Caste System: Series-Perception & Fact (Part 1).

There is so much more to know and what we’re told is such a narrow, insignificant, dangerous and divisive interpretation. Why dangerous and divisive? Simply because when facts twisted around or misrepresented often enough, they tend to become a perception and if repeated often enough and goes unchallenged, becomes a convoluted version of the truth.

Today, I’m going to be speaking on the Varnas in Varna-Ashrama Dharma, or the so-called “Caste System”, which is controversial and drives passions into overdrive. I’d urge that you keep a open mind and not let preconceived notions or for that matter generalizations color your judgement.

I present this to you here, via my website, This will also be available in Video format on You Tube and via voice and video Podcast as well. The Spirituality and Beyond Podcast is available via all major Podcast channels such as Apple, Spotify, Breaker and Google.

Before I get right into the matter at hand, I’d like to tell you a little more about Spirituality and Beyond. It is a platform or rather forum, to share information, tips and means to adopt a wholesome and well balanced lifestyle, albeit with a background of spirituality. It is friends, well-wishers and seekers asking me questions about our Culture and our way of life – Sanatan Dharma that encouraged me to carve out time for such projects. Whereas I talk predominantly about Spirituality interspersed with my personal experiences, every once in a while I am driven and motivated to talk about topics such as the one today and I present them via special releases.

So, Varna-Ashrama Dharma is part of Sanatana Dharma, or what is commonly, but ignorantly called Hinduism. “Sanatan” is a balanced way of life and can be adopted by simple and practical steps and methods. The Varnas are but one part of our way of life. A transliteration of Varna is Class or Section, but for some reason this got re-labeled as the “Caste System”.

“Varna-Ashrama Dharma” is Sociology 101, representing the Social Order, but is based on Spiritual Values.

Balance in life and in general is everything, yet, it is probably the most difficult to achieve. The current social and professional fabric, does tend to detract people in general from leading a balanced life. To succeed and even play the game, it has become very necessary to maintain social pretenses and adopt modern social traits which are largely driven by the digital intrusion that is not just at your doorstep but, inside your home, at your fingertips via the mobility devices that you carry around everywhere we go. Not staying on top of digital does expose you to the risk of not being on top of things or then even expose you to the risk of becoming irrelevant. With this kind of pressure we tend to spend far too much time on Social Media to stay relevant and therefore it becomes difficult to remain rooted in our deep, rich culture and traditions. I’m sure the majority of us have experienced this, ie: spending too much time keeping up with Social Media as opposed to spending time to know more about who we are, where we came from, how we can lead effective lives or even something as simple as having real and meaningful relationships.

It is a prevalent, widespread belief overseas and even in modern day India, arising out of created perceptions, that what is labeled as the “Caste” System is bad and evil.


I propose (and I am going to be making a series of propositions, observations or for that matter, statements, that may rattle, fire up emotions that may not necessarily be positive. The first proposition is that vested interests have played a large role in providing seed to this line of thinking and to propagate and support such negative thought. I seek to debunk these misconceptions and with that, I come to the topic of controversy, The Varnas in Varna-Ashrama Dharma. I believe that it is essential to put this entire, debate and ill-founded belief to rest, because the misconceptions around the Caste System are steeped in ignorance, lack of authoritative knowledge and a lot of conjunctures.

What is this Caste System all about? What’s all the fuss about? Before I present to you what it really is, let’s talk about what you’d hear from the layperson. In all likelihood you will be told a rather simplistic and short narrative saying that it is about Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras and the definitions will most certainly be as follows, Brahmins are the Priestly Class, Kshatriyas the Ruling Class, Vaisyas the Trading Class and Shudras the Servant Class and that’s pretty much it!!!

There is so much more to know and what we’re told is such a narrow, insignificant, dangerous and divisive interpretation. Why dangerous and divisive? Simply because when facts twisted around or misrepresented often enough, they tend to become a perception and if repeated often enough and goes unchallenged, becomes a convoluted version of the truth. 
So that the right context is set and a well rounded explanation is provided, I’d like to examine this from various angles and therefore I will propose that we look at factors such as, Roles, Responsibilities, Qualities, Attitude and Economic sustainability.

What then is the basis of this Classification? Let’s tell it like it is. There are societies that classify people based on Birth and then there are Societies that classify on the basis of Roles, Duties, Qualifications, Qualities, Attitudes, Abilities and the means adopted to survive and earn a livelihood.

Not just that, I will lay foundations and pillars to support my propositions by relying on Scripture, History, Sociology, Genealogy, Biology and Geo-politics.

You will mostly read or hear about the pecking order commencing with the Brahmins and what I’d like to do is turn this thing around on its head. I’m going to speak about this in contrarian order, so I’m going to go with Shudra – Vaishya – Kshatriya – Brahmin. So sue me, I am not well known for treading the oft-trodden path.

What I also seek to do is draw various parallels from our day to day lives and even look at how this is prevalent in the corporate world, where, like anywhere else, there is always a pecking order.

So there you have it! If you’ve noticed, I’ve replaced Class as opposed to Caste, for in FACT they are nothing but a logical categorization of people into various Classes.

In the next Part in this series I will speak specifically about the classes. To continue reading and know more please click this link : Part 2.

Write in and tell me what you think about this! I can be reached at or you can even leave your comments here. 


So the “New Normal” is moving the BCP dials to a whole different level. Let’s call it BCP++. The first + standing for extending the BCP and the ++ is make BCP THE Modus Operandi, THE defacto standard, encompassing the whole business cycle, from Business Prospecting, to Prospect Conversion, to Marketing, Market Intelligence, Contract Negotiation to Signing, Execution – Development, Deployment, Post Production Support, moving Money around and Human Resources. All Virtual. From a business point of view, Out of Sight is Out of Mind so a Digital POP’s – Points of Presence is the ONLY way. Easier said than done as we’ve come to realise and as we’re continually realising, that sustainability of this whole WFH – Work From Home thingy isn’t exactly a walk in the park! But, its beginning to work, albeit fraught with challenges. We’re figuring it out as we go along. Solutions come from trying out different things and tweaking to make them fit the need of the hour. Business carries on “as usual” but using “unusual” approaches.

Perhaps the best insights come from personal experience. As this thing broke, I get a call from the CEO, early days, no complete shut down yet. We discuss precautions, sanitizier, surface contamination and such. Two weeks later we are compelled to decide on a total shut down of physical proximity.

Here’s how it all went down. People from the organization are out in the field, in different parts of the world, airports are shutting down, last flights out or in are announced, as are evac flights and that leads to a scramble to get people back home, ticket prices and hotel costs be damned. In parallel we are shutting down several offices, putting in place arrangements to continue work, calls, meetings, both internal and customer facing. Getting people to work outside the office, connect remotely, lock down devices, access development and test environments securely, hit us all at once. I run ops amongst other portfolios, so keeping all the balls in the air moving at full throttle, the initial thoughts were, woah!

I sleep over it and with the help of a some really amazing people, we were like, heck, we manage enterprise class implementations for so many customers remotely, isn't this just a case of taking what we do for customers and get those processes to work for us internally? We do this all the time to save customers and ourselves money and reduce the TCO of customers. Truth be told, we liteally just flipped the switch and voila, we were up and running, all thrusters firing at peak, all remote, all virtual. Sweet! The CXO team get onto calls twice a day, keep the morale of the troops, make sure there is no panic and execution does take a massive hit.

We just settled into the rhythym – BAU, equilibrium, status quo maintained. We’re a FinTech startup in the Digital Transformation space, so all apps and solutions are mission critical. Not being able to service our customers would have had a cascading impact. Our customers, banks and finaicial institutions, would not have been able to serve their customers. The really cool thing is this…..all our solutions are not merely COVID ready, but are solutions that not just serve purpose as the perfect BCP strategy, BUT outlive and indeed lead the charge to play in the “New Normal” space and give our customers’ that edge, that competitive advantage, not just to keep the lights on, but to grow despite mobility restrictions. And to think that they were conceptualized almost 4-5 years ago does us really proud! This is easily one of the best teams I’ve worked with, with very little need to direct. Almost the entire team, especially the Founder Members need little pushing, just some gentle (and sometimes aggressive) intervention, which enable us to focus of bringing in new business, that all important need for any company these days, especially startups.

My interactions with various teams, individuals, customers and others within our ecosystem and outside of it, give me an insight into their readiness and capability to deal with the situation. I’ve seen the skill, will and tenacity of both large and small organisations tested to the core and some still aren’t anywhere close to adapting to the “New Normal”. They’re the ones who were not thinking Digital in the first place.

So let’s talk about this “New Normal” and “BCP”, but first BCP.

Look at it this way. Almost everyone has some semblance of a BCP – Business Continuity Plan, even if its all theoretical and has never been tested like BCP is being tested now. In any case, conceptualizing and testing a BCP for an event of this magnitude is someting that armed forces do looking at doomsday scenarios, most organizations don’t. So net-net we did pretty good, all factors considered. BCP is intended for a particular time horizon and I seriously doubt (maybe a few) were designed to persist.

What is this “New Normal” anyway? Normal, for me, is walking up to someone and figuring it out. The new normal is not having the luxury to do that. It also means that the efforts spent to maintain even keel has grown exponentially. Let’s not even talk about growth right now, but that said certain business models, lines of business, products and services are brilliantly poised to capitalise on the situation. Sounds very opportunistic, but thats business, its all about being in the right place at the right time with the right solution. Opportunity.

So the “New Normal” is moving the BCP dials to a whole different level. Let’s call it BCP++. The first + standing for extending the BCP and the ++ is make BCP THE Modus Operandi, THE defacto standard, encompassing the whole business cycle, from Business Prospecting, to Prospect Conversion, to Marketing, Market Intelligence, Contract Negotiation to Signing, Execution - Development, Deployment, Post Production Support, moving Money around and Human Resources. All Virtual. From a business point of view, "Out of Sight is Out of Mind" so Digital POP's - Points of Presence is the ONLY way. Easier said than done, as we’ve come to realise and as we’re continually realising, that sustainability of this whole WFH - Work From Home thingy isn’t exactly a walk in the park! But, its beginning to work, albeit fraught with challenges. We're figuring it out as we go along. Solutions come from trying out different things and tweaking to make them fit the need of the hour. Business carries on "as usual" but using "unusual" approaches. 

The real impact however, is on people. How we act, react, communicate, lead our daily lives – work, home, family, friends, relationships, lesuire, fitness, hobbies, downtime, food habits, pray and just about everything we did before the “New Normal” became the norm. Regardless of where people are in the pecking order, we’ve all been affected and we could say, its a COVID infection of another kind, indirect yet having material bearing on behaviours.

Man is a social animal. (Not intending to do the female of the species any particular injustice), but I’m loathe to call the female of the species an animal….far too risky you see!

Remote working has several sides to it, too much proximity or then too little. Those living alone are feeling the impact of prolonged isolation and those living with family or friends or roomies, face the outcomes of being in each others faces over prolonged periods of time. We all need our space and thats a luxury few may have. Kids at home, pets at home, sounds of water running, cooking, cleaning, the doorbell ringing (something we’ve ordered online is getting delivered) are almost commonplace on calls and were all frowned upon, but more accepted these days. In many cases the WFH is an impediment to privacy, concentration and focus often extending working hours into the late nights or then early mornings before everyone is up and about. Everything demands scheduling, everything demands meticulous planning. The lines between personal life and work life have blurred, making it difficult to get that work-life balance right, yet we must to ensure that we last the course.

There are just so may sides to this!. On the one hand, you have the time and space to sit back and reflect, take up a long outstanding project of hobby, and on the other hand the spirit of spontaneity has taken a huge hit, as have collaboration, teamwork, networking, less formal channels of an exchange of ideas over a coffee, a meal or a drink at the local.

Prolonged work from home, isolation, the uncertainities of business, job insecurity (am I going to be axed next), worries about income continuity, concerns about seperated family and how they are impacted by community spread of the virus, have such a huge negative impact on people. Depression, irritation, mood swings, laziness, lack of discipline are all now manifest and are or at least will affect both professional and personal lives and threaten to reverse the initial euphoria of having the freedom to work from home.

Sure, we’ve moved everything to the ether. Video calls and a myriad of communication channels are the very backbone of the “New Normal”. It’s a mad melee, an urgent and all important need for people, businesses, governments, all manner of organisations and individuals to keep abreast, to exist and survive. No more gentle handholding, coaxing, cajoling, meeting over that drink, cup of coffee, meal, a game of golf or tennis. In person counselling, forget it. Sizing up people, opportunities, situations are a tad more challenging. Right?

Let’s touch upon comms via the ether. Dunno about you, but this the list of aps I ended up with for professional and pesonal reasons: Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Teams, Zoom, Hangouts, Telegram, Meet, Slack, Signal. Phew! Betcha my list is arguably the longest! There’s more, but I ran out of breath! Probably not a good thing to say “ran out of breath”, COVID you see? Each one of them just DEMANDS that they shall not be ignored.The biggest threat to moving out of traditional comms channels and opening up too many is having to exchange official documents and artifacts out of company domains. The other real menace is taking decisions and recording them via messenger apps and not documenting things via emails and other official channels of communication. Even worse is that all decisions taken via chat and messages and all artifacts are duly deposited into central repositories for reuse and easy retrieval. I operate on an “evidence on no trust basis” when it comes to work so for me, BIG RED FLAG this one.

Perhaps one of the most irksome things I encounter on a online meeting, is when I ask someone to pull up a document or spreadsheet using screen sharing and I get a response, “Sir, I’ve logged in using my phone!”. Its a friggin’ official call, at a pre-designated time, you should be on your laptop, why in the heck are you on your phone? I don’t say this, but that is what I’m thinking when this happens! Then there are real issues of call drops, network fluctuations and power failures. Not exactly fun“.

We were looking for collaborative tools that are suited to the times we live in and during evaluation I came across two really cool solutions, worth noteable mention. and Journyz is a startup and has this collaborative thing down pat, whereas is more established. One covers the collaborative aspects via gamification and employee engagement (so essential and central to People) whereas the other takes more of a Project Management approach.

On the other side of of too much or too little distance, coupled with comms via the ether, is a whole new paradigm! We are in the direct path of this digital onslaught. Webinars as opposed to seminars, which can be great, given that you don’t need to travel to attend. Then there are online gym instructors, fitness coaches, life coaches, self professed home chefs (self included), product promotions and what have you. No fault of theirs, but they are all online, we are all online, we’re all spamming, each craving and demanding attention, in your face, like it or not, interested or not. Just like I’m in your face right now! We can’t be seen or heard in person these days (in the traditional physical sense), so we do the next best thing, we take it all online. Heck, spamming has taken on a whole new meaning these days!

There is the good, the bad and the ugly side of online, of digital. On the one hand, all we need to do is sign up, or hit subscribe and we have access to a body of knowledge that we really didn't have time for before, but on the flip side, we have huge distracting forces, that threaten to diminish focus and can be very invasive the ugly side of which is manifest if we permit it to take over our lives completely.

The real trick is to get virtual to work for you, to discipline its ability to invade and take only what’s conducive to achieve the most essential things, work related efficiencies, social interaction that is necessary and new learning. Just get it to work for you!

In ending I will repeat what I ended the last article with, that this is the time for compassion, to be more sensitive to People, to their dilemas, to the limitations faced and wholeheartedly recognize that there are People out there, who are making a difference, contributing at times when its much more difficult, for without People, without You and Me and Everybody In-Between, we just won’t make it!

The Virtual Existence Conundrum: PT 2 – poison pill defence.

In the hostile takeover business there is this thing called The Poison Pill Defence, where the target company usually comes up with a plan to thwart the hostile takeover. Whats happening now is very similar, except this isn’t a corporate game, its become a simple matter of survival! So when the magnitude of this “thing” finally manifested, au naturalle, everyone cut back = Poison Pill Defence. Cut back spending on just about on every possible bogey on the radar.

Picking up from where I left off in Part 1, this piece is about the impact on Business. Though I initially thought to make this one about People, I reasoned that adversity affecting Businesses and the Economy in general, is the very source for the unprecedented angst, anxiety and uncertainity in the minds of people and therefore reversed the order of release (watch out for the People issues in Part 3 in this series).

That Economies are in dire straits is now a well established fact and its also clear that initial forecasts fell short of realities now emerging. India seems to be leading the charge, what with a 23% drop in GDP, Britain and France following closely and other leading countries in the double digits.

Let’s look at the recently published numbers and compare them to initial forecasts from back in March’20 or thereabouts. The World Bank forecast a contraction of 5.2 % for 2020, predicting a shrinking by 7% of advanced economies and emerging and developing economies shrinking by 2.5%. The latest Q2 numbers in the infographic below provide strong indication that the period end numbers will be far worse than the initial forecasts. There is some debate and discussion on how the published numbers should be interpreted, but whichever way one chooses to interpret, the situation is far worse than was earlier guaged.

Economies are all about the Green or whatever colour paper or plastic your currency notes are printed on. Printed? Think surface contamination! Now think, contactless, paperless. Think DIGITAL! A completely different paradigm. Interesting though, as Chris Skinner, an authority on FinTech and Digital opines, Digital is just 1 – 2% done and these estimates are Pre-Covid. Meaning what exactly? Simply this, that the need to accelerate digital has gone up by a factor of 10? 100?

Looking at the big names who have gone almost bust, we see that those having a strong digital presense are the ones who are weathering the storm (not the teacup variety) much better that others. Despite that this thrust for Digital is no longer something that can be relegated to a future date, decision making has slowed, budgets have been slashed, cashflows seem not to permit investments despite the clear need. And then there is the fact that Digital encompasses a relook and rethink from the ground up and that presents a challenge when you can’t get all in the same room at once.

And then we have China, putting out numbers that suggest that it is unaffected? Go figure! Whats more? There is a whistleblower virologist who claims that this virus is man made, that it was already spreading was a given and did naught to act in time and supressed the facts. If indeed this is the reality isn’t this nothing short of mass genocide and akin to war crimes?

Of course her claims are being disputed by all concerned parties (naturally), but Dr. Li-Meng Yan promised to release incontrovertial evidence. Let’s see how that pans out, but let’s keep in mind that China still posts numbers that are contrarian to the global decline in GDP! So what seems to have insulated China? Are the numbers even real?

It’s been one hairy ride thus far and there’s no saying how much longer this lasts. Think mutation, think community spread, think “we’re all going to get it” kinda magnitude or so they say. But hopefully we will all have developed immunity by the time it hits those who have not yet been affected.

In the hostile takeover business there is this thing called “The Poison Pill Defence”, where the target company usually comes up with a plan to thwart the hostile takeover. Whats happening now is very similar, except this isn’t a corporate game, its become a very matter of survival! So when the magnitude of this “thing” finally manifested, au naturalle, everyone cut back = Poison Pill Defence. Cut back spending on just about on every possible bogey on the radar.

What do the people upstairs do when faced with looming reversals? Business ain’t growing so increasing renevues is not a viable option, but cutting cost is. Typically the cost centre’s that go under the lamp are People Costs, Travel Costs, Real Estate, Benefits, Incentives, Variable Comp and carrying cost of inventories. Three main approaches? Either you look at the pecking order and start high (I’ve been at the receiving end of this in a past life and barely survived), or then you look at the bottom of the pyramid and lay off enmasse or then you do a bit of both. Travel costs went out the window anyway and did save up oodles of cash. Business continuity was maintained on the backbone of digital communication channels (look out for my article covering this all important lifeline).

Laying people off, salary freezes, salary deferments, pulling out of projects and such measures were frowned upon by many industry stalwarts (all well intended I’m sure) on every channel, social, professional, the tube, print and online. I however have a nagging question now and indeed had this nagging question then.

Most of the comments, opinions and the preaching from the pulpit kinda advise not to lay off etc came from as I said, industry stalwarts and perhaps they have the luxury to say these things. But what about smaller companies? Ones that do not have deep pockets, who have not had the opportunity to shore up cash and build contingency reserves? What about startups? If I’m not mistaken, startups don’t have much more than 3-6 months of a runway (depending on what stage they are in) AND now by the by there is this business downturn…. So many startups are in the quick app space, relying on downloads and mass market usage for their survival (and the potential of obscene valuations if the idea sells to the deep pockets). Don’t forget the statistic that 80% or so of startups fail and now this! Startups that were frugal, kept their cost base and ops costs minimalist will have longer runways and have so much more of a chance to weather this, but even they will look to be even more minimalist at times like this. Poison Pill Defence again.

Governments, Organizations, both big and small, as well as solely owned businesses are the ones generating employment. So isn’t it better to do the cost containment measures and ensure survival, albeit with a sustainable resource base, as opposed to letting the whole thing go Kaput? I mean how many companies or for that matter governments have pockets that deep, that they carry on as if nothing happened? Organizations can’t possibly raise funds nor increase revenue. Governments can’t rely on increasing tax revenue nor increase the tax rate. Banks can lend, as some banks are doing aggressively, but what about when its time to collect? What about the NPAs and delinquincy rates as incomes dwindle?

See the graphic from my previous post, where I’ve made an attempt to depict the domino effect, so I won’t go on about it here…

Will not “the greater common good” approach rule the roost? It’s war as I said in my earlier article, nary a bullet fired. Well maybe it was engineered as this whistleblower seems to suggest and if that’s the case then that is something completely different.

Chanakya Pandit (Circa 321–297 BCE), a renowned Brahmin (not a popular thing in India these days, to say you’re a Brahmin), thinker, philosopher, political genius (Author of Chanakya Niti), guru and kingmaker (seems I’m from his lineage – no jokes) asked Chandragupta Maurya (the King he made), What is the FIRST DUTY of a King? Everyone I ask, almost everyone, says things like, take care of his subjects, protect his subjects, create wealth, be just and so on. Hell no! That’s NOT it at all. The FIRST and FOREMOST duty of a King is to guard his throne. No throne, no subjects and no subjects means the King can’t do squat!

Similarly, Organisations need to survive, ie: they need to take care of themselves first, so therefore the cutbacks, layoffs and so on. In war, innocents fall by the wayside and we are in a war, innit? So either live to fight another day or then go out with a bang! There it is! Take your pick.

We want to sit safely in our comfortable homes, watching Netflix and Prime, ordering takeaway and yet we are sending Doctors, healthworkers and others who keep the lights on for us, our networks up and running, out into battle DAY IN AND DAY OUT? We want our farmers out in the fields sowing and harvesting while we don’t want to step out.

I have this really cose friend, a Doctor. She doesn’t have the CHOICE to stay safe. She’s been commandeered! If she wants to stay safe she looses her licence to practice. So you see the dilemma? Throw away years of hard work, experience, knowledge and a lot of cash invested in med school fees, or show up to save others! Simple choice, its BINARY. She’s no less than a hero or heroine, she’s an Avenger, no less, fighting Thanos. Doctors are being given targets I hear and in Mysore a Doctor committed suicide, alledgedly due to this.

Some of us? All we want is our Veggies and then there are others who still want their luxuries. We want to order online (Digital is great is it not?) from the saftey of our homes. We want people to show up for work so we can be serviced with no inconvenience. There is a real person at the end of the last mile. We need those people to save lives and treat patients, we need those people to produce our luxuries and conveniences, we need those people to fuel the food industry and we need people to deliver stuff to us safely. We can’t teleport stuff from the shop floor or for that matter the farm, to our homes and neither will our groceries and staples materialize before us, at least not yet!

  1. Lockdowns, both local and international as the numbers are now tellin’ us, created the first wave and entire industries Travel and Tourism, the Restaurant Business, the Airline Industry, were all hit.
  2. The next wave took out the supply chain, supplying to and feeding off those industries.
  3. The third wave set in when cash became scarce and the cascading impact of the cutbacks came into our homes compelling many to curb spending and only take care of essentials. That took out the fashion and glamour and so many such industries.
  4. The next BIG one is Real Estate, so when we figured that WFH and Remote Working is something that can be made to outlast temporary BCP Ops, Real Estate suddenly became a pariah. There you have it, another one bites the dust!

Not all businesses can be run remotely, nor can all services be rendered remotely, with some needing that physical contact, yet physical contact is taboo. This is further amplified when we’re taking about countries who still have a largely agrarian economic model and support structure purely based on cash for daily livelyhoods.

Of course the long term sustainability of 100% remote working, even if theoretically within the realm of possibility, remains to be seen, not just in terms of practicality, support and operational models, but also in terms of impact on people, families relationships. That’s the hidden impact not often forming part of the math (coming up in the next part).

The Global Economy cannot just shut down and even if COVID does not dissapate as quickly as we’d like or just disappear like a bad dream, businesses that did not die completely will pick thmselves up, morph, adapt and start working under a new set of rules, a new set of realities, albeit fraught with risks. Money needs to start flowing again, people need to work to earn and survive. Mouths need feeding, students need to continue learning.

As I said in Part 1, Business Models are rapidly polarizing depending how big the ship is….sooo much harder to get a BIG ship to turn around. Economic Models are changing, the way we do business is changing and in cases have already changed a while ago. The fundamentals may not have changed a lot but, everything around the fundamentals has changed and perhaps in some cases the fundamentals too! The old rules need a serious dose of refresh. Read more about this in an interesting article on Management Theories, here is the link:

Therefore we’re seeing lockdowns being lifted, curbs on travel are being relaxed and this is really the worst possible Catch 22. Damned if you do – Damned if you don’t! Poison Pill Defence once again. The numbers don’t lie. Harsh realities need to be faced, risks will need to be taken and we will all need to move on, stop living in fear, remain cautious and take every possible precaution, BUT STOP living in fear.

Guest lecture – Sept 2020

Delighted to address the Student Body, sharing my journey and experiences.

The Virtual Existence Conundrum – Part 1: Shall We Level-set?

From absolute lockdown to a gradual lifting of the lockdown, from closing offices and workplaces to gradually reopening offices and workplaces, from absolute mobility restrictions, closing of international and even local borders, mandatory and voluntary quarantine, Governments and Organizations have been challenged like never before and no matter what measures are contemplated, no matter what the narratives are and no matter what steps they take, they will nevery be truly appreciated.

Disclaimer: This is intended to be a series. I tend to be opinionated and make propositions, suggestions, half in jest and some not so much in jest. Therefore, proceed at your own risk! Hopefully at the end of the series I may have covered several pertinent aspects of what we as Humans are dealing with, what businesses are dealing with, what Governments are dealing with and that should just about cover the Social, Family, Personal, Economic & Financial impact of something unprecedented hitherto.

Let’s say we begin with the initial rehtoric when the Pandemic was recognized as one and reality began to set it. Essentially, popular opinions gravitated towards a series of abstractions driven by the usual sets of people. The naysayers, the yesayers, those in the know, those in denial (arguably the optimists), the optimists (myself included) and the ones that are usually swayed by popular opinion that suits their pshyche best.

  • The Virus is man made and originated in China at some reasearch or bio-weapons facility in Wuhan. Whatever, but we’re up the creek and no paddle.
  • The world has changed. Yay!!!
  • The Pandemic is a way to tell mankind that it has abused the planet and the planet is now healing. Right, we’re all stone deaf or soon will be.
  • The oceans, rivers, air are less polluted, say the very people who polluted them in the first place. Go figure!
  • People have adopted healthier lifestyles. Not much else to do in the first place, so no pat on the back here, but perhaps I should be kinder.
  • It will take us years to recover and be back to normal. We really have no way of knowing what that “normal” may end up as.
The Virus is man made: Not even getting into that despite my own convications on the subject and a lot in the public and not so public domains.

The World has changed: No extra points for that astute observation.

Note to Mankind - "You've abused Mother Nature": Note taken but will be ignored shortly after things ease up. You see, we have short memories and its always SEP - Sombody Elses Problem, what can I do anyway?

Less Pollution is a Fact: Reality IS less polluted, but ONLY because the smokestacks have stopped spewing temporarily, planes aren't really flying as much, cars arent out that much. So unless we expect to move all polluting means of transport and production to non-polluting ones immediately, its going to be BAU - Business As Usual right after. Alternatively we go back to animals moving us and things around (here come the PETA - Prevention of Cruelty To Animals activists). Let's go back to ships with sails, or take up Cycling to Work en masse (I did it for years in Bombay - 18 km each day each way), so I've done my bit and until this day don't own a car. So let's do snail mail, the bullock-cart, the horse-drawn carriage, the mule train, oxen and bulls to till fields (still widely prevalent in India) A rapid slowing down of trade, provision of services.

The ONLY thing that will actually be spared is this whole Digital thingy (deserving, demanding and crying out for a seperate chapter in this serices).

Healthier Lifestyles: Would that be because bars, clubs, pubs, restaurants and all our usual watering holes are shut? Is it a choice or is it just because we’re all sitting around with limited mobility and naught else to occupy our time? Sustainable? Theoretically - yes, Hopefully - BIG YES, Practically - I’m not so sure. What happened in Bombay, the day the lockdown was lifted? Thousands of people took to the Marine Drive Promenade. Social distancing be damned! So I can’t possibly be blamed for being a bit of a sceptic.
Wai, Wai, Wai or well, well, well (Turkish, influenced by a recently devoured Netflix series). We do have a rather interesting and intimidating set of dilemmas, so perhaps you get why Conundrum?

All said and done what we have at hand is a radically changed on-ground reality and a scratching of heads to figure out how the Digital will co-exist with the Physical going forward and the cognoscenti are calling it "Phygital". The ever expanding English language, you see.

People are figuring out what the long term impact of limited or no mobility will be, as are Organizations, Governments and NGO's.

Our very concept of growth is in question. Growth means expanding beyond borders and everyone is cosing ranks as we speak. Buy Made in USA, Make in India are but two inititives that threaten the Global Economy by encouraging local businesses.

The Pandemic has taken that a few steps further and now we have "Hyper-local", or buisness in the immediate hinterland. Maybe we should even look at good ole barter-trade once again.
The initial reactions, at least in my mind, was, “Storm in a Teacup”. Was I way off the mark! That was one bad prediction!

The initial numbers weren’t alarming and then it all came down like a pack of cards, the Domino chips fell, Italy and petty soon it was all over. India started slowly but in a couple of months, the spate and acceleration got scary as heck. That seems to be the state across the globe, with some countries seemingly locked in a downward spiral.

When this all began, I for one, never imagined that it would span these many months. I brushed it away and indeed underestimated the extent of the chaos Covid would end up causing. It took time to sink in. This was a full blown Pandemic of global proportions and the way it seems we haven’t really seen the bottom of the pit yet.


Reactions at organizations and by Governments, when the magnitude or real threat perceptions were borne out by the sheer numbers? Concern, mild panic, followed by disbelief, followed by acute panic, followed by seemingly draconian measures and all the troubles and woes that accompany such measures real and perceived.

In the absence of a cure or a vaccicine, Social Distancing seemed to be the only viable alternative. Let infected people stay put and not expose ones not infected and so it all began. Did it really help? Arguably yes, but with the whole Community Spread angle, I’m not so sure.

Heads – I Win Tails – You Loose

From absolute lockdown to a gradual lifting of the lockdown, from closing offices and workplaces to gradually reopening offices and workplaces, from absolute mobility restrictions, closing of international and even local borders, mandatory and voluntary quarantine, Governments and Organizations have been challenged like never before and no matter what measures are contemplated, no matter what the narratives are and no matter what steps they take, they will never be truly appreciated.

Healthcare is another area that’s been caught totally off balance! No healthcare system or processes were ever designed to deal with the kind of testing that’s needed, nor were they designed to quarantine the numbers needing it. Then there’s the whole vaccine issue. Speeding up trials yes, coming up with a vaccine that does the trick yes, but what about distribution and administering the vaccine? How about monitoring post vaccination? Surely a vaccine that’s thrown together and taken the fast-track route to administration with minimal clinical trials will need to be monitored closely? What about side effects. That’s another conundrum right there! A lot of questions and few answers.

Communication and tools used to communicate have suddenly come to the forefront like never before to overcome the setbacks on travel and

There has been no calamity quite like this, no challenge encountered like this, so there are no reference points or any precedents to follow. The wise old men can’t really add value by way of advise and its just trial and error.

How long should we lockdown for? How long is long or what is too short? At what point will be be choking the economy and affecting ability to earn a wage. What will be the impact on the general populace? No easy decisons, certainly no popular decisions. The “greater common good” despite being in the best interests of all, aren’t seen as such and the view tends to be very myopic.

Humans, by nature forget easily the good thats done and instead tend to focus on the measures taken, the ones that restrict freedoms of movement, speech and actions. Political considerations, profit and economic motivations of Governments and Organizations have an impact on their decisions. These decisions tend to be unpopular.

In my opinion, it is a big ask to expect people who at the bottom end of the food chain to think about the planet, when their very existence and that of their families are at stake. No bailout plan is quite sufficient to address this group of people. A bailout plan or support plan or stimulus package, whatever label we end up giving such plans, devoid of fundamental principles is tantamount to deficit financing and deficit financing at a global level is tantamount to disaster of epic proportions.

If we’re able to recall macroeconomics from when we were students back in the day? M1, M2, M3 and the concept of Money Supply? Pretty simple this equation, no rocket science here.

I would love to be proved wrong and all fronts, BUT am I holding my breath? Heck, the air is cleaner, why should I?

Speaking of predictions, I don’t seem to have seen people quote Nostradamous quartrains, as they often do whenever there is some sort of a calamity. Unless I’ve altogether missed any references to them on the usual channels.

The “New Normal” is such an understatement! Perhaps the Understatement of the century, almost like a falsehood along the lines of “The Earth is Flat” changing to “The Earth is Curved” to “Hell no, the Earth is Round”. A falsehood not by design, but restricted by what we can observe and experience and learn as we continue our battle against the virus. As we understand more about COVID and diseases in general, these falsehoods will be turned on their heads. Look at what we were told and what really happened. The “New Normal” deserves, demands and warrants special mention and therefore one piece in this series is dedicated to “The New Normal”.

But for now let’s deal with some falsehoods that were quickly turned on their heads and then look at some published facts.

  • That the virus would affect only people over a certain age.
  • That the Virus is unlikely to survive warm and hot climates and surfaces.

So here are the facts from the WHO and as you see this list, if you’re anything like me, you’re bound to be rolling your eyes with the stuff they need to put out! One in particular really cracked me up, “Fact: Drinking Ethanol, Methanol or Bleach DOES NOT cure Covid19 and can be dangerous”.

Covid 19 – Facts from WHO

In ending this piece, YES the World has changed and even though we can’t really fathom where this will all end up, what our lives will be like going forward, when this will all go away, will it all go away and so on….one thing is pretty darn clear, the World suffered a scare, its still afraid, precautions must and can be taken. YES, people have adopted better lifestyles, if only out of sheer boredom, but I’d hope people do adopt the healther lifestyles as a way of life and make conscious choices, be the choices be about diet, fitness, pollution, work life balance, live not just for the moment but bear in mind that nothing can be taken for granted. Not your paycheck, your source of income, not even your ability to be mobile as we were accustomed to in the very recent past.

The way we conduct ourselves and indeed expect and demand how those around us conduct themselves is all different now. Let’s be safe, take all precautions and keep others safe and urge them to take precautions.

It is then time to be more considerate, more compassionate, look kindly and help those not as fortunate as some of us. When you spend frivolously, think of the people struggling and in despair.

On pain of death or worse yet, a life accursed by the ones who are suffering, DO NOT go out and buy the USD 100/- odd Louis Vuitton facemask!!!

Business Models are polarizing, moving from physical to digital, online is thriving, travel, leisure and entertainment is reeling. And yet whereas the digital is the first mile, in more cases than not, digital alone cannot complete the circle, the last mile must be physical. “Future Proof” has taken on new meaning, those who didn’t envision the future have fallen by the wayside, whilst others are morphing and new models emerging, sustainable ones. Some big names are gone, some others are struggling. People are being let go, employers are being mercenary whereas others are being fair and considerate.

Our People skills are under the severest test we’ve every experienced. Isolation, WFH – Work From Hone, Confinement, Solitary or with loved or not so loved ones, all present their own set of challenges. Shaking hands – NO, Coughing – NO, Feel a Sneeze Coming up – NO!!! People are showing their true colors, fear of the unknown and uncertainity is driving less than desirable behaviour, yet, there are people who rise to the occasion, above all odds and got out of their way to help. YES, humankind is being subjected to its harshest test yet.

The next couple of pieces (may end up more than just a couple) in the series will cover People, Society, Economy & Finance, Organizations, the Frontline Workers. Everything about COVID 19 is interconnected , everything is relevant and everything is a big mystery.

From The Outlaw Josie Wales:

Lone Watie:
“I wore this frock coat in Washington, before the war. We wore them because we belonged to the five civilized tribes. We dressed ourselves up like Abraham Lincoln. We only got to see the Secretary of the Interior, and he said: “Boy! You boys sure look civilized.!” he congratulated us and gave us medals for looking so civilized. We told him about how our land had been stolen and our people were dying. When we finished he shook our hands and said, “endeavor to persevere!” They stood us in a line: John Jumper, Chili McIntosh, Buffalo Hump, Jim Buckmark, and me — I am Lone Watie. They took our pictures. And the newspapers said, “Indians vow to endeavor to persevere.
“We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.”

We are in a war, it is a World War and yet not a single bullet has been fired.

Stay Safe in the War on Covid and help those frontline fighters, by ourselves fighting it, leading from the front.

Indian Concept of Time – IST.

For a race that lays the utmost emphasis on the most auspicious moment to commence any project or venture and factors in a persons time of birth to the alignment of heavenly bodies, we gleefully abandon these tenets when it comes to delivering on a promise. After all promises are meant to be broken Right?

For a race that lays the utmost emphasis on the most auspicious moment to commence any project or venture and factors in a persons time of birth to the alignment of heavenly bodies, we gleefully abandon these tenets when it comes to delivering on a promise. So particular are we that even when we fast, the breaking of the fast must happen during a predetermined window, usually no more than a few minutes.

We are a nation of several paradoxes, and to my mind this is our crowing glory. On the one hand this obsession with commencing and completing all auspicious and important things within a prescribed timeframe, and on the other hand completely ingoring this indoctrination in our day to day activities.

It is little wonder then that IST is equated to Indian Stretchy Time!

By what time will you reach? “Oh just five minutes” and you then wait twenty and you hear a long list of reasons why five minutes was not five minutes. Should you be the kind to have this compelling need to question further, you will most certainly get this response, “Sirji, voh kya hua ki raaste me kuch problem hua, is liye”, translating to, Sir, I have some problem on the way. Keep it as vague as you possibly can, that’s the way to respond to bosses why dare ask probing questions whey you are late, I mean how dare they!

Someone fixes an appointment and you call and ask, Where are you? “Right around the Corner”. Guess what! Your question was incorrect, or rather incomplete, or you didn’t follow it up with the next question. Which corner? And this is why you ended up waiting thirty minutes for him or her to turn the corner.

By when can I get this? “Abhi Sir”! Right away! Or “Bas, turant kar deta Hoon”, or I’ll do it immediately. Or the more pragmatic ones (like me), give a reasonable timeframe, a plausible one, one that is quite acceptable.

In that respect we surpass by no mean measure, the American “gungho”, “shoot first ask questions later” or also called the “can do” attitiude, when we say yes, can do and will do immediately.

Then comes the question, are you sure? And then we have moved from certainity to shaky ground. Why? Simply because we regress (throwing said pragmatism) out the window or door or any little crack or cranny we find. For more often than not, the response to the question that questions our commitments, is “yes sar or sirji (depending on which part of the country said person is), 101 takka” or 101%, causing whoever formulated the % system (don’t ask me – I forget) to balk, turn in their graves, or if he/she was a Hindu, abandon all equanimity in the heavens, and throw fifty fits.

Where did we ever come up with the additional 1%, doesn’t quite compute or fall under any real system that stacks up the odds.

Me? I take it to extremes when it comes to adding percentages that don’t compute and I start wtih a low of 101% and then up the ante to 150%, 200% and 250%, which is nothing but the likely hood that it’s not gonna happen. So the higher the noncompute the higher the likely hood that it ain’t happening! Look, its fairly simple. If you’re going to go around throwing inverse probability numbers dealing with the likely hood of something not getting done, why go with a small number right? Think big! But even I have not yet dared go beyond 250% and I’m known to have a big pair.

This beautifully simple system has been known to work flawlessly and therefore it’s hardly surprising that it’s been wholeheartedly adopted by all professions, all strata of our social fabric, from lawyers, doctors, chauffeurs, maids, blue collars, white collars, from CEOs to the security guard. And of course by all genders! Oh yes! I forgot about the politicians completely, who have honed an already perfect system into a fine art.

Having been immersed in some way, shape or form in Fintech for many many years (more than I’d like to recall), I’ve balked at delivery dates, effort estimates and in general the super overoptimism that has greeted me whenever I’ve asked for numbers.

So when I get estimates, or really guestimates from teams I’ve kinda learned that either of two things will happen. One, the estimates are humbug and aren’t really based on any real semblance of analysis. Or two, that they come  heavily padded (to compensate for the lack of analysis).

This makes life really interesting and fun, especially when youre the Johnney making commitments sideways, downwards or upwards. You’re flying very blind, and just made a committment based on a committment, so double whammy! They pad, you pad, everybody pads and the final recipient (poor sod) has just gone out on a limb and told the powers that be that the final date is X. Well, guess what! The X (supposing to be a line in the sand) is based on shifting sands, so by extension, will the line in the sand not shift as well! But if poor sod is a smart cookie, he/she (yes sod can be a she, so let’s include Jane) has embraced the padding methodology wholeheartedly and added some more, setting into motion a domino effect of epic proportions.

Then there is the exact converse. We grossly underestimate and we base everything on incomplete information. So now the effect is also epic domino but in reverse. We are all set to deliver and even meet the due date, but on said date we discover we did not know everything, we did not ask the right questions and worse, we just ignored what we already know and based everything on our own assumptions and/or understanding. Interpretation extreme.

I guess that’s what makes me precious. I manage things that are broken and get them to work. Well, I try. I’m a good magician, but I’m not perfect. More on this as we progress…

Regardles of the padding or lack of it, promised date has arrived, or perhaps the day before (if you’re lucky) and someone will summon the courage (maybe he had a gun pointed to his head), will sheepishly come to you quavering like a leaf in a storm, and after several attempts, just about manage to let you know that it is you who must now deliver the message that said commitment, said event, said delivery ain’t really happening. “Sar or Sirji, as the case may be, I want to tell you something”, and in my mind I’m going, do I have STUPID etched on my forehead? Just out with already, and to add effect, I have been known to say, “so its not happening is it?”, even before the words are uttered.

The mixed look of wonder, amazement and fear needs to be seen to be believed. “Sar or Sirji, how you know?”, and again I’m going, do I have……but inwardly I’m in splits laughing, like I didn’t know this was going to happen!

We’re Indians, Krishna says in the Bhagavat-Gita, “I am infallible time”. Guess what my Dear Lord and Master, you’ve been outdone. Your so called Kal Chakra, the infallible Circle of Time has slowed down a tad. Go figure, you created someone who outdid the master.

The logical progress to these proceedings is the post mortem, or what I’d like to call the process that got instituted since said minion allowed the patient to die. Patient will die my friend, let’s do something. “Sar (let’s not forget Sirji) don’t worry, I will breathe life into the dead, Abhi karta Hoon”, I will do it right away”.

So if you are of stronger mettle or have more patience than I do, you might actually try to ask or even hazzard a guess as to what led to this meltdown. “Sir or Sirji, I was unwell, my team was unwell, I told so and so to do it, he didn’t do it, my brothers wife’s sisters husband’s grandfather died Sar, I have to go “native” (read that as home town), or sirji I have to go to desh (read that as home town as well), or Sir I have to go to my gaon (read that as home town as well)”. You really can’t argue with the need to go see the dead remains of such a close relative, so being the genteel Indians we are, I must ask, ok so when will you and your team be back from “native”? “Don’t know sar or sirji, when they let me go (they will be kept captive, in chains)”.

When said captives are released from their cages, you ask for a RCA or what sane people call Root Cause Analysis. The responses are nothing short of drivel and you had better be clarivoyant or at the very least have a very very fertile imagination to figure out the root cause. Why? Cause we are all such loyal soldiers, that we just don’t want to spill the beans on why it went bust. A Grade for loyalty and taking one for the team, but you just flunked the larger need to understand why thing went awry in the first place.

Now you have this root cause kinda figured out or at least some semblance of an RCA. Spindoctor (always me) has to convey this to the party of the other part (aggrieved party), as blood is being demanded. I tell you, my verbal and written jousting skills are probably in a league by themselves, as is my knowledge of verbal Jiu Jitsu. So now you see why I’m precious? Not because of the oodles of experience I bring to the table, but to be the frontline when something is broken.

I live alone so have plenty of time to reflect and therefore I reflect, I question, I ponder, I wonder, why are we like this! When my numbed mind works (yes on rare occassions) it does come up with some answers.

  • We Indians don’t know how to say NO (remember the Can Do I alluded to earlier).
  • We don’t like to say we don’t know something, loss of face you see.
  • We don’t like to follow a process.
  • We don’t like to seek help (superheros all).
  • We hate to admit we are wrong.
  • We take everything personally, even it it’s feedback well intended.
  • We don’t like to be answerable.
  • We don’t take the trouble to listen.
  • We don’t bother to read pre-read materials before meetings. How much more can you insult someone who takes the trouble to prepare materials, write detailed mails, only to realise that nobody even bothered to read or prep. Bosses who asked for said information in the first place, included.
  • We ignore disclosed facts and instead choose to make important decisions on assumptions. I mean, its great to be able to make assumptions, but can we simultaneously bother to validate those assumptions?
  • We don’t like to document anything. Have you sent a mail? “No Sar I called him”. Fuc***, shit is gonna go down or hit the ceiling, you had better be using written comms. But no, I spoke to him. I messaged one on one.
  • I did not escalate as I’m a friggin coward and don’t want to spoil relations or make the other person feel bad. Grandmother’s frigging lollies! I ain’t buying this.
  • The real reason is that I am not sure of myself or not on top of my game, and if I escalate now, there will be a time when I fucked up and someone will be sticking it to me. That’s the real reason!

Now if above set of facts is correct, we have a recepie for disaster an initio.

There are some smart ones who are good at words, at jiu jitsu, and the moment we realise that it ain’t happening, out brains churn into high gear and we come up with wholely plausible and believable reasons why said commitment wasn’t kept. Clear written communications crafted with the objective of facilitating an outcome. That’s the ticket.

Anybody who interacts with me and does me that extreme honor of lipservice, leaves my desk with NLP scribbled on a scrap of paper, and scraps of paper tend to get discarded, so the scribbling was just to humor me. So much for the earnest advise to learn and practice Neuro Linguistic Programming.

I’m good with words, sure, but it’s not just a vocabulary thing. It’s clarity of thought and an ability to assimilate things quickly and react instantaneously. After all we are in an era where we do business at the speed of thought.

That’s another recommendation that gets scribbled on said scrap. Read “Business At The Speed of Thought”. Bill Gates, none other. As always scribbling is for effect, nothing is going to come of it.

Speed, Time, SLA, TAT, Communications, Social Media, Internet, Wi-Fi, all part of our day to day, but do we use this to our advantage? No no, I will use these wonderful aids only and solely for keeping up with my Social Media accounts.

I’d emphatically propose that few do it and those that do are the ones who rule. The rest follow in their wake, or then fall by the wayside trying and yet there are others who don’t even try.

As an Indian I was really hurt when my tennis coach in high school said something when I showed up 10 minutes late for practice when I was on the school squad. I was 17, an exchange student in America. Tom Andreas look at me, then looked at his watch and said to me, “This is How The American Clock Works, on time. Don’t be late the next time”. I never was.

I too drop the ball from time to time, I too fail occasionally, I too have a tendency not to delegate because I’m not always working with an all A Team. Not so different in that respect, but the difference is I try damn hard not to fail, not to drop the ball, what I need to do more is let people fail, and pick them up and get them to do it right next time around. I’ve been getting a lot of flack lately for trying to do everything myself and have started to push back shoddy or incomplete work, albeit it just takes so much more time.

Having said all this, I must add disclaimer that this comes from a good place, is well intended.

I must also admit that apart from the morons (yes its a rather strong word) I’ve come across, I have also been most fortunate throughout my professional career, to have discovered and worked with some golden nuggets, wonderful professionals and human beings. To these people I give whatever time I can spare (in office or on my own time) to explain, to teach, to motivate, to chide, to scold, to pat on the back.

These people make all the pain, frustrations and anger go away and leave one with this immense sense of being able to pass on to GenNext, a vast body of knowledge and experience, gathered through an era where there was no cellular, no wifi, no internet. An era where we did things the hard way, no shortcuts, less room to fail and a lot less access to knowledge that we have at our fingertips today

After The Corporate Years #2.

It’s now almost two years coming up in a few short weeks, and the journey has been great. Amazing in fact. The company grows from strength to strength…..we have overcome some hairy challenges and taken a few hard knocks, but always rallied and always overcome. The hours are long, the hands a few too less, but do I wake up raring to go? Absolutely!

Beyond the large corporates lie really fantastic opportunities, albeit in smaller firms and companies, such as startups.

Having been deeply immersed in the startup ecosystem for the past decade, and during the nascent years of my professional journey, this feeling is solidly confirmed having lived and breathed in it.

As I write about my life and about my professional journey, it dawns upon me that I’ve never actually gone out and looked for a job. Save one time, and that one time was the very first time that I went and worked for someone else as CFO. First job and that as CFO, not bad, eh? Take how I got into ICICI, HSBC, Agile and my current role, all known people, or a friend of a friend, or an ex-colleague and friend.

It also strikes me that there are no coincidences in life, none whatsoever. I think it has more to do with fate, destiny, being in the right place at the right time.

The way I look at almost everything, is slotting all that I end up doing or experiencing, into this rather interesting matrix (not inspired by the movie, by the way). It’s called the Matrix of Six. Yes, you might have guessed. That another piece I’m working on. Soon coming to a blog page near you.

Best I get on with the current role, after that rather long preamble, so this story picks up from the earlier startup experience.

As it happens, during my previous startup role as COO, a friend (ex friend now), called me out of the blue very early one morning and after a rather fake exchange of pleasantries, said he’s working for this guy, someone who he said I knew (I didn’t) from my time in Singapore – Circa 2002/2003. So despite the long silence between us, and a less than cordial relationship post the exing, I agreed to introduce him and his boss to the CEO of the company.

I turns out that Prateek, one of my colleagues (we become close friends) from the Dubai startup, ended up working for Ram before I did. So this Prateek character calls one day as asks to be introduced to decision makers at various banks in India, and I do so devoid of any hesitation, as I’ve always helped friends out no matter what.

Why is this relevant? Simply because that Ram, the one I’d never met, would a few years later come looking for me.

I did open a few doors for Prateek, and once fine day, soon after the door opening part, Ram calls me from Singapore, and says he’s sending me a visa and ticket. What don’t you come down to Singapore for a few days and lets talk about how we can collaborate. If my memory serves me that was in July or August 2017.

If you have read my previous anecdote, you will recall that I had quit this Dubai startup, and was in this “in-between” phase again, the one in which I was part of the startup ecosystem as a mentor. So I was kinda figuring out what to do next, and had a few exciting ideas in mind, including interesting job opportunities. One idea was more exciting than others, and remains something I’d like to do if I ever get an opportunity. That was to set up a platform or a service, to help Indian companies, or any company for that matter, to develop business in Africa, and guide them how to manage African initiatives.

I think, I’ve already mentioned before, that doing business in Africa as a whole, and some countries in APAC is nothing short of a fine art. There is no science in it, just art and finesse.

See? I drifted again, sorry. Anyway, I’m headed to Singapore and Ram has been the perfect host. We talk a lot, about life, personal and professional, we open up to each other. He talks about Bank-Genie, how it started. We drink a bit, we get to know one another, and at some point he kinda pops it on me. Why don’t you come work with us?

The company and its prospects seem quite interesting, well conceptualised, but the role is that of a person who can do some serious heavy lifting. Something I have always done and can do with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back, but I’m not really looking at a “heavy-lifting” role, so I’m a bit iffy. But all in all and interesting opportunity.

The thing I was quite upfront about is the compensation, and quite transparently I caution him that he should deliberate carefully as I don’t come cheap, and paying me or someone like me, would put a dent in the books.

I head back to India, we keep in touch, we talk numbers, and we go back and forth a lot, we both jockey for position, and finally after being at this for a month we arrive at a middle ground. I agree to a fixed compensation component less than what I want, deserve, am capable of earning, and he takes a couple of steps up, and finally we are agreed on the numbers, and all that remains is to ink the deal.

The other thing that I was a bit concerned about was the location. Mysore! Small town, deep south, nothing much going on, I’m a city boy and have lived and worked in four continents and lived in five major internationally acclaimed cities. How in the name of hell will I live in Mysore? But that’s a non-negotiable item, and so i finally relent. Taking a huge leap of faith, I head on over to Mysore, even before a contract has been signed, and technically I’m on board October 4th.

Four days later I’m headed to Singapore once again, this time to meet the investors who want to eyeball this so called “heavy-hitter”, with the concern that having come from a pedigree international bank, I may not be able to hack the transition to the startup realities. Ha, Ha!!!

I’m presenting a four day view of the company, and what my four day impressions are, what I make of the COO role, and what I think I have cut out for me. The presentation goes down well, and I still have a job (save a little job threatening episode in the first week itself) so I’m guessing I’ve done something right.

It’s now almost two years coming up in a few short weeks, and the journey has been great. Amazing in fact. The company grows from strength to strength…..we have overcome some hairy challenges and taken a few hard knocks, but always rallied and always overcome. The hours are long, the hands a few too less, but do I wake up raring to go? Absolutely! All this combined with visiting and experiencing new countries, is nothing short of a heady mix, a kind of a perpetual high, and no I having been smoking!

Working – The Road Warrior>

We are Now at an inflection point, with tremendous upside.

Along the way, what has built up is trust, a good working relationship, one where the CXO team relies and leverages off the strengths of the others, and compensates where required. The team is superlative in terms of their efforts, loyalty and feeling of belonging, and this is the ONLY place I’ve worked at thus far, where I’ve never had to crack the whip on a development team. The work just gets done, as if by magic, and that’s something that is really rare and something I cherish. I’ve never even had to even once request someone to stay late and finish work, or please come over the weekend. If there is work, nothing needs telling, it just gets done!

Whatever happened to the apprehensions about being based in Mysore? If I say I’m in heaven, that would obviously be a gross misstatement, but what’s not to like? Clean air, almost no traffic, cycling heaven (yes this is in heaven category), heart of Karnatic Music and Arts, peace and quiet to get work done, no long commute to and back from work, really inexpensive, delicious southern cuisine. In short no more apprehension, quite the opposite, I love it!

What next? For me? For Bank-Genie? I guess I’m at an inflection point as well, a fork in the road of sorts. On the one hand I completed fifty seven years this year, so I’d like to sit back, write, ride my bicycle, study, read, mentor, teach Students about the real world they are about to venture into (they are ill equipped to survive and succeed) and distribute the learning’s from a working life that started at the age of 18 years. Whereas on the other hand, I stay the course and bring this baby to term, watch it grow, and once it starts running at speed, recede into the shadows or the background, and be available as a counsel or sounding board as and when called.

All going as planned, I’m leaning more towards bringing the baby to term and beyond as there is real traction here, a tremendous opportunity. An opportunity for everybody at Bank-Genie to fulfil their potential, and an opportunity for Bank-Genie to be recognised as a formidable name as a FinTech that services the needs of banks both big and small, the microfinance eco system, and an opportunity for the CXO team to create a foundation for the nextgen to take to higher levels.

These are opportunities are seldom present themselves at large corporates and are available almost exclusively at the startups, smaller firms and companies, the ones fraught with challenges, yet most satisfying to ones soul. I’d pick a startup any day, and I’d urge students to take up roles at startups, for what you will learn at a startup is something no school will ever come close to teaching, and that is my next blog post. Look out for it. Cheers!


After The Corporate Years #1.

If I were to capture my professional journey up until this time, this is how I would have to sum it up. Started off flying solo, built an informal network of collaborators which grew into formal associations, reinvention and refinement during market upheavals, founded companies, moved to corporate roles, immersion into the startup ecosystem as mentor and finally back to startup’s. All adding up nicely into an invaluable combination of formal and informal, blended with real world deep immersive learnings and experience across all geographies.

So as you can see, it started off small, and has come full circle to small once again. When I say small, what I allude to is a comparison of the dynamics of startups, vis a vis the scope, sheer complexity, muscle, money power, reach, capability and successes of ICICI and HSBC. I guess “small and “complex” are relative as you look at it from the point of view of someone who has worked in a large corporate and when looked at from the point of view of a promoter or founder.

The stints with the big corporates lasted what like ten years (seems like a lifetime).

Anyway, the first opportunity to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in a startup came almost a year after I left HSBC.

I was back in India, after fantastic international stints at ICICI, starting in Singapore then Abu Dhabi, and with HSBC starting in India, and then doing time in Chicago and London. I’m thinking that I’d lay back, rebuild bridges, get back into the swing of how things worked back home, however, about three months into the sabbatical, I get a call from an ex-colleague, someone I’d stayed in touch with and worked closely with, during my time in the Middle East, with ICICI.

He had started up a fin-tech that was in products and was wondering if I will come join. I was not really looking actively, but in deference to a past professional relationship, I go meet someone that I’m asked to meet. Someone I didn’t connect with. No chemistry, you see. And so I decline despite feeling good about the fact that people remembered my worth and would reach out to me every now and then, both from the head hunting community as well as my ex-colleagues, friends and acquaintances.

Maybe six odd months later, sometime at the fag and of October of 2010, he calls again. He’s signed a really big deal in Nigeria, and needs someone with my skills and experience to drive this, and other initiatives he has in mind. African and Nigeria got me listening, as despite the vast international exposure, Africa was one continent that I’d never worked in.

By now I’ve been spending my time bridge-building with family, friends, chilling, following my passion – cycling, and quite honestly, the knock on the door came at the right time. The timing couldn’t have been more opportune…..I was rearing to get back to work! Qualify that comment though. Here I am thinking that I’d probably work a couple of days a week ….. it is after all just one program management assignment!

But that’s not exactly how it turned out.

The CEO said, go meet the India based ED. I go meet, but I just had this feeling that something was off. But given that I wanted to get back to work and the fact that the one year sabbatical had kinda drained my bank balance and the fact that the numbers in terms of compensation wasn’t too bad, I take the bait and two days after the initial call for help, I come on board.

I’m in the system a few days and figure out that this isn’t going to be consulting or part time in nature, or for that matter a temporary stint. If I have to make this work, it will have to be an all in effort, and I’m never one to go in half hearted, never have been.

I ask for a face to face meeting with the CEO, we talk and pretty soon the remit expands far beyond this programme management involvement, to taking on the Wealth and Fund Management product end to end and in time a whole lot more.

I sort of slid smoothly into the roles, and perhaps the biggest adjustment I had to make is not having the really amazing Executive Assistants I had working for me in HSBC, taking care of all the minutest details, so that I could focus purely on the job at hand. It did take some effort to get back to getting coffee, lunch, etc, etc, for myself yet again, but I guess I did survive that ordeal!

Before you know it, I’ve given the startup seven years of my life, been appointed on the Board of Directors of the Indian and Singapore entities.

Long story short, the seven years haven’t ended well, and finally, much against my will and inclinations, I bail both the company and the directorships, and end up with a fairly substantial hole in the pockets that were supposed to be lined with cash way into their depths? After all, that’s why we go work for startups right? Right?

Staying on in loyalty, despite the cash flow issues are great in terms of committing to a cause, but wreaking all sort of chaos and mayhem.

Ouch! That one really hurt.

Think Black Adder variety hurt …. “At the last it Stingeth Like an Adder and Bitheth like a Serpent”.

Whereas, there were certain events of seismic proportions, there were positives that I am simply compelled to balance both sides of the equation.

  1. By now I’ve become consummate in terms of doing business all across Africa. West, East, South and the Middle East.
  2. Travel was frequent and I added so many new countries to the already long list from the ICICI and HSBC days.
  1. And doing business in Africa isn’t a joke. It is difficult, fraught with risks, and takes nerves of steel, and just dictates that you understand the psychology and DNA of organisations and individuals. It’s a matter of survival, no nicer or gentle way to put it. So notch one up for the African experience.
  1. The remit expands far beyond Wealth and Fund Management, to Insurance, Bancassurance, Lending, Operations, Pre-sales, Legal, and Human Resource’s. So notch one up for cross discipline and cross platform experience.
  2. As far as learning, connections and empowerment are concerned, I have no cause for complaint. So learning galore, stellar senior level connections, and total empowerment.
  3. Forged deep friendships with a couple of colleagues, and one in particular that led to my next role.

Somewhere is 2016, I drop the curtains on that chapter of my professional life and move on.

I spend the year reinventing myself, cycling, reading, listening, learning, getting immersed in the start up ecosystem, but more as a mentor and advisor.

And then it happens again!!!

I am approached to assist with a Singapore based FinTech’s plans to penetrate the India markets. But that’s a new story, and the current chapter of my life.

Let’s end this tale with the first role after my Corporate years, but not before summing up what my years have taught me.

  1. The formative years, probably the first five years during and immediately after school, taught me how to deal with a family business, with imports and exports, international trade, dealing with government departments, legal complexities, labor, costing, financial accounting and taxation. That was when I worked for my father, being groomed to take over his business, being the only son (which for several reasons never did transpire).
  2. The next few years, probably ten years, were spend working for myself, setting up companies and investment trusts in India and Mauritius, financial advisory, funds syndication, fund management, dealing with the worst stock market debacle in Indian history and in general learning skills (unknowingly) that would enable me to enter the corporate mainstream.
  3. Perhaps during this time, the greatest experience in terms of witnessing change was the Indian Stock Markets shifting gear and moving from manual, ring based, open outcry to electronic trading systems.
  4. The next year, and I mention this specifically, was my first job as an official in a body corporate, as CFO. The primary learning from this was dealing with a Demerger and all of the complexities that accompany such a decision on the financial and legal fronts.
  5. Ceasing my association with the CFO role coincided with the fag end of the tech boom, and once again time at hand to sit back and figure out what next.
  6. The next was this colossal misadventure into the food business.
  7. The next ten years precisely, were spent in the large corporate mainstream, with tremendous and deep international exposure, where the greatest learning without a doubt, came from the travel and international financial services business. Learning how the rest of the world worked, how it approached business, how people issues are dealt with, and the crowning glory was regional and cultural diversity.
  8. Done with the mainstream transnational corporate life, I now have a ringside view and quite a few bouts in the ring itself, learning and dealing with the risks, responsibilities, the opportunities, the good, bad, ugly about working for startups.

I will end by saying that the tale keeps unfolding, I keep documenting and I dare say, they will continue to be written, with this, hopefully the first in a series on the Startup ecosystem, this time not as mentor and advisor, but as an insider.

“The Tech Industry’s Psychological War on Kids”

“The Tech Industry’s Psychological War on Kids”

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