Expense Account and ethics

You would have heard of the IBM sales rep joke who padded his expense account when the boss disallowed for the Hat purchase he had to make. In real life we often tend to go to upscale restaurants, open expensive wine bottles (often multiple) and splurge when given the freedom and access to corporate Amex expense account. However often we don’t realize the long term ramifications.

If you want to screw up your opponents chances of promotion, dig into their expense account and raise objections backed by facts and signatures. No matter how good their achievements are or how much politically connected they are, they can never recover from the embarrassment.

Company expense account is like a blank cheque. If your job responsibilities involve traveling and client interaction, then one can ideally charge almost anything under this account. I have known a few of my friends in sales and marketing who practically live off the expense account.

Almost everyone pays for hotels stay, fancy restaurants, taxis and designer gifts from the expense account. However the problem comes when:
1. We over spend because we are not paying
2. We inflate the bills and expenses
3. Sometimes people even create fake bills. I have known so many people who can get fictitious bills for fuel or medicines from the nearby shop.

What we fail to realize is that just because the expense was approved, does not mean that your misdemeanor went un-noticed. Everyone knows how much a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel costs. So just because one has the receipt, does not mean no one will be suspicious.

Whats worse is that these days data is being stored for eternity and can be retrieved in a jiffy. Back stabbing and office politics has gone so competitive that if someone wants to check the honesty and integrity of an employee, the expense account is the place where they start. Few of the British MP recently woke up to this embarrassing surprise recently.

Just because its allowed, does not mean it is permitted. Spend the corporate money like the way you would spend yours and things will be OK.


Problems of a Universal Currency: Globos (part 2)

I might fancy Swiss chocolates, but Swiss factories will not accept INR. I need to pay them in Swiss Francs.

Currency prices fluctuate every second. So I would not like to trade in Swiss Francs, not the Swiss trader in INR. Hence the need of International Currency like Euro/USD. Both Parties agree that the International Currency will have the same purchasing power tomorrow as it has today. Hence it can be used as a reference.

In the previous post, we had discussed the rise and fall of the various international currencies over the past 2500 years of coinage. But why do one need a currency?

My economist friends would quickly point out that money has 3 uses:
1. Medium of Exchange: It eliminates the transaction problem that usually occurs with Barter system. Your Soft Drink vendor might not fancy the idea of buying grain, but he will surely accept coins.

2. Unit of Account: Since all values and numbers would be converted to the local currency, Money allows people to record and measure their financial data and allows easy comparison.

3. Storage Value of money:
Grain, meat and produce is perishable. However coins are not. Ideally speaking I could store money for eternity and it won’t diminish in value (lets forget inflation for the time being) This fact also facilitates in loaning money and raising capital.

If these are the only purposes of money, then a blanket Universal Currency makes sense. After all:
As we saw in the swiss chocolate case, the more universally accepted is the currency, easier will it be to do trade. Also the easier it is to trade, the more variety and cheaper would be the prices of goods and services. Then why is it that in spite of 2500 years of using money, why there has been no lasting attempt to make an international currency?

To understand money, we have to understand why coins were minted and currency issued. Currency have always been a means for a strong state to leverage on its economic and military strength and raise money.
A coin always had some part of Copper (or other cheaper metal) Yet the value of the coin was historically always equal to its weight in silver/gold. So in effect the more coins a state would mint, the richer it will become. However to do so, the state had to ensure that the world accepts its currency at face value and not the intrinsic value (value of the metal)

Sooner the USA and later the whole world realized that they can issue Fiat Money. Hence now if GoI issues a 1000/- bill, it basically creates a 1000/- for itself out of thin air. But like it Zimbabwe if the government fails, the local currency is rendered worth the paper it is printed on. Now this ability of a government to raise money to fund its deficit is too tempting to resist.
Suppose like in EU, we are able to convince government to be thrifty (easier said and done), the question that still remains is redistribution of the new currency that is printed. Look at the opposition that some of the EU members have against inclusion of Turkey in the alliance.

Ideally speaking every country allocates a larger part of its budget for development of backward regions. However if you start doing this on a global scale, then the rich states object. They feel that their wealth is appropriated by the state and squandered away.

This problem will not go away until the world truly thinks itself as a part of a global village. Euro, in spite of all the hiccups, could achieve that. So there is no reason why the rest of the world could not. However in the decade to come, this looks a bit tricky matter.


International Currency (Part 1)

Today USD is considered as an international currency. However this was not always the case.

Older International currency
1. Denarius (silver coins issued by the Roman Empire) First stuck in 211 BC was in trade till 275 AD. The coin weighed 4.5 gms in silver. The legions of Rome provide stability and its widespread empire provided liquidity/acceptability to these coins. Its influence went beyond the borders of the Roman Empire and even today many Islamic country use the word Dinar for their currency.

2. Ducat: it weighed about 3.5gms of gold and was issued by Venice in 1140 AD. Till the time Venice was the center of trade, Ducat remained the measure of gold and wealth. Even in Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare), the loan was given in Ducats. Mediterranean has always been the center of exchange of goods between Asia, Africa and Europe. Since Venetian Galleys ruled the water there the currency was widely accepted.

3. Soon after the discovery of the New Worlds and the Passage to Asia via Cape of Good Hope Italy’s influence in the world trade declined. The center of international trade and finance shifted to Spain and then Finally to England (because of its widespread colonies). Pound Sterling hence became the currency of choice. All other currency were pegged against Gold or this currency.

4. Dollar: Dollar’s rise to supremacy was not smooth. Early dollars were issued by the merchant bank (and not the US Government) Hence it was not uncommon for an individual owning 10-15 different issues of dollars each valid in different states. Even after the Civil War when US government started issuing dollar, the currency initially failed. Till 1932 there were 2 dollar the Green paper (fiat money) and the Gold Coin. The exchange price of the two were determined on the basis of gold prices. It was only after the World War 1, when the European government owed US huge sums of money that Dollar Supremacy was established. The Fact that Fort Knox had at one time almost half the known bullion in the world further strengthened US Dollar’s position as the international currency of choice.


Bald salesman

These days I worry a lot about my receding hairline.. and unfortunately there is not much that i can do about it.

However this post by Scott Adams of Dilbert really made my day. He asserts that as long as a person is fit and dresses well, nobody will pay attention to his baldness. More people concentrate on the positives of the person, the things that makes them stand out… than on petty things on which one has no control

Furniture Retail in India

In India, the Housing boom came and went by. The retail boom came and cooled down. Yet the way furniture retail operates has changed only a little. The only perceivable changes are
1. Modular Plastic furniture
2. Imported furniture, use of newer materials like wrought iron etc to make designer furniture.

However the real change that I am seeking is redefining the way in which the whole industry is organized. The problem is that in India there are 2 options for the people
1. Hire a carpenter:
a. He if unprofessional. i.e. never sticks to the schedule, if hired on a daily basis would loaf around a lot, if hired on piece meal basis would often rush the job producing shoddy work. They also often tend to supplement their income by charging commission to the retailers and a lot of supplies are wasted (hence inflating the bill of materials)
b. Since the work would be done in the backyard or a temporary shed, a lot of productivity that can be brought because of mechanization and proper tools and fixtures is lost. There is no economies of scale.
c. A carpenter has to do all the tasks hence there is no room for higher quality because of specialization.
d. Furniture now is not confined to A good design demands not only good workmanship, but also different materials and latest styles. Beautiful pieces of art is often not the specialty of unorganized carpenters.
e. You cannot commission a carpenter for a small stool. It has to be a significant assignment involving atleast a week of labor for him to be interested.

2. Do it yourself.
Thanks to the cheep labor available its not a popular option. I have not known many people who can do more than basic repairing and installation/assembly.

3. Retail Shops.
World over most people buy modular furniture from companies like Ikea etc. because its cheap and affordable. The workmanship is good, and the furniture is designed in a way that eases packaging, transportation and assembly. This not only saves cost, but increases the usability.

However most Indian stores don’t have economies of scale. They operate like boutique stores. i.e.
1. High inventory
2. High markup/price
3. Smaller revenues

Whats even more starling is that modular furniture, ready made items costs 2-3 times more than their customized counterparts.

There has to be a way that can resolve these inefficiencies and pass on the benefit to the common man. Afterall spending 1Lakh in furnishing and woodwork even for the most modest of the homes is not uncommon.

And I thought SI names were long

What do you think of these words:
Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg
Well its not a name of the members attending a summit, but the name of 1 single person “Germany’s new economic minister”

I think he can beat all South Indians, hands down, when it comes to length of the name.

– Thanks to Satya for pointing this interesting info to me.

Buttermilk theory of Love

A friend of mine today reminded of this interesting theory

In India, most of the good girls find their match while they are still in their High School.
Of those who remain, many of them take advantage of the increased freedom that the hostel life offers.
Still eligible ones go for the arranged marriage immediately after their graduation.
The unlucky few who survive fall prey within the first year of hitting the job market.
So finally what is left is Butter Milk….
i.e. although the name suggest presence of Butter, it has everything but butter.