Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Melting Pot !

Back to China again for the April edition of the Canton show.

As a bellweather for the global economy, optimism abounds.

The previous 3 shows have been irregular with their sparse attendance. Unlike earlier shows, they were less like Oxford Street in the run up to Christmas and more like a quiet backstreet in Baghdad at midnight!

Factories that used to run at over capacity and had a total neglect for customer service, suddenly remembered our names and invited us for meetings. Asked "what they could do to help us". Listed to, and even acted upon, our complaints! It was a brief golden age to be a buyer in China for that 18 month period!

But now the "good times" are back! Arriving at the show this morning (ill prepared for the unseasonably cold weather), it took an hour to enter the show! The hoards had returned and were showing a fresh willingness to buy (or at least talk about a willingness to buy).

From my own perspective (research done while standing in line at the unbelievably overcrowded McDonalds in the exhibition center and passing through the corridors) , I could see and build a picture of where and how the global economy is recovering. Present were a large number or Russians and Indians, a fair sprinkling of North and South Americans, people of Middle East origin and a reasonable mix of Europeans. It was light on Africans, and the Brits didnt make their presence too strongly felt!

This dramatic increase in visitor numbers did of course mean the return to the ways of the old days of doing business.

Without painting everyone with a single broad brush, I would have thought that suppliers would have learned to look for quality in customers, but instead they reverted to their default (quantity). Those who talked about building long term strategic relationships during the hard times have decided again that short term planning is better again now. The plethora of buyers from all over the world who fly in do make this thinking very tempting for factories, and that's where it pays off to spend time to select those handful of quality manufacturers who do understand the importance of diplaying and honouring trust and loyalty.

Through the crowds, these few examples do stand out and prove that the potential and the opportunity is there, if you have make the effort and have the patience to look.

What is clear though is that this experience, after more than 10 years, never ceases to amaze me. For 2 weeks, two times a year, the Chinese city of Guangzhou becomes the center of the world. The hoards that come to fill our shops (wherever we are). People from every corner of the globe come and meet and discuss business opportunities. Race, colour and creed all take a back seat for once - and its a beautiful thing to behold!

In good times and bad, long may it continue!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

MY iPad review (based on 3 minutes of useage)

Very slick - beautiful build quality (as to be expected), but .....

much heavier than I expected it to be, the accelerometer was way too sensative (the screen rotating at the slightest movement of my hand) and definately way too fragile to be practical !

So in summary, a fashion accessory ..... nice looking, good tool for Flash Harry's (and Harriets), and I have to question why the person I took it from, brought it into the meeting, but used a paper and pen for his note taking????

Friday, April 9, 2010

A profile on ME ! :-)

So this post is easy ...... my friend Kiran has done it for me :-)

So in the name of self promotion, here is a link and below the profile written on me !

Profile on Binatone's Sunil Lalvani

Sunil Lalvani's quiet personality mixed with his sober, yet tasteful dressing, doesn't exactly scream "look at me" and Sunil likes to keep it that way. I've known Sunil's wife Reena for a few years now, and while her chatty disposition and sense of humour ensured that we became good friends almost immediately, Sunil for me remained just that- Reena's husband. When I joined YPO (Young Presidents Organization) is when I started seeing more of him, and then discovered our shared passion for gadgets. It is then I noticed, that when you get Sunil talking, REALLY talking (tell him you're an Apple fan and that should do the trick) is when you find out, shy and "proper" demeanor aside, is a man who is fiercely intelligent and incredibly witty.

Sunil is the MD of Binatone, a family owned Conglomerate, for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Founded in the UK in the 1950's by his father and his Uncle, Partap and Gulu Lalvani, Binatone has grown into a global player and a force to be reckoned with in the Home Appliances sector of the market. While Sunil and his immediate family in the business (including his father and his Hong Kong-based brother, Anish) are extremely low profile almost to a fault, (I was tempted to give him a few tips on his company PR after doing a quick google search on the same) his extended family are anything but. Rumours were abuzz during Princess Diana's lifetime, of her alleged affair with Sunil's Uncle, Gulu (as is also touched upon in the book, "Diana Chronicles") whose own son has been thereafter linked with Paris Hilton, and whose daughter was a successful restaurateur who set up, and subsequently sold, the famous eatery Zuma in London. The company Binatone was itself named by the brothers after their sister, Bina Ramani, whose daughter Malini, has now famously followed in her fashionable mother's footsteps. While his family members are no stranger to the public eye, reclusive Sunil prefers to live a quiet, yet luxurious life, with his Aston Martin DB9 being the only visible sign of "flash" to his otherwise subtle lifestyle choices. Sunil recently even celebrated his 40th birthday in Dubai, and instead of having a massive Dubai-style OTT bash, chose the company of a handful of close friends, a few who had flown in from different parts of the world, for an extravagant 3 day celebration. At the final dinner, Sunil went around the table saying a few short words about each person in attendance, and I was surprised to learn that most have grown up with him and known him almost all his life. His friends likewise, gave him glowing tributes and I could tell shared my own view of him. Honest, trustworthy, sharp and extremely witty are what makes Sunil, along with his wife Reena, part of the small group of my most favourite people in Dubai, and Sunil an obvious pick for being the second person I chose to profile for my blog.

-My most favourite product of Binatone is... The magic Thermo Control kettle – a classic product in our range that has been selling successfully around the world for 10 years and still going strong. In its current form it has a patented light system! Its difficult to get excited about such a mundane everyday product such as a kettle, but this was truly inspirational and led the way to a lot of creative product thinking within the company!

- The product I wished Binatone made is... that’s a hard one, but I would have to say the Bugatti kettle. Through a partnership we have with Bugatti, they approached us with a design, and we engineered it and put in all the technology and found the contract manufacturer for the product and supervise all production ….. but it doesn’t sell under our brand. I know what it cost to develop, I know what it costs to manufacture each unit, and I know what price they sell it for !!!!! That is something to strive for.

- I fancy Steve Jobs because... I cant believe you are forcing me to say this ! As much as I don’t like Apple – not because of the products so much, but because I don’t like the cult following they have, BUT ……. I think Steve Jobs understands customers and customer needs like no other. He is uncompromising in his execution of products and I admire that hugely. As much as I hate to admit it, Apple and their products are mentioned in every product, marketing and strategy discussion I ever have internally!

- If I didn't drive a DB9, I'd have chosen a... a DB9 ! Seriously, I am stuck with this car, because I cant think what to change it for. It is sublime! Beautiful to look at, to listen to drive. It is theatre each time you go for a drive - from the moment you start the engine, through the engine blips on the down shifts, and all the way to its ability to cruise like a luxury saloon when you just want to relax. Its as near to perfection as you can get in a motor vehicle.
Having said that ...... I think the Alfa 8C is simply the most stunning looking car I have ever seen, and came close to buying it…. but Mr.Clarkson gave it a terrible review as a drivers car (despite it terrific lungs), so I didn’t go for it ! I love the Fiat 500 Abarth – If I lived in Europe and had to pick a “practical” car, this would be it – superb execution of “retro design” inside and out !

- My next gadget purchase will be... The Que Pro Reader – an e-reader that (for me) finally has a practical purpose. I am diligent in carrying meeting notes with me on my travels so that I am up to date with information whenever I meet or speak to any of my Country Managers – this neat device is going to save my back and drop 3kgs of papers that I now always carry with me!

- My favourite holiday destination is... with the family, off the beaten track and as far and as wide as possible! We love to go to new places and avoid the ordinary! The rain forest in Borneo, touring Switzerland, Osaka, Russia and Sweden are some examples

- The next thing I plan to implement at work is... discipline to stop selling “me too” products. I strive for creativity in the business, whether it is products or business processes. I hate to see that sometimes we make compromises in our product range because we lack the initiative to come out with a differentiated product in a certain category. We are getting there, but have not reached there yet …. and when we do, we will strive to differentiate and innovate further !

- My favourite book is... a suitable boy by Vikram Seth – I am a slow reader and this classic travelled the globe with me during the 4 months it took me to read it, but I remember it fondly for the company it gave me on those travels.

And I'm most excited to have proof here IN PRINT he is a Steve Jobs fan. Now if only Reena can snap a picture of him secretly using his iPad!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Credit where credit is due

A short post today as Arsenal drop out of the Champions League.

But there is no shame. To have reached the quarter final and played with such spirit considering 8 first team players were out injured ......... and against the best team in the world, and the best player in the world.

Despite Arsenal taking an early lead, Lionel Messi proved why he is crowned the best player in the world. His 4 goals sealed Arsenals fate as he single handedly took his team through to the semi-final.

I cant say I am disappointed. Sad there will be no trip to the final in Madrid, but is this Barcelona team the best football team ever to have played? Great players who can achieve great results while playing the most spectacular football thats a beauty to behold!

Well done Barca, now Arsenal ...... focus on the league!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

What do customers NEED?

So today the iPad is launched! people have been waiting for this since before it was even conceived, and today the first deliveries are made.

Will it live up to its billing?

I have no idea - there will be rave reviews about it, and people will buy it in droves. They will subtly pull them out for the admiration of other people and will swear how fantastic they are and wonder how we lived without them ......... but I have a different take on this.

The iPhone and the iPod touch family have definitely evolved into great items that are useful and practical, but they didn't start out that way. The iPhone was touch screen phone that incorporated an iPod. Its undoubtedly beautiful design and slick user interface made it in an instant success and a social "must have" item, but its true raison d'etre came out of evolution. The app store developed and that brought the devices into their own. These apps made the iPhone into a truly multi functioning device, but was this all then an "accident"?

I ask this about the iPad. Is this another device, no doubt spectacular in its design and construction that is looking for a use? The Apple die hards I know have been discussing, since its announcement, what they will use it for. It will be a home tablet, a PMP, a laptop replacement for short trips, an ebook, a movie player .... and so on ! I am sure it will be all these things, but the beautiful thing about Apple is they have a plethora of loyal followers who will buy their products and take the time to find the use for it !

What an excellent position to be in ! In my world, we have to spend time to look at consumers, understand their needs and develop products that meet those. Sometimes we try and anticipate forthcoming consumer needs - sometimes we hit and sometimes we miss. Sometimes we in fact get the product right, but the consumer doesn't "get it" as we aren't able to effectively get the correct message across. These are normal challenges for "normal" businesses.

So you have to admire Apple (as much as I hate promoting them) for getting themselves in this position. Develop cool products, get consumers to queue up to buy them and write rave reviews about them, and then work tirelessly to find uses that will make the product increasingly successful in the future, and happily glance over the weaknesses!

At the end of the day, if Apple hit their early estimates of sales, 1m units of an item at $700 each is a success no matter how you look at it !

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What a trip!

Arsenal 2 - Barcelona 2

I won't forget that in a hurry!

After hearing the draw for the quarter finals, I was ecstatic that we
had drawn Barcelona and my diary was going to allow me time to see the

An early day started with half a day in a Moscow - meetings in the
office and then a race to the airport. Landing in London at 4pm, I got
gome, washed, donned my Arsenal colours and headed for the pre-requisite
pre-match bevvy down the pub!

Left for the stadium a tad late and got caught in a traffic jam of
underground trains. Unfortunately didn't get a chance to take in any
pre-match atmosphere - just got to the seats as the game kicked off
...... and what a game !

The best team in Europe, the biggest team in the world, the best players
in the world .... here at the Emirates, and the Gunners fans raised the
roof with their excitement.

The first half didn't produce any goals, but should have .... at least 4
or 5 for Barcelona! How Arsenal withstood and didn't concede is beyond
me, but we lived to fight another half !

So a rush to the loo, a quick cup of tea and some chicken tenders during
the break, and back to our seats for what needed to be a far better

So they kick off - not even 30 seconds passes and Barcelona take the
lead ! Arsenal cant get a kick in and 10 minutes later its 2-0. What a
disaster. A nightmare, A waste of a trip to come and see this! But then
....... on comes Walcott. Within 5 minutes he has scored and brought
Arsenal back into the game. What a change in atmosphere! The Emirates
comes back to life and Arsenal are a new team. The pressure increases,
the noise increases, the belief increases - and now Barcelona are
stumbling. The tide has turned and you can feel that Arsenal have it in
them. They battle and push and press, and the inevitable has to happen -
and it does. In the form of a penalty by Fabregas, who was brought down
seconds earlier in front of goal. A hard confident penalty brings us
back on level terms. It gives us hope for the return leg in a weeks
time, but more importantly, the team earn respect - from their
opposition, from the watching audience, and for themselves.

A tremdous, exciting, emotional evening and trip.

I'm flying back to Dubai now - still buzzing. I will be home soon, back
with my family and in the morning we leave for a week of sun in Phuket.

More later ...... well done Arsenal !