Monday, September 24, 2012

Apps to be disciplined and stay healthy

On Health and fitness front:

Taking up cycling after almost 16 years was a totally different experience. Back then in 1993 we were restricted to using speedometers installed on our bicycles that tracked the speed and distance to be precise. And most of us never afforded the gadgets. I had not even heard about mobile phones then. Also, in those days rarely anyone would have spent INR 7.5 K to 20 K on a road bike and neither would have they been  available easily.

Today, we are overwhelmed with smart gadgets, most of them free to use, not only keeps one entertained during the workout but also tracks your performance. One of the main advantages, they help you step beyond just fitness, to performance.

Business line carried an article listed out some of these applications titled "Track your walk". Two additional apps that I would like to suggest here are .  This app is a free to use on symbian phones ( I am not aware about other OS). The app allows you to export the workout details in excel format, upload live to the its website and of course on facebooks and orkut. The website shows world map with blinkers of users already registered on site and sharing their workouts in public forum. This is one of the prime attractions to visiting their site.The apps tracks altitude as well and shows the speed and altitude as a graph.

Next, app that is not mentioned in the article is micoach by Addidas. This app is again free to use but allows you to track your heartbeat. ensure to check whether the same is compatible with app else they sell their own set of gadgets to track the same. Please visit

On Discipline front:

We at office may object to restricting access to Facebook,Linkedin, Orkut and Twitter and may even win the case with management for allowing access to these websites. But the reality is, with advent of these sites which are now accessible on mobile phones as well, lead to increased levels of distraction. Distraction in simplest terms is reduced focus on task at hand. Reduced concentration has its own problems- extra time to complete the task, lack of control, incorrectness in interpretation or calculation of data. All this, further complicates when most of us as professionals tend to carry "status quo" approach to decision-making. All the talk to innovation and efficient management remains in books and talks of consultants. Anyone who succeeds may smartly attribute it to what is said such books and talks. So we may all will agree that we have a problem at hand i.e. Distraction.

I came across some very good apps that control your distraction. Please read about them here Apps for Online workers  .

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Limited role of non-financial stakeholders?

Financial decisions (funding of firm's investments) interact with overall strategy of the firm. The role of stakeholders assumes significance since a firm continuously engages with its customers, suppliers, employees (including prospective ones), lenders and shareholders. Each of them having their own objective for being associated with the firm. 

Customers expect the firm to service its product purchased while employees look at career growth. Vendors look to continue to supply so that they continue to have the firm as its customer while shareholders and lenders desire return on investment. None of the stakeholders would like to engage with a firm that is loss making or is highly leveraged (measured as Debt-equity ratio). This seems quite illogical atleast in case of equity shareholders or lenders who have put their own money into the business. For instance, in case of shareholders such a situation arises only when the cost of liquidation outscores the cost of running the firm. 

Stakeholders can be categorized into two types- Financial and Non-financial. Financial stakeholders have access to financial information using which they take decisions to invest or withdraw from the firm (irrespective of the size of the firm). However, in case non-financial stakeholders access to financial information is limited. This is true, more in case of unlisted firms/SMEs. Hence, it can be reasoned logically that non-financial stakeholders have limited role in shaping the overall strategy of SMEs. In other words, managers of SMEs will be more focused on protecting interests of its financial stakeholders over its non-financials stakeholders. Is this true?

Alternatively, is it that managers of SMEs, unlike managers of large corporations, are far less constrained in their choice of financial decisions? But do they have enough options to chose from?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Motivation for my research topic

I have struggled hard to work on my research topic due to lack of focus, time and motivation. My attempt below is to document the three key motivators to continue to pursue my research topic on capital structure theories:

1. Study of capital structure is a complex due to involvement of multitude of factors that vary within firms over time, across industry and across countries. Majority studies have taken large sample of firms across industries to ascertain the determinants of capital structure and its adjustments. Hence, its imperative small subsets of sample firms are studied to better understand capital structure theories. This is of immense significance in context of Indian firms. 

2. Existing studies convincingly argue that careful measurement of key variables including the dependent variable (debt/equity ratio) is critical. Studies have tried to develop statistical models that attempt to explain the capital structure variation but each is a partial fix and still leaves much of capital structure variation unexplained. (see Graham, John R. and Leary , Mark T., A Review of Empirical Capital Structure Research and Directions for the Future (April 7, 2011). Annual Review of Financial Economics, Vol. 3, 2011.) Hence, using non-parametric methods on primary data (collected through) questionnaire is expected to help identify qualitative factors that influence the choice and variation in capital structures. The proxies for qualitative factors in parametric models may have failed to capture their effects completely.

3. Despite years of research, capital structure remains a "puzzle" (see Myers, Stewart C., Capital Structure Puzzle (July 1984)). NBER Working Paper No. w1393.) Is capital structure of a firm an outcome of its business decisions or is it a determinant of business decisions? We have trade-off and pecking order theories  and several decades of empirical research attempting to validate the capital structure theories but the "puzzle" provides enough scope to validate and study it further. 

Jaspal Singh
New Delhi

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Right workplace

"Workplace is place of worship. We work hard at this place to achieve our goals that we set ourselves to achieve. Some of us are employers while others employees but basic characteristic of a work place remains the same."
If what is stated above is true why do we keep hearing of companies trying to set-up amenities at workplace that prompts the worker to show at work for longer hours? May be they have been preached by some consultants belonging to following school of thought- Keep him stay long and he will be worth nowhere except here :).  We are most productive if we work short and specific. Workplace should have minimal distractions and an environment that lets you focus and work better. If we limit the time spent on aligning with each other we will be complete tasks on time.
Imagine a situation- You work with 100% focus for 8 hrs. Leave office at 6 pm to a gym or a game of squash or tennis or an evening back. You return home by 7:30 pm. Chat with kids. Refresh the lessons learned from your kid's books. Eat with them and then go to sleep at 10:00 pm.
Working long is making us socialize less in real life and over-socialise over facebook, linkedin and orkut. Our employer states, "Focus on end results and I do not care what you do" but rates a colleague of yours higher who spends longer hours at work.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Failed Economics of retail in India

Offering organized retail as a choice of shopping for extra price-sensitive Indian consumer was never going to be easy. Failing to attract enough footfalls into their stores, the road ahead lies in effective positioning and branding. Will the sector get there?

Few years back all looked upon organized retail as the next big thing in Indian economy. Players like Reliance, ABRL, Shubiksha launched their offerings in supermarket, Specialty and Hypermart formats. Supermarkets were opened next to Kirana shops with size ranging from 4-7k sqft. Hypermarts were opened in city outskirts where the real estate development was just happening ensuring enough parking space and recreational facilities for visitors while Specialty stores were restricted to prime market space. Rentals in a typical Class B city in India would have been INR 90 per sqft per month for Supermarket, INR 45-50 per sqft per month for hypermarts and INR 110 per sqft per month and upwards for Specialty.

Business plans developed had a pay-back period between 15-20 years with EBITDA margins of 7-9%. Merchandize mix was premised to offer 13-15% at gross levels and 7-9% at EBITDA levels. Choice of financing mix was going to be critical to ensure erosion of just 1-1.5% between EBITDA and PBT (Profit Before Tax). Players with deep pockets could have only survived and almost all had plans to bring in a foreign player by 5th to 7th year of operation.

So what went wrong?
a) Rentals increased disproportionately due to boom in realty sector
b) Merchandize mix in earlier days had limited local brands for sale which otherwise had a strong consumer loyalty
c) Overstaffing at stores
d) Supply chain flawed- procurement was centralized.
e) Limited understanding of catchment area
f) High shrinkage especially in case of fruits and vegetables (F&V)- F&V was expected to be footfall driver instead consumers stuck to Kirana store while they shopped F&V from these stores
g) Excessive Competition- multiple players opening stores in the same locality
h) Rapid expansion plans- some players opened more than 1000 stores within a year

Ultimately most of the players failed to make profits at store level. Further, challenges relating to centralized supply chain, merchandize procurement and manpower recruitment and training all impacted the operations. Within first few years of starting, operations went out of control and top management was devoting more time to review the operations and decide on appropriate merchandize for each category of stores than focusing viability of the business plan drawn.

By the time things went out-of-hand for some, they were trapped in high debt while business plan was premised on negative working capital requirement.
Today, visiting a supermarket store in locality is a pain. Billing counters have been reduced significantly. Management of stores has been outsourced to agencies that lack sales ethics and merchandize is complete only for 10-15 days in a month. 
Only FDI in multi-brand sector can provide an exit option of some of the best corporate houses trapped in the web of retail. When is it coming? Some are losing sleep over the issue…