What's on my mind?
Putting the disco back in discourse
Summer 2018 @ Shadowfax | September 04, 2018
This past summer, I worked in Corporate Development, CEO's Office at Shadowfax, India's largest multi-modal logistics platform in Bengaluru, India.
Here are two posts on my phenomenal experience:
In the news:
Released August 7: US-based NGP Capital leads Series C round in B2B logistics startup Shadowfax [Link]
Everything is possible | January 07, 2018 (Updated 03/23)
It's good to be back in 2018. I intend to read more, watch more and most of all share my observations more this year because without contemplation of the gained knowledge, it remains unorganized information.
Everything is possible in this world.
Rajat Gupta, who was elected thrice to be the Global Head (MD) of McKinsey was at first rejected from McKinsey in 1973 when he had applied right out of Business school for lack of experience. His HBS professor Walter J. Salmon wrote to Ron Daniel (MD, 1976-88), then head of NY office advocating on behalf of Gupta and the adventure began.
Vinod Khosla (do watch his Stanford talk) was very right when he said, "Failure does not matter. Success matters". After all, we don't know him for The Data Dump (his first failed venture). We know him for SUN Microsystems (known by common man for JAVA). Vinod Khosla applied to Stanford GSB first after coming out of Carnegie Mellon masters. The school rejected him asking him to get more experience and reapply. He reapplied after getting 2 years experience and was rejected again. Known to be persistent, Khosla spoke to the Admissions Director who agreed to put him on the waitlist. Undeterred, VK regularly engaged with the admissions office at GSB. As he was starting to get disheartened, he also applied to Tepper at CMU and was accepted. But he did not leave the GSB dream. He was already 3 weeks into his MBA at CMU when he called the Director at GSB (Thursday, before the final day of scheduling classes) and told him that he now ought to allow Khosla to come to and if not- he was showing up to which the Dean replied that he would give him a call back on Friday. And Friday changed everything, the Dean called and asked Khosla to come. Khosla now runs Khosla Ventures and his net-worth is estimated to be around $2.4B.
Eric F. Weischaus is an evolutionary develomental biologist, 1995 Nobel winner and Professor at Princeton. He was invited to give a talk in honor of his freshman year Chemistry professor- Emil Hofman at the University of Notre Dame by Hofman himself. After extending the invitation, Hofman decided to look up the freshman chemistry grades of Weischaus and he found B in both the semesters. Hofman marched to the Registrar office and changed the grades to "A" with the explanation that he had accepted the Nobel prize as the extra credit. Hofman presented the new grades to Weischaus when he was at Notre Dame for the talk. Weischaus later flaunted his grades at Princeton and exclaimed that this is what it takes to earn As at University of Notre Dame.
Robert F. Smith is an African American businessman, investor and the founder & CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests exclusively in software. When he was in high school, he applied for an internship with Bell Labs but was told that the program was intended for college students. Smith persisted, calling every day. When a student from MIT did not show up, he got the position, and that summer he developed a reliability test for semiconductors. Smith currently has a net-worth of $4.4B (2018).
Everything is possible, my friend. Every single thing.
Boardroom Wisdom | October 22, 2017
I have always loved Ackman's candor. Interestingly in this video, Ackman praises Icahn on the same quality --" What I respect about Carl is he says what he thinks (sic)."
Makes me wonder if the ability to express an unabashed opinion has any positive correlation to success as an Activist Investor. But I think, it certainly does. The ability to ask uncomfortable questions at various junctures is what is extremely important and crucial for progress.
A boardroom lesson which stood out to me in this video (especially because I read an article on the same theme some hours back-more on it later) is what Icahn quotes from the John Brooks' book "Business Adventures".
"It does not matter if you have a perfect product and if you have great production, and if you have great marketing. But what you need is the right people to run and lead your company. And that says it all. You need the right person to run the company. You don't need the board to run the company. Infact, it is a negative. All these boards.... I hate going to board meetings."
Now, I would say this reminds me of an excellent article- How Mistry was fired as Tata Chairman by Professor Nirmalya Kumar of Singapore Management University. Professor Kumar, at the time, served on the Group Executive Council of the Tata Sons and on the Board of Directors of Tata Chemicals & Tata Capital.
Finding your True North | October 03, 2017
"Look if you want to be charismatic, don't go into business. Go into the media. Be an athlete. Be a musician. Be charismatic. Charisma is not what's called for in business. What's called for in business is character."
"Business is not about finding leaders with great style. It's about finding leaders with great substance."
" A leader is not someone who tries to emulate others."
" No one can be successful trying to emulate someone else."
" I want to create a company that my father would be proud to work in" - Starbucks Founder. Starbucks became the first American company in 1986 to give healthcare benefits to all its employees, even part time.
"If I don't have passion for the work, I can't be an authentic leader"
"Feedback is the breakfast of champions."
Education in India | July 05, 2017
Superb clarity of thought as to what needs to be done to redefine early childhood education in India. What do we need in terms of schools and pedagogy?
Recently Followed | July 04, 2017
I have always believed that with the treasure trove of knowledge that internet is, we are in an age where you can learn anything and be anything that you want. All the information is out there but the motivation is not. Whenever people write their personal blogs (supporting their passions), I feel that they usually do it in the hope of acquainting the world with their new found observation.
Scott Fearon's The Confessions of a Contrarior Investor
I have also started following ValueAct Capital (SF based activist HF) and their approaches. Recently, they released an executive compensation framework which can be found here in the Harvard Law article An Activist View of CEO Compensation
Shareholder Activism | June 05, 2017
[Update: June 16, 2017, Jana Partners is in news for catalysing the buyout of Whole Foods and making $300M off the deal within a month]
Barry is the founding partner of Jana Partners, an activist hedge fund. How he got his start after getting smitten by Asher Edelman, the corporate raider famous for taking positions in distressed companies and turning them around.
March 29, 2017
Liberal Arts Education | March 27, 2017
I feel that there are lot of changes left to be made in the Education System in India. I grew up in a small town and was fortunate enough to have got a great schooling in a convent ICSE school where I picked up nuances and mannerisms (while interacting with amazing teachers and super competitive peers) for 10 years which I never knew then would shape me for life. As I transitioned into my life in the States, never did I ever feel left out, with my peers who came from the some of the most renowned schools of the country and internationally. Infact, I felt I was much better off in terms of my reading, writing and speaking skills which made me value more the excellent high-school education I received at my alma mater.
Over the four years of my undergrad, as I read more and more about universities, schools, and everything in Education sector, my interest really grew about everything around Education. I was also experiencing the American Education system at the same time. When I moved to the US, I had never experienced or fully understood the meaning of "Liberal Arts" education beyond the usual definition. It was when I transitioned and had out-of-class experiences, that I started to value the "Liberal Arts" methodology a lot. I also realised that most of the jobs straight out of college required less of technical acumen but more of general analytical skills complemented with excellent command over writing, reading and speaking skills. And as I noticed my peers over four-years, I strangely found that Engineers inspite of a having to follow a core General Education curriculum, where they took courses in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, were grossly incompetent when it came to communication. It made me question as to what was missing? Was it the curriculum that was grossly inadequate in preparing them to be good articulators or was it their own personal handicap resulting from a not-so-good high school education.
Also, I noted down that as Engineers at a Top Engineering School like Penn State, there is a lot of course-load and technical length and breadth that is expected of undergraduates. We at Penn State were not becoming "Liberal Artsy" Engineers, like the ones churned out of non-traditional Engineering Schools like Duke,Brown or Dartmouth. We at Penn State were at a research school with one of the biggest research budgets and ambitions in US in-line with MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, etc and with Professors who were working on multimillion dollar Defense and Industry projects. Somewhere, in between, I felt that the undergraduate education quality definitely suffered as research assignments took priority over teaching for Professors. This brings me to another point that it is not always the "rankings" that should take center stage when you have to decide the school you wish to attend. It is absolutely important to understand a school properly and its course structure and pedagogical ethos before making a decision.
I took a lot of time time to evaluate the course pedagogies, I have been taught with, the course pedagogies in which I have performed the best along with taking out the time to speak to my peers from equally ranked top engineering schools like Purdue, UIUC & Georgia Tech to understand the phenomenon as to how different pedagogies affect the learning curve. Here is one such class, I would mention. I have had a pure-discussions based History class where we were graded on the best set of questions we brought and made the group ponder on. It was one of the most profound experiences in my freshman year itself and I learned that discussing with peers from different backgrounds (Criminology, Engineering, Economics, Pre-Law, Pre-Med Majors, an exchange student from Sweden,international students from China, Indonesia and Norway) brought an amazing level of heterogeneity to a simple discussion where these students juxtaposed a historical happening in their country with the one from US History all the while preserving the homogeneity of the subject-matter at hand. Oh boy, what a learning experience it was. I came out so much richer from that class. Not only did I become rich in terms of knowledge, I gained excellent listening skills, speaking skills, group discussion skills, the art of keeping my point in a group setting along with excellent analytical skills required to dissect apart complex happenings in history and evaluating them in different contexts. Could I have learned all these skills without the solid "Liberal Arts" system?
March 25, 2017
How beautiful are the Himalayas? India has so much hidden and unexplored natural beauty that everytime I stumble upon a sunrise picture of the peaks, it takes me back to my Himalayan Trips- Kaza & Sikkim. This Himalayan Club looks like a great idea and will think of taking a membership and getting involved with a expedition or two sometime very soon.
How India is growing "despite" the State?
I read Gurcharan Das' argument in "India Grows at Night" and it has made me so much more receptive and observant to all the innovators and changemakers in India. Be it solving the issues of the education sector, transportation, public governance or anything, we are at a point in history where we are seeing increasing active participation of the citizens to challenge the status quo "despite" the state. This is what separates us from China where the economic growth has been forced on the people by the State.
Being passionate about what you are doing