Saturday, January 06, 2007

Day 10: Bangalore

I can’t believe this is the last day of the study trip! So sad! It’s seems like an absolute age ago that we arrived in Mumbai and began this adventure.

Today’s meetings were last but definitely not least. We were given a tour of the magnificent Infosys campus in the morning.

Touring the Infosys campus

We then met with Mr Narayana Murthy and his wife Mrs Sudha Murthy. They spoke for about half and hour each about the tremendous growth of Infosys, and about the philanthropic work of the Infosys Foundation. The Q&A session was covered by about half a dozen eager paparazzi with their cameras, which added some extra excitement.

Meeting Mr and Mrs Murthy

In the afternoon, we got to feature in another TV show, this time on a much bigger channel with much larger audience. It featured us (of course), some Indian students from some of the Indian technical schools, and of course, Mr. Murthy, along with the President of Cornell University (he and Mr. Murthy are close friends, and Mr. Murthy is also on Cornell's board... or something like that).

On the TV set

The final meeting of the day and the trip featured no guests. It was just us reflecting on our experience over the last ten days. Professor Roberts commended the six leaders of the trip, Sarah, Chaitra, Sandy, Prashant, Tarun and Salim for what he described as a “truly exceptional management job”. We all thoroughly agree with this and would like to use the opportunity of this blog to give a big shout out to all six of the leaders. They worked tirelessly putting together an unbelievable trip that we will all remember for the rest of our lives. Thank you so much. You guys rock and we love you.

We've been through a lot together, and will certainly look fondly back on the good times, and smile broadly when we tell about the "bad"...but for now, our time here has come to a close. Keep an eye on the blog as we may indeed add more pictures as we gain access to them, but for now, this is the India Study Trip blog team signing out… Namaste!

Group Hug!

Day 9: Bangalore

One of the perks of meeting with a food company is that you get fed well. Such was the case on the morning of day nine and our meeting with S. Maiya of MTR foods. We enjoyed a traditional breakfast of masala dosa in small intimate dining rooms above the kitchens. This was great... and would have been greater had our host stay families not all been doing their best just an hour earlier to stuff us completely full of the very same types of foods... probably bought from MTR's packaged food line!

Breakfast at MTR Foods

The afternoon saw us over to a panel of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who shared with us a variety of perspectives on the Indian business environment. They discussed issues like finding talent, whether being an Indian or having an Indian on board is critical (they believe it is), and where they see the next big opportunities. They, just like everyone else, are sure that India will continue to remain an exciting place for business.

Bangalore Venture Capatalists

We had a few hours to kill before dinner. We were all keen to experience a genuine Indian cultural experience. So we decided to go ten-pin bowling! Again, a little embarrassing to admit, but this was ridiculously good fun. Of course, the fun might have been aided by a few specially prepared drinks... aided our fun but most certainly impacted our scores in a rather downward fashion!

Dinner was also awesome. We sat outside, cross-legged on cushions at a modern restaurant called Opus. There was Karaoke so of course the Stanford GSB had to represent. Jason gave a powerful rendition of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’, while Paul and his girlfriend Amanda sang ‘Sexual Healing’. I was personally very disappointed that virtually no one on the Study Trip had heard of Robbie Williams! Seriously, do we need a study trip to England next year to educate people about British teen-pop culture?!

"Robbie who?"

The evening continued getting better as we moved on to a plush hotel to party with the MBA students of Columbia Business School on their India Study Trip. We were excellent ambassadors for the GSB and had a great time mingling with these fine folks from New York.

Day 8: Bangalore

In the light of day, the Infosys campus bears a striking resemblance to Stanford. Broad, pristine streets. Young men and women on their bicycles. Tall, modern buildings of tinted glass and steel. Cloudless, blue skies and glorious sunshine!

Only two meetings today. The first was with Srini Rajam, CEO of Ittiam. This is one of India's leading hi-tech firms and a great success story. One of the most interesting factoids about the company is it's recruiting statistics: for every 10,000 applicants, they only hire 20 people. Intense.

We then went over to the offices of Biocon to meet with Kiran M. Shaw. Last year’s India Study Trip voted Kiran the most inspirational speaker of their trip and we could certainly see why. She had originally wanted to pursue a career as a brew master but, unable to break into this traditionally male-dominated industry, chose instead to start her own biotech firm. With only a handful of employees and limited capital she began to build one of the world’s leading biotech firms and is now the richest woman in India. Her company is currently doing fascinating work developing enzymes to help in the fight against diabetes and head and neck cancers.

We returned to the Infosys campus for a traditional south Indian lunch and a nice afternoon siesta. In the evening we went our separate ways, having dinner with local families in Bangalore. Many of these families were relatives and friends of Chaitra and Tarun, both of whom hail from Bangalore.

A few of us decided not to do home stays and went out instead for an evening on the town in Bangalore. We went to this funky club called Fuga which was great – except for fact that each drink there cost about $20!

For those that did participate in the homestays, most (and I only say most because I haven't conducted a formal survey, but I'm pretty sure I could have used "all") had a phenomenal time. One of the highlights was for Janel, Tara, Marcelo, and Jason, whose respective homestay host families brought them to what could only be called a "birthday extravaganza". The Don (for indeed, that was the only way he was introduced to us and the only name we have for him even now) was turning 70, and as such, it was time to celebrate. Stage, music, video, flashy Indian dancers, heartfelt monologues from family members... and let's not forget, everyone dressed in black and trying to look like a member of the mafia... this was a party (and a homestay) to remember.

Vignette: Vikas' Lost 24 Hours...

It is worth taking a quick break from the flow of this blog to tell a quick story about what happened to one of the study trip members, Vikas, over the last 24 hours. He left us at the airport in Delhi to fly to Mumbai for an interview with a private equity firm. When he arrived in Mumbai he got in a cab to his hotel but unfortunately the cab driver had no intention of taking him there. Instead, thirty seconds into the journey he pulled the taxi into a dark alleyway and demanded all of Vikas' money. Vikas protested but was out numbered 2:1 with the cabbie and his friend who had been sitting in the passenger seat. He ended up having to pay $58 and being stranded in the alleyway. If this was not bad enough, when Vikas arrived for his interview, the head of the office was in the middle of closing a deal and so could not see him. Vikas waited for two and a half hours in a conference room only to be sent back on his way to Bangalore. So not the greatest 24 hours...

Day 7: Delhi

Our seventh day in India and last day in Delhi began with a meeting which we had been very much looking forward to, Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, the soon to retire leader of the Indian Supreme Court. Though our time with the Chief Justice was necessarily short, he did leave us with one particularly powerful quote:

“Delay defeats justice.”

This seems particularly applicable in the Indian judicial system which is afflicted with a staggering backlog cases. At the lower court level, there are some 15 million cases waiting to be heard, and at the supreme court level, there are a full 2 million cases in backlog. This has been an area where Chief Justice Sabharwal has attempted to make changes, but the system is still in the early stages of the reforms that will make it optimally efficient and effective. We also got the opportunity to sit at the back of some of the courts in session and watch the Chief Justice in action as one by one he quickly assessed the merits of the different cases put before him, dramatically slamming down the files of the rejected.

Salim's ambitions to become the next Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court were far from subtle

The study trip then moved back to the Sheraton where we had a very unique opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with 5 important Indian business leaders and policy experts. These included Vineet Nair (President of HCL Technologies), Malvinder Singh (CEO of Ranbaxy, a large generic pharma company), Vikram Akula (Founder and CEO of SKS Microfinance), Prof. Bhrama Chelani (strategic affairs expert at the Centre for Policy Research), and Ashish Gupta (COO of Evalueserve). On top of the great opportunity to speak with yet another set of very important Indian leaders, this event was also a TV 18 CNBC exclusive which aired primetime on Indian national television. I can say (because I was there and I just know) that we really did represent the GSB well.

On the TV 18 Set

Paul comes one step closer to his Anchorman ambitions: "Yup, it's true. My cologne is made with bits of real panther"

One last stop before we head to the airport to depart Delhi for Bangalore, just about an hour and a half spent visiting L.K. Advani, leader of the opposition party and arguably the second most important politician in India today (after the Prime Minister of course). The meeting was a phenomenal and unique opportunity, and more than perhaps anything else, it was a great chance to see a truly successful politician doing what he did best… being political. We got to ask about 30 questions, and of those, we got really satisfactory answers to about 3. That’s certainly not Mr. Advani’s fault, there were multiple television cameras there, multiple microphones, and he is poised to potentially, even at the current age of 80, make a play for the position of prime minister in the next election. Given this, no matter how much we may have wanted answers to our questions, I’m sure that none of us hold his evasiveness against him.

L.K. Advani (the guy in the middle)

And then it was off to the airport… we all prayed to our respective deities and crossed our fingers that traffic would allow us passage to the airport, that fog would let us leave the airport (in an airplane, of course), and that we’d arrive in Bangalore with at least a little time to sleep before the morning, and day eight’s meetings with it, rushed to meet us.

Getting into the Bangalore Infosys campus at 2am is not easy. Security is tight here. The police officers guarding the entrance originally wanted to inspect and catalogue every single piece of electronic equipment in the group. (That’s about 8 laptops, 20 cameras, 10 mobiles and 9 iPods, if you’re interested). Luckily, we persuaded them we could be trusted and they let us in. [Note: although we thought this security was excessive at the time, we read in the papers two days later that a terrorist had been caught with explosives and blueprints of the Bangalore Infosys campus].

Marcelo later regretted his decision at 2am to flee Infosys security guards on a bicycle

Day 6: Delhi

January 2nd… day after New Years Day… everyone is still… tired. Technically, as I write this right now, it’s day seven of our trip and my brain is still warming up, so I’m going to just jump right into a quick overview of the meetings we had. The theme for the day’s meetings was the Indian bureaucratic system and those that have been able to successfully navigate it.

First was the CEO of TV 18, which is one of the premier broadcasting networks in India, also the CNN and CNBC franchisee in this country. They also are diving into the internet space, and see themselves as becoming more of a content provider and developer as opposed to serving a role solely as a broadcaster. I found that one of the more interesting perspectives he shared was on the fact that the reported internet penetration numbers of around 5% are actually somewhat misleading, because you have a population that is actually very technology savvy (especially the more than half of the population that is under the age of 25 and the more than 150 million users of mobile telephony). He believes that the main factor holding this back in India is infrastructure, and that once the country is equipped with more broadband access, penetration will skyrocket in the same way that mobile telephony did.

CEO of TV 18

Our second meeting of the day was with Dr. Kiran Bedi, one of the more well known and influential women in India today. Not only has she served as a huge role model for a great many Indian women, but also for a particular member of our group. Chiatra was practically giddy over meeting this woman who she spent much of her life looking up to. Dr. Bedi is most well known for her work in reforming the brutally overcrowded and corrupt Tihar prison, focusing on rehabilitation rather than discipline within. She struck us all as a very powerful, very confident woman, certain of both herself and her path in life.

Walking with Dr. Kiran Bedi (4th from left)

Drs Mo and Bedi

Day six concluded with a meeting with a Mr. E. Sreedharan. Mr. Sreedharan, currently leading the Delhi Metro initiative, was an incredible example of a thoughtful and experienced project administrator who, both because of his philosophy and because of his incredible reputation, seems uniquely able to cut through the miles of red tape which hinders the Indian public sector. Amazingly, he has been able to deliver all of his projects, from the Konkan Railway (a modern technological marvel) to the Delhi Metro itself, on time and on budget. Though he has tried to retire three times already, the Indian government continues to beg service of him, and he has, so far, continued to respond to his country’s need, making him not only an incredible leader and project manager, but an incredible civil servant as well.

Introducing the group to Mr. E. Sreedharan

The evening of our sixth day was a celebration indeed, for our dear and fearless leader “Old Man” Prashant Tandon turned a staggering 27 years old. Well, technically he doesn’t turn 27 until around 4 in the morning on day 7, but with a flight to Bangalore scheduled for the following evening, it seemed the best time to celebrate such an auspicious occasion was the preceding evening. The whole group had dinner at a hookah lounge (where the wait staff aggressively tried to take advantage of our good spirits with a somewhat loose adherence to the menu prices) and was joined by Prashant’s parents and a few other family members, as well as Nishant Mittal’s family as well.

Celebrating Prashant's 27th birthday

Later the evening led to a club where the celebration continued, mostly in the form of impressive displays of dancing, set to a mix of loud electronic music.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Day 5: Delhi

So, it’s New Year’s day and everyone feels, as everyone’s favourite Frosted Flake mascot would say, “Grrrrrrrrreat!”

Okay, actually, that’s not entirely true. Some people woke up to face 2007 with a disagreeable stomach, a wee bit of a headache, and feeling just a tiny bit tired. Nevertheless, we had troops up and about as early as 11 am, off for shopping, eating, and general sightseeing. The blog team feels it’s worth recognizing New Year’s Eve’s “Last Men Standing” (LMS)—Mr. Mohit Kaushal, Mr. Jose Brotons, Mr. Marcelo Camberos, and Mr. Jason Powers. Though none of these four can remember the explicit time that they managed to get back to their rooms and drift off to sleep (read, pass out), general consensus amongst team LMS is somewhere around 9 – 9:30 a.m.

Never mind that a good three hours of that was spent bumbling around Delhi looking for a place to get an early morning breakfast until finally settling on a trip back to one of the local resident’s apartments where Mr. Powers cooked while the other three fell fast asleep. Though he would never publicly declaim the accomplishments of the other “Last Men Standing”, in a separate interview, Jason did seem to feel that he has accomplished “something more” by struggling through those early morning hours, especially in the name of providing much needed sustenance for his fellow study trippers. Comments from the other three do suggest that the pasta that was prepared was in fact, quite delicious. Of course, almost anything is delicious after a long night of much celebratory drink and dance.

After a day of sleep and recovery, the group headed out for an evening meeting with Jyoriraditya Scindia, a GSB alumni of 2001, as well one of India’s youngest Members of Parliament. This encounter was thoroughly enjoyed by our group, and it was certainly the most intimate setting that we have enjoyed thus far.

Enjoying Francis Wacziarg's beautiful living room

Discussion topics ranged from the obvious (India’s rapid growth and the role of the central government in that) all the way to the deeply personal (Mr. Scindia’s own personal journey and the challenges he’s faced as one thrust by personal tragedy into a role he didn’t expect to assume for a great many years).

Jyoriraditya Scindia speaks with Sarah and Janel

Our meeting was also graciously hosted by Francis Wacziarg at his home in Delhi. Mr. Wacziarg is a noteworthy entrepreneur in India, having started a number of successful and fascinating businesses. One of the more notable of these (in addition of course to his important role as father to our very own study trip professor, Romain Wacziarg) is the purchase and conversion of many of India’s historic palaces and forts into luxury hotels, an effort which not only generates economic value and preserves these impressive landmarks, but which also brings a very tangible sense of the spirit and culture of India to those who are fortunate enough to stay there. Mr. Wacziarg’s sitting room reminding many much less of a sitting room and much more of an impressive Indian art exhibit or museum. We were truly fortunate to be welcomed into such an impressive home, treated with such hospitality, and treated to such a veritable cornucopia of foods (my favourite of which were the shrimp). Also, a glass of three of Moet settled a few still unruly stomachs and helped seal in a lovely New Years Day.

By the way, does anyone know who won the Rose Bowl? It seems that as I write this no one on board our bus seems to know… oh yes, and there’s also been a request from some of the women on the bus for a recap of the Rose Parade. We’ll be sure to bring you back a few cheap souvenirs in return for providing a precious link back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

The day ended with a smattering of activities. Some enjoyed our hotel’s spa, sauna, and steam room. Others took advantage of Bakhara, a restaurant in our hotel which is, seemingly indisputably, the best restaurant in all of India. Still others sought their beds directly, craving still more sleep after an incredible New Years Eve.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Day 4: Delhi and Agra

4.30am is a cruel time to be awake. Yet, that was when we all had to get up in order to miss the traffic on the way to Agra and the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, we were still not early enough to miss all the traffic and the drive still took us nearly five hours.

The Taj Mahal was of course spectacular, and we took the obligatory touristy pics. India’s number one attraction not only lures millions of tourists every year, but also thousands of beggars and street urchins. It wasn’t possible to move more than a few feet without being accosted by individuals, many of whom could not have seen their tenth birthday, offering to sell you a postcard or plastic trinket.

Posing in front of the Taj

Sandy learnt a valuable lesson that day. NEVER sit down next to a giant cobra snake, even if there is an old guy with a flute telling you to. You never know when the snake will attack!!!

Where's Prashant?

It’s a little embarrassing to admit but the highlight of the day was actually our lunch at Pizza Hut! In the first instance, it was a welcome relief to our digestion systems to have one non-India meal. But the real treat was the bangra dance show that the waiters at the restaurant performed for us. None of us had ever seen anything like it in a Pizza Hut before, and Carloyn, Jason, Mika and Nao joined in showing off their funky moves on the Hut dance floor!

Dancing in Pizza Hut

The journey back to Delhi was tortuously slow. But it made the evening’s New Year’s Eve celebrations sweeter when we finally got back to the city. We went to Dr Mo’s sister’s house. She works out here for an NGO and was a great hostess and threw a wonderful party for us all. Many of us, unfamiliar with the style and form of Latin dancing, were given a first hand show by our resident Don Juan de Brotons. We’d give you details…but what happens in Delhi, stays in Delhi ;-)

Parting at Mo's sister's house on NYE

Happy New Year everyone!!