UBER in us – values vs valuation

Behind every great fortune lies a great crime – Honore de Blazac

King Croesus of Lydia was one of the richest kings of the world ever (hence the phrase, Rich as Croesus). Once Solon, the wise legislator from Greece paid a visit to him and Croesus tried show off his wealth.  Solon was not impressed. Try as he might, Solon dismissed Croesus’ wealth to the quirk of luck. Croesus believed he was rich because he deserved it and nothing less than that.

The tale of Croesus has a further twist, as after sometime Croesus was defeated in war by the redoubtable Persian king Cyrus. King Cyrus captured Croesus and put him to death. Reportedly, as he was about to be burnt to death he shouted out, “Solon, you were right”. King Cyrus stopped the burning and asked Croesus to explain. On knowing from Croesus the words of Solon, King Cyrus let him free as he reflected similar possibilities in his own fate.

In the past few weeks, Uber, the richest start-up in the world has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. For those not in the know, a quick round up of the happenings at Uber. Sexual harassment cases, bad recruitment calls, boardroom battles, unpalatable culture at work and much more hit Uber in quick succession finally ending with its founder CEO quitting. As Shakespeare put it, “when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”. Uber is paying it big time for choosing the shortest route to success.

Many of among us nodded in agreement with the fate of Uber. Arrogance, greed and abrasiveness has put paid to the image of Uber. Do we realize that most of us live the life of Uber? In our desire to be successful as measured by material wealth, properties, designations and such symbols what have we given up? If Uber gave up corporate governance, decency at work place, fairness in business practices and more, can we make a realistic assessment of our own progress?

Have read, heard and witnessed this struggle for ‘success’. Men and women in positions of power use their power to hide truth, divert blame, usurp others achievements, lie and cheat. The most disgusting has been exploitation of their junior colleagues to further their goals. Promises made to obtain loyalty to get the work done only to conveniently forget all the words later. Truth is a convenience, not the basis of their work. They recruit teams to build their empires only to dismiss them later to cut costs as a strategy! As the food chain gets higher, subverting law, cooking up accounting books, bribes, debauchery and much more are the norm. In the corridors of power, honesty is a word found only in vision statement and not in action.

With all the wealth and ‘success’ thus earned, they build a life of insecurity. Corrupt ways of life corrode the innards of their conscience and their health suffers. Sadly they do not realize that they are being admired by their lackeys for the share of the spoils that they give out or for fear of retribution and not because they are good. Like King Croesus, they believe they deserve it all and like him, they are wrong.

Uber was valued at $65 billion or so in its last round. If they had followed fair practices, did not tolerate anything or anyway route for success and growth probably they would have been valued much lower. Say $40 billion and not a bad number though! Today, if a fresh round of investments is attempted, Uber might end up with a valuation around that number. Mind you, it is only a valuation and not real money! In economics, there is a phrase to describe it. Reversion to the mean. Eventually all things end up at the average. As it is with Uber, it will be with those of us whose chase the world of ephemeral success.

Today nobody wants to know the valuation of Uber. Everyone is asking what Uber’s values are. Similarly, it will be with each one of us. Likes of Uber can buy up any competitor, deploy the latest technology with all the wealth they have. Pray, from where can they buy what need now the most, respect? Forget Uber, from where can you buy it?

As Steve Jobs realized on his deathbed, buried with our body is our success and valuation. What remains afterwards are our values.

Choose wisely.







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Alphabet soup of life

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has in school – Albert Einstein

Results are in. HSC, ICSE, CBSE, JEE, NEET, UPSC, SSC, IIT, EAMCET…the alphabet soup of exams have set out future of the children of India. By the age of 16-17 years, half of school going children in India go through stress and struggle than an adult goes through in 30 years of his working life! Every year crores of children write these exams hoping to build a future for themselves. Many stories emerge from these exams. Some familiar, some out of the box.

Girls outshine boys in schools, boys outshine girls in engineering and medical entrances, sons and daughters of samosa makers to rickshaw pullers emerge triumphant against all odds. North India is more inclined towards Public Services and South India towards IIT /engineering & medicine. Some take to extreme steps in face of failure. Psychologists, sociologists and educationists analyze advice and caution on the ways to win, handle the victory and the defeats in these exams. Every year the story repeats.

Education, especially up to pre-university level is probably the biggest business out there in India. Bigger offshoot of this is the tutorial college business. Kota in Rajasthan, Hyderabad and southern states have famous factories that produce these purported future heroes & heroines of India. Anand Kumar’s Super30 in Patna, a truly non-profit study center, gets a near 100% results every year. The parents of these children spend lots of money, lose lots of sleep and pin great hopes while over burdening their children match the gruel that their children go through. As one of the mentors in one of the factory colleges told a group of parents (including me), “ask him to give 5 years of his life now, he can have a great life forever afterwards”. If he does not make it, who will give him back 5 years of his youth!

Due to the sheer size of population, only one country’s children and parents go through a similar grind. China. Few days ago on June 7 to 9 this year, 200 million children and 400 million parents in China went through an ordeal called Gaokao. It is a popular name for National Higher Education Entrance Examination. Gaokao is a must exam for every child in China to pursue higher education. While In India’s IIT, EAMCET etc. are restricted to Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Zoology, Gaokao is an exam with much wider range of subjects including Chinese language, history etc. Gaokao sets the pecking order. Higher the score, better college you get to go. Apparently, the race of life begins very early in India and China.

If you are wondering why parents of teenage children (especially boys) are more upset with Donald Trump than Americans themselves are, it is these exams. For many parents, especially in South India, an engineering degree is a passport, visa and ticket all combined to United States of America. IIM is the next abode for any many IITians and engineering graduates in their educational pilgrimage of life. For many IIT+IIM is a combination more powerful than nuclear fusion. It is another matter that, many of these bright engineers end up selling soaps, sugared water and investment products!

India produces the highest quantity of unemployed (& unemployable) engineers. Quality of education in India, at every level save few institutions, is a cause for worry. Surprisingly while the cost of education is going up, while teachers are grossly underpaid! Today’s newspaper report highlights that 38% of urban families’ expenditure is on higher education. Many schools in India resemble a low-level office complex sans any facilities apart from ramshackle classrooms. Playground is a dream, sports an option and proper desk a comfort.

During the British rule, Thomas Macaulay created an education system in India that had one objective. Liquidate the indigenous culture of India by substituting it with an alien system to meet the needs of the British Empire. India produced clerks to serve the British Empire. British and Macaulay left long ago. Macaulayism remains entrenched in the schools, desks of the children and minds of the parents. We replaced clerks with coders.

Which school shall we go to get rid of Macaulaysim? Take an entrance test for the same!




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