Month: August 2004

Teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime

Teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime

Give a man a fish and he will eat for one day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. It sounds cliched, but for special children from the underprivileged strata of the society, nothing makes more sense. These children, who are victims of a double whammy of poverty and disability, often find themselves in a precarious position once they grow up. Even if they are fortunate enough to go to a special school, they have nowhere to go once they finish education. No one wants to employ them. And their families, who are poverty-stricken, often consider them cursed, and therefore neglect their needs.

The new vocational training centre at the TMC-run Jidd School for underprivileged special children, launched on Sunday August 15, 2004, is an effort to change this painful situation, at least for the students of Jidd School. Later, more such schools can follow the example.

This year, the Rotary International is celebrating its centennial year and this vocation centre project (VCP) is part of the celebrations, initiated and organised by the Rotary Club of Thane Hills. The project is named TRUST, which stands for Training and Rehabilitation of the Underprivileged Segment of Thane. The centre will train the children in six skills: File-making, screen-printing, creating and managing plant nurseries, and production of paper bags, phenyl, and detergents. The teachers are being trained first and then the first batch, comprising 20 students, will be trained. Architect Ravi Iyer, who had designed the beautiful garden at the Jidd School, has designed the training-centre room.

The President of the Rotary Club of Thane Hills, N D Joseph, said on the occasion, "The primary objective of project TRUST is to enable the disabled." The club has also requested TMC to provide a sheltered workshop, where the children can be employed to manufacture products on a large scale. Not only that, even parents of these children can learn these skills and the club will help them in marketing the products. In fact Mayor Sharda Raut, who was present at the launch, suggested that the TMC, which requires large number of files, could buy them from these children. The other prominent persons present in support of centre were Deputy Mayor Subhash Kale, and veteran Shiv Sena leaders Satish Pradhan and Madhukar Sarpotdar, who was the chief guest.

The Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills is doing its bit for the project by conducting baking classes for teachers and children. They will also provide them with the raw material needed for baking stuff. These children can then learn to bake cookies, cakes, biscuits and bread. Sarmishtha Choudhary from the Inner Wheel says, "Now, whenever there would be birthday celebrations or any occasion which requires baked cakes and cookies, we will buy from them."

It is indeed heartening to see that the special children from the underprivileged section are finally getting their fishing rod, as against only the fish. Soon they’ll go fishing for themselves. Now, that’s what we call an Independence Day gift – a gift of self reliance, a gift of freedom.

Building Dreams

Building Dreams

Lights, Sound, Camera, Action! At Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, these words resonate quite frequently as the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hritik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Aamir Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Govinda, Karishma Kapoor and Shilpa Shetty thrill the curious bystanders while shooting for various Bollywood flicks.

Hiranandani Gardens is without doubt the most outstanding privately developed housing complex in India. And if there’s one man who is to be applauded for this wonderful project, it is Niranjan Hiranandani, Managing Director of Hiranandani Constructions, the leading real estate developers of India. His rise to glory is quite similar to what we often see in films. He followed his dreams and they came true through sheer hard work coupled with a vision – to build the swankiest, most high-profile housing-cum-residential complex of Mumbai.

Today Niranjan Hiranandani is considered one of the most reputed names in the real estate business. As head of Hiranandani Constructions, he has made a name for himself by creating two top-of-the-line housing-cum-commercial projects – the Hiranandani Gardens in the suburb of Powai in Mumbai and the Hiranandani Estate at Thane, at the outskirts of Mumbai city.

Those who know him profess that Niranjan Hiranandani possesses a rare combination of superb entrepreneurial judgement, sound business acumen and an ability to dream big. Yet, not many know this real estate tycoon began his career as a Chartered Accountant, teaching at the Institute of Chartered Accountants. After that he also established and ran a textiles business for a few years. But it was his stride into the real estate business that earned him an unparalleled reputation and in the process made his family name one of the most high-profile surnames in the country.

Belonging to a family of doctors – his father, L N Hiranandani, was a leading ENT surgeon who was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his services – Niranjan Hiranandani along with his brother Surendra Hiranandani have transformed the very definition of "real estate developer" in India.

Before Hiranandani’s foray into reals estate, builders were  labelled as dubious characters with underworld connections. Niranjan remembers his earlier days when every time he sought an audience with a minister, the appointment was never jotted in the minister’s diary. "But today things have changed. From a position of being looked down upon (because you are a real estate developer) to where you are respected is the most significant change for us," he was quoted as saying. So much for bringing in respectability to an entire genre of businessmen!

Although extremely successful as a real estate developer, more recently Hiranandani has steered his group into other sectors like entertainment, education, retail and hospitality. The Group diversified into the retail segment in a big way, floating the Lakewood Malls Private Limited.

Apart from building high-quality structures, Niranjan Hiranandani is actively involved in championing the cause of the construction industry – he is attempting to bring about transparency and professionalism in the operations of the industry. According to Hiranandani, the government should implement the National Housing policy framed. This, according to him, would go a long way in boosting the prospects of the construction industry and improving the economy of the country.

His run up to success wasn’t smooth and  he encountered his share of problems. Yet, by sheer determination he has succeeded in accomplishing his goals. He has yet another dream – that of transforming Mumbai city into one of the best in the world. Knowing his wonderful knack of turning dreams into reality, we can say with conviction that given an opportunity he will most certainly make it happen. Now, if only the government listens!

Besides heading Hiranandani Group, Niranjan Hiranandani serves as the Chairman of the Housing and Public Works Committee of the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI); Director, HUDCO; Vice-Chairman, Maharashtra Chambers of Housing Industry; and co-Chairman of the Experts Committee on Urban Development of ASSOCHAM.

Remembering Martyrs

Remembering Martyrs

Thane’s Hanuman Vyayamshala, a sports association, has been in existence for more than 75 years. Every year since August 1943, the institute has been commemorating the Quit India Movement in honour of the freedom fighters.

63 years ago, in the month of August 1942, Mahatma Gandhi launched the "Quit India" Movement. He issued the famous "Do or Die" call from a large meeting ground in Mumbai, which is now called the August Kranti Maidan. Indians were to wage one last struggle to achieve independence, or die in that attempt. Although Gandhiji himself advocated non-violence, the Quit India movement was followed, by large-scale violence at railway stations, telegraph offices, government buildings, and other emblems and institutions of colonial rule.

Like every year, this year too, the past and present students and instructors of Hanuman Vyayamshala gathered in the hall on August 09, each carrying a candle and a few flowers. They draw a map of Thane with chalk, illuminate the outline with candles and fill the inside with flowers. They then paid a tribute to the martyrs and freedom fighters by remembering their sacrifices. Each year, a social activist or a freedom fighter is called upon to share his thoughts. This year, more than 50 students and former students attended the function as 85-year old Madhu Nashikkar, a freedom fighter who participated in the Quit India Movement, was invited to speak about the days of British rule in India. Nashikkar, whose grand daughter is the member of the sports club, is the president of Sane Guruji Katha Mala, an organisation that teaches underprivileged rural areas children who cannot afford to attend school. In the past, social activists and freedom fighters such as Mrinal Gore, Datta Tamhane, Sarlatai Kulkarni, Kaveritai Patil and many more have attended this commemoration event.

Occasions like these and the Independence Day, which is also celebrated at the Vyayamshala with vigour since 1947, serve to remind us that the freedom we enjoy today is a gift from those extraordinary individuals who endangered and even gave up their lives to rid our country of foreign rule. It may be a good time to commit to memory what Mahatma Gandhi preached and practised in his lifetime: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Special Celebration
19 years ago, on August 01, 1985, the underprivileged special children from Thane and surrounding areas got a gift from the Thane Municipal Corporation in the form of Jidd School. The uniqueness of Jidd School is that it primarily caters to the children of the lower socio-economic strata. When the then TMC commissioner Govind Swarup founded the school in 1985, it was meant only for physically impaired children. In August 2001, the school opened its doors to the mentally retarded children. In three years, the school’s mentally challenged section trains more students than its physically impaired section.

The school started on August 05, 1985 and this year, the school celebrated the day with a small function organised by Inner Wheel Club of Thane Hills. The students and teachers played many games and won prizes. There were stage performances too.  

The chief guest was Thane’s Mayor Sharada Raut. Incidentally, August 05 also happens to be Raut’s birthday. So there was a double cause for celebration. So happy was Raut sharing her joy with these special children that she declared, "Whether or not I remain the mayor of Thane, I will always celebrate my birthday with these children."   She cut her birthday cake amongst applause from the special children after the customary aarti and bouquet presentation. Snacks and cake was later distributed among the eager and excited children. Raut also praised Shyamashree Bhonsle, Principal of Jidd School for her dedication and efforts to run the school.

The School not only educates and trains the students, but also provides free food, transportation, healthcare and playing facilities. Then there is a computer room, a rehabilitation room and special garden for disabled children. Come August 15, and the school will get a new division – a pre-vocational centre. This new division will open up new vistas for the special children. We’ll fill you on this new centre next week, after it will be formally inaugurated tomorrow.

Floral delight

Floral delight

A rangoli is a colourful design displayed as a sign of welcoming the guests. Although Maharashtrian in origin, Rangoli is practiced all over India. The term Rangoli is derived from ‘Rang’ (colour) and avalli (a row of colours), and is usually made out of coloured rice powder. But in Thane, people are talking about a unique kind rangoli – one that is made not out of rice powder, but a variety of flowers.

The floral-rangoli is a practice that was started in August 1999, by the Marathe Family, which runs the Y V Marathe Jewellers, one of the oldest jewellery showrooms of Thane. Lighting the diya (a small lamp of flames) is a popular practice among Indians. The glowing diya is held sacred in Indian culture. So when, the Marathes renovated their showroom situated near Kopaneshwar Mandir, the family found themselves in a dilemma. Shantanu Marathe, one of the proprietors, says, "The practice of lighting the diya everyday was important. Yet, the black fumes emanating from the flames were harmful to gold and other jewellery displayed in the showroom. We wanted to preserve the culture and at the same time, we were worried about damage to our expensive jewellery". Soon the family came up with an innovative solution to preserve the cultural significance of the Diya. Instead of lighting up the Diya, they decided to decorate the flame holder with a rangoli of flowers.

The floral-rangoli quickly became popular among the showroom patrons and visitors.   "The arrangement of flowers is simply beautiful. What’s more, the rangoli designs are never repeated," says Shweta Phadke, one of Y V Marathe’s regular customers, who seems visibly in awe of the floral-rangoli. Indeed, the rangoli design has not been repeated even once, since it began in August 1999, the only exceptions being August 15 and January 26 of every year, when the National Flag is created out of flowers.

The three people in charge of creating this rangoli are Ram Jadhav, Abhijit Patil and Krishna Advilkar. Every morning, one of them spends about half an hour to create the designs. They use Marigold, Aster, Rose, Lotus, Lily, Carnations and other seasonal flowers. "We always use fresh flowers, even if the flowers from the previous day’s arrangement are still fresh-looking; after all, it’s like a prayer to us," says Jadhav. They enjoy their routine of arranging the flowers and are thrilled when people appreciate their art. There have been many instances of visitors inquiring about the arrangement and also inviting them to demonstrate the art.

So how do you they manage to keep the designs from repeating day after day? "The inspiration is magical and inexplicable. Some higher energy flows into us when we are creating the rangoli of flowers. That’s the only explanation," says Jadhav. Now we know why the rangolis are so beautiful. God’s creations can’t be otherwise.

Anti-control freak

Anti-control freak

Maverick Ricardo Semler has been called the anti-control freak and the Mahatma Gandhi of the business world among others. The President of Semco S/A, Brazil, which is better known as the world’s most unusual workplace, was in Mumbai for an exclusive seminar last month, which was attended by eminent individuals from the Indian industry. Manoj Khatri captures the Maverick’s revolutionary thoughts:

On official meetings
At Semco, attending meetings are voluntary. The employees are informed about agenda of the meeting in advance. It’s common to see people walking in and out of the meeting rooms even as the meeting is proceeding. If no one turns up, whatever is supposed to be under discussion must be a terrible idea.

Once I called for a meeting to discuss what I thought was a terrific idea. We were manufacturing heavy duty dishwashers, for restaurants and hotels. I thought there was a market for a miniature version of the dishwashers for domestic use. Absolutely no one turned up at the meeting. I sent another mail, assuming that somehow my earlier intimation did not reach the people. This time, one person came to tell me that no one thought my idea had any potential and that nothing would come of it. I could do nothing to convince my own workers about my idea. A few months later, another company launched a domestic dishwasher and I went around telling people, “See, I told you.” A couple of years later, that company went bankrupt and my workers and managers responded with, “See, we told you.”

On Growth
I don’t believe there is any correlation between growth and ultimate success. The biggest myth in the corporate world is that every business needs to keep growing to be successful. There’s no indication that companies that grow do any better than companies that don’t. The ultimate measure of a business success, I believe, is not how big it gets, but how long it survives.

On Planning
Business plans are wishful thinking. Whichever part of the world you go, a manager will always submit a plan which shows a two per cent to five per cent, and in rare circumstances, a ten per cent growth. Nobody ever says we are going to make a loss or we are going to be bought out or merged or closed! Yet, a quick comparison of companies listed at the NYSE shows that there is a survival rate of a mere nine per cent every fifty years. Did the other 91 per cent not plan for the future? The problem is that no one can ever plan too far into the future. If someone asks me, “where will you be in five years’ time?” I’ll say, “I haven’t the slightest idea.” At Semco we plan only for six months at a time. That’s because we have seen that in a 12-month budget, the first six months are usually predicted as bleak and people paint the last 6 months flowery!

On Intuition
IBM developed Deep Blue – a supercomputer that lost to Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov. Remember that Kasparov can evaluate two or three positions per second, while Deep Blue can handle 200 million. So if their chess-playing strategies were equally efficient, Kasparov would need 66 million seconds – more than two years – to examine those 200 million moves. So what does Kasparov have that Deep Blue does not? To me, the answer is intuition.

In the 90’s the Germans decided that they will monitor Soccer player performances, match venues and weather reports to close in on predictability of match reports. For one full year they researched every possible parameter of the game in order to predict the results of 13 top games of the season. Not one of their predictions came right. Meanwhile, a punter in UK got 12 out of the 13 match results right. The punter used intuition.

Let me give another example. Shell has a price prediction centre in The Hague. It employs dozens of researchers and millions worth of computers to do this. In conversation with the chief of this unit I found out that as per the research the present price per barrel of crude oil should be US$31. However the actual price prevailing was US$19 – a huge difference indeed. Incidentally, the chief maintains his own personal log book in which he had predicted the price to be US$21, which is fairly close to the actual value. When I asked him why he did not share this intuition with the Shell Board, he replied: “In a Corporation, I have the right to be wrong, but I have to be precisely wrong”

On innovation
In the year 1908 Henry Ford put up the first car production line. This car had a steel chassis, internal combustion engine, four tyres, seated four, travelled at 18 miles an hour and moved forward and backward. Ninety years and billions of dollars of research later, cars are still the same – they have a steel chassis, internal combustion engine, four tyres, seat four, in peak hour traffic, they travel less than at 18 miles an hour and move forward and backward.

Each time I attempt to remove my car from the parking spot, I wonder why automobile engineers have not invented something as simple as a sideways parking solution, in spite of having spent billions of dollars in research. Is it that difficult to implement? Imagine the time and effort it will save.

Let me give you another example. When in 1960, Gillette introduced the first twin-blade safety razor it was indeed an innovative product. However, in the 1990s, after spending US$ 608 million, six years of research by a team headed by two Nasa scientists, they come up with the next big innovation – they put a third blade between the other two!

Cars manufactured by the German giant Audi have five nuts per wheel. Four of these nuts can be opened and closed with the same wrench but the fifth nut is different for every car manufactured. God help you if you have a flat tyre and have misplaced your special wrench. Even if another Audi of the same model passes by, you cannot seek its help, as both wrenches are dissimilar. And they say, it’s personalisation.

On Recruitment
At Semco, employees make all decisions – they choose their leaders, set objectives and decide who they need and what they should be paid. When there’s a position, we post information about interviews on notice boards. All those who are interested show up and interview the prospect. The questions asked are usually not very normal.

Once we were looking to hire a CFO. The candidate who was finally selected was interviewed by as many as 37 different workers/colleagues on six or seven different occasions. So by the time the candidate was appointed, he was already familiar with most of his subordinates/ colleagues and vice versa and they’re already comfortable with each other. Now compare this with the traditional interview process where the only the top bosses and HR personnel meet the candidate one, two or a maximum of three times.

On trust and dishonesty
We cannot expect employees to be honest and sincere while we openly use corrupt practises to get large contracts and business accounts. Why would an employee adhere to the rules of honesty in which the company doesn’t believe?

Today, what generates effective power is information. And therefore when you share all information with your workers, corruption gently disappears. Transparency works wonders.

At Semco, there is little bureaucratic control beyond financial accountability; almost everything depends on peer pressure. We have a higher trust in human nature but we’re also convinced that peer control is fabulous as long as there is a common interest. If someone’s interested, the sort of corporate corruption you see elsewhere can never happen. It can only happen in places where people really don’t care, where they’re working nine-to-five and the chief executive knows he’s under the sword of Damocles so might as well make as much as he can. If he has that attitude, a lot of other people think the same way, so that system is doomed.

On giving up control
The reason why very few companies have emulated Semco is because it involves giving up the control by the people at the top. Typically, the attitude of the owners towards employees is, “You work harder so that I can buy my new Mercedes.”

I have been away from Semco for a month now – I am not carrying a notebook or mobile phone. I haven’t received one single email related to the business from Brazil. I have absolutely no control over the company. When I took over, we were pre-dominantly a manufacturing company. Today we are mostly into services. We’re into businesses that I don’t even begin to understand. There are people in the company I don’t like very much and there’s nothing I can do about it.

The fear of letting go is all that is needed. You may come up with many excuses to avoid giving up control but in the end, that is the only way you can ensure long term survival.

On dealing with resistance
When you put a frog in hot water, it will jump out. But put it in warm water and keep increasing the heat slowly and it will die without even knowing that it has.

It’s important to introduce changes slowly and allow people to get accustomed to new ways of doing things. When we first suggested the introduction of flexi-timing, the workers were extremely sceptical and for six months we faced resistance. Imagine, we are giving them more freedom and they still resist!

Net Assets

Net Assets

If there’s one old economy sector that has undergone a complete transformation completely in the past few years, it is without doubt the Banking Sector. Take online Banking. Where earlier, just to withdraw some cash you had to wait for what seemed like an eternity just to withdraw some cash, you can visit your net-banking website today, log on to your account using a secure gateway and accomplish a number of transactions online, minus the long queues! Online banking is akin to a revolution. It has been hailed by many as the second greatest boon of the Internet, after email. And not without reason, considering that the extent of flexibility, convenience, speed and control it offers to the consumers was unconceivable even a few years ago. Many feel that online banking is the way forward for both financial institutions and customers alike and consequently this method of money management is continually gaining popularity and credibility.

So what’s so great about online banking? Lots. For one, with Internet banking, you can do everything that you can do at a traditional brick-and-mortar branch, only more conveniently. For another, it has completely changed the way we carry out our banking transactions. Today you can pay bills, download up-to-the-last-minute statements, transfer funds, pay for stuff, and even apply for loans, all from your desktop at any time of the day (or night!).

If you transact with the traditional open-four-hours-a-day type of a bank, consider this: In the middle of the night, you get an urge to find out the status of a certain important cheque that you have issued/deposited, you have no option but to wait for the next morning to find out. But, online banking is accessible 24/7. At time of the day, you have to simply log on to your bank account midnight and find out the status of that all-important cheque. Similarly, if you remember that you must pay your credit card bills just minutes before the due date expires, there is little you can do except for paying the penalty, unless you bank online and make that payment at 11.50 pm!

But in spite of these great benefits, there are many who are shy of banking in the web. The two major issues that prevent people from banking on the internet are security or safety concern and technology readiness.

How safe is online banking?
Before considering how secure online banking is, think about how secure your current payment methods are. If you write a check, use your credit card over the phone, carry it with you when you leave you your home, or use it at a restaurant, you have taken a financial risk much greater than online banking. With a check, the cashier, store managers, and check processing representative not only can get your name but also you bank account number. A credit card carries less risk but giving it over the phone to an unknown person, or to a waiter, who could easily copy down the information before returning it to you, also carries more risk then online banking. With online banking the information is not available to anyone but you and your bank, and online banks use passwords, encryption, and firewall security measures to protect your account. This is more security then you have when using traditional checks or credit cards.

Nevertheless, there are some risks associated with online banking too and it is better to be safe than sorry. Never store your online-banking account details and password in a place which can be accesses by someone. It’s advisable to store it in memory and keep changing the password occasionally. Also keep cryptic passwords, which are not easy to guess. For God’s sake, please do not store your birth date or anniversary or even your children’s birthdays as passwords. Try to have a combination of characters and numbers.

Worried about technology?
Many people are scared of using online banking because technology intimidates them or because they don’t want to learn new ways of doing old things. If you are one of them, I earnestly suggest that you spare some time and make a serious attempt to use this method of banking. Online banking helps you become more of a banker, running your accounts like a small business that you control every day. Once you get started, you’ll be hooked. Soon enough you’ll be checking your bank account as often as your e-mail. The Internet, and the technology that powers online banking, are both very user friendly. Try it – you will never have to worry about a bank holiday then.

How do I get an online banking account?
To utilise online banking services you need a PC with Internet access and either a bank account with a traditional bank that offers online banking, or an account with an Internet-only bank. Those interested in online banking should make enquiries with their usual bank. There are many useful resources online to help you do this and which provide a listing of links to many banks that offer online banking. You can then access the banks’ details and view information regarding the services that they offer and their terms and conditions for opening an account.