Thursday, May 22, 2008

Profile of an oomai kusumban

As you all know, the Memorial Day long weekend is coming up. And my wife and I are off to visit my friend Praveen in Denver. Praveen and I go a long way, 1993 to be exact. Its always amazing to me that we know each other for 15 years now. How time seems to fly! It feels like yesterday, when we shared the back benches in class XI C of the Santhome Hr. Sec School, both having moved from other schools. At the outset, Praveen appeared to be this sweet quiet chap, who couldn't bite into a banana even if it were peeled and placed in his mouth (I realize this is a pretty bad metaphor!). But he is what you might call an "oomai kusumban"! And I was this boisterous, rebellious kid in class, always challenging the teacher, class leader and constantly getting admonished. Praveen is one of the funniest guys I've met to this day, and he does this without any apparent effort. He would have these constant barrage of really funny comments and snide remarks to everything that went on in class, and whenever I laughed or tried to retort, I would be caught. Of course, we knew early not to squeal on anyone. So I would take my punishment, while he sat there like a saint with a halo around his head. So, long story short, we hit it off very soon and became very tight friends along with SP and Balaji. The foursome were as different from each other as possible, but this group helped me get through school. While Balaji fell off the radar somewhere along, the rest three have been the best of friends ever since.
Since I'm going to be meeting him in a couple of days, I thought I'd take this opportunity to tarnish his 'reputation' a bit here. While there are plenty of experiences to recount, there are always a few key moments in any relationship that stand out. And we can never forget them for the rest of our lives, even if we tried. So here are my top Praveen moments...
The Mylapore bakery incident: There was this iyengaar bakery on kutchery road, where the veggie puffs seemed to have fallen from heaven. Every once so often, we would stop here for a bite and then cross the road for a fruit shake at 'Senthil Softie'. Usually, I was the one who picked up the tab. On this particular day, Praveen strutted up to me and said "machan! I'll treat you to a puff and a shake", and I couldn't believe my ears. Not wanting to postpone this auspicious and scarcely believable development, we immediately set off to our favorite haunt. We both picked up a puff and bit into them, enjoying the rich flavor and aroma and the heavenly spice. When we were done eating and cleaned our hands on our shirts, it was time to pay the bill. I stood aside and let Praveen do the honors. He digged into his pocket, then the other pocket, his back pocket and everything in between! After what seemed an eternity, he slowly turned to me and said "machan! I think I forgot my wallet". I could literally hear glass shattering in the background like that old Nokia ad. Luckily, I had some money on me. So muttering pretty damaging expletives under my breath and paid up. When we were done, he had the gall to ask me for a fruit shake, knowing fully well I had to pay for that as well. And of course, I had to buy him the damned shake across the street. While he has more than made up for this by way of many treats, I still haven't let him forgot his generous 'treat' incident to this day...
The cricket runout incident: We were playing the inter-section cricket tournament in Santhome. From the start of the tournament, I was in outstandig form. I would walk in to open the batting, and would finish off games before you could say "over-a scene vidatha!". We moved to the finals where we ran into the over-thadi favorites, Section A, consisting of the biology students, apparently the best and the brightest in school and the toast of the teachers and principal. We were chasing a steep total, and I was again in very good form. But I was losing partners quickly on the other end. Soon, Praveen joined me in the middle. Because we had won the other games with ease, the middle and lower orders hadn't got much practice and this was Praveen's first foray into the middle. I nudged a wicked delivery to the leg side, and started running for a single while watching the ball. Midway down the pitch, I turned to the non-striker's side and saw Praveen still rooted to his spot, panick in his eyes. I literally pleaded with him to run. At this point, Praveen fully knew one of us was going to be run out. I could hear the wheels in his brain churning - one of the few times it has - and after what seemed like eternity, he reluctantly started jogging down the pitch. And yes, he was run out without facing a ball. It was a supreme act of self-sacrifice, and would have remained so, if he didn't keep bringing this up frequently in our conversations to this day, especially when he needs a favor...
Introduction to thanni: Years after this, we both came to the US for our Masters - me in Chicago and Praveen in God-forsaken Oklahoma. We were both busy with settling into our new lives, and it was about a year later that we decided to meet up. Praveen drove in his rickety old car from Oklahoma to Chicago without a single break I think. After a day of sight-seeing, we decided to chill out in my apartment that evening. Praveen had never touched alcohol in his life. And so I took it upon myself to upon the doors to heaven for him. Somehow he agreed to try. Instead of starting with a traditional beer, I brought out a bottle of Absolut vodka. I poured a generous portion with a bit of sprite, and he chugged it up while making a face. I was surprised when he asked for a second round two seconds later. We went on for hours, and I was surprised with how easily he could handle his drink. These days, he is walking the streets of Denver a drunken monkey, drinking alone and hugging strangers. I guess I can take credit for that.
There are many more incidents - sad, poignant, life-changing - that I can remember, but I prefer to stick with the happy ones for now. So here's to life-long friends and unforgettable moments...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Kellogg Diary - Entry #1

Dear Diary,
The last couple of days have been pretty eventful. On Wednesday, I helped out with the Manufacturing Business Conference (MBC) organized by the MMM class at Kellogg. The topic for the event was 'Differentiation by Design'. We had a great list of keynote speakers and panelists from IDEO, HP, Private Equity Firms, Consulting firms etc. However, the highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the opening keynote by Jim McNerney, the President, Chairman and CEO of the Boeing Company. As far as CEO's go, you can't get bigger than that, can you? Apparently, his nephew is a fellow Kellogg student, his daughter goes to Northwestern, his dad taught at Northwestern, and Jim himself is on the board of trustees for Northwestern. I never get amazed at the elite company I suddenly find myself in.
Following the conference, I went to my 'Managerial Leadership' class taught by Harry Kraemer, the former CEO of Baxter International, a $40+ billion global healthcare company. He is a former Kellogg grad and now is an adjunct professor. This class is one of the most popular ones in Kellogg. Every week, he also invites a guest speaker from the industry. This week was the turn of Chris Galvin, former CEO of Motorola, and another Kellogg alum. The topic of the class was value-based leadership. Mr. Galvin also gave us a blow by blow account of the events that led to his ouster from Motorola by his board, and did not forget to point out the firm's downward trend ever since.
It was a long day. After a few drinks and some pool with a friend, I called it a night. I had to wake up at 6AM the next day to follow a lawn care truck. Yeah, you heard me right! As part of our design course, we have taken on a project to redesign the trucks operated by TruGreen lawncare. The project sort of fell into our hands since these trucks are designed and supplied to them by Wanner Engineering, a privately held firm that belongs to the family of a fellow classmate. What we were doing is called 'shadowing' and is an integral part of the modern design process. It helps to get the customer's perspective, some felt and some unfelt. We had a ton of ideas within a few hours, from redesigning the hose mechanism and spray gun to advertising better on their van to incorporating advanced GPS systems.
Today, a friday, is usually an offday. But I had to drive in to Chicago downtown to meet the clients for a project-based course we are doing. This course is called Management Lab, and is part of the 'experiential' learning most business schools advertise. My project team is helping the Chicago 2016, a non-profit organization set up by the city to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, to look at sustainability of their venues after the Olympics. Some of the questions we would address are - can this venue be a sustainable and profitable business post-Olympics? what could be other sources of revenue add-ons? what is the market size, demand and revenue model? etc. I can't tell you much more than that, even to you diary, since we signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement with 2016. So how did we get this project? Well, you've probably figured it by now. The man hand-picked by the mayor for the Olympic effort is Pat Ryan, executive chairman and founder of Aon Corporation and a director of the Chicago Bears. Apparently, he is also the chairman of the board of trustees for Northwestern University. So he's leveraged this connection to get Kellogg on board in the 2016 effort, and our project is part of this effort.
Well, its friday evening, and I'm probably going to check out looptopia with my wife and a bunch of friends. After a hectic week, I do need some R&R.