Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Watch it!

A watch cannot claim to be 'Swiss-Made' unless at least 50% of its components - by value - are manufactured in Switzerland.

In India, the time products division of the Tata Group manufacturers under three brands - Titan, FastTrack and Xylys. The last one, Xylys, comes with a 'Swiss-Made' tag. Will it lose this tag if the Swiss raise the threshold to 60%?

This, along with many other interesting questions, pop up from an article in the the latest Economist. The article comes up with many hey-I-didn't-know-this facts. Consider these -

  • The Swiss dominate the watch business and one company dominates this business in Switzerland - Swatch. The company has an annual turnover of SFr 7.3 billion (Rs. 4,216 Cr)
  • The Swatch group owns more than a dozen brands which carpet-bomb the entire watch market, leaving the mass market to Chinese companies and their $2 watches. 
  • Swatch companies - Breguet, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Jaquet Droz, Léon Hatot, Omega, Tiffany & Co., Longines, Rado, Union Glashütte, Tissot, ck watch & jewelry, Balmain, Certina, Mido, Hamilton, Swatch, Flik Flak, Endura and Tourbillon.
  • Switzerland is also the world's biggest supplier of watch components:
    • ETA - 70% of movements (core mechanisms)
    • Nivarox-FAR - 90% of balance springs
  • Swatch is also an unwilling supplier of components to its competitors (Patek Philippe, Robert Loomes)!



Swiss Makers - Time is Money (Economist, 16Feb13) - http://www.economist.com/news/business/21571943-industry-ripe-shake-up-time-money?fsrc=scn/tw/te/tr/timeismoney

Swatch Group - http://www.swatchgroup.com/en/brands_and_companies

Tata Time Products Division - http://www.titan.co.in/business-divisions/time-products-division/xylys

Shagil Precision - India's Biggest Watch Component Maker (Times of India, 4May2004) - http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2004-05-04/bangalore/28327131_1_machines-component-maker-facility

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lincoln - The Movie

I finally got around to seeing Lincoln yesterday at the US Cultural Center in Delhi.  The screening had not been publicized - there was no notice on their website or even at the building entrance that such an event was taking place. Given the fact that the auditorium was half empty, it was obvious that most of the invitees had already seen the movie, or that they did not have the patience to deal with the security barricades.

At sharp 7PM, the US cultural attache walked up the stage for an introduction. A middle-aged man in oversize clothes, he had an air of an absent minded professor describing his latest hypothesis. He talked of Lincon's milieu, his struggles with the 13th Amendment; of Speilberg's obsessive attention to detail - down to getting the right sound for a horse carriage door's 'click'.

It was a fine introduction to a carefully crafted movie.  It does a great job of giving depth, perspective and context to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.

The movie begins at a point when the man is already larger than life. Foot-soldiers are in awe of him and have already memorized much of his Gettysburg address; he is already won his second term, and, the end is already in sight for the bloody civil war which has already cost four years and 600,000 lives. The stage is set for a big fight over the 13th Amendment, and despite all the naysayers, Abe is deeply convinced that it has to be rammed through the congress - by hook or crook.

It is not entirely clear though where this conviction comes from. He wants slaves to be free as a moral imperative but is not sure how he will treat them as equals, or even as citizens who may eventually 'earn the right to vote'. He barely manages to strike a balance between his family and his job. These human dilemmas of great leader are brought out very sensitively.

The movie also gives you a glimpse of the terrible mess behind all those famous victories -- both in the congress and in battlefields. At times, your can almost feel beneath your feet, all the congealed blood from amputated limbs and smell those damp curtains and bad breath  in rooms lit by oil lamps.

A movie worth seeing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mawana Marathon 2013

The Mawana Marathon was held yesterday (17 Feb., 2013). It is the oldest, cheapest... and arguably the most badly organized annual athletic event in Delhi.

At first glance, the event had everything going right for it -- 23 years of steady corporate sponsorship (the Usha/Sriram Group, Red FM); it was being held "under the aegis" of the Athletics Federation of India and the running route was no doubt the most scenic you could ask for in Delhi. And yet, shoddiness of the organizers is perhaps matched only by the lack of serious intent in the vast majority of 'runners' who turned up at India Gate.

Even though the event had been open for online registration a couple of months ago, the process could not be completed unless you turned up personally at the National Stadium to pay the Rs.50 as registration fees, a day before the event. Since there were only a few officials to direct or regulate the crowds, it was hardly surprising to see thousands of youngsters jostling to reach the payment counters. Once you managed to pay the fees, there were separate counters for collecting the bibs and electronic tags. The entire exercise took about two hours.

'Instructions for Marathoners' did not provide any clear idea of the parking lots, or of the assembly areas leading up to the starting point. Runners were told to report at the 'venue' at 6 am, and then waved into enclosures to wait until 7:30 am. With nothing to keep them occupied through the dark, wet and cold morning many of the youngsters -- most of them with Delhi Police t-shirts -- got their cheap thrills by hooting and whistling at women runners in the adjacent enclosure.

The running finally started late, without any countdown or announcements. A near stampede ensued through the narrow exits. Limbs crashing against limbs until the runners stumbled out onto the open roads.

The whoops and enthusiasm diminished significantly once the crowds moved past the TV cameras and the display screens. At the first water-station a few kilometers away, there was a scramble for bottles. Teenagers hoarded up bottles and then tossed them away on the running tracks. Down the road, at the first tea-stall near the parliament another crowd of 'runners' stopped by for a chai, a few patties and a samosa before deciding that was better to walk arm-in-arm with friends. So what if they obstruct other runners?

All those who managed to complete the half-marathon and the full marathon were greeted at the finish line by folks trying to market their own sports events ('join the obstacle race next Sunday!'). Inside the enclosures, drinking water canisters were strewn in the mud, safety pins were carelessly removed from the bibs and tossed away, much to the agony of those who had to remove their shoes.

The final scene of chaos was played out at the counters where the participants had to hand in their electronic tags and exchange it for a 'goodies bag' and a medal. After all the trouble, what did the 'goodies bag' contain? - Nothing!  :(

The least I expected to find after running 21 km, was a packet of biscuits or a juice tetrapak or a fruit. Why on earth were the organizers handing out empty plastic bags marked 'Mawana Marathon 2013'??

I guess its just one of the many unanswered questions for a shoddy athletic event organized by sugar barons who have perhaps never ever stepped into a pair of running shoes.



* Point no.20 of the 'Instructions for Marathon Runners' said, "Participation certificates...can be obtained by logging on to www.mawanamarathon.com after three days of the marathon". More than seven days later there is nothing on this site. Is this a case for the consumer courts?

* 4 March 2013: The results are finally out. URL -  http://www.racetecresults.com/Results.aspx?CId=16394&RId=9




- Uttar Pradesh's Arvind Kumar Yadav emerged victorious in the men's category, while Nilam Maruti Kadam won the women's title

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A Tale of Two Aircraft Manufacturers'

HAL and Embraer are two companies set up by governments in India and Brazil respectively, more than four decades ago.  Both sought to break an oligopoly dominated by a handful of aircraft manufacturers in the developed world.

While Embraer has been a spectacular global success, HAL continues to be a staid, stagnant company. Embraer has produced more than 5,000 aircraft that operate in 92 countries on five continents, and it is the market leader for commercial jets with up to 120 seats. HAL, on the other hand, has manufactured (mostly under license), over 3658 Aircraft/Helicopters, 4178 Engines, Upgraded 272 Aircraft and overhauled over 9643 Aircraft and 29775 Engines.

Both companies had very similar origins. Embraer was started out as a government controlled company in 1969 - nearly thirty years after HAL was established in Mysore. And yet, within a span of a few decades, Embraer has become a world leader in the manufacture for executive jets while HAL has nothing significant to show for itself - except, of course, 'upgrading & overhauling' equipment for the domestic market and licensed-production of aircraft from other countries.

What explains this difference?

In a book titled, "The World Aircraft Industries", the authors note that most of HALs efforts, in conformity with other Newly Industrialised Countries (NICs), aimed at license-production of aircraft'. Brazil took a slightly different tack - it first established a a specialised institute for aeronautical engineering research and education in the 1940s. Then, more than two decades later, in 1969, after the basic technical infrastructure was well in place, the government set up Embraer to design and manufacture aeroplanes. Also, from the very beginning, Embraer traversed two paths in parallel — one, manufacturing planes to its own design and, two, manufacturing aircraft under licence.

According to Prof. RT Krishnan of IIMB, "Key elements of Embraer's success have been a clear focus on its core competence, ability to understand user needs in its niche market, quick absorption of technological capabilities, a platform or family approach to product development, cost competitiveness, and, above all, a global risk management model in what is clearly a global business."

In sharp contrast, India seems to have created R&D institutions in silos that remain only distantly connected with the manufacturing industry. Thanks to these silo's, in 2002, when the government of India wanted to buy a new set of executive jets for its VIP's, it turned to the best company in the business - Embraer.


Embraer, Brazil - http://www.embraer.com/en-US/Pages/Home.aspx

HAL India - http://www.hal-india.com/

Krishnan, Rishikesha K (2003): Where core competence soars, The Hindu Business Line, 1Oct2003, url - http://www.thehindubusinessline.in/2003/10/01/stories/2003100100020800.htm

IISc - Dept. of Aerospace Engineering - http://www.aero.iisc.ernet.in/