Book Review : Modern Monopolies

The Book ‘ Modern Monopolies’ is written by Alex Moazed and Nicholas Johnson who are entrepreneurs and consultants.

The Book is about ‘platforms’ like Google, Amazon etc which are taking over the world.

It contains interesting case studies about Nokia, RIM etc and how these powerful companies collapsed in front of the onslaught of platform cos.

In today’s world , a product ( such as a smartphone) or a software is a commodity. What is valuable are networks – networks of users, transactions or data.

The beautiful thing about platforms is that as networks increase, their utility increases, their marginal cost goes down and they become even more profitable.

Hence it is no surpise that investors love platforms. It is estimated that by 2040, 50% of the S&P 500’s net income will come from platforms.

In India, unfortunately there are hardly any listed companies that are platforms .

I would recommend this book as a good beginners guide to platforms.

Book Review : Savarkar

The Book ‘Savarkar’ is written by Vikram Sampath, a well known author and Founder- Director of the Bangalore Literature Festival.

As the title suggests, the Book covers the life and times of Savarkar from 1883-1924.

Savarkar is one of the intellectual Giants who have died decades back and yet their thoughts and ideas take center stage even today in India’s politics

In the last Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi bitterly criticized Savarkar. In Maharashtra’s state elections, both Shiv Sena and BJP promised Bharat Ratna to Savarkar. As such , Savarkar is still relevant.

My interest in Savarkar came about in this video clip of beloved PM Vajpayeeji praising Savarkar. Please watch the first Ninety seconds…I have never seen such a powerful tribute to any person ever.

After reading the book, I fully endorse each and every tribute given to Savarkar by Vajpayeeji.

The Book is a very serious biography and is backed by meticulous research.

It beautifully captures the British Raj in India and the abysmal and piteous conditions of the Indians under them.

The author does a masterful job in weaving the narrative and ensuring it remains fast paced.

After reading the Book, one can probably understand why Savarkar is probably more popular in Maharashtra than Mahatma Gandhi .

I would strongly recommend this book to very serious students of history.

Book Review : The Reluctant Billionaire

The Book ‘The Reluctant Billionaire- How Dilip Shanghvi became the Richest Self-Made Man’ is written by a business journalist Soma Das

The Book traces the journed of Dilip Shanghvi from a shop assistant in Kolkata to one of the richest men of India as the owner of Sun Pharma.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the remarkable life of Dilip Shanghvi.

Some which I learnt from Dilipbhai are:

  1. Learning Machine: Dilipbhai was a Commerce graduate, yet he could hold his own against scientists. The reason was he continuously learnt from medical journals,publications etc and once had even hired a Chemistry Professor to teach him.
  2. Ambition: Dilipbhai , from Day One, wanted to be bigger than Birla and Tata. When he was taking Sun Pharma public, he told analysts : “Every three years, I want my sales figure to become my profit figure”
  3. Detail Oriented: One of the favorite sayings of Dilipbhai is “Both God and Devil lie in the details”. His super attention to detail even in the minutest of things ensured Sun’s success
  4. Relationship Focused: Because of his MR experience, Dilipbhai realized how difficult it is to create relationships and how important to keep it. He was able to rope in talent and keep their loyalty because of this aspect.
  5. Business Savvy: Dilip Bhai always thought in terms of business growth, revenues, margins , business risk etc. His uncanny grasp on the numbers and ability to look at the big picture led to Sun’s profitable growth. What I especially liked was his business philosophy – he wanted to be in areas where the competition was less either due to size of the market or due to the complexity involved.

The Book does a splendid job of narrating the world of Indian pharma and that of its foot soldiers-the humble Medical Representative (MR). I never knew about the passion, the persistence and hardwork of the MR . It may astonish you to know that the MR, whom we often see waiting at the Doctor’s clinic, usually brings in a business of 1 Cr+ at cos like Sun.

The Book also covers the major acquisitions of Sun including TDPL, Taro, Caraco and Ranbaxy. They make for super interesting reading. I was stuck by how difficult acquiring companies in foreign lands could be and explains why there are so few Indian MNCs out there.

The author is clearly in awe of the subject and the Book can get hagiographic at times which can be irritating.

But otherwise the author tries her best in bringing in different perspectives and add more color via anecdotes etc

The narrative ends in 2017 and hence the subsequent controversies such as the USFDA issues, whistle blower letter etc is not covered.

I would strongly recommend this Book to all those interested in India’s pharmaceutical industry.

Book Review: Unstoppable

The Book ‘Unstoppable-Kuldip Singh Dhingra and the rise of Berger Paints’ is written by Sonu Bhasin who is a family business historian.

As the title suggests, the Book is about Kuldip Singh Dhingra who rose from being a shop keeper in Amritsar to one of the richest men of India.

The author has done a marvellous job of chronicling the story of Mr.Dhingra in a very honest and readable fashion….it avoids the hagiography that usually bedevil Indian biographies.

The Dhingras started off as shop keepers in Amritsar as dealers of paint cos like Jenson& Nerolac etc. Gradually, they moved into manufacturing and set up a small factory in Amritsar selling mass products

One thing led to the other and they started exporting paints to the Soviet Union. Eventually, they would export all sorts of chemicals to the Soviet Union to become the largest exporter from India to the Soviet Union. I was astonished to know that at that time, they were making more profits than Asian Paints !

With the profits from the Soviet Business, they bought Berger Paints from Vijay Mallya in 1990. They infused funds in the business , turned it around and the rest is history.

The Book contains lots of anecdotes which make it a superb read. One anecdote I liked was this one:

“Adi Godrej wanted to export to Russia and wanted the orders for household chemicals like scouring powder, soaps, shaving cream and tooth paste.

Kuldip told Godrej that he would come the next day to meet him at the Godrej office in Asaf Ali Road.

Adi Godrej said that Kuldip was the client and Godrej was the supplier and therefore, following protocol, it was Godrej who would come to Kuldips’ office’

One of the bane of family businesses is they are often unable to scale due to divisions of assets/splits etc amongst family members. The Dhingra family too had multiple divisions amongs uncles, working partners and brothers. There is a lot to learn from the Book on how the divisions were done in an amicable and business like fashion.

I would strongly recommend this Book to all those interested in Indian Family run businesses.

Book Review: A Bottle of Lies

The Book ‘Bottle of Lies’ is written by Katherine Eban, who is an investigative journalist and author.

The Book covers the rise and fall of Ranbaxy and the dark side of Indian pharma

I found the Book to be a very disturbing and distressing read.

I was shocked to know that nearly all Indian generic pharma cos (Ranbaxy, Sun, DrReddy, Cipla, Glenmark etc) were under the USFDA lens for falsifying data, tests, hiding evidence, faulty manufacturing practices etc

Our companies never rejected any batches for not measuring upto standards. In fact, defective batches were sold in the local Indian market or sold in Africa.

In some parts of Africa, doctors recommend 10x the dosage of Indian medicines to their patients as the efficacy of the medicine is so low.

The Book covers the Ranbaxy saga in great deal. How the Singh brothers fooled Daichi is something to marvel at. What I found incredible was that the malpractices at Ranbaxy continued even after Daichi took over.

The Book is very harsh on Indian companies and the employees working there. Initially, the natural instinct for the Indian reader is to defend our homegrown champions but the evidence and the data is so damning that it would be like defending the indefensible.

Another takeaway of the Book was the effective whistle blower mechanism in the US. Dinesh Thakur , the whistle blower, whose untiring efforts led to Ranbaxy paying a $500 Million fine, got around $48 Million for his efforts.

Contrast that with the arrest and hounding of the whistle blower in India who had exposed GVK Biosciences.

I would strongly recommend this Book to all investors and those interested in Indian Pharma.

The flipside of reading this book is you may lose all faith in medicines manufactured by Indian pharma majors !