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January 05, 2018

Name sake Competitors or Partners Planning for Market Domination!

Marketers always talk of competitors as being fierce and at each other’s throats. There is a saying "everything is fair in war and love". But is not really true. Most of it is only sparring. Check out what is happening on TV.

India Vs South Africa cricket series is playing out in South Africa and all other sports channels will try to divert our attention to their own programmes. They will show any other cricket match that is as close to India vs South Africa match as possible. Not that the viewers get confused easily, but it is par for the course.

Star Sports and Star Cricket are desperately trying to milk their contract with IPL for the next five years. They already have had prelude for the IPL auctions for 2018 season. They will try to prolong the auction process and the aftermath as much as possible. Trying to milk IPL when the Indian national team is playing does not cut much ice with the audience.  But they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, right!

But the TV channels are not really competitors! When one channel takes a commercial break – check out any other similar channel. All of them will be playing commercials. So as far as getting money from the advertisers all of them are on the same platform or frequency!

Most competition simply, is at the vey basic level and it is to get market share. Most companies maintain some sort of a status quo. When a huge controversy erupted in 2006 about presence of pesticide in Indian soft drinks, both Pepsi and Coca-Cola’s CEOs came on the same platform to address a joint press conference!

Yes, you have read it right! Pepsi and Coke on the same platform. And both companies proudly say in their advertisements that the cola wars are on and that they would not even utter each other’s names!

There was lot of back patting in that press conference and both the CEOs in unison were very magnanimous in declaring that their colas are absolutely safe. They finally hinted not so subtly that it is actually the contaminated ground water of India that is responsible for the pesticide in the colas and not their production process or their ingredients! And we continue to patronize the colas! Caveat Emptor! 

December 29, 2017

Washing Dirty linen in public - The case of the Masi Gudda - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post No - 40

As discussed in my previous post, Bahirdar was full of Indian teachers. I will attempt to classify these Indians into categories, so that the readers can understand their behaviour.

1) The Desperates: Desperates are Indians who have come to a foreign country as a last resort. This set of Indians tend to be very low in confidence and have managed to come abroad based on various dubious methods which can include fake credentials, fake certificates and even fake experience. They constantly live in a state of fear.

They could have even come on recommendations, by bribing concerned officials or even could have just come on pure luck. Their low inferiority complex can lead to lots of problems for all other Indians. Desperates tend to be average or low level performers and are constantly on the look out to make their own life safer and better.

They would work for unnecessarily long hours, pamper and pander to every whim and fancy of the locals and tend to drive the salaries southwards (downwards). They also throw lavish parties for the local teachers and tend to snitch on Indians. For example, it is quite likely that some Indians could have gone to Addis Ababa on a private visit of their own, only to know the Desperates have squealed on them to their Dean. The Desperates are despised and tend to survive only on the goodwill and generosity of the local teachers and administrators.

2) The No Choicers: These are people driven to a foreign country as they have limited career prospects in India. They are good workers and tend to do a decent job. As they have no chance of getting regular and lucrative employment in India, they tend to be loyal and do multiple contracts. It is quite common to see many Indians who have done 8-10 contracts or have spent 16-20 years on their own in a foreign land. They earn money, but their personal and family lives become affected and it is often seen that the family and the person grow apart over a period of time.

3) The Regulars: Regulars are Indians who want to have a fling of a lifetime. I would consider myself a regular. Regulars go to a foreign country to take in as much of the country and the culture as possible. They lead a normal life and might not save much even at the end of many contracts but carry with them experiences that are worth a life time stay.

4) The Scroungers: Scroungers are the extreme people. They come to a foreign country just to save. This saving inclination can take extreme forms. For example, a faculty who was earning 1000 dollars in Bahirdar saved up to 975 dollars a month. This person survived only on 25 dollars which is 200 birr or an unbelievable Rs 1000/- rupees per month.

This extreme saving habit would mean that they literally survive only on rice and dal and are always on the lookout for freebies in the form of parties that are thrown by more generous fellow Indians. In a way the scroungers are good at their business. They help the Indian family in hosting the party. That would not only ensure a free meal but could also mean take way of the leftover food that would easily last for two to three days. Luckily for them, the lovely cold weather in Bahirdar ensured that the food would not get spoilt very quickly.

5) The extremos: Extremos are Indians who can’t be classified in any other category. This type of Indians come for unexplainable reasons. Many come to a foreign country just to tell others that they have worked in a foreign country or ‘are foreign returned’. They suffer as they generally come alone and spend lot of time moping and worrying.

Extremos also tend to be extreme in behaviour. One extremo faculty in Bahirdar came to our house and asked a bewildered Padma an article to borrow that almost made her faint. Any idea what he asked? He wanted to borrow ‘a masi gudda’. A masi gudda is any old cloth that is used to dust and clean any dirty surface or mop anything that is spilled on the floor. Any old cloth in the house automatically becomes a masi gudda.  

The same person once came up and asked “Anil Saab, do you think that I could marry my Ethiopian maid”. My heart melted, I was touched at his generosity. The very practical Anil in me woke up “Hello hello dear Anil” the inner voice told me “He is already married and has a wife waiting for him in India”.

I said the same, the extremo sighed and said “so tho hai (that is true), I am married and my wife will kill me if she comes to know that I married an Ethiopian girl”. “They why marry?” I asked quite stupidly. “Anil Bhai, there is a proposal from an Egyptian university inviting papers for an International conference and the invitation says that it is only open for Ethiopian Teachers”. My mouth fell apart almost by two feet. This crazy professor wanted to marry an Ethiopian girl only for sending an article for an International publication.

Padma pooh pooed me when I recited the incident to her. She said “how gullible of you. He wanted to marry his Ethiopian maid. His maid Ebolu is quite a stunner and a very pretty girl”. Finally, sanity prevailed and this person could not marry his pretty maid.

Secretly I think that he was quite disappointed. But our guy did have his final laugh. He went to a government hospital at the end of the contract and had a HIV test conducted on himself.  Luckily he tested HIV negative! I asked him the reason for the test “Anil Saab (as he was fond of calling me), I wanted to assure my wife that I am pure and loyal to her” we gave him tea and bade him a farewell.

Padma remarked “hats off to his wife. I don’t know how she managed to stay married to this character and still remain sane. She should be given a Padma Sri!”

December 23, 2017

Teachers, Teachers and Teachers - Teachers in Ethiopia - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post no - 39


The fulcrum or the kingpin of any teaching, learning process is the teacher. There were four categories of teachers in Bahirdar University, Ethiopia. Category one teachers are the Ethiopian teachers, well educated and possessing master’s or even PhD qualification.

These categories of teachers were very few in number and occupied very senior academic and administrative positions. The second categories of teachers were like me who have been picked up from various countries and given two year contract to work in Ethiopia. At that time in 2002 they were paid between 900 to 1400 US Dollars per month, depending upon their qualifications, experience, especially work experience in Ethiopia. They were given free housing and all utilities were provided.

The astonishing part of any foreign assignment is the exaggerated claims made by the agencies involved about the quantum of money that can be saved in each contract. This talk is so convincing that many including me were mentally hypnotized and internalized, the amount of money that can be saved. The reality is very far from the painted picture.

The savings get whistled down as many teachers make unscheduled visits to India and travel expenses can be daunting. And then, there is the fluctuation in dollars vs birr exchange value. It is said that when two strangers meet in England the most common ice breaker is the query about the weather.

The icebreaker in Ethiopia for any two Indians is “what is the today’s exchange rate of Birr vs the Dollar”. There are animated discussions about when to change Birr into dollars. And there are whoops of delight when the exchange rate of the Dollar appreciates against the birr and groans of dismay when the dollar depreciates.

The funny part was in 2002, we were getting 50 Indian rupees for a dollar. And the rupee started appreciating against the dollar the minute we landed in Ethiopia. It steadily dropped to 49, 48 and so on. By the time we returned it was doing 42 against the dollar. So in real terms our salaries actually dropped by nearly 20% from 2002 – 2006!

And on our return, the dollar started appreciating against the rupee and it’s now 65 rupees to a dollar! That is the way the cookie crumbles! The well-known Telugu writer, Aarudra said “nenu ekkalsina railu oka jeevita kaalam letu” meaning ‘the train I want to board is late by a life-time’. We never get what we want and what we get, we don’t want!

The third category of teachers is the volunteers who predominantly came from western countries. In PEDA we had teachers from UK, Holland and even USA. They were picked by voluntary organizations and had all the facilities that were provided to us except that their salary was nominal. In 2002 the volunteer teachers were paid only 100 US dollars that is 850 Birr (equal to 4,250 rupees). Volunteers come for the love of teaching and tend to be work oriented and regularly indulge in research and philanthropic activities.

One such teacher was the physics teacher from Holland who worked on a combined project with students of Holland and Ethiopia, who were assisted by Ethiopian teachers. Their collaborative work was stunningly advanced at that point of time. The faculty and students of Ethiopia and Holland were working on a dual observation project of celestial objects and were learning their subject in real time! This aged professor was a bundle of energy and was an inspiration to  all of us.  

The fourth category of teachers were the young Ethiopian graduates who were picked up as instructors and junior lecturers from reputed universities like the Addis Ababa university and other older universities. They were a vivacious and energetic lot. They lacked teaching and practical experience but made up on their limitations by their bubbling energy and a zeal to learn. They were paid 800 birr or roughly 100 US dollars per month.

Many of the young teachers who joined during that time like Addis Gedefaw, Latenah, Sewele, Adonios Jimma, Mesalu,  and others have grown by leaps and bounds and have exceled in their  fields and are occupying very respectable positions in Ethiopia and in other countries.

Addis Gedefaw

Sewale Abate 

Adonias N. Jimma

Letenah Eigu Wale 

Mesalu Alamnie
Just today I was reading an article which said that Telugu is the 3rd most spoken language in the USA after, English and Spanish. Telugu has a whopping 3,20,000 native speakers in USA. This does not come as a surprise. Telugus both from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are very enterprising when it comes to going abroad. They are crazy about Phoren countries (Indian way of saying foreign).  R. K. Laxman nailed it on the head with his cartoon which shows an ophthalmologist saying to a Telugu patient “You have a foreign body in your eye, as it is a foreign body would you like to retain it?!”  

Where ever I worked including in Oman, the Middle-east and even in Ethiopia, Indians were the dominant work force and even in that, Telugus stand out as a significant majority. Telugus are everywhere. They do all types of jobs, be it sales and marketing jobs, working in the super markets, working as labour in construction sites etc.  Even among the teaching community of Ethoipia they had an unassailable majority.

Among the foreign teachers numbering around 55 to 60 in POLY and PEDA, nearly 40 were Indians. Among the 40 Indians, around 35 would be from south India and among this 35, give or take, 25 would be Telugus. Global Placements (the Indian placement company authorized by ministry of Education to source teachers for universities of Ethiopia) headquarters being in Hyderabad could be one of the reasons as to why so many Telugu teachers end up in Ethiopia.  

But that argument does not hold much water as interviews for Indian teachers are held in all the major state capitals and all other candidates have the same opportunity as Telugu teachers to be selected for Ethiopian assignment.

Mansoor Ali Khan
We had four foreign teachers in our Management department. All four were Indian teachers. Among the four three were Telugus, myself, Mr. Mansoor and Dr. T. N. Murthy. The only non Telugu was Mr. Chidambaram who was from Tamil Nadu.  

Accounting department had four foreign teachers. All four were Indians and three among them, Dr. Srinivas Inguva, Dr. Radha Krishna and Ms. G. Rajani were Telugus and again the single non Telugu teacher was Ms. Annie Clara, a Tamilian. There was no dearth of Telugus and Indians in Bahirdar. 

Dr.Srinivas Inguva 

Ms. Annie Clara

Dr. Radha Krishna 

5th P - Silent Salesman - Making teaching, learning fun - Ethiopian Journey - Blog post no - 38

Packaging the Silent Salesman 
Marketing was in very rudimentary state in 2002 and it was quite obvious that here are many opportunities for upcoming entrepreneurs. The introductory stage of the market also meant that there was very little by the way of teaching aids. I told my parents and got lot of packages of FMCG products like tooth paste tubes, soap wrappers, detergent wrappers and many other packaging materials like the boxes of Kellogg from India. I used these as aids and vividly explained the students the concepts of packing and packaging.

Attractive Packaging material 
One of the Ethiopian students recently told me “Dr. Aneel you told us the difference between packing and packaging. You said packing is for protection and packaging is for marketing. You also said something that I can never forget”.

He told me that I had said “Packaging is the 5th P of marketing and it is called a silent salesman. When all the other Ps falls silent it is the humble packaging that has to facilitate the selling process. It has to lure, seduce, cajole, plead and make the customer pick up the product. Once the product is in the hands of the customer the possibility of a sale goes up. In the modern supermarkets, decisions are made in a flash of a second and in that flash, each micro second matters”.

He said that this particular lecture of mine was etched in his mind and that he tries to implement what was told. He was fascinated by the word ‘Silent Salesman”. What a paradox!

He was musing - ‘Salesman and Silent’ how can a salesman be silent? Salesmen are thought as walking talking parrots or people who keep on blabbering. But some of the best sales people that I know are excellent listeners. They talk less and listen more. When a salesman listens to a customer the chances of finding out the real need increases.

God too agrees. That is why he has given us two ears and one mouth. Talk less and listen more. Examples like these made me touch the hearts of my students’ and made me occupy a special place.

I feel that the teacher has to excite and make the student read the subject by himself. Don’t be a kindergarten teacher and try to explain everything. Excite and propel the student into a path of self-discovery.

One of my extension students (extension students are part timers who attend classes on Saturdays and Sundays) used to come late to my class. Being a stickler for punctuality, I hauled him up and demanded an explanation.

Blue Nile River 
What he told me, made me speechless. He told me that he was swimming through the Blue Nile river. He was getting delayed as the currents were too strong for him to swim. To make this easier let me explain. PEDA campus of Bahirdar University was adjacent to the Blue Nile river and this student’s house was on the other side. Coming to PEDA by land would mean a journey of more than an hour and would also cost him at least two birr (2 birr was lot of money back then in 2002). 

Trying to cross
To save time and money he was literally cutting through water! What he was doing was very dangerous not only because of fast moving currents but also due to the presence of a colony of hippopotamuses. These gentle giants are usually placid but could become violent once they are enraged and try to protect their kith and kin.

I was shocked out of my core, the hunger for knowledge and degrees were really unparalleled! It is this competitiveness that has propelled Ethiopia out of its hard time and made what it is today, the fastest growing economy in entire Africa.

December 21, 2017

Cyclostyling and preparing reading material for the students - Ethiopian Journey - Blog Post no - 37

Cyclostyling Machine 
Teaching in Ethiopia was a new experience. From a cocooned School of Management Studies, CBIT India, I was thrown into the deep end of an ocean of education – Bahirdar University. It was a university so big that teachers travelled by bicycles to go from one block to another. And in 2002, if a person was not in his seat it was very difficult to trace him/her as there were no dog chains (oops Cellphones) around the necks!

The University was lush green and there was lot of wildlife to be seen. It was very common to see white Colobus monkey called mountain Guereza. One of which was a frequent visitor, to one of my classes. This enormous monkey would perch himself on the window sill and would take in all that was taught! 

He would sometimes munch on some leaves and just look like an absent minded student pondering on a problem for which the solution could not be found. He had a permanent perplexed expression on his face! Once the class was over, he would gracefully jump into the foliage of the tree and disappear. Sadly with the expansion of the university such memorable sightings were lost by the time I left in 2006.

All the teachers had to offer a course. Frequently students would come up in the market, introduce themselves and say “sir, you offered us a course in Introduction to Management and so on”. All teachers had to prepare a course outline which corresponds to an Indian syllabus sheet. This prepared course outline, had to be approved by the Dean and the HOD, cyclostyled and then circulated among the students.

I had also noticed that many teachers were giving one or two page handouts, which the students gratefully accepted. A visit to the library confirmed my thought process. There was very limited availability of books and even those books were quite outdated.

Within a month I hit upon an idea. I started making quite elaborate notes in each chapter and got them cyclostyled. I would offer these notes to my students who were delighted to get printed reading material. I had an ace up my sleeve. I was cyclostyling 25 sets more than my students’ strength.

This notes built up into a very nice reading material and in no time the semester was over. I had a cover page made, clubbed it with the study material and got it nicely bound and presented the entire set to the delighted librarian. Sometime later, I was called into the Vice President‘s office (Vice President is like our Vice Chancellor).

I was not very overtly worried as I was getting good feedback from all my students. But some lingering doubt remained – “why was I called in?” I was ushered in and the VP said without any preamble “I was told that you are giving study material to the library, whose idea is this?” “Mine” I said “Any problem sir?” “no, no” he assured me “No problem at all, it is a great initiative. During my visit I found many students referring your notes. How much did it cost you to make the 25 sets of reading material?”

“Not much sir” I told him “I must have paid around 100-125 birr for the binding”. The VP was beaming “I am very happy that you are taking so much effort to educate my students. From now on you don’t have to worry, get them bound in the university press and I will see that you are not charged anything”. I thanked him and left.

By the time I finished two contracts I had contributed 16 sets of different reading material to the library. I had taught sixteen different subjects in four years and thoroughly enjoyed teaching each of them. Even though I taught many subjects, in hearts of hearts I loved teaching Introduction to Marketing, Sales and Distribution, Marketing Research and Strategic Management. My Ethiopian students still remember me as a ‘Marketing teacher’.