Following the success of setting up the garment factory at the Jebel Ali Fee Zone, Finetex was invited to set up a joint venture plant in Muscat. The 23nd part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
The garment factories in the Jebel Ali Free Zone worked on a systematic basis and had no problem in getting the overseas staff, as visas were made available on request.
In fact, on one occasion, we got into serious problems. As per our standard practice, photocopies of the visas were sent to Haji Cader and based on that he would arrange the seat booking in the airlines and intimate the same to me by fax the names of pax so that I could take the original visa to the airport for clearance. We had a standby officer on duty at the Free Zone, in case we got into trouble of any kind, as names of Sri Lankan boys and girls were long and similar.
The flight time to Dubai was roughly three hours. So, upon check in and flight departure, I would get the confirmation of pax, vis-a-vis the ID numbers we had provided for each new employee coming in. It so happened, that on one particular occasion after the flight left, we had a wrong Kusumawati on the flight, with the photocopy of a Kusumawathi who could not make it. Now, as you can watch, the difference is “h” in the last part of the name, and, we know it would be really difficult to get her out of immigration, and rightly so.
I rushed back to Free Zone office, explained the predicament; Mohammed Sharif in the administration assisted, and I was assured that someone from the office would meet me at the airport, with a new visa for Kusumawati who was on the flight! Without the official visa, the poor girl would be bundled back to Sri Lanka; if not, at best, she would have to spend overnight in the immigration office, until we produced the visa the next morning, if the OSD (generally the Director of Immigration) specially gave such permission. Thankfully, thanks to the prompt assistance, Kusumawati was cleared and reached the camp same day!
In the meantime, as our reputation was spreading far and wide, our orders were increasing and we were getting new and balancing equipments to meet the demands of the orders, which had progressed from simple T-shirts, to heavy-duty cold weather jackets for use in snow conditions. We had no scope to expand in the Finetex plant at Dubai.
One fine day, Zubair turned up and said that he wanted me to visit Muscat immediately and meet a businessman who wanted to get into a joint venture with us. I left for Muscat the following day and met the prospective partners, inspected their site and tried to make an assessment. At that time, there were couple of factories, including Gulf Industries (from the Free Zone, where I had just begun my garment career!) and the scope for development and export was vast.
A few days later, Piyasena Perera joined me for a technical assessment of the site. We spent two days to make up our mind about the feasibility of operation. One of the partners in the Muscat venture was an important high-ranking government official. Perera left, and I had to work out the plans, and stayed on for a few days more to work out the details and logistics.
On my return and submission of my report and assessment, Zubair confirmed the deal and about one week later, we had the industrial license in the name of Elegant Garments.
For easy reference, let us call the local ‘working’ partner as Abdullah. He had a large house, which had a basement, a road level showroom, and first floor had a few large rooms. The terrace was open. I had to convert this building into a compact manufacturing unit, including housing facilities for some 200 odd staff members, at least 20 of them would be men.
The distance between Muscat and Dubai on the highway is 440 km. The managers must also have road travel permits, so that they can travel to Dubai at short notice without any hindrance. On the top of these, I had to arrange for catering facilities for the entire complement of 200+ staff.
Equipment wise, it did not take more than two days to place the order, and was promised delivery in 10 weeks. Right from cutting tables, all other related wooden furniture had to be specially ordered and made, to cover the factory requirements. A separate team was sent from Dubai, who would arrange for complete electrification of the site to convert the large halls into factory sites suitable for a garment factory.
The carpenters had to take the necessary measurements to ensure bunker beds were prepared to utilize the maximum space in each of the rooms in the first floor. They had to make long benches and tables for the dining hall. There was an endless list and setting up a new factory in a totally new environment is not easy. We had to set all these in place in less than 10 weeks and had to bear in mind that the technical team would come just the day after the goods are cleared from port, so that the Juki machines can be assembled and be ready for use in a few hours.
Once the commitment was made I flew back to Dubai and arranged to travel back by car with my land entry permit. It was decided that, as Muscat merchants come to Dubai to buy their requirements in bulk, we would be better off economically to have the goods manufactured by the carpenter in his workshop, and only return back to do the final finishing in Muscat.
Likewise, electrical contractor made the survey and returned to Dubai so that they could fix it some 10 days before the machinery arrived; I had arranged to give the contracts to the same bidders who did our jobs earlier.
Piyasena left for Colombo, immediately upon my return; Haji Cader had already publicised our requirement for staff on both TV and radio, and as Finetex had secured a very high reputation in the market we had an unmanageable crowd of applicants. Perera returned back, with a full complement of staff and as he had a hand in finalizing the machinery list, we were confident that we would not even face teething troubles in this plant.
On schedule, exactly 110 days after the agreement was reached, we were ready for the plant to become operative. Our local partner Abdullah had no difficulty whatsoever in getting the required visa. Every Gulf country, by now, was copying the lead set up by Dubai, in setting up garment factories everywhere.
It was Zubair’s turn to arrange for my departure to Muscat. He made it clear, that if I was willing to take care of the plant in Muscat, he would even go for discussion with Abdullah for this joint venture, which, in real sense, was that we were doing all the investment, and Abdullah was lending his ‘name’ for a partnership fee. We had another silent partner too, who remained in the background.
When the advance team arrived, it was Perera who went first and I joined him a day later. I had to take care of the team and in Piyasena’s presence all machinery were inspected and accepted. In the following three days, the bulk of the staff arrived and it was possible to start production by the fourth or the fifth day. We had a plant manager and his deputy (woman) who had years of experience behind them and whom Perera knew personally and had selected the staff with great care.
Our direct orders booked by us at Finetex (for children's clothes I think, for Wal-Mart) were the first ones to be manufactured here. From day one, our production in this plant was in full swing; I had an office in the first floor and a separate accommodation attached to the office. I joined the staff in the mess in the basement. We all had a minimum 10-hour production schedule every day.
I had two assistants, Francisca and Nancy, who helped me in doing my job in Muscat.
In less than three weeks after the production began, we made our first direct shipment to the USA. After this, I drove back to Dubai to be with my family for a couple of days, and returned back on a Monday morning after a visit to the Finetex plant, leaving there at about 9am and arriving in Muscat plant by about 1 30pm for a lunch with the staff.
Life in garment industry was not easy.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)
“Cure rarely, comfort mostly, but console always” was the advice of Hippocrates and still remains valid to this day of hi-tech stuff. To practice each one of them the doctor must be a great communicator
“One kind word can warm three winter months”—a Japanese saying
“Art” wrote, Henry David Thoreau, “is that which makes another man’s day”. One kind word on the bedside can cure many ills. The art of medicine is that which should make the patient’s day. In fact, the summit of all efforts in the field of medical care delivery is the coming together of two human beings—the one who is ill or imagines to be ill and the other in whom the first has confidence. This is called medical consultation. All else in medicine should really flow from this summit. “Know your patient better than his disease” was the opinion of the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates. Having worked under some of the giants of clinical medicine both in India and abroad, I feel sorry for the patient as also for the doctors of today who think that the hi-tech investigations give them the diagnosis and management strategies. “Patient care is caring for the patient!” This is the motto of Massachusetts General Hospital and was coined by Sir Francis Peabody.
Hardly anyone talks with the patients these days. Most of the big bosses make what they call the “chart rounds” in the ward-side rooms where all the details of the patients, including the scanners and X-rays, are kept. Little time is spent on the bed side. The present jargon for good medical practice is “euboxic medicine” where all the right boxes should be ticked in the computerised case sheet. Whether the patient feels better or worse is of no consequence. “Patient doing well; do not interfere” wrote Sir William Osler, a great clinician of the last century. “God give me deliverance from treating suffering human beings as cases, not letting the well alone and making my interventions worse than his disease,” was the daily prayer of Hutchinson. If you talk to a present day sub-specialist, he/she would say that all those ancient timers didn’t have the array of scopes and scanners that we have today!
Recently a triple blind, computerized, prospective study was undertaken in London by some of the great teachers in different medical schools there—John Mitchell, John Hampton, Michel Harrison and Carol Seymour, to name a few of them—to study the role of listening to the patient and reading the referral letter from the family doctor vis-à-vis examining the patient physically and investigating the patient with all the gadgets including the positron emission tomography (PET), in the diagnosis of medical out-patients. These giants were all students of Lord Platt on the University College Hospital London. Platt had written in 1949 that “if one were to listen to the patient long enough, the patient would give away his/her diagnosis.” Platt’s students, who now have access to all hi-tech stuff, wanted to check the veracity of the old man’s statement.
This study was published in the British Medical Journal. The study showed that 80% of the accurate final diagnosis and 100% of the future management strategies could be arrived at, at the end of listening to the patient and reading the referral letter. This could only be refined 4% more by all the physical examinations and only 8% by all the investigations including the PET scanner! A very strong message there from a very robust study, indeed. This will be a boon to all doctors ready to practice—even in a remote village. Unfortunately, all our doctors are trained within the four walls of the five star hospitals where their teachers rely only on the modern gadgets. It is not a surprise that such doctors tomorrow will feel frustrated to practise medicine without those gadgets. The new trend is being propped up by the industry through their indirect advertisements under the guise of scientific data.
Every disease, in a manner of speaking, is “slightly mental”. Diseases start in the human mind and also end there. If one wants to get a grip on the patient’s problems one needs to have an inkling into the patient’s mind—his worries, his anxieties, his fears, his obsessions, his spirituality, his environment, his family ties and his problems—all of which will have a say in the final outcome. These important aspects of disease management could only be gauged by listening to the patient. In his beautiful book Talking with Patients, Prof James Calnan, who was Emeritus professor of plastic surgery at the Hammersmith Hospital, London goes to great lengths to show that “talking with” or listening to patients is an art that should be mastered by every medical student. (Calnan J: Talking with patients - a guide to good practice. William Heinemann Medical Books, London. 1983. 151 pages.)
In our days, we followed the foot steps of our teachers by observing how they talked to and listened to patients in the out patients as also on the bed side. This is absent in today’s atmosphere. That breed of teachers is almost extinct—like the dinosaurs. Even the so called bed-side clinics are now conducted in what they call the ward side teaching rooms where another mini didactic lecture takes place on the patient’s problems! Real beside clinics should happen at the bedside where the patient could be observed carefully even while he is talking. His facial expressions, showing his internal turmoil, could be a pointer sometimes to the final diagnosis. Sir William Osler had a prescription for all doctors to have two great qualities on the bed side—imperturbability and aequanimitas— equanimity and the capacity not be perturbed under any circumstances on the bed side. These two, in their absence, could send wrong signals to an anxious patient.
Some of the important clinical research data in the field of modern medicine have emanated from the bed side. Genuine clinical research is nothing but a question on the bed side and the effort to go as far away from the bed as needed to get an answer! Some of my original works, reported in the prestigious journals abroad, have come from the bed side. Time spent by the students on the bedside will bear fruit in the long run to make them very good humane doctors. Every patient is another human being in distress and needs to be understood with compassion before being treated with drugs or surgery. A good doctor knows how to treat from the books, a better doctor would know when to treat from the books again, but the best doctor knows when not to treat from his bedside experience only. Our present biggest problem is over treatment, resulting in adverse drug reactions and over interventions.
In conclusion, one could easily say that if one trains himself/herself to be a good bedside clinician one would have achieved great success in dealing with patients. One must learn to listen-—a very difficult art, indeed. Medicine is basically an art based on the scientific foundation that seems to be shaky. If doctors have done any good to the suffering humanity, that was mainly because of their bed side skills and not based on the faulty science of reductionism. “Cure rarely, comfort mostly, but console always” was the advice of Hippocrates and still remains valid to this day of hi-tech stuff. To practice each one of them the doctor must be a great communicator. Pain and suffering were the problems for our ancestors in medicine and they are our problems today and will remain the problems for the future generation of doctors as well.
So bed side medicine will remain the sheet anchor of medical management for all times to come. Time was when medicine was purely paternalistic where the doctor was considered God and he/she did what he/she wanted. Today it is gradually becoming more of an equal partnership where the patient takes part in his /her management. It is more important today to know one’s patient than it was in the days gone by—all the more reason why today’s doctors should be better bedside clinicians and communicators. Long live the fine art of doctoring.
“They also serve who stand and wait”— John Milton
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, Chairman of the State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is former Vice Chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for Cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London. Prof Dr Hegde can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Doctors, stunned by the increase in patients with gastro or digestive-system linked cancers, are suggesting the need to do away with sugar—and breakfast cereals
Over the last few years, an amazing and visible change has taken place in India, and that has to do with the easy availability of such processed and manufactured foods as well as the ailments which follow, with digestive and gastro issues taking pole position. Certainly, low sanitation has one part to play with this, especially the quality of water we drink. But more importantly, it is the rapid change in dietary habits in urban India which is a major change in the reasons behind medical issues, and only one of the areas where it is showing up in huge numbers is cancer.
For example—sweetened coloured carbonated soft drinks, were sold and available out of small cottage industries which had not learnt the art of adding more salt so that they could make you crave for another within a short time. And to counter all that salt, they then had to add more sugar. And since sugar was expensive, other chemicals masquerading as sweeteners have now been added. (Readers may be glad to observe that the number of celebrities endorsing soft drinks appears to have come down now, especially after Yuvraj Singh’s unfortunate episode with cancer. (Cancer Colas: Slowly being outcast by the West, Colas exploit India through unaccountable celebrity endorsements)
Or take another example—pre-packaged polished rice or refined flour was simply not available. Indian food simply didn’t taste the same with this base for a meal. Besides, everybody knew that the real nutrients as well as value came when you ate it without losing all the good parts. And the end products, bread or biscuit, were mostly made locally—from fresh ingredients sourced locally, too. Not loaded with garbage in the name of add-ons. (How does the wood in your bread, biscuit taste today?)
However, within the Indian context, even in the poorest of families, breakfast was the main building block of the day’s meal. Something which had to provide everybody with a reason to go, work, study or whatever. It was healthy, freshly cooked, and it was of prime importance that people knew what went into it.
A lot of that appears to have changed in the last decade or so. And one reason for it is the massive push being given to packaged breakfast cereals. Famously, it has been said more than once, including in the US Congress that the boxes they came in provided more nutrition than did the breakfast cereals themselves—and this was never contested or denied by the breakfast cereal industry. But, based heavily on advertising and marketing, the push for space on your table is huge. Simply put, the more they spend for the effort involved in getting breakfast cereals, the less you will get in terms of value.
This heavy push to try and change Indian breakfast eating habits does not come cheap, for anybody who knows what the cost of advertising is, or the charges levied for retail display space. After soft drinks, breakfast cereals are now the second highest marketed food products in India, and that is saying something for a category that simply did not exist here a decade ago. In the words of one advertising guru, the brief given was to make it a lifestyle product for children, with the power of pestering their parents. So, free toys, provocative advertising, and somehow connecting breakfast cereals to “family values” and “healthy lifestyles”, all this and more, made sure that you brought cereals home.
But what, then, is the link with cancer?
Doctors one speaks to are not very sure, but that old villain—excess sugar and salt—raises its head again. And why is there so much of it? Well, sugar provides the ‘bulk’ feeling and salt provides the taste, and the manufacturers have to provide something for the Indian palate—so up goes the sugar and the salt. In effect, when you are eating a bowlful of cereals, especially the so-called high fibre sorts, you are likely ingesting more salt than an equal weight of potato chips.
So where is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India on breakfast cereals? As usual, nowhere, other than saying that they adhere to Indian standards. Which, actually, say nothing about the process to be used to make them in the first case, which is where the trouble starts. What sort of corn goes into making corn flakes sold in India, for example?
Even the crows don’t touch GM corn anymore...
Typically, when you manufacture a breakfast cereal, you are simply running the base grain through high temperatures, using a variety of processes to remove most of the natural nutrients, and then replacing them with artificial additives. This is done to (a) prevent the cereal from going rancid and (b) keeping the cereal crisp. The additives can include the mythical Vitamin D as well as our famous plant fibre, and of late, the new buzzword is Omega-3. The problem is, all these make the whole thing taste unpleasant, at least to children, so add more sugar.
Of course, after that you add milk and you guessed right—added more sugar.
So does this conclusively prove that breakfast cereals are now an additional possible cause for cancer?
The point is this we still don’t know what goes into breakfast cereals sold in India. And like there are people still denying that tobacco causes cancer, there are those who will sing the glories of breakfast cereals, so strong is the cereal lobby.
But if you ask the doctors, mostly over-worked and some absolutely stunned by the vast increase across all social and class levels of patients coming in with gastro or digestive system linked cancers, they are increasingly suggesting lifestyle changes need to do away with sugar. And breakfast cereals.
Breakfast cereals on their way to becoming serial offenders? It’s your life and it’s your money. Why do you want to spend it on cancer?
With credit to Felicity Lawrence’s books, “Eat Your Heart Out” and “Not on the Label”.
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing.)