I, The Absolute

Archive for October, 2005

Disquiet with equations continues

Posted by itheabsolute on October 31, 2005

Our ‘Marketing I’ exam was about math; our Operations exam was about math & statistics; our Investment Analysis was again about statistics, excel and math. Mind you, they were supposed to test our knowledge of something else. Now I am going through it all over again. Fixed Income. I have some idea of the concepts thanks to my experience in banking. But to no avail. I could not solve a single problem till I lost my sleep and googled hundreds of related pages. In the process, got tempted to buy all the books on fixed income just to understand what this symbol φ means. Even at the cost of repeating myself, I will dispense this – I am the kind of the guy who is comfortable most with words and least with equations. The idea is best captured in the concept of “poet” well explained in Snapshots from Hell . Now that I am already entangled in this labyrinth of equations, who else can I blame but myself? It was indeed my, cannot think of a better word what with the pain i went through today, sin to have picked up a course which deals with strange notions of kappa, lambda, and gamma.

However, much to both my amusement and chagrin, my IIT and CA friends – from a different world than I come – are grinding their books to understand what iota to the power of iota is. Because DB is coming to campus to pick up a guy who knows ‘which Greek letter to the power of which’ will generate higher profits on the trading floors of London or New York.

PS: Considering that the exam tested less of investment skills and more of math skills, I was not appalled to see my marks in the Investment Analysis exam. For the record, I registered my worst ever performance at ISB :-))

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Posted by itheabsolute on October 28, 2005

Negotiation Analysis

My question in the first class of this course was if could one learn negotiation skills in a classroom, where role plays at best are simulations. Notwithstanding the fact that they are graded. But after four classes and three role plays involving single issue, two person negotiation to multiple issue, multiple person negotiation, I realize that at least the skills can be honed. Don’t think that if someone is bad at negotiation, he can learn this skill here. But if someone is good, then he can become very good. The reading material given by the Prof, a young one from Singapore who is now a permanent faculty at ISB, is pretty good. Where are the students going to use the skills picked up here first. No prizes for guessing. In the placement season. I will write more of this course once the term is over by which time I would have known all the concepts.


Considering that I spent three years handling microfinance portfolio as a part of my role, I find it surprising I haven’t written about microfinance so far. Microfinance is the most happening topic on the campus. I will exclude consulting and Investment Banking. Every inter b-school competition that various b-schools conduct have multiple entries which have microfinance as the topic. Recently, we had a CEO of a microfinance PE firm on campus. There was good response from the students. What is microfinance? Why this excitement about it? It is not easy to write about it in short space, but I strongly believe that it has many solutions to India’s poverty and the poor. Microfinance is about providing financial services such as credit, insurance and savings to the poor. Microcredit refers only to provision of credit. Microcredit depends on the concept of peer pressure, where women (special attribute of microcredit is that 90 % of its beneficiaries across the world are women) form into groups of 5 or 10, as requested by a Microfinance Institution, and approach the firm to borrow small amounts of money. Thanks to self selection only women with good credit track record form groups. Because otherwise, if one woman defaults on the loan, then the remaining women of the group have to repay the loan defaulted by that woman. The system works wonderfully well. Except that a few unscrupulous elements are starting Microfinance Institutions for personal profit. Grameen Bank, founded by Prof Yunus, is the best known and largest microfinance bank of the world. Till Indian Microfinance Institutions catch up.


Krishna Kolluri (popularly called Kittu), EVP of Juniper Networks, was on campus today. Kittu’s name finds mention in the book The New New Thing by Michael Lewis (as founder of Healtheon). He was CEO of Neoteris. He shared his experiences of how he started/lead a few ventures and what caused their successes. He made millions of dollars in the process. He says that innovation should necessarily focus on things which customers feel as “must have”, not make do without types. A good combination of such technology with positioning/communication can make one earn a few millions. Ignore customer feedback only at one’s risk and peril. He mentions that outsourcing may give comparative advantage but not competitive advantage. Because everyone can outsource and reduce cost. He is joining a VC firm and is looking to invest in the start up ventures in India.

What I found interesting about him was his way of using words and phrases – xyz was ‘under understood’, ‘re-purposing the objective’, etc. His way of combining adjectives/ nouns / adverbs and verbs was quite unique and interesting. One thing which I find being mentioned invariably by most of the guest speakers is reading as a habit. Reading good books can be a great differentiator in many aspects of life. Am happy to share at least one habit with these people.


1. In fact, I have my first unofficial job offer on campus. The CEO of Microfinance PE firm did ask me if I would be interested in joining his firm post ISB.
2. Etc. is a good excuse when you don’t remember anything further.

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Finance Electives- a tough terrain

Posted by itheabsolute on October 25, 2005

• Deutsche Bank is coming to campus for recruitment. DB will pick up a guy/girl or two for NY/London/Singapore office for its sales & trading division in global markets. Though DB can interview now, it can give offer letters only in Feb. Last time DB picked up a person. This person has left some interview tapes to help the coming batches prepare for the interviews. He had gone through eleven rounds of interviews, of which 7-8 seem to be technical. He was grilled about iota to the power of iota, stochastic calculus, and all the complex math that one can imagine. Btw, the position is Sr Analyst but well paying one. Which all students are applying? A lot of them. I am not. Two things, one the role does not fit with my profile, nor do I want to be in Investment Banking. Even if I applied, don’t think I will ever understand what an iota to the power of iota is. I don’t think I will ever want to understand that as well. My guess is that an IIT guy will end up with the job. Please read have and havenots .

• Finance subjects were the most popular electives before bidding. Now with the classes having started and the difficulty of the course sinking in, the subjects are the most hated. People regret not having opted for Leadership & Change Management or Marketing. And when umpteen assignments are packed into one weekend, such thoughts of “if only I had taken Marketing, etc “are common. With core courses over, there is a huge change in the way students have started to look at the entire course. There is a certain amount of informality and take it easiness around. But the academic office and the Profs are doing their own jobs and quite seriously. Given that the program is a one-year one, any amount of laxity can be dangerous and the administration at ISB knows about this pretty well.Btw, I am specializing in general management.

• In past I have worked on my resume many times. It is a one pager. I have tried to use powerful verbs and captured the role and impact I had created at each job quite succinctly. I have received good comments about the quality of it.But when I looked at the resume, now that I have the benefit of having attended BCG session on CV making, I found my resume still lacking the punch I want it to have. I feel that I have to work at least a month on the resume. Notwithstanding my popular resume making tips post on this blog.

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is normality an invalid assumption?

Posted by itheabsolute on October 22, 2005

…………the biggest problem we now have with the whole evolution of the risk is the fat-tailed problem, which is really creating very large conceptual diffculties.. Because as we all know, the assumption of normality enables us to drop of the huge amount of complexity in our equations.. Because once you start putting in non-normality assumptions, which is unfortunately what characterizes the real world, then these issues become extremely difficult.
-Alan Greenspan

this statement has bowled me out. i am a believer in normality (bell curve). if as greenspan, considered the greatest central banker of all time, says normality is an invalid assumption, then many of my beliefs also need to be questioned. maybe, this is new beginning of a different line of thoughts.

today, we had the famed director Shekhar Kapur on campus. he went on to talk about the duality, uncertainty, relativity, the fundamental contradiction in the universe, deterministic universe, the indepence of the event from the creature of the event, et al. after a while, most of the audience was lost and just waited for the talk to end. extreme math, which is completely equation driven and very specific is difficult to comprehend and appreciate. on the other extreme, philosophy which is as nebulous as anything can get is equally difficult to comprehend and appreciate. middle path, as advised by the Buddha, is an easy path and simple one at that. that is normality too.

PS: think about this. The word “dog” represents all the dogs in the world, but the word differs from the physical dogs which it represents. so the word dog is actully not representing the dog which it supposes to represent. does it make sense? these are the types of questions which philosophers dabble in, which to some degree Shekhar Kapur touched upon.

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Career is a marathon

Posted by itheabsolute on October 21, 2005

A sprinter cannot do a marathon. This is common knowledge. It is also well known that the skills and stamina required for both these are quite different. Being quick to move is the fundamental issue in a sprint. Acceleration is the next important thereafter. But being first to move and acceleration are not any important in a marathon. Stamina, preserving this throughout the race, is important. Planning well and taking necessary pauses are critical too. Usually, many people run 25 % of the marathon and some of them may beat the eventual winner. Some do run 50 % and they may also beat the eventual winner. Only a few remain till the end. And the one, who has planned well, paused at appropriate points and persevered stamina wins the marathon. There are numerous other minor points to take care of too.

It has been my belief that career is no different from marathon. I see of many people who rise very fast in their careers. At 30-32, they are Vice President or some senior member. But even at 39-40, they are still stuck up there. Obviously, they want to become the SBU head and then the CEO. But, they don’t seem to be making it beyond a point. It could be peter’s principle. But I feel, in their rapid rise to the VP or senior level, they have ignored some key points – learning from mistakes, diversified experience, training, lateral thinking, the understanding of markets/customers, developing EQ through introspection, retrospection and working on listening, et al skills. These people are good sprinters. But not marathon runners.

Every career spans some 30+ years. In fact, I don’t think that a person with professional degree will ever think of retirement. He/she will work till he can. Given this, we can only compare career with a marathon, which is an equally long journey. If you don’t plan for the entire 30+ years of what you are going to do, then trouble would start at some point.

That is why an MBA program after some work experience makes more sense. Time at the b-school gives time to think and figure out what one wants to do and how one should go about and what areas one should focus once back in job. Since the person has already put in some experience, he/she knows at least to some extent on what he/she does not want to do and how something should not / should be done.

It is good to be a Vice President at 30-32. Sure. But, if one does not have a plan on how one is going to go beyond this 25% or 50 % mark, then there is something wrong with this fast growth. But at the same time, if someone is still at Manager at 35 there is no reason to give up on hope. There are another 25+ years to go and catching up can be done. Remember, career like marathon is a long journey.

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Do homework now than regret later

Posted by itheabsolute on October 18, 2005

• The elective courses start with a bang. All day today I sampled courses to pick a couple of them. I finally decide on Rural Marketing taught by Harish Bijoor, a practitioner, and Innovation Management by local asst. prof. Harish was good. The local asst. prof. was okay. Figuring out which subjects to master in is not as easy and intuitive as it might seem. Thanks to quite liberal policies, we have the opportunity to sample the classes, drop some if we didn’t like, pick some if we liked them. This term I have picked up courses which are light and not quant heavy. For one quant oriented course, I will have the benefit of being in company of some IITians and one stats grad. I am taking five courses and there is a lot of reading and assignments to do. Taking five courses in fifth and sixth terms will make life easy during 7th term and will leave me with time to do some trips to Mumbai to meet some senior bankers there and also prepare for the campus placement interviews.

• Before people start suspecting the efficacy of the placement process at ISB and on why I keep looking out for networking and job opportunities myself, it is only to be well prepared rather than regret later not having done homework. No b-school promises placement. Definitely, not one that one will necessarily like. All placement efforts are on best effort basis. Some people feel the regret that they did not get the job they wanted and blame everyone including the school. It is important to be honest to self. The school never promised a job. The school never asked us not to make efforts to network and look out for ourselves (subject to some decorum). My simple rule is, I may get placed out of campus recruitment, but I will keep that option with me and not leave it to others. So, the point is people who plan to come here, please keep your network outside the school vibrant. All guys at b-school are jobless and networking at b-school will not get jobs.

PS: Placements at ISB have offered some of the best jobs for candidates. Some people have come with INR 4-5 lac salary and gone back with USD 150k salaries. Most of the people have increased their salaries and positions. In writing what i wrote above, i am not trying to be a cassandra. My view is that doing homework, particularly when one is more experienced and looking at getting placed laterally at senior level, does not hurt.

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Hope springs eternal in human breast

Posted by itheabsolute on October 16, 2005

Oh, I love this place. But for the guys here at ISB who blogged and spoke about “the Shawshank Redemption”, I perhaps would have never watched, even heard of, this movie. I just had one feeling watching this movie – wish it dint end.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching great DVD collection at ISB. I enjoyed reading the great books that adorn our library equally. What I gather of these is that a man is not complete without reading the literature, particularly English, and traveling, mainly to Asia, Europe and South America. How else would one know that Mexicans think that the Pacific does not have memory; how the Roman Empire declined; why men can vibe with dolphins so well; why Australians don wanna work after 5 pm; why only a few, such as Asoka, Peter, Akbar, Frederick, Alexander, are labeled “the great”; how religion and the concept of God originated from the one mystery man could never understand – death; why Voltairean irreverence is the extreme form of irreverence, why a popular hymn called gayatri mantra, addressed to a sun god, savitir, is thought to be addressed to the goddess gayitri; why philosophers, who held sway over the entire gamut of knowledge till about a couple of centuries ago, are no longer seen as the saviors of the world; how social Darwinism seems to be true to some sections of the society……………………………………………….While life is incomplete without reading and traveling, it isn’t enough to read and travel all either.

What would I do if I dint have to work for a living? This question has bothered me for a very long time. Not that I can afford not to work now. But when I earn enough to live life without having to work, then, will I stop wanting to earn more and do what I want to do.

I want to read, travel and write. This is my hope!


1. the title of this post is a remark made by Pope John Paul, the second.
2. btw, I don’t have any answer to the question, why does any one have to know all those that I have mentioned. I feel / will feel better knowing them.

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Live to Shop

Posted by itheabsolute on October 14, 2005

Machines are unreliable. And they don’t even explain. Human beings generally are dependable and even if someone fails us, he/she would at least explain. My laptop failed me again. Could not blog, not check my mails, not upload the umpteen photos I clicked in Singapore.

About my observations on Singapore.

Changi airport was rocking. all it took to check out was about 10 minutes. Sure, it is pretty organized and has very efficient systems.

But a country is made of its people.

Singaporeans, or most of those, including non-singaporeans, that live in Singapore live to shop. Since they need energy to shop, they eat in between. And since one needs money to shop and eat, they go to work.

Singapore is full of malls and foot courts.

The taxi drivers were my objects of observation to understand their culture and outlook in life. Though in general many of them are of serious disposition, found too much of variety to draw any conclusions on their outlook.

One thing most of the senior bankers / others I met raved about was the growth in India (and of course China too). They do not seem to completely understand why one should look at coming away from an economy that is growing very well. I gave my reasons and I surely think that if someone wants to grow big in banking, then Singapore should be a good place to work. Singapore is the financial hub of APAC region (Japan excluded). It has 180 banks and about 700 financial institutions. The kind of financial products that are structured there are years ahead of what we did / do here.

The trip was quite fruitful. No, I did not get my job, but surely developed a good network, got a few thoughts clarified. Now I know what I am going to spend the rest of my time at ISB on. It is a nice place to go to work for, provided I get my price.

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Power is Knowledge

Posted by itheabsolute on October 5, 2005

Knowledge is power – Francis Bacon.

How about, Power is knowledge.

Tim Draper of DFJ was here at ISB. He has composed his views about entrepreneurs as lyrics and had asked someone (he does not reveal which popular artist / group it is) to give a tune to it. At the end of his talk, he picks this song, sings and dances to it. The song was good. The point is not that. If someone else with less success wrote an equally interesting lyric and at the end of his speech, sung and danced to it, people would laugh at him.

Simply put, everyone loved it, loved Tim, and thought it was brilliant, more because he has the power. The power of success.

Power, being in the right place / the place where you stand or sit, gives an amazing sense of confidence and hence improves the ability of mind to process information at amazing speeds and through amazing algorithm. Assuming a topic of general knowledge is being discussed, when I sit at the desk as a student, my thinking is different as I am in receiving mode. If I move to the centre of the room to discuss the topic, I am a completely different person. Not that I did not know of the topic when in a student mode. The ability of mind to process information is stifled because by being in receiving mode, it has assumed a subordinate nature.

One might argue that it is only because of knowledge that the person has reached a position of power. Knowledge surely helps, but knowledge alone does not help. The topic is also not about the importance of knowledge. It is about how power gives knowledge.

The fact that being at a special position bestows mind with superior abilities is proven in many experiments that when people are told they are important, their performance improves. At any point of time, we use only a minimal percentage of what we know. Pursuing knowledge just for the sake of it does not help as we are not going to use most of it. Being in a position of power will let us use much more of what we already know. How to get power is of course a million dollar question.


1. One of the great things at ISB is to get to listen to such fantastic people.
2. Btw, Tim Draper was simply brilliant.
3. A couple of interesting books on power – Power by Bertrand Russell and Powershift by Alvin Toffler.

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The epsilon factor of life

Posted by itheabsolute on October 3, 2005

Human being is a lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawlingly in a small and unimportant planet – Bertrand Russell

I tend to agree with the view that human life, as much as the conditions on earth that made life possible, are an accident, but not a deliberate design. I know that there are many who don’t agree, and sometimes stakes and passions could be high in topics such as this.

The point is not to debate the macro issue of the purpose of the universe, but to bring it down to a relatively micro-level and talk about this factor in life called luck. Statistics has a word called noise / error factor given to it, and has ‘epsilon’ representing this factor. Any model can be created to explain various phenomena in life, but an epsilon is always tagged to it, just to say that there are certain things, which are unexplainable and cannot be captured by these models. Chaos theory tries to explain such random events but not with much success.

I am sure many of us had a few instances such as those mentioned below

 We stand in a queue to get tickets for our favorite movie. Just when we reach the window, the tickets get over.

 Rainy season – we carry umbrella everyday. It does not rain. One day, we get lazy (since it has not been raining, why should I carry) and venture out without one. It rains that day.

 We sit in front of the TV to watch favorite program. The power goes off.

 We have been waiting for a meeting with a friend / dear one whom we have not met for a long time. Boss gives us extra work, we have to travel that day, or Boss visits the town/city we are in the same day.

There can be innumerable such incidents which are unexplainable. We tend to blame all sorts of things to explain these. But these are mere events which have no correlation with our being per se. They are not happening with me alone. They happen with every one. This is the noise factor or epsilon factor of life.

Why am I writing all these? I see attempts being made by people to rationalize life, to explain everything, to put blame on luck or God, etc. Life cannot be explained. There are too many events, which just happen and have no correlation or association per se with our scheme of things. No astrology, not palmistry, not zodiac signs will help these. The maturity lies in accepting these things as being purely random and completely uncontrollable (in spite of my passion for ‘free will’ as a driver of decision making). The only way to control these is by learning to control our responses to these events, rather than by trying to control these events themselves.

But if someone can (claim to) know future, thanks again to the supposed powers of astrology, et al, the only purpose it should serve is to give the power to the person to change the future.


1. My views. And I tend to be passionate about what I believe or don’t believe.
2. Does the topic explain why people turn to the supernatural to take solace since there is not much that we can do about such events? Perhaps yes for many.
3. Despite all the best efforts / best profile / everything else working well, not getting admission to a b-school could be the work of epsilon factor. The best response here is to control the response to such event and think about ways to diversify/reduce risk such epsilon factor can bring. Applying to more than one school is a simple diversification strategy. Applying second time increases chances of admission, which is another way of handling such risk.

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