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50th Interview: Rama Bijapurkar – Independent director of Infosys & Author of “We are like that only”

13 October 2008 5 Comments

The moment has arrived. 50th interview on CWS! This is a huge moment for CWS, me & ofcourse for all the readers of CWS. Without your support all these wouldn’t have been possible. So, on this special occasion, I would like to interview a special person. And its my previledge to host Rama Bijapurkar.

The following introduction of Rama Bijapurkar is taken from here.

Rama Bijapurkar is one of India’s most respected thought leaders on market strategy and consumer related issues in India.She is also a keen commentator on social and cultural changes in the evolving liberalizing India. She has her own market strategy consulting practice and works with an impressive list of Indian and global companies, guiding the development of their business-market strategies. She describes her mission as bringing “market focus to business strategy”.

Rama serves as an independent director on the boards of Infosys Technologies, CRISIL, Axis Bank, Godrej Consumer Products, ENIL (Radio Mirchi), Give Foundation (a not-for-profit company), Subhiksha Trading Services Ltd. and Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd.

An alumna of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Rama continues to be involved with her alma mater where she is a Visiting Faculty and also serves on the Board of Governors.Rama’s work experience has been in market research and strategy consulting and includes leadership positions with McKinsey & Company, MARG (now AC Nielsen India), and full time consulting with Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever India).

Her new book “We are like that only – Understanding the Logic of Consumer India”, (The Indian edition, Penguin) has been well received and very favourably reviewed. The international edition is called “Winning in the Indian Market – Understanding the Transformation of Consumer India”, (John Wiley & Sons).

Coffee With Rama Bijapurkar – Independent director of Infosys & Author of “We are like that only”

Me: Sundar Rajan G S

RB: Rama Bijapurkar

Me: Hello Maam, Welcome to CWS!! A good number of companies do sufficient market analysis before producing the final product.. Yet, most of them fail.. Why do you think this happens.. Can you talk a bit about market analysis.. What do you think these companies miss out (most often)

RB: There are several different reasons – sometimes it is just good old fashioned intellectual integrity – test one of those at one price and then launch at another. Test with one target group and launch for another – a lot of this happens. It usually happens also because of a little drift each time during the development process, which, at the end of the long development periods, ends up taking the launched offer far away from the original one that was tested. So test one thing, launch another, don’t notice it, and never compare what was tested with what was launched.

Sometimes it is asking the wrong question. The famous coke one was that consumers did not know that a vote for the new coke meant a vote for death of the old coke.

Sometimes it is ham handed market research where the scales of measurement are clumsy or not calibrated with behaviour “will you consider this new product” – what is consider? Sometimes in frequent purchase consumables, the questioning asks if people will buy, but assume that they will shift totally from their current product – the consumer could choose to use both and your volume estimates could go haywire therefore.

Market analysis also needs a strong mental model of the market to even design the analysis right – folks dont do it mostly.

Me: In markets like India, which is soo diverse.. What should do you think should be the way to build successful products – A generic/one size fit all type or a very specific product for a particular niche.. We can certainly see successful examples in both.. How do you compare the above methods of capturing markets?

RB: if no one is making ready made shirts, we will all settle for – happily – one size that fits all, and adjust to longer or shorter sleeves or wider or thinner lapels. But if some one comes and gives the right size for one group of people not served probably by the “one size”, then there is a real risk to the “one size” strategy. So if you want to preempt competition, make the effort and learn to manage complexity at the lowest possible cost

Me: Lets forget the recent volatility for the time being.. India has been doing pretty well in the past 4 – 5 years.. but the income distribution is very skewed.. What approach should we take for a more holistic development.. of course.. without sacrificing on our growth..

RB: education and encouraging entrepreneurship. Only those educated can participate in the goodies that the market economy and growth bring. How about 100 vocations and one hundred training schools for each – more young people can earn as para medics, as teachers, as bpo assistants, as tailors, as auto mechanics, as designers as para legals etc etc. Also help financial and non financial for entrepreneurs – several small ones.

Me: Can you talk about your experience of writing the book.. What triggered your interest.. How did you go about writing it.. What are the pain points, motivating factors etc..

RB: It was my area of work and writing and I wanted to throw my body over the space and take credit for it, before intellectual property went elsewhere and with no attribution to me. – a sort of ‘remember, she said it first’ in the interim I did a web site for that reason, but its not the same as having it out in the open in a book. When I wrote it, I just wrote it expecting no sales. I in fact kept 2 lakhs of rupees aside and said that there were about 300 to 400 people in the world that I wanted to read this book – and that I would send it to them free – I have always wanted impact more than revenue – but funnily and fortunately this book delivered both. We have crossed 20,000 in the Indian edition and done well with the international edition too. The IE is titled “winning in the Indian market”

Me: You serve as a director in the boards of Infosys, Axis Bank etc.. Can you talk a bit about your work as a member of this board? What are your roles and responsibilities…

RB: My job is to be part of a group of hopefully wise and honest people who will use their judgment to ensure that the business conducts itself in a fair and ethical manner such that no small shareholder is disadvantaged; and also to ensure that businesses stay healthy and grab all the opportunities they can, without risking the business beyond what is prudent. It is “nose in, fingers out” (directors are supposed to be nosey but they aren’t supposed to run the business) boards are not the management. They advise, supervise, monitor the management, and take steps to ensure that the business is not stressed out or not geared to continue value creation. For example, succession at top most levels ensures sustained value created. Sometimes businesses deliver financials, but the long term business health is in jeopardy – so we point those out and push management int he direction it needs to go. The board is a collective entity and it is this multi disciplinary collective judgments that makes board work very exciting.

Me: On powerpoint, almost any strategy looks good..

RB: Yes but we challenge and test the assumptions and the view of how the future will unfold, based on which the strategy is developed.

Me: How/When does a board go against the CEO?

RB: if the ceo is not what the business needs given the tasks it has to perform given its situation, the environment etc. If a ceo is taking too few risks or too many, thats cause for concern too. Or if he / she is not creating a climate of talent growth or not interested in succession planning or not understanding the environment complexity then also.

Me: is the board only reacting to stock price?

RB: no. But to all signals of performance, if stock price is tanking and company is doing very well, there is a signal there for the board to examine. Or the reverse.

Me: as engineers @ the bottom of the pyramid, we rarely understand how the upper management *actually* works πŸ™‚ can you give some insights..

RB: there are models and models of this based on different ideologies and philosophies, some are for teams at the top some are autocrats. Some are the god of small things and deliver very well by managing a zillion details of the running of the company. Some are more interested in being coaches and motivators, some do all the thinking and leave the troops to execute. Some do it by consensus, it is important to understand the model that is being used – implicit sometimes but look carefully and you will see the pattern.

Me: what are your other interests? What do you do spend your free time?

RB: i watch lots of tv and movies, read every kind of book except science fiction and its allies. I sleep 8 to 10 hrs every night. Love listening to Indian classical music. Love people but hate partying. Am passionately interested in politics. I read harry potter, tagore, john keay, sudhir kakkar, edth wharton on the one hand and sara jessica parker on the other, adi shankara’s biography and all my professional reading. Cosmo and hbr are both critical reads. I travel a lot and sight see too. I take a sole holiday by myself every year. Its my silence and renewal. I am not at all into sports but do yoga everyday

Me: what are your favourite books which you have read so far?

RB: i think roald dahl (swutch bitch) and tagore (gorao , currently reading michael wood “story of India”, and “exploding mangoes” by hussein mohd, a hilarious story about zia ul haque and pakistan. Favorite raga is basant and malkaus, favorite singer is jasraj, favorite person is my 23 year old daughter, and favorite place is my home when no one else is in it except me!

Me: thank you soo much maam. It is indeed a great honour to host you as a guest on cws! Thanks a lot for your time maam.

RB: Thank you!

Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts. Previous editions of Coffee With Experts is here. Thanks a lot for your support!! You guys really motivate me to give my best for CWS




  • Ashutosh Didwania said:

    Good one!

  • me said:


  • Prashant Sree said:

    Congrats for reaching the Half-century mark…

    An useful interview.,. πŸ™‚

  • Karthik Balaji said:

    A very nice interview indeed. Being at the bottom of the ladder “A Board” looked like arcane object. Good insight into it. Specially that “β€œnose in, fingers out” part πŸ™‚

  • Iniyaal said:

    Good one. I have read her book “We are like that Only”.. Her easy and simple language without use of management and corporate jargons makes it easier to understand. Very informative interview.