Karna Kya Hai – Term 9 at Kellogg

In 1999, we had bought the Princeton Review to find out about MBA’s in the US. We were in the financial hole still, but one of the 100 ideas that we had written to get us out was to go to the US and do an MBA. That year Kellogg school of management had topped the MBA school rankings. Ofcourse it didn’t materialise then, but when Krishnan dropped me off at the Allen Center on the 12th of July, we both were thinking about it …. Here I was almost living the dream, 13 years later and through ISB. So that thought started Term 9 for me.

Arvind was the first one to run on the track around the Lake Michigan (sea, ok) as all of us slowly trickled in. The room was awesome, even more awesome was the snack bar on level 3 and 4 – better stocked than many hotel rooms 🙂 and the hot chocolate was awesome.

13th morning our classes started with crisis …. Management 🙂 by Prof Tim Fedderson. If we thought it was a serious subject, Prof Fedderson seriously turned it into fun. Prof Fedderson, you did set the right expectations, that you have the special gift of knowing exactly who had something special to say, and home in on him/her. Some amazing insights – starting with an innocuous question to Sekhar, if he was a rational clear headed thinker .. And leading us to how we are narrowly rational when we vote, because that is the most irrational thing to do. And Sajive, how sad that he called you a cynic 🙂 when you said “supposedly” for India electing the government in a fair democratic process. We learnt about the implied promises in marriage and how we end up having a crisis when the implied promises are broken while we deal with customers. We understood about the “warm glow” decisions, Trust, about different types of crisis – reputational, legislative, legal, regulatory, about how crisis is a choice and how to deal with it with the different frameworks. The difference between strategic crisis and a plain vanilla crisis 🙂 and in the end all crisis is clearly when a promise is broken. The various breakout sessions just helped us all to understand how difficult it is to deal with crisis – and to remember your closing statement, that in a crisis, you need to take a decision !!

The afternoon sessions were with a familiar figure, Prof Krishnamurthi on pricing and it was clearly Prof Krishnamurthi’s favourite topic. We learnt about segmented pricing, a short recap of Activity Based Costing and a little bit of economics and the most important message – price is like gravity, difficult to pull up once you lower it :):). We learnt about the customer lifetime value and the value of retention and how to do value pricing. This was also the term when we the Prof correctly identified Karunanidhi in class, yes Arun with his dark glasses because the lights were shining into his eyes and he couldn’t read the math equation that the Prof had written on the blackboard. Since when did Arun have to rely on a blackboard math equation ?? When it’s all up in his head. Also when his daughter Kanimozhi was sitting right next to him, renamed as Archita !! Antony, I don’t know what consequences you will face for that comment … Maybe you will scrape by because Archita doesn’t know Kanimozhi well.

The break day was very welcome and it gave time for Ahmed to buy the four new suitcases he needed (just some sundry shopping) and gave him time to negotiate with his fellow travellers on who will carry which bag for him. Me the fool, made the mistake of summarising the first 100 odd pages for Wharton – and got a bus load of feedback. I promise never to do this again :):) … Crisis is a broken promise. Ah well.

The next three days were very interesting… In the morning Prof Keith Murnighan taught us about maximizing value and threw various ethical dilemmas at us hoping we look deep into our psyche and choose to be ethical and in the evening Prof Rakesh Vohra, taught us how to maximize profits 🙂 Oxymoronic days – not sentences. Prof Murnighan, thanks for helping the entire class articulate how Sandeep thought – in b&w and about his color blindness. You truly have taught many types of people and your experience showed. That Newton’s law of equal and opposite reaction could actually ruin teams if we didnt act according to the reaction we wanted ! Great extension of a law of physics. We had invaluable insights – That Leadership is about facilitation and orchestration, how ethics are important, how the choice sometimes is between right and right, and the rhetorical question of how the world would be if there were no ethics – aren’t we seeing the answer already ? You spoke of avoiding the ethical landmines and the whole debate on whether a corporation has social responsibilities. On day three, you helped us find amongst our classmates who we should reach out to negotiate on our behalf, Amit Duhlani and Sajive Jain – am never going up against you in any deal. Arun – you rejected free money just because am a terrible sales person 🙁 am so hurt.

Prof Vohra, thank you for a great revision of Micro-economics and to evaluate how pricing decisions are to be made. Your expertise in game theory just made the classes so much more interesting and your passion for teaching did come through. We learnt how pricing the same product differently allows a firm to selectively drop prices and not be vulnerable to new entrants and how procurement teams need to be structured. The last day made it obvious that negotiations are difficult, contracts have to be worded carefully and new entrants can really cause damage 🙂

And now the extras – the running club has expanded, and Narayanan, hope you were happy with the turnout on Friday morning. I got onto the cycle almost everyday except two days and it was like the days in Gurgaon – my fellow Pedalyatris, I was in our PY T.shirt and PY came to Kellogg. Antony hopefully will get his Cross pen back, otherwise he will have to find a way to explain the other black pen !! I have public apologies to make – to Subbu, for not seeing him the other day when he said hello and to Kavita for dropping the only morsel of ice cream that I dropped on her iPad :(:(. Kavita, the apology is also because I can’t stop laughing everytime I think about it. Btw, today has been a “ditch” day for me – Sreedhar Challa ditched me today, all for the front seat, Siva, you too sided with him, Feroze, you started it yesterday with the “don’t want to see your face” comment, Southwest too did it by delaying Krishnan’s flight from Atlanta for a drizzle that they called heavy rains … Tomorrow better be a good day.

This term we also had two eminent guest speakers – Harry Kraemer Jr, ex-CEO of Baxter whose life has been about walking the talk and values based leadership. What Harry spoke of is part of my blog with the following link “You can be values driven and successful”.
We had Sanjay Khosla, the person who launched “Wheel” for Unilever and in his last stint with Kraft foods as the President of the international division, turned the fortunes around – taking the division from $5 billion all the way to $16 billion. The blog title for this term is inspired by his talk. He would apparently ask when people presented fancy presentations to him “Karna Kya Hai” – “What do we want to do here” or “what’s the action” – a great way to action any fancy thoughts and also keeps you grounded. It was a great session on “no frills” effective leadership, very valuable.

So an eventful Term 9 came to an end … Tomorrow, we start Term 10 and take on the Goliath of M&A. Hopefully David will prevail and anyway we will ask our Profs “Karna Kya Hai” :):):)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: