Saturday, May 27, 2006


Like the Kingfisher bird,Vijay Mallya is flying high.Liquour continues to remain his core business. In the last decade he has consolidated his position in the domestic liquour industry and has successfully steered his company United Breweries as the leader of the pack.He has acquired some international brewery and distillery brands and even pubs in the UK .Recently he acquired controlling interest in Shaw Wallace & Co and is the no 1 in the beer and whisky business in India. These businesses are very profitable and he has used his earnings intelligently to build a huge pile of cash for acquisitions,expansions and diversification.

Almost 20 years ago he setup an electronics unit in Orissa which failed.He went into software and acquired an American company and if I am right it is still listed in the Nasdaq.He acquired Berger Paints' South African unit and has a presence in that country. He has very recently bid for the French distillery Tattlinger and is looking at China seriously.Tattlinger will give UB a strong foothold in Europe by bringing world famous brands under its umbrella. China has at the low end home made country liquour and at the high end imported scotch whisky.There is in between a huge market waiting to be tapped.

Vijay Mallya's noteworty diversification and extension of the Kingfisher brand has been his foray into the aviation industry. Kingfisher Airlines which he started about a year ago is riding the economic boom in India as more and more people have resorted to travelling by air. 25 million seats growing at 20% per annum is a big market. In fact, encouraged by the economic growth and the rise in per capita income and disposable surplus in the hands of the middle class population, many new companies like Air Deccan,Go,Spice etc have ventured into this field based on market forecast for the next decade. And most of them have adopted the budget traveller business model. Price the ticket as cheap as possible and therefore affordable to more and more people. It has become a volume game. Have ticket,will travel.

Vijay Mallya did some solid homework. He commissioned IMRB to assess a possible niche in the flyer market .IMRB interviewed about 2500 frequent flyers aged 21 to 45 years in the top 15 metros.The findings? Very interesting. People wanted a young,trendy,fun and yet a premium product. He decided to capitalise on the tremendous brand equity of Kingfisher and do two things: 1) extend Kingfisher brand into aviation and 2) focus on young business travellers.

Vijay Mallya has chosen to take the premium route. His tickets are competitive but not cheap.But he promises superior service and an experience to remember. In a short period he has captured the imagination of those who look for alternatives to Indian Airlines and Jet Airways. A la Richard Branson, the flamboyant and charismatic Vijay Mallya wants to make Kingfisher Airlines the numero uno in the Indian Aviation industry. He has also set up a company in the USA and plans to have regular flights to India. To meet his ambitious plans he has ordered a huge number of aircrafts and has even recently ordered and procured the latest Airbus A380.

Vijay Mallya has cleverly leveraged on the brand equity of Kingfisher beer by using the same name and logo for his airlines. Marketing gurus would call this approach as brand extension. ITC and Brittania are examples of companies who have ridden on their exixsting brands to create new businesses successfully. Of course there are many more examples.

Very recently he had a big bash in Mumbai for the inauguration of the Romanovo brand of vodka from the UB stable. He introduced actor Shilpa Shetty as Romanovo's new ambassador.

The King has caught a sweet fish.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


maybe it has got something to do with the weather. maybe not.

a recent survey conducted in uk for a car freshner manufacturer by smell expert david prybus revealed some interesting facts. car smells were ranked on a scale of 1 to 10.putrid to pleasant. the worst were from leeds and edinburgh while those from slough smelled the sweetest. the pungency in the rogue cars were from cigarettes,drinks cans,left over foods,and blankets which had locked in cat/dog odours. david prybus concluded that with temperatures going north,odours will make their presence felt more,hence it would be advisable that car owners do a thorough spring cleaning.

commuters in the far east in manila,phillipines are recently 'up in arms' against public drivers-bus,train and taxi whose stench has become unbearable. the authorities are advising the drivers to take a bath and apply deo. bus drivers negotiating the humid streets of manila have something more to worry about than their armpits. the utilities felt that their drivers must be presentable and should not drive barefooted and topless and wearing shorts. they must maintain decorum and seek medical advice for armpit odour,though a bath a day and some 'tawas' or deodarant should do the trick. come mid-may and the setting in of the monsoon, the stink will fly away. the devil is in the 35 celsius heat.

once voted to be the sexiest man alive,hollywood actor brad pitt is in the shithouse .he is no more hot. he stinks. he has made it to the unsexiest 100 men in the world. what a fall! and why? because he allegedly smells bad. he has hygiene and bo issues. but then he is not in really bad company. others accompanying him in the gallery include,bill gates,osama bin laden,michael jackson,ralph nader and art garfunkel.

budhia,the wunderkid

he ran and ran and ran.the full distance of 65 kms from bhubaneshwar to puri in the state of orissa,india in 7.02 hours on may 2 . it seems that he has run this full stretch nine times in 2005 and that is nothing unusual if he was a normal runner. he wasn't. he is only 4 years young. some reports said his age is three and some said it is five. i chose to take the mean of four. an extraordinary achievement in the summer heat. it went straight into the limca book of records. the world was has triggered flak from human rights activists. and many still believe it is a hoax.

the kid was unmaintainable by his impoverished mother who sold him for rs 800. the saviour and surrogate father one day asked him to run around a particular place as a mild punishment for some mischief that budhia had done. and the father forgot about it. when he came back after several hours he found the boy still 'on the run'.that was when the father,biranchi das,a local judo teacher, who became his coach discovered his unusual stamina and realised the hidden potential of a 'marathon runner'.

the rest is history.there was lot of media attention as usual.the state government stepped in and had him medically examined.then the orissa government announced that budhia will not be allowed to run given his poor health condition. and the father and coach swore to polish the uncut diamond and realise his true value.

a four-minute musical cd in oriya has been made in which he has been compared with lord krishna. and foster entertainment of hollywood has shown keen interest in making a movie on budhia's life. besides being shown by all news channels in india, a french tv channel has shot a documentary on budhia. touch production's ltd uk has invited budhia to london to produce a documentary on him. and for the moment budhia has been placed in the seventh heaven.

as expected there is a raging debate going on whether he should have run at all. what would have happened if he had collapsed and died. collapse he did when he reached the destination. how could the coach be so selfish and indifferent and put to risk the young kid's life? is he trying to attain fame and money at budhia's cost?

we must not get carried away by these insinuations and we must take an impassionate look and judge the case on its merits. firstly,it is a fantastic achievement.the crp personnel were running along with budhia and the record appears to be genuine. secondly,we must accept that there is the hallmark of a runner in him and take steps to encourage the growth of the talent. by giving him the material means for proper nutrition,comfortable living and the infrastructure for coaching and nurturing the talent.

here is a chance for a poor slum boy to make it big.for god's sake let us not play spoilsport .we must allow this extraordinarily gifted child to keep his date with history.

run budhia,run.

and even as la affaire budhia has not yet died down,the state of orissa has earned the unique distinction of having yet another child running 38 km from pipli to puri in about five and a half hours. dilip rana,12,is a class eight student of a local school. unlike budhia, dilip rana started running only a fortnight ago,perhaps inspired by budhia's exploits .he practised for nearly seven hours every day under the watchful eyes of his uncle and coach shaikh zakir. dilip took only water and grapes while he kept jogging the 38 km stretch and was accompanied by about ten youngsters.

orissa is now in the world map for not only its ironore reserves but for its potential marathon runners.


Monday, May 15, 2006


The recent landslide victory of CPI(M) in the state elections in West Bengal has made one point very clear. That Budddhadeb Bhattacharya, the CM, has effectively come out of the shade of the octogenarian leader Jyoti Babu and that he is his own master. Providing leadership from the front, he has in a short period after taking over the reins,transformed West Bengal from a dying state to a vibrant one. In Bengali they say,"praan ta abar eshegayche". The vital breath has come back.That is the state of West bengal today.

WB is clocking a per capita income growth rate of 5.4%. Which is exceptional. Very few states can match WB's growth. Iron&Steel,IT,Petrochemicals and Agribusiness & food processing are the new growth industries. Manikanchan,a gem and jewellery park of world class has been set up in Salt Lake City. Also Asia's largest leather complex has come up in the outskirts of Kolkata. The Salim group of Indonesia is setting up a 2 wheeler plant. A light engineering park,a food processing park and a rubber park are all being established. The WB government is wooing investors with subsidised land and other incentives.

Honest to the core,BB is a man of simple habits and tastes,a typical Bengali bhadralok,living in a two room apartment in South Kolkata. He has impressed political and business leaders all over the world by the style in which he has gone about his job to make West Bengal an investment attraction for industrialists and entrepreneurs. Ratan Tata,Ashim Premji,Narayana Murthy, and other captains of industry have praised him to the hilt for his businesslike efficiency in making WB catch up in the growth league with other States.

Post independence, West Bengal was the number 1 state in industrial growth.Late B C Roy had done a great job as the first CM. When the communists came to power much later,they brought about major land reforms and improved the lot of the poor people in the rural areas. But then the Naxalite movement in the late 60s and early 70s forced industrialists to rundown their local units and start new ventures in other States.The work culture had also deteriorated to an abysmal level. Kolkata folded under the pressure of refugees from East Pakistan first and Bangladeh later and without the required infrastructure the rot set in.

This decade has seen a transformation which no one in their wildest dreams would ever have imagined. Buddhababu constantly chants "aamar fdi (foreign direct investment) chaai". That has been his mantra."I want fdi". Last year BB visited Italy and other European countries to attract foreign investment. WB Government has entered into a partnership with an Indonesian conglomerate,the Salim group, for building a huge residential cum shopping complex. Infosys and Wipro are investing in a big way and Tatas are likely to set up a manufacturing plant. Jindals and Mittals have shown keen interest too. Even the ex cricket captain of Australia,Steve Waugh,who has adopted an orphange in Kolkata,is considering investment in a cricket training complex.

BB had an excellent rapport with L.K.Advani when the BJP was in power. When LKA used to praise BB,it was generally considered to be an embarrassment as both the parties are sworn enemies. Similarly,his relationship with Manmohan Singh is very warm. MS too lavished praises on him when he found in him a champion in opening up the State's economy and in going through the painful process of economic reforms. His is a brand of Marxism heavily borrowed from Deng Xu Ping Of Communist China.A bit of plagiarism,one would say. But then anyone can hardly complain.

BB wants more investments to come into the state,more jobs to be created,and wants labour to enhance productivity. Reform,perform or perish. Guardian and FT covered him extensively and praised him for his outstanding leadership. The Marwaris of Kolkata love him because he understands their business language.

I often travel to Kolkata.Atleast once a month. Our registered office is located in Shakespeare Sarani and our Chairman sits in Kolkata . I can see the change that is transforming this great city. First is the building activity. Residential townships,flyovers,roads,multistoreyed buildings,etc. Several five star hotels have comeup indicating the increase in tourist traffic. A new road has been built from Park Circus to Dum Dum which cuts the travelling time to the airport considerably.The metro is expected to be connected to Dum Dum soon. Raajar hat is a well planned sotware cum residential park. And then the Malls.There is a virtual retail boom. When I expressed my surprise seeing so many malls coming up,a knowledgeable friend of mine remarked,"this is just the tip of the iceberg".

In the old days,load shedding was a recurring phenomenon.No more.The State has adequate power by improving the PLF(plant load factor) and cutting down on distribution and transmisssion losses,an euphemism for power theft. It is blessed with plenty of water. In which other city in India can you find trams,local trains,underground tube,and a top-class airport. People of various religions and beliefs live together in peace and amity .And Kolkata is not expensive. No wonder everyone is making a beeline to West Bengal. And a friendly and supportive CM ably assisted by the Babudom can really work miracles and bring West Bengal back to the top position as the numero uno State.

Buddhababu is shining and deservedly smiling. A Laughing Buddha is supposed to bring good luck. We hope the smile on Buddhababu's face will soon transform into a laugh. And that should become West Bengal's icon. The Laughing Buddha.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


about eight weeks back i attended an inauguration of a new book on branding. written by tambrahm sridhar ramanujam.there are quite a few sridhars who have made a mark in the advertisement world. there is another ad guru r sridhar who was with o&m and left them to start a consultancy of his own.i had earlier heard about ramanujam sridhar,how he started his career in an accounting function,his working with a.g.krishnamurthy's mudra and later moving on to chennai and bangalore where he worked in o&m for many years.he is also an avid cricket fan. no,he is something more. he is a fanatic. like my eldest brother who fainted in the stands when mohun bagan scored a goal against east bengal in a first division league match about 50 years ago, sreedhar is very emotive about indian cricket. he is also extremely knowledegable. besides advertising, cricket was his passion.jokingly he would say that his family came later in that order.

the neatly packaged book 'one land,one billion minds' is no great shakes. no new theories or concepts. nothing esoteric or mindblowing. it is all plain vanilla stuff. there is lot of commonsense permeating the book. but then commonsense is uncommon. and the more we read such books we realise how very often we miss the woods for the trees. balakrishnan(balki) was the chief guest.he is the national advertising director of lowe. he had worked under sridhar when he started his career and therefore had some very kind words to say. the publisher srinivasamurthy was there to justify the high price of rs 950 for the book.

i happened to chat for a few minutes with the author and tried to impress him by saying that my daughter works for landor."oh,that design company in sf?" that was his reaction. i gave the feedback to l and l felt that is how many people in the ad world perhaps perceive it.

when the q and a time came,i asked the author whether there are any international indian brands.he said that he doesn't think any single indian brand can be seen on the global brand map. there are south korean and even chinese global brands but not indian.haeir,wahaha,master kong have become famous chinese brands.if you stretch it a bit,maybe 'taj' could be termed a global indian brand. period.

the other day i read an article on mohan murjani and the brands he has created. mm was born in 1946 in hyderabad,sind. he spent his formative years at pune with his grandmother,a very spiritual lady,and one who was deeply influenced by sadhu vaswani.he moved to hong kong and from there to new york and the rest is as they say is history. gloria vanderbilt, gucci, yves saint laurent, calvin klein, jimmy choo, tumi, build-a-bear are all his. i couldn't believe it. but then these are our entrepreneurs who ventured abroad,took risks and became successful."india is the place.i'd say'shut the door'.don't do a thing abroad. build here. this is the market". mohan is heavily betting on india.

ask vijay mahajan and he will say the same thing.vijay is a professor of marketing at the mccombs school of business,university of texas at austin.14% of the world's population of 6 billion plus lives in countries with a per capita gnp of 10k dollars plus.the market opportunities lie in the 86%. he has written a book titled "the 86% solution". "this century will see a celebration of brands coming from the 86% economies", says mahajan in his book which he has coauthored with kamini banga.

and in a recent 'esomar' conference held in mumbai, a team consisting of researchers from mckinseys said that brands that forge long term relationships with the consumer are the ones that do consistently well in the marketplace.the brands that came to my mind were walt disney,harley davidson, walmart,coca cola, honda,nissan,lg,samsung,daewoo,lenovo,qoo(a fruit juice variant from coke),tiger beer to name a few. they said india failed on all counts -in 10 or so industries and categories across the board. after conducting loads of research and based on several parameters they concluded that there are no prominent indian brands in asia. the reason. no money or effort is made to promote the india tag.

we have a long way to go to create global brands and make it to the global marquee.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Surely,Lord Winston Churchill will turn in his grave when he hears this. A British company has been awarded a contract to clean loos at Churchgate Station,Mumbai. Not that our mehtars and mehtaranis(scavengers) have gone on strike. It is in spite of their doing their best. It is a massive problem. Seven lakh commuters every day passing through the station and the loo. The stink was "unsahikable" and "imporukable" as tams would say. lu(no pun intended) would vouchsafe to this statement,having done the commuting between Churchgate and Andheri for two full years.

The daily tabloids ran screaming headlines."The sun has set on the Britsh Empire"."The Raj has been done in"."India outsources loocleaning to UK".

Dinesh Kumar & Co of India has teamed up with Technical Concepts of UK, a hygiene solutions provider.Their first job was to clean up the Churchgate loo. Tech Concepts have installed 37 autojanitors in the gent's toilet after the revamp. Special biosense refills have been used to provide an "odour free" ambience. A special ducting system has been installed for ingress of fresh air.

A press report said "these heavily used urinals now have a refreshing whiff of fresh air". A transformation from a "stinking loo" to a" perfumed loo" it said.

I decided to test it out. Last Saturday,while returning home from work I dropped by. The corridor was not stinking. You didn't have to reach for your handkerchief. I entered the gent's toilet. It was "house full" and a slight stink was emanating.The stink was still there and not fully gone. But nevertheless a great improvement.

So,Mr Bill Yemc,MD of Tech Concepts has some homework left over to be done. He has to make it "zero stink". Till then the WR authorities should refrain from terming the experiment a "huge success". Bill Yemc is confident that the company would be able to provide sanitary solutions to customer's requirements!

A step in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


It appeared too good to be true. At 16, Kaavya Vishwanathan had earned half a million dollars for a two-book deal from her publishers Little,Brown. A movie deal option from Dealworks. The chick-lit (designer labels,nasty girl gang,rebellious but cool boyfriends) and 'cliched' had fired the imagination of savvy marketeers. It had made sensational news and every Indian was justifiably proud of such a fantastic achievement. I had covered her in an earlier blog with Lavanya who too earned a huge anount of greenbucks with her debut novel. I was eagerly looking forward to read "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed,Got Wild and Got A Life". The shocking news arrived. For a moment I was stunned. Could it be true? Was it jealousy that was behind badnaming her? And what could be the consequences . It looked plain terrible to me.

The news first came out of Harvard itself. In their daily 'Harvard Crimson' as well as on the blogosphere. Kaavya after initially rejecting any such theft,quickly started making amends. She admitted to having read both the books and for having"internalised" some of the material she had read and blamed her photographic memory for its reproduction in her book. "I guess it's just been in my head". "I borrowed details from my life for the book-settings,descriptions,personality quirks from acquaintances-but the novel is entirely fiction".She didn't then say that she had helped herself generously from "Second Helpings". Later her PR machine swung into action to control the damage. She apologised to the author Megan McCafferty after admitting that she indeed had lifted several passages from teen novels "Sloppy First" and "Second Helpings" and the publishers Little Brown even agreeed to modify the next edition. The other side would have nothing of such compromise. Finally LB yielded and pulled the books out of the shelves. The last that I heard was that she may have to return some of the big bucks she received.

As a father of a child who went through the process of getting admission into a top US school,I know very well what it takes.Opal Mehta's story is very typical of an Indian family's obsession with admission to Ivy League,especially Harvard for their children.Marina Budhos has recently written a novel called 'AskMe No Question'. In that she says that Indian Americans have become very savvy at working the American system.They make sure that their kids go to the right schools,that they hire the right tutors etc etc. Kavya went through that process. Her parents spent apparently about 15,000 dollars on a private college counsellor. So she knew best what it takes and from all accounts she did a good job. It seems she was under tremendous pressure to complete the novel and that might have forced her to adopt such sharp practices. She literally had to pay for her folly.

Will Harvard continue to keep the sophomore student? The jury is still out on that. Probably yes,probably no. They cannot be seen to condone plagiarism. At the same time,she has apologised and even agreed to return some of the money. It is going to be a tough call for Harvard.

I feel sorry for Kaavya. She fell into a trap. It is easy to criticize her and say why did she cheat? Some would say she deserved it. How can you lifft 40 passages and similar situations from other novels? And do you expect to get away with it? I wish her publishers had done a check. Asked her these questions and made sure nothing was amiss. They failed to do that. Had they taken some trouble rather than pressurise Kaavya to get the manuscript out fastest,they could have saved all the eggs that have been thrown at their faces.

Soon, all this will be forgotten. The only way Kaavya can resurrect herself would be to write another novel. After all she is in good company. Hasn't Dan Brown of Da Vinci fame been charged for wordlifting? Martin Luther King pulled out one-third of his doctorate dissertation from other sources and even William Shakespeare has been accused of lifting whole plots from the classics.

And for all you know she may even get a better deal than half a million US dollars.