Rise of the Phoenix-Part 2 – On the day of the journey

The day of the journey arrived sooner than I hoped. It was not a great day to wake up at 6 am after spending time with friends till 1 am in the night (yes you guessed it right, that was my last supper at least that’s what some of my friends told me. I should thank those friends, who made it really a memorable night). However I managed to wake up and reach the embassy before 9.30 and I was surprised that they kept their promise and issued me the visa. As I was leaving someone working at the embassy asked me why do I want to go to Afghanistan? I expected this question before they issued me the visa, nevertheless I was glad they asked me this question and I informed them about the project. Then he gave me a big smile and said “it is going to be challenging and something like you have never seen before”. I could not distinguish whether it was a warning or a wish, either way I thanked him for the visa and left the embassy.

I reached the school to say my final goodbye’s (I think at some point even I was convinced that I will not come back again, call it peer pressure or fatalism), I was in for a surprise that some of my friends got me a box full of chocolates as my farewell gift. I remember watching the movie Forrest Gump, and one of the dialogues is that “life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get”. How symbolic was this that my friends give me a box of chocolates. I could never thank them enough for their concerns and care and I think these are the people that make you think life is worth living. Soon all my colleagues joined in for a picture, maybe it would have been my last one with them, but destiny has its own plan.

After few wishes and goodbye, it was time for me to get to the airport, and every time when I am in Airport, something has gone wrong. This is one situation in my life where Murphy’s Law “everything that is bound to go wrong will go wrong” is applicable every single time. However this time I consciously wanted to change it and hence reached the Airport at least 2 hours before the flight and did not carry anything except my laptop bag (because of my experience of losing my checked in luggage). Finally boarded the flight and everything seemed to go so perfectly well that I began to doubt, whether if this was part of a bigger scheme of things. Soon in six hours (which is quite a long time for sitting in one place), I reached my first destination and to my horror, this was the same airport, only two months back, I promised myself that I will never fly though. As fate would have it I was there, but I can only laugh at how I make these promises only to break them.

After an hour and half of waiting, I boarded my next flight to Dubai, and this was a short one actually I could only see the takeoff and landing, I think in 45 minutes it’s the best you could see. As I had sometime in Dubai, ordered a coffee and was relishing it, when for the first time I witnessed something that made me think. As I was drinking my coffee, I saw a couple of kids playing next to me and taking one of these nicely wrapped sugar package and opened it and ate its contents. I just thought they were having fun and did not want to stop them so kept my focus on the coffee and the kids kept doing this and they were smiling. When suddenly one of the ladies sitting in the table next to me took the sugar from my table and chased the kids away. I was shocked, not because the lady took the sugar from my table, but on the realization that people have lost their ability to enjoy the simplest things in life. After all what is more beautiful than a smile on a child’s face.

Soon I realized it was time for me to collect my boarding pass for my final flight to Kabul. I went to the counter to get the boarding pass and I was given a form to fill in. This was a very strange form, where I need to give my consent saying that if my baggage gets lost in the flight, it’s my fault and the airline is not to blame. I thought to myself, so one has to pay the money to fly in this airline with luggage and they can lose the luggage but it is your fault because you chose to fly with them. This for me is a perfect contract to implement in financial markets (or should I say already implemented), where investors can take your money and invest and if they lose your money then it’s not their fault rather yours because you chose to invest with them in the first place. To my surprise this airline was not as bad as I thought it would be and actually managed to reach Kabul. (What happened on my first day in Kabul… to be continued)

putting social capital to work

We’re well into our practice projects. Our particular one needs us to talk to a lot of people in two industries that we have little prior experience with, across four countries we have have never worked in, located on three continents. Two key learnings:
1) LinkedIn rocks!
2) You will always know someone who knows someone who can be useful to you – doesn’t matter what it is you need.

ManU lines up in Singapore

Wrapping up Module 4, all groups were asked to prepare and deliver a short seminar over the internet (aka webinar).
The good part was that it was basically up to each group to decide on the topic for its own webinar, as long as that could be analyzed with the lenses of the elective courses that took place during the module. These included disciplines like strategic innovation and creativity, sustainable business, brands, or international finance.

A Financial Times news article about the Manchester United flotation in the Singapore stock exchange caught our attention. This was it: our opportunity to finally do something in the program about football!
So we did. During approximately 30 minutes, we looked at Manchester United FC from very different angles. How did this brand become one of the most valuable in the sports world? What does the club do to innovate and cater to new markets? What is there behind its IPO? And why the heck in Singapore?

In the picture below, the system is set up and ready to roll. Nishant “Bobby” Aurora just can’t hold it any longer. Let the show begin.

Somewhere in the clouds

As said before, this week we started with our practice consulting projects.
For a period of seven weeks, eight teams of highly motivated students will be working with real world clients, finding solutions for real life problems.
My group has been assigned to a major, global player in the telecom industry. The project is related to cloud computing, a very hot topic in the IT world, as many of us could conclude after our International Field Seminar in Silicon Valley. What are the key benefits brought in by this new model? Which concerns does it raise? How should it be priced?
I leave with a view from our office in the client’s premises, which seems to be consistent with the project’s topic overall…

In parallel to all of this, each student is also supposed to write her/his Master’s Thesis during this period.
Typically (but not necessarily), the research question addressed by the Thesis is related to the work done in the project, but a broader, more generic, and naturally more academic perspective needs to be put into it.

Rise of the Phoenix – My Kabul Journey

I named the blog ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ not because of any affiliation to Harry Potter or the world of wizardry. But being a muggle (apparently it’s a word denoted to describe someone who doesn’t know magic and believe it or not it has already been included in the Oxford dictionary, however my word software fails to recognize it, what a sacrilege) one of the things that always fascinated me is Phoenix, a mythical bird that arises out of ashes. So why would I name a blog to narrate my travel to Kabul as rise of the phoenix, does it mean I am going to be burnt to ashes then rise, well some of my friends definitely think so, at least that is what I inferred judging by the farewell dinners I was invited to. However, to their disappointment it is not about me, rather it is about the nation of Afghanistan and my hope that one day it will arise out of its current miseries and shine bright like the feathers of Phoenix.

Although my exact date of travel to Kabul was only on 7th of October, but the real journey began almost 4 weeks back, when I chose the project. Ever since then, there were sympathy notes detailing that life is not so bad as to travel to Kabul, cynical comments asking me why do I want to commit suicide so young, suggestions that asked me to change my name and nationality and above all a sense of contentment for some hoping that I will not show up again (sorry to disappoint, I might actually show up again). However in all this one thing that was very evident for me was the love and care of my friends and well-wishers.

Every journey has a starting point and my journey started with a visit to Afghanistan Embassy and to my surprise there was no one to be seen anywhere. I was not checked as I walked in and no one came running to arrest me as I went searching from room to room to find someone (Maybe other embassies should take a cue from this, especially the US embassy, because who cares about them so maybe they should stop taking themselves seriously). After five minutes of search, I found someone in a room sitting behind a desk (what a relief). However he was totally surprised to see me there and his expression said it all. He gave me a look of disbelief, when I told him I needed a visa, he for a moment thought I was insane, but I can’t blame him because this is not the first time I got the expression. After reading through my document and seeing my dates of travel, he said he will issue the visa on October 11, now I thought he was insane. I explained to him, that I needed to travel on 7th and there was no way to postpone it. He now had the bargaining power and told me as the embassy had a lot of work to do they did not have time, but I knew it was his BATNA not to issue me the visa before 11th.

There are many problems with me but chief among them is my stubbornness (in MBA lingo you can call it persistence) and I was not returning back without a visa. So I just kept standing there (for one I did not understand what he spoke, because two languages he spoke are not the two languages I spoke), after seeing that I will not go away, he went away but only to return in five minutes with someone else. The new person walks in smoking a cigarette and asks me very cheerfully, whether I am from Pakistan, the moment I replied I am from Chennai his cheerfulness was gone and now he wanted to get a solution to get rid of me or so did I thought. After bargaining and good cop, bad cop strategy (in Negotiation this is called as dirty trick) finally I was told that I will be issued a visa on Friday October 7th. I thought it was some kind of prank as the embassy was officially closed on Friday. As I pointed it out he told me they will make an exception and asked me to come early on to get it. I still didn’t believe, but one thing I have learned is to trust people, even if I didn’t believe them because what choices do one has. Soon to follow my travel and my encounters in Kabul…..

Reflections before the Practice Project

We have finally started on our practice projects! I am very excited to be on the team for a very special project for an international NGO.  The team is great, the theme is very interesting and we shall travel to Afganistan (John is already there) and Haiti to collect data.

Yesterday I wrote my reflection paper for the field project. I look forward to this experience, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

I have a Dream

‘I have a dream’ these are the words immortalized by Martin Luther King Jr in his famous address at the Lincoln Memorial in 1968. As I had the luxury of time and did not know how to spend it, I was thinking about my options. It is very important to know that you always have options (one of the key learning from my Finance course), in this case I had two options, either I go home and dream (which is the best option) or to stay at the school at the middle of the night and scribble something about dreams. If I had a little bit of common sense, I would have chosen the practical approach and dreamed but as an MBA student, I picked the theoretical approach hence decided to write about my dreams.


Before I get into details about my dreams, I need to define what I mean by dream. The dreams that I talk about here are not a laundry list of lofty goals and aspiration on what I want to achieve in my professional career (in MBA parlance it is called as elevator pitch there is another name for it in laymen terms it is called boasting about oneself). This dream I wanted to write about is motivated by the thought that as a society if we are interconnected then what should one dream for. So having established the context these are my dreams –


I have a dream that one day, the lady (or should I say a skeleton wrapped with some flesh) I saw begging for food at the corner of my primary school will not be there anymore, because she could make her own living and be not dependent on anyone.


I have a dream that one day, the taxi driver (with Masters Degree in History), who dropped me at my workplace, could go to a University and pursue his research interest, without worrying about his next meal and where it would come from.


I have a dream that one day, the migrant workers from my country (treated like slaves with no dignity), I saw in Qatar Airport, will not have to leave their homeland to seek opportunities in other countries, to provide a better life for their families.


I have a dream that one day, the women who sell their bodies to make a living can find alternate means to live a life of dignity and respect


I have a dream that one day my kids and grand kids will follow their passion and live their life without worrying about getting rich or powerful.


My dreams are not lofty enough to change the society in a radical way so that I can label it as entering the Promised Land. However, these are dreams that are simple yet powerful which could charter the course towards the Promised Land, even though it might take years to enter. As an MBA student, I am taught to ask question than to write answers so if these are the dreams that could charter the course towards the Promised Land, what should I do? As I said before, as an MBA you ask question not answer them. Having said that I found someone who answered it better than I ever could and his name was Henry David Thoreau and he stated “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”


Beating McKinsey in its own game

McKinsey, this name evokes strong feelings among corporations, governments and even other consulting firms, you either love them or loathe them, but there is never a middle ground. In the last 85 years of its existence, many consulting companies have come and gone, but McKinsey as a brand has been alive and going from strength to strength. It is also interesting to note that in the last 10 years, they have always been rated as the ‘numero uno’ consulting company. Although the rating itself could be very subjective, but what creates this strong perception about the company, more important, why are the competitors not able to outpace the firm.


What is the competitive advantage of McKinsey? (MBA jargon that has often been used without discretion, so let me continue with the tradition, but to simplify for those folks who get confused, what makes McKinsey different from others firms). Is it the smart people they have? But so do many other consulting firms. Is it the problem solving methodology? Not really, because there are other consulting firms, which matches or even has better methodology of problem solving. Is it the knowledge that has been accumulated over years? maybe, but so do other firm including BCG, which has more than 50 years of knowledge, stacked up in their database. Is it the strong access to influential networks at the firm? Other firms have built this network as well. So what do they really have that distinguishes them from all others the simple answer is nothing. Isn’t it shocking that nothing differentiates the firm, yet they are number one, well here is the caveat that none of these ingredients as an individual entity provide advantage to the firm, but when you sum all of them they have a strong concoction that differentiates them.


Now for the crazy question can you beat McKinsey at its game? (if one thing I learnt in the last nine months is that I started asking the most weirdest questions, if I were sensible I would stop once I realize that it is a weird question, but truth be told I have never been sensible) A typical consultant reply for the question will be yes, because after all every problem has a solution. Then the follow up question, how can you beat the firm in its own game? Well this is quiet tricky as most of the current consulting firms have all the capabilities that the Firm has, but what they do not have is the solution that ties in all this together to call it the McKinsey way. Some of you might complain at this point this is theoretical framework driven, high level strategy, but isn’t what McKinsey has been selling over 85 years and packaged it as a solution to client problems. On top of that to topple McKinsey, other firms do not need to have a competitive strategy, rather what they need to do is to play their game at a high notch and watch for the changing culture at McKinsey. In other words if McKinsey were to be toppled it will be from inside rather than from outside.


So people tend to expect an answer for the questions that is posed in an article? But as an consultant there is a cardinal rule, you always show the client direction towards the path, but you never lead them on that path, that is the duty of operational consulting and not strategy consulting. In other words, as a strategy consultant will say, I am overpriced to lead you all the way, so hire someone else.