Sucheta Dalal
Good governance, dowries and dons

Institutions cannot be built on the reputation of individuals or daily sermons on governance and morality; they have to be based on systems and processes

On Sunday evening, I ran into a friend who has just stepped into the role of a harried Indian father, scouting for a potential groom for his two daughters. Yes indeed, the arranged marriage still rules in India and although his daughters are both management graduates who have studied abroad, when it comes to marriage, they are happy to have papa find them a hubby.

The friend hails from a southern Indian community where dowry rules, no matter what the law says about it and the groom-hunt is nothing but a bazaar where the highest bidder snaps up the 'boy'. In this case, the parents of the 'boy' apparently opened negotiations by quoting a base price of Rs50 lakh, even before the potential couple had met each other.

After all, his son was a prize catch—he was an IIT Engineer and now worked at Infosys—and his parents saw no point in wasting his time unless the girl qualified in the financial bid!

But it is the bit about the IIT degree and job at Infosys that has triggered this piece. The company prides itself on its good governance practices, high ethical standards and sense of social responsibility. The company also organises lectures and development courses for its employees, presumably to make them better human beings. Does any of it really rub off on the employees? Apparently not; after all, the potential groom of our story doesn't have any problem with his parents auctioning him to the highest bidder (although, strictly speaking, he may be given a choice of two or three short-listed possible brides) when it comes to marriage, even though accepting dowry is illegal. And he ignores the fact that the potential bride that his parents are vetting, is well-educated, works in a multinational and earns as much as he does.

But my issue is not about arranged marriages and the dowry system but about the popular corporate delusion that endless discussion on corporate governance will lead to more ethically correct companies. Just as our engineer will not give up on a fat dowry, just because he starts working at Infosys, companies will observe good governance principles only if it is part of the DNA of individual senior managers and has nothing to do with the organisation they work for. On the contrary, we have plenty of evidence that those who preach and teach good governance, don’t bother to follow it at all.

What could be a better illustration than the twin debacles at the International School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. ISB is a B-School whose pedigree and board of directors would even be the envy of Ivy League institutions. Set up by Wharton, Kellogg and the London School of Business, the three most famous destinations for a management education, it was founded by two partners of McKinsey & Co, the world's top consulting firm. A couple of days ago, one of them, Anil Kumar, pleaded guilty to charges of insider trading and admitted that Raj Rajaratnam of the Galleon Hedge Fund paid him $1.75 million in exchange for confidential information.

Kumar is understood to have made $2.6 million in illicit funds by leaking information on Advanced Micro Devices Inc and eBay Inc. He was asked to step down from the ISB board in October, when it was clear that he was being investigated in the Galleon securities fraud case.

Earlier, ISB's dean Dr Rammohan Rao had to quit in similar ignominy after the Satyam scandal erupted. Dr Rao had made things worse for himself by initially defending the board's support of a dubious rescue deal between Satyam Computers and Maytas Infrastructure, an entity owned by the Satyam founders.

But again, Dr Rao was not the only Ivy League don who did not practice what he preached. Harvard don and author of several management books, the arrogant Prof Krishna G Palepu used to charge a steep fee to lecture the Tatas and other Indian business tycoons on governance. When Ramalinga Raju confessed to India's biggest accounting fraud, we learnt that Prof Palepu earned nearly Rs one crore from Satyam in various fees and consultancy services. And he used to lecture business on "Making corporate boards more effective"!

Whether it is a young engineer at Infosys who will not sacrifice his right to a dowry or obscenely paid academics and consultants who will throw ethics to the wind for more fees, clearly the road to good ethics is not lectures, seminars or even leading by example. It has to be part of your DNA.

Indian companies are not really serious about the governance business. If they were, they would make the effort to get people with the right mental wiring. In fact, they would do what the better companies in the hospitality business are doing. The hospitality sector recognises that there are certain people who are hard-wired to be gracious and patient and perfectly suited to an industry where consumer demands can be trying on the nerves of most people. They do this by conducting overt or subtle psychographic tests to find people with the right attitude. And when they do find these people, the results can be amazing. The best but most extreme example of how this works are all the stories that emanated from survivors of the terrorist attacks on The Trident and The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on 26/11/08. The stories of the bravery, service and sacrifice of these executives (many of them paid with their lives) make for business legends. Similarly, Kingfisher is rated the best airline, mainly because of the service quality. It can be taught, but there is no substitute for starting right by picking the right people.

That is why, institutions cannot be built on the reputation of individuals or daily sermons on governance and morality; they have to be based on systems and processes to ensure correct business practices day in and day out.




7 years ago

A very hard hitting piece by Sucheta Dalal.


7 years ago

You have really hit the nail on the right spoy

BSE, NSE defer advancing trading hours till 4th Jan

Based on market feedback, BSE and NSE have jointly decided that the revision of market opening time to 9am will be effective from 4 January 2010

The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE) on Thursday postponed the advancement of market opening time to 9am till 4 January 2010.

On Wednesday, the two exchanges said that the market would open at 9am effective from 18th December, an advancement of nearly an hour from the current practice of market opening at 9:55am.

"Trading will start in the equity segments of the BSE & NSE at 9am with effect from Monday, 4 January 2010," an NSE official told PTI.

In a statement, BSE said, "Based on the market feedback, it has been jointly decided by BSE and NSE that the revision of market opening time to 9am shall be effective from 4 January 2010. In the interim, the current market open timing of 9:55am shall continue."

The market closing time would continue to remain unchanged at 3:30pm.

Speaking about the change in trading timings, Deena Mehta, former president of the BSE and managing director of Asit C Mehta Investment Intermediaries Ltd, said, "It will put a lot of pressure on the system and I am not sure it will benefit anybody. People directly or indirectly associated with the markets will be pressurised to start work early, actually we are taking away a part of their personal time.”

“A lot more homework is required before we move ahead with this. Even the banks are not promising that they would have the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system running before 9.45am. So in the event of a big movement in prices, there is an issue of how will we be able to make payments," Ms Mehta added.

Some market players believe the extension in timings would help in reducing volatility, improve trading volumes and help catch up with trading in the Hong Kong and Singapore markets.

India Infoline Ltd, in a note said, "Gurus of markets have spoken about the time in the market which is important rather than timing the market. Investors sure will benefit with the extended trading hours. Those directly and indirectly linked to the stock market will start early as trading begins at 9am."

Dinesh Thakkar, chairman and managing director, Angel Broking, said, “While many large brokers are geared up for the additional trading hour, we believe that it is necessary that the whole market should be geared up for the same. The postponement will give the market participants time to put the infrastructure in place and manage the extended trading hours with full planning and preparation.”

Some brokers believe that the trade time extension would solve no purpose as Indian markets would still be behind the Singapore-based bourses.

According to a PTI report, Arun Kejriwal, director, Kejriwal Research and Investment Services (KRIS) said, "It will make life miserable for all those who are trading as there is no way we can catch (up) with Singapore markets as we cannot eliminate the two-and-a-half hour time gap."

During November, BSE has clocked a total equity turnover of Rs1,04,998.70 crore. The total average daily turnover of the BSE is estimated at Rs5,257.10 crore in November. On the other hand, the NSE has registered an average daily traded value of Rs15,170.60 crore with nearly 1,317 securities traded in November 2009. Its market capitalisation stood at Rs50,24,830 crore in October 2009.

Currently, almost all of the Rs80,000 crore worth of derivatives volumes take place on the NSE. In the cash market too, the NSE accounts for 75% of the trading volumes.

SEBI allowed bourses to set their trading hours between 9am and 5pm in October on condition that appropriate risk management systems and infrastructure are put in place. NSE was seen as the big beneficiary of this move, because it was openly concerned over losing Nifty volumes to the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX), which opens earlier.

The Singapore International Monetary Exchange (SIMEX) trades an NSE-licensed derivatives product on the NSE's Nifty index, named SGX CNX Nifty. Its volumes are driven by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) who trade on the futures before the Indian markets open.

Foreign investors, constrained by the limited ability to participate directly in the Indian equities market after the ban on participatory notes, flock to the SGX Nifty futures product to catch some of the action in Indian markets. Domestic investors in Singapore subsequently take positions on cues from these FIIs. SGX has somewhat stolen NSE’s thunder due to its impressive track record in derivatives and high ethical standards.

With a new team in place at the BSE, the competition is bound to heat up on several fronts. Already, there are open differences between the two bourses on the software for algorithm based trading—the NSE has allegedly refused to grant permission for those algorithm trades, where one of the legs involved transactions on the BSE as well. Interestingly, although James Shapiro of the BSE has made this allegation in public, SEBI, which is seen as being pro-NSE, has made no public attempt to intervene or ensure a level-playing field between the bourses.

The NSE is already at war with the MCX group with litigation in the Bombay High Court (over broker front office software) and before the Competition Commission over transaction charges in the currency market.


Patel Engineering wins $1-billion road order in Djibouti

While the Consulate General of the Republic of Djibouti confirmed the news report, Patel Engineering, on the other hand, said that it is in an advanced stage of negotiation for this infrastructure project

According to reports, Indian construction company Patel Engineering Works Ltd has won an order for building a 350-km highway connecting Djibouti’s border to Ethiopia, worth nearly $1 billion (about Rs4,600 crore).

"Patel Engineering Works has bagged the order worth nearly $1 billion. The work which commenced six months ago is being carried out on a Build-Operate-Transfer basis," consulate general of the Republic of Djibouti in India, Mohamed Idris Saban, told reporters in Bengaluru.

When contacted, company officials said Patel Engineering Works was in “advanced talks” and a formal agreement is “yet to be reached”. According to a filing to the Bombay Stock Exchange, Patel Engineering said that it is in an advanced stage of negotiation with the ministry of transport, Djibouti, for infrastructure works.

HRD and Co, another Mumbai-based company, has been given an order for a geo-thermal energy project in Djibouti. The deal was a power purchase agreement, said Mr Saban.

"We are also looking at tie-ups with Indian computer education firms like NIIT and Aptech to start such institutes in Djibouti and are looking at student-exchange programmes. We have almost 750 students in India from Djibouti," he added.


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