Saturday, May 08, 2010

Collecting one pebble at a time...

An old man, about the age of sixty is travelling from the US back to India. He was visiting his daughter there.
In the flight, he sees a group of American teenagers. He must have wondered what they were doing on a flight to India. After some time into the flight, one girl from the group hands him a Tamil pamphlet and asks him to translate. He is more intrigued. He does the translation work and then asks her back a question. How did she get a Tamil pamphlet and what was going on?

This was the time the tsunami had struck the coastal regions of South India. These teenagers were travelling to do volunteer work. Their funding? A church had sponsored their flight tickets. YMCA/YWCA had arranged for their stay. They did not have a way for food at the destination cities - Chennai and Cuddalore. They did have some funding which was to be used for buying food and clothes for people affected. Obviously, if they did not have a way for food, some of this funding would be used for that purpose.

The people had a plan of buying jeans for the affected folks. Of course, they only knew so much about the destination place. The old man suggests not to buy jeans. Instead, he asks to custom stitch clothes by arranging for a tailor as it would be more apt and cheaper as well. By fate or chance, he is pulled into the situation and seeing a group of students, who were in no way obligated to help but were travelling to volunteer, decides to get his hands dirty as well.

After reaching his home in Chennai, he visits the house of the owner of Saravana Bhavan chain of hotels (the owner stays near his house). How he managed an appointment is beyond me! He explains how these students were here for volunteering for the tsunami relief work. He also mentions they were staying here for forty five days. The owner agrees to provide food for them for all the days. Only one condition - he wants them to sign the receipt for the cost so he can get a tax exemption. He asks them to pick up the food from any hotel that was close to where they stayed. After their work is done after the forty five days, he also meets them and takes a group photograph with them.

The old man then travels to Cuddalore and meets up with a tailor. He enlists his help to stitch custom clothes for affected people. The group uses their money to buy raw materials and supply to the tailor. [I think the tailor may have waived stitching charges - I am not 100% sure]. The old man also visits Adyar bakery and explains the situation to them. They agree to ship bread free of cost to the destination location and charge only for the bread.

So these forty five days pass. Then on the last day, one girl mentions - "Before I came here, I had a different opinion about India and Indians. You won't want to know what it is."

The old man says - "I am happy it is changed now - that is what really matters."

A black boy in the group says - "There is no person we can find in USA who would feed a group of folks for forty five days free of cost. Seriously!"

The old man drops them at the airport. The group counts the amount of money they have in hand. It all totals to about 25 USD. Apparently they had spent everything else for this work. The convert this amount as well to Indian rupees and hand it over to the old man and ask him to donate it for the cause. This act completely breaks down the old man and he is moved to tears.

Big things in life happen not by magnificent people doing magnificent things. It happens when simple people do simple things with love and care. The conglomerate of these simple things assumes magnificent proportions. Only, most of us neglect the simple things precisely because they are simple and appear to mount to nothing.

Note: I had the opportunity of meeting this old man [by fate or chance] and he narrated this episode then.

Update - 24th May 2010:
Missed to state something important. Lufthansa allowed unlimited check in luggage for the students.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Pages from a dream book!

What a blessed life Paramahansa Yogananda has had. Suddenly, with these "on the spot" pictures of situations from "Autobiography of a Yogi", everything becomes surreal.

"Thy Master cometh today!" - gives the goosebumps.

Such a life is earned. It doesn't fall on one's lap!

This is the video home page - video is close to 30 minutes.

The Story of Stuff - Bottled Water

The story of stuff is relentless and hard hitting.
This time it is their take on "bottled water". I am part of the guilty ones mainly because shuttle cities frequently. But I will be more conscious and see what I can do about this.

But one shocking bit of news - ironical that I have to hear from Annie: "Mountains of used plastic bottles shipped from California to Chennai to be buried in landfills here." - Come on! How can that happen without someone authorizing the import here and offering our lands to do that! That is such a shame! (the video says she came to India and witnessed this first hand)

Thanks Annie!

Note: I need to rework the template - the video below is truncated. Click here to watch this on the YouTube site.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Who is important?

Pankaj was shopping at a store in a prime location. The store was part of a chain that was hugely popular, but each store was left to fend for itself when it came to profit making and bottomline. A store that was hurting the chain bottomline was shutdown after a probation period of observation. The employees, depending on a lot of factors, were either absorbed elsewhere or laid off.

It turned out that Pankaj was a management consultant and was very curious on how this particular outlet was operating. This was close to his home and the store wasn't doing particularly well. It was a matter of personal inconvenience to him if this was shut down. There was hardly a day when a clearance board was not on when he stepped into the store. Finally he had first hand information in the form of two employees conversing, not with small concern.

"It's the third consecutive quarter we have posted a loss. Our store manager got his final quarter warning from management. We also have the regional manager coming here to hold a staff meeting."

"I wonder why? What are we missing? After all, we have the chain brand to piggyback on and this is a prime location!"

Pankaj started observing some things and he saw the store manager at a distance. He appeared withdrawn and wasn't particularly interested in what was happening in the store. Besides, the number of customers in the store at the time didn't call for his presence either. Finally Pankaj went to the billing counter to check out. There were two people ahead of him, the person first on the line was being billed. He had a basket full of goodies and Pankaj thought that the sale would fetch the store about 4000 bucks. The man just ahead of him had a book. Pankaj knew the book and the price - about 500 bucks. The billing staff was having some trouble.

"Excuse me?" - the person being billed interrupted the billing assistant.

"The CD you just tagged says 200 Rs."

"Yes sir?"

"The label says 150 Rs"

The billing assistant checked the label and acknowledged. He went back to verify the SKU entry on the database and it showed 200 Rs. He had to do a temporary price override and then sort this out after the fact. The price difference was meager enough to go ahead. He needed the manager or a senor staff to authorize this. No one was close by. He knew the manager was in the store, but he couldn't locate him by sight. A senior staff wasn't close by either. So he decided to authorize the code using a senior staff credentials. He managed to get through the approval screen, but wasn't quite sure how to complete the override. He was fiddling with the software when the next person in line was getting impatient.

"Will it be long?"

The billing assistant checked the pending items to be checked out and also estimated for a timeline to complete an override of the current item.

"About 10 minutes sir."

The man was slightly annoyed and went in search of the manager. Pankaj was watching all this. He found the manager at a distance. The man was chatting with the manager after introducing himself and finally placed the book back in the shelf and left the store. Needless to say, something in the conversation had upset him and he had left the store disappointed.

Pankaj broke the line and went in search of the manager. The billing assistant was still fiddling.

"Can I speak with you for a moment? I am Pankaj."

The manager wasn't particularly happy seeing another irate customer. This was getting too commonplace.

"Yes sir" - however, the diplomacy required out of the position got the better out of him.

"I am a management consultant and I can see that your store is not doing too well. Can you offer ten minutes of your time so I can share my thoughts on what I've observed?"

The manager's face brightened and his stance softened. It's not everyday that free help comes unasked for. It wasn't even coming from within the chain.

"Sure, please come into my office."

They moved into his office. The manager asked for some coffee to be brought to Pankaj. Pankaj smiled.

"Can I ask why the man left the store earlier?"

The question was direct and confrontational and the manager didn't like it. His face showed easily.

"I can leave if you are not interested. But you're going to be frank with me if you need my help."

"No, sorry. He was not happy having had to wait so long, mainly because he felt the billing assistant was inefficient."

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him it was first come first serve. He had to wait his turn."

"Did you see what he was going to buy?"

"Yes I did. I wanted to see if I was losing much business. It was just a book."

"What book?"

The manager gasped. "I did not notice."

"The man introduced himself didn't he?"

"Yes."

"His name?"

"How has all this got to do with my store's performance. It was a one of incident. He was an impatient man."

"Play along for a while please."

"Rajesh Kumar."

"Do you know if he has purchased here before?"

The manager gasped again. "No!"

"Why not?"

"You obviously are not expecting me to remember everyone coming into the store do you?"

"Not by name. But by face at least? You're inside a major complex that houses many corporates here. The man was wearing a tie and was carrying a Blackberry. That didn't give you a clue this might be a regular customer we're sending away?"

The manager gasped again. "You have a point. But you're still just speculating here right?"

"Why don't we find out? Can you pull the last three sales numbers by people with the name 'Rajesh Kumar'?"

"But we don't ask for the customer name when we bill them!"

"This man most certainly would have used a credit card to buy that book. If someone used a credit card, you would tag the card number with the bill on your database wouldn't you?"

"Yes!" - the manager started punching some numbers and gasped at the results. He swiveled the LCD for Pankaj to see. Last three sales: two greater than 10,000 Rs and one above 5,000 Rs.

"Do you see what you just did? He probably isn't going to come back here again."

The manager nodded sadly. "But am I supposed to cater to customers' every whim?"

"I saw what was going on with the billing assistant. Besides you yourself said Rajesh felt the billing assistant was being inefficient. Why didn't you come to investigate?"

The manager put his head down.

"You need a change in process. In this particular exercise, why couldn't the billing assistant authorize the override himself? If the number is high, you can have the system decline the override request. Why should he hunt for a manger or a senior staff to complete the override?

"Why aren't the folks able to remember people by faces? The regular visitors? Why can't you treat them personally? Why the indifference?

"Fortunately, you are a niche store with high margins and non-expiring goods. You can still get your act together."

The manager nodded his head. The billing query of Rajesh's past transactions had apparently jolted him.

"Give what I said some thought. We can chat for longer if you need my help further." and Pankaj handed out his card.

"The first thing I should do?", the manager asked sheepishly.

"Call Rajesh personally and apologize. What was the book he was going to buy?"

"I don't remember. I told you!"

"It was 'Imagining India'."

"What about it?"

"Call him and tell him he can pick the book up from the store free of cost on account for the store's error."

"I don't have his number!"

"You get the customers mobile number as a precaution for high value credit card transactions don't you? His last one was great than 10K."

"Yes! If our guys were doing it I mean! Excuse me for a bit." and he went out to check the store copy of the signed transaction slip. He came back a few minutes later with a smile.

"Good! I'll see you then."

"I'll take care of what you're going to buy. It's on the store!"
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