Business, Entrepreneurship

Five reasons why Shipping is an interesting career choice

Why the shipping industry is an interesting career choice

I used to work for a stock exchange for nearly 3 and half years after my B-School stint. Hence when I decided to shift to the shipping industry, quite a few eyebrows were raised. I myself wasn’t sure what I wasn’t walking into when I joined Maersk Line India Pvt. Ltd.  (Part of AP Moller Group, Denmark) As part of their Global Leadership Program (MLGP) this year

However, nearly half a year in the firm, and I find the industry and extremely interesting one to work with. Quite a few myths were broken down as I settled down in the industry that is hardly known in B-School campuses in India, let alone people from other walks of life

First let me give a brief idea about the industry. Shipping can happen either in containers (the ones you see in Bollywood movies – used to carry apparels, automobiles in normal containers and food products like fruits or fish in air-conditioned ones- Maersk Line is into container shipping industry for example,) or in open large metal plates (known as break-bulk shipping – use to carry minerals, crude oil etc).

Let me list 5 aspects of the industry which makes it an interesting career proposition:

  • The application of knowledge acquired in B-Schools

Mugged up those macro-economic books? Know everything about international trade? Discussed FDI in retail over cups of coffee? Well, if there an industry if you can apply all those you learnt, it is this industry. Which markets India should import from or export to? Which industries and which seasonality should one look at? The application of those economic and finance fundamentals and correlation with your daily work is what would define our work here


GTI-shipping-industry

Photo taken by author – containerized cargo is being lifted by cranes from a vessel

  • The people

Well, we do use a lot of gadgets at work– we have our iPads and Blackberries and Laptops, but at the end of the day, we work with our colleagues. And the shipping industry has perhaps the most diverse group of people working under the same umbrella organization. From people who work in ports, operating gigantic cranes to lift containers, to people who use the most sophisticated software to record data and keep it in a usable form, there are people with knowledge in wide range of human endeavor

  • The depth and variety in the industry

In most industries in this world – you work either in the manufacturing or the service sector. Here is an industry where you can work in the two extremes – you can be in sales or customer services, or you can be in the frontline operations, giving details of vessels that leave or enter the ports and related technical information

reefer-shipping-industry

The inside of a reefer container (temperature controlled, used to carry sea food etc) (photo by author)

  • Chances of exciting global roles

Most of the big shipping firms are headquartered outside India, or have significant operations outside India. It means a good performance can lead to exciting roles, globally. And these would not be the usually “big economic hubs” like London or New York. But can include exotic places like Brazil, Central America, Western Africa and the Middle East. This also means an opportunity to work with, interact and know people from different cultures – exchange notes on food habits, arts, literature and lifestyle

  • Responsibilities at young age and matching remuneration

The shipping industry is a very young industry. The average age across shipping companies and functions barely touches 30. Hence the responsibilities and ownership of business processes come early.

young-workforce

A young manager at work in the MLIPL office

However, the variety of roles, non-repetitive nature of work, opportunity to undertake interesting rotations and hands-on experience with a great mentor-buddy system means the industry rarely burns out people. Plus, a senior role at young age means good remuneration, bonuses and incentives, and subsequent low rates of attrition. It’s very difficult to come across people who have worked in the industry for less than 5 years

Overall, a very interesting career prospect indeed!

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Leadership

Why Sachin deserves the Bharat Ratna

Sachin Tendulkar. The name needs no introduction in any part of the country. If there is one sportsman from India who even the US President has heard of and is appreciated by legends from other sports as well, it is Sachin

In 2011, the Government of India modified the eligibility criteria to allow sportspersons to receive the award and opened the award “for performance of highest order in any field of human Endeavour from the earlier criteria for the highest degrees of national service. This service includes artistic, literary, and scientific achievements, as well as “recognition of public service of the highest order.” “(Wikipedia)

Let us break this criterion up – “for performance of highest order in any field of human Endeavour”. If we take any field of human endeavor as sport, Sachin stands atop every conceivable record, barring one – highest test average, which is, incidentally held by Sir Don Bradman, who had to say this on Sachin – “he bats like me”

Sachin, the human being

But the Bharat Ratna has not been just awarded for excellence – a look at the list of winners would tell that they (well, most of them) were excellent human beings as well. Here also, Sachin scores. He is not just an inspiration to many budding sportsmen (not just cricketers), but to an entire generation of Indians as well who grew up watching him. His fitness and longevity meant he kept on being there in front of our eyes as a role model

Many sportsmen at different point of time, have engaged themselves in charity, sometimes, out of genuine interests, sometime out of greed for being in front of the flash bulbs, but for Sachin, its has not just a duty, or a passion – to him, it’s a way of life. In his Biography “Sach”, by Kolkata journalist Gautam Bhattacharya, there are several instances which shows his commitment to the differently-abled, the elderly and the homeless

There is a personal anecdote for me to say – something that I haven’t picked from any book or erstwhile published material – something that I saw myself- in the India-England 2012-13 test series, during the 4th test at Nagpur, between tea and lunch, when Sachin came to field at third man boundary for 2 overs. A 12 year old girl, hand partially affected by polio, tried to hold up a poster that said – “don’t go, Sachin” someone shouted and caught the great man’s eye. Between overs, he came running to the boundary, took a piece of paper and pen, wrote something and threw it back to the girl. It said – “always there for you, little one” in Marathi

Sachin and controversies

Sachin was a prodigy who burst onto the scene when he was barely in his teens. At that time some UK magazine wanted him to model with a glass of beer in his hand. He refused to do so, not because he was legally under-age, but because he felt young children who looked up to him might be influenced to make a wrong choice. Such a man can be expected to stay away from controversies. Sportsmen, especially the brilliant ones, barring a few, have been known to indulge in a wide range of controversies – involving money, drugs and women. Sachin married early and had a strong Marathi middle class value instilled in him by his parents and brother which prevented him from going astray

But he did have to face a few controversies – allegations that he dated a erstwhile Bollywood leading lady (who is no more), rumors over illegal methods to buy a house at Bandra, tax-evasion case while getting a Michael Schumacher-gifted Ferrari into India have dented his image. But then, nobody is perfect. Some of the other winners have had worse records to speak for. This doesn’t justify Sachin’s methods, but just shows when a person has been almost an epitome of goodness, even God is willing to forgive and forget

As a person who has grown up watching Sachin, I want to present a case for Sachin getting the Bharat Ratna, Atticus Finch style: “If there is one institution in this country who gives as much joy to an investment banker as to a fruit seller, if there is one institution in this country for whom people across faiths have prayed together, if there is one institution in this country who has united Indians, that institution, my Lord, has been Sachin Tendulkar. Yes, he is an institution in himself”

 

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narendra-modi-1
Business, Leadership, Politics

Modi, the management guru

I first heard of Narendra Modi, like many others, post the unfortunate Godhra incident and the subsequent riots that shook the collective conscience of the nation. Before that, I must admit, I had never heard of him. In fact, in those days, the only two CMs of any state I knew of was the West Bengal CM and the Tripura CM – Bengal because of obvious reasons and Tripura – because the person concerned had a long reign at the top. And I knew vaguely about the Delhi CM, and knew that “one of the two” were CMs in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh

In those days, I, like most young men of my state, were enamored of so-called “leftist” ideals, and found Modi to be a hate figure. Over cups of coffee, reading about his interviews, his “methods” in various magazines, I had a strong dislike for him. Then I got admitted to an engineering college, and started concentrating on my studies. NaMo gradually slipped out of my mind, almost _ though some reports of the Best Bakery case, the Sardar Sarovar Dam protest, the “ban” on Fanaa just about kept him alive in my mind

The next time I heard of him was when a professor in the college where I was doing my MBA came out with a report on how NaMo had used masks of himself to spread his message and keep his persona alive and kicking. We had a long discussion over cups of coffee in the canteen over this strategy, and the parallel it had with the world of marketing, specifically, brand positioning

It is at this point of time that I began to take interest in the management guru (not the politician, not the stylish gentleman). Here was a man who did not have much formal education, yet symbolized and stood for many of the principles and theories taught in long lectures and to which many people owe their PhDs

I have picked here 5 aspects based on 5 incidents of NarendraBhai

1. The masks before 2007 Elections and Swami Vivekananda in 2012

It’s a oft repeated statement in marketing that if you keep reminding a customer something over and over again, chances are – he will not forget to buy the product. Here the “product” was an idea – “Brand Modi” or rather, the implicit message “Vote for Modi”. Now there is a risk in this – “what if the idea is oversold? What if the customer, here the voter, gets angered and refuses to vote?”

The answer to this is simple. Again, using a marketing parlance, if we consider the 4Ps of marketing – first P would be the “product”. If the “product” is value for money, “positioning” will bring a smile on the face, rather than irritate the customer. An example of a bad “product” over positioned and angering the customers, in the world of politics, would be, without going into great details, celebration of birth and death anniversaries of “certain leaders” in all leading newspapers, and crediting anything under the sun to them. That does not apply to NaMo. He has delivered over the last 5 years, hence the “brand recall mechanism” created through masks worked to a great positive effect (http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/modi-masks-arehottest-items-in-gujarat%60s-poll-mart/307407/)

In the past few months, NaMo has made Swami Vivekananda as his own. It is said that he is a big fan of the 19th Century Great and has spent a significant time in Ramkrishna Mission in Calcutta, which was established by Swami-ji himself. (it is rumored the respect towards Swami-ji also comes from sharing the same first name – Vivekananda’s real name was “Narendra Nath Datta”). It’s also a matter of luck for NaMo that Swami-Ji’s 150th Birth anniversary falls in 2012, election year in Gujarat. And NaMo made great use of this as a political weapon – tweets, blog posts, youth fairs, yatras, even cricket kits given away as rpizes – everything had a brand association with the great Ascetic. NaMo projected him as a symbol of great Hindu pride (http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/narendra-modi-begins-month-long-vivekanand-yuva-vikas-yatra/1/216855.html). Here the management lesson seems tobe a clever association with a well known “brand” (personality in this case), who has great brand potential, yet has not been used by anyone else for some reason

2. Focus on women and children

This is not an attempt to be sexist, but the ladies generally make more rational voters. They vote based on issues which affect their livelihood, budget and less on matters of caste or religion. Modi understood this perfectly well. Right from day1, his focus has been more towards the women and the first time voters. He was faced with a serious challenge as far as women’s literacy and health and nutrition issues were concerned. And he took on these issues head on – he introduced several schemes for girls – “kanya kelavani”, giving away money earned from selling gifts given to him as charity to organizations fighting female foeticide etc (http://zeenews.india.com/news/states/auction-of-modi-s-gift-articles-gets-good-response_608102.html ) . The message was clear and simple – “Ladies’, I care for you, something very basic which many leaders in this country don’t”. This simple message found a lot of takers. Today he has a dedicated vote bank. He followed a simple management principle – choose your target wisely and kept on persisting with his promotion

3. Modi, the darling of the corporates

It’s an old fact in the history of politics that businessmen and politicians are the best of friends. The reason is not hard to fathom. Each one of them feed off the other. The politician needs funds; the businessmen need the right business environment. Modi was clever enough to realize this fact very early. He had realized how the incidents of 2002 had damaged his reputation in certain sections of society. He had to find an alternate way to build a reputation. And he chose the path of development. Development would require funds, and for most of his tenure he had had to deal with a hostile government at the center. So he thought of an alternate way – business

The people he governed are ones with good business acumen, he reasoned. So why not give them an ideal opportunity to carry out business? There is the story of how when the Tatas decided to pull out of Singur, Modi immediately send an SMS to Ratan Tata welcoming him to Gujarat, and a dejected Ratan Tata didn’t have too many alternatives but to invest in Gujarat (http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_i-just-spent-one-rupee-to-bring-nano-to-gujarat-narendra-modi_1391096 ). Uninterrupted supply of power, almost unheard of in other states of India barring a couple in the North-East, broadband connectivity in almost every village of Gujarat means both large and small scale industry has thrived as well as benefits of mdern technology could be used by the people

He has made business easier to be carried out, and this has been an invitation for investors, from not just in India, but from other parts of the world as well to flock to invest in Gujarat. The “Vibrant Gujarat” summits” have seen MoUs worth lakhs of crores being signed, and a significant portion implemented as well, which has brought huge investments to the state. Corruption has almost been eliminated, setting up business is easier than many parts of India, and the infrastructure (road networks, ports etc) compares to best in the world. Reduced costs and red tape has made investing attractive, bringing down unemployment significantly. This has had domino effects in terms of healthcare, sanitation etc and education. People have more money to buy better agricultural products, thus bringing up agricultural productivity. Higher returns mean they have more money to send their children to school; arrange for more nutritious food and make better sanitary arrangements. Thus Gujarat has entered into a virtuous cycle of higher income -> more taxes -> better quality of life. A simple lesson of finding what your customers (in this case the voters) need the most and provide that service the best turned out to be a trump card for Modi

4. Use of technology + social media and great back-up and PR-team

Modi-speech-with-3D-technology

Narendra Modi has 1 million followers on twitter (https://twitter.com/narendramodi ). Now, that is no mean feat. Leaders far bigger to him as far as constitutional authority is concerned, heads of state, etc have far fewer followers. It is here he scores big. He understood the value of technology and social media, something which would appeal to the youth and place from where he can take direct feedback from. It also helped him spread his message quicker and cheaper. He has taken potshots at his political rivals, showcased his methods and results and has connected to a segment of the population that is rarely given too much attention – the aspirational middle class. His use of 3-D hologram technology turned out to be a huge hit wherein he could be heard and seen, as if live in a number of places at one time (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-12-10/news/35726564_1_keshubhai-patel-sanjiv-bhatt-gujarat-parivartan-party ), as did his Google+ hangout hosted by actor Ajay Devgn(http://ibnlive.in.com/videos/287292/modi-answers-netizens-on-google-plus-hangout.html )

NaMo has a great back-up team and an efficient PR-team, which not just keeps posted about him, helps spread his message on the social media, but also does great research for him. For example, when he went to China earlier this year, he had his visiting cards made in Mandarin, besides of course, having done solid research on the business environment of the country (http://www.sunday-guardian.com/news/modi-woos-china-in-mandarin ). The Management lesson obviously is  have a good back-up team and to be well prepared when visiting a potential client (here he was wooing Chinese investors to Gujarat, and created the simple analogy of being the “two fastest growing economies in Asia”

5. Turning adversity into advantage

Narendra Modi has inherited a state ravaged by an earthquake and jolted by communal riots. Red-tapism, nepotism, poor infrastructure almost engulfed the entrepreneurial spirit of his subjects. However, in 10 years, he not just turned it around for the state, but for his own image itself – his lack of immediate family members barring his ageing mother and estranged mother (rumors of a wife were later found to be unfounded) kept him away from own personal gains, aided by his RSS-background discipline. He has cleverly molded his own image with that of Gujarat. Any insult to him was turned into an insult to “6 crore Gujarati”, his own portrayal as a “CM = Common Man” and “servant of the masses”, evoking of “Gujarati asmita” or pride has made him a man of the masses he lorded over. And the opposition – Congress, has fallen time and again into cleverly laid traps. In 2007, Sonia Gandhi called him “maut ka saudagar” or “Merchant of Death”, and he immediately used this to his advantage by claiming this was an insult to the state. Needless to say, he won by a thumping margin (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/no-2002-no–maut-ka-saudagar–sonia-cong-tread-carefully-on–muslim–issues/1042507/ ). Even this time around, during the campaign he was called a monkey by the Gujarat Congress Chief ( http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/gujarat-congress-compares-narendra-modi-to-a-monkey-bjp-files-complaint-290404  ), which he immediately turned into “Lord Hanuman out to serve Lord Ram – the people of Gujarat” argument (http://www.firstpost.com/politics/modi-in-3d-yes-i-am-hanumans-monkey-ganpatis-mouse-527686.html ). Here the management lesson is “take stones thrown at you and turn them into milestones”

It is difficult to predict whether Narendra Modi will win Gujarat, leave alone to go the national scene as a possible PM-candidate. But history will remember him as one of the longest serving CM of Gujarat. And his legacy of trying to bring all round development as well as his methods of electioneering, bringing in industries and taking care of deprived sections of the society will remain for long, a lesson in management for a lot of people

It can be argued none of this matters as far as voting is concerned, people vote a host of issues; even if he wins in Gujarat, he won’t be able to replicate it elsewhere and such claims. Well, all these can be argued, statements and counter-statements put in, but what matters is that these are some of the traits that very few leaders in India has shown. It is of little wonder then, that he will have several spokespersons who will speak on his behalf, not out of fear or greed, but out of love (http://in.news.yahoo.com/aishwarya-rai-lauds-gujarat-rapid-progress-141105303.html )

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