Archive for June, 2008

Quotas are route to inequality at IITs, IIMs

June 24, 2008

Their dropout rates are higher at IITs, and salaries lower at IIMs

NEW DELHI: The recent decision of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, to terminate 25 students, many of them from the scheduled caste category, for poor performance has raised hackles all around.

While the National Commission for Scheduled Castes is pressuring the institute to take them back, the issue that cannot be wished away is their actual performance after gaining entry into these hallowed institutions.

Have quotas really worked? How do students from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SC/ST), inducted on the basis of lower qualifying marks, fare in terms of performance and salaries at the IITs and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs)? Are they able to cope with high academic pressures?

DNA, which used the Right to Information Act (RTI) to extract numbers on SC/ST performance from reluctant institutions, has some answers. We found that quotas don’t work as well in the IITs, where the demands for academic excellence are higher, but the results are reasonable when it comes to the IIMs.

It’s clear that dropout rates are high among SC/ST candidates at the IITs; at the IIMs, their average salaries are also lower than general category students. The big differences, though, come up in the case of top performers. At IIM, Kozhikode, the highest salary earned by a general category student was Rs70 lakh this year; the highest earned by the SC/ST candidate was just Rs13 lakh. The differences in average salaries were lower: for general category students, it was Rs15.84 lakh, for SC/ST Rs11.01 lakh.

The real problem area seems to be the IITs. According to information provided by IIT-Powai in Mumbai, 21 SC/ST students were asked to terminate their undergraduate BTech course in 2006-2007. In the last three years, the number of reserved category students terminating their courses at Powai has risen quietly. In 2005-2006, the institute had asked 20 SC/ST students to pack their bags. A year earlier, in 2004-2005, 19 students left without completing the course. Between 2003 and 2007, the yearly average dropout number for IIT, Powai, is a high 16 students .

Two other IITs — in Delhi and Kharagpur, for which DNA has data — had lower average dropout rates of 11 and eight among SC/ST candidates. The dropout rate for general category students at IIT, Powai, hovers around 1-2% and, according to faculty members, is nowhere close to that of reserved category students.

Students are asked to terminate their courses when they accumulate more backlogs (courses failed) than permitted by IIT rules. “There is no semester-wise fail/pass system at IIT, Powai. Students can continue further studies with up to four backlogs (failed courses) at the end of each semester, till the second year, or up to six backlogs at the end of each semester during the third and subsequent years of study,” says Dr Indu Saxena, deputy registrar at IIT, Powai.

But things are better at IIT, Delhi, where yearly dropout rates have stabilised in the range of 3-9 for SC/STs combined after a peak of 23 in 2002. A professor at IIT, Delhi, told DNA that the institutes seldom have any control over dropout rates. “The quality of reserved category students every year is variable, unlike general category admissions, where merit is the sole criteria. In the case of reserved categories, sometimes totally undeserving candidates are admitted who cannot meet the standards set by the institute,” he said.

The gap between general and SC/ST category students is less stark at the IIMs, where average salary differentials are not seriously out of whack. DNA, however, found that students from the general category fared much better than reserved category students in terms of salaries offered at campus.

IIM, Ahmedabad, did not share details about the highest salary offered to SC/ST candidates in 2008, but the highest obtained by general category students was Rs60 lakh. Average salary levels for the last two years show some serious divergences.

Last year, the average salary offered to a general category student at IIMA was Rs13.70 lakh, while an SC/ST candidate got Rs11.14 lakh. This year, the general category average was Rs17.81 lakh while the average salary given to reserved category students was Rs14.50 lakh.

According to Bakul Dholakia, former director of IIM, Ahmedabad, disparities in salaries are not surprising. “At IIMA, we have always acknowledged the academic differences between general and reserved category students. It is generally assumed that reserved category students, on an average, score 20% less than their general category counterparts. Keeping this in mind, an average salary difference of Rs3-4 lakh between general and reserved category students is logical,” he told DNA.

Piyush Sinha, professor at IIMA, feels that “average salaries figures are not sufficient to conclude that reserved category students at IIMs do not perform as well as their counterparts in the general category.” According to him, “there are many factors that decide the salary during campus recruitments. The companies which come to the campuses are never given out the names of candidates based on caste. Everything works on merit.”


10 Totally Stupid Online Business Ideas That Made Someone Rich

June 22, 2008

How to get rich the smart way? Read what some creative people did:

1. Million Dollar Homepage

1000000 pixels, charge a dollar per pixel – that’s perhaps the dumbest idea for online business anyone could have possible come up with. Still, Alex Tew, a 21-year-old who came up with the idea, is now a millionaire.

2. SantaMail

Ok, how’s that for a brilliant idea. Get a postal address at North Pole, Alaska, pretend you are Santa Claus and charge parents 10 bucks for every letter you send to their kids? Well, Byron Reese sent over 200000 letters since the start of the business in 2001, which makes him a couple million dollars richer. Full Story

3. Doggles

Create goggles for dogs and sell them online? Boy, this IS the dumbest idea for a business. How in the world did they manage to become millionaires and have shops all over the world with that one? Beyond me.

4. LaserMonks is a for-profit subsidiary of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank, an eight-monk monastery in the hills of Monroe County, 90 miles northwest of Madison. Yeah, real monks refilling your cartridges. Hallelujah! Their 2005 sales were $2.5 million! Praise the Lord. Full Story

5. AntennaBalls

You can’t sell antenna ball online. There is no way. And surely it wouldn’t make you rich. But this is exactly what Jason Wall did, and now he is now a millionaire. Full Story

6. FitDeck

Create a deck of cards featuring exercise routines, and sell it online for $18.95. Sounds like a disaster idea to me. But former Navy SEAL and fitness instructor Phil Black reported last year sales of $4.7 million. Surely beats what military pays.

7. PositivesDating.Com

How would you like to go on a date with an HIV positive person? Paul Graves and Brandon Koechlin thought that someone would, so they created a dating site for HIV positive folks last year. Projected 2006 sales are $110,000, and the two hope to have 50,000 members by their two-year mark.

8. Designer Diaper Bags

Christie Rein was tired of carrying diapers around in a freezer bag. The 34-year-old mother of three found herself constantly stuffing diapers for her infant son into freezer bags to keep them from getting scrunched up in her purse. Rein wanted something that was compact, sleek and stylish, so in November 2004, she sat down with her husband, Marcus, who helped her design a custom diaper bag that’s big enough to hold a travel pack of wipes and two to four diapers. With more than $180,000 in sales for 2005, Christie’s company, Diapees & Wipees, has bags in 22 different styles, available online and in 120 boutiques across the globe for $14.99.

9. PickyDomains

Hire another person to think of a cool domain name for you? No way people would pay for this. Actually, naming domain names for others turned out a thriving business, especially, when you make the entire process risk free. PickyDomains currently has a waiting list of people who want to PAY the service to come up with a snappy memorable domain name. PickyDomains is expected to hit six figures this year. Full Story

10. Lucky Wishbone Co.

Fake wishbones. Now, this stupid idea is just destined to flop. Who in the world needs FAKE PLASTIC wishbones? A lot of people, it turns out. Now producing 30,000 wishbones daily (they retail for 3 bucks a pop) Ken Ahroni, the company founder, expects 2006 sales to reach $1 million.

Open office? More reason to watch your manners!

June 19, 2008

From closeted cabins to open offices, we sure have come a long way. Everywhere you look, closed confines are giving way to open spaces in workplaces in different industries. As Suniti Joshi, an interior designer and planner in Mumbai says, “It is cost-effective, and you can accommodate more people in the given area. Open plan offices are economical because heating or cooling the workspace is done easily. Also, if the layout needs to be rearranged, or a few extra work stations accommodated, it can be done quickly and without too much additional cost.”

Apart from the obvious practical value, open offices may very well be a way of ‘breaking down’ walls and repositioning one workplace as one with a more ‘open’ culture. Some like Solomon Abraham, Practice Lead at Ikya Human Capital Solutions, are all for it. “Open spaces are one of the best things to happen in India. They energise employees, knowledge flow is quick and accurate, and performances are at an all time high.”

Some like Pragya Thakur, Circulation Business Director at a consumer-publishing group, are not so keen on it for strong reasons that delve beyond the obvious. “I suppose people thought open offices would promote more sociability and dissolution of hierarchical perceptions. Of course, that didn’t happen because those who are higher up in the corporate food chain still have their window offices with the spectacular views.”

Well, whatever be the intent behind the concept of open offices and whether we want them or not, offices and their cultures are opening up in more ways than one. If you happen to work in one of these open offices, there are some ‘unwritten’ rules you might want to follow to keep your work environment conducive and productive.

Here’s how to work effectively and make the most of your open office:

  • Keep the noise level down: Don’t yell or talk loudly across cubicles or across the working hall. Keep the volume of your phone on low and answer calls preferably in the first two rings. Don’t talk on your phone loudly. Use speaker phones only in closed rooms/ areas designated for making conference calls. It is extremely rude and distracting to those working around you.

    Use the receiver unless you must have your team members in the conference call. Make sure others around are not getting disturbed, or use it only late in the evening when the office has emptied out. Also avoid chatting in groups around others’ desks. If you wish to convey something, especially unpleasant, use a closed room to avoid any embarrassment.

  • Respect others’ privacy: Don’t peep into others’ monitors or open drawers that don’t belong to you. It can be infuriating to find that your neighbour has been going through your desk drawer or peeking at your monitor on the pretext of looking for a stapler.

    As Jagdeep Kaur, Senior Curriculum Developer, Oracle, says, “Working in open spaces becomes very uncomfortable when one is dealing with confidential content on one’s computer. You never know when who might see what, especially if you have a nosy neighbour. This puts a strain on you to be alert and on your guard at all times, which becomes very inconvenient and tiring after a while.”

    Pragya concurs, particularly with regard to lunchtime. “There’s the thing about watching people eat their lunches at their desks, or being watched eating one’s own lunch. We live a large chunk of our lives in our offices, at our desks, and it really affects our quality of life when nothing we do or say in those hours is private.”

  • Don’t just land up at someone’s work station: If you need to speak to someone but are not sure if they are available for a little ‘chit-chat’, check their status message on the office communicator. If not, you can always send them a short mail indicating the purpose of your meeting. They’ll revert whenever they are relatively free.

    Some elements, especially social butterflies, are in constant need to touch base with people and can end up at anybody’s work station without considering the fact that others might be busy and not in the mood to spend time gossiping. It can be is very annoying when people land up at your desk without any intimation while you are trying to either meet a deadline or focus on your work.

  • Keep your desk and cubicle uncluttered: Nothing leads to a shabby, unprofessional impression more than a cluttered, dirty desk in open view, especially if you are sharing a cubicle. Keep loose sheets, scraps of paper etc out of open view. Organise your desk by keeping it dust free, with all papers filed or clipped and stationery and other random items in a drawer.
  • Don’t become an island: Don’t use individual work stations as a pretext to become an island all your working hours. Get involved in topics of common interests and try to help your team members when someone is stuck.

    Avers Jagdeep, “I have always enjoyed working in open spaces and have never found myself yearning for a cabin or closed private space of my own. In offices, I like being able to just turn around and speak to my neighbours. Or, just stand up and look around and just gesture to attract their attention whenever I need help. Proximity also helps team members bond with each other.”

    Suniti too feels that open offices make communication and supervision easier. “Issues and problems reach the management very fast as they too are part of the central office space, and therefore solutions are arrived at faster.”

    A few other dos and don’ts:

    Avoid strong perfumes/deodorants: Some colleagues might be allergic to strong smells and odours. It’s better to keep it light and soft. Also be mindful of food and feet odours that are far from pleasant and hang in the confines of air-conditioned environment for a while.

    Health and hygiene: When you sneeze or cough, cover you mouth or use a tissue. Do not leave used tissues lying around to spread germs and diseases.

    Sit up straight: Slouching indicates laziness and disinterest in work. And, that’s the last thing you would want your colleagues and bosses to perceive.

    Keep your soft board non-offensive: Watch what you put up on the soft board so that your colleagues are not offended. Avoid jokes or cartoons of a sexual, racist or political nature, these could stir up tensions or make colleagues uncomfortable.

    Don’t wriggle your way through work stations: Use the designated passages/ aisles instead of wriggling and maneuvering your way through people’s work stations and chairs. A little discipline never hurt anyone.

  • The 13 Characteristics of Successful People

    June 16, 2008

    by Jeffrey J. Mayer

    I’ve spent many years studying successful people and have identified the skills, talents, and characteristics that enable them to succeed. As you look at and study these skills, talents, and characteristics, you’ll realize that you possess many of them yourself. Some of these skills and talents are more dominant than others and will play a greater part in your being, or becoming, a success in the business of life. These are the things you do well. The things you do easily and effortlessly. These are your strengths.

    When you find you need a skill or talent you don’t have, just go out and look for a person or group of people with the skills, talents, and training you need. Skills and talents that complement your own. These people will become your teammates, colleagues, co-workers, professional advisors, and friends. With these combined skills and talents organizations grow, prosper, and become successful.

    These are the five things you’ll find every successful person has in common:

    1. They have a dream.

    2. They have a plan.

    3. They have specific knowledge or training.

    4. They’re willing to work hard.

    5. They don’t take no for an answer.

    Remember: Success begins with a state of mind. You must believe you’ll be successful in order to become a success.

    The following is a list of the skills, talents, and characteristics you’ll find in successful people:

    1. Successful People Have a Dream. They have a well-defined purpose. They have a definite goal. They know what they want. They aren’t easily influenced by the thoughts and opinions of others. They have willpower. They have ideas. Their strong desire brings strong results. They go out and do things that others say can’t be done.

    Remember: It only takes one sound idea to achieve success.

    Remember: People who excel in life are those who produce results, not excuses. Anybody can come up with excuses and explanations for why he hasn’t made it. Those who want to succeed badly enough don’t make excuses.

    2. Successful People Have Ambition. They want to accomplish something. They have enthusiasm, commitment, and pride. They have self-discipline. They’re willing to work hard and to go the extra mile. They have a burning desire to succeed. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

    Remember: With hard work come results. The joy in life comes with working for and achieving something.

    3. Successful People Are Strongly Motivated Toward Achievement. They take great satisfaction in accomplishing a task.

    4. Successful People Are Focused. They concentrate on their main goals and objectives. They don’t get sidetracked. They don’t procrastinate. They work on the projects that are important, and don’t allow those projects to sit until the last minute. They’re productive, not just busy.

    5. Successful People Learn How to Get Things Done. They use their skills, talents, energies, and knowledge to the fullest extent possible. They do the things that need to be done, not just the things they like to do. They are willing to work hard and to commit themselves to getting the job done.

    Remember: Happiness is found in doing and accomplishing, not in owning and possessing.

    Anecdote: Many years ago I was asked: “Jeff, do you like pleasing habits or pleasing results?” As I pondered that probing question, and squirmed in my chair like a worm at the end of a hook, I felt as if I had painted myself into a corner. A few moments later I answered: “I like pleasing results.” From that moment on my life changed. I began to do the things that were difficult, because they enabled me to achieve my goals.

    6. Successful People Take Responsibility for Their Actions. They don’t make excuses. They don’t blame others. They don’t whine and complain.

    7. Successful People Look for Solutions to Problems. They’re opportunity minded. When they see opportunities they take advantage of them.

    8. Successful People Make Decisions. They think about the issues and relevant facts, give them adequate deliberation and consideration, and make a decision. Decisions aren’t put off or delayed, they’re made now!

    SuccessTip: Spend more time thinking and planning before you make your decision, and you’ll make better decisions.

    SuccessTip: When you don’t get the expected results from the decision you’ve made, change your course of action. Decisions should never be carved in stone.

    9. Successful People Have the Courage to Admit They’ve Made a Mistake. When you make a mistake, admit it, fix it, and move on. Don’t waste a lot of time, energy, money, and/or other resources trying to defend a mistake or a bad decision.

    Remember: When people are wrong, they may admit it to themselves. If they are handled gently and tactfully, they may admit it to others and even take pride in their frankness and broad-mindedness. But people become very defensive and angry when others try to cram their mistakes down their throats.

    10. Successful People Are Self-Reliant. They have the skills, talents, and training that are needed in order to be successful.

    11. Successful People Have Specific Knowledge, Training, and/or Skills and Talents. They know the things they need to know to be successful. And when they need information, knowledge, or skills and talents that they don’t possess, they find someone who does possess them.

    12. Successful People Work with and Cooperate with Other People. They have positive, outgoing personalities. They surround themselves with people who offer them help, support, and encouragement. They are leaders.

    13. Successful People Are Enthusiastic. They’re excited by what they’re doing, and that excitement is contagious. They draw people to them because these people want to work with them, do business with them, and be with them.

    Silly Aussie Travel Questions

    June 15, 2008

    Do you need an answer to a question about Australia?
    Then try the Travel Information page first. Then see if your question is answered below:

    1. Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants grow? (UK)
      A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

    2. Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)
      A: Depends how much you’ve been drinking

    3. Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney – can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
      A: Sure, it’s only three thousand miles, take lots of water…

    4. Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes in Australia? (Sweden)
      A: So it’s true what they say about Swedes.

    5. Q: It is imperative that I find the names and addresses of places to contact for a stuffed porpoise. (Italy)
      A: Let’s not touch this one.

    6. Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay?(UK)
      A: Hey, what did your last slave die of?

    7. Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia?(USA)
      A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe . Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the pacific which does not… oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.

    8. Q: Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)
      A: Face south and then turn 90 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we’ll send the rest of the directions.

    9. Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia? (UK)
      A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

    10. Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA)
      A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is…oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

    11. Q: Do you have perfume in Australia? (France)
      A: No, WE don’t stink.

    12. Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in Australia(USA)
      A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

    13. Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia? (UK)
      A: You are a British politician, right?

    14. Q: Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
      A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

    15. Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)
      A: Only at Christmas.

    16. Q: Are there killer bees in Australia? (Germany)
      A: Not yet, but for you, we’ll import them.

    17. Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
      A: No, we are a peaceful civilisation of vegan hunter gatherers. Milk is illegal.

    18. Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
      A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes, like taipans, blacks & adders, are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.

    19. Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It’s a kind of bear and lives in trees.
      A: It’s called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of gum trees and scratch & bite anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine, purchased at the pharmacy, before you go out walking.

    20. Q: I was in Australia in 1969 on R+R, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Kings Cross. Can you help? (USA)
      A: Yes, and you will still have to pay her by the hour.

    21. Q: Will I be able to speek (sic) English most places I go? (USA)
      A: Yes, but you’ll have to learn it first.

    How to keep recovery agents at bay

    June 13, 2008

    It’s 2 a.m. There’s a ring on the phone, a sound you’ve learnt to dread. It’s the recovery agent, again.

    Unless you have been at the receiving end, it’s tough to imagine how stressful a single phone call can be. “It was the worst experience of my life,” says BPO employee Sinith Mechery, 25. “Due to some unavoidable circumstances I defaulted on a few loan repayments,” he says.

    A recovery agent began calling him and rudely demanded that he make an immediate payment. Mechery just hung up on him. “But he called at least 35-40 times that day and his language was abusive. I’d never had an issue with my banks prior to this, but this incident has definitely left a bad taste in my mouth,” he says.

    Mechery is lucky. In a case that shocked the nation, ICICI Bank customer and Mumbai resident Prakash Sarvankar, 38, who had taken a Rs 50,000 personal loan, committed suicide last year, holding a recovery agent responsible for his death in his suicide note.

    Three sides of the story. The main characters in a recovery story are the borrower, the lender and the recovery agent. While it’s easy to sympathise with the harassed individual, banks, too, have reasons for outsourcing debt recovery.

    �Says Axis Bank chairman and CEO P J Nayak: “Axis Bank has an in-house collection department; we also employ reputed third-party collection agencies that comply with non-aggressive methods.”

    An agent’s job, in-house or third-party, is to facilitate the process of recovery. If the borrower doesn’t want to deal with a recovery agent, he can approach the bank for direct negotiations.

    “If there are genuine reasons holding up repayment, we can work with it. For example, credit cards dues can be easily converted to an EMI, which is part payment, instead of the total outstanding due,” says Nayak.

    Most banks are willing to make adjustments if the reasons for default are genuine. An HDFC Bank spokesperson says that if there is a real problem, the bank works out things as per its policy.

    Recovery agents work on a commission basis and are, therefore, highly motivated to show efficiency.

    Arun Saxena, president, International Consumer Rights Protection Council says, “Debt recovery agents often treat borrowers in unacceptable, illegal ways. Customers should be careful about giving any money to agents; payments should be made against a proper receipt. One can even approach the National Human Rights Commission if need be.”

    The important thing is to not get intimidated (see Do’s and Don’ts.) Help from the top. To protect the interests of both the borrower and the creditor in the debt recovery process, the Reserve Bank of India has issued guidelines that a recovery agent and the bank that employs him have to honour (see The RBI’s Recovery Rules).

    Based on these guidelines, earlier this month, the Supreme Court reiterated that banks cannot deploy goons for recovering loans from defaulters.

    “The creditors have the right to recover their dues, but there is a right way to so. Laws have to be followed, which is are not necessarily followed by many creditors,” says Mumbai-based high court lawyer Rohini Pandit.

    The central bank has said it may ban a bank from engaging recovery agents in a particular area, either jurisdictional or functional, for a limited period.

    In case of persistent breach of its guidelines, the RBI may extend the period of the ban or the area of ban.

    Better safe than sorry. All said and done, a recovery agent will come into the picture only because you slipped up.

    The reasons could be many: overspending, overborrowing, a personal crisis (sickness, loss of employment), or pure bad luck (a loan repayment cheque lost in the post). At the end of the day you need to take responsibility for financial indiscipline.

    Lending a helping hand for this are a number of financial counselling centres that offer free service to those caught in the debt trap (see Overspenders Anonymous).

    Many banks alert you on payments due via SMS or email. Autopay (or direct debit) is also an easy way to avoid oversight on loan repayment cheques.

    Most importantly, of course, never borrow more than you can comfortably repay. It’s basic common sense, but it’s rapidly becoming uncommon.



    When he extablishes contact, take
    down the full name of the recovery agent,
    his contact details and the particulars of
    the debt he is calling about. Find out if he
    is from the bank or a third party agency

    Make notes of the conversations, including
    details like date, time and place. If
    possible record the call.

    Inform the agent that you are aware of the
    situation and fully intend to pay off the debt.
    Indicate that you are ready to work towards
    a solution.

    Make him aware that you know he’s
    just doing his job, but do not tolerate threats.
    If he does get abusive, inform him calmly that you will report the matter to the police/bank/RBI

    If things get out of hnad, ask the agent to stop
    calling – you are under no obligation to take his calls.
    Further, write to the bank in question and inform
    that you do not wish to be contacted
    by the recovery agent.

    File an FIR, detailing threats and instances, against
    the chairman of the company that employed
    the agent. Make the agent a party to the FIR, along with all his contact details.

    Complain to the bank and to the RBI. The RBI can impose any penalty on a bank for violation of its guidelines.

    Don’t try to avoid the recovery agent, or the truth
    that you do have an obligation to pay up.
    Not taking calls, making false claims (such
    as pleading relocation) to avoid them won’t
    make the problem go away and could invite

    Don’t sidestep close questioning on employment,
    personal circumstances or anything that hinges on
    your ability to pay off your loan. Sharing information
    indicates you are committed to meeting your
    obligations and creates goodwill.

    If the agent gets abusive, avoid retaliation in kind.
    Never use derogatory language: It will go against
    you on your record.

    Don’t buy time on false grounds. The agent is a
    professional, he can distinguish between a genuine
    excuse and a fake one. If you need more time
    communicate the fact clearly to the agent.

    Don’t promise to pay just to get the an agent off
    your backfor the moment. Promises/commitments
    to pay are taken very seriously and failure to keep
    them will take your account to the next level.
    Phone calls will be followed by personal visits at home or work.

    Don’t avoid informing the authorities concerned if
    the agent crosses limits for the fear of stigma. Keeping authorities in the loop about the situation
    can only help you in the long run.

    5 career needs of every professional

    June 11, 2008
    In today’s economy, you need to evolve constantly if you want your career to go places. If you don’t, there is every possibility that one of your colleagues/ classmates will walk away with the coveted position that you aspired to.

    So how does one add value to oneself? Here are five steps that will meet all your career advancement needs:

    Self learning

    Learning is an ongoing lifelong process, we learn a little from everything we do. Career advancement requires a structured form of learning. If you are aspiring to a higher role within or outside your organisation, you need to identify the competency that role demands and go about acquiring the same. Some of the best-managed companies provide such learning tools to their employees.

    Self assessment

    Know yourself and where you stand — it’s important if you’re planning your own growth chart. We are assessed by others whenever we are interviewed for job openings and promotions, so stay one step ahead and assess yourself first. You need to work on areas where there is room for improvement. If you come from a technology background, for example and you think you have mastered a particular technological tool, go ahead and get certified. This will add a lot of value to your professional standing and will pay off richly in future.

    Peer discussions

    Life’s lessons are learned through community interaction and that holds true for our professional lives too. Whenever you get time off from your busy schedule, utilise it positively by interacting with your peers and discussing common areas of interest. If you can’t meet up in person, use the Internet — there are lots of professional networking portals and some of them have large numbers of qualified professionals as members. This informal knowledge-gathering complements the disciplined self-learning approach discussed above.

    Career counselling

    Everyone needs expert advice and counselling from time to time. We hear about godfathers and political gurus all the time, but unfortunately we do not recognise the relevance of professional mentors, thanks to the job opportunities economic growth has brought to India. There are, however, several intelligent folk who model their careers along similar lines as their seniors and heed the latter’s advice in matters involving career growth. Sometimes it’s also a good idea to opt for career counselling — it helps one identify which professional path has the maximum scope for growth and job satisfaction.

    Look before you leap

    Several youngsters take up new jobs/designations because they offer better monetary compensation. If you are clear about your career growth pattern, monetary return should be a secondary criterion — first comes future growth potential. You also need to verify offers made to you by potential employers or your boss — discuss your new responsibilities thoroughly and only if you are completely convinced should you take up the new challenge.

    Great investing rules to become RICH

    June 9, 2008

    An old saying goes, “You can’t build wealth by buying things you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t like.” So how do you build wealth? Read on…

    There are basically only four roads to wealth:

    • You can marry it (don’t laugh, some do);
    • You can inherit it (others do that);
    • You can get a windfall (from a lawsuit settlement, lottery, or some other unexpected good fortune); or
    • You can accumulate it.

    Most of us are stuck with option #4 – accumulate it. To do so, you need to understand how to manage cash flow. First, look at your annual earnings and multiply that figure by your working years. Not counting inflation (that is, pay raises along the way), the result may total several million dollars.

    Whether you will have that several million dollars by retirement, though, depends on how you manage your cash flow – and how you answer the following questions: What do you need now, what do you want now, and what can you save and invest for the future?

    Here are ten time-tested rules that can weather the stormiest market cycles.

    Rules #1: Live within your means

    This includes managing debt and learning to budget. Such boring topics may not be the most exciting things about becoming wealthy, but they may be the most critical.

    Consumer-driven economies relentlessly hammer away at why we must buy this item or that gadget so we can have the appearance of being successful, happy, and altogether “with it.” So it takes financial discipline and sensible behavior to successfully accumulate money and grow wealthy.

    Possibly the biggest trap out there is easy credit, which lets us buy numerous things we might not need. Comedians have pointed out the foolishness: “You buy something that’s 10 per cent off and charge it on a 20 per cent interest credit card!” And US newspaper columnist Earl Wilson opined, “Nowadays there are three classes of people – the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-Not-Paid-For-What-They-Haves.”

    Learning to live within your means leads to a freer life – debt can be a mean master instead of a worthy servant. Save first, spend second. If you do so, building wealth will be a lot easier for you.

    Rule #2: Save aggressively

    This does not mean “invest aggressively.” Rather, it means making it an absolute priority to set aside 10 per cent of your income right off the top, and even more if your goals tell you to do that. The longer you wait to start saving, the larger the percentage of your current pay you will have to save to reach your goal.

    If you can save aggressively, you will be surprised how that “nest egg” will start to compound. Look at any chart of compounding. It has been said that it’s the last compounding that makes you wealthy.

    In other words, $20,000 becoming $40,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of headway, but when the $40,000 compounds to $80,000, and the $80,000 to $160,000, and finally the $160,000 to $320,000, we’re now talking about some serious money. Two more “doublings” and this account will be worth over $1.2 million. Those who spend first and save later inevitably end up working for those who have learned to save first, spend second.

    Rule #3: Dollar-cost average

    When buying shares, remove emotions from your investing by automatically buying more shares or equity mutual fund units when they are cheap. Emotional investing gets too many people in trouble. Statistics continue to show that we tend to buy when things are going up and sell when they are going down – in other words, we tend to buy high and sell low. Dollar-cost averaging not only removes emotions from investing, but it helps you buy low. Here’s how:

    By putting a constant amount into the market, as the price slips, you buy more and more number of cheaper shares or fund units and thereby reduce your average cost.

    For example, let’s say you are investing $100 a month into a fund. In the first month, the price of the fund is $10 per share and you buy 10 shares. The next month, the price has dropped to $8 per share, so your $100 buys you 12.5 shares. The next month, the price has fallen again, to $5 a share, and you buy 20 shares. In the fourth month, the price ticks back up to $7 per share. Your total investment so far is $400.

    If you’re like most people, though, when you look at your statement and see that by the end of the third month the price has fallen to half, you would probably think you were losing money hand over fist. Especially after a fund continues to decline month after month, investors lose patience and start to bail. They’re looking for “better returns,” but they don’t understand what’s going on with the math.

    At $5 a share, it feels as though you’re down 50 per cent (because the price started at $10 per share). However, you own 42.5 shares, which, when multiplied by $5 a share, equals $212.50 – and you’ve invested $300. In the fourth month, the price gets back up to $7 per share. Although it might feel as though you’re still down because the price started at $10 per share, you’re actually within a couple of dollars of your break-even point. You own 56.79 shares, which when multiplied by $7 equals $397.53, on an investment of $400.

    Of course, if the fund or market continues to go down and never comes back up, you can’t be guaranteed a profit. But this would happen rarely, if ever. Dollar-cost averaging – by investing a fixed amount in regular intervals – is the best way to make money in a variable market over time.

    The most difficult part is having the discipline to keep doing it. Investors should be willing to consider their ability to invest over an extended period of time. Remember, you need a longer time horizon when investing in the stock market.

    Rule #4: Diversify

    No investment is risk free; only a diversified portfolio can mitigate the risks of market cycles. We’ve all been warned against putting all our eggs in one basket; even Warren Buffett said, “It’s better to be approximately right than definitely wrong.” By “approximately right,” he was referring to diversification.

    If one piece of your portfolio is doing substantially better than other parts, the natural inclination is to load up on the part doing the best and forsake those not doing well. But the result will be an under-diversified portfolio that will probably be much more volatile – and the risks may be on the downward side.

    Also, proper diversification does not mean any old bunch of mutual funds or stocks, but a proper allocation among stocks, bonds, real estate, fixed assets, and other investments. It also means diversifying within those investment categories.

    For example, your stocks should include a mix of midcap, large-, and small-cap stocks as well as growth, blend, and value stocks. You should have bonds that are long, medium, and short term, as well as high grade, mid grade, and low grade.

    A mutual fund may offer more diversification than you could afford by owning the same stocks individually. But owning a handful of mutual funds may not offer the diversification you seek unless you research the funds’ holdings carefully. That’s because many funds have substantial “overlap.” In other words, fund A from mutual fund family X may have many of the same stocks as fund B from fund family Y.

    Rule #5: Be patient

    Warren Buffet says, “The market has a very efficient way of transferring wealth from the impatient to the patient.”

    But waiting is very hard to do. How long are you willing to hold an asset that is not performing well? One year? Two, three, or four? If you look at the history of asset classes over time, you will see that an asset can be “out of favor” for several years in a row.

    You have to be prepared to wait. Don’t think you can time when bonds will perform and stocks will get hot. If someone really could do that, he would own the world by now. So remember: Time in the market is more important than timing the market.

    Rule #6: Understand volatility

    Very few people truly understand the risk and volatility inevitably baked into every investment portfolio. Without getting into its complexity, every variable investment has produced a range of returns over its lifetime, and this range, or deviation, can be plotted on a chart.

    So, it’s important to understand what the investment category’s “average” annual return means in order to prepare yourself for its volatility. For example, does a 10 per cent average mean the investment was up 73 per cent and down 30 per cent and happened to average 10 per cent? Or was it up 15 per cent, and then down 5 per cent to average 10 per cent?

    Many investors are fooled by averages – they chase the 70 per cent return after it has happened, when the likelihood of a repeat performance is slim (which we’ll discuss more in Rule #7). Yogi Berra is rumored to have said, “Averages don’t mean nuthin”. If they did, you could have one foot in the oven and the other in a bucket of ice and feel perfectly comfortable.”

    Over time, returns from investments regress to a mean. “Regression to the mean” simply means that highs and lows will average out so that your return regresses to a certain number or range. Understand an investment’s range of returns so you know what to expect annually, and over time.

    Markets move from fear to greed, and back to fear. So there are times when the market is “overvalued” and other times when it is “undervalued.” Warren Buffett said of the stock buying and selling decisions made at his company, Berkshire Hathaway, “We strive to be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy only when others are fearful.”

    Rule #7: Don’t chase returns

    If we know from Rule #6 that a 10 per cent average annual return does not really mean a 10 per cent return each year, why do we still fall for an ad touting a fund that produces 20 per cent annually or some other phenomenal return?

    Human nature. And maybe we even convince ourselves that for the chance to experience a year or two of 70 per cent gains, we’re willing to stomach the years of 30 per cent losses that also fall within the fund’s range of returns.

    So, before chasing that incredible return, find out how the investment did during the last bad market for that asset class. Find out its risk, and ask yourself whether you can stomach a bumpy ride over the long term.

    Another Buffettism: “The dumbest reason in the world to buy a stock is because it is going up.” So before chasing a return, always consider how likely it is that the investment will continue to produce that return – and whether it’s really worth the cost of cashing out of another, perhaps only temporarily depressed, investment to do so.

    Rule #8: Periodically rebalance your portfolio

    You may decide that your investment mix should be, for example, 50 per cent growth stocks, 20 per cent value stocks, and 30 per cent bonds. But asset classes vary in performance over time, so after a year or so, the portfolio balance will start to shift as one asset “overperforms” and another one “underperforms.”

    Emotions would tell you to sell the underperformers and buy the overachievers. If you want to remain adequately diversified, however, you would rebalance by selling some of the overperformers and buying some of the underachievers – probably just the opposite of what your emotions will tell you.

    So, if you strive to put your portfolio back to its original allocations from time to time (annually, semi-annually, or possibly even quarterly), you will be taking gains from the best-performing assets (selling high) and buying those temporarily out of favor (buying low). But it takes discipline to keep your emotions in check.

    Rule #9: Manage your taxes

    Have you ever considered how taxes are your biggest expense in life – more than mortgage expense, education expense, or any other expense? So, you must take advantage of all tax breaks available – each and every single one of them.

    Rule #10: Get advice

    Never underestimate the value of good advice. Someone who manages investments full time certainly will find things you have overlooked or done wrong. A good financial adviser is like a personal trainer for your finances and can get you on track and keep you there until your goals are met.

    And even more critical than getting the advice is being sure you consistently follow your game plan. The greatest problem for most people is procrastination and erratic investment behavior. So get started, get advice, and get going down the road to wealth – and steadfastly follow through.

    (Excerpt from the book, Investing Under Fire)

    Indian Newspaper in 2020

    June 7, 2008


    June 5, 2008

    I never quite figured out why the sexual urge of men and women differ so much. And I never have figured out the whole Venus and Mars thing. I have never figured out why men think with their head and women with their heart.

    FOR EXAMPLE: One evening last week, my girlfriend and I were getting into bed.

    Well, the passion starts to heat up, and she eventually says “I don’t feel like it, I just want you to hold me.”

    I said “WHAT??!! What was that?!”

    So she says the words that every boyfriend on the planet dreads to hear… “You’re just not in touch with my emotional needs as a woman enough for me to satisfy your physical needs as a man.” She responded to my puzzled look by saying, “Can’t you just love me for who I am and not what I do for you in the bedroom?”

    Realizing that nothing was going to happen that night, I went to sleep.

    The very next day I opted to take the day off of work to spend time with her. We went out to a nice lunch and then went shopping at a big, big unnamed department store. I walked around with her while she tried on several different very expensive outfits. She couldn’t decide which one to take so I told her we’d just buy them all. She wanted new shoes to compliment her new clothes, so I said lets get a pair for each outfit. We went onto the jewelry department where she picked out a pair of diamond earrings. Let me tell you…she was so excited. She must have thought I was one wave short of a shipwreck. I started to think she was testing me because she asked for a tennis bracelet when she doesn’t even know how to play tennis. I think I threw her for a loop when I said, “That’s fine, honey.” She was almost nearing sexual satisfaction from all of the excitement. Smiling with excited anticipation she finally said, “I think this is all dear, let’s go to the cashier.”

    I could hardly contain myself when I blurted out, “No honey, I don’t feel like it.”

    Her face just went completely blank as her jaw dropped with a baffled WHAT?”

    I then said “honey! I just want you to HOLD this stuff for a while. You’re just not in touch with my financial needs as a man enough for me to satisfy your shopping needs as a woman.” And just when she had this look like she was going to kill me, I added, “Why can’t you just love me for who I am and not for the things I buy you?”

    Apparently I’m not having sex tonight either.