Excessive thrift lesson

The puritan ethic of thrift and saving is a virtue to be admired. But in business and industry, if the invisible line between thrift and plain old-fashioned stinginess is crossed and becomes a nostrum of corporate policy, the consequences can be grave. This is a hard reality which the Bangalore-based IT heavyweight Infosys Technologies Ltd — whose equity share was hitherto a highly-fancied bellwether scrip of the stock exchanges — is learning the hard way. Since Infosys announced its fourth quarter performance numbers on April 13, and forecast a mere 8-10 percent growth in fiscal 2012-13, the price of its equity share listed on the NSE (National Stock Exchange) has plunged from a 52-week high of Rs.3,023 to Rs.2,462 currently, with the company’s shareholders having lost $4 billion (Rs.20,400 crore) in the past three weeks.

The problem with the company is that during the past three decades that it has been in business, instead of cashing in on its reputation and building great brands, it has remained a cutomised software company. While global leaders  Microsoft and Apple have built great brands such as Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer and Hotmail, and Apple iPad, iPhone and other branded applications, Infy has failed and neglected to build any branded products or services which would have given the company greater financial stability and a better public image.

Driven by a philosophy of extreme thrift — Infy top brass unwisely pride themselves for never advertising — the company has built up huge reserves of $4 billion, but money in the bank can never give the returns it can earn when deployed in business. Now with younger, more energetic companies such as Cognizant and others around the world under-pricing Infosys, the chickens of this prolonged myopia — eulogised as exemplary management in the business media — are coming home to roost.

Several decades ago in another avatar, I strongly advised Major Poddar who headed Century Textiles and prided himself on supplying unbranded men’s shirts to iconic retailers such as Harrods, Macy’s and Marks & Spencers, to develop the cash-rich company’s own branded ready-mades. This constructive advice rendered gratis was disregarded. Today the once iconic Century is a shell of a company struggling in shallows and misery. There’s a lesson in this sad story for the self-righteous cabal that runs Infosys whose old-fashioned thrift has antagonised its investors, the media, and NGOs whose good causes they routinely decline to support.

White Tiger denouement

The resignation in late april of Abhishek Manu Singhvi, from his high-profile post of official spokesman of the ruling Congress party following outing of a compact disc depicting this top Supreme Court counsel engaged in sexual romp in his chambers adjoining the apex court, has blown the lid off an open secret of the legal fraternity — the routine exploitation of women trying to succeed in this overwhelmingly male-dominated profession. Although women’s chances have reportedly improved following the establishment of American-style law firms which pay regular salaries, several decades ago it was routine for senior counsel(s) in well-to-do chambers to demand that comely lady juniors doff their briefs in exchange for legal briefs and career advancement.

Though Singhvi has feebly protested that the CD in which he unwittingly stars has been morphed, given this tradition of the legal profession, his denials lack conviction. There’s probably some substance in the charge that in keeping with tradition, he seduced the lady counsel not by his good looks or social skills — of which there is no admissible evidence — but by promising to recommend her in his capacity as chairman of the standing committee of the ministry of law and justice, for the exalted position of high court judge, no less.

Curiously, notwithstanding the country’s rundown legal system — or perhaps because of it — a clique of Supreme Court counsel (Singhvi included) seem to be riding high, reportedly earning incomes of Rs.50 crore-plus per year. But none of these leaders of the bar have a record of actively working for law reforms urgently needed to restore public confidence in the country’s iniquitous legal system. On the contrary they tend to thrive on the law’s delay and archaic procedures, and are notorious for their miserliness.

In this particular instance, Singhvi was outed by his dissatisfied chauffeur who was reportedly paid a pittance, despite the learned counsel’s vast annual income. Quite obviously Singhvi hasn’t read Arvind Adiga’s Booker Prize winning novel, White Tiger. If he had, he might have known what could — and in his case did — happen.

Lost ethnic pride

How have things come to such a sorry pass? Why has India’s post-independence middle class become a Fair & Lovely aspirant nation completely alienated from its roots and ethnicity? A television commercial for a genital fairness cream branded Clean and Dry Intimate Wash has created a buzz not only in the digital world (“the ultimate insult”), but also prompted T.N. Seema, Communist Party of India-Marxist MP in the Rajya Sabha, to draw attention of the house to the manufacturer’s (Midas Care Pharma-ceuticals Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai) “perversion”. The MP demanded the Union ministry of information and broadcasting take punitive action against the company.

Certainly the spirited MP has a point and needs to be congratulated for raising the issue of the extent to which a number of corporates led by the sanctimonious Hindustan Unilever, which manufactures and cynically markets the skin lightening cream Fair & Lovely, has diminished the ethnic pride of the gullible Indian public, brainwashing it to believe that fair skin tone is the criterion of feminine — and lately even male — beauty. Skin lightening creams are big business in India with Fair & Lovely (annual sales: Rs.600 crore) dominating the Rs.900 crore market for these unsafe lotions.

In this avaricious pursuit of mammon, the fairness lotions industry has been enthusiastically supported by the brain-dead badshahs of Bollywood who not only routinely paint ethnic beauties white for the cameras, but of late have been importing foreign and Indo-Caucasian women in droves to star in their incredible movies. Consequently the gullible masses have been brainwashed to accept Kazakh and Turkmenistan look-likes as their heroes, and pallid European-style actresses as epitomes of beauty. It’s a sad but successful conspiracy to put down the people.