Monday, November 26, 2007

'To dream big has always been my motto': CEO at 27

'To dream big has always been my motto': CEO at 27

Prasanna D Zore

Top Emailed Features

• CAT 2007: Analysis and expected cut-offs
• 'To dream big has always been my motto'
• Defuse your anger with yoga

Tell us
• Ask a question

• Migration is simple now
• Packers N Movers
• Builders Lobby

Get news updates: What's this?


Holiday at 3-5 star Hotels in Goa
Food, Stay, Airport pickup - all inclusive package starting at Rs 2500 per day

Book now for the Christmas Break

How to invest in the Stock Market?
Get all queries answered in our First Step Program. Learn the investment basics & start trading right away!

Open your First Step account today

5Rediff P4C Classifieds

November 21, 2007

Very few people can boast of achievements that M Thiagarajan, the 29-year-old promoter, chief executive officer and managing director of Chennai-based Paramount Airways notched so early in his life.

At 27, on October 19, 2005 to be precise, he launched India's first and only 'business class' airline Paramount Airways. Before that he had set up Paramount Mills in Madurai when he was dabbling in business management.

Apart from that he is an avid stargazer and a hobby pilot. In fact, an interesting incident inside a flight simulator in Frankfurt sparked Thiagarajan's passion for aviation.

"A pilot friend of mine had invited me to view his 747 Jumbo Jet flight simulator in Frankfurt. I was seated in the simulator and my friend was called away. I began to idly press the buttons and fidget with the controls. I created enough chaos to bring the flight instructor running!" said he in an e-mailed interview with's Prasanna D Zore. That incident played a crucial role in Thiagarajan turning into an aviator.

Despite coming from an illustrious family -- his grandfather Sri Karumuttu Thiagaraja Chettiar, a reputed name in the field of textiles and education founded Bank of Madura which has now merged with ICICI Bank [Get Quote] -- this gutsy aviator says that he believes in functioning independently of the family connections. "I believe that one needs to blaze one's own path in life."

And that he has done time and again to prove his point. When most entrepreneurs thought of starting low-cost airlines like Air Deccan and Spice Jet, Thiagarajan purchased the next-generation aircraft from Embraer to give travellers an 'Elite flying experience'.

The other feather in the cap of this 29-year-old is that Paramount succeeded in making operational profits within two years of its existence and boasts of an attrition rate of employees of zero per cent.

Very soon Paramount will spread its wingspan across India � currently it services only the southern sector � for the company is in the process of buying 40 more Embraer jets.

How did it all begin? Who and what inspired you to start an airline business? You had also started Paramount Mills before starting the airlines business. What made you venture into the airline business?

I've always been fascinated by aviation and astronomy. Stargazing is a hobby and the wide expanse of the skies has always captivated me. My first encounter with aviation began when I was holidaying in Germany [Images], many years ago.

A pilot friend of mine had invited me to view his 747 Jumbo Jet flight simulator in Frankfurt. I was seated in the simulator and my friend was called away. I began to idly press the buttons and fidget with the controls. I created enough chaos to bring the flight instructor running!

But the incident, humourous though it was, sparked a very real passion for aviation. After that I started taking the pilot in me seriously and joined the flying school near London [Images]. When the instructor there asked me to fly a Cessna, I told him I only flew 747s. It was an amazing feeling to become a full-fledged pilot with a license to fly!

At 26, I wanted to nurture my passion further taking advantage of the Open Skies policy in India, I decided to set up Paramount Airways. To dream big has always been my motto and it was my desire to create an organisation that would reflect excellence and give me an opportunity to set up a global brand.

By then, I had already established my own textile mills -- Paramount Mills in Madurai, which won a national award for the highest export of cotton products from the Textile Export Promotion Council Of India. My journey while establishing Paramount Mills began even as I was graduating in management.

Having decided to venture into the civil aviation sector I started to assiduously research the various existing business models of international airline companies. This was to primarily understand the trend that was ingrained in commercial aviation. I soon realised that I didn't want to imitate any model.

I knew Paramount had to be unique; a model created to bring out the true joy of flying, to cherish and celebrate the experience of air travel. Paramount Airways is a 'High Value Carrier' -- one that gives you the best comfort in the skies at the best possible price, affording you true value for money and a flying experience that has no parallel.

You come from a very illustrious family. Did that help you when you launched Paramount Airways?

We're a very traditional family with three generations of involvement in the textile industry. My grandfather, Sri Karumuttu Thiagaraja Chettiar was a doyen in the field of textiles who founded several educational institutes and the former Bank of Madura which has now merged with ICICI Bank.

The family is rooted in ethical and traditional values, which include teetotalism and vegetarianism. I have a great passion for literature. As for my educational qualifications, I'm a business management graduate and a qualified hobby pilot.

My grandfather was an industrialist and philanthropist who had made great strides in business and education. He has always been my inspiration. However, I have always functioned independently of the family business; I believe that one needs to blaze one's own path in life.

Are there any advantages/disadvantages of starting an airline business at such an early age?

It is my firm belief that age is never a stumbling block as long as your vision is clear and your commitment to your goals is always your top priority.

Did you start this business on your own? What was the reaction of your family when you started this business?

Yes, Paramount Airways is my brainchild. My family has always been very supportive of the venture. Perhaps my family was a tad surprised that I was seriously considering another venture apart from textiles, over which the family has had a strong hold for generations.

What distinguishes your style of operations from the rest in the space? Who are your competitors?

Paramount Airways, translated literally means the pinnacle or the highest summit -- the peak of excellence.

Paramount Airways is a growing aspirational brand designed with the comfort of the traveller in mind. Our flight pattern is such that there is a convenient flight all through the day to all the sectors we fly. The day return flights have been well received by the business traveller as a great advantage. So we have been able to put together an innovative package of services and offer value based excellence to the discerning flyer.

This has fired the imagination of the customer who is value driven and appreciates a good brand when he sees one. We have differentiated ourselves as a value-based airline in terms of customer-orientation and have been categorised as a 'High Value Carrier' -- a model that is now being followed by other airlines across the world.

Can you share with us the secret behind Paramount Airways making operational profits with only two years into operations when other big airlines struggle to do it?

Dreaming big, a clear vision and sheer hard work makes the impossible, the often untried, happen!

How do you manage an attrition rate of zero per cent at Paramount Airways?

Quite simply -- we provide an excellent environment that nurtures and supports employees at all levels.

We have structured and well managed training programs, which, as a continuous improvement practice, is a great motivator and engages the employees while on the job. Apart from this, we involve each department in leisure pursuits outside of the office, in order for them to bond better and de-stress.

We also have established clear career paths bringing in technology and best international practices in our processes and systems. Our functional heads in key areas have international exposure, having run global airlines. All this, in addition to the right attitude in addressing employee related issues has minimised our attrition.

We also have specific employee recognition programs and send letters of commendation to those who excel at their tasks.

If somebody has to join Paramount Airways, what are the skills/qualities that you look out for in your potential staff?

I essentially look for the qualities of a winner -- someone who deeply believes in the company's ideals, would be willing to go that extra mile and are completely committed. We basically look for dynamic, creatively inspired individuals. Experience takes a back seat to attitude.

Any important message for young entrepreneurs who'd also want to make it big in life like you did?

My message to young entrepreneurs and readers is this -- persevere endlessly while believing in yourself and your dreams. Nurture your strength of mind and your power of conviction, while exploring our rich heritage and traditional roots. Live life to the fullest and contentment will always be yours!

What are your plans to make Paramount Airways the best airline in India/World?

Right now, the focus is on nurturing and further enhancing our loyal client base, providing as much of value as we can to the entire experience of flying to our 'Elite Travellers'.

I'm happy that Paramount has achieved global recognition for its unique model and has clearly established a leadership position in the Southern skies where we fly with a 26 per cent market share. What I am really proud of is the fact that Paramount through its unique offering and value-based service excellence has redefined airline travel in the country.

Concepts such as 'fine dining in the sky' with a four-course meal served in opulence and style on our aircraft and other fringe benefits such as valet service, 30 kgs baggage allowance (which is the highest when compared to the economy classes of other airlines), no cramped middle seats, the highest cabin crew per passenger ratio in the world on domestic sectors -- all translates into exceptional comfort and value.

Whether it is the gilded crockery or the linen serviette or the personal warm attention that our cabin crew gives to every passenger, our goal is to pamper our passengers. Every service we provide has been carefully tailor made for this. We take special care to ensure that our signature cuisine is created especially to suit our different clientele's tastes in various sectors that we fly.

A lot of care and effort has gone into seeing that a Paramount experience is a personal experience. We remain the first airline in the world to introduce an 'All Business Class' service bringing in quality differentiation in the basic offering itself. I have often heard people say that flying in a Paramount is akin to flying a corporate jet.

All this is a reflection of the business model that we arrived at after intensive research to understand the psyche of the typical passenger in the flying sector, his need for luxury, comfort and good service, the various business practices in the industry, even at the international level. Today we have largely succeeded in getting the discerning passenger to look at Paramount seriously primarily because of the fact that we are differentiated from the rest and appeal to his sense of belonging.

We have created a product that is aligned with the passengers' beliefs on moving up the ladder as per Maslow's theory of needs. With quality-edge and premium positioning we would like to establish our brand wherever we operate.

Winning the International Arch of Europe Award in the Gold Category in Frankfurt in February 2007 has helped reaffirm our goals. When I received the award from Mr Jose. E.Prieto, Executive President and CEO of the Business Initiatives Directions, he said and I quote "The awarded companies are symbols of commitment to leadership, technology and innovation which make them models for other companies in their sectors."

While the industry was focusing only on Airbus and Boeing we were the first to introduce the next-generation aircraft from Embraer which fly-by-wire. While giving the air-traveller a completely new experience we also made sure of our operational efficiency through this highly fuel efficient jets.

As for our future goals, we would like to saturate and consolidate our leadership position in the south and then get into the western India market which should happen shortly. We shall adopt the same strategy connecting Tier II and Tier III cities with the hub expanding and penetrating the market where possible.

We are in the process of acquiring 40 more Embraer jets over a period of time till 2011. Once we saturate and establish leadership in the western market we aim to have a National footprint by 2011.

Images: M Thiagarajan, CEO and MD of Paramount Airways. Photograph courtesy: Paramount Airways

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How she enriched Google's idea factory

November 14, 2007 08:55 IST

Power Player

A headhunter persuaded Marissa Mayer to join Google, Inc in 1999 as a programmer -- Google's twentieth employee. Now, Marissa Mayer is charged with making sure that the tech giant continues to crank out brilliant ideas, even as clever competitors are hatching their own.

Champion of Innovation

In late 1998, when Marissa Mayer first heard about a small outfit called Google, she hardly batted an eye. The Stanford University graduate student was encouraged by her advisor to check out the research of two guys on the computer science building's fourth floor who were developing ways to analyze the World Wide Web.

But Internet start-ups were as common as hay fever in Silicon Valley. Mayer, then 23, was leaning in another direction. She was considering taking a teaching gig at Carnegie Mellon University. And the thought of joining up with some of the university's techies wasn't exactly appealing. "I knew about the Stanford PhD types," she muses. "They love to Rollerblade. They eat pizza for breakfast. They don't shower much. And they don't say 'Sorry' when they bump into you in the hallway."

Fortunately for both Google Inc and Mayer, she had a change of heart. Since joining Google, Mayer has emerged as a powerful force inside the high-flying company. Her title, director of consumer Web products, belies her power and influence as a champion of innovation. Mayer has her hands on virtually everything the average Google user sees � from the look of its Web pages to new software for searching your hard drive. And she helps decide which new initiatives get the attention of the company's founders and which don't.

Mayer doesn't handle all this herself. One of the key reasons for Google's success is a belief that good ideas can, and should, come from anywhere. Page and Brin insist that all engineers in the company have one day a week to work on their own pet projects. An ideas mailing list is open to anyone at Google who wants to post a proposal. What Mayer does is help figure out how to make sure that good ideas bubble to the surface and get the attention they need. The task is becoming more complex as Google grows, with a workforce of 4,200 now and revenues on track to hit $3.7 billion this year.

In Wausau, Mayer was one of the top debaters on her high school team. Then the brainy teenager decided to try out for the pom-pom squad and made that team, too. To some who knew her, Mayer was making a point. "She wanted to smash the image of the airhead cheerleader," says Jim Briggs, Mayer's high school debate coach. Her debate team ended up winning the Wisconsin state championship; her pom-pom squad was the state runner-up.

A large part of Mayer's success at Google is due to her ability to travel easily between different worlds. When she first joined, the company had something of a high school cliquishness, albeit in reverse. At lunch, the coolest kids � in this forum, the smartest geeks -- sat together. On the periphery, sales and marketing folks gathered. Mayer could hold her own in either realm. "She's a geek, but her clothes match," says one former employee.

Part of Mayer's challenge is realizing when certain formulas are faltering. For years she ran the company's top 100 priorities list, which ranked projects by order of importance. But as Google's workforce grew, the list soared to more than 270 projects. Last year Google executives decided that the list had run its course and shut it down. "People don't get attached to the processes themselves at Google," says Bret Taylor, product manager for Google Maps. "It's very unusual. Even at small companies, people tend to say: 'This is the way we do X.'"

Open door policy

At 4 pm, Mayer's three-times-a-week office hours begin. It's a tradition that Mayer brought over from her days at Stanford, where she taught computer science to undergraduates. Over the years, such meetings have spawned some big ideas, including Google's social-networking site Orkut.

First to enter her office are a pair of techies -- a man and woman in their mid-twenties. Sitting across from Mayer, separated by a desk with a Dilbert coffee mug and a toy robot still in its box, they forgo the pleasantries and launch into hushed banter. The duo is stumped over which languages the Google Web site should be available in. Although it is already translated into more than 115 tongues, from Arabic to Zulu, they wonder whether they should proceed with more obscure choices. Before one minute elapses, Mayer interjects. Google shouldn't be the arbiter on languages. Just include anything considered legitimate by a third-party source, such as the CIA World Fact Book, she says. "We don't want to make a large geopolitical statement by accident."

Capturing Ideas from anyone, anywhere

Office hours are just one way in which Mayer connects with inventive engineers and managers. Another is Google's ideas mailing list, the e-mail thread where anyone can submit or comment on an idea. At times, the thread more resembles a from of techie Darwinism. Google newcomers who proffer an especially obvious suggestion ("Why don't we search blogs?") or something off-topic like how to arrange the cafeteria tables often suffer withering rebukes. "It's about 50 percent new ideas, 50 percent indoctrination of new employees," says Mayer.

It's all part of a culture that's not for the faint of heart. Google oozes with what one ex-employee calls "geek machismo." Intellectual sparring can get heated. In the cafeteria, "food gets thrown," says the former employee.

Fearless culture

What Mayer thinks will be essential for continued innovation is for Google to keep its sense of fearlessness. "I like to launch [products] early and often. That has become my mantra," she says. She mentions Apple Computer and Madonna. "Nobody remembers the Sex Book or the Newton. Consumers remember your average over time. That philosophy frees you from fear."

This is just one way that Mayer tries to maintain the search company's original culture. That's no easy task. Movie night, for instance, was a piece of cake when perhaps 100 employees descended on a local cinema. Today, organizing such an event is a full-time job. Yet Mayer handles several of these a year, from picking a movie with the right geek credibility (say, Star Wars: Episode III) to ordering thousands of tickets to writing the software that lets her track who has received them. "She still walks around with a laptop, handing out all the tickets beforehand," marvels Google's Silverstein.

It makes sense for Mayer to stay in such close touch with the swelling ranks of Googlers. She may need every one of their bright ideas to keep the search giant ahead of the competition. Here go the key factors of Google's success:

Nurture great ideas from all levels of the company, not just the top.
Be available to employees so that they have an opportunity to get their ideas heard.
Demand creativity by giving employees "free thinking time" to develop pet projects, no matter how far from the company's central vision.
Acquire good ideas. Although preferring to develop new technologies in house, Google is also willing to snap up small companies with interesting initiatives.
Excerpted from Marketing Power Plays. Price Rs 299. Reprinted by permission of Tata McGraw Hill Publishing Company Limited. Copyright 2007 by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. All rights reserved.

Business books you must read

It has been a good year for business books. Spoilt for choice, readers have had a tough time making up their minds. Should they find out why Nassim Nicholas Taleb is urging everybody to imagine the unimaginable (Black Swan), or delve into Alan Greenspan's take on the world economy (The Age of Turbulence)?

Will a look at how auto manufacturers are gearing up for new cars, new fuels and new technologies (Zoom) be more interesting than venturing deep into the dingy offices of investment bank Lazard Frer�s to find out how multi-million deals were swung, and at what cost (The Last Tycoons)?

Those may be among the best business books of the year, but don't close the list just yet. There's more ahead. Several must-read books are planned for the coming few months, while some have been launched in the weeks just past.

Written by experts in management, business and strategy, these books promise to be inspiring, informative and educational. Some of them may even be fun reads.

The Future of Management
Gary Hamel
Harvard Business School Press
Pages: 288
India release: October 2007

Who wrote it
Gary Hamel is the visiting professor of strategic and international management at the London Business School. He is the author of Leading the Revolution and co-author, with C K Prahalad, of Competing for the Future.

What its about
Legacy beliefs prevent organisations from overcoming new, 21st-century challenges. The way forward is management innovation: new ways of mobilising talent, allocating resources and building strategies. How do you turn your company into a serial innovator and make it fit for the future? Case studies from Google, Whole Foods, IBM and Samsung help Hamel illustrate his new theories. Not all of it is practical, but Hamel's point of view is always interesting.

Redefining Global Strategy
Pankaj Ghemawat
Harvard Business School Press
Pages: 288
India release: October 2007

Who wrote it
Pankaj Ghemawat's website describes him as a "global strategist". On leave from Harvard as professor of business administration, he is currently professor of global strategy at IESE Business School, and is the author of several books on business strategy.

What it's about
Globalisation is a myth and thinking the world is flat is so Middle Ages. At best, the world is "semiglobalised", so cross-border integration does not necessarily mean standardisation. Quite the opposite, suggests Ghemawat. Most economic activity happens locally, so tailor your strategies to suit your markets. Examples from Toyota, Procter & Gamble, Tata Consultancy Services [Get Quote] and IBM add some much-needed colour to this scholarly tome.

The Professional
Kenichi Ohmae
Pages: 208
India release: January 2008

Who wrote it
Known as "Mr Strategy", Kenichi Ohmae is Japan's top management guru, a former senior partner at McKinsey & Co, and the author of more than 140 books, including the bestselling The Mind of the Strategist.

What it's about
The Professional was published in Japanese in 2005 and is appearing in English now for the first time. In it, Ohmae presents his vision for changing the culture of leadership, explaining how "professionals" (that is, managers) need to acquire the expertise, ethics and discipline to grow their business and deliver the highest value to customers, and how that will help them reclaim their social prominence and respectability.

Trump Never Give Up
Donald J Trump
Pages: 208
India release: January 2008

Who wrote it
"The Donald" is the New York based real-estate magnate who had it all, lost it all and then got it all � all over again. Donald Trump is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest financial turn around in history. He is also the host of popular television reality show The Apprentice.

What it's about
In this follow-up to his 2006 bestseller Trump 101: The Way to Success, Trump shares dramatic stories from the most difficult moments in his career. Like in the earlier book, each story is followed by coaching and commentary from adversity expert Paul Stoltz. With chapters titled "When your wardrobe malfunctions in front of 10,000 people", "How would I look with a shaved head?" and "A billion dollars in the hole", this promises to be an entertaining, engaging read.

The Chindia Tide
Jagdish Sheth
Tata McGraw-Hill
Pages: 225
India release: December 2007

Who wrote it
Marketing guru Jagdish Sheth is professor of marketing at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. He is the author of more than 200 books and research papers, many of which are considered classics in their field.

What it's about
If the 20th century belonged to the US, Sheth believes the 21st will be China's and India's. "Chindia" will serve as the engine of growth for the global economy and it couldn't have happened at a better time � without these two powerhorses, the world economy would stumble, if not collapse. Like the US then, Chindia now is committed to a "peaceful rise" - which means not just prosperity, but much-needed stability as well. If you're interested in how post-colonial geopolitics plays out, this should be right up your street.

The Rule of Three in India
Jagdish Sheth, Rajendra S Sisodia and Gita Piramal
Tata McGraw-Hill
Pages: 300
India release: February 2008

Who wrote it
Rajendra Sisodia is professor of marketing and founding director of the Center for Marketing Technology at Bentley College, Massachusetts. He has co-authored several books with Jagdish Sheth. Gita Piramal is a consultant, an author and managing editor, The Smart Manager.

What it's about
In 2002, Sheth and Sisodia wrote the original The Rule of Three, postulating that only three players will dominate in any market. The rest will compete by specialising in product or market segment. The authors proved their theory with example after example from the developed world. Now, they're extending it to India, having studied over 200 companies here. How does the rule play out in India? What strategies should Indian companies adopt to ensure they emerge winners?

India's Century
Kamal Nath
Tata McGraw-Hill
Pages: 320
India release: November 2007

Who wrote it
Kamal Nath is the Union Minister of Commerce and Industry.

What it's about
It's being touted as the first book of its kind - "exclusive details and personal knowledge" of India's journey to becoming a global economic giant from a political insider. Anecdotes of Nath's negotiations with major national and international figures should be particularly interesting.

Leaders at All Levels
Ram Charan
Pages: 192
India release: December 2007

Who wrote it
Internationally renowned leadership guru Ram Charan is a prolific writer. He co-authored (with Larry Bossidy) the wildly successful Execution and has also written bestsellers like What the CEO Wants You to Know and The Leadership Pipeline. He has taught at Harvard and Kellogg and consults with Fortune 100 giants such as Colgate-Palmolive, DuPont and GE.

What it's about
CEO failure is becoming increasingly common. But the crisis in leadership is as much a symptom as a cause of what is wrong with management today. Companies don't develop their unit managers' leadership potential and, therefore, the succession pipeline is never filled. With unit managers underdeveloped, execution is weak, further exacerbating the problem. Ram Charan advocates considering leadership development a core competency across organisations - a hands-on, integral business function that is implemented at all levels.

India's Global Wealth Club
Geoff Hiscock
Pages: 320
India release: November 2007

Who wrote it
Veteran journalist Geoff Hiscock is Asia business editor and Sydney bureau chief for International.

What it's about
Hiscock's earlier two books, Asia's Wealth Club and Asia's New Wealth Club covered 100 billionaires in the region. Now, he profiles 100 of India's richest and explains how they did it, listing seven "secrets" behind their success. The life stories are grouped according to sectors - the global top 10, followed by auto, pharma, media, aviation and so on.

We are Like That Only
Rama Bijapurkar
Portfolio Books
Pages: 292
India release: November 2007

Who wrote it
Marketing consultant Rama Bijapurkar is visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. She consults with a range of companies on market strategy and consumer behaviour and has worked with McKinsey & Co, Marg and Hindustan Lever [Get Quote].

What it's about
Why the Indian consumer is "like that only", why Consumer India will not change in a hurry, how Indians consume, what they buy, why they buy...Bijapurkar analyses 12 key aspects of Consumer India.

The Global Brain
By Satish Nambisan and Mohanbir Sawhney
Wharton School Publishing
Pages: 304
India release: November 2007

Who wrote it
A former area sales manager with Hindustan Lever, Satish Nambisan is a professor of technology management and strategy at the Lally School of Management, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Mohanbir Sawhney is the professor of technology and the director of the Center for Research in Technology & Innovation at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. This is his fourth book.

What it's about
In management speak, "global brain" refers to the network of people who can help enhance an organisation's innovation strategy, even though they lie outside its boundaries - customers, suppliers, researchers, independent inventors and so on. To innovate effectively, companies must harness these new sources of creativity. But there's really no one-size-fits-all strategy to "network-centric innovation". Drawing on the experiences of companies like IBM, Procter & Gamble, DuPont, 3M, Unilever and others, Nambisan and Sawhney show how to identify and create specific capabilities that enhance the innovation process, and include tips on how to overcome the "not invented here" mindset.

Value Merchants
James Anderson, Nirmalya Kumar and James Narus
Harvard Business
School Press
Pages: 240
India release: November 2007

Who wrote it
James Anderson is professor of marketing/ wholesale distribution at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. Nirmalya Kumar is professor of marketing, director of Centre for Marketing, and co-director of Aditya V Birla India Center at London Business School. James Narus is a professor of marketing at the Babcock Graduate School of Management, Wake Forest University (Charlotte, NC).

What it's about
If the consumer market is tough, the B2B one is particularly cut-throat. Purchasing agents intent on paring their procurement costs have a single-point agenda - price concessions - which makes it especially difficult for suppliers to prove the "value" of their offerings. How can suppliers demonstrate superior value compared to the next best alternative from the customer's viewpoint? With case studies from Tata Steel [Get Quote], Quaker Chemical and Sonoco, Value Merchants appears a serious, academic work.

What the Customer Wants You to Know
Ram Charan
Portfolio Books
Pages: 160
India release: January 2008

Who wrote it
Ram Charan (See Leaders at All Levels)

What it's about
Rethinking sales from the outside in. Don't begin with what you have to sell, advises Ram Charan. Start with your customer's problems - understand what makes her tick. And then become a trusted partner, someone the customer turns to for creative, cost-effective solutions, which you will be able to provide because you know your customer inside out. A utopian ideal perhaps, but nice to read nevertheless.

Billions of Entrepreneurs
Tarun Khanna
Penguin Viking
Pages: 400
India release: February 2008

Who wrote it
Tarun Khanna is professor of strategy at Harvard Business School. He is co-editor of the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy and of the Journal of International Business Studies and serves on the editorial boards of several prestigious strategy and management journals.

What it's about
How do the entrepreneurial forces shaping India and China's development compare? Where do they overlap and complement one another and where do they diverge and compete? And how can Western companies participate in this development?

The Real Price of Everything
Michael Lewis
pages: 1,472
India release: January 2008

Who wrote it
Michael Lewis is the bestselling author of Liar's Poker and Moneyball, which offered a never-before look behind the scenes on Wall Street.

What it's about
Lewis explores six classic economic texts that shaped the present economic system. That includes Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population, and John Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. If the choice seems uncomfortably reminiscent of college required reading lists, you'll have Lewis's entertaining commentary to liven things up.

Success story: A $250,000 business, aged 25

November 15, 2007
What does it take to start a company? Well, if you are Atul Khekade of Innovation Trip, then only $2,000 would be sufficient to bankroll a business -- a business that is expected to generate revenues of $250,000 by December and if all goes as planned, could well hit the million dollar mark by 2008.
Life has not always been so easy for Atul. He studied in a Marathi medium school where the culture of entrepreneurship was unheard of and getting a job was considered a better option than becoming a businessman.

"I enjoyed my school days because I had a great circle of friends. But what we lacked was an atmosphere that encouraged entrepreneurship. I'd have been four years ahead in what I am doing now," says 25-year-old Atul, "had they taught us some basics about starting a business."

Not one to be bogged down by such hurdles as having studied in a vernacular medium school and brought up in an atmosphere that shunted entrepreneurship, Atul succeeded in opening his own company, Innovation Trip, in partnership with his friend Anand Chhatbar in 2005.

Also read: 'How I founded my own company at 26'
"We at Innovation Trip act like a bridge that spans the gap between an innovative idea and its successful execution," says Atul about his company's core business. In other words, the company arranges for corporate executives to meet with idea innovators abroad and discuss these ideas one-on-one.

Though Atul spends most of his time in the US scouting for innovators willing to exchange ideas with bright minds across the world, he was in Pune recently and spoke of his business plans with's Prasanna D Zore.

Tell us about your school and college days and your first business venture.

I studied in Parle Tilak Vidyalaya, a Marathi medium school in Vile Parle, a Mumbai suburb. Life was good there and thanks to the circle of friends I had I learned a lot about life. Having good friends around you plays a crucial role in shaping your personality. What we all lacked, however, was some kind of introduction to and training in entrepreneurship. Most of the children studying there came from middle-class Marathi families who preferred performing services rather than starting up their own businesses.

I completed my engineering course in Information Technology from the Sardar Patel College of Engineering. After completing the course I started working with i-Flex as a software engineer. I worked there for about a year and then quit to start Innovation Trip in 2005. Most of that year I planned meticulously to start Innovation Trip; I was only 23 at the time.

Before Innovation Trip happened, I obtained a diploma in computer engineering from the Government Polytechnic in Mumbai and Anand (Chhatbar) and me started a small enterprise. We developed applications for the Web, writing software programmes and selling them to companies. It was very difficult at that time to squeeze out our rightful payments from clients -- while it was a profitable venture, we had to push to receive dues for anything that we did. That was sort of a grounding for me to start my next enterprise, Innovation Trip.

So the next big thing was Innovation Trip. What was it like setting up the company?

The experience pretty much went according to plan. We realised that a lot of successful ventures in India were a copy of some overseas dotcom venture. We wanted to teach participants to look at innovation as a continuous process -- how to discover customer needs and brainstorm to find an innovative solution that met those needs in the form of a product.

We believe that India has a lot of grassroot innovations. But they don't materialise into successful businesses because bootstrapping a business is quite difficult in India. We train corporate executives to see innovation as a process. We have sessions with them on product prototyping, customer-centric innovation, how to identify customer needs, how to make companies innovation-oriented and how to develop cultural innovation.

We conduct these kinds of workshops with a company's executives in attendance. We take them on visits to organisations in the US like Ideo, the company that designed the palmtop, in Palo Alto. These sessions help people understand the importance of innovation and pioneering work in making a company successful.

What is Innovation Trip's business model?

We started Innovation Trip as an event model. We take corporate executives from all over the world to countries like the US, Australia and Latin America and have them train and interact with innovators abroad.

We arrange tours to various companies, facilitate their interaction with innovators in these organisations and help them exchange ideas. We had the chief technology officer of Hewlett Packard, Phil McKinney, exchange his views with our participants wherein he shared how innovation played an important role in HP's success.

Basically, it is a knowledge transfer exercise wherein people who are innovators and entrepreneurs come together and exchange ideas. While some ideas actually materialise into innovation, others act as catalysts for future innovation. We at Innovation Trip act like a bridge that spans the gap between an innovative idea and its successful execution.

Apart from Ideo and HP we've had our participants interact with those who have set up centres for companies like Pitney Bowes, a Fortune 500 company. If we can't schedule a company visit then we take them to visit people who have actually been a part of innovation at Fortune 500 companies.

What are the guiding principles that you follow at Innovation Trip?

First and foremost we have to make our customers feel that they are getting a bang for their buck. The learning that they take home from a tour abroad is worth what we charge them. And we make sure that we give them a great experience; we book luxury hotels and we spend a lot of money on the whole experience. At the same time we have to ensure that we make a profit.

So, is Innovation Trip making profits today? What's your revenue model?

Our revenues come from registration fees that every participant has to pay us for organising trips abroad. We charge around $9,000 per participant. That is the main contribution. Apart from that we receive money from companies that sponsor events like dinners, panel discussions, outbound trips etc.

We expect around $250,000 in revenues for the period ending December 2007. Even if we have not grown too fast in the revenue department up until now, we recently changed our revenue model and by the end of December 2008 we expect to quadruple that figure (that's $1 million).

We will achieve this figure by scaling down on our expenses and removing hurdles that prevent us from scaling our business model. Now, instead of arranging and scheduling an expert's lecture we let our participants have a one-on-one with a whole bunch of innovators where ideas are exchanged on a personal basis.

This reduces the cost of booking an auditorium and allows us to scale our business.

The profit margin we maintain is in the range of 30 to 40 percent, Innovation Trip being in an elite kind of business. We do spend a lot of money in giving our clients a holistic experience in innovation but then we also charge them accordingly.

Who are your corporate clients from India?

As of now we have 22 customers from India. Prominent amongst them are GEI Godavari Engineering from Hyderabad, BPI Engineering, UTI Logistics which is a multi-billion dollar logistics firm, Suchir India Group, a real estate group and a BSE-listed company Bartronics India [Get Quote].

CEO at 30: Sandeep Murthy shares his story
Are you planning to raise money for scaling your operations anytime soon?

We are planning to raise some capital soon from private investors in India. Once the company attains a significant size, in say a couple of years, we want to take it public.

And how much would be a 'significant' size?

It will be worth at least $10 million and we are confident of achieving that target in the next 2-3 years. That should take our profits into the range of $3-$4 million by 2009-10.

Any advice for budding entrepreneurs in India?

India is a great place to do business but then there are lots of hurdles in bootstrapping a venture.

I'd advise young entrepreneurs to be more global in their outlook. Setting up a company and having it registered here is a tricky business. So I'd advise that entrepreneurs should have their companies registered abroad and then establish a subsidiary in India.

Even Innovation Trip works on that model. We have registered in the US and run a subsidiary in India. This helps us grow in appeal as an international company. India as a country is great to operate in because of its low costs.