Friday, May 24, 2013

Made In Japan: Akio Morita & Sony

Japan is the first Asian nation that busted the myth that Eastern countries cannot do successful business in a large scale. It is a curious case because Japan is not endowed with much natural resources or natural wealth like many other countries. After its devastation and humiliation in World War II, Japan’s awakening from ashes to become one of the richest countries in the world is a story of success, meticulous planning, hard work and determination. Who else is better to tell this inspiring tale than one of the forerunners of Japanese industrialization and co-founder of Sony, Akio Morita? 

Made In Japan: Akio Morita and Sony is an autobiography of Akio Morita written with the assistance of Edwin H Reingold and Mitsuko Shimomura. In parallel to the life story of Morita, this book describes how Sony was formed and its rise to global prominence as an entertainment company. The book is divided to nine sections: War, Peace, Selling to the World, On management, American and Japanese styles, Competition, Technology, Japan and the World and World Trade. The book starts with details on social structure before the world war, the description about war times and the subsequent defeat of Japan after the infamous Hiroshima- Nagasaki episode. The book goes on detailing the horrors Japan had to suffer – physical and psychological, after the defeat. Then Masaru Ibuka opened a small radio shop in a beaten down departmental store building. Soon 25 year old Morita joined him to form Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation with just 20 employees and financial backup from Morita’s family who were involved in sake production. It started by making transistor radios and tape recorder and marketing inside Japan. Soon the name was changed into Sony.

In subsequent chapters Morita explains how Sony became the giant it is internationally, especially in the USA through employing several unique strategies. Made in Japan is a firsthand narration from a leading industrialist about his personal and professional achievements. He lists out several of his and his companies philosophies that helped in achieving the phenomenal growth. So this book is really of benefit to managers and entrepreneurs. But the success of the book lies in the fact that even others can enjoy the book thanks to its simple narration. The insights provided in this book can be put to use in any walk of life. There are several parts where I really felt humbled by the man’s down to earth attitude and common sense. Another interesting factor is his outspoken nature that calls a spade a spade. One example is the chapter where he lists out the differences between American and Japanese management styles. 

‘Made In Japan: Akio Morita and Sony’is a compelling book, which I will recommend to one and all. It tells the success story of a man, a firm and a nation against all imaginable odds. It can be read as a history book, a motivational discourse, a management guide or just as a delightfully written autobiography of a genius.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Runaway Jury

 John Grisham is in arguably the best writer in the genre of legal thrillers (though my favorite book in the genre is Presumed Innocent by Scott Turrow). The Runaway Jury is the first Grisham novel that I read and from then on I made it a point that I read one of his novel every three months or so. This novel published in 1996 is Grisham’s seventh novel and has also been made to a successful Hollywood movie starring John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz. 

The Runaway Jury is an attack on tobacco industry and the arguably improper practices they follow to hook kids into usage of tobacco (though in the movie version tobacco corporations are replaced by gun industry). But Grisham simultaneously unveils the malpractice of using litigation only for the financial benefit of certain individuals instead of causing a change in the functioning of system. The novel follows a high profile legal suit filed by Celeste Wood, whose husband died a victim of lung cancer allegedly due to smoking, against Pynex, a huge tobacco corporation in Mississippi, where jury is presumed to be favorable to such cases. Rankin Fitch, a consultant hired by four of big tobacco companies is out to influence the jury by hook or crook because a defeat in such a case can seriously harm the reputation and make them vulnerable to more such suits. At the same time Nicholas Easter, a prospective juror with a mysterious agenda in his mind starts plotting to influence fellow jurors with the help of Marlee, a woman from outside. What follows is a psychological battle between the two using the jurors which culminate in a nail biting climax. 

The Runaway Jury is told in a very descriptive way, with many pages dedicated to court hearings where the harmful effects of tobacco to health and ethical issues of tobacco usage is described. But in the case of this novel these descriptions helped me very much in appreciating the story, the motives of many characters and generally about the way American jury system, which is quite alien to me, works. This novel is considerably different from many of Grisham’s other works that I have read in one aspect. In most of his novels the good guy- bad guy divide is very visible. The author’s stand about several social issues also is very clear. But here it is vaguer. We don’t root for Tobacco industries for sure, but those on other side are also not there for any noble purpose. All in all The Runaway Jury is a solid story about a social cause told with an unbiased approach with certain very interesting characters inhabiting it. It may be a bit slow paced compared to other works of Grisham, but is a rewarding read with a great twist in climax.

¡°This book review is part of Book Review program at¡±. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Tailor of Panama: John le Carre Writes on Real Spies

¡°This book review is part of Book Review program at¡±.

 Some novelists never seem to make mistakes. They churn out stories after stories and even if they belong to similar genres, managing to interest readers with fresh perspectives towards life and with three dimensional characters inhabiting them. John le Carre is one such genius. I have read quite a few of his books and each one of his spy novels has given me immense satisfaction. A few weeks back when I picked his novel, The Tailor of Panama, I was expecting a lot from it and John le Carre delivered quite a bit more than my expectation.

The Tailor of Panama, as expected from Le Carre, is a spy novel. The story is set in Panama at a time when the eyes of every nation that has any interest in maritime trade are concentrated on this tiny nation- justbefore the handing over of Panama Canal back to Panama by the USA. One fine day Andrew Osnard, an English spy confronts Harry Pendel, the star tailor of Panama with certain uncomfortable skeletons from Pendel’s past. Osnard want inside information about the Canal’s future, which he feels Pendel will be able to provide thanks to his profession which gives him access to the inside of power corridors. Harry Pendel succumbs to the blackmail, but soon enjoys the thrill of secrecy and added income that comes with it. He decides to provide Osnard with what he wants and more by fabricating colorful stories about the rising of a silent opposition under the leadership of his pal Mickie Abraxas, a former revolutionary but now a loser and drunkard.

The novel starts as a light hearted comedy and slowly progress into a black comedy about human greed, ego and pettiness. Le Carre portrays all his main characters with much vitality and depth. Transformation of Harry Pendel from a family man to a cunning manipulator and perpetrator of lies is astonishing. I really loved the parts were he goes overboard with his imagination, selling lies to Osnard. He tailors his stories like how he does his suits, altering the identities of his characters as he wants to see them. Andrew Osnard is another powerful character- elusive, suave and sophisticated secret agent outside, but actually a rogue, opportunist con artist fooling his superiors and colleagues to attain his personal gain. In between these two there are several other characters displaying a vivid spectrum of human virtues and vices. The tailor of Panama is a well told story that not only amuses the readers by clever wit and sarcasm, but also makes a powerful character study about power, greed and corruption of human mind.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Prince and The Pauper- and Hell a Lot of Trouble...

Check here for previous stories in this series.

That morning, as usual, Rajagopal Master was walking towards the tea shop of Raman Pilla. The tea shop, as in any village or suburb of Kerala, was a nucleus of local information. News on local politics (sometimes even national and international politics), gossips and all nuggets of info that make the monotonous life a bit interesting are exchanged and debated there and it was the only connection of the retired Rajagopal Master with the outside world. The debates there gave him much needed mental exercise.

There was a good kilometer to the tea shop from his house. In between there is a stretch of mango trees on both side of the road, so densely planted that it gave the place a feel of forest. Even in the humid May, the trees gave out light breeze and chill. Master loved this spot a lot as he felt that the place rejuvenate him. The smell of ripe mango fruits reminded him of his adolescence and all the mischief and misadventures associated with it. He saw a ripe fruit fallen on ground not far from the road. Master walked towards it with an intention of picking it.

"No! Don't come near me! Who is it? Master! What do you want now? Are you planning to give me a maths test and trying to extort a pension to live off your retired life?"

The deep sound echoed as a thunderbolt and Master was shocked by the suddenness of it. He took two steps back and tried to identify the sound coming from behind the mango trees. It was that of Subrahmanian, the right wing local leader who was also the Panchayat President. Like many dignitaries of the village, he also was a former student of Master. He used to be pretty bad in Maths but had an ability to tackle brilliantly the questions related to money matters. That and his good oratory skills along with his opportunistic behavior had convinced Master that he, in future will surely end up in politics.

"Suppu..." Master called out in a mellow voice. "Is that you? What happened to you? Why are you hiding there?"

 "Master..." Subramanian appeared from behind a tree. He looked disoriented and dishevelled. His eyes that used to be like two deep wells of power, now looked confused and his strict nature was displaced by a submissiveness. "Please save me Master. I am going mad."

 "What happened? Don't worry, we will solve whatever it is!"+ "Master, I had always felt that the future of our party, government and nation rested on the shoulders of him, our Crown Prince, Madam's charming Son, India's blooming Sun. I had always supported him, believed his young blood will cure the nation of all our sins... and he did this to me."

 "What did He do?" Asked the puzzled Master.

 "Did you not read the paper or watched the news? A newspaper boy tried to sell a paper to the Prince and he received Rs 1000 as a gift. And then they gave a job to his father and a monthly allowance to the kid and then an assured medical seat in a private college for him by the time (if) he completes his studies. The news spread like wild fire and from morning all the newspaper boys, milk vendors, flower sellers and vegetable sellers of the locality have gheraoed my house hoping all of the party leaders will follow the footsteps of the Prince."+ "Oh, that is a grave situation!" Exclaimed Master.

 "The mob started to turn violent in no time. More people- taxiwallahs, autodrivers, tea shop and panwalahs, even school teachers joined and started demanding the treatment given to the paperboy. I tried to run away through the back door of my house. And do you know who was waiting for me there? Busstand Mathu, she too wanted a lifetime offer for her kid born out of wedlock. I tried to dodge and run, but my dhoti fell off somewhere on the way. And I ended up in this forest hiding myself."

Inspired from this article

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Business Sutra: Book Review

Business Sutra is a book about doing business using the principles found in old Hindu, Jain and Buddhist stories. It is written by Devdutt Pattanaik, a physician who pursued his interest in myths and is now an authority on the using principles in Indian mythology for achieving success in business. In this book he attacks the modern Western notion, which he feels is deep rooted in the Greek and Biblical philosophies, that business management is all about setting objective goals and strategizing to achieve them. The book, in detail describe the ancient Indian way of doing business with a subjective vision and how it is effective even in today’s chaotic, unpredictable and intricate web like scenario. It details mostly every aspect of modern business, from finance to production to man management and tries to find solutions that are quite simple, but effective. 

In the first chapter the author emphasize the importance of belief in a successful business. It also gives a background about the book, how it got written and what to expect from it. Second chapter tells us how the Western way of Business Management is evolved by feeding on the principles of ancient Greek and Biblical culture. It also gives a bird’s eye view on Chinese (and even Japanese) way of doing Business- based on principles of Tao, Confucius and Bodhisatva. Then it describes how these systems are totally different from the Indian way and why the propagators of these systems are bound to find the Indian method puzzling. After that in five sections Business Sutra is revealed to the reader. 

The first section- Kama’s vision statement is about desire that is the root of all transactions and innovations. This is basically an introduction where the terminology and ground level concepts are revealed. Business is equated to a Yagna done in olden times. Yajamana who performs the yagna, gives his offering to a devata as Svaha. Devata, in-turn receives it and gives back his blessing as Thathastu. Svaha is the input that the business owner, Yajamana, invests and return to the investment is Thathastu. Devata is the customer or the person who receives the offering from Yajamana. The importance of goals is minimized and more emphasis is given to gaze. The next three sections describe the three levels of gaze that increases the chances of success progressively- Drishti, Divya Drishti and Darshan. Drishti is the way of Vasudev, who is the man of action and sought Lakshmi or wealth. Divya Drishti is the way of Chakrvarthi, who walks the path for Durga or power. Darshan is the path of Thirthankara who attains Saraswathi or knowledge. 

The book is filled with interesting and uplifting stories from mythology. There also are highlighted examples from modern corporate environment that is relevant to the myths and principles described. But the major attraction is the pictures that are hand drawn which doubtlessly establishes the point author wants to emphasize. Business Sutra is a long book that needs a certain amount of time and effort invested to fully realize and utilize its potential. To be of good use, this book needs to be studied rather than just read. It may put off certain readers in its initial pages as the terminology can be confusing for starters.But once the ground work is over and the stories and myths starts, it becomes more and more engaging and interesting. I will definitely recommend all to read this book at least once as many of the principles can be useful in your life even if you are not associated with any kind of business. 

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