The first thing that took me by surprise about my interview with Madhu Kannan, the CEO of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) was the timing of our chat. “Can you be here by 8.25 am?” he asked. Sure, I replied and cameraman, Sanjiv, and I reached his plush office right on time.
It had taken around 3 months and an endless number of emails and phone calls to the BSE’s press office to confirm a date and time for our interview. It was frustrating to keep chasing them – I put it down to Indian bureaucracy and poor time management, unfortunately still typical of many large Indian companies.
“That’s one thing I am trying to change,” said Kannan when we interviewed him. “I want to start meetings on time and change the culture so no one’s late for meetings.”
It’s just one of the many, many challenges Kannan has ahead of him.
His big task: To revamp the BSE and make it relevant again.
At 37, he’s the youngest CEO of Asia’s oldest stock exchange. It’s an exchange that needs help.
While it had a virtual monopoly over stock trading in India, the entry of a rival exchange – the National Stock Exchange in the early 1990’s – changed that. The BSE now handles only a fraction of all trading done in India. To compete more efficiently, it needs to invest in better technology, says Kannan, who also has plans to make the BSE a one-stop shop for investors looking to trade across multiple platforms.
Sure, Kannan may get the BSE back on its feet. However, the real challenge for any stock exchange in India – be it the BSE or the NSE – is to get more people to invest in stocks. Only a tiny fraction –two percent of India’s billion strong population – dabbles in the share market. Those in rural areas still prefer to invest in tangible assets like gold.
Even if Kannan is able to win back customers who’ve switched to the NSE, convincing newcomers to try their hand at trading shares, say observers, could be key to the BSE’s success. Given the robust year the Indian stock market has had, it could well attract a bunch of new investors.
Kannan has already started the process of repositioning the BSE. He’s in the process of buying a technology firm, has cut transaction fees, and – oh yes – he starts all his meetings on time.
MUMBAI, India (CNN) – Whenever my mother was unsure about what to gift someone for a birthday, wedding, anniversary or festival, my grandmother would say to her, “give gold.”
“It will last a life time and everyone appreciates it,” she would say.
Even today, my parents often gift gold on a special occasion. It’s part and parcel of Indian culture. Indians love wearing gold, giving gold, receiving gold.
Turns out we love hoarding it too. At least 20 to 25 thousand tons of gold is stored in households across India. With gold prices currently around $1005 an ounce that means around $807.7 billion is stashed away deep inside cupboards, under mattresses and at the back of safes in India.
India is the world’s largest consumer of gold and also a net importer of the precious metal. Problem is, once gold enters India, there is no transparent, standardized market for the resale of gold back into bullion. Gold sellers are at the mercy of middlemen: Anyone wanting to sell gold have to take a necklace or chain to a scrap jeweler. He would check it, weigh it and come up with a price for it. He’d charge a hefty commission, take it to a refinery and melt it.
Anjani Sinha is asking gold sellers to ignore the middlemen and follow him instead. He runs the National Spot Exchange – which has created the first transparent, standardized platform for gold trade in India.
Under this system, anyone with gold to sell can go directly to an approved refinery where gold is melted into bars or coins of an international standard. The seller can either take the bar home or leave it in a vault. He is given a receipt, which he can sell via an approved broker. The idea is to make trading in gold as easy as trading in stocks and shares.
If sellers start bringing some of their gold out from under mattresses and into the spot trading market, it has the potential to revolutionize the gold market – and make a massive impact on the Indian economy.
Si Kannan of Kotak Commodity Services walks us through some of the numbers: At current prices, even if 1% of India’s household gold enters the market, it would mean an extra $24 billion circulating through the domestic economy.
This would reduce India’s dependence on imports, pave the way for investment in domestic refineries, and increase employment opportunities.
The biggest challenge now though is convincing people to go to a refiner, not a scrap jeweler, when they want to sell gold. To be honest, I can’t see anyone from my grandmother’s generation going to a refiner instead of a family jeweler she has known for ages. Some habits are hard to break.
MUMBAI, India – There are few things in India and about India that startle me. I am Indian, I grew up here, and am used to the peculiarities and paradoxes that lurk around every corner.
The 27-story structure towers over Mumbai's slums.
I certainly wasn't expecting a recent assignment – a seemingly straightforward news story on property in Mumbai – to stop me in my tracks.
I didn't have too much time to take in what I was seeing before cops appeared from nowhere and pushed cameraman Sanjiv and myself away.
"No, no shooting allowed here." "Why?" we asked. "No, no, now wait for our supervisor."
Before the supervisor arrived – possibly to take our tape away - we jumped into our waiting car and drove off.
The cops scribbled our car number down. But we had got what we needed - footage of industrialist Mukesh Ambani's private residence being built on Mumbai's prestigious but very average looking Altamount road.
Staring at the 27-floor structure (I believe it's as high as a 60-story building though) I wondered where the two helipads would be. Which floor would be the pool be on? How many cars could the six floors of parking fit? How many staff members would wait on the family of six?
And the cool chamber with fake snow flurries to keep the wife cool in the Mumbai heat – now where would that be? And – is any of this true?
For now, we only have media reports to go by - and they put the cost of this private tower in the sky with all its facilities and fittings, at between $1-2 billion.
As Sanjiv got his shots, I watched laborers on the scaffolding - banging away, building away. Men and women who probably earn a few dollars a day to make someone's billion dollar dream home a reality.
"It's just unfair, unjust," said Dr Uday Mehta, a passionate social worker who is part of Mumbai's Committee for the Right to Housing. "It's just plain ugly."
How can he live like that, asked Mehta, as he walked us through a crowded and filthy shanty town – look at how the rest of Mumbai lives.
Is Mukesh Ambani's decision to spend the money he has earned on a flashy residence wrong, given he lives in a city where 60 percent of the population lives in slums? Or should he be allowed to spend his money, earned from his business empire, however he wants?
Does a man of his stature and his wealth have to think about what others think of him? What do YOU think? Share your thoughts!
I went on a holiday to a remote beach resort in Egypt a few years ago. It was the best holiday I've had - because my husband's BlackBerry did not work there.
OK, I admit, this was before I got a BlackBerry from my office. And, since getting one, I am quite hooked as well.
Do I check it at home? Yes. Do I check it on weekends? Just a few times. Do I take it on holiday? Yes. Do I sleep with it under my pillow? NO!
That's what one worker from London's business district told me when I stopped him on the street to ask him if he uses a BlackBerry.
"Incessantly" was his reply. He said it never leaves his side, that he takes it on vacation, and that he sleeps with under his pillow.
Surprised? Perhaps this statistic will surprise you more: 83 percent of people surveyed in London's financial district by Credant Technologies admitted they're taking their BlackBerries or office mobile phones along with them on holiday this year.
Almost two thirds of London brokers said they contacted their office while they were vacationing.
Life coach Rebekah Fensome, whose office is a stone's throw away from London's financial area, says the numbers don't surprise her.
It's a reflection of the times we are in, she says. The financial downturn means people are insecure about their jobs, worried they will be made redundant, concerned about their salaries and bonuses - so they feel the need to constantly check in with their offices.
"We call it the city paranoia," says Yvonne Eskenzi of Credant.
"With the recession, people are far more keen to check their emails at work, to make sure colleagues are not muscling in on their work, to make sure they're not missing any work in the office," she says.
Fensome says she understands why some people feel the need to check their BlackBerries all the time. People tell her it helps them succeed at work. That if they are able to check their emails while on holiday, it means less stress when they return to the office.
Others, like the city worker who sleeps with his BlackBerry under his pillow, say they thrive on it.
Burnout. That's what will happen, warns Fensome, if BlackBerry users aren't careful about how many times they check for that flashing red light.
"To be really successful in your work life, you need to understand you also need to take breaks," she warns. Otherwise, it could lead to psychosomatic issues such as fear, worries, insominia which comes through stress.
Also, wider issues around relationship breakups and problems with being able to engage in family life when you go back home."
With that, I think Fensome is right on the mark. I know so many grumbling spouses/partners who want to chuck an unwelcome BlackBerry into the deep end of the pool or off a mountain when it comes along on a holiday.
Do you feel the same way? Or do you take your BlackBerry along as well?
"She gets pretty irate with me, my girlfriend when I am supposed to be on holiday on the beach and I am checking my BlackBerry," said another City worker to me. Do you blame his girlfriend? I'd love to know what you think.
As for the City man who sleeps with his BlackBerry under his pillow? I forgot to ask him if he has a partner.
And if my husband tried that? Well, the BlackBerry would be under the couch. Because that's where he'd be!
CALCUTTA, India – I am in Calcutta, India, the city I grew up in and still call home. It was supposed to have been a busy day for me. I had meetings set up, errands to run, host a play date for my son, have lunch with friends. Instead, I'll be at home all day. Today – and tomorrow.
Activists burn an effigy in Hyderabad against fuel price rises.
It's not that I mind sitting at home all day. I am on holiday and more than happy to spend time with my parents, plod around the house and catch up with my cousins and niece who live down the road. That's as far as I can go on Thursday as well as Friday.
There's a two day bandh – a general strike called by the ruling Left Front on day one, and by the opposition parties the next day. That means cars aren't allowed on the road, schools are closed, shops are shut, no businesses will trade, some flights to and from the city have been canceled.
The bandh is West Bengal's answer to the hike in fuel prices. After putting it off for weeks, India's central government sharply raised fuel prices on Wednesday. An extra Rs 5 per liter for petrol (up around 11 percent,) Rs 3 for diesel, Rs 50 for a cylinder of cooking gas.
That's a steep rise. With global oil prices at record highs, the Indian government had to give in. As it is, fuel prices in India are heavily subsidised to ease the impact on the millions who live in poverty.
State-run oil marketing companies are hemorrhaging vast amounts of money – as much as a billion dollars a day, according to some reoports. Some folks say the price hike should have been even higher, to make the economics of $130 a barrel of oil work out. Thursday's price hike was inevitable.
Fine, I get all that. I understand why the government had to raise fuel prices and I understand why people are upset. So, protest. Hold a peaceful rally somewhere and make your point. Tell the government you are angry, make your demands. But a bandh?! How does it help to bring a heaving city to a grinding halt for two days?
Not only is it a massive headache for calcuttans, imagine the financial cost to the city of two lost working days.
It makes no sense.
For a state trying to woo investors, attract multinational companies and project an image of a forward thinking business hub – a bandh is a giant step backwards. How can those calling the bandh not get that?
Let me know what you think.
LONDON, England – There was something different about this protest. It just wasn't what I expected from a bunch of truckers gathering in central London to protest the high cost of diesel.
It began in much the way I thought it would: truckers honking their horns, waving placards, holding banners that said, "OUT BROWN." It looked like any other rally, any one of the colourful protests you frankly, see quite often on the streets of London.
Sharon Knight delivers her emotional speech.
Then the speeches began. I leaned in to listen. Not because of what was being said (diesel prices are too high, the government is no good, our industry is being wiped out etc etc) but because of who was at the podium, and the passion with which she spoke.
I admit my surprise at seeing a lady in black patent leather stilettos lead the speeches at a truckers protest. I was even more surprised when Sharon Knight, part of a family run trucking business, couldn't hold back her tears.
Diesel in the UK now costs up to $2.60 a litre. Guess what that translates into across the Atlantic? Roughly $9 a gallon! Almost half of that cost is tax imposed by the British government. Truckers are paying around 35 percent more to fill up their vehicles diesel from last year, forcing many to shut shop.
Sharon was one of the people who took a letter to Downing Street, calling on the government to help. Of course Prime Minister Gordon Brown can't bring down the global price of oil, but what he can do, say the truckers, is cut taxes on fuel.
It's getting late, Sharon told us. If the government doesn't step in soon, many transport and haulage companies will be out of business. They'll lose their incomes and a way of life. The only way of life many of them know. It's easy to understand why Sharon couldn't hold back her tears.
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