Alauddin Khalji and the Economic Recession

As the monster of recession slowly fades away to the background and as companies worldwide emerge out of the ashes, it is a time to introspect what could’ve been done better to reduce the impact of the downturn. One of the hot topics of discussions among management experts is whether an organization can be designed in such a way, so as to withstand a recession of comparable magnitude. Notwithstanding, the numerous scholarly works published in this direction, this article is a humble attempt to solve this riddle by taking a leaf out of the book of an Indian autocrat, who faced an analogous situation, some 7 centuries ago.

Alauddin Khalji, who ascended to the throne in 1296 A.D., was an efficient and an able administrator. He was responsible for extending the arms of the sultanate to the heart of Deccan. His ambition to expand his kingdom and the anxiety to protect it from the Mongols, prompted him to raise a huge standing army. Its dire necessity was felt in 1303 when he was suddenly caught between two whirlwinds – the prestigious siege of Chittor and the Mongol invasion of Delhi (led by Targhi Beg). Alauddin was successful in the two pronged struggle but made up his mind, thereafter to recruit a permanent army which, in the words of the historian Barani, “was not only large, choice, well armed, with archers, and all ready for immediate service”. His soldiers were not an ordinary lot; they were the favoured children of the sultanate, upon whose faithfulness depended the safety and stability of the crown; they were militarily rich and lived more comfortably than the masses. Alauddin was confronted with the problem of raising the strength of the army on the payment of a moderate salary, without adversely affecting their standard of living. His constant military exploits had already resulted in the excessive flow of gold and silver in the capital and adjoining towns. It led to the rise of prices due to increase in money supply. This naturally necessitated an increase in the salaries of the military personnel. With the existing treasury already under pressure, Alauddin thought of an ingenious price control system for the economy. He fixed the salaries of the personnel to a moderate amount but in turn made a regulation whereby the prices of essential commodities were fixed based on the production cost. He thus geared the entire economy towards maintaining his army. He recognized the fact that his kingdom was in danger of external invasion, which and the only factor which could’ve saved his empire was his army. So he subordinated all the internal variables to the welfare of his soldiers.

Surprisingly, Alauddin’s strategy which seems plain and simple, is not what is followed by many organizations facing the invading recession. The problem with many companies is that, they don’t recognize the factor which can prove decisive in their battle against recession. It can be brand equity, operational efficiency, customer loyalty or technical competence.  It can even be background variables like employee satisfaction, organizational culture, vision or values which power the previously mentioned factors. Even if the factors are identified, seldom do companies take the risk of solidly backing the winning factor relegating others to the background. We find a hysterical emphasis on universal cost cutting and price reduction aimed to achieve a twin increase in both the top and bottom lines. Often this is done at the cost of precisely those strengths, which like Alauddin’s army, are the ones which are needed to fight turbulent economic conditions.

A case in the point is the famed US pickle company Vlasic. The company was known to be the founder of glass packed shelf stable pickles. The company in order to ward of distressed economic conditions reduced the price and sold its pickles in extra large ‘value for money’ bottles. The flawed strategy backfired resulting in a huge erosion of the company’s brand image which helped find the company the way to its bankruptcy. Had the company recognized the importance of its brand, which had faithfully served its interests in all kinds of economic weather, things would’ve been different. A recession is not a time to lay low and compromise on the quality by cutting costs mindlessly. It is a time to leverage on your strengths and gain a competitive advantage. Costs should be cut but at the right places. Alauddin changed the complete economic structure to benefit of his army.  The message is – cut back on anything but your strategic weapon. New York Times is a salutary example. After the crash of 1929, the newspaper maintained its editorial quality and existing intellectual talent by paying the salaries from the surplus it built up during the boom years, even at the face of falling advertisements. The newspaper emerged out of the recession with increased readership and in turn increased ad rates.

The strength of companies like Google and Microsoft is the brilliant workforce which helps them to create breakthrough products and services. These companies are the dream destinations of the best minds from all over the world. Imagine, these companies cutting costs by going back on their well known employee benefits and perks. They will lose the very strategic weapon which gives them the edge. On the other end of the spectrum, legacy companies like GM continue giving huge benefits to the ageing workforce which is of little strategic advantage to the organization.  Sometimes, the culture of the organization which is nurtured and built up over the years becomes the strategic force to fight the recession. Unmindful of this, companies, in a knee-jerk reaction employ “fire-fighting” measures which jeopardize the established norms resulting in downfall.

The lesson from the 13th century Indian emperor is loud and clear. In the face of the invader, the most important asset is the army. All other factors come afterwards. Organizations which realize the particular strength which will act as the army to fight have the winning formula to survive economic downturns.

– Anup Robins (Batch 2009-11)

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“THE SEED, TREE AND ME”

Well, this is a story of a seed who always thought that the world out there is too tough for him. He just wanted to stay back inside the earth and escape from the wrath of the sun and arrogance of the rain. He always used to think, “Why do other seeds need to go out and face the troubles. Why don’t they just enjoy the nice, moist and safe ‘home’ under the earth?” and as it can safely be concluded this seed was spending his time with leisure and a sense of security inside.

But one fortunate day the seed bored of his monotonous life thought about visiting his old seed-friends who have left their homes long ago. So he just peeped out of earth and looked around to search his neighborhood friends. To his astonishment his friends were no longer a seed. They have grown into giant trees laden with leaves and fruits. On branch of one of his friend there was a swing on which a little girl was sitting. And near another one he saw a group of people worshipping the seed now converted into a tree. All his friends seemed to be happy. Though there body showed the marks which time’s nails have drawn but still they seemed content and satisfied. The seed now got a shiver down his spine. He realized that he has wasted so many years of his life just leading an aimless life. He felt as if something inside him is cursing him for not having the courage to step out and show the world that even he can achieve his goal. The seed seemed to have lost.

But it wasn’t true. After all, all seeds are meant to become huge trees some day or the other. So this seed too, one fine day broke out from the heart of the earth and started moving towards its goal. Now he was not afraid of the sun, the rains and the wind.  He knew it wasn’t going to be easy but now he can see his goal and was determined to achieve it.

I had spent 22 years of my life with my parents in Bhopal. Frankly speaking I was quite satisfied with the kind of life I was having. Friends, bikes, parties, street fights and one night studies seemed to be perfect recipe for a happy and pleasurable life. On top of that the support and the love of parents made home the most comfortable and secure place. I never had to think about the future responsibilities or had any worries. I never felt it but maybe I was too scared to compete.  But then as destiny would have it I joined a coaching class for CAT and then the turnaround came. To cut the long story short I came to Tapmi, Manipal.

The best thing about dreams is that once you start seeing a dream it goes on increasing its size on its own. But, the biggest trouble with the dreams is that they are over dependent on the person who sees them. They never become a reality on their own. People are not afraid of dreaming big but they don’t know what to do with it. ‘They never realize that, every dream has a price that is proportional to its size.’

Neither the seed understood it or me.

Tapmi is a colorful dream. You have the sky which shows you multiple shades of blue from dark to light. Then there is the rain washed greens with transparent dew drops on them which soothes your eyes and comforts your soul. The boy’s hostel is the show-off red while the girl’s hostel is the mysterious purple. The classes start with the yellowness of sunlight and end as the sun goes orange. And amidst of this colorful landscape you begin your 2 year long stint with destiny.

As I said every dream has a cost. And a dream as big as Tapmi will have even bigger cost. The day starts at 9.00 am and just goes on till eternity. Yes I agree that classes continue till 5.00 pm but the day doesn’t end there. You get back to your room with a huge bag full of cases and pre reads. You fall down on your bed thinking that you will do it in night but then you realize that there is this ‘compulsory attendance’ meeting at night which will eat your night time as well. So finally you end up studying at the wee hours of the night awake like a nocturnal creature. You begin to wait for Sundays like kids waiting for Christmas. But the tough part is we don’t have Santa Clause for the gifts else we would have asked him to solve the ‘DASHMAN case’ or the ‘UHURU CANDLE’ one. But wait, this is not all about Tapmi. The biggest irony of a Tapmian’s life is that he never has enough time to study but has a lot of time for partying. Tapmians loves to shake their legs on the dance floor. Life is different here. Much faster than what you are used to and much more complex than what you can comprehend.

Sometimes when you are alone in the hostel room, exhausted and irritated by this hectic schedule you feel nostalgic. Your mind stops working and the weaker side of you takes over. It’s the time when drops of rains no longer please you and the greenery seems to seclude you from the outer world. You feel tired of living a life tied to the clock’s hand.  You hate your rushed through breakfasts and lunches. You don’t want to get up in the morning and want to sleep early in the night. You think about breaking the golden cage and fly back to home. Everything becomes meaningless and you curse yourself for coming out of your comfort zone, your home to face this tough life. You get lonely. You just want to quit…

But then, you realize, every DREAM has a price and, as I said before, every SEED is destined to become a huge tree some day or the other…… provided he has the courage to do it….isn’t it???

– Abhishek Agarwal (Batch 2009-11)

Branding an after shave product

When it comes to branding an after shave brand, how can it be really done ? Well I am not an expert on this but based on my personal experience as well as on some insights I would like to evaluate some thing like an after shave on various parameters. I think an after shave can be perceived on following parameters-

1) Medicinal purpose-An after shave is supposed to be an antiseptic that takes care of the skin after shaving . Well this is what an after shave is supposed to be doing but since this is a basic requirement of any after shave, this parameter cannot be used for differentiating a brand. For that matter if medicinal purpose is the only factor then there is hardly any difference between an after shave or lets say alum or an antiseptic cream .

2) Price-The role of price in branding does not look very clear over here. But one thing is for sure that is since it is a luxury brand, a price on the higher side will favor.

3) Packaging and color-Things like packaging and color of an after shave product will definitely play a vital role in building the brand value of the product. A good packaging and color will not only give a feel good factor to the consumer but will also prompt the consumer to show it to his friends and there by multiplying the brand value.

4) Advertisement-A brand like an after shave is not a basic need , it is more of a desire and so for any  kind of product that falls in such a category, it is very essential that it should be promoted in a very stylish and glamorous fashion .The advertisement should strike instantly with the consumer psyche , it should be in a position to compel the customer to spend few extra bucks from his pocket to get the brand. In view of this it becomes essential that an advertisement for an after shave brand should contain added flavors of glamor, style or sensuality .These elements should be produced in such a beautiful way that it must compel the viewer to connect himself with the brand .For ex:- an advertisement that promotes an after shave as a product which helps in attracting females, then in that case the ad should be made in such a mesmerizing way that it must compel the viewer to think that after applying it his sex appeal to the females will increase two-fold.

These above given factors are important for developing the brand value of some thing like an after shave but a very important fact that has to be considered is that these factors do not directly affect the consumer, the impact made by stuffs like lets say the packaging or advertisement will either be of some imaginative nature or aesthetic purpose or at most of ego satisfaction but to make a mark as a brand it is very essential that the brand must make a deadly impact on the consumer while he is using , and as a consumer(as a consumer not merely as a customer ) there must be a chord between him and the brand. As a product it must give some direct value addition to its consumers, for this purpose in my opinion two parameters are very essential-

a) Feeling of freshness that the shave can give and the longevity of freshness :- By feeling of freshness I mean the cooling effect which the after shave gives and the smooth skin that one gets after applying the shave .This is some thing very important for building the brand value of the after shave. A point to be noted over here is that not only the intensity matters but what does matter is the longevity, because more the feeling of freshness will prevail, the higher will be the bond time between the brand and the user and stronger will be the impression of the brand in the eyes of the user .

b) Fragrance and its longevity:- Similarly fragrance and its longevity are also very essential factors that can help in building the brand value of an after shave brand. Fragrance is something that directly impacts the consumer .So it’s quite natural that a nice fragrance will make a strong impact but a very important factor that has to be taken care of is that simply a strong fragrance is not going to serve the purpose since mostly any after shave brand has a strong fragrance. What does matter is the longevity of the fragrance, like freshness the higher the fragrance will remain the stronger will be the impact. A nice fragrance will make the first impression but if it will vanish soon then it cannot reaffirm itself, but if the fragrance can maintain it self for a longer period of time then every time the nice soothing smell will enter the nostril of the consumer the higher will be the feelings of the consumer for that brand.Longevity of the fragrance will ensure a prolonged positive interaction between the consumer and the brand and will surely give enough time and space to the brand to win the heart of his consumer .

All the factors that can affect the brand value of a product like an after-shave is listed down in increasing order of their significance:

a) Medicinal use

b) Price

c) Color, Packaging, Advertisement

d) Freshness and it’s duration, fragrance and it’s duration

– Paritosh Kashyap (Batch 2009-11)