Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Persistence of Non-conformism

Courtesy: India Infoline http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/editorial-interviews-leader-speak/dr-anand-deshpande-founder-ceo-persistent-systems-116112300235_1.html



Sudhir Raikar takes a closer look at the firm’s inimitable ethos, radical evolution and self-effacing evangelism in this tête-à-tête with Dr. Anand Deshpande, Founder & CEO, Persistent Systems.

For long, capital markets have allowed the mid-cap status of Persistent Systems to cloud, if not eclipse, its indisputable edge in offering productised service solutions in a market dominated by humdrum body shops and back offices. The Persistent ethos is best articulated by its evolution.

Picture this back-in-time scenario for a moment: It’s the time of the nervous nineties in India, conspicuously marked by grave political uncertainty and economic downturn. A non-conformist in his mid-twenties, a B. Tech in Computer Science from IIT Kharagpur, with a doctorate in object databases from the Indiana University and a prolific 18-month database engineering stint with HP Labs in Palo Alto, bootstraps a boutique firm in the understated Indian city of Pune, specialising in deeper dives into database internals. Consciously retaining focus on the database space to protect the cocoon of his tech acumen, he makes Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) his target audience unlike the Indian IT vendor crowd which is heavily focused on custom application development for different verticals.

Taking a cue from the fact that data is infinite in nature, the firm makes the symbol of infinity its corporate logo and the concept of data persistence – that once written to disk, data becomes stable and recoverable over time and across systems – inspires the gloriously graphic name of Persistent Systems. The rest becomes history, of iconic proportions, created by Dr. Anand Deshpande, unarguably Indian IT’s most prolific and self-effacing thought leader-practitioner. In a world of unabashed corporate antagonism, replete with umpteen “founding” and first-mover claims to breakthrough ideas, concepts or methodologies, this maverick stands out for his razor-sharp insights and matter-of-fact foresight.

Over the years, the name Persistent has aptly reflected the company’s stellar character but its value proposition transcends the database connotation, for the persistence of the company’s vision, mission and values is extremely nimble, guided by the ability to adapt to the changing dynamics and evolving paradigms of the software industry. The company has redefined Persistence - in the non-data context of industries and markets - as an unflinching commitment guided by purposeful perseverance. No wonder, it has rebuilt and sustained its competitive edge at every turning point of the industry’s evolution since its inception.




Excerpts of the interaction with Dr. Deshpande...

How do you look back on your transformative journey till date?
I see the progression as a series of S-curve voyages wherein the predominant industry waves guide the business models till they are rendered invalid by the successive waves. Let me begin with our earliest and latest phases. Our first S-curve was all about sourcing work in a proven area but executing it from India. In fact, we didn’t need to deploy any of our developers in the US during the first 13 years of our operations. This was quite unusual, for the body shopping mode was the mainstay of most software development vendors at that time. Our founding team did coding and marketing simultaneously and contracts were won on personal circles of influence.

The whole scenario has undergone a sea change since then. In the current phase, the 4th S, we are spread all over the globe and see our customers as partners in progress. We are proactively helping them become software-driven businesses to better respond to challenges and opportunities. We call our umbrella offering Software 4.0, inspired by the vision of Industry 4.0, which is about building software-driven businesses and managing software-driven things at speed. The term includes all tools and techniques to build, test and release software rapidly and reliably.

In the intermediary S-curve phases, several things happened in quick succession. The 200-01 dot com bust stunted market opportunities but our risk was minimal as we were a small set up, about 100 people in 1999 and 250 in 2002. By 2003, we zeroed in on product development as a conscious plan and our headcount grew 10-fold to about 2,500. The whole idea was to work in a niche space where it was easy to establish and communicate our edge compared to the teeming market of custom service providers where there was little scope to distinguish one’s capabilities. In 2007, we identified Cloud, Mobility, Analytics and Collaboration as our focus areas, much before industry research analysts and CIOs earmarked them as priorities. By 2008, we had carved a niche in the OPD space and our agile methodologies enhanced our delivery capabilities and growth prospects in the same breath. Since 2011, we began acquiring “end of life” products from other companies.

It’s pertinent to share my experience during the economic slowdown period in 2009. During this lull phase, I met scores of CEOs for capturing their industry bytes. I concluded that most of them – and this generally holds true for any geography – have a few defining traits in common. One, they have limited bandwidth and hence they like to see only high-priority items on their plates, while depending on others for managing the rest end-to-end. If they are convinced of your fidelity on this count as much as your competence, they are more than happy to engage with you. The whole case for outsourcing stems from this rationale, not from cost consciousness as many incorrectly believe.

Two, these guys are revenue-oriented, not cost-focused. This means they instinctively like any revenue-centric ideation, like for instance how tech enablement could enhance the marketability of their products or help make breakthroughs in new geographies. Several of our engagements at premium price points have been the outcomes of such deep conversations which have made trust the driving force of the ensuing relationships.

Three, they are unflinchingly customer-centric and firm believers in the collaborative power of eco systems. If they can’t address a business need of their customers, they have no qualms about partnering with credible vendors who can bridge the given gap. This has helped shape my own thinking in that I now proactively ask my customers about their market plans and propositions to explore how tech could help achieve them. And if we can’t address the given need, I recommend partners from our value chain who can fulfill the need, either independently or collaboratively.


Coming back to the 4th S-curve, how is Persistent geared for the new opportunities?
Thanks to our IBM Watson alliance and the ways in which we have fine-tuned our enterprise digital transformation offerings, we are confident of capitalising on the dramatic shifts and dynamic opportunities of an impending era where connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) will rule the roost. Leveraging the sophisticated Watson analytics, our continuous lifecycle management product suite will help customers with performance optimization of their devices in the context of umpteen other ‘things’ in the field. Imagine things reconfiguring themselves, monitoring and sharing parameters with the global cloud in real time. We are truly excited to be an integral part of this landmark revolution, set to change the way systems are manufactured, operated and distributed. Our digital foray is focused on healthcare, financial services and industrial IoT where we have made good progress already.

So, the 4th S-curve has influenced the way software is made and perceived?
Absolutely. First and foremost, there has been a substantial effort shrinkage over time. On the cloud, you build a lot more with less people - what with abundance of development platforms, ease of code branching and merging, availability of numerous testing and staging servers and agile-friendly environments suited for continuous integration and delivery. Release is also no longer the ceremonial event that it once was, given the frequency of software updates in response to user feedback and market demands. On the cloud, every progression builds on the previous one and demands a shift in current processes. But it also ensures value creation up to an order of magnitude larger than the previous one. Several enterprises across verticals are now regularly testing software that is built and deployed in days and evolved on demand.

So, development builds must happen with optimal periodicity aimed at iterative enhancements to keep pace with the user’s market place advancements and developments. The emphasis is on task-centric applications and experiences made wholesome through data collated and curated from disparate sources. We need to offer smart windows of actionable insights to the customer with lot of on-the-go options that can be triggered from the ubiquitous smart phone.

Are we talking of microservices and polyglot persistence?
Yes, but we don’t endorse the jargon-heavy nomenclature. The word Microservices is a misnomer, we prefer to call them API-centric architectures. In a consumerised IT universe, APIs connect, convey and create value for applications and thereby enrich the entire value-chain of vendors, clients, alliance partners and end-users. No wonder, modern software applications trust APIs left, right and centre – whether to connect to clients on the front-end, integrate with internal systems at the back-end, talk to other applications on the sides, or even to form themselves by binding constituent component services. The conventions of RESTful design and JSON-based data facilitate API development, and widespread mobile clients demand it. Open APIs have proved game changers for building contextually intelligent and universally compatible applications in this IoT era. As far as the reality of disparate data sources is concerned, we rely on data lakes for creating single stores for analytical use, which go hand in hand with API-centric architectures and DevOps environments.

You have been stressing on the need to think Y-o-Y rather than Q-o-Q on the revenue front?
This is not a Persistent issue alone; the undeniable fact is that the T & M space is under pressure. Given the effort shrinkage, effort-based billings have suffered. We knew this was coming and hence proactively shifted our focus on IP and digital. Having said that, the shift can’t bypass the cyclical impact. So, for a meaningful picture, it’s imperative to look at Y-o-Y figures, more so in the context of our IBM alliance.

Would it be right to say that the success of Persistent’s solution-centric customer engagements post the reorganization drive squarely hinges on the reskilling capability of its teams – both development and support?
Beyond a doubt. We need to achieve a massive and incisive orchestration of organization-wide efficiencies where sales and delivery would go hand in hand to do justice to the end-to-end relationships in all our differentiated projects. The norms that applied to the cost dynamic don’t work for the value dynamic. The pain point here is that people don’t proactively take on newer roles. Comfort zones are hard to explode, and there’s no ready-to-deploy mechanism to teach people the elementary truth that a thinking mind is not an option at work. As I mentioned earlier, computing work is less and less about conventional human intervention. While this reality does impact the headcount in a big way, other opportunities emerge where human insights and dexterity in design and development make a big difference.

We are setting up vibrant teams on both sides - sales and delivery – who breathe the essence of product development and customer centricity to fully justify the premium price tags to the customer, especially given the competition from low-cost providers claiming similar value props. Over time, we are confident of creating and institutionalizing a business operating model where product development happens in real-quick time and in cost-effective fashion.

From time to time, most of your predictions have come true, with several research and advisory firms claiming stakes to the honour? How you do face this reality?
I take it very positively, there is no greater joy than hearing your own prophecies echoed back to you. And the furious circulation of our insights help our cause. The market becomes more aware on the critical paradigms; compelling business needs are better articulated at the customer’s end and we get ample opportunities to prove our design and delivery edge in the new scheme of things.

Anukool Modak, Head of Investor Relations & Treasury Operations
(Q & A with Rajiv Mehta and Sudhir Raikar from IIFL)




What prompted the recent reorganization of the operating structure? How would it serve the dual purpose of augmenting company’s market position and profitability enrichment?
Under the new structure, we have created 4 separate P&Ls. The division is based on nature of business as:
1. Services: Traditional OPD business with T&M billing model.
2. Digital: EDT business where we provide a digital platform to the customer. This includes our own products, third party products and services around it. So, the billing model is a combination of linear and non-linear.
3. Accelerate: Our own products are sold under this brand. The is a 100% non-linear revenue model.
4. IBM alliance: This includes our business with IBM and allied business. It has two parts. First is the traditional OPD business with IBM and second, our products business with IBM where we have revenue share arrangements.
The purpose behind creating these four divisions is better market positioning in each of these businesses. It leads to better accountability, as the president is responsible for entire P&L of his unit. Further, the HR and sales structure in these businesses are very different from each other. We have aligned them to the nature of each.


How did the idea of the IBM Watson deal materialize? While it surely opens a world of opportunities, does it also bind you to partner-specific proprietary constraints?

Having identified IoT as the next big thing in the world of technology, we were on the lookout for a robust global alliance. IBM has the best IoT offering in the industry and we already have a very strong relationship with IBM. IBM was also looking for a partner in IoT space and that explains the long-term revenue share partnership. The deal does bind us to IBM but given the abundance of ripe possibilities under their purview, the scope is more than enough for a company of our size.


Could you throw some light on the deal’s progression? Given the IBM sale seasonality, does one wait for at least a year to expect significant gains to reflect in the numbers?

The product revenue is on the rise. Apart from this, we have a lot of SI opportunities where we can go to IBM’s customers with IBM. Here our contract will be with the direct customers and the rates are expected to be better than those charged in normal business. We have yearly visibility for products but the QoQ product revenue is quite lumpy.

What is the long-term revenue aspirations for the four divisions? How would these units differ in terms of billing model, operating profitability and scalability?
‘Services’ is a stable, cash generating but low growth business. ‘Digital’ is a very high growth potential business so it requires high investment. The profitability in ‘digital’ will remain low until it gains critical mass. ‘IBM Alliance’ is a combination of products and services. We have high hopes from some of the new technology stuff which we are doing with IBM. ‘Accelerite’ has around 80% mature products but it also has 20% new generation products where the growth could happen. As of now, margins are better on the mature products as there we don’t need to make fresh investments.


How have Hoopz, Akumina and Genwi fared post acquisition in terms of new wins? Do these acquisitions – including the Citirx and Intel baskets - pose any legacy challenges especially in terms of integration of development teams? If yes, how do you counter them?
Hoopz, Akumina and Genwi have been merged with our digital business and we use these in our comprehensive digital solutions. They have certainly boosted our capabilities. Citrix Cloudplatform has its own customers and is part of Accelerate. These acquired products do have integration challenges in the initial phase but we have managed to retain the key employees in all our acquisitions till date. We offer these employees very competitive compensations and benefits.


What’s your approach to headcount? In the time to come, do you foresee any drastic reduction in headcount owing to tech projects involving value-added, selective human intervention?
We don’t foresee reduction in headcount due to new technology but the pace of headcount increase has certainly slowed down and it will slow down further. Employees get quality work in our company as compared to traditional IT services companies. This gives them more job satisfaction. In addition, we give them opportunity to work on different technologies and customers to avoid monotony. Toppers from many reputed Indian universities voluntarily join us every year for this reason. We have been successful in keeping attrition under check by having best in class employee engagement and retention policies. We try to offer more intangible benefits like better work-life balance, flexible working hours, work from home, cultural and sports activities etc.


What’s the growth strategy for the services business which includes a part of the erstwhile Enterprise business?
We are concentrating on certain accounts where we see scope to expand. We are pruning some non-strategic accounts to improve profitability in the long run. We have hired a lot of domain experts to cater to the enterprise segment.


Which are the in-focus verticals in the Digital space? What’s the cross-sell opportunity to existing clients? Does Digital act more like a consulting partner to its clients?
We are concentrating on Healthcare and BFSI verticals. Cross selling opportunities do exist but they are not too many. Our strategy is to get new customers for Digital. Generally, these deals start small and then the size increases as we move towards more comprehensive engagement. The deal sizes are increasing to $ 5-6 million. These deals give annuity revenue and are sticky in nature. Due to technological disruptions happening across industries, business leaders are increasingly looking for partners having strong technological capabilities. That’s a good sign for us. Yes, digital does involve consulting. Consulting fees are included in the overall invoicing for the project. We also involve outside consultants for business consulting.

What’s the strategy for augmenting Accelerite product portfolio and its revenue scale-up? Are these products sold separately or used in delivery of your service offerings?
These products are mainly sold separately but they are also used in our Digital service offerings. The strategy is to upgrade mature products to increase their useful life and revenue and to invest in sales and marketing of new Gen products to increase sales. We are coming up with new products in-house as well as acquiring products from big ISV customers.


What’s your stance on inorganic growth? What’s the idea behind investing in early-stage Silicon Valley start-ups?
We look to fill the white spaces in our portfolio. Our focus is to acquire products than companies. The idea is to be part of the start-up ecosystem. At times, they become our customers. If their offering becomes successful, then we can partner with them and adopt a joint ‘Go to Market’ strategy.

How much of an impact would Brexit have on your growth prospects?
Brexit will not have any impact on our business as we hardly have any exposure to Britain. The slowdown which the larger IT companies are talking about is mainly in their traditional businesses like ADM. We work in new technology areas only. So, this slowdown does not impact us. Their problems are different.


How’s the medium-term growth trajectory? In the long run, what’s the Management vision of growth in financial terms and geographical spread?
We have a vision of achieving $ 1 billion revenue by 2020 as we believe there’s a market opportunity to help us achieve this target. In terms of geography, we are exploring new geographies but our principle market remains the US. We see a lot of scope to grow our business there.


Various strategic investments made in the recent times have impacted your margins. Is the peak investment phase behind you, and how would these investments lead to margin upliftment over the medium term?
Our effort is towards making the billing model non-linear, competing in the market based on value proposition rather than cost. All our investments are directed towards this goal and hence it should result in better profitability with increase in revenue over next 2-3 years. It’s difficult to say whether the peak of investment phase is behind us as there are scores of technology changes disrupting the market. However, in the visible future, our investment should be lower than what we have committed in last 12 months.

Could you throw some light on the IND AS impact on Persistent?
In our case, the major impact was only on actuarial gains which go to OCI and in case of current investments which are reported at fair value as per IND AS. The impact on depreciation and amortization was only at the time of first time adoption.


Atul Khadilkar, President - Corporate Operations on employee training and engagement
(As told to Sudhir Raikar)



Today, digital consumer experiences have made enterprise digital transformation virtually imperative. This transformation must not only be software-driven, it should deliver at speed when and where it matters. Software 4.0 is our approach to make it happen through the confluence of different cutting-edge techniques.

While our domain trainings enable us to deliver appropriate business solutions to customers, we regularly train our employees on various technologies and tools across the engineering lifecycle to make them full-stack developers. They are consciously exposed to the world of continuous integration, DevOps and Design Thinking to help them proactively address diverse customer challenges. Our employees learn through various channels like Instructor-led training (in-class and remote), Assisted self- learning, Massive Online Courses (MOC), Selfy Shots (Self-learning courses) and internal certifications. We are Scaled Agile Inc. Gold Partners and the agile development methodology is deeply rooted in our engineering function.
Hackathons are a way of life within our engineering community to address complex problems through innovative solutions in real-quick time. We also involve our customers and partners in these solutioning initiatives for addressing specific issues. Our Architect school is designed to introduce a wide range of advanced topics in software architecture and design principles to enable employees to take on challenging assignments in the capacity of Product and Solution Architects. Employees work on quick Proof of concepts on latest technologies like Machine Learning, Blockchain, Internet of Things (IOT), Security etc. through our focused program on Talent Transformation to sharpen the saw. All these initiatives enable us to keep pace with evolving business paradigms and technical challenges.



A Tale of Trailblazing Trials and Triumphs: What makes Persistent different?


Growth Trajectory

Unlike most Indian software development players, heavyweights and minnows alike, Persistent chose to tread the challenging pathway of product development right from its formative years. This meant there was no cushion of well-defined specs to deploy resources and guide deliveries. Instead, the name of the game was smart design trade-offs to deliver the best possible product versions within non-negotiable time frames and budget limits. Thanks to its proven engineering excellence and profound business insights, Persistent carved its niche in outsourced product development advising customers – large enterprises and start-ups alike - on timely and cost-effective product enhancements, and thereby winning their confidence ahead of contracts. Persistent’s ‘innovation lab’ approach struck immediate resonance with the business heads of large enterprises, who invariably have rather incoherent, need-based IT assignments that don’t necessarily bloom into mega projects. So, they are always game for any measurable development of R & D flavour. That explains the majority of large enterprise players in Persistent’s kitty. This was a big feat for a small-sized firm of bootstrapped beginnings.

Along the way, Persistent was arguably the only Indian IT player which proactively pushed its OPD clients to acknowledge the enduring rewards of design and build innovations, beyond the conventional benefits of cost and process efficiencies. The company’s breakthroughs in life sciences and telecom verticals is an outcome of this persistence. Persistent’s productization insights prove especially priceless for niche start-up ventures who develop excellent prototype propositions but are clueless about the procedural (but pivotal) issues of testing, QA and integration. This ignorance immediately poses a big question mark on the commercial viability of the given idea, however, disruptive it may seem. Persistent helps these customers with the end-to-end technical readiness for viable market releases, giving the founders the luxury of solely focusing on core intricacies of their logarithms.


Road Ahead

With the company moving at top speed under the stewardship of a dynamic CEO and his think tank, the organization needs more change architects, not merely technical architects, in the middle and lower layers to take on the multiple roles depending on the need. Same holds true for the marketing tribe. It would be interesting to see how the company raises the bar for its people to lock horns with the multifarious challenges of its dynamic market.

When the company says, it would do away with a few non-profitable businesses going forward, does it impact the number of customers, some 200-odd under the Services fold, we are not sure. On the impacted resource numbers, however, it has categorically stated that all released resources will be redeployed on other, more profitable and strategic projects. Another wait and watch area is how the firm deals with the legacy issues of its numerous acquisitions as also specific challenges like in the case of Akumina, given Microsoft SharePoint’s track record of sub optimal adoptions, mobility and integration issues and the threat of competing products.

Notwithstanding all imminent new-wave challenges before it, there’s not a semblance of doubt regarding Persistent’s ability and agility to address the business needs of the fast-evolving modern enterprise: timely releases to keep pace with market shifts or innovations and better customer engagements in a wearable device era. Given its IP-led revenue growth and focused engagements with cream of the crop customers - like the company’s card and retail breakthroughs in Banking, genomics inroads in life sciences and the Appian leverage in telecom space - Persistent looks well poised to capitalise on its value prop to fetch premium price points from a diverse clientele.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Men like my father cannot die


Men like my father cannot die. They are with us still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever. - How Green Was My Valley, 1941




On the evening of November 14th, my dad's first death anniversary, I got a formal English language text message from a 'blood relation' acquaintance, dutifully reminding me of the momentous day in a matter of fact tone that seemed like a carefully rehearsed Brechtian estrangement. I was also duly updated in the same message, on the publisher's behalf, about the online release of my dad's 'searing' anti autobiography, released 'exactly a year after' my dad's demise (how thoughtful!) and available in print 'at a price' (how resourceful!)

It's always hilarious to learn of things you know better. A few days before his exit, my dad had proactively briefed us on his thoughts on the revised edition of his anti-autobiography, how he chose to subtly hint at the idiosyncrasies of certain characters rather than explicitly expose them, how he inserted a few episodes that he had omitted in the previous version owing to strong inhibitions, and, above all, how he finally came to terms with the fact that journalists won't ever allow journalism to raise the bar, they will instead raise a toast to relish and cherish the Great Indian Mutual Admiration club that binds editors, reporters and publishers of all makes.

More on my dad's book in the posts to follow ...

Coming back to the staged Facebook book launch of 14th November, it was nauseating to watch the fun even from a (safe) distance. Both the publisher and copyright owner would do well to delve deep into the book's text rather than package their rehashed sermons for the target audience. That my father's words resonate even after his exit is no surprise, why they fail to activate the living-dead towards positive thought and action indeed is.

The publisher, in his highly patronizing note, does strike a chord in a few paras, but he could have gainfully resisted the temptation to certify the work, had he restricted his purview to the book's genre and place of pride in literature. There was absolutely no need for sweeping observations on the author's talent and temperament, for which better resources are thankfully available. My dad in his melancholic outbursts had this habit of sharing too much with the wrong set of people, giving them ample scope to package and market their convenient, half-baked conclusions. Besides, father-son ideological differences always come handy for staking first-mover claims of 'knowing him better than the family'

It would have been great had the publisher been more sensitive to an earlier book's cause during the fag end of its making when my dad chased him day and night for corrections and our friend was very selective in picking up his cell phone in response. Notwithstanding my dad's single-minded obsession with text revisions and a discernibly finicky nature, he deserved quality editorial attention in what was one of his last works, if not life work.

Mr. Publisher, don't get us wrong, we are truly happy that you have earned the tag of an intellectual, radical, non-conformist publisher, thanks to this work that belongs to a unique genre that Terry Eagleton aptly refers to as the attempt to write about your personal history 'in such a way as to outwit the prurience and immodesty of the genre by frustrating your own desire for self-display and the reader's desire to enter your inner life'.

About the copyright owner, less said the better. There's so much that my dad shared in his parting thoughts - both spoken and mute - but we don't see any reason to underline them to settle scores, the way the copyright owner did all along. We would only like to humbly request the first owner to secretly recall the ghastly moments of the nerve-wrecking span - from the night of 11th November to the noon of 14th November - of the year gone by. The painful memories of your sickening escapism, promulgated grief and ill-timed tantrums will always be fresh in our minds. No book release can ever wipe them out, and shouldn't. For your kind information and broadcasting, we don't need the crutches of a book release to revive dad's memories and thoughts. He guides us day in and day out, for men like my father never die. They cannot die.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Olympian Bet on Affordable Housing

courtesy: http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/news-top-story/olympian-bet-on-affordable-housing-116110700708_1.html

Sudhir Raikar, Content Architect, IIFL | Mumbai | November 08, 2016 08:44 IST

Olympeo Infrastructure is a distinctive real estate player in a crowded marketplace, thanks to its offbeat value proposition that has brought affordable housing center stage. The company’s Chairman and Managing Director, Prabhat Ranjan, a B. Tech from IIT Delhi and MBA from IIM Bangalore, unfolds the vision, mission and values of his debut venture in this brief tête-à-tête with IIFL’s Sudhir Raikar.



Many observers believe low-cost accommodation is still a distant dream due to a host of constraints including availability and affordability of land banks and the burden of tax component in ownership cost. But Olympeo Infrastructure firmly believes in the value prop of affordable housing. The company’s Olympian bet on affordable housing is built on the promise of a dramatic, game-changing transformation of Neral - located at the foothills of the popular tourist landmark of Matheran - from a sleepy hamlet to a bustling, modern hub of affordable housing for scores of middle class families who work in the big city Mumbai but can’t afford a house in it.



Excerpts of the Q & A interaction with CMD Prabhat Ranjan:

For long, real estate was largely, and at times unfairly, linked with players of suspect ambitions and shaky credentials. Did you have to fight this perception during the formative period of Olympeo?
Yes, we had to fight this per-conceived notion for long and we still grapple with its remnants at times. The fact that a few builders haven’t been able to deliver flats on time or have failed to meet the promised quality benchmark has made buyers jittery. Buying a flat is an emotional decision for the bulk of the populace which is why they begin on a note on suspicion about the builder’s intentions. Only the consistency of positive outcomes can reinstate the lost faith on the demand side. Talking of our venture, we are committed to make a positive difference through our unflinching vision and mission.


Did the thought of becoming an infra player germinate during your Reliance Infra or India Bulls stints?
The idea of venturing into construction was always resident in my mind, it just got strengthened during the India Bulls stint. I find a deep sense of satisfaction in real estate, It was this sentiment that paved the way for my career choice. When you build, and deliver something tangible, a physical property that houses many a residential and commercial dream, the joy of the feat is so overwhelmingly fulfilling. I mean the mere sight of the structure even after 15 years can make you nostalgic. In an instant, you can relive all that has gone through into its making.

Why did you decide to zero in on the affordable housing segment?
Affordable housing segment is a sector with huge potential and the scene is going to improve in future. This is a market where ticket size is small, so it’s not that difficult to move inventory compared to other segments. But yes, the sector needs assistance from the government as the margin is very small compared to other segments.

Do the twin responsibilities of being the co-founder of Brick Eagle and founder of Olympeo involve conflicting overlaps?
I quit Brick Eagle and then I started Olympeo, although I’m still a shareholder of Brick Eagle. It would have been difficult to handle both as setting up a new firm requires energy, time and dedication.

You have chosen 'beyond Thane and New Mumbai' zones for development. Do you face stiff competition from the players already active in this zone?
The land parcels which are feasible for affordable housing development are only available in this region. Hence the competitors. But the competition is healthy and it should be there. One advantage of competitors is that you don’t have to hard sell the location. People are already aware of it and you don’t have to promote it. You just need to convey your value prop.

How do you plan to balance lifestyle and affordability? Given that home buyers are skeptical about such claims, are you running any special campaigns to unfold the value prop to the target audience?
We have strategically formulated our approach to deliver a best-of-breed product at a cost-effective price. The flats have been designed in a manner that would make maintenance a low-cost affair but the quality is not compromised in any respect. About promotions, we run marketing campaigns from time to time to attract potential buyers. We also showcase our products in events, exhibitions and through BTL activities.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Ross Island Port Blair: Surreal isle, Scintillating legacy


Everything here - solitary creepers, deserted structures, paved pathways, weathered sign posts - tell such enduring tales, provided you care to listen...




Saturday, October 29, 2016

Poignant post cards from Port Blair


This was a walk down memory lane - a personal tribute to my dad's pioneering six-month deputation in 1978 as part of a Government of India Goodwill Expedition to the Sentinel Islands.



Port Blair has witnessed a sea change over the years, literally and otherwise. The good old Ross Island saved it from fatal destruction but it remains an unfortunate witness to Port Blair's social and cultural disintegration that pervades the place end to end. Talk to the local folks and a silent debate ensues over son of the soil claims - between the Tamilians and the Bengalis. It's more of a passive war of words but very unsettling all the same. Not that the rest - Keralites, Punjabis, Andhraites, Maharashtrians, Biharis or Marwaris are peace loving - but being the minority, they prefer to keep mum, probably cursing the ruling class in the vicinity of their homes, over bread and beer. Unlike other places in India, there's hardly a riot here but that doesn't mean the populace believes in solidarity. People run riot of a different virtual kind in this union territory.

But the biggest nuisance value to the Island is from mindless tourists. The Terrorism of Tourism is multi-faceted: whether in the form of the highly toxic and contagious "selfie" mania (taking selfies with Veer Savarkar is their favorite pastime), pathetic littering on historic spots, endless shopping sprees on busy streets or heinous hogging (both food and limelight) in all modes of public transport. It continues unabated only because tourism ensures a steady revenue stream.



Another disturbing sight is the surreal real estate in the Island town - wonder what sadistic pleasure the developers (read damagers) have derived by erecting the choicest of pathetic structures - probably they wished to pay tribute to the ancient ruins through their modern interpretations.



I tried to draw solace - finding my way through the Aberdeen bazaar which my mom frequented for groceries, the Central Bus Stand where me and my sister enjoyed the sheer thrill of countless "Milk Pepsis", the campus of our school - the Kendriya Vidyalaya, the site of the now-defunct Wimco factory where we had our night strolls, and the old building of the Anthropological Survey of India where my dad worked in a small cell reserved for the Archaeological Survey of India. Hard as I tried, I could not find the cottage that was once my home. I searched in vain across Delanipur and Haddo but no structure or even the inroads matched the picture in my mind's eye. I ended my pensive search in the convenient conclusion that since the entire Island was once my home, why care about one locality?



Thursday, October 13, 2016

A WEALTH OF NOTIONS




Book review
The Wealth Wallahs
Shreyasi Singh
Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd

Sudhir Raikar, Content Architect, IIFL | Mumbai | October 13, 2016, 14:28 IST

Courtesy http://www.indiainfoline.com/article/general-life-style-book-review/the-wealth-wallahs-116101300255_1.html

The Wealth Wallahs is more than a delightful peek into the world of wealth. Author Shreyasi Singh’s measured insights can’t merely be attributed to her editorial stint with the Indian edition of the US magazine Inc which gave her a ring side view of India’s new-age entrepreneurial evolution. Her conviction stems more from a visible penchant for detached probe, consciously avoiding the lure of convenient conclusion which, especially in the case of literature of the given genre, tends to escape public scrutiny.

Against the enchanting backdrop of a bagful of ‘tryst with wealth’ tales - whether incidental or accidental - of some of the happening first-generation entrepreneurs and professionals - she presents a near-360 degree account of IIFL Wealth, the trailblazing firm which has transformed the wealth management space with its prudent takes and proactive tweaks.

Singh’s ‘unspooling’ of the IIFL Wealth phenomenon is splendidly universal, an objective commentary on the post-2008 progression led by India’s entrepreneurial zing, also a torchlight on the cosseted territory of wealth that was steeped in secrecy for long. In what’s a profound scrutiny of the first-generation wealth dynamic, citing seminal work of specialists and surveyors for germane reinforcement, Singh underlines the changing psyche of the oven-fresh wealth creators and the consequent shift in the strategies of avant-garde wealth managers, as also the cause and effect of the socio-cultural attitudes of a vast majority, watching the wealthy from the sidelines.

It was IIFL Wealth’s astute focus on first-generation money, Singh tells us, that helped it reap rich dividends contrary to what the majority believed when they set up shop. On one end was the aftermath of the global slowdown that posed serious questions on the value prop of a novice wealth management player, on the other was a thriving environment where umpteen funding rounds were making millionaires zillion times faster than ever before and, where for the first time, working professionals became well-heeled purely from employment. By virtue of its offbeat focal point as much as its core competence made sharper from the synergies with its parent group, IIFL Wealth mirrored the success of its clients and scripted a revolution of sorts for the whole industry.

Singh has unleashed a wealth of aspects linked with wealth:

Like how many of India’s first-generation rich are yet uncomfortable talking about their affluence, perhaps guided by fear of inviting undue attention in a heavily lopsided society, and even fatal consequences as many events have proved...

Like how the manner in which wealth is made, particularly in specific sectors like real estate, still influences public perception – differing vastly across geographies and demographics - that in turn affects the behaviour of those in its possession...

Like how the venture capital and private equity-backed wealth phenomenon has changed the face of entrepreneurship in India, making it more democratic and ‘beyond the clutch of a small group of business families and industrial houses’...

Like how most of the first generation rich swear by refreshingly new definitions of wealth rooted in purpose and prudence ( and even philanthropy), not power and propensities...

Singh neatly sums up how the first generation rich have changed the rules of the game for wealth management (thriving on calculated risks and a yearning for capital growth, not merely its protection) before unfolding the inspiring story of IIFL Wealth. Her chronicle of the maverick wealth management firm is matter of fact, a welcome departure from the typical media narratives that are either reduced to replicas of corporate brochures, too rosy for comfort, or made to sound unduly caustic only to project ‘deep insights’ through a premeditated stance of dismissal and negation.

Singh dissects the IIFL Wealth DNA beginning with the fascinating bios of the three founding musketeers and a brief on the owner of the holding company, himself a self-made entrepreneur who built a financial powerhouse on the sheer strength of his non-conformism. The firm’s vision and mission, values and beliefs, style and substance, camaraderie and conviction, strategies and tactics, trials and triumphs, twists and turns, learning and improvisation – she touches every aspect by reciting endearing anecdotes that tell us more about the stellar character of the firm and recounting milestone developments that scripted its success and competitive edge.

Above all, Shreyasi Singh is an awesome story teller, judiciously linking the end of each chapter to the beginning of the next with the authority of a bestselling author. That’s precisely why this is not just a book for the wealthy or the managers of their wealth. As Singh puts it succinctly, it is useful reading for anyone interested in a fast-evolving, aspirational country, more so when wealth decisions are influenced as much by personal circumstances as by workplace realities.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Moving from Green cards to Trump cards


Recalling a dated piece on the request of a few readers. Dr. Rajan is back to Chicago but I would like to believe, just like them, he still belongs to India

The RBI governor’s metaphorical caveats are more significant for the man on the street than his transient rate announcements for the men on the Street. Wish the inexorable banker conveys them in the language of the street.



RBI governor Raghuram Rajan speaks with genuine concern for the common man but the only problem with his impeccable communication is that it is not inherently inclusive unlike his plans for India. In sharp contrast, enlightening a westerner on India’s unique problems is a cake walk for him. Consider this quip that hits bull’s eye "If you are an outsider looking at India, learn to filter out both the irrational exuberance and the excessive pessimism. We're subject to both. You will become manic-depressive if you follow our moods".

But back home, when he says India is an “island of relative calm in an ocean of turmoil”, only the cream of the crop, including professors and aficionados of the English language, gets the message right. All his forewarnings necessarily travel in a limited sphere where they are comprehended but hardly conceded, for obvious reasons of course. Most corporates, not just market men, don’t wish to look beyond the rate arithmetic, which has the effect of downplaying Rajan’s prudent observations including the need to make low inflation a collective responsibility of the RBI, government and the industry. Worse, tangents are thrown back in good measure to sideline his truisms. A case in point was his appeal to real estate developers to push demand through price cuts and thereby erode the mountain of unsold inventories. The weight of this argument called for an acknowledgment from all sections including banks but all they did was to make a strong case for teaser loans. Nothing to take away from the NPA-proof nature and demand-generating prowess of teaser loans as endorsed by a leading bank but Rajan’s dressing-down on inflated real estate pricing called for a more healthier admission, certainly not a myopic snap alleging his poor comprehension of the product.

Rajan’s occasional slippages add to his woes. Lashing out at banks in explosive outbursts is not always a good idea, ditto for stream-of-consciousness annotations on the economy that spur the media to raise doubts on his perceived equation with the government, especially when the RBI has been found wanting in few crucial areas. Among other things, it has done little to curate its economic data in order to make more credible policy pronouncements. We all know the myriad challenges in collection, collation, computation and curation of economic data which are the basis for a variety of key economic and business decisions – from formulating policies and monitoring prices to fixing escalation clauses and computing dearness allowances. The move to make foreign borrowings cheaper than internal debt has unknowingly made corporate leverage a road rage of sorts. And notwithstanding the governor’s pertinent observations on the thorny issue of NPA, every RBI intervention yet seems more palliative than curative. Thanks to the ambiguity that surrounds it, the governor’s stance, even to the neutral observer, appears a hazy blend of severity and dispensation.

No wonder, most of his incisive comments don’t get the circulation they deserve, leave alone approval. If the RBI wishes to earn the public’s trust, as Rajan has time and again reiterated, then acting against future inflationary threats is not enough, more so in an environment replete with vested interests who are vying to trace his fault lines. The essence and credence of his intervention need to be articulated for the common public at large. Like how RBI has credibly spearheaded the financial literacy initiative, it needs to demystify the Guv’s prolific speeches and media briefs in the language of the common man. Agreed, the Guv is not meant to win Facebook likes, but he needs to be heard, if not liked, by those millions with no access to Facebook.

They need to know about his track record, as also his tenacity to defy criticism and yet learn from it, in a language they understand. They need to know in commensurate detail about how banking access is being eased through business correspondents, payment banks, and point-of-sales machines, how lending is being facilitated for farmers, self help groups, and small businesses, how credit information bureaus, collateral registries, and debt recovery tribunals are being upgraded, how repayment discipline, like business ethics and commitment to hard work and quality, is crucial for economic growth, how easy access to credit comes with strict penalties in the event of defaults, how the RBI has developed a Charter of Consumer Rights following public consultation, how Bank boards have been urged to adopt right-protection frameworks, how RBI is mulling over institutionalizing best practices while strengthening field visits to check frauds and other functional deviations. It’s only then will they comprehend the quintessence of his inflation-fixation as also the credibility of his track record - how he assumed office when inflation was furiously moving up and the rupee was abysmally going down, how he and his prolific team got inflation down to record lows, how they boosted forex reserves, how they are gradually transforming the banking sector. It’s only then that they will grasp the meaning of “vocal borrowers and silent savers” better than what most economists and media columnists have.

Hindi and other languages are more than a bridge between the banker and the customer; they can be a conduit between RBI and the common public. Rajan has already delivered on his promise to make a Hindi speech, now he needs to make his office more accessible to the common man. And that does not mean he should shun Keats and embrace Premchand, for in a nation of people who are not known for their reading habits – whether city-bred or pastoral - neither of the greats would help make an impression.

Putting up website documents in Hindi is just one step towards this inclusive mission. Making the RBI website even more user-friendly would be a crucial stride. May be a few Master Documents, updated on a real time basis, can help lay users know the gamut of RBI’s inflation agenda and development initiatives at a glance. Maybe the RBI can organize innovative online and offline public awareness campaigns to convey the moot points of its agenda. The only communication that currently reaches the common man is about him, not by him, that too in bits and pieces of black and white where he’s either sketched as a Rockstar with superhuman skills or an elitist operator with little regard for the real India. He’s neither of the two, yet his absurd admirers and derisive detractors are ever keen to script his ignominy whenever he’s perceived to be disproving his allegiance to either of the two identities thrust upon him.

May be the Guv could take a cue from our PM whose simple-yet-sharp acronyms like ‘3Ds: Democracy, Demography and Demand’ ensure an instant connect with classes and masses alike and whose unique style of messaging inspires common people to respond to appeals like Jan Dhan Yojna and willful subsidy surrenders. If Rajan selectively adopts this approach to reach out, no politician would dare to make an issue of his Green card, for he would no longer need to prove his citizenship in his staple allegorical vein. The nation will do the needful on his behalf in plain vanilla terms. The language of the people might then become his trump card. There’s no activism more powerful than the one that springs from the grassroots.