Saturday, February 28, 2009

Update on American university campuses in the Gulf

George Mason University has a campus in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in UAE that will be closing. See details here. Please note the comments to this article that provide good insights.

In comparison, the campus of Texas A&M setup in Qatar under the requirements of Qatar Foundation (see details here) continues to thrive. The Qatar Foundation loosely requires that the educational institutions setup should show direct value to Qatar and to its future growth.

Please see details on the other university campuses in Qatar here that include Virginia Commonwealth University, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown Uniersity and Northwestern University.

If this interests you, then you may want to look at the Qatar Science and Technology Park here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

It is interesting and entertaining that I have received over 100 calls from friends and acquaintances asking about the slums of Mumbai after having seen the movie "Slumdog Millionaire". I like to guide you towards my blog covering the slums around Mumbai here, to read about their ingenuity and see a video covering a few aspects of life in the slums.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Insights from China

In the past week I had the opportunity to speak with a friend and colleague Mr. Tony Tsai, currently Chief Executive Officer - BHG Retail Innovation Institute and Executive VP Operations - The BJ Hualian Hypermarket Co. in China. I present a consolidation of Mr. Tsai's brilliant insights below:
  • The world's largest immersive and experiential innovation center for in-context consumer research is on track with first phase opening in October 2009, see details here. Please see more details on some of the work I was engaged in at Procter & Gamble at my colleague Mr. Franz Dill's blog here. Franz was one of the founders of the P&G's innovation center

  • Approximately 20 million Chinese labor workers have returned to their rural homes during the Chinese new year. Yet, these laborers returned with earnings and there has been an up tick in spending in these rural areas in consumer and some discretionary spending

  • Chinese funded construction has stopped while foreign funded investment continues to grow this year

  • The largest retail chains of the world continue to scout, purchase and break ground on new facilities in China as it takes approximately two to three years to opening doors for business

  • Large retailers are very aggressive in China. WalMart believes that in approximately 20 years China will be its biggest market (by square meters of space per number of stores)

  • China remains the largest purchaser of USA Treasuries in the world

  • Large number of plants have closed, for example the toy industry has gone from twenty thousand plants of all sizes to five thousand. A lot of consolidation is taking place

  • China is being hit by the global economic down turn yet the recovery may already have begun, for example the government has approved close to a trillion dollars in infrastructure projects for the nation. Due to the extraordinary amount of cash in Chinese reserves, the debt situation is not impacted in any serious fashion, while keeping a bubble in the particular sector of spending from being created

  • China already has a five year plan for infrastructure development, they are simply accelerating it. Approximately 20 million worker will be brought back into the labor force. A good rate for a farmer of rural worker is approximately $200/month

  • China knows how to put extremely large work force into productive action and produce results

  • In comparison, for example India may not be able to move as fast around decisions and execution as the democratic process may generate tremendous amount of debate

  • Further strengthening this argument is that the city and provincial governments belong to the same political party
I asked Mr. Tsai how does the USA look from China, a few comments:
  • Looks divided in two financially

  • Also, financially, it is the repetition of distribution of wealth as it occurred during the down fall of the British Colonial Empire

  • USA has a desire to support a high standard of living while the economics of the country do not support it
And finally, Mr. Tsai stated that Asia is realizing that USA will be a key player for a while but consumption from China and India will increase in volume first and then in value.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Corporate Life Won't Be Funny

"Corporate life won't be funny", so states The Economist in The World in 2009 in the article "The year of the CFO" here.

"No one will talk of EQ ("emotional intelligence quotient") any more. It will be EVA ("economic value added") instead. Thinking outside the box (at the best of times) will not be celebrated. Ticking boxes will be."

Brilliant - Yes? No? Yet, the Economist is taking a strong stand here on what it believes stating "We will hear less of "vision" and much more of "value"."

The article continues to obliterate the corporate function of Human Resources under the heading "Goodbye "talent", hello "staff"" where it states:

"The biggest loser in the struggle for power will be the human resources director. In the past five years HR has been enjoying the greatest power it has ever had. The “war for talent”, which companies have fought tooth and nail, will be over in 2008, neither lost nor won: there will be a ceasefire brought on by lack of funds and exhaustion of the troops. An old truth will be whispered by the brave: most workers are not terribly talented and most of them don’t need to be, as most jobs don’t require it. In 2009 a more elitist shift will occur: companies will worry about the performance of those at the top of the pyramid, while everyone else will be managed like a commodity. “Talent” will be a word we wave goodbye to. In 2009 the word “staff” will make a comeback, as will “headcount”."

This is how companies will behave because they have to yet such realities are not officially recognized. Some of the above has come to pass in the curtailing of what is now being seen as extravagance of the C-Suite such as company jet purchase, etc.

As for the marketing, the article states:

"The marketing director will also lose out. He has already been kicked once by the decline of advertising and kicked again as the power of the internet has made his traditional tools useless. In 2009 his budgets will fall further, as will his status."

I believe the consumer will reach for value in both old and new fashions, for example, coupon clipping is going to become an art, we will see coupon trading among neighbors, and of course hitting the same grocery chain's multiple stores on the mornings of triple coupons till the data syncs from the various stores back to the data warehouse. An example of new methods utilized by consumers will be online - observing and waiting for the right price, bargaining (EBay) and near-geo selling for both buyer and seller (Craig's List) will take off.

I recently discovered that my predictions may already be running behind the curve as a CEO of a Software as a Service company informed me that he hired a sales person from the Craig's List who is producing great results for him. Fascinating!

Yet, the most entertaining quote of the whole article is:

"As for the corporate-social-responsibility supremo, he will be told to take a gap year indefinitely."

Prediction - No-nonsense brands will prosper in 2009

In the article "Flight to value" here in The Economist's The World in 2009, it states:

"Any brand built around do-gooding notions of organic, corporate social responsibility, or caring for the environment may need to rethink, ... , as value of money rises up the consumers agenda."

Does that mean the dollar store styled value chains are going to prosper in the USA? The market seems to agree with this conclusion hence giving confirmation to the above article's conclusion - have a look at the Family Dollar Stores, Inc.'s (Ticker FDO) trading price and volume chart here for 2008 and 2009.

What about the luxury brands? The article states:

"Luxury brands are in trouble."

Yet, the following prediction in the article may be the one I would be interested in closely observing:

"... 2009 will see the arrival of big emerging-market brands into the developed world. ... Mahindra, an Indian conglomerate with a strong brand, ... will launch a small, fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicle in America."

I believe value will drive purchase intent, quality and/or brand will trump price in some cases and finally if the economic conditions continue to decline as they are, family budgets will be the final driver on decisions of the above two.

Monday, February 2, 2009

UAE Business Insights

The Kipp Report here is a good source for business information related to the UAE in specific and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) in general.

Couple of interesting articles of note, (1) The projects on hold in Dubai here, these include mostly real estate projects while some power and industrial infrastrucutre projects, (2) "Capital Boom" - Abu Dhabi continuing to make major investments in UAE here.