ideal for the same reason. Between 5: 30pm and 7pm, you will find quick changes happening in the skyline. Just before sunset you will see hues of blue and warm yellow tones getting changed to light and then dark orange. It’s a treat for your eyes and the best time to get Silhouette’s as shown in the picture here.

Composition is where most people screw up. It’s one of the most important aspects in photography. Composition simply refers to the placement of your subjects within the frame. Putting your subject bang in the middle of the frame is the drabbest thing you can do to your photo. Make it off centre and see the difference. For a slightly sophisticated explanation read the ' Rule of thirds '.

Chinese netsIn this photo to the left, you can see concept of rule of thirds being implemented.Since the focus/primary subject is the sea with the boat and fishing nets, these should occupy 2/3rds of your frame.

Similarly in the photo towards your right here, since the setting sun in the horizon is the main subject, it has occupied 2/3rds of the frame thereby giving it a more dramatic effect. Try not to split your images horizontally  into two equal halves.

Always try to have a clear plain and simple background, avoid clutter and make your subject stand out. The viewer should not get confused about what the photographer is trying to capture. So always highlight your subject. You can diffuse clutter in the background by moving a bit away from your subject and zooming in appropriately thereby blurring the subject’s background.

That's it for now. I do not want to make the post any longer. Please feel free to write to me at manmadhanmidhun@gmail.com on any doubts/clarifications. Shall keep writing about this passion of mine.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Photography As a Hobby

Self Portrait - Circa 2007

Most people up to my generation including me had to grow up with the fact that photography was an expensive hobby. Something, which was the prerogative of either the well off people or the poor mavericks who never bothered where the money went. Others were of the opinion that you required both Michael Angelo’s brains and a rich uncle to support this hobby. Nothing could be far from the truth now.

Digital photography has created a revolution much like what has happened with the advent of the Personal Desktop Computer. You don’t even need to buy a camera to start experimenting with photography. With camera phones getting cheaper by the day, all you require is a thirst for seeking the right knowledge and the eagerness to learn.  If you have any creative talent be it in any stream, you will take to photography like fish to water.  For the rest of the folks out there who feel creatively challenged, do not worry. Any skill can be learnt. There are no born photographers.

As with any hobby, you could either start small or throw money to get expensive gear. My humble piece of advice would be: Don’t envision yourself with big telephoto lenses, camera bag slung on the shoulder with tripods to boot. Start small and simple. Most of you would be having a consumer camera boasting of at least 3 mega pixels with the latest ones hovering around 12 megapixels. They don’t mean much unless you plan to have a HUGE poster made out of your photograph. So cut the superiority complex if you have any on account of those extra megapixels : )

In the busy humdrum of daily life, we seldom get time to reflect upon ourselves and the environment around us. Photography clearly brings out the observation skills that all of us inherently posses but are too lazy to put into practice. It brings about our innate expressions, captures the mood we are in and is an excellent way to channelize the creativity within. For all the harried people out there who think Yoga is the only way out, Photography definitely helps in improving your patience levels.

So keep tuned in to this blog for some bare basic tips on getting started in photography in simple no nonsense jargon free lingo, that even a Dodo could understand. They’re extinct, so I’m not getting sued anyways.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Regaining Lost Credibility

To err is human said the English writer Alexander Pope (1668 – 1744). Let’s assume you have erred at your workplace thereby losing your credibility and trustworthiness in front of your subordinates, peers and supervisors. Is there any way to regain the lost credibility ?

While forgiving could be divine (as said by the same English writer), we need to get back on track and regain the trust. Here are a few thoughts on the same:

Have an open mind: The important thing is to have an open mind which accepts feedback and criticism. Accepting feedback about themselves is the toughest thing for most people. However, this is one aspect of your personality that will help you go a long way be it in your personal or professional life. Things happen. It’s perfectly ok and the right thing, to realize your mistake first, accept it from your end and be ready to deal with some flak initially.

Own up: Do not give excuses, justify or rationalize your mistakes regardless of circumstances. You must own up your mistakes even if the mistake has only been 1%. Owning up your errors is the first step towards regaining lost credibility. It means, you are ready to accept responsibility for your actions. Apologize and let others know how you feel about your actions.

Corrective Action: Have a corrective action plan in hand and make that double quick. Do not wait for others to get back to you on what you should be doing. Present your plan to them and let them know what concrete steps you are willing to take to correct or rectify the situation. Get them to feel that you are genuinely interested in ensuring that no such occurrences are repeated from your end.

Time Frame: A constructive plan needs have a reasonable time frame. Any plan which does not mention time frames/dates is worth less than the paper it is printed on. A plan with detailed dates, gives a sense of urgency and purpose towards your efforts. It shows that you are serious about completing the task and are willing to set deadlines for the same.

It’s important not to feel antagonistic about events which have led to you, loosing credibility at your workplace. Neither should you blame others for what has happened and nurse any unnecessary grudges. Focus 100% of your efforts and energy towards your action plan. Let your actions speak for you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Leadership and Credibility

One of the most important attributes of a leader would be credibility.  This is what every aspiring employee who wishes to lead needs to remember. Credibility automatically comes about from being genuine and committed towards your work, colleagues, company and most of all yourselves. You will come across as being credible if your actions are in tune with your words.

Often times, we come across people who toe a standard line and expect others to toe that same line without having any buy-in from the team. To top that, they seldom do what they have been espousing. When this happens, people around who are observing you, be it co-workers/ supervisors, would loose all credibility and trust in you.  It’s not necessary that you have to do something nefarious to loose credibility. Here is a small example: Imagine a team leader or a supervisor admonishing subordinates for coming late to work or to a meeting. Now, if the team leader/supervisor himself is a habitual late comer, then what is the message being conveyed to subordinates. He has already lost his credibility in the eyes of his subordinates. The negative impact that one faces on lost credibility, far outweigh any laurels received from outstanding achievements at work.

What happens when you loose credibility at work place?  Your co-workers/peers will stop asking you for any help. Nobody would want to seek help from a source which is not trustworthy. Your boss will stop depending on you for critical assignments. He may give them to a slightly lesser performing chap but who is more dependable. The work needs to be done after all. You will thus end up loosing those challenging opportunities and also easily be overlooked for a promotion or a hike.  Worst of all, when you loose credibility, you loose a bit of respect as well.

How can you regain lost credibility? Read on about that in my next post !

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Of French Cuisine and Current Day Presenters

I have had the oppurtunity to write for an upcoming business management blog run by Abhirup Bhattacharya who is a graduate in fashion technology from the prestigious NIFT. Please read on for an interesting taken on content Vs presentation at Ideas Make Market.com

Monday, February 14, 2011

Super star ! - So what ?

I recently read a blog on whether celebrity endorsements work, which made me ponder about it in context of Kerala as a market. Keralites have cared two hoots for celebrity endorsements ever since I could remember.  I don’t think I’ve heard anybody buying something just because a celebrity has been endorsing it.

Off hand I could recollect Mohanlal in Mohanlal’s Taste buds, Manappuram Finance ; Malabar Gold ( Hey, wait a minute, all the products start with an ‘M’ ). South Indian Bank starring Mammootty riding a bullet or a Harvey or whatever it is. Now, whoever wanted to buy curry powder or bank with South Indian bank  just because they are endorsed by Mohanlal & Mammootty ?

Do celebrity endorsements blindly help in top of the mind recall ? Hmm..do I think of Melam or Mohanlal’s Taste buds when I think of curry powder ? Nope, I guess Melam  or Eastern wins hands down any day. Go pick a celebrity chef( Yes, we do have some in Kerala as well ) for endorsing a curry powder. Who cares if the company belongs to Mohanlal himself . Is it mandatory that he should be there on the cover?  What about Mohanlal in the Pankajakasturi ad ? ( Something without an ‘M’ at last). Mohanlal’s  love for Ayurveda is well known, hence the endorsement for Pankajakasturi  gels in perfectly well. Does Mammootty walk in to south Indian Bank for cash deposits/withdrawals/customer service ? why on earth should I feel that I would be treated like him if I decide to bank with South Indian Bank ?

Now turn to the JoyAlukkas ad featuring Madhavan , the quintessential romantic heartthrob of the screen. You could easily connect with the ad and him in wanting to be The Man, all waiting to shower his lady love with that pendant regardless of your depleted bank balance.

Celebrity endorsements work perfectly fine as long as the image and expertise of the celebrity complement the product or brand.  It’s an advertisement for the product/brand after all and not of the celebrity.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Bystander Effect in Kerala

Barely a week before, Kerala witnessed the horrific death of Soumya ( 23) . She died as a result of injuries sustained when she jumped off or was pushed off the running train  by  her alleged tormentor ,a hardened criminal.

It is now amply clear from eyewitness accounts, that many people travelling in the next compartment had indeed heard Soumya’s pleas for help. But no one dared volunteer to raise an alarm or pull the chain to stop the train. A move , which could perhaps have saved Soumya’s life.The question, which has been going the rounds since then has been the insensitiveness of our society as a whole towards such incidents. Has  Kerala society become morally bankrupt ? While there can never be any excuse for people not intervening at the right time   in such cases, we need to understand the basic phenomenon or psyche that goes behind such inertia among people at crime scenes.

The bystander effect or Genovese Syndrome refers to the inability of individuals to offer any kind of help to the concerned victim. They become, as the name goes, mere bystanders.  In fact, the more the number of people available at the crime scene, the lesser the probability of help. Sickening, if you think of it.   This primarily occurs due to a ‘Diffusion of Responsibility’  among the people present. Each of them think that the other person could as well react.The fact that they are part of a group, makes them think that individual responsibility is diffused/shared. For example, in a firing squad, the members of the squad could be randomly issued a weapon having  a blank cartridge, thus allowing each of the members to believe that it must not have been them that fired the fatal shot.

When you are part of a larger group, the guilt is shared. The same individuals, had they been alone, or part of a very smaller group could have reacted in an entirely different and responsible manner.Awareness brings about the impetus needed for change in the attitude and behavior of individuals. Let us realize what is happening within ourselves. Let us not be a bystander and look the other way, the next time we come across something even remotely similar to what happened to Soumya.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Handover at Home

What’s the first thing you do before your wife or your folks leave home for a couple of days?   
There ….there…I can clearly see that glint in your eyes. The sheer joy which envelops any man about to get his freedom albeit for a few days.  You would rush to checkout the newspaper for those HBO special blockbusters which you could barely see thanks to the regional soaps and reality shows. No more informing (actually seeking permission) at home about being late for the day because of that surprise party thrown by one of your bachelor colleagues. The list could go on and on.

But I suggest you first prepare a Handover checklist instead. Duh? Handover at home?
Precisely. It helps maintain status quo after they return and to keep things on an even keel.

  • Itemized asset list of food inside the fridge.
  • What’s to be had when based on expiry dates known only to them. Some of the food could turn unrecognizable in a really short time span than you could ever imagine.
  • Geographic location of salt and pepper in the kitchen. YES, scrambled eggs. Dare to attempt attempt anything more on a grandiose scale ? 
  • Instructions to be given to the maid along with work quality benchmarks. Never should a question be raised about your supervisory skills. I mean, you already have a boss at office, don’t you? Having benchmarks make life easier. What get’s measured gets done.
  • Any pending bills solely managed by them.
  • Keys to locked Almirah’s if any.
  • Standard script for incoming land line calls asking where they have gone, when they would come etc.  (Better  maintain a notepad on all such calls for debriefing sessions when they are back)

 And don’t   leave this checklist lying around the house for your ceiling fan to blow it away under your carpet. Guard it with all you’re worth !

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Killing Me Softly

I always thought that Kerala was a decently big consumer market with higher per capita income compared to most states in India. And what of  literacy rates?   91% ,  Far higher than those of a few states in the US  and much higher than India’s average of 65% !

Why then must you and I put up with such horse manure- (civilized synonym for ‘shit’)?   

My apologies for not coming to the point straightaway. I’m referring to the appallingly dubbed tracks of national TV commercials in Malayalam which are forced upon us through most Malayalam channels. I was taught that  advertising was meant to entice you into buying something with their persuasive powers. Not prompt you to change channels with a feeling of disgust. Check out these commercials and ask yourself how you feel about it.

The vanish ad has everybody talking perfect Malayalam except for sreedevi. Now are we, mallus being the skeptic folks we are, supposed to believe this ?-  Sreedevi does not know Malayalam , hence the accent. Give us a break and spare us the agony. We would rather prefer having a Hindi version or asking some mallu babe to dub for Sreedevi.

The second ad is that of Karbonn mobiles which is a value player in the mobile phone segment in India. No arguments on the way the concept of dual sim has been highlighted in the funny ad. But when the same track is directly translated into Malayalam, it sucks big time.

Its high time that the ad world spares a thought for the poor Malayali who has to listen to this crap and feel excited enough to make a buying decision.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Agony of Saying NO to a Sales Call

 I don’t know if it’s just for me or for the others as well who are tilted towards the sales function. But I find it rather difficult to say a NO initially to a sales call that I get. I know what you are thinking now. It’s the sweet deceptive  female voice that does the trick eh? Trust me; I am never gender specific on this. (To my old friends – I’m a changed man now Okie??) Being in sales, I know exactly how much of an emotional roller coaster sales calls can be. Not to speak of the target pressure from supervisors. So, the least I can do as their prospect is to give them a fair hearing.

Sometimes, I do feel that I am wasting their productive time by listening to a sales pitch at the end of which I would probably deny any interest in buying. But I am not quite able to bring myself to say that heartless NO initially when the entire effort of the caller is focused towards getting that two minutes of time with me on explaining the product/service. Queer? Maybe a small minority of them consider me a sadist for wasting their time. But most callers end the call on a pleasant note with a feeling of having done their part.

I have tried my best never to abruptly end any sales call leaving the caller in a state of abyss.Nor have I spoken rudely to any caller ever since the day I qualified as a prospect for them. On the one odd rare occasion where some poorly trained caller has challenged my patience levels, I have had no choice but to forcibly end the conversation. This occurrence even though rare, fills me with remorse and guilt albeit only for a short while. In those very short moments I visualize, Managers of the narcissist variety shouting and scaring the living daylights of the hapless callers and a plethora of negative emotions enveloping the callers faces.
Sigh!... Being less imaginative would have its own advantages I guess.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Time to Change Your Sun Sign

Remember those cards, key chains and other such paraphernalia surrounding Zodiac signs which we used to get for Birthdays when we were kids? Well, that’s how I came to know that I was a Cancerian. Many Libra's, Virgos, Aries and others also came to know what they were or what they were supposed to be.

What you thought you were based on your sun sign is about to change with the advent of  Ophiuchus. . Go clean your tongue and try once again at pronouncing the name. Coz if Park Kunkle were to be believed, this Sun Sign is here to stay thanks to a change in the way the Earth is aligned today than it was in 3000 BC. To whose of you who are wondering “Park Who?”, he is a teacher at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College with a keen interest  in astronomy and is an active member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society. As a result of this discovery which Kunkle claims was known all this while to astronomers since 130 BC , the rest of the Signs have moved on to different dates.

You can check out the supposedly new dates here: The New Zodiac Dates

I can imagine the horror on the faces of people who take signs seriously and have believed in them all this while only to know that their Zodiac Signs are going to be different from now. Children when exposed to typical characteristics of each of the Star signs could even begin to model their behavior subconsciously along those lines.This means I will have to live with the fact that I am about to change from being ‘Emotional, Romantic, Compassionate and Caring’ to ‘Thirst for knowledge, May not have gift of gab but are usually good writers, appear mysterious or detached to others. Quite a change that is :- )

And what of permutation combinations of ‘Ideal matches’ which give some teenage couples a good excuse to think that they are made for each other.  What do those people do when they find out about the mismatch thanks to the Sign change? Well......ahem...........errr.....as the Fast track ad says: “Move on “.

Friday, January 21, 2011

So You Think You are Rational ?

Confused? No sweat. Not everybody is a Bertrand Russell or a Sigmund Freud.
Here is the fact of the matter - Instead of always arriving at the most logical or most rational decision , our mind intutively tends to arrive at an in-between consensus or solution referred to as ‘Bounded – rationality’  a term coined by noted psychologist Herbert Simon. Now don’t get psyched out by terminology. It just means that we exhibit some element of bias in reasoning and decision making but try our best at coming to a ‘good-enough’ decision.

What could be those factors which affect our supposedly rational decision making process?

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that we take in order to arrive at quick decisions. These shortcuts are prone to certain biases some of which are listed below.

1.Availability Heuristic – We tend to believe more of what is made available to us or what is pointed out to us repeatedly. A few stories in the front pages of major newspapers on farmer suicides provides the necessary public ammo and emotional impact to bully the government into writing off farm loans thereby bringing huge losses to the state exchequer. Here no effort is taken to study the actual situation which has brought about the unfortunate tragedy.

2.Representativeness Heuristic- Just because you predicted the last two cricket match outcomes correctly does not mean you will predict the third and fourth match outcomes correctly. Nevertheless, you would brim with confidence on your ability to do so base on the frequency of the past two predictions being correct.  The same goes for early successes attained in the stock markets by a beginner.

3.Anchoring and Adjusting Heuristic - Anchors are reference points to which our choices and decisions tend to deviate to after adjusting for minor changes.  This could be used when negotiating fares even with your autorickshaw driver. Anchors could be laid by either of the parties involved in a negotiation. But the person who initially offers the first value ( which will act as the anchor) stands to win as the outcome tends to focus on that particular value going forward in the negotiation.

4.Affect Heuristic – This is one of the most prominent biases which affect decision making. That emotions influence our reasoning is no brainer. It is precisely this bias which is used by marketers and advertising professionals to influence the purchasing power of customers. Why else would people prefer to have one soft drink over the other when both of them taste almost the same? (Eg:- Coke Vs Pepsi)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

20 serious people required !

I shudder to think what the quality of the training would be like at ‘Our leading multinational company’. This poster was found at a telephone booth (Yes, they still exist) near my house which happens to be a busy commercial area and a hub for wannabe immigrants to the US of A ! And this is not the only such banner or poster I have seen here.

A rudimentary search on Google with the keywords “English Training institutes in Hyderabad” throws up 5,63,000 results. I wonder what’s been taught at these so called training institutes which have mushroomed by the dozen .Some of the IT training institutes have even started off classes on their own in English and communication skills ( Soft skills) with the intent of having a diversified revenue stream. Talk about expanding value propositions……Hmmmm !

And now, here is a no nonsense primer to start your own Soft skills school without any VC funding.
  • Rent out a portion of a building or apartment and stuff ‘em with sparse second hand furniture.
  • Buy that suit before the season sale is over. The darker, the better. You will be perceived as a ‘serious’ teacher.
  • Christen a nice British name for your institute such as Atkins School of communication or Bailey. Should sound very upper crest.
  • Download a few power point slides on communication/Time management/Goal setting from the net and do remember to always change the fonts.
  • Tie up with one of those DTP guys for some beautifully laminated course completed certificates liberally laced with typical British insignia to give an international feel for the whole thing.
                               Voila  …. You are all Ready to Rock!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Top 5 ways to spend money and yet feel good about it

1.Re-skilling , learning and self development-  Now don’t you ever start to think that you’ve learnt it all. The moment you start resting on your retro academic laurels thinking there is nothing much to learn again, you are a dead man. Dead and gone…Poof ! Any HR manager worth his ‘Training Schedule’ will tell you that constant up gradation of skill sets is one way of ensuring you get noticed and stand a fair chance of getting promoted.  So one great way to spend money is to spend it on yourself by learning a new skill or by upgrading your existing skills. This in one way is more of an investment than spending when you think of it. Don’t worry too much about the ‘validity/acceptability’ of certificates. Its what you learnt and gained that matters most.

2.On experiences/travel – Life as they say is a series of experiences . The more varied and vivid, the more better it enriches life. It gives you confidence to face adversities in life. Travel does not have to be of the luxurious kind like taking off on a cruise ship.  The idea should be to live the moment and soak in the experience of your surroundings instead of spending your time in a hotel Suite. ( Please read 20 simple steps to the Perfect persuasive message if your wife insists on taking off on the cruise liner)

3.Buy a gift for a loved one-  Go buy something for  folks at home, spouse, children or even your best friend or teacher. They sure will appreciate the care that you have shown. The happiness which you get from their reactions far outweigh the money involved.

4.Go in person and donate to a charity near your home- The joy of giving is now no more a vague feeling.  Research has now proven beyond doubt that the joy that you get when donating your money or something of value to charity is more than what you get through monetary rewards.” "The same regions of the brain that are associated with the reward and the good feeling you have when you get something yourself, like money, were the same areas that were activated when you give. That surprised us," says Grafman. "And not only were the same areas involved, but in fact they were more activated when you give than when you receive."
Read it at sciencentral.com .

5.Buying and reading Books-  If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. Benjamin Franklin quote. So go buy a book of anything that interests you and start acquiring that knowledge which will enrich your life. After a Dog, I think Books are a mans best friends (Politically correct statement- err..this is for the unmarried dudes and those of you who don’t have girlfriends or boyfriends)

So how many of these five have you done? How many do you intend to do?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

One Differentiating Factor In Retail

Today, I found out the difference between two retail stores belonging to Indian retail giants. This is not something that is part and parcel of the overall culture at that store. But if one individual could make that difference , then the store stands to benefit from guaranteed repeat visits.

      Want to know what the crucial differentiating factor is between the stores ?

Yep...t'was just an innocent smile and a genuine "Are you doing fine sir ?" which tilted my favor towards this store. A simple smile could serve that purpose which needs to be genuine of course. You dont need a Phd in Psychology to discern a fake smile from a genuine one.  Its a subconscious process.

Its a pleasure being at a place where you feel treated with warmth and respect.Nobody wishes to see a grumpy looking billing clerk at the end of a long and tiring day. To those of you who think that billing clerks are also humans and they too have had a long and tiring day..heres my point: When you are in a service environment/industry , it is the duty of the supervisor/team lead/store in charge to ensure that the team is always pepped up and exhibiting high levels of energy at work. Only then can they show concern for customers.

If my choice towards this particular store is based on just one friendly face there, imagine the difference it would make to me as a customer if majority of the employees at the store behave in the same manner.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Introduction to Tax planning for new hires

Check out this simple Tax calculator to know how much you owe to the government.

Section 10;Section 16;Chapter VI A

Now that you know what the Govt is going to take away from you, you need to quickly plan how to go about investing this money.  I have listed three options were you do not need to invest any lump sum amount initially.
Assuming you have a tax liability of Rs 1, 00,000, you could invest a percentage of that money in any one or more of these three options.  All you need to do is to inform your HR about your planned investments for the accounting year in advance so that they can stop deducting  taxes from your salary. You can then either ask your employer to deduct your monthly contribution to EPF , proceed to invest via a  monthly Systematic investment plan (SIP) in NPS or open a PPF account and transfer money online. Please make the investment date one or two days after your regular salary credit dates to prevent all that cash vaporizing into thin air.

 I have not listed ELSS as an option above as the tax benefits on them are about to be phased off. I would give No: 1 priority to NPS which will help you build a retirement corpus and give you the extra equity kicker of 50%. Long term investments in the equity market will surely fetch you better returns than PPF or EPF.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why don’t new hires plan their taxes ?

"Abracadabra, thus we learn the more you create, the less you earn. The less you earn, the more you're given, the less you lead, the more you're driven, the more destroyed, the more they feed, the more you pay, the more they need, the more you earn, the less you keep, And now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to take, if the tax-collector hasn't got it before I wake."
-- Ogden Nash
Most new hires are completely immersed & concerned about the following: 

1. Did boss notice me staying late yesterday?
2. Are my slim fit trousers looking good on me today?
3. Will my weekly appraisal pass without having a perforated ear drum?

The last question on any newbie’s mind is “how do I plan my taxes/finances?” This issue arises primarily from the fact that they have gone from earning ZERO per month till last month to about 20 or 30 or 40k from the current month onwards.   Who cares if ‘somebody’ takes a few thousand bucks from their salary.When responsibilities are nil, commitments less and age on your side, people don’t bother about what happens to their hard earned money.  Some of them get into this cycle of thinking “No money to invest in lump sum so no tax investments. Since there are no tax investments , tax deductions happen from salary on a monthly basis.That’s enough ‘Gyan’ for the day.  We will assess your tax outflow in the upcoming blog.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What’s so Kochi about the Kochi IPL Team?

The title for this blog post might sound blasphemous for most folks out there in Kochi where I was born and brought up. But what is common between Kochi IPL team and Kochi besides  the name ? Hardly anything apparently. Lets check out the owners of the Kochi IPL team

Parinee Developers: Mumbai based Real Estate and construction company.

Anchor Earth: Anchor is one of the largest manufacturer in the world for electrical switches and accessories. They certainly have got nothing to do with Kerala or Kochi except for the fact that their products are well known and sold across this part of the country as well.

Rendezveous Sports World Pvt Ltd:  Err..ever heard of them before ?

Film Waves Combine - An investment company of Dubai based Mr. Harshad Mehta.

Anand Shyam Estates - Part of the Sur Gems group, with a global presence and primary interests in the diamond industry

Vivek Venugopal -  The only true blue Keralite in the whole gang.Scion of the Elite Group of industries, an FMCG player in the south Indian market, with leadership; also part of the Medimix group of hygiene products.

Well…what about the players ?  We managed to have one player Sreesanth, yes, one player out of 17 from Kochi/Kerala. Leaves me wondering what’s so Kochi about Team Kochi !