Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dream New Dreams

Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture was an amazingly positive combination of autobiography and life advice from a CMU professor terminally ill with pancreatic cancer. Captured both on film and as a book, it became an inspiration to thousands all over the world. The advice I liked the best was his emphasis on the importance of feedback, even negative feedback – Randy wrote that when someone gives you feedback, it’s a sign that they care for you, and you should get worried when you no longer get feedback, not by critical feedback.

Randy’s wife, Jai, figured in the video of The Last Lecture when Randy cut a cake in honour of her birthday. Now Jai Pausch has written her own book on Randy’s illness and life ahead. The really poignant and emotional parts are of course focused on discovering Randy’s illness, the ups and downs of his treatment, and the discovery that they had reached the end of the road. I found these parts extremely moving.

But Dream New Dreams is also very practical. How do you deal with the emotional trauma of your husband dying when you have 3 very small kids? How do you prioritise your time and activities? What do you tell the kids and when? And how do you re-build your life after the inevitable? Jai gives eminently actionable advice on how to address these issues.

To be honest, while I was really moved by the first part of the book, I found the last few chapters a bit of a drag. The flow was not as smooth, and the book became preachy at points. But, overall, a good read.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In the Lion's Shadow

Fariborz Mukhtari’s In the Lion’s Shadow is the heart-warming story of an Iranian diplomat, Abdol-Hossein Sardari, who saved the lives of hundreds of Iranian Jews during the Second World War in occupied France.

Sardari charmed German officials (yes, that was possible!) with lavish parties, prepared detailed notes arguing that Iranian Jews were of Aryan descent, and used his diplomatic guile to protect Iranian Jews from being meted out the inhuman treatment to which other Jews were subjected. Mukhtari’s story comes with several insights into Iranian history, and is tinged with the anguish he feels regarding Iran’s failure to live up to the glory of its past.  
A wonderfully moving book….

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mr. China

Many of us in India (and I am sure elsewhere in the world) have been mesmerized by the Chinese economic and industrial juggernaut. The external understanding of this process revolves around SEZs, FDI, and the Chinese government’s economic policies.

Tim Clissold’s Mr. China (Collins Business, 2004) suggests that the process of transformation of the Chinese economy was far less orderly and structured than it appears from outside. In particular, it highlights the role of foreign private equity in trying to consolidate and grow existing enterprises in China, and the huge challenges such an endeavour faced.

I found the parts that describe the change process from “factories” to “industrial enterprises” particularly insightful; they remind me of a HBS case we studied several years ago at IIMA on how a Soviet factory was managed. The book also highlights how important an institutional structure, rule of law, contract enforcement, and banking processes are for sustainable industrial development. These were clearly not in place in China till the late 1990s, though things have changed substantially now. In such an environment, private equity firms had to be as entrepreneurial as the firms they were funding!

Written in the style of a thriller, Mr. China is essential and fun reading for anyone interested in the growth of business enterprises in China.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Upwardly Mobile

Ranjini Manian is the founder of Global Adjustments, a Chennai-based professional services firm that helps foreign companies and expatriate managers adapt quickly to India. I have had the opportunity to hear her speak to a group of non-Indian managers, and she has a nice way of presenting Indian culture and dispelling the myths and mysteries regarding doing business in India.

In her latest book, Upworldly Mobile (Penguin Portfolio, 2011), Ranjini shifts her focus 180 degrees to provide advice as to how an Indian manager can be more effective in a global business environment. She covers a wide range of topics ranging from how to behave in meetings, to mobile and email etiquette, to communication skills. She emphasizes the need to retain one’s Indiannness, and at the same time reach out to the world.

This is a very practical book and will no doubt be of great help to Indians setting out into the global world of business. It’s infused with a spirit of pragmatism (in my cultural stereotyping, I see this as more like the Chinese!) but honestly, I found the tone a bit too gung-ho, and the advice an overly enthusiastic buy-in to the “flat world” philosophy. Worth a quick read though – it has some nice quotes from Gandhiji and Indira Gandhi among others, and the advice won’t do any harm.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Books read in 2011

I read 33 thought-provoking books in 2011. Sharing the details with you in case any of you would like to read any of these. Do write to me if you want more details.