Saturday, May 26, 2012

Never say Never

Reading this article on Aditya Birla Group’s (ABG) decision to buy, or more importantly, Mr. Kishore Biyani’s decision to sell Pantaloons took me 6 years back in time when I was doing my MBA.

We had a course on M&A in the 2nd year and one of the major course evaluation components (50% weightage) of the course was a presentation which involved choosing a company, making a case for M&A - either it acquiring a company or it getting acquired - and then undertaking the valuation exercise. Now the faculty for the course was a very senior professional from the industry who, among other things, had the distinction of playing a pivotal role in the Hindustan Zinc acquisition by the Anil Agarwal led Vedanta Group. Needless to say, he was extremely well networked and hobnobbed with the who’s who of the industry. So, for our presentations, he decided to go the extra mile and give us contacts from our chosen companies. This was intended to help us get some management perspective on our chosen companies so that the analysis and presentations turned out better than the end product coming from a complete outsider’s understanding of the company.   

We decided to choose Pantaloons - an easily justifiable choice when one considers the year in question - 2006. Lehman Brothers was years away from collapsing and the India story was still going great guns. Research report after research report analysed the Great Indian mall dream, how footfalls were continuously increasing, how Indian consumers were increasingly visiting malls and how they were expected to shop (till they drop). It was hard to find a flaw in this reasoning - after all, that’s what you and I were doing and hopefully that’s what the entire country would be doing too. One could almost visualise the glee on the real estate and store owners’ faces.

Meanwhile, Reliance had entered into the retail sector and reams were being written between the Goliath Reliance and the David Pantaloons - how Pantaloons would continue to have the first mover advantage by dint of locking in real estate at cheap prices years before the property boom, Reliance’s deep pockets notwithstanding. ABG Group also soon entered the fray with pundits professing that the pie was big enough for more players. However, talks had already started of a possible sellout by Pantaloons to Reliance or a strategic alliance between the two. All in all, the retail industry was (and probably still is, opposition to FDI in retail notwithstanding) the ‘sunrise’ industry to be in. With this background and having done our homework on Pantaloons, our group prepared to call our contact at Pantaloons - a very senior non-promoter, who also had a sizeable stake in the company. Our brief was simple - among other things, we were supposed to ask our contact his views if the company in question was to be acquired and who he thought would be the best acquirer. The following conversation ensued after pleasantries had been exchanged and we had explained the purpose of the call

Us: Sir, if at all you had to sell Pantaloons, who would you want the buyer to be?
Mr. Investor: Sell?!? (Angrily) Are you out of your mind?!?
Us: (Oh ho… wrong question…we tried to pacify him): Err Sir, this is just a conjecture…as we explained you, this is a part of our project.
Mr. Investor: So what?!? Why would we ever sell Pantaloons? That day is never going to come. Don’t ever think that such a possibility will ever materialize
Us: (in full damage control mode): Err Sir, you are getting us all wrong. Pantaloons is a great company and we are sure the promoters are never going to sell out. But, this is just a view that we are seeking: if say Pantaloons were to merge (please note the complete absence of the word acquisition) with another entity, who do you think the other partner could be?
Mr. Investor: Look, we will never allow any company to acquire or even merge with Pantaloons. So your conjectures and assumptions are all balderdash.

The conversation went downhill from there and we quickly decided to call it a day and thanked the gentleman for sparing his valuable time. But we couldn’t help wonder at the strong sense of ownership he had with the company, inspite of being a non-promoter. So, one could only conjecture what Mr. Biyani views would be like :)

As it turned out, the Indian story went into a tailspin. People did come to malls as predicted, but who said anything about buying stuff. Footfalls just didn’t translate into sales. The same Pantaloons, now saddled with the burden of high debt it had used to expand, was frantically trying to find a way out. Eventually, Mr. Biyani chose to give a controlling stake to the Aditya Birla Group. This incident only reaffirmed something that I have come around to believing - in business, politics and life in general, never say never.

Just how Mr. Kumar Mangalam Birla convinced Mr. Biyani is again a nice lesson in people management.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

BLUE Letter Day !

24th December 2009. Still remember the evening – Sri Lanka batting 1st at Edens, had scored 315 and India lost Sehwag and Sachin in quick succession...what I managed to witness after this was historic...Gambhir and Kohli fought back and us probably a first glimpse of the team which was geared to fight till the end, which could win matches without the explosive Sehwag and the God Sachin...

Cut to 2011...India meeting SL in finals yet again, only this time, it was the final frontier – the World Cup...The sequence to the finals for India – beating Australia in quarters and Pakistan in semis. 1st thoughts – a sense of déjà vu. In 1996, India beat Pakistan (in quarters though) and then got a thrashing at Edens in the hands of Lankans. Let the ending be different this time was all I could think of...

Come back to today's game and again, the similarities with the 1996 World Cup surprise you...India fielding 1st (though Sanga won the that’s a different twist :) ). An awesome spell from Zaheer (the demons of 2003 had finally been laid to rest, forever) and super fielding from India meant Lankans were kept on a tight leash and scalping 2 early key wickets was enough to bring smiles all around. 1996 – Jayasuriya & Kaluwitharna (I think), out in 1st over and Edens had erupted. What followed next from Aravinda D Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga was akin to what Sanga and Jayawardene managed today – stitching together a partnership effortlessly. SL managed 264 in 1996 semifinals. Today, they added 10 more. Last time also India lost wickets in quick succession with Sachin fighting a lonely battle. That’s where the similarities end...

Chasing 270+ against a quality opposition as the SL is never easy and when we are talking out the WC final, one can safely add 20 more runs to the total just on account of the mental pressure...In the game versus Pakistan, Sehwag took the sting out of the famed Pakistan attack by taking Umar Gul to the cleaners. Such was his dominance that Gul never really got back his rhythm back in that match. That’s Sehwag for you. And that was exactly what was needed from him today. But that was not meant to be...Malinga produced a blinder spell and Sachin soon joined Sehwag in the dressing room...what happened next was a 24th December...Virat and Gauti came together yet again...exactly like last time, no clamour to hit the big ones...collecting singles and keeping the scoreboard ticking was what was needed and eventually materialized...then Kohli departed to a good catch by Dilshan and in walked Dhoni...criticized throughout the tournament for his batting skills or the lack of it, he had a point to prove today and boy, how he proved it...the sound of his bat connecting the ball was pure music and it was a delight to watch him play like his old self, while Gambhir consolidated at the other end. This was the perfect time for India to demonstrate how strong it’s famed batting line-up is and what a perfect demonstration at the biggest platform of all!

The best bit – Dhoni in the post match presentation saying he was sure to be asked the following questions:
- Why was Sreesanth chosen?
- Why was Ashwin not chosen?
- Why wasn’t Yuvraj, the in-form batsman, sent in at No. 5 once Kohli got out

Had only heard and seen bits of 1983 exploits, but having witnessed history live on TV is a different feeling all together. The tension, excitement, goosebumps...Kohli choosing to remain standing reminded how Srikkanth was forced to remain standing the day Kapil scored 175 at Turnbridge! Way to goTeam India for bringing back the self belief and the smiles :) The entire nation BLED BLUE tonight !!! Aha World the feeling of that...Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka…what the heck, the entire world, take a bow :)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Great Indian Wedding

I was busy making the invite list for Didi’s wedding... given that it was the first wedding in our family in a long time, missing out any one’s name either by choice or by mistake would be nothing short of committing hara kiri...

Mayank, the bacha of the family, who had been watching me sit with all family members for their list of guests one by one, came to me one fine day with an extremely pained look on his face & said ‘When are you going to sit with me for my list of guests’?!?

Amused, I apologized to him for my grave oversight and asked him to rattle off the names right away to make amends...and so he started :

Mayank : 1st name : Shubham.
Me : how many guests?
Mayank : 3...shubham, his papa and his mamma
Me : ok, next?
Mayank : wait... make that 4 guests from Shubham’s family...he has a 2 month old baby brother. Even he will come for the wedding na...

The rest of the family members by then had given up all semblance of working and were hopelessly trying to eavesdrop into our conversation...

Mayank : 2nd name : Keshav
Me : Ok...How many guests?
Mayank : 7... err make that 10
Me : 10 !!! who all?
Mayank : Keshav, his parents; Jatin his parents. Shlok with his parents and Pranav
Mom (at this point in time, just couldn't stop herself from intervening) : Who is Pranav? I am hearing his name for the 1st time. Pranav kiska beta hai?
Mayank : Mamma, Pranav Keshav ki mummy ka beta hai
All of us : to bol nahi sakta ki Pranav Keshav ka bhai hai?
Mayank : to Mamma hi to poochi ki Pranav kiska beta hai !

Just how do you argue with this logic :)

& the wedding preparations go on…

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chaotic Order

Chaos is

1. When your home is getting renovated and you postpone putting away your stuff in the new almirah till the last minute.

2. When suddenly the workers descend upon you and ask to remove your stuff so that they can take the remaining old furniture apart.

3. And because of lack of time, you have no choice but to dump your stuff in carton boxes. But you promise to throw away all unwanted things, stack all the important things neatly and immediately to avoid any repeat of Point 2. However, the only thing which is done immediately, is stacking up the boxes (rest assured, neatly) in the dumping room err, drawing room and adding to the chaos.

4. When your friend asks for the book that he had lent you months ago and your sister’s joining date at her B-school is in the middle of all this (the coming Friday to be precise). And she asks you for the Anti-virus CD to install it in her laptop.

5. And you realize with horror that the CD and the book is in one of the umpteen boxes which you still haven’t touched.

But, Order within the Chaos is...

When in the first box you open, you not only find the Anti-Virus CD with the serial numbers, but most importantly, also get the book to return to your friend! I hope I survive this renovation to write a post on this some day :(

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dogged Down

Not that I dislike animals, but they look good to me only from a distance (the more the distance, the better it is). I just can’t bring myself to cuddle them or play with them. With good authority, I can also say that this feeling is entirely mutual. This is especially true when it comes to dogs. We both love to hate each other. But it wasn’t always like this. I was happy to ignore them so long they also ignored me and life went on. The following instances have however made me a pucca dog hater (ok...the hutch pug is one exception, but only on TV mind you!)

Tail err... Tale 1
We were almost nearing the end of Trim 6 at SP, placements were over and everyone was just waiting for the dreaded Red Book exams to get over to do some Bharat Darshan before settling in the monotony of a job. 5 of us decided to explore Goa and off we went on a shoe string trip for 3 days. All was ok until we decided to take a walk on the Anjuna beach. Ramya, Kishore (Ramya’s then fiancée, and now husband), and I were enjoying the beautiful sunset. We were just walking back to our scooties when we saw a dog running towards us and barking furiously. I just started shouting and running. Yes, I know I broke a cardinal rule by running, but please try following this dumb rule when a dog is running behind you! Poor Ramya and Kishore tried to help, but I was deaf to all reasoning :) So now, I was running like mad to save my life (it did seem quite serious!) with the dog giving me a good chase. Suddenly I tripped and fell down. Arrgh, this is the end I thought. The dog came very close to me, then perhaps decided it wasn’t chivalrous to attack an injured adversary and moved on. I was shaking till we reached our apartment. This incident started and cemented the dislike.

Tale 2
Cut to Mumbai now where I was working after SP and staying with Richa and Mansi. While, Mansi is the fearless one amongst us when it comes to dogs, there can a very close competition between Richa and me as to who is more scared of these 4 legged creatures. But there is a slight difference...while I shout and run at the first instance of a barking close by, Richa just grabs hold of whoever is in front of her. So, more often than not, it fell upon Mansi to rescue us :) Infact, Nehal, another friend, used to wait till we entered our building whenever she came to drop us home! This incident happened when Mansi was out of town and Nehal was also not around. Richa and I were walking back home after dinner. There was a guy who was walking ahead of us and talking on his phone. Suddenly, we heard a couple of dogs barking. With our protectors not around, we did the next best thing: I started shouting and running and Richa grabbed the shoulder of the guy in front of us. The poor guy was shaken out of his wits and I can only imagine the reaction of onlookers (thank God there weren’t many, as it was about 10:30 pm)!

Tale 3
This incident, which occurred last week, actually prompted me to write this post. I was back to working in Cal, with Richa and Mansi also having shifted to Delhi. Now, Salt Lake, the area I live in, has lots of dogs. But for the last 1.5 years, we had managed to follow an ignore-each other policy, or so I thought. I was walking back home after office and was talking to Mansi when I saw 4 dogs in front of me. I narrated the situation to Mansi who told me to calm down and keep walking. But there is a slight problem of her giving advice sitting 2000 kms away and then, the inevitable happened. Barking, shouting and running, in that order. I ran to the nearest house and tried to open the gate, but found it locked. I was almost about to climb up the gate when sanity prevailed in the dogs. A couple of passersby helped me negotiate that stretch after which I reached home.

And life moves on...until the next doggy encounter...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Baptism by fire

However sympathetic / scared / worried / concerned one might be when one hears or reads about any disaster, the reaction when any known person / location is involved, undergoes a complete transformation. I still get goose bumps whenever I think of the Mumbai terror attacks last year and this I attribute solely to me staying in Mumbai for 3 years. A similar experience unfolded today.

It all started with a phone call from my home about a fire in a Park Street building close to Flury’s (the famous confectionary) and Music World (the music store run by the RPG group). They were concerned about TCC, a training centre towards MBA entrance exams. Before I move further, something more about TCC is warranted.

This place is run by Mr. Sandip Sen and his wife Dr. Soma Sen, 2 of the best people I have had the privilege to know. I had taken admission in another famous coaching centre during my 3rd year, but it turned out to be total waste. Then some known acquaintance suggested TCC and my friend and I, though skeptical, went to have a chat with Sir. I was mentally counting the additional money outgo and how much I have to repay my Dad! The first impression was good enough for me to enroll again for the coaching, though some bit of skepticism still remained. Whatever doubt remained, was completely removed in the classes and interaction that ensued. At the end of the classes, I was no more scared of the topics and the basics in each subject were so thoroughly covered that I could only wish I had similar teachers during my school days. But apart from the teaching, what these 2 people taught was a lesson for lifetime. Notions about values, ethics, punctuality, commitment, and life in general will stay with me for the entire life. Sir & Ma'am taught by practicing instead of preaching and as they say, what you see is easiest to follow :) While everyone used to be shit scared of Sir and just froze whenever he addressed us, with Ma’am, it was completely opposite. Ma’am’s sarcasm spared no one and that included Sir :). Along with them, Maitree di, who is the centre manager, Bimal da and Kunal da who helped in administration, ensured that each of us was treated like family.

Coming back to the trail, as soon as I heard about the fire, I called up TCC. My worst fears were confirmed when I was unable to get through both the numbers. I then called up Maitree di on her cell phone. Thankfully she immediately picked up and sobbingly she told me that they have just managed to save themselves from the inferno. I asked her if everyone was fine and she told me that no one was hurt and they have somehow got out. Even in such a situation, courteous as always, she thanked me for calling her and enquiring about their safety!

Meanwhile, someone in office switched the channels to a Bengali news channel and we saw the horror unfolding before our eyes. I was shaken to the core and just thanked God that none of them were hurt. 2 hours later, I went to Park Street (2 min walking distance from my office) and saw the tragic aftermath. While smoke was still billowing out of the building, there were people frantically waiting for news of their loved ones. Lot of families had their homes in the sprawling Stephen Court which also housed more than 100 offices. A guy waiting on the pavement with his family was crying uncontrollably, while his family members tried to give him the strength and rallied around him. I noticed my dentist’s assistance (he also had a house and his chamber there) and enquired about him. She told me they all also managed to get out from the fire safely.

A little further, I finally spotted Kunal da. He told me their escape story: he noticed some smoke and rushed out to evacuate the others. The others rushed out leaving everything behind, but by the time they stepped out (TCC is on the 3rd floor) onto the landing, they saw the stairs were already on fire, thereby cutting their source of exit. They ran inside and luckily one of the windows that didn’t have any bars, was big enough for them to squeeze out. They squeezed themselves out of the window and then stepped on the space between the 2 AC boxes situated outside the window. They remained in that position for close to 2 hours till someone extended a ladder to them which they used to climb down to safety..

When I returned home, I got to hear more stories – some good like the family owing the popular Barbeque restaurant just across the road. As luck would have it, the entire family was out lunching, coincidentally, at Barbeque at that time and hence got saved. Their house though, suffered quite a bit of damage. But, who cares about material possessions when the entire family managed to avoid this tragedy. Some stories ended tragically like that of a family who managed to save everyone, except the grandmother, who got trapped in a room. Till late evening, there was no news of her.

When I read tomorrow’s newspapers, the stories will definitely sound and read differently. I just pray that no one is trapped and hope that loss to life is minimal.

Left to Right: Kunal da, Sir, Maitree di, Ma'am and the student. Pic courtesy: Sify

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kids Speak

After dilly dallying for a long time, my sis and I finally decided to catch Ishqiya on 14-Feb (ya ya the V-Day). So, to avoid the V-Day rush, even though the show was at 10 am, we got the tickets the day before. But sis woke up with a terrible pain in her ribs (doc later pinned it down to her recurring cough) and so the plan was shelved. My bro and I decided to go to the hall to sell off the tickets (small liberties, as the hall is 5 min away from my place)…As expected, the place was teeming with couples, who wouldn’t have given a damn if Wolfman was being played instead of Ishqiya. I spotted a young couple in the line for the tickets and approached them to sell my 2 tickets. The following conversation unfolded:

Me: Hi, I have 2 extra tickets for Ishqiya. 3rd last row. 80 Rs each. Would you 2 be interested?

Guy: which seats?

Me: C8, C9 (the centre seats, 3rd last row)

Guy: Mmm… let me check if the guy at the counter can exchange the seats. (he checks, turns out the exchange will depend on the empty seats)

Given the morose look he gave me, I asked him to buy his own tickets and started looking around for some other people willing to buy the tickets...

I soon spotted another guy who agreed to buy the 2 tickets... Happy to have sold off the tickets, I was on my way back when my bro (all of 10 years), asks me ‘Why didn’t the 1st guy buy the tickets from us? These were like the best seats..centre of the hall, 3rd last row, plus we weren’t even charging him extra!’.

I tried to diplomatically tell him that maybe the couple was looking for seats in the 2nd or the 1st row. My brother gave me the look which only kids can and then quipped: ‘Aahh now I get it… those people wanted the corner seats so they could watch the movie without any disturbance!’I sheepishly pretended to be completely absorbed in the poster of Karthik-calling-Karthik and moved on…