Why I hate M&A?

I am a big big opponent of mergers and acquisitions and no matter whatever is being promised, most often people who spend day and night striving to build the company end up paying a heavy price.

On the morning of March 28, a horrendous news broke about Best Buy closing all the Future Shop locations in Canada. Eventually that day which was feared for a long time by many Canadians loyal to Future Shop finally happened. Future Shop was a Canadian-only brick and mortar consumer electronic store, which was purchased by Best Buy years ago. I was a frequent visitor at both these shops,  but the better terms and conditions meted out to the Future Shop employees made it a better place with a great customer experience over Best Buy. If you have visited any Best Buy location in North America you would know why the company is in red mainly because of the poor customer service. Sadly Future Shop is no more and the brand has been terminated with 500 full-time and 1,000 part-time positions that will also be eliminated. I am a big, big opponent of mergers and acquisitions and no matter whatever is being promised,  most often people who spend day and night striving to build the company end up paying a heavy price.

The true reason why a company gets bought in majority of cases is purely commercial in nature. When a big company gobbles up a smaller company,  it’s a period of transformation for both companies. If proper infusion of talent is allowed between the companies, often it ends up being a good business proposition. When two companies with different cultures collide and amalgamate,  most of the time it ends up acrimoniously. The last company I worked with was gobbled up by a large state owned foreign company.  Even though promises were made to retain all employees, hundreds of people were sadly laid off eventually. I moved on quickly before anything like that happened to me. But I personally witnessed the bloodshed of the culture,  values and the spirit of the company that I once was proudly part of. There are many examples like that all over the world. One good example would be when Microsoft took over Nokia’s mobility division, it led to one of the most beloved names in cellphone business ceasing operations for a while and in the name of consolidation, it butchered the livelihood of thousands of people.

Another fact that you must have noticed is that M&A might be designed to stifling competition but  doesn’t always achieve the desired outcome. I hate monopolies created by M&A and most of the time they falter after a while as they forget to innovate. Sirius and XM were two satellite radio companies. Today they are one company that was formed when Sirius Radio purchased XM radio. Recently I was reading how the company is faltering as no one cares about satellite radio anymore and would only day prefer a music streaming app like Spotify. When Best Buy monopolized the Canadian electronic market,  it wasn’t able to match up to the nimbleness of an Internet giant like Amazon.com, which rendered the brick and mortar shops to the status of window-shopping centres. It would be years before Best Buy could come up with a coherent strategy to counter the latter.

I have always believed that each company has an agenda for profit making, set of values and culture that it wants to follow to conduct the business and the humans who toil to perform and achieve the business outcomes or objectives. The leadership sets the culture and the vision to steer the company forward. Most of the time, I have seen that once the leadership runs out of ideas, instead of gracefully stepping aside, they end up selling the company, with deals mostly done over a  round of golf (P.S:- I am being figurative here :)).

Today everyone speaks volumes about wireless charging.  Did you know that over a century ago an amazing man called Tesla discovered wireless charging? Since he was unlucky to stand against the might of Thomas Alva Edison, many of his inventions today are sadly footnotes. If the mighty utility companies had the courage to adopt his inventions,  we wouldn’t be seeing these ugly electric transmission lines in our eyesight in today’s modern towns and cities. Also energy would have been made available seamlessly to millions of people who till date live without the benefits of energy.

I have read tales of how Google buys up independent apps, absorb the developers,  shut down the app and move on by trying to incorporate it as a feature in one of their offerings. Most of the time the app developers,  fattened with a huge paycheck leave after couple of years to a relaxing life elsewhere. This pattern has seen itself manifest again and again in the Silicon Valley with all the major companies. Hence due to this profit motive, M&A renders any technology disruption initiatives to a mere whimper.

I understand that the true nature of a business is to generate profit and also to maximize it’s potential to generate greater incomes year after year. But I do believe that it can only happen with a leadership that has the vision and a nimble, inspired workforce that can execute the vision and in fact exceed the expectations demanded by that vision. The company should always keep disrupting it’s field of business through continuous innovation and relentless pursuit of creative, sustainable and meaningful ideas. It should take calculated risks and learn quickly from them to become bigger and better each year. This is the hard way.  M&A is the easiest. Which one would your company take?

Image courtesy: http://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/800*600/FullSizeRender[1]2.jpg

Be your narrative

However, everyone has the right to script their own narrative. No one should be forced to accept what is notion of how others think about them or their viewpoint on how they should live their life. We are all the Masters of our own destiny. And we cannot allow anyone to dominate that belief.

Does anyone remember the year 1998? It was the time of adolescence and the emergence of a powerful tool called the Internet. I still remember growing up in the Middle East, how this service that seemingly connected you with the world made its way into our lives. It was an expensive service that gave you the latest information from across the world and the ability to chat and see everyone from strangers to loved ones. It was expensive then at 10 AED ($3 USD) per hour that came with a connection using a telephone dial up connection. It was an exciting new technology and showed how computers that were used in those days for making word documents and playing car /cricket games could be used for connecting with people. Those days were famous for breaking news with the last significant one being the OJ Simpson trial that wrapped earlier keeping the whole world in its tenterhooks. 1998 however came to be known for a different reason. The Clinton Lewinsky affair and the Starr report.

Bill Clinton was a very successful president. He had a fabulous first term where he rescued America from post Gulf War recession onto the path of prosperity. He was rewarded handsomely with a second term and the future of the U.S looked bright like never before. Then came the sex scandals. It hit him hard with revelations from every nook and corner from various women who had sexual flings with the president. One of them stuck on to him like a blood thirsty mosquito-the Lewinsky affair.

What happened next was simply a tsunami of news. People were talking everywhere on how the most powerful man on Earth used the respected White House to have a fling with a intern. It was the topic on the newspapers, radio, television, friends, coffee shops, and even religious places where voices were heard on how absolute power corrupts. Even in this strange new medium called the Internet, we had chat rooms where you could hook up with any random stranger online and discuss the Clinton Lewinsky affair. It was the topic of discussion everywhere. Even though both of them were criticized heavily, however the narrative went against Monica Lewinsky.Then came the grand confession from Clinton that he had lied under oath to the American people. It was hard for the people to forgive the president but he did escape impeachment. During that time till 1998, this issue was the staple diet for news media across the world. Bill Clinton was heavily insulated from many of the criticism because of the immunity he enjoyed as the president. But Monica Lewinsky totally disappeared from public light. She was ridiculed for years and no one heard of her or even spoke of her.

It all changed last week. In the TED talk held in Vancouver last year she came as a keynote speaker to speak about her life and the harassment that she faced. During her hiatus, the Internet developed itself into a mammoth of information including its presence in toppling governments, spearheading change, discussion and also a place where people who freely express themselves without limits. The world of 2015 has shrunk itself into a village place where millions of people have discussions over the color of a dress to choosing the name of a celebrity kid. It is into this world where Monica has resurfaced herself as a champion against online bullying or in some words trolling. She aspired to get hold of her life’s narrative back and also help others script their narrative in a world where you would be booed, jeered and even insulted by strangers before you can take a single step.

Online bullying or trolling depicts the brutal nature of human hypocrisy. It facilitates easy mudslinging in the guise of an online identity to tar individuals and the hard earned reputations. I have seen bullying in both real and virtual worlds. Though it is easy to stand up to real life bullying, it is however not entirely easy to do it in the same way online. Last year during the Indian election, yours truly supported a nationalist candidate for the position of the Indian Prime Minister. Any post if posted on social media drew fierce debates from people misinformed by a corrupt Indian media narrative. Friends quickly turned foes and any difference of opinion was construed as betrayal and was shunned by either blocking or losing of the online friendship. But eventually when my favoured candidate won, many friends were never seen after.

I am not saying that no one has a right to their own opinion. Maybe many of the friends might have felt that by having a different opinion and boldly broadcasting it to their timelines, I am also being a bully. It is hard to say is there a fine line segregating them. However, everyone has the right to script their own narrative. No one should be forced to  accept what is notion of how others think about them or their viewpoint on how they should live their life. We are all the Masters of our own destiny. And we cannot allow anyone to dominate that belief.

Confrontation

Is face-to-face confrontation a good thing? This is a perennial question always being asked in management circles. Most of the time from what I have seen or heard from till now, leaders/managers try to avoid face to face confrontation by delegating it to soft forms like email, letters or even delegating it to HR or other specialized agencies. In today’s world, especially since the 2008 recession and the unstable economy since then, careers have been rocked too many times due to continuous and relentless churning from companies. This has led to the development of systems and processes that ensure face-to-face confrontation is kept to a minimum and people are ‘being let go’ through other means.

Why are leaders avoiding face-to-face confrontation these days? I had a chance to converse with many people who were at many times being laid off from different companies; and the common refrain that they keep mentioning is that- we were hurt the most when our immediate supervisor was no where to be found as we were being let go. If they are so scared of confronting us with our failures, it makes us wonder as to what did we actually do wrong?

Is confrontation a bad thing? I was searching some literature over confrontation in the hopes of writing a blog post on confrontation. I came across the following quote from David Bowie- Confront a corpse at least once. The absolute absence of life is the most disturbing and challenging confrontation you will ever have.

During my school years, much ado was made about the fact how medical students have to watch a corpse all by themselves for few hours in a closed room for their very first lab class. Some people have commented how much of a nerve-racking experience it was. But most of them mentioned that practical truly prepared them for the future. I remember an incident from secondary school years, when I had to view a suicide in the hostel I lived in India. The manager of the hostel was accused of financial embezzlement and before he could be formally charged, he decided to end his life rather risk the shame and notoriety afterwards. What made it challenging to me was that couple of hours before he decided to end it, I ran into him while doing laundry. He was happy at that time and we had a fun conversation. He was nowhere to be seen the next day and a day later, his decomposed body was found from the woods, with a rope around his neck and a broken tree branch. Seeing his body being taken from the woods shocked me to the core for weeks.

After that incident, I have seen how my grandparents and many relatives both young and old moving on from this earthly life. Each and everytime you get emboldened to face the inevitable and be immune to the fear and the fact that-one day you might be next. That to me is the naked truth behind confrontation. It is to realize the fact that everything is finite. Confronting the issue or the person can portray exactly your viewpoint on this matter and also to listen to the other person about his view and why the decision was made in this regard. It is important to clear the air and move on, as life is simply finite.

Most of the time whenever I end up in confrontation, I try to do justice in the first go itself, but sometimes, it doesn’t turn out the way I intend it to turn. But that is not to be worried. It is essential that communication is made face-to-face and if needed supplemented by the soft tools like email etc. Confrontation has to be clear, concise and if needed brutal. Be prepared for the feedback and try to channel it in a positive manner so that a realistic outcome is achieved.

To read more about confrontation, check out this book:

The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home, Online, and in Life, completely revised and updated edition

 

Decisions

Have you ever wondered about how you take critical decisions in your life? If not, do think once in a while. Did the decision and the subsequent action of yours amount to anything? Did it achieve its desired objective? Did it make the change that you hoped from a situation? Did it change your life for the good or the better? Was it necessary to make such a decision? What would be your rationale in making such a decision? Yours truly asked a few people about this issue. Most of them said that the most important criteria in making decisions to them were to do what they felt was right for them. Then I asked, have you ever thought about the consequences of your decision? The answer I received was that, No, as long as the consequence dint affect us, we dint bother. When the dear reader of this post thinks about this assertion, please think for a moment what would you be doing?

Our decisions are important components of our legacy that we leave on this earth. If there is something that is really certain in this life is the fact that we would have to leave this earth one day. Since that is the only thing that can be assured in this mundane life, why don’t we make a conscious effort to do the right thing?

Why is it important to do the right thing? Because in the end, only that is right and just will endure. For example, I have heard tales of people facing difficult choices when it comes to their career, relationships, family life etc. Most of the time, the choices are down to the following.

  • The right thing I feel is apt to my immediate (short-term) interests.
  • The overall right thing which may not be apt to my interests but looks right in the long term

The good thing about the former is that results are known beforehand and the chances of anything to the contrary are very remote. But deep down inside, you know that it’s not a lasting choice and you might consciously end up regretting the decision for a long time. However in the case of latter, it may cause deep and profound short-term pain but has the potential create lasting long-term gains.

In the end, the simple question that one needs to ask him is that, what is the point of gaining the world and yet losing your soul? It is important to take decisions that are right not just for yourself, but that which is the absolute right thing to do. Your intuition, conscience, beliefs and experiences will guide you as you make this choice. But remember you will die once and never leave for yourself a grieving soul.

Taking Criticism

Recently there was a news article which mentioned about a massive media scandal involving the senior vice president of Uber, a ride sharing app. He suggested that Uber hire a team of opposition researchers and journalists, with a million-dollar budget, to dig into the personal lives and backgrounds of media figures who reported negatively about their company. The whole internet went into a frenzy lambasting Uber for its inability to take criticism. At the time of the incident, Uber was massively growing and was being valued at 20 billion dollars.
I’ve had a mixed track record when it comes to handling criticism. Sometimes, I tend to take criticism in my stride and sometimes I get vehement about it. Mostly I try to be defensive. All these attributes are wrong especially if I ever dream of being a man of substance. From the Uber episode, I thought of many events in my own life, when faced criticism, I had to react-only to berate myself for not listening to atleast the positive criticism. I then asked myself, why is it important to manage criticism? As I kept thinking, I felt some thoughts and hence sharing them as follows:
In life, most of the time, we discuss about success and failure. There is a clear demarcation line between being successful and being a loser. However criticism is like the grey area and it is going to be present in either scenarios. It may appear constant but it increases depending on how successful you are and also how much you have sunk into the depths of oblivion. Criticism can slow your success march or hasten your fall if not taken in the right spirit.
Criticism is like thorns to a rose. A beautiful rose will have the prickiest of thorns, but it will not kill it. The death of dying flower would be hastened by its thorns. You cannot build yourself for success if you don’t build yourself for criticism. Hard work, perseverance and focus are the hallmarks of success.
Managing criticism should always be factored into the equation. Why? As you grow more successful. there will be increased and enhanced good and bad criticism. People may sing praises about you and also criticize you heavily behind your back and in front of you for what you have done and not done. This shouldn’t be taken to heart but be used for growth and continuous improvement. It has to be kept in mind that growth, success and victory are not final. They can change with time. Criticism will be continuous as it can be considered as the feedback loop. If you do nothing about the feedback loop, the process fails one day and hence continuous improvement is imperative. It will only come from understanding and managing criticism.
When faced with criticism, make it a point to write it down and seperate them into two sections where you can see those which can be used to drive growth and those which can be thrown away. Tear the page of the criticism that can be thrown away and keep the one which can be factored into growth of your life journey.Since we all lead incomplete and imperfect lives till we die, whatever we do is never going to be complete or perfect. However we can improve by managing criticism and spurring growth eventually.
Concluding,
  • People will praise you and chide you in the same breath.
  • Consistent and proactive criticism management strategy should be factored into your growth and success plan for lasting success.

Image courtesy: http://mainstreetmix.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/criticism.jpg

Religion and Politics

There is a certain truth in the teachings of great men like Valmiki, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, Prophet Muhammad etc. There is absolutely no truth in the religions that carry their name because if one looks within these organised groups, it is the insatiable hunger and appetite for controlling humans and extracting maximum capital from their vulnerabilities.

I visit a lot of internet forums each day covering a wide range of topics from technology to movies etc. Recently in one of the forums where I visited, I came across a new joint section for both religion and politics. This made me think deeply and I realised that even though the change in the forum might have been done for administrative purposes, I think both are related.

“Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich” Napoleon Bonaparte

The above is a very thought-provoking and profound observation from one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time. Think for a moment. What is the one thing that helps governments of the 21st century get away with poor governance and high ended corruption ? The ability to indulge in the art of politics. Let us take the example of Egypt. This Middle Eastern country is the home of one of the most ancient civilisations of the world. Couple of years ago this country was rocked by violent protests of people wanting to free the country from the despotic and oppressive regime of general Hosni Mubarak. In a largely peaceful demonstration, the dictator was disposed and a newly elected civilian government took office. However there was a caveat here. This government was made of the religious fundamentalists. Within no time, this civilian government was removed and a new military government took office, this time under a new general. To any external observer, nothing changed in the Egypt. It was military rule followed by religious rule which was again followed by military rule.

From time immemorial, various methods were employed by humans that enabled them to control people and their aspirations so that they fit within the norms of a society or a group. Think about the ancient men, they hunted in groups. There were no lone wolves. Everyone went together, hunted together and lived among each other. There is nothing wrong with this picture, only for the fact that if it was a group of equals it would have been a worthwhile arrangement. It all boiled down to someone who took the realms of the leader of the group. This person who gets control over the group always had a hard time to let go off or even share his power with others. That is when politics originated-because playing politics helped him to survive!

Times were not the same for men. Like varying seasons in a year, the fortunes of men also changed. And as human sought for consistent and steady fortunes, beliefs originated and as these truths or beliefs took root, in order to control the message and milk the truth, the leaders adopted religion so that control never ends and is lasting.

There is absolutely no difference between organised religion and the modern political systems of today. One can find a lot of synergies to the Catholic church of yesteryear and the communist ideals developed by Karl Marx and others. All systems need the complete collaboration of everyone involved. And all systems are created with the ultimate motive to control people. And that is where they fail, because even though humans can be controlled for a little while, you can never keep a bird caged for ever. And that free spirit of humans is the biggest threat to all systems and establishments world over. Today there is hardly any remanent left of a communist party worldwide because ideology was used to control people and achieve nefarious objectives. About the Catholic Church, the less said is the better, though Pope Francis is trying to change the place. Only time will say whether he was successful or not.

There is a certain truth in the teachings of great men like Valmiki, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, Prophet Muhammad etc. There is absolutely no truth in the religions that carry their name because if one looks within these organised groups, it is the insatiable hunger and appetite for controlling humans and extracting maximum capital from their vulnerabilities. Normal people get accustomed to varying fortunes and opportunities in life. Smart leaders understand them and play politics to keep them under their control. When someone does well in life, they will be the first ones to celebrate and when someone does bad, they will be there to partake in their sorrow. This allows them to obtain a loyal following and gives them the ability to execute their agendas. If you look at organized religion or even the democratic societies of today, they are simply alike.

So what should we understand from all these? There are a few pointers I would like to leave this conversation with:

  • Belief in a truth is good, it helps you concentrate and align yourself to a greater good.
  • Have zero trust in any organised religion. They have only agendas and no truths.
  • Politics will exist everywhere and anywhere where groups of humans co-exist, both in the virtual and real worlds.
  • Politics must be the art of aligning people to achieve greater good and continue the search for the truth.
  • Organised religion needs politics to survive but good politics need only willing people and good intent to survive.

Image courtesy: http://churchandstate.org.uk/wordpressRM/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/religion-politics.jpg

Never ever say NO

We live in a risk averse world. These days, whenever something of significance is announced, one can find a million dissenting voices that threaten to drown the ones that support them. Living in North America and working in oilsands, I am no foreigner to these type of voices. Anything we do, or not do, are analyzed with a nanoscopic lens and criticized heavily. You want a new road, NO. You want to upgrade the airport, NO. You want a new vehicle, NO. You want a new home, why? NO. Everything ends in a resounding and relentless NO.

Why have we become a generation of naysayers. Where is the flying cars that were promised to us in science fiction? Where is the space exploration campaigns exploring new worlds? Where is the promise of time travel? In a rhetoric accentuated by paralysis by analysis, our time in this world will be known by what we haven’t done or failed to do.

Read the news today. All we can see is tales of leaders who have failed to act when it is needed, tales of big business and their countless and meaningless mergers and acquisitions, an impatient shareholder community that is risk averse and focussed on quarterly profits, startups that promise too much in the beginning only to be brought by bigger business and shutdown later, only because the founders did not have the spine for the long haul.

This picture is absolutely not right and extremely frightening. We are creating a culture of being absolutely and extremely risk averse. I have worked as a Process Safety Engineer and we believe in executing work by understanding the base risk and installing safeguards to make the risk as low as reasonably possible and then executing it. But what we do see today is that, people are scared of the risk associated with any task or project, that they shy away from planning or even executing it.

Oilsands development is a classic example of human ignorance. Here we have one of the largest natural crude oil deposits in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia (based on the current extraction methods). This valuable resource is highly important and valuable in the onward march of human progress and development. The struggles this industry faces from environmentalists and vested interests to deny its development has been well documented earlier in this blog. Rather than assemble together as a team focussed on the sustainable extraction and development of this valuable resource, the debate has veered to its total decimation and its harmful effects to environment.

‘Fortune favors the brave’ is a belief that I have believed since childhood. It exhorts us to go ahead and do something. Whatever or whoever you are, think about something great and DO IT rather than say NO and back off. ‘Just Do It’ is a famous tagline by NIKE that was coined in 1988. Nelson Mandela used to exhort by the following saying, “It is always impossible, till it is done”. I believe it is easier to say something is impossible, but the sense of satisfaction that one receives after getting something done is simply unparalleled.

Concluding, before we say NO or it is not possible, let us for a minute think, WHY NOT?

YES