Monthly Archives: June 2010

Employees first, customers second

The CEO of Indian technology giant, Vineet Nayar, has just published a book called ‘Employees First, Customers Second’ with the Harvard Business School Press. It challenges the conventional wisdom of business in any industry – that the customer is always right – by suggesting that if you focus on looking after your employees then they will ensure the customers are happy.

I’m going to meet Vineet tomorrow to record an interview about the book and his philosophy on management. If you would like to send a question for me to use during the interview then do get in touch…

Getting ready for NASSCOM 2010

Mahindra Satyam at the FIFA World Cup

Have you been watching the FIFA World Cup? Perhaps you have given up now that England is out of the tournament. Or you might still be holding a torch for the South American giants such as Argentina or Brazil? Whatever your choice of team, it’s impossible to ignore the advertising at the stadiums. This time, the boards around every stadium are entirely electronic. They change about 2 or 3 times a minute, serving up huge exposure for the brands that sponsor these places. Companies such as Adidas, Brahma, and Coca Cola have had prominent advertising popping up. But what’s that Mahindra Satyam one?

Well, of course it’s the Indian technology firm Mahindra Satyam – the technology people that deliver the systems used at the world cup. No doubt they get the advertising as part of their arrangement to deliver technology services to FIFA. But is it actually worth anything to a company like Mahindra Satyam to even bother putting their brand on boards by a football match?

Mahindra Satyam is in the B2B business. They don’t sell a consumer product like Coca Cola. They only have a relatively small number of possible customers around the world – company chiefs needing help with IT or hi-tech services. I admit, some of those company bosses may be watching the football and may be impressed to see the company logo there. But is that measurable? And should a B2B even be focused on that kind of warm fluffy brand perception marketing?

Perhaps it’s a more oblique strategy to raise the profile of the firm, tainted by the Satyam scandal only just over a year ago – an accounting fraud often termed ‘India’s Enron’. The brand was damaged substantially and perhaps this blanket bombing of the world cup is to emphasise the strength of the Mahindra Satyam brand – as opposed to the bad-taste-in-the-mouth Satyam one.

So perhaps the perception building is more about trying to get good people working for them rather than trying to win new business. Coders sitting in bunkers in India must be puffed out with pride when they see their company logo all over the big world cup games – with TCS, Infosys, and Wipro nowhere in sight.

But even if FIFA is offering the ad space for free as a part of the IT contract, will it get Mahindra some new business? None of the technology or marketing executives I speak to think that this is the way to go… if someone from Mahindra Satyam wants to contact me, I’d be happy to talk to you about this strategy directly.
Press mob Kiran Karnik

On yer bike scroungers! Council tenants to get the boot…

The new Work secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, has caused outrage by suggesting that the unemployed should move in search of work, directing his focus mainly at council tenants who occupy local authority property, claim benefits, and generally don’t do a lot – it’s reminiscent of former Tory minister Norman (now Lord) Tebbit and his famous ‘my old man got on his bike’ speech.

Tebbit is often misquoted, he actually said: “I grew up in the ’30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking ’til he found it.” He was responding to a statement that unemployment naturally leads to riots.

Iain Duncan-Smith is the protégé of Lord Tebbit and that’s easy to see with these new plans about migration. When Tebbit left the Commons for the Lords, Duncan-Smith replacing him as MP, he is alleged to have said: “If you think I’m right-wing, you should meet this guy.”

But there is an issue of structural unemployment in the UK. Jobs are out there, but often the long-term unemployed are not living in locations where suitable jobs are available. What are the thousands of skilled workers  at the former Corus steel plant in Teesside going to do now – work in McDonald’s or deliver newspapers? Hardly fulfilling, rewarding, or exploiting the skills available.

There is already a system that allows people to swap their council home with tenants in another location, though why people in an area full of work might want to move someplace where there is none is beyond me. The unsettling thing about what the government is now proposing is that they want the power to force people to move in search of work.

That’s not like the romantic dream of the American migrant worker. It’s compulsion. And though I am all for the government trying to help people into work, I don’t think that charging up behind vulnerable people with a big stick is a very strategic appeoach.

Everyone wants to get rid of dole scroungers and the long-term sick claiming incapacity benefit and spending it in the pub – that’s a given – but this problem needs more thought than clunking Conservative proposals to force council tenants out of their home. What about their family and support networks? How will a single parent arrange child care in a new city, because they will need it if they are heading out to work fulltime?

I think the more intelligent response to this issue of work distribution would be to approach it with short, medium, and long-term proposals. In the short term, make it attractive for companies to create jobs away from the Southeast – offer tax incentives and grants to make it really worthwhile. Then for the longer term, the only thing that can make the people more mobile and more likely to find work in future is their education and skills. Give them training and let them find new work, don’t kick them out of home because it makes for a good headline on cutting costs.

Wasn’t there that story in the Bible about teaching a man to fish…?

Labour struggling

World Cup: It’s a bit of fun

The Football Association in England don’t really prioritise the national team. The Premier League has the money and the clout and any spare time the players have is focused on their club. The 2010 World Cup squad was a team of players who only play in England – none of the English players in the present national side play outside England.

That can be viewed as a testament to the power of the Premier League, but it also serves to emphasise the relative unimportance of the national side. So when are we going to treat the major football competitions as just a bit of fun, rather than going in with the assumption we have a real chance of winning?

England were third favourite to win at the start of the competition. But that’s not a realistic reflection of the team, it’s how much money was bet on the various teams… the betting on England ends up creating a perception that they are a front-runner, yet they consistently underperform.

It’s time to treat the major tournaments as a carnival where progress is a bonus, rather than analysing every last second of games England usually lose.
England legends at Hill & Knowlton

Ten German Bombers

It’s funny to see stories like this in the Observer today, claiming that England football fans are realising that the Germans are similar to them… There will be no fan segregation at the England v Germany game in South Africa today and the fans are enjoying the warm up together.

Why is it we are surprised that there are shared cultural references between England and Germany? The Saxons settled in England long before the Nazi party of the 20th century came to prominence. And this is possibly the main issue. Nazi Germany is one of the most commonly taught historic eras in English schools. It’s about war. It’s got some villains. The teachers have a lot of materials to draw on. But it also means that children get turfed out of school with an impression of Germany still shaped by their history classes.

So the jokes about German bombers continue – until some of the fans actually meet Germans and realise that their own English culture,religion, moral values, and love of beer is Anglo-Saxon.

The Germany world cup four years ago gave a reason for a lot of English people to visit Germany – a lot of people who might think nothing of visiting Spain, but would never have considered Germany as a nice enough place to visit. And I’m sure there were a lot of surprised people who enjoyed the hospitality of the locals.

I don’t know how the German tourist office can improve their image – I have seen ads featuring Michael Ballack – but I think if they really want to change this lingering nod to history by the English then they need to lobby for a change to the GCSE curriculum.
Deutscher Bundestag - German Parliament

Ghana goes all the way against the USA!

Ghana has a population of 24m. The USA has 310m.

Life expectancy in Ghana is 60 years. In the USA it is 78 years.

Literacy in Ghana is around 57%. In the USA it is 99%.

The entire GDP of Ghana is estimated at around $36 billion. The USA GDP is estimated at $14.2 trillion.

But Ghana can still beat the USA 2-1 in a world cup football match!!

Are we going to see an African team going all the way?
Boot on the other foot

England are in the final 16

England went into this World Cup with the presumption that we were in an easy group. One of the tabloid papers even used the headline ‘easy’ when the draw was made by FIFA.

How wrong the pundits were.

And now we are through, we have a crunch match with Germany on Sunday. I’ll be at the Hyde Park Calling music festival on Sunday watching it on the big screen.

It’s no longer the case that the countries with the best leagues produce the best national team. Germany were struggling against Ghana last night. France are out. Italy are struggling as I write this blog. Any national team that has qualified for the world cup finals will be a challenge because of player mobility.

Look at the African sides as a great example. The best players end up playing in leagues all over Europe and the national football association in almost all the African nations has gone out and hired experienced foreign coaches. So if your players are getting experience of the Premier league or Serie A, and you have a team coach with national experience (like Sven at Ivory Coast), then how can the team be considered weak anymore?

Not having a well established league of your own is no longer a barrier to world cup success. Wouldn’t it be great to see a team like Ghana go all the way to the final?
Mexico v South Africa on Copacabana Beach

Comment on Brazil

I went to Brazil as a guest of BRASSCOM recently, the Brazilian hi-tech trade association. Angelica Mari was the only other British journalist on the trip. Take a look at what we both produced in just a few days meeting people in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo:

1984 all over again

It’s time for an emergency budget! Stop spending on everything!

Since the election in May and the formation of the coalition government there has already been two rounds of spending cuts – a quick announcement of £6bn of savings and a more recent tranche of £2bn.

But as we borrowed something like £180bn last year, this emergency budget is going to go deeper then anything anyone in the UK can remember – probably this is going to be harsher than the early 80s with Thatcher.

Yet I get a sneaking suspicion that the present government wants to whip up this feeling that times are hard so they can facilitate cuts right across the public sector, in the same way the public can support a war when they think there is an imminent threat of attack.

It’s a disaster. The previous lot were all wrong and don’t blame us for the cuts. It’s all their fault!
Sea of pennies at Rockefeller plaza

Cycling the A30

I live in Ealing and just down the road from me is the start of the A30, skirting around the south side of Heathrow airport. I know the A30 road pretty well as I grew up on the border of Surrey and Hampshire in Blackwater – a small town with no real claim to fame other than Surrey, Hampshire, and Berkshire all meet there so you can be in three counties in minutes.

What’s interesting though is that this road beginning close to my present home, and running past the town I grew up in, stretches on for about 500km to Land’s End in Cornwall.

Why not cycle the whole length just for fun?

So that’s what I’m going to do in late July. Hopefully the weather will be nice. I’ll take it easy and just do it over 5 days so I can enjoy some of the pit stops along the way. Two years ago I was bored one day and jumped on my bike and headed for Manchester… I stayed in Northampton the first night and Derby the second then got there the following day.

This will be a bit more planned and at a more leisurely pace, but it’s quite exciting to just head off on my cycle with a long journey ahead taking several days and only the kit I can pack into one backpack for the entire trip… As I plan some more I’ll blog it here.

Bike being repaired