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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Be a 'STAR'

Naturally, for many of us, filling up complicated forms is a big challenge. Some questions in these forms may include:

  • "Describe a tough scenario that you faced at work and how you handled it,"
  • "Narrate an incident where you made a grave mistake at your job," or
  • "Write about how you demonstrated your abilities to take charge of a situation at work"

Intimidated? Don't be! Answering these questions is rather easy, if you just follow a bit of a structured thought process. This process is called the STAR technique, not just because it helps you become one, but because it's an acronym too. :P

STAR stands for:

  1. Situation - What was the scenario?
  2. Task - What should have happened?
  3. Action - What did you do?
  4. Result - What was the final outcome?

In the situation description, try and explain briefly, in layman's language, what was the scenario like. Don't make it cound like the heavens were about to fall on your head, but still, don't hesitate to add details. (Remember - layman's language, please... )

Talk about what the ideal, utopian scenario would have been while describing the task. (Essentially, this will create a contrast between the earlier chaotic scenario, and what should have happened. :P )

And now, enters our dynamic hero/heroine. :D How did you bridge the gap between the actual and the expected situation? What did you do? Try not to say "I led....," "I did this and that..." Make it more subtle. Instead of making it a direct narration of your leadership skills, bring out leadership traits that you displayed. (I know....tough to be modest, but try it... )

Ah! What did our hero accomplish? Write about the final outcome, any accolades, and your learnings from the experience.

Note: If you do this entire process well, you can make a failed attempt at something also sound positive.

Overall, the entire technique works well with tough professional/educational situations, activities you were thrust into without being given adequate skills/knowledge, when you found your team without effective leadership, conflict situations, and times when you tried very hard but failed.

P.S. Happy 'STARring' and all the best!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

'Depression' time for Morgan Stanley...

Surely, the US economy is sinking into recession. Even the most die-hard of optimists wouldn't predict happier times in the near future. Lehman is sunk. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are afloat, but barely so. Wall Street should probably be renamed 'Mauled' Street, considering the current scheme of things.

So, what has Morgan Stanley - one of the erstwhile i-banks, done to try and save itself from going under? 

First, it converted itself to a bank holding company. Now, what in the name of God is that?? Nothing too complicated really, if you keep the jargon aside. A bank holding company is nothing but a corporation that controls two or more banks. (I wonder why these Fin. folks have to make everything so damn complicated!!) The advantage of this is that the company will be closely monitored by the Federal Reserve (like our own RBI) and will be able to raise more capital from the market easily. (The how and why of this is somewhat more complicated and needs a separate discussion, so we'll dispense with it for now.)

So, Morgan Stanley had suffered majorly, during 2007's bloodbath - with its share prices having fallen by 60% during 2007. Hence, it had to sell 21% of its stock to Japan's largest bank, the Mitsubishi group, which is shelling out $9 billion for the same. 

Hopefully, the move will shore up investor confidence in the beleagured bank, and give it a new lease of life. You can safely bet that the honchos at Morgan Stanley and other top banks are praying for it. :)

Procter and Gamble

Some info about P&G - watch this blog for more info about more companies. (Do write back if you'd like to hear more about a particular company.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

What happened to Lehman Brothers?

An investment bank doesn't deal with the general public - people like you and I, but instead with companies. Retail banks, which deal with 'small' customers like us, lent money to people for mortgaged property. Now, retail banks don't have unlimited money - they need to finance their deals. So, they contact investment banks, to help them arrange for the money. Essentially, an investment bank is supposed to be a middleman between an investor (like an insurance firm) and a customer like a retail bank.

But, the investment banks found the deal so lucrative that they decided to invest their own money, instead of looking for investors. After all, who doesn't want profits?

After the sub-prime crisis, the value of these 'packages' plummeted, and the investment banks lost billions of dollars. (This dealing with one's own money is called 'proprietary trading' in the industry.)

These losses destroyed their capital, and share prices dipped. Hence, banks could not even generate money through their shareholders, and this led to their collapse.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are still surviving, and more will be known about them soon.

However, even if they sink, investment banking will not be dead and buried. Huge retail banks like Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America etc. have i-banking arms, which are more stable, because these banks have massive reserves of their own money.Yes, i-banking will be more regulated, but it'll still live on.

A bit about Mergers and Acquisitions...

Q 1. What are mergers and acquisitions?

Ans. Simply put, any activity involving the buying, selling, or combining of different companies (generally for growth or consolidation) is called a merger and acquisition (M&A) activity.

Normally, a merger occurs when two companies mutually agree to join hands to improve profitability, and form a completely new entity. For example, Daimler-Benz and Chrysler combined to create 'DaimlerChrysler', which was a new company.

An acquisition, is also called a takeover, and involves the buyout of one company by another. For example, Vodafone bought over Mannesmann in Germany.

Q2. Why do companies indulge in M&A?

Ans. Obviously, the underlying motive of any capitalist venture is to earn profit. This can be accomplished through the following effects of a merger/acquisition:

a) Increased synergy - The combined company can reduce redundant departments, retrench extra workers, and lower associated costs.

b) Increased market share - Clearly, if you merge with someone who was competing for your market share earlier, you now have a bigger chunk of the market. Hence, you not only earn more, but also save costs on advertising and marketing.

c) Cross-selling - If I manufacture cellphones like say Nokia, and I merge with a company that provides cellular services like Airtel, the new company can provide customised deals to consumers, and tap both the phone market, and the sim market.

d) Taxes - If you acquire a loss-making company, you can reduce your tax liabilities. This used to be a common practice earlier, but now laws prevent this from happening.

e) Economies of scale - Since you can buy larger volumes of goods, you can get bulk deals. (Yeah, yeah... we students are not the only cheapsters around.. :P )

Q3. What are some of the major M&A activities on the Indian horizon, in the recent past?

Ans. Some of the biggest M&A deals by Indian companies are given in the table below:

Q4. What is the future of the M&A activity across the globe?

Ans. Even if one had a crystal ball, one would be a tad wary of making predictions. However, one shall risk making one here. :P Since these are tough financial times, companies would feel the urge to consolidate, and combine synergies. It is wasteful to expend one's energy in fighting someone who is engaging in similar business practices. Hence, the larger players will probably wipe the smaller ones out, or keep them as subsidiaries, and maybe, we'll see more large deals coming through too. In addition, there would be plenty of takers to pick at the remains of dying organizations like Lehmann.