Category: Book Review

Lessons from the ‘Founder’ of McDonald’s

Recently, I  caught a movie about a 52-year-old  diabetic man, who is suffering from incipient arthritis. He has lost his gall bladder & thyroid gland to previous business battles and is struggling to sell a multispindle milkshake mixer (Multimixer) to restaurant owners across America in the 1950’s.

His name was Ray Kroc and he was the creator of what we know today as the omnipresent McDonald’s.

Although the movie was not well-received it was really interesting to watch the not sugar coated biopic. The movie got me interested in knowing more about this ‘Founder’

There had to be more to the story of the Godfather of the fast food business. So, I got my hands on his autobiography “Grinding It Out” and without a doubt, it is one of the best books that I have read.

It is a must read for budding entrepreneurs and professionals alike.

Book Review - Grinding It Out

 

Here are 6 powerful lessons that you can learn from Ray Kroc’s  life and career :

Persistence

Ray Kroc always believed that it was sheer hardwork and unrelenting perseverance that leads to success.

There is a quote in the movie as well as the book that sums it up –

” Nothing in the world can take place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. “

Persistence also includes your unwavering faith in your moral belief system. Ray Kroc said that his philosophy was one helping his customers, and if he couldn’t sell them by helping them improve their own sales, then he wasn’t doing his job. This philosophy is was carried on by Kroc is what drove the symbiotic relationship between McDonald’s corporate and the franchisees.

Age doesn’t matter

A lot of budding entrepreneurs and professionals want instant success and get frustrated when things don’t turn out the way that they had planned. Ray Kroc was not highly educated, but Grinded it out in the field, juggling multiple jobs as a salesman and a piano player. He grabbed opportunity wherever he could and was happy working hard day and night. Each and every phase in his life prepared him for what was going to be a once a lifetime opportunity. Age didn’t matter to him. He kept on working even when McDonald’s had become a success story and he was finding it difficult to walk. He went on to buy a baseball team “San Diego Padres” at the age of 72 and became a philanthropist.

His success story is an example of how opportunity can come knocking at your door any time. All one has to do is to see it and be ready to take advantage. Life is a roller coaster ride. Success is not an end goal, but an eventuality of the journey itself.

Life is not fair

Ray Kroc had tried and failed on multiple occasions. He was a successful salesman, whether it was selling real estate, paper cups or a weird looking milkshake makers. But he never could really taste success. Whether it was because the collapse of the real estate market or the bad deals that he was forced to make. Ray Kroc’s first wife Ethel was supportive initially but was flabbergasted at his decision to go all in for McDonald’s. Sometimes in your life you will be the only person who believes in something and life will not be easy – Don’t loose sight of your goal.

Learn & Adapt to changes

In the world of business you rarely get ideal situation to work. Ray Kroc was saddled by a deal with the McDonald’s brothers which he thought was unfair. However, he adapted to change his business model into leasing of land for McDonald’s restaurants than just franchising. This idea gave him a distinct advantage when it came to negotiations with franchisees and later on with the McDonald’s brothers

As Ray Kroc shared with MBA students of university of Texas in 1974 –

” We are not in the Hamburger business, we are in the Real Estate business “

They also continuously adapted to changes. One unique thing was how Ray Kroc and his team took ideas from franchisees across the country to create new menu items. The famous Filet-O-Fish, the Big Mac, Egg McMuffin are ideas that came from the franchisees and are served in almost every McDonald’s  in the world.

Ruthless Pragmatism

Maurice “Mac” & Richard “Dick” McDonald’s where the original founders of McDonald’s. But they were content with their original restaurant and afraid of franchising. They were also very conservative in their approach to changes in business. Ray Kroc saw the potential of the speedy service and family-oriented model of the McDonald’s brothers.   But he was saddled with an unfair agreement. After years of negotiating with the brothers unsuccessfully, Kroc took a drastic step to outwit them by gaining control of leasing agreements of all McDonald’s franchises. The McDonald brothers lost control of their corporation and had to settle for $2.7 million.

Although this can be characterized as being nasty, after reading his book I felt that his moves were dictated by his previous unfair agreement with his boss at Lily Cup when Kroc was forced to share his profits on the Multimixer sales with him. This led to the downfall of his last business venture and Kroc never wanted to repeat the mistake. Also, $2.7 million in the 1960’s was a lot of money and I feel that he was fair in this deal. In the end it was best for the business. As Ray Kroc himself said –

” I believe in God, family, and McDonald’s – and in the office, that order is reversed “

Gut feeling matters

Ray Kroc once fired a member of his staff because he didn’t wear the right kind of hat and didn’t keep his shoes shined. He agreed that this kind of decision seemed arbitrary, but it was based on his years of experience in the field. He explains that an astute judgment can seem arbitrary to everyone  but the man who makes it. A lot of his big decisions including the one to go all out and mortgage his home for the McDonald’s franchisee business was based on Gut feeling about an idea. Random & unstructured they might be, but do not ignore your gut feelings.

For all those who missed the film, Check out the Trailer

This article was originally published on YourStory.

From the Dragon’s Heart: The Rise of Chinese Entrepreneurs

The rise of China as a Global power has become are more visible in India today, as Chinese Businesses have made increasing inroads into the Indian market in the past few years. With India becoming the world’s fastest growing economy and poised to continue this path for a decade, Chinese Entrepreneurs are looking to invest in India & bring along their own way of doing business.

In such a scenario, I revisit the book – China’s Disruptors written by Edward Tse in 2015.

The book not only talks about well-known players in India like Alibaba, Xiaomi, Lenevo, Baidu (Search Engine) & Tencent (WeChat) but also not so well known companies like online supermarket Yihaodian, Noah Wealth Management started by Wang Jingo, Real estate giants like Wanda Corporation & Broad Group and China’s very own YouTube – Youku.

A lot of what the author had said about China’s Entrepreneurial culture and Chinese Entrepreneurs is more relevant for the Desi Players today. The reasons are multi-fold:

1. Chinese manufacturers are looking to set-up shop in India: With increasing labor costs in China and anti-dumping duties, major manufacturers of smartphones, solar panels are getting attracted to India’s labor pool and domestic market.

2. Chinese Investors: As Chinese economy slows down, investors are looking for new opportunities in growth. India is right now where China was in 2004 and is the destination to invest for the coming decade.

3. Chinese Internationalisation: Chinese SOEs & Entrepreneurs have been making huge in-roads in the US markets through big-ticket acquisitions. Their strategies will be replicated in India too.

4. Experience of Chinese Counterparts: Lessons from Chinese entrepreneurs who successfully challenged their western counterparts.

What we can learn –

1. A policy focused Forum: India has multiple traditional business forums like NASSCOM, CII & FICCI but it is time, that the new age entrepreneurs of India get a voice of their own in shaping the direction India moving in. The China Entrepreneurs form (CEF) with its serious policy focus even in a restrictive political environment is something we should take inspiration from.

2. Sustainable manufacturing practices: As “Make in India” initiative tries to make us the next manufacturing hub, let’s just take a step back and analyse the mistakes done by China when it comes to the Environment. Polluted cities, un-breathable air and rising healthcare costs are things we can avoid

3. Ditch the Jugaad: The cutthroat competition among Chinese companies made continuous improvement and innovation a necessity to stay ahead of the curve. Sometimes entrepreneurs are even forced to find new opportunities in different areas, as they were never sure of a safe source of constant revenue, which won’t be challenged. Indian traditional businesses have not faced such a challenge before. With increasing Chinese inroads into the market its time to change our approach or perish.

4. Focus on local needs: The author emphasised that the Chinese counterparts were able to outwit their western counterparts because they focused on creation of products & services, which are more in line with local needs rather than just copying the business models of the west. This is how Alibaba was able to beat Ebay and Hengan international challenged the likes of P&G and Kimberly-Clark. However, their Indian counterparts haven’t been so successful in creating such kind of new value-added services and are facing tough competitions – Ola vs Uber, Flipkart & Snapdeal vs Amazon.

What the author missed –

1. IP Laws: The author did mention the lax IP laws in China. But, even giants like Apple are facing issues in getting required help from Chinese Judiciary as they are challenged by little-known startups making knock-offs. In time as Chinese entrepreneurs grow bigger, they will demand better IP Protection. How this shapes up is yet to be seen.

2. The Real-estate Bubble & Overcapacity: China has become infamous for its Ghost Towns. Even private investors are raising alarm bells as the extent of the debt bubble is becomes clearer with estimates saying that the Debt to GDP ratio has crossed 250%. How will this impact the Chinese startup world, is not yet known.

3. Solar Industry: The one sector that the author did not cover was China’s push into Renewable energy – mostly solar PV manufacturing and installations. Chinese giants like Trina, Jinko, Yingli & JA Solar dominate the world PV market. China also added a staggering 34 GW of solar installations in 2016 alone (compared with around 4.8 GW in India). With increasing domestic as well as global for PV Panels, these giants are poised to be major revenue centres of the future.

4. SOEs & the State remain the dominant players: The author’s focus was on the decreasing importance of SOEs in China’s economy. While this was true for the domestic economy, SOEs will play even greater role in China’s outreach to the world. The famous One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR) is primarily driven by SOEs. Almost all major overseas investments were done by SOEs. These include $46 billion in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and $15 billion mostly in Hambantota & Colombo Ports in Srilanka.

Nonetheless, Edward Tse’s book remains extremely important for Businessman, Policy Makers, Entrepreneurs & Professionals who wish to learn about how China’s disruptors are shaping our future.

The article was originally published on YourStory.

The book that I could never read

It’s Jan 19th and people are talking about Kashmir again. But today, the media will not be focusing on the ON & OFF protests in the valley, but on one of the largest internally displaced persons (IDP) group in India.

I took this opportunity to revisit a book that I had got my hands on a few years ago – Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita.

The book is about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits who were Hindu minority in a Muslim majority Kashmir in India. The author himself is a Kashmiri Pandit and has clearly written the book from his heart. The book has multiple stories woven within the narrative of the 14 year old author who is forced to leave his home after terrorism in Kashmir picks up and morphs into ethnic cleansing.

The author describes the event on the tragic night of Jan 19, 1990 in detail. He then goes into parallel storylines of what was happening across Kashmir. He mentions stories of his family members, friends and acquaintances who are all warped into this. He also delves into the history of past atrocities against Kashmiri Pandits.

What makes the book difficult to read are the short personal stories that the author gathered from his years of interacting with the community. None of it ends well. There is violence, death, rape & betrayal of the worst kind. It signified the end of Kashmiriyat as the brotherhood that had earlier bound Kashmir together, had all but vanished.

Truth be told, I never had the courage to completely read this book. I just wasn’t able to read anymore. The pain seemed very real to me and I couldn’t bear myself to complete the book as I knew how it all ends.

As per the Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre (IDMC), more than 1 lac Kashmiri Pandits are living in and around New Delhi and 2.4 lac in Jammu city. The community has struggled a lot since the exodus with protecting their culture & language. Lack of recognition by the media, recognition as IDPs and little political backing has resulted in the community losing their claim in the ongoing Kashmiri conundrum. Over the past few years, Kashmiri Pandits have tried to come back to Kashmir, with some backing from the state. But unfortunately, this has been met with protests from politicians in the valley as well as the Pandits. The Pandits are demanding better security and more economic assistance from the rehabilitation package. The valley politicians on the other hand do not want them to live in “Exclusive colonies” but come live together as Pandits are also part of the “motherland”. However, no valley politician has been able to give security guarantees to the Pandits. With ongoing protests in the valley, many are refusing to go back to work.

I actually agree with the author that the media and the elites of India have forgotten the community. The community has been left to fend for itself by the government and the people of India and especially Kashmir. Even writing about all this here makes me disheartened. Because, I know…deep down, there is very little hope that the Kashmiri Pandits will ever be able to go back home.

An Exegesis of Shashi Tharoor’s ‘An Era of Darkness’

An Era of Darkness by Dr. Shashi Tharoor is an extension of his infamous speech at the Oxford on the proposition ‘Britain owes Reparations to her Former Colonies’ which quite unexpectedly(to him) went astonishingly viral on most of the social networking portals. Comments flooded in huge numbers on the video link shared & much to the author’s surprise transmuted into one of the most hotly debated topics in the country that year. The video was shared 3 million times & may have been viewed by several million people across the world. This was perhaps a compelling reason why a good friend of his suggested him to pen down his arguments & the rationales behind them with proofs & apocryphal evidence wherever possible.

Naturally, the book has a lot of references, sometimes to the work of Indian authors of that time, but mostly to that of English authors who were righteous enough to capture the excesses meted out to the Indians by their British counterparts in their own country. The author hadn’t said anything tellingly new but the way he has explained each & every aspect of his arguments with refreshing tenor makes this book a riveting read. The book also attempts to answer a lot of counter arguments to the above proposition which Shashi couldn’t respond to during his speech at the Oxford, obviously due to the primacy of his argument & the time constraint to counter every riposte of theirs. Through this book, Shashi successfully dispels all the detracting arguments made by his opponents against the propositions in his much-vaunted speech that stir the world.

Quoting the author of this book from one of his previous works:- “One cannot take revenge upon history, history is its own revenge” encapsulate the purpose for which the book is written. This novel is to enlighten Indians about the necessity to understand the salience of their ancestors’ ordeal to achieve democracy, freedom, liberty & sovereignty from their oppressive rulers. That Indians were treated as second-class citizens in their own country, deprived of their artisanship, employment, land, and the onerous tax levied on them accentuate the gravity of the cruelty they were so mercilessly subjected to by their foreign rulers.

In the 18th century, India contributed 25% of the World’s GDP, but owing to almost 2 centuries of British rule, in 1950, India’s contribution to the world economy was dismal 1.3%. In fact, the population growth of India from 1900 to 1950 was 3.1% while the growth was paltry 0.7%. These numbers speak for themselves and convey the horrors that were apportioned to Indians during the Brutish Raj, as the author termed it in his book. If you consider the amount of wealth that was repatriated to England during those gloomy years of slavery, the value comes out to be close to 14million pounds every year for 190years along with the British inequities & racial transgressions faced by the Indians for those woeful years. It is pretty rich of the Britishers to claim that the democracy was the positive outcome for the Indians, from those dreadful years of misery. Britishers created deep fissures in the society, partly owing to their limited knowledge and understanding of complex interwoven societies spanning across the Indian subcontinent & partly due to their immoral machinations. Instead of understanding the intricacies, they made a sweeping generalization of Indian society as one ranging from north to south and east to west and brought them under the rule of law created and passed in London. Indian society arguably was a society with thin caste discrimination but the British reified it by dividing India’s society into different castes based on their profession. This accentuated the caste differences & weakened the society. Britishers, assiduously practiced this doctrine of ‘Divide & Rule’ to stave off a possible mutiny like they had experienced in 1857 when the masses, irrespective of their creed or caste, where sepohs both Hindus & Muslims fought for each other & were only outweighed due to superior weaponry & British chicanery. In fact, The author claims much of the present day caste oppression can be blamed to British insouciance to gross immoralities practiced in pre-Independence period. Britishers, never interfered in the societies immoralities & injustices til it didn’t threaten their profits or their assertion of the rule which safeguarded their profits. Instead of transforming the society into a cohesive force, they employed ‘Divide & Rule’ to meet their ends. Religion, as the author argues was never a defining characteristic of a pre-imperial rule Indian individual but the Britishers in their bid to weaken the bond outlined it with remarkable rigor. This all was done by just a few thousand Englishmen if not hundreds. Indians, as the authors of that era argue, were overwhelmed by their foreign oppressors’ superiority

Britishers ruled India & Indians, but most positions in the government were reserved only for Britishers. When eminent Indians like Dadabhai Naroji persisted with demanding greater autonomy of self-rule & important positions in the govt. the Raj conceded initially but the decision merely was an eyewash meant to contain then simmering outrage against their inequities and later through subterfuge hold all the decision-making power with themselves. The roles extended to Indians were at best frivolous and at worse spineless. It is one thing, to empower the masses with providing opportunities of ruling themselves and another thing, to duplicitously strip them off their power by passing a legislation superseding their roles & responsibilities by bestowing their heads with supreme powers to annul any legislation passed by the lower rung Indians.

The book has with great assiduity debunked all the possible arguments lionizing & defending the British Imperial Raj by systematically exposing the fallacies in their arguments & claims in a seemingly rigorous manner, in some cases, he has cited grotesque anecdotes that will always remain etched in my memories. He cites an example of how thumbs of the artisans of Dhaka, known for their handicraft & artisanship products, were spliced by Britishers since despite controlling the production prices & economic activities couldn’t weave clothes comparable to their quality. The book is replete with such anecdotes that not only boils your blood but also makes you pity for the sufferings of those helpless people. Shashi goes on to claim that the British tyranny was, if not excessive but equivalent to mass slaughtering or the Jew holocaust. Never in the history has the slaughter been inflicted in so ruthless and apparently arrogant manner.
Towards the end, Shashi makes a case as to why Kohinoor, the much-vaunted diamond of whom 6 countries lay claim to shouldn’t be demanded back by India. He says it should remain as a sign of British oppression & continue to remind us of the tyranny our ancestors faced at the ends of the cruel Englishmen. I personally think, no amount of words or the length of the article can justify or even come close to what has been so beautifully written by Dr. Shashi Tharoor. He has certainly set a precedent by challenging the banalities around our enslavement & written a thoroughly comprehensive book enlisting all our sufferings in great detail & with great objectivity to drive home the point why Britain owes reparations to her former colonies. It is not about the financial help that her colonies need, but about restoring the dignity that was wrenched & butchered in every second of its slavery.

The Verdict:

Although I’m a non-entity to review and recommend this book that’s been written by someone who has written 16 books but to aid my readers, I’d like to say this is the most heart-rending description of history you’d ever come across. Shashi has done a lot of hard work in putting his thoughts in this book, in being as objective as possible, though the temptations for being sentimental were overwhelming. I’d give this book 4.5/5. It’s a must read for all of you. Apart from the refreshing tenor of the banal history in this book, it is also laced with a lot of facts & quotes from different authors of foreign origin with their incisive take on Britain’s colonial imperialism.

The perennially riveting Harry Potter Books

Let me be very forthright before you peruse the article. I am an eternal Harry Potter fan and I love the entire series by J.K. Rowling in perpetuity. So, this might reflect in my obsequious flattery of the book and the author throughout this article. In fact, I have to concede a lot of my writings and my constant inspiration to write have emerged from being engrossed in Harry Potter books. They have chiseled with certitude, my thoughts, my way of thinking & certainly my way of writing. Fiction, I find it very difficult to write, because it demands author to be submerged in his thoughts with utmost concentration, actually visualizing stuff before writing it. It greatly expands the horizons and contours of one’s thinking.

We all avid readers have definitely read Harry Potter books, they are like the alphabets of the English language for the readers who love to read fiction books. Harry Potter books can be classified into Kids genre but it is definitely worth a read for all adults too. The books are so inexplicably interconnected and interwoven that often some leads in books are left open only to be pursued in a mystified way in the subsequent book or for that matter in the later books. J.K. rowling, for me, is one of the most cogent authors I have ever come across. Her narration is simple and lucid and her art of writing exquisite novels like the much vaunted Harry Potter saga is a testament to this art of hers. While reading these books, I was in awe of the author and the way she described the story, making you believe that this is the reality happening somewhere in the outskirts of London and for those who reside in London and have read these books, you couldn’t just help wondering where is Platform 9 3/4 at the London railway station. In fact, the best part of her story-telling is the way she accentuates a fictitious story as a real one, almost making you riveted over the turn of events that speckle the books in such a marvelous manner. At times, the fictional nature of the book becomes conspicuous but it’s not only done to outwit your predictions but also to captivate you for the ensuing drama.

These seminal novels by J.K. Rowling had a profound effect on the future of Fictional writing industry and acted as a pioneer in the way fiction was depicted in the movies. harry Potter books were rightly converted into movies which only added to its soaring popularity. One could say they had a symbiotic relationship in advancing each others’ interests. The books made crowds throng the theaters, the movies enjoined people to read the subsequent books. Very rarely in the history of the Cinema and Literature has the interest of both the fields coincided and advanced for their mutual benefits. Even today, people who have watched these movies never like to give them a miss. Gluttons like me are all glued to our TVs, shirking our otherwise important work only to once again live in those times where the drama & mystery unraveled left us in astonishment & incredulity.

Book Review : The Kaoboys of R&AW

I was introduced to Late B. Raman sir by the website: South Asia Analysis Group

It’s a non-profit think-tank which writes India’s foreign relations, military and intelligence aspects. B. Raman was a regular contributor and his insights were very informative.

His book on Research & Analysis Wing was preceded by a book on Intelligence Bureau of India by Late Maloy Krishna Dhar. This book was a treasure trove of information on India’s contemporary political & intelligence history. It broke a lot of myths surrounding intelligence services of India. So, when the first insider account on R&AW came out – I was super excited

The book begins with an anecdote of his not so cordial interactions with the US State Department. This is the day he is retiring from R&AW. He mentions a particular US State department official within the first few pages who has caused trouble for India in Kashmir. That was a cheeky reference to the famous Robin Raphel.

The book begins with a flashback of him being positioned in Burma when he had joined IB. This was before R&AW was formed. His candid account of Indo-Burmese relations is rare.

R&AW was still a baby in 1971 and was trying to find its feet. The 1971 war gave a chance to the agency to prove its credentials. B Raman goes into detail about R&AWs work in the heady days of the crisis and how it contributed to India;s decisive win. The founding of R&AW’s Signal intelligence capabilities, PSYWAR division took place during this time.

The book follows events in independent India history – Bangladesh, Punjab – Khalistan, North-East & Srilankan insurgencies and the assassination of 2 Indian Prime Ministers. He has dedicated chapters on each PM from 1968 to 1994 and how they interacted with the agency.

The Indo-Iran-French intelligence co-operation to monitor the activities of the US in the Indian ocean was something completely new to me.

Throughout the book, B. Raman manages to maintain a neutral tone and still gives enough meat to keep any student of international relations engaged. He has not mentioned any intelligence trade-crafts or any operational aspect of his work. The book does include some anecdotes on the foibles of a few politicians and bureaucrats.

The author mentioned some details of his brief involvement as the Bofors scam was breaking. Although I was a bit disappointed when he restricted his experience during the Emergency to R.N. Kao’s attempts to keep R&AW away from any domestic involvement. In addition, the book does not cover KGB’s involvement in the Indian subcontinent or Indo-Russian relations in detail.

In the end, he mentions something profound:

Does India have the intelligence agency it needs? – NO.

Does India have the intelligence agency it deserves? – More than it deserves.

For long people as well as the political class has not demanded a more robust agency with the capabilities to deal with 21st-century threats. R&AW to this day is not covered by any Gov of India Act. Although few politicians have tried to bring oversight to R&AW, not many have paid attention. R&AW has been mostly delivered what it was created for, but ignorance for long has created chinks in its armor. As per the author, India can ignore it at its own peril.

My verdict: 4/5 star. A must read for anyone interested in intelligence services or Indian foreign policy.

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