Monday, June 24, 2013

What they say and what they mean - Conference Calls Part 2

Continuing on the subject of conference calls, it is wonderful to observe how a person's entire vocabulary undergoes a change when he/she enters into one. It is expected that one should be extremely polite on the calls, beyond the bounds of normal civility. Everyone is saying a lot of things, but often, they are not really saying anything. You have to go through quite a few of these before you learn to interpret what the other person means when she tells you...

What they say

What they mean

Thank you everyone for coming into the call

I know you would not have if you had the choice

That is a good question

I don't know the answer

That is a very good question

I don't know the answer – I wish you had not asked the question

That is an excellent question


Let's take that offline

I don't know the answer / the other idiots on the call can't be expected to understand / Let's forget about it

If your boss is on the call and tells you "let's take that offline"

I'll talk to you tomorrow morning about this

Can you please repeat the question

I was not listening


I confirm / I was not listening

That's a good point

I'm just letting you know that I'm still here though I was not listening

That's an excellent suggestion

I agree

That's an excellent suggestion

I don't agree

That's an excellent suggestion, but…

I think you have gone nuts

I don't agree

I have gone nuts

This is a very important initiative

I don't know who wants it and why it's required

It's a project driving towards our strategic objectives

I don't know what this project is all about

We are in agreement with you

Not agreeing will involve ten more calls – agreeing is far easier

We would like everyone to come on the same page

One more call spent in discussing context – I am quite willing to do that for the rest of my life – so long as there are no action points

Sorry about that

Just to underline that I am very polite

What you are saying is correct

People who live in glass houses don't throw stones

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The truths of conference calls

No one who has worked in big corporates would have escaped the tyranny of conference calls. Initially, I was all enthusiastic. It seemed like a brilliant way to connect, and the company provides all kinds of numbers to call in to, passcodes and stuff as well, making me feel very important. It is a well established ritual that the moment a project is announced, the leader immediately forms a team that is cross-functional, multi-locational, multi-dimensional, anti-solutional, and includes everybody who is anybody and many people who have no relation to the project, on the team. Seldom is an invitation to join a project team rejected - it is, after all, with its multi-locational and multi-functional advantages, something that is expected to advance your career.  Everyone approaches his first conference call with great enthusiasm.

And then, realization slowly dawns... 

It is not all that it's touted to be,
It is one more way to just keep busy.
Normal meetings pale in comparison,
the virtual ones are truly truly scary!

In my long career I have had many occasions to participate in conference calls, and provide below some insights from my experiences.

I would love to receive some of your own insights as well...

The truths of conference calls

The number of people attending bears no relation to the importance of the subject.
The number of possible interactions increases exponentially with the number of people.  Not a real risk, since the inclination to pay attention and contribute too drops exponentially.
There is a lot of time spent on crossing the "i's" and dotting the "t's"
Everyone has to pause after every half an hour to come on to the same page - it takes half an hour each time.
It's like playing musical chairs with the number of chairs being one more than the number of players. The game never ends.
Each participant marches to the beat of a different drummer.  The group thus marches towards a solution.
Repeating the question is an acceptable answer.
Repeating the answer leads to a new question.
Both questions and answers are repeated in the next call.
Forming a committee to set up a task force which can think about how to set up a timetable to frame the scope is a good action item for the first call.
You are excused if you suspect that not everyone is speaking English.
One meets to call - One calls to meet.
A process by which one starts with a clear solution and ends with a confusing problem.
A computer would need an infinite iterative loop to program this.
A forum where everyone competes to show his lack of understanding.
One-tenth of the work expands to fill ten times the time allotted.
Every employee's chance to star in a soap opera.
Extensive use of technology for intensive debilitation of the mind.
Everyone thanks everyone else, all the time.
Clarity of objective is not the objective.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The difficulty of being Subbarao

Recent article in the Times of India (also reproduced at the end of this mail) about the rupee hitting an all-time low, with some quotes from the chief economic advisor to the government. The quotes are highlighted in yellow, my views follow:

The article:

Some quotes from the article:

The government's chief economic adviser said the finance ministry, RBI and the SEBI are watching the markets.
We will be alert to the development, we do not like volatility and take actions when necessary, Rajan said. 
Rajan said rupee is not in a shambles and cautioned against being overtly pessimistic. 

My take on it: 

One can almost imagine the scene...

Duvvuri Subbarao put down the phone after his daily morning conversation with Chidambaram. "Coffee, get me some coffee" he bellowed. These conversations always put him in a stressful state, a very bad way to start the morning. 'Reduce the interest rates, he says, does he understand anything about macro economics?, I don't want to fuel growth when there is so much inflation', 'the markets are a self-fulfilling prophesy, he says, if you think they will go up, and you talk about it going up, it will go up, he says - he must be thinking about something else - only that goes up just thinking about it'. 

His assistant handed the coffee and immediately withdrew. The whole of RBI knew not to mess around with Subbarao after his daily morning talk with Chidambaram. He continued mumbling as he sipped his coffee. 'And that new economic advisor of his, I thought he would talk some sense - he predicted the 2008 collapse after all, and here he is out-optimisting the optimistic Chidambaram.  We have all the tools, and will use them when required, he says - what tools do we have?  He thinks economics is so simple, like having a set of hammers, tongs and pliers, that all you have to do is go pull out the painful tooth? And what does he mean, we do not like volatility? The markets have tanked fifteen percent in a matter of weeks, is that not volatility enough? Or maybe he thinks it is volatility only when it swings like a yo-yo. And yes, I would certainly like to see his tools - he keeps talking about them - I am very curious to know what they are...'

Duvvuri Subbarao continued muttering under his breath, his mood today was very dark indeed. 'Madam will keep announcing her harebrained schemes, doling out money like it's free - God knows how much trouble I take to create that money. But no, who is to explain macro-economics to them? they think all I have to do is run the printing press, and the money machine will throw out wads of cash for some new-fangled "Rajiv Gandhi Gramin/ Sadak /Parivartan /Vikas/ Shikshan /Garibi/ Hatao/ Khana/ Poshak /Niranthar/ Nischit/ Suraksha/ Pratibhuti /Hak /Suchna" or some such scheme designed to line their pockets and get them votes.  They keep doling out money on one side and they go after Gold on the other - they don't want Indians to buy gold. All of those politicians who talk like this, I would like to know, what do they give as dowry at their daughters' weddings? How much gold do they have in their storehouses themselves? Imposing that duty is only going to increase smuggling, and for every kilogram of gold coming in, other things will be smuggled out, may be drugs.. do they even know the consequences of what they are doing?'

Subbarao  came to the end of his coffee, when the phone rang - Raghuram Rajan on the line sir, said his assistant and put him on. 'Hi Subbarao, why did you not reduce the interest rates, that's what our boss wants. And Madam had a suggestion, the next time we reduce the rates, may be we can call it 'Rajiv Gandhi Byaaj Ghataav Yojana' - it is election time and we need to announce new schemes - boss has asked you to make a presentation on this for Madam.' Raghu did not wait for him to respond, he just continued 'And, by the way, boss is very concerned. We have just made a statement to the press that we are watching the markets. The stock exchange building is visible from your office, right?' 'Um right', replied Subbarao, he did not know where this was going. 'Right then, we are coming over tomorrow, call Sinha also. We are all going to watch the markets from your office window.  And we need to discuss how to boost growth and talk up the markets. Elections are round the corner and Madam wants the markets to go up. I am confident you will be able to present some concrete proposals in this regard.' Raghu hung up without giving Subbarao a chance to respond.

"Whiskey' shouted Subbarao. I need a stiff peg - go and get me one." His assistant ran to comply. 

Nursing his whiskey, he sat staring out of the window, pondering over what proposals he needed to present to Chidambaram, Raghu, and Sinha when they would come to his office on the morrow. The view outside seemed dark and gloomy indeed...

Dinesh Gopalan
mob: 9845257313; blog:

Rupee hits all-time low of 60; will act when necessary, govt says

PTI | Jun 20, 2013, 11.52AM IST
MUMBAI: The rupee trimmed its early losses but was still quoted lower by 83 paise to 59.53 per dollar after hitting 60-level on strong demand for the American currency from banks and importers amidst sharp fall in equity market.

We are not short of actions or instruments as and when the need arises, said govt's chief economic advisor Raghuram Rajan on rupee dipping to an all-time low.

We will be alert to the development, we do not like volatility and take actions when necessary, Rajan said.

Rajan said rupee is not in a shambles and cautioned against being overtly pessimistic.

The government's chief economic adviser said the finance ministry, RBI and the SEBI are watching the markets.

The rupee resumed lower at 59.50 per dollar against the last closing level of 58.70 per dollar at Interbank Foreign Exchange (Forex) Market and dropped further to an all-time low of 60.00 per dollar before quoting at 59.53 per dollar at 10.40am.

Meanwhile, the S&P BSE sensex fell below the 19,000 level due to all-round selling pressure as the rupee hit record low.

The sensex resumed lower at 19,069.20 and dropped further to a low of 18,822.65 before quoting at 18,885.63 at 10.30am, showing a net loss of 360.07 points, or 1.87 per cent from its last close.

The NSE 50-share Nifty also dropped sharply by 124.45 points, or 2.09 per cent, to 5,700.80 at 10.30am.

Stocks fell across Asia after Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said after a two-day policy meeting that the central bank may reduce bond purchases later this year should the US economy strengthen.

Concerns about the health of the Chinese economy also weighed on sentiment after a survey showed further slowdown in China's manufacturing sector.

Persistent capital outflows from foreign funds also affected the market sentiment. Foreign institutional investors sold shares worth a net Rs 544.97 crore on Wednesday, as per provisional data from the stock exchanges.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A flexible deposit scheme from ICICI bank – have they gone nuts?

I like the new flexible Recurring Deposit Scheme being marketed by ICICI Bank. You can open an RD account for any period between 6 months and 10 years. The rate of interest is what you would expect in an FD of the same tenure opened today. 


It is branded as IWish, an account you open for achieving your dream, say, buying a car costing 8 lakhs 8 years from now. You put in a minimum of Rupees 500 to open the account, and then keep putting in any amount as and when you feel like till the target amount is achieved, then wait for the maturity date and withdraw the amount along with interest.  Even if you achieve the target before the maturity date, you wait till the maturity date to withdraw the money.   Any premature withdrawals attract the usual penalty (1%) like any normal FD or RD.


I don't know if the guys at ICICI have realized this or not, but they are giving each customer an option to open ten completely flexible deposits for amounts upto 10 lakhs each, which act as an insurance against any drop in interest rates.   Each of us should open ten deposits of Rupees Ten Lakhs target amount, by depositing Rupees 500 only. The durations can vary from two years to ten years. In case the interest rates in the economy drop drastically, you can ramp up the amount of deposit in any of the accounts, since the interest rates have been locked in at the time of opening the deposits. A completely flexible option to put in any amount at a higher interest rate, for the next ten years, without any strings attached!


In case the interest rates don't fall, then let your 500 rupees with interest come back to you at maturity. No loss, no harm done.


Go for it. It is seldom that you get something for nothing!


( Thanks to my friend Prasad, who though a techie, is more of a finance whiz than most finance guys – he is the one who told me about this)