Monday, May 25, 2009

Job Losses in India "Trickle Down" from US

I've been in touch recently with Sharon Colaco, a well-known IT business writer from Pune, India.

Working with Sharon over the years, I've found that she takes a detached view of the IT business in India, ie, she's neither a cheerleader nor someone who is overly critical, in a country where emotions can run very hot whether one is defending the country's reputation or picking it apart.

I asked her about how much job loss has there been in India in the wake of the global financial crisis, and how much of it has been directly related to the US and Europe. Now seemed like a good time to elicit this opinion, as we're several months out from the initial economic shock and have had enough time to see how all this is playing out.

This was her response in a recent email to me:

This is a worldwide downturn, and Indian firms realize that the first three quarters of 2009 need to be tided over before things will even start to look up.

The industries that faced the highest job cuts were Textiles, BPO, Automotive, Steel Production, (local) IT, Jewellery, Construction, and Mining.

Most of the the BPO and IT losses are directly related to the loss of business from US or European clients, but there is also a homegrown recession within India. Even though housing loans are cheaper, and homes have become cheaper, the construction industry is going through a very tough phase in India currently. Not enough people are buying homes, fearing layoffs and salary cuts.

Yet companies are resorting to job cuts as only the last measure. Most companies are tightening their purse strings – recruiting few or no new employees, cutting salaries, perks and incentives, telling employees pitch in by putting in longer hours – the emphasis is to carry on with the same team sizes, but cut costs on the teams drastically.

Employees too prefer these measures to actual job cuts. This is the “salary correction” that you and I discussed last year, Roger.

With no or very few new recruitments, the country’s fresh graduates are facing a very tough time. B-schools have seen a decrease in their campus placements this year. Companies who do come to hire, offer much lower pay packages than the previous year.

Despite all this, India is not facing a “full-blown” recession. Spends on infrastructure have not reduced. Indian manufacturing, banking and government sectors are doing quite well. This is a key indicator that the country is doing well, but is spending cautiously.

To conclude, the impact from the US is only a trickle down effect, and most of India thinks that things will look up after the next quarter.

In the meantime there is a lot of internal retrospection, improving of services, tightening of spends. When I look at this situation objectively, I would say this is a very important phase for India. I am glad its happening because companies are looking at themselves objectively, making themselves lean and mean, and when the recession is over, you are sure to see a new India emerge – stronger and all set to take on the world’s business once again!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gladwell, Basketball, and Music

I was discussing the recent Malcom Gladwell basketball piece with a friend of mine. In this recent piece, published in the New Yorker, the writer and a guy he interviewed draw a parallel between basketball strategy and the biblical tale of David and Goliath.

My friend told me that he's developed a similar insight, one with a parallel between music and the biblical story of Moses receiving The Ten Commandments.

My friend grew up in a place not familiar with Western musical tradition or with the Bible, so naturally views his complete lack of knowledge as an opportunity to bring fresh insight to these topics.

His insight came to him while he was watching me play a moderately difficult piano composition, the Chopin Ballade #3 in A-flat major. He had several thought-provoking questions.

Why are you using the black keys disproportionately here?, he asked. There are about 20% more white keys, yet you seem to be favoring the black keys, particularly on the left side of the piano. It seems the piece would be more effective if it had a better balance.

Well, I told him that not all pieces did this. This particular piece did probably favor the black keys a bit, since it was written in a key (A-flat major) that uses black keys as its "tonic," "dominant," and "sub-dominant" harmonic foundation.

Hmm, he said, so there are other pieces that favor the white keys?

Well sure, I said. If I played Chopin's A-major polonaise for you, you might notice a slight favoring toward the white keys. Certainly if I played his Etude in C major, I told him, you would see me hitting white keys almost exclusively.

Well, let's revisit that later, he said. I'm also troubled by the way you said the second most important notes are the "dominant" ones. Why aren't they the most important? After all, you said they're dominant. And what is "sub-dominant" supposed to mean? Less optimally dominant? I mean, your whole idea of music theory is screwed up here, he said.

Also, he told me it seems "mindless" to him how the left hand just sits there sometimes while the right hand is doing all this work. To quote: "Why don't composers put all the fingers to work more consistently? You could fit a lot more music into the same space this way. I mean, people love to listen to music, why not give them more of it in the same amount of time?"

Well, I said, it's really a little more complex than that. It's not as well-known keyboard composers--you know, guys like Scarlatti, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Schumann--and Chopin--hadn't thought very, very seriously about music and how to combine theoretical knowledge with creative inspiration.

Centuries of musical theory, evolving from single-line monody through elaborate Medieval constructs, a few hundred years of Baroque contrapuntal innovation, through the dawn of Classical forms and their extensions in the Romantic Period, are reflected in the work of the supreme artist Chopin, I told him. There's also another 150 years of keyboard innovation after him, too, I noted.

Of course, I added, there are many passages in music--in fact, many entire pieces--that are just crammed full of as many notes as humanly possible to play. But to take this approach all the time in every piece of music is not an idea that any serious music person would take seriously. It would decrease one's enjoyment of music, not increase it, I said.

I hated to tell my friend this, but I think that Chopin would be badly offended by his uninformed, obtuse analysis. Certainly I was.

Well, my friend said, realizing I was getting agitated, it's too late for me to learn how to play the piano well.

Yet he remains inquisitive, and he says there is no reason why a Ten Commandments cannot be established for music in general.

He'd like to conduct an orchestra. He notes that all you have to do is wave a stick around, without having to spend years and years learning how to play an instrument. He also wonders why so many of the players--the trumpets and trombones, for example--just sit there for long periods of time.

Wouldn't it be more effective if you just had everybody play at once? That should be the First Commandment, in his view. Again, more music in less time.

My friend also doesn't understand why music people always talk about natural harmonies as "just" intonation--why do they take it for granted, he wonders? Wouldn't it be better if everyone took staying in tune seriously? He said if he was conducting the orchestra, he would insist that the players play in tune. That would be the Second Commandment.

He also noted that The Ten Commandments was originally part of Jewish history, which explains why so many Jewish people are good at music. But he thinks he could build a successful orchestra that is equal to all those groups with "born-with-a-violin" musicians.

He also told me of a writer friend of his who claims that similar lessons can be learned from comparisons that to the untrained eye appear ludicrous. I couldn't really follow the parallels he made with warfare, simulated gaming, and the history of hot dogs.

But I trusted him because his writer friend is said to be a genius by many. My friend has been able to construct the other eight commandments just from talking to him, he says.

I don't know. I really like my friend, and he's financially successful, but I don't agree with him. I think he needs to study music and learn a lot more about it before offering his silly opinions about it.

But I kind of like it when he gets biblical. I wonder if he's familiar with the stories of Jesus humbling himself?