Thursday, June 14, 2012

New location for posts

Since taking the year off, I've been blogging regularly on my personal blog. Going forward, you can find updates about my time back at Wharton on that location as well. Its been great contributing to this site and look forward to doing that for another year as we progress through the program!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Data-driven corporate strategy

That title could pretty well summarize the previous session we had in school. It was a three-day weekend packed with classes and events. In the New Product Development class, we went into the details of conjoint analysis and how that can help derive insights about consumer interests in product choices. In the Competitive Strategy class, through case discussions around experience curves in the semiconductor industry, financial analysis for a new entrant in the carbonated soft drink market and profitability analysis of the airline industry, we delved into the depths of how useful data and analysis can drive good corporate strategy.

In our first exposure to International Corporate Finance, we learnt what a pain spot rates and forward contracts and "American  terms" and "European terms" are, and why its best to just stay domestic - well, maybe that wasn't the lecture, but that's how it felt :). Prof. Bodnar seems to be a great combination of Prof. Smetters' irreverence with Prof. Abel's dry wit and cerebral humor - all for the best. Looking forward to a lot of laughs in this class. Looks like Wharton Finance department does seem to have humor as a requirement for qualification, maybe to keep the subject matter more interesting.

The weekend was pretty eventful outside of classes as well. We had the CFO of Nordstrom, Mike Koppel visit us and talk to us about Nordstrom and their vision for the future. We barely let him get through the first half of his slides with all of our questions about  the company and their plans. Moreover, the class itself seemed to have several loyal customers. We also had Bain and Company present to the class about opportunities at Bain. Two Wharton alums and  current Bain employees, Unmesh and Amit were present as well.

The three-day weekend also gave me two nights at the Pub to chat with my new classmates and get to know some of them better. It was pretty amazing to see the number of folks with years of experience and interest in nonprofits in this class. So it was with entrepreneurship and class 37ers that have decided to start their own companies. Maybe these merit more detailed posts at a future date.

For now, we're bracing ourselves for the first busy weekend of this term - one midterm, class project, two homework assignments, one case report, three case readings and several other assigned reading chapters - all due in a short two-day session. Lets see how that goes!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Class 36 Graduation

Given the importance and grandeur of the event, I didn't want to dilute it with any other title. Last Sunday I had the pleasure of rushing up to Herbst Theater after a weekend in school to watch all my friends from class 36 graduate officially from the program. Out of the initial cohort, 84 made it all the way to the end. My heartfelt congratulations to these brave souls for having weathered the storms and seen each other through to the end. An even bigger pat on the back to all their supportive families for having tolerated their impossible schedules for two years to make this day come true.

This day would not have been possible but for the incredible amount of work put in by the Wharton SF leadership and staff. We might be a small outfit out here in the Bay area for now, but watch us grow! It was an evening mixed with happiness and some regret - that I have another year to go as my erstwhile classmates are on their way out. But there's a right time for everything, and so it shall be.

It was also wonderful to see Prof. MacDuffie and Prof. Ziv Katalan at the event. Its a testament to both the size of cohorts and the individual attention we get from our faculty, as well as to the incredible memories and passion for teaching from these professors, that they still remember our names and backgrounds. There were several other faculty on the dias as well who I did not get to meet in person at the dinner, so all-in-all it was a special evening indeed!

My classmate, Howard Willson, or Howie (or Doc) as we call him, spoke eloquently to the class about their journey so far, so I can but be a cheap imitiation. What I find amazing about this class is the following. Even in the midst of busy careers and a demanding MBA schedule, there were 15 babies born to this cohort and 4 weddings. At least half a dozen companies started during these two years, while several others changed jobs or are in the process of doing so, some making moves to other countries. The Career Management Services at SF is growing slowly but surely in the able hands of Steve Hernandez and quite a few of my classmates were able to benefit from interactions with him and the CMS team. Having watched class 36 from the sidelines in year 2, what was incredible to me was that several  of these folks ended up accomplishing what they used to state as their goals from the MBA program at the start of the program.

After the graduation ceremony at Herbst Theater, the class went across the street to City Hall where we all had dinner with friends, families and faculty. In most of the faces, you could see relief, happiness and some remorse that the program was over and they all go their separate ways, for now.

Given that the program is in the SiliconValley, I wanted to end on a note about entrepreneurship. Both class 36 and 37 have an amazing number of students interested in starting companies, or ones that already have started companies. The administration is consciously helping steep the students in this culture as well, through programs such as the Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs, workshops, Venture Initiation Program, and a host of electives in the second year focused around entrepreneurship. What is also interesting that many of these startups came out of a combination of personal pain-points in the life of the founder(s) and some insight they gained out of the program itself, or a co-founder that they found through Wharton. You can either talk about entrepreneurship, which people like me do pretty well, or actually go do something about it, like these classmates of mine have shown. In the words of Emily Dickinson:

“Finite to fail, but infinite to venture.
For the one ship that struts the shore
Many’s the gallant, overwhelmed creature
Nodding in navies nevermore.”

Hope to see that spirit running high in all the cohorts to come!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Second Wind..

The last time I sat through a full weekend session at Wharton was a year ago. For several reasons I had decided to take a year off. So it was with a good amount of excitement and nervousness that I landed up on campus yesterday. It took a full ten minutes to peel my eyes off of the gorgeous view from the dining area and focus on my new class cohort. Warm welcomes from Doug, Bernie, Len Lodish and others almost made me think I had never taken the break.

It is an interesting and disconcerting experience to take a year off and find yourself on a new campus, with new classmates, new lecture rooms, and new everything else, while the folks running the place are all the same and recognize you. Had to sheepishly get directions several times yesterday from them while I tried to settle into the new campus. Watching my classmates meet and greet each other after a well deserved three-week break brought back faint memories of how relieved class 36 was after Term 3 was done.

In keeping with running analogies, this experience felt like trying to rejoin a marathon race after taking a break halfway due to muscle cramps. You were in your stride, feeling great and just hitting that tempo that would have seen you through to 20 miles when suddenly you had to stop due to cramps. As your breathing slows down and sweat makes your shirt cling to your body, you suddenly start feeling cold and missing the pace of the race. Soon enough you acclimate yourself to the stall and enjoy the beautiful day outside as others run past. When you feel ready to run again, you see the new cohort of runners going past you at a trot, while you huff and puff and try to warm yourself up again and get into rhythm. You wonder how you'd made it that far and whether it was worth it to do the second half or just call it quits.

Nevertheless, I must say that class 37 made me feel a lot better of getting back into another year of a stomach-churningly crazy ride. This term seems to be backloaded for me given my choice of electives, so it was great to ease into it with fewer classes than on an average weekend. We had Strategic Management by Prof. Dyer and New Product Development, which is a mini-Conjoint-Analysis class by Prof. Seenu Srinivasan from Stanford, who was one of the key players behind the research that spawned the amazing field of conjoint analysis based market research. So far it promises to be a lot of work, but looks like it might be worth the work.

Being the start of the second year, all classes have study teams for assignments and these can be formed randomly outside of the learning teams from Year 1, so this gives me a great opportunity to get to know my new classmates. I'm signed up on three non-overlapping teams for three classes - lets see how that goes!

The only downside I've seen so far with the postponement is that for reasons not clear to me, this class seems to have voted out a core marketing elective, because of which no one in the class can major in marketing, unless they fly out to Philly in Term 5 to do the course. It seems a bit heavy handed to me and I'm not sure if the class understood the gravity of their vote. But more on that gripe on my personal blog. To be fair, I did reach out to Prof. Anjani Jain and he tried to give this a second look, but at this point it seems to be too late to make any changes, which is unfortunate - both because I believe that market research is an important class for any person interesting in marketing, and to a lesser extent, the fact that this is a requirement for the major makes it important as well.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wharton Social Impact welcomed at Wharton SF!

Today marked another landmark event in the annals of Wharton's presence in SF. In conjunction with the the Baker Retailing Center, and the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), the Wharton Program for Social Impact hosted a wonderful half-day event - "Creating Lasting Change: From Social Entrepreneurship to Sustainability in Retail".

The event featured two panels - one on social entrepreneurship and innovation and the second one on sustainability and CSR in the retail industry. It was attended by over 100 Wharton students and alums, a first in the history of Wharton at SF, to match the one-day Social Impact Conference held back East. We look forward to doing one better than the East Coast conference in the coming years!

The first panel had an amazing array of panelists - two entrepreneurs from vastly different industries and two representatives from the venture capital industry to give their perspectives on what they look for while investing in companies that build great products while at the same time keeping their employees, customers and the planet on top of their minds. The panel also briefly touched upon Flexible Purpose and Benefit Corporations and also GIIRS and measuring impact of impact investments.

The sustainability and CSR in retail industry also had great presentations - from Safeway, eBay, Levi Strauss and Annie's. While Safeway and eBay focused on how they were embracing social responsibility in several ways, Phil from Levi Strauss spoke about how they went about reducing water consumption in their product lifecycle - all the way from cotton manufacturers, to influencing customers to use less water to wash their jeans and also to remind them to donate to Goodwill when they were done with their jeans. Shauna from Annie's closed the panel with an insightful view into how they source the organically grown ingredients that made their way into Annie's food products.

After the sessions, the attendees had a great time networking with other attendees and the panelists. It was a beautiful day in SF and the views from the new campus provided a wonderful backdrop against which the event was held. We looked forward to many more events like this in future where Wharton can establish itself as a thought leader in the Bay Area on the social impact and impact investing front as well.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

WEMBA 36 - San Francisco: China Trek 2011

As Prof Percival would say “Chinaaaa…” This was one fantastic trip, a truly unique experience in the medley of new and old that makes up today’s China. In 10 days, we (21 students and 4 guests) visited 14 organizations in the areas of technology, government, media, energy and venture financing, discovered the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, saw a glimpse of 5000 years of history, and most importantly partied at least at a dozen clubs.
China’s demographic statistics are mind numbing. There are 200+ cities with over 1M people - contrast that with US-7 and Europe-35. There are over 700M cell phones subscribers satisfied primarily by one company – China Mobile and over 500M Internet users in the country. China leads the rest of the world in the amount of hydroelectric power production at an astounding 652 TWh and is the second largest consumer of primary energy in the world. The GDP is 5.8 Trillion USD a year and increasing at 9.7% per annum. It is no wonder that China is the third most visited country in the world with over 60M visitors per year and growing (that is the half the population of Japan).

June 25th, Saturday: Beijing (Arrival and Dinner)
With Michelle O (Marla), and her patented arm wave, on our side, we had ensured dignitary status for the trip – we knew we would not have to stand in queues or follow the line or anything close to conformance. Most of us arrived on Beijing on the 25th (10 of us were on the same plane – ask Harshit Scotsman for the details). The thunderstorms from the past week had cooled the city considerably.

The Beijing Airport has an impressive architecture – shaped like a dragon with a turtle holding it down to ensure planes would land safely! We were greeted at the airport by FangFang, our guide at Beijing who arranged a ride for us to the Novotel Peace Hotel – our place of residence for the next 4 days. LanLan had arranged a luxurious 40 course dinner – imperial style, at Wu Ju Tai Nei Fu Cai, one of the highlights of the trip. From the exotic to the delicate the dinner spread was simply amazing and lasted over 3 hours. FangFang had arranged a local tailor who was waiting for us back at the hotel; many of us ordered hand-stitched shirts and suits. We headed out clubbing for the night, as was the case on most nights. There was a special guest at the club scene – for details contact Stacy.

June 26th, Sunday: Beijing (Guided Tour)
After breakfast, we headed out on a guided tour of the city. FangFang was at once engaging, knowledgeable and helpful. Our first stop was the Tiananmen Square – the largest public square in the world.

Located in the heart of the city it is surrounded on one side by the Beijing museum, shopping on the second side, the major street on the third side and the entrance to the Forbidden City on the fourth. FangFang gave us a glimpse of the local history and highlighted the disconnect between the previous generation and the contemporary youth. The Mao memorial is right at the square and the queue was over 2 hours long. The 60-ton granite obelisk at the T-square honored the heroes who fought imperialism both within and outside.

Forbidden City was next and it was magnificent. Forbidden City or Gugong was so called because it was out of bounds for ordinary people for 500 years. Within the outer wall are over 800 structures, with a total of 9999 rooms, just one short of the perfection appropriate only to the gods. The wooden walls are elegantly decked with exquisite art and handwork – ranging from allegorical scenes to fierce dragons in multi-colors. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest building in the Forbidden City and was the setting for Imperial Coronations and other royal events. There is an expanse within the Gate of Supreme Harmony that could accommodate the whole imperial court – over 100,000 people. The inner enclosure housed the imperial concubines, the Emperor’s bed chambers and the Imperial Garden. We spent about an hour and half just catching a glimpse of the Palace Museum and left amazed, awed and mostly hungry.

Next stop was Spicy Hut (I think...). The food was so hot and spicy, DiBarnaba (or Sueshni as he is now known) was soaked in sweat, but it was so tasty he could not stop. After lunch we leisure strolled the back alley shopping area and then an hour bus ride took us to the Great Wall.

Mutianyu is a short section of the 3000-mile Great wall restored to its original form with its imposing guard towers about 90KM north of the city. Set in rolling hills covered in green this time of the year, it is a spectacular and awe-inspiring sight. We took a gondola ride up to the wall and spent over an hour and a half scaling the wall, taking it all in and generally wondering the how, why and what of the Wall. We met General Tso selling beer on the wall – a refreshing quencher on hot summer day. A few photographs later we came down a narrow chute, riding on a small plastic trolley – quite an interesting thrill. Fortunately, there were no major casualties though Monica rear bumped Vidya coming down at what seemed to be 40 Miles/Hr. The ride back was quiet - most taking a small nap.

The last planned event was at Candy TV, a local Karaoke hangout. Leo had arranged for us to meet students from the reputed Peking University – over 20 students showed up. After cursory introductions, exchange of business cards and discussions around job opportunities, the so-called singing ensued. There is a video of Elango dancing to the tunes of Michael Jackson that is hilarious. We headed back to the hotel where some of us retired others went clubbing again. “I will rest in my grave”.

June 27th, Monday: Beijing (Company Visits, Bell event)

Deborah, Bo, Vidya, Susan and Lauren decided to explore the city and planned to visit local shops, the Temple of Heaven and other touristy stuff over the next couple of days. For the entire trip we often saw Lauren treated as a rock star and she picked up more Chinese than can be learned in 30 days with Rosetta Stone. She even got the accent down pat!
An early breakfast, liters of coffee and Aspirin for the needy prepared us for the company visits. It was probably the first time I had seen everyone come in suits and I hesitate to say this, but together we did look quite striking.

Tencent: Victoria Wu (Director of Business Development, Brent Irvin, Corporate Counsel)

  • Established 1998, $45B Mkt. Cap, listed in HSE 2004
  • Largest online user database. 500M internet users in China today, over 80% using Tencent.
  • 90% of users between the ages of 18-35 use Tencent, cultivated when they were young, now network externalities. Highest PCU (peak concurrent users)
  • 10K employees, average age of 27.5. Hiring –
  • Features: Provides a unified platform (Communication, information, entertainment, e-commerce), users stay because of integrated features. Superior in offering to any platform in US today in terms of raw features.
  • Only 4 major players (Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, NetEase)
  • eCommerce Transaction value = $162.4B
  • Visit for a tour – has over 20 apps and more coming
  • 35% owned South African Company (Mesberger – other interesting investments, also DST)
  • Strategy: 4 things needed to win in the market place (Content, Knowledge of local culture, Continuous Innovation and User Retention)

Baidu: Kaiser Kuo (Director of International Communication)

  • Baidu, literal meaning is “hundreds of times”, represents a persistent search for the ideal. The name is derived from a Song dynasty poem written more than 800 years ago. The logo is shaped like the paw leaving footprints and thereby a trail.
  • Impressive building, aerial view like a search box
  • Own 83% of search in China, 17% by Google, the rest are cumulatively less than 1%. Over 1Billion queries every day.
  • Baidu succeeded because they really understand what the local people want, did not impose American product on Chinese customer, more successful page ranks, and followed the guidelines of the government.
  • Kaiser used the term – high tolerance for cognitive dissonance. Referred to the general opening up of China in some aspects while tightening in other aspects.What happened in Libya has potentially increased scrutiny.
  • The Government views stability to be more valuable than complete freedom. It would seem that the Chinese Government Is opposed to congregation of any form and that is at the heart of the Great Firewall of China. There are over 20 bodies local, state and government who impose rules and restrictions on what content is allowed – and in many cases there is some latitude in how companies work within those guidelines. If a slip up happens, it is the willingness of the company to do a retraction. The government wants to be assured that it has that power over the company.
  • Filtering can be done in two ways – do it yourself (steep learning curve, high costs, but some control over time) or outsource it back to the filtering agencies (lower cost, but no control). Baidu does it itself, Google outsources.
    Baidu calls its search history the database of intention. They use past searches to predict what may become hot and use that information to better serve queries.
    Another strategy is to develop actionable insight from mining people’s search – which they feel provides them with competitive advantage.
  • Built an open API platform that provides apps from within the search window (box computing)
  • Today has thousands of apps available straight from search box - most developed by others
  • Growth in foreign markets. Specifically targeting areas where the competition has no natural advantage. Google has won some languages but there are many where it is still open season.
  • Advertising still the primary form of revenue.
  • Hiring all the time.

Bain Capital: (Gome Investor)

  • Capital investments and operational expertise provided together. Focus on EBITDA growth.
  • 60 employees, consulting and operations. Two teams (Portfolio and operations)
  • Consumers in China are different in 3 ways (Education, Price Sensitivity, Disparate needs). To succeed one needs to understand the local people and the local business customs.
  • If you are not here already then you are late. Not just a destination for sourcing but rather a real market for consumption.
  • Expertise in Retail, Industrial and TMT. Focus on due diligence during deal time becomes a capability and pays of during operations.
  • General Strategy at Gome:

    • Create KPI, measure, monitor, adapt.
    • Continuous focus on relative market share appreciation.
    • Used a strategy similar to Walmart in US for beating Best Buy in China. In addition, leveraged vendor financing for building large number of stores throughout the country. Best Buy just built 5 stores. Gome started later and had 70 stores in the first year. Had information on which stores succeed and why and used it to build better stores.
    • Focused on Supply chain and inventory management. Implemented a sophisticated ERP system (with SAP).

  • How does Bain exit: mostly by divesting. Leave behind a stronger company then when they acquired. Do not look for controlling interest – insist on board seats.
  • 3 ways to make money (Accessories, Warranty, Credit). Product Margins are always thin.

The business visits for the day concluded and we left discussing the day’s takeaways. It was obvious that China was thriving in this new age of change. There was a quiet confidence in the way our hosts all spoke about their past successes and their voice eagerly anticipated the next set of challenges. They were all young and hardworking, smart and savvy. They had figured out a way to beat Google, Facebook and BestBuy in China – not an easy feat. It would be too simplistic to assume that these companies enjoyed favorable conditions – the reality is that they figured out how to play the game before anyone else and had built Guanxi with all the key stake holders, including the government. They thrived because they realized an American product and business model will not directly translate to success in China and had adapted it just enough to create a competitive advantage.

Built right opposite the Bird’s nest and the Water cube, Pangu, China’s only 7-star hotel, was the location for the next event. Our evening affair was hosted by Wharton Executive Education and featured a talk by Prof. David Bell on success strategies for the Internet market. We had a chance to meet local Wharton Alumni at the event and after wine and hors d’oeuvres we headed back to the hotel. While some retired after the heavy day, there was some serious partying afterwards with most folks coming back only at sunrise. Instead of a short nap, Elango and Sueshni went on a run to T-square and got back just in time for the visits next day morning. Earl probably has the best stories – though Sanju was in prime form as usual (he can dance!).

June 28th, Tuesday: Company Visits
The evening’s festivities had taken a toll - the breakfast table had blood-shot eyes, dark circles, poor silverware handling and large doses of coffee/tea. The bus left promptly but we were a few people short – much to the chagrin of Papa Leo. There were 3 visits planned for the day.

China Huaneng Group (CHG, Dr Jiang and Dr Xu)
  • Dr Jiang( Assistant President, CHG) was a government appointee at CHG, the largest state-owned energy enterprise in China. He greeted us and gave us an overview on China’s Energy situation and the general outlook of CHG. Most famously he said that CHG was governed by 3 colors:
    • Red: Serving the society (centrally owned)
    • Green: Care for the environment and to develop clean technology
    • Blue: Embracing an open attitude and continuous learning

  • The most powerful country is the country with the most power.
  • Dr. Xu Shisen leads the research organization at CHG. He highlighted that the costs of setting up research in China is comparable to most other developed countries.
  • China’s power generation capacity reached 960 gigawatts at the end of 2010, including 700 gigawatts of thermal power capacity, 210 gigawatts of hydropower, 10.8 gigawatts of nuclear power and 31.07 gigawatts of wind power and is second only to US. By end of 2011, China is expected to be the number one power generator in the world.
  • Rate of annual production growth at nearly 10% includes 8.44% growth in Hydro, 8.3% in coal, 19.16% in Nuclear and 92.6% in Wind.
  • Average coal consumption rate at 335g/KWh is low by international standards.
  • Technology development in multiple parts:
    • Develop large scale generation units (soon to have a 1GWatt single unit)
    • Pollutant Control Technologies (FGD, PM removal, NOx Emission Control)
    • System Optimization and Energy Saving
    • Post Combustion Carbon Capture technology.
  • All plants equipped with detox capacity – in next 5 years all facilities will have NOx removal.
  • From 2006-2010, 6.7GW of old units replaced with more efficient and cleaner units.
  • Even within China, CHG leads the way at 3222g/kWh.
  • Huaneng HaiMen Power Plant will produce 1030MW at 292g/kWh – most efficient.
  • Recent worlds events (Beijing Olympics, Shanghai World Expo) accelerated CO2 Capture projects
  • China Government will impose the highest emission standards in the next few years
    • China -> 50mg/m3 of emission, USA -> 100mg/m3 of emission
  • Realistic expectations (by 2015, 25% will be from renewable sources)
  • Technology cooperation and IP sharing via license with Ember Clear and Duke Energy
  • Power Distribution and Power Generation in China are two different entities – opportunities exist to further enhance collaboration.
  • The Coal is in abundance but not geographically proximate to areas of consumption. Energy plants are primarily built close to the coast and transportation is inefficient. Gasification technologies are a viable alternative and are increasingly being deployed.
  • Global (Australia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Netherlands, Mexico, UK) and hiring

Innovation Works (Chris, Kai-Fu Lee)
  • Y-incubator and investor built by ex-Google China VP and ex-head of Microsoft China, Kai-Fu Lee who is revered in China as perhaps the most prominent technologist.
  • “The Chinese entrepreneurial environment is still in its formative stage, with significant barriers for the early-stage entrepreneur: the lack of management experience and coaching, the reluctance of venture capitalists to invest in companies in the formation stage, and the lack of networking and experience to pull a company together. These barriers all contribute to a dearth of high-tech start-ups in China. Innovation Works is matching entrepreneurs, engineers, ideas, and capital with a unique business model that improves success rates and speeds time-to-market.” – From their website.
  • 3 investment programs (seed financing, Y-combinator, Entrepreneur-In-Residence)
  • Things they look for:
    • Strong Background, entrepreneurial experience, some functional prototype
    • Does not look for controlling interest, divest at every round.
    • Experienced entrepreneurs tend to be more successful, reduce investor risk and require less hand-holding. Most companies find it hard to form teams – sales teams are especially hard.

  • In the last 18 months IW has created fair bit of value – USD$500M valuation
  • How to approach them: Use networking, develop an understanding of your customer base, ride on trends, have a complementary cofounder and use simple ideas.
  • The internet model is littered with good products with poor monetization. IW provides most help in this space.
  • Two success models:
    • Companies enjoying significant competitive advantage & technology barriers can enter and succeed on their own.
    • If only moderate advantage then use local team, run locally

Beijing Information Exchange
  • An integrated news and information trading platform still in its initial stages
  • Will provide features similar to Reuters and Bloomberg with particular emphasis in China
  • Information access is free, however subscription required to participate in trading.
  • Over 200 subscribers already and growing.
  • Business models still being defined.

End of day two further solidified in our minds that the new China was built to succeed.
There could not have been more contrast between CHG and IW. CHG was a high rise designed by an American architect that housed a state owned enterprise fairly rolling in money. We were hosted in a conference room with a 30 foot ceiling, a 25-seat rosewood table, comfy leather seats best spoiled by dignitaries, walls decked with marble and oak, and windows adorned with tinted glass. The tea served was exquisite, probably the best in China, and there were designated servers who attended to us. It was elegant, royal and seriously imposing. Innovation Works on the other hand was two floors of a non-descript building, random work spaces, clumsy and yet energetic and happening. The conference room where we sat in plastic chairs was marginally more than a make-do and at one time supposedly had bunker beds for the entrepreneurs. Yet both places had one thing in common – they both housed innovators and were powerful agents of the change sweeping China.
Dinner was at a Peking Duck restaurant, one of the oldest in Beijing. After dinner most people went for a massage and later we hung around at the lobby to toast Zander’s birthday. For a change, folks retired early around 2:00 am.

June 29th, Wednesday, Beijing (and off to Shanghai)
There were two visits planned for the day. The first was a meeting with Northern Light Ventures, established by an ex-Whartonite with an entrepreneurial background who had sold a technology company to Juniper. It was followed by a visit to the Foreign Affair Office of the Zhongguancun Science Park. Some folks decided to use the day instead to do more sight-seeing and shopping as it was our last day in Beijing.
Badaling Pass is the most visited section of the Great Wall and is only 70 KM North West of Beijing. Unlike Mutianyu, this section of the pass was more touristy, with souvenir shops and restaurants lining the access road. The Wall was a short walk up from the drop off point and was the lowest point in that section. The views were amazing and with the slight fog, it resembled scenes from old-style Chinese flicks. The construction was obviously different at Badaling– most strikingly, the shelters were built inside the Wall at the former, while it was on the Wall at the latter, the patterns, bricks and steps were all different and Badaling distinctly had night lighting.

Michael Lee had suggested that we visit Summer Palace and we decided to follow up on it. The 700 acres recreation area had 25000+ visitors on that day and yet we did not feel the crowd. The landscaped park with a large boating lake, pavilions, temples, theatres, bridges and fountains are a welcome escape from the bustling city of Beijing. The palace was built in 1880 for Empress Cixi (or Dragon Lady).
We all congregated at the Pearl Market in Beijing for shopping and then headed to the train station to catch our train to Shanghai. The train ride was a party that went on all night. Suffice to say that it included music, dancing, intoxication, finger-food, cards, gossip and more. There is a whole lot of stuff in the middle of China – we passed through populated cities and what looked like Ghost Towns, arriving in Shanghai comfortably but less than rested.

June 30th, Thursday, Shanghai
Shanghai city is a true metropolis, inspired by western cities yet distinctly local. Vicky, our local guide, ensured that we reached our hotel (Howard Johnson) safely despite the revelry en route. We only had an hour to freshen up as we had an aggressive schedule for the day.

Coca Cola China – Thiery Roques (CFO)
  • Nearly 1.7B servings of Coke products a day in China and continuously growing
  • Vol = Population x Incidence x Times x Average Consumption. Goal = Increase all four.
  • Consumption primarily in developed cities, distribution partners focusing on efficiency
    • Cofco and Swire are primary partners in China
  • Traditional business model: They own the IP and leverage bottlers and distributors to make the product accessible at all locations.
  • Expanded portfolio of products (has introduced new products primarily targeting the Chinese market that has received initial success)
  • Increase brand loyalty through events and marketing
  • E.g.: Mongolia: only 2.5 M people, but huge per capita consumption results in high profits.
  • Continue to enjoy high margins – are systemically developing brand loyalty
  • KOlab is their innovation lab where they focus on creating the right products and enabling partners to distribute the product effectively.
  • Coke directly employs 15,000 and indirectly supports the jobs of another 400,000 suppliers, wholesalers and retailers. Coke has helped ensure better quality control along the supply chain and increased the refinement of the beverage industry as a whole.

China Business News – Qin Shuo, Chief Editor
  • Inspired by world news agencies and provides the same level of sophisticated news delivery in China.
  • Provides coverage in international business, finance, industries, services and tourism. – Michael Jiang, VP of Product
  • Chinese version of Yelp + Groupon, been around for 7+ years, 40M monthly unique visitors
  • Customers come to dianping to seek information, stay loyal because of coupons
  • Provides reviews by food item, ranks and rates restaurants and other services (KTV, salons, hotels)
  • Provides coupons in the form of a flyer that can be downloaded or printed or web-shared on social networking platforms – to cater to the Chinese model
  • Provides a unique service – a text message with 70 characters that includes restaurant, favorite dishes location etc.
  • Chinese users prefer to click than search
  • A sales intensive process today as the sales team also needs to provide consulting service
  • It takes almost 6 months of sales to be successful in any city – needs to reach critical mass
  • Revenue Streams (coupon + group buy transaction revenue)
  • Have a check-in feature – yet to monetize as is the case across other platforms
  • Looking at strategies to reduce workforce requirement
  • Largest PoI database – do not consider PoI to have sustainable revenue, provides hidden benefits. Location based services have become very popular.
  • Incentivizes with virtual currency

The Coke visit was really an eye opener – here was a multi-national that had successfully adapted in the Chinese market unlike other bigwigs. The Coke experience introduced to us the CPG mindset in China – their marketing, partnerships and most interestingly the Bar made it a very special visit. We created a custom cocktail using an advanced user interaction system at the bar – one of the many innovations that Coke provides its customers. One of the most interesting insights was that of the Little Emperor. China’s one-child program and the rapid economy growth has created an entire generation of young kids and adults who have 6 people (parents and grandparents) catering to their whims and spoiling them with goodies that previously may have been out of reach. Hats off to Tania for pulling off the visit. At CBN, almost everybody took a photo in front of the TV camera as a newscaster though Suncheth was perfect as the sports anchor. had a good operational model and had figured out a successful monetization strategy.
Dinner was at the Crystal Jade Restaurant, a Shanghai-nese style restaurant with good food and great company. Charles had joined us for the evening and it was great to catch up with him. Eric and Lan had ensured that there was enough food and drinks for all of us and then some. Later most of us went to Xin Tian Di, a local hangout with breath-taking views of the Shanghai city-line and the Huangpu River. The Bund area is full of restaurants, clubs and people and was happening. The night ended late, we were famished and some of us retired to our quarters. For others it was massages and clubbing as usual.

July 1st, Friday, Shanghai
We had 4 company visits planned for the day - a quick breakfast, some tea and we were on our way to the one thing that Lebron and Kobe share.

Nike – Laurent Payre(Running), Andrew Wong(Inline Stores), Aaron Cain(Athletic Training)
  • The average number of sneakers for an 18 year old in America = 6. The average in China is 1.
  • The targeted age is slightly older, 20 as opposed to 14. Primarily due to affordability.
  • 6 geographies worldwide, 7 categories. China itself is a geography today. Global strategy adapted locally. Future is digital. Basketball is the most influential – Kobe is the big name.
  • Chinese youth are highly individualistic and the market is fairly sophisticated requiring investment in R&D and not just marketing. In China, Of China, For China.
  • Chinese youth carry more practical values and are fairly status conscious.
  • In the last few years there is heightened fashion consciousness with people accessorizing and personalizing their outward appearance. Acceleration of consumer evolution.
  • Knockoffs in general are not a major issue since often that is not the catered market. The real competition are local shoe companies that tend to spend more in marketing and are inflating the cost of acquiring ambassadors. Often throwing money at athletes is not the answer. Nike differentiates itself as a partner in the quest for athlete success. (Sports medicine, training, physiological and psychological assistance)
  • There are over 7000 Nike stores in China. Often times people walk in and ask “what is the most expensive stuff you got?” People want access to the Nike brand.
  • National TV advertising in China is expensive – takes away margins.
  • Hong Kong today is no longer the style leader for China.
  • Nike and the Government have shared objectives: They both want athletes to perform better. For the Government it is about pride.
  • The “Never give up” and the 1288 campaigns really won over the hearts of the Chinese.
  • Their mission: Inspire 1 Billion athletes, Get people moving!!

Shanghai United Assets and Equity Exchange (Wu Hongbing)
  • Today here are 60 Assets and Equity exchanges in China – will be collapsed to 3-4 in the next 10 years. Only 4 trade internationally – Shanghai and Beijing participate in international trade and are premier markets for local trade.
  • The exchange provides a platform for trading stock rights (equity), asset rights, creditors rights and intellectual rights for state owned enterprises.
  • The Equity market is the largest with over 60% share of trade at UAE
  • UAE also has the largest trading volume at 250B out of the 600B for all China. Over 10K trades a year.
  • Property rights trading platform for transactions between state-owned local and foreign assets. Services platform for M&A activity between private and public assets.
  • Financing services for small and medium enterprises – funding from pre-revenue to growth stage. VC’s and Angel investors participate in this market.
  • Private investors may be allowed to exit in secondary markets.
  • Also provides a platform for the trade of energy, environment, technology, cultural property, agricultural products. In the future will be the platform for carbon trading.
  • Asset mix is changing with more and more private trading
  • 50% of trade is from public to private – roughly privatization at 300B a year, 15% annualized growth.
  • Trading floor is competitive. 85% of trades get competitive offers & over 20% has more than 2 bids.
  • No derivatives or license trading at the moment.
  • The real job is to ensure that there are investors – not to be an I-banking institution.
  • Revenue through transaction fees.

SHSTI (Shanghai Technology Investment)
  • Funded by government in 1982 to promote commercialization of tech breakthrough in China as a replacement for previously existing grants programs. The fund is tasked to make equity investments to sponsor commercial breakthroughs. Government does not set investment strategy.
  • Key events
    • 1992 first batch of VCs
    • 1993 first fund with 5 state owned banks to attract capital from private sector
    • 1998 second batch
    • 2002 first company in Hong Kong exchange
    • 2004 first Joint Venture
  • Multiple Functions
    • Banking venture investment
    • Equity (At all stages of the Company)
    • Incubation
    • Investment and value added service
    • Combining investments from all subsidiaries
    • National strategic alignment
  • Today manage 14 funds with over a 100 investments, Average IRR of 10%. Over 90 employees: advisory and professional (57 seed, 20 early, 23 strategic). 50 companies have had equity trade sale, 30 public listed, 40 companies on the way
  • Capital market is hot with majority Private Equity investment
    • Target key companies in specific industry
    • Overseas collaboration, capital and expertise
    • Acquisition up and down the value chain
  • Initiative and funding used to be from government. Now fund is encouraging participation and that is converting this from a Government-lead to market-driven investment organization.
  • Criteria for investment
    • Technology ideally proprietary or substitutes for inefficient existing technology
    • Team composition.
    • How big is market?
  • Two reasons to fail:
    • Academicians with not enough business exposure leads to low success rate
    • Management team can't handle change or growth
  • Failure rate is only 5%. Failure is defined as bankruptcy, poor products or no growth
  • To incorporate a company it takes a month, to declare bankruptcy takes a year.
  • Clean-technology, financial, service and consumer are primary areas of focus.
  • Willing to invest in Asia, Europe and America
  • Strategy: Spend time up front to set up good companies, Help companies grow bigger, Invest up and down value chain, Leverage government relationship. Very hands on in operations.
  • Hiring: Care about 5 years work experience. Education not so critical.

AdChina (Phillip Kuai, General Manager, Mobile Ad Platform)
  • Established 2007, fastest growing Internet startup in China.
  • 450 people, Integrated advertising platform, 45% sales people, 4 cities
  • Primary objective is to connect demand and supply of Online and Mobile Advertising
  • Provide platform for demand side advertisers

    • Manage ad campaigns
    • Create categories for targeting
    • Pay influential opinion leaders
    • Plant viral communication
  • Publishers are suppliers
    • Worked with over 1000 advertisers on 3000 campaigns
    • Information is really what is driving the internet
    • Coverage at an individual website not enough
    • By working with different publishers AdChina has wider reach
    • Avoids overlap, helps advertising be more targeted. 400 publishers
    • China online advertising is time based so frequency capping is new
  • Advertisers want security so pay for time, instead of frequency
  • Objective is to reach sufficient people to create impact on revenue
  • Mobile grew rapidly. Very big share of people’s time. Android is the biggest
  • Features
    • Tracking code in the posting tracks user behavior and helps reach the right people
    • Allows Content to follow Behavior
    • Allows Location based targeting
    • Re-targeting people who clicked on ad but didn't buy
    • Mobile Device targeting, Keyword, System Device, operating system, Time-based targeting
  • Publishers like CPM though CPC is better (Brand advertising vs Banner ad)
  • People are bored on the mobile (Name and cell phone number known on the app – send text link ad)
  • Privacy: Looser definition of privacy laws in China
  • MicroBlog platform for partnership and distribution of advertisement for WOM
  • Limited Optimization help – not providing metrics or customization help.
  • Provide segmentation and targeting through surveys
  • Limited TV spots so people are spending advertising budget on the Internet
  • Move away from sites to apps trend is consistent
  • Self service is not as relevant in China, relationship based (Quanxi)
  • Pricing pressure is not as much. Sales turnover is a concern. Bundling products helps.
  • Copycat environment, so need to run very fast to have advantage. Need to integrate across all social media platforms
  • User behavior on Internet is different from mobile. People are more mobile. Ads are more entertaining than waiting for a bus! Webpage is crowded, Mobile is less cluttered and ads draw more attention.
  • Opinion: Admob won't work in China
    • People don't pay for ads, pricing is not relevant
    • Rev share model does not exist
    • Any reliance in self service is a tough sell
    • Discount is not sustainable, since margins are thin

What a busy day! The Nike experience was probably the most stimulating; here was a company that makes money inspiring people. The advertisements and vignettes were very compelling and so was the Nike/Liu Xiang story. There were videos of how students in China have compulsory Physical Education and how it is a barrier to getting admissions in good schools/colleges which was funny and touchy at the same time. Nike formulated a strategy to address this need by introducing a training program for students to learn running and to enjoy sport instead of considering it a chore. Tina shared with us her story of getting her first pair of running shoes, improving her speed to make it to the school of her choice and how much she coveted the same- it got pretty darn emotional in the room. Later we went to a Nike store – and all got 40% discount on everything in the store, always great marketing. Tina was also the designated translator at SHSTI and UAE and she did a great job! AdChina was our last visit and it was apparent that we were eager to be done.

The next 36-hours included momentous partying (Kuperman taught us how to dance and sleep at the same time, and Nathan has some rad bar skills), shopping like it was going out of style, food and bargaining as a competitive sport (you want Eunsoo and Cheng on your team anytime you are negotiating), and generally hanging out till it was almost a crime. The only sober moments were a short visit to the Jade Buddha temple and the world famous Chinese acrobatic show. Most folks started heading out, but for some the party continued to Hong Kong.

Our hosts (Leo, Tina, Lan, Eric) really made this an unforgettable experience. While for most of us this was a first trip, it certainly won’t be the last for any of us! 

Some Key Takeaways
  • China continues to be a premier sourcing destination for manufacturing, though technology talent and services are increasingly being sought for by multi-nationals and locals alike.
  • The Little Emperor phenomenon and the high individualism in today’s youth is making China an ideal location for luxury goods and premier services accelerating the consumer evolution.
  • There is a high degree of adaption required for foreign goods and services to be successful in China for two reasons. Local customs and culture and Government/Society imposed rules and regulations.
  • Knowledge of local language is essential to succeed in China
  • Digital and mobile are very important to succeed in China. People spend enormous time on mobile/Internet and China being a vast country, this provides a mechanism to rapidly make products and services available to the whole geography.
  • Consumption patterns are not uniform across the country- the South East coast is much more developed then the interior and the west inlands.
  • Funding for new ventures in plenty, though bulk of it is late stage funding by VCs and PEs and Government sponsored funds. There are opportunities to invest in the seed stage.
  • The general privatization of the country and the large amounts of transfer of wealth between the public and private sector maybe creating opportunities for investors to turn around and make profit.
  • Operational prudence and strategy are highly sought for in China across businesses and investment arms.
  • China is making a big push for energy self-reliance which opens up many opportunities in the areas of efficiency, pollution control, energy saving, and other clean technologies. Coal will continue to be a major provider of energy but there are opportunities in renewables.
  • Our batch is extremely well connected in China!
  • Urban China is happening and a lot of fun!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Crossroads ...

Growing up in a small town in South India, traveling by train was the affordable and preferred means of long distance travel. Since the town itself only had trains to a few larger cities, one typically had to take a train to one of the larger cities that was a hub and then transfer over to another that took one to the desired destination. It was an interesting experience traveling with people planning to go North, West and East on the same train, all waiting to reach the hub. On getting there, people took breaks, stretched out, exchanged contact information with newly formed friends and moved on to the next train.

The first year at Wharton felt a lot like that. We came into class 36 with several destinations in mind – investment banking, consulting, marketing, entrepreneurship – and traveled this journey together to the end of year one; getting to know a bit more about other destinations that you may not travel to on this journey, listening to the excited voices of other passengers talk about the exciting vistas they plan to travel to and wonder if your destination sounded too ordinary in the face of that.

Having reached the crossroads now, it is time to pick one’s destination. And catch the right train. Some of the passengers who came with you so far will follow you through to your electives, new learning teams will be formed and new seating preferences sealed. But all that's for another day. Now's the time to rejoice over the journey behind us, for the year that whizzed past in a crazy stream of hyperstimulated consciousness. What better way to do that than a class toast to seal the deal?

We had corporate finance finals as well as marketing strategy finals to close the term. We had an exciting farewell to SABRE as the winners were announced to an Oscar-like suspense-filled crowd. The winners won the adulation and cheers of the cognoscenti that knew what it took to win the crown. The losers trash-talked each other in jest about how badly they performed. It was a fun exercise that will definitely be missed. Relief was writ large on every face on Saturday, as a grueling Term 3 came to an end. Congratulations to all class 36ers for staying the course and fighting it out to the end - its an amazing achievement that I'm sure all our predecessors would be proud of as well!

Meanwhile class 37 is ramping up to make its history.  We're all meeting with different subsets of them and responding to their questions and concerns and helping them make the right decision about which MBA program to join in case they are undecided. Good luck to all of you as you start your journey! I look forward to a few of you stepping up to share your thoughts on this blog.

The Bard said "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly". But alas one can only wish for speed and there are always consequences to the choices one makes to apportion time between life's commitments. Henceforth, you would be hearing less from me on this blog for a while, and I look forward to hearing the voices of other members of class 36 that will lend more color, excitement and perspective to this blog.

It has been a wonderful year, and thank you all for sharing the journey!