An East Delhi Citizen's Blog

general riff about politics, education, media, society, cricket..

Archive for the month “August, 2009”

Expense reports and other perks..

…find my Stetson!

Long back, the story goes, a Texan working for an MNC was on a business trip. Being a Texan, he and his favourite Stetson were inseparable, perked jauntily on his head. On a particularly windy day, as he tried crossing a busy road, his hat flew off and was crushed under a car. He was disconsolate. Anyway, he went back to home-base and submitted an expense claim for his trip. It had many pages of expenses, details of trips, mileage, lodging, meals .. for it was a long trip. It came to more than a thousand dollars, USD 1097.37 to be precise. One of the items in the claim caught the eye of his manager; it was towards the purchase of a Stetson hat.
The manager called in the employee and asked him to remove the offending item; “we can’t pay for your hat, Bertie”. The Texan took back the claim without a word and came back an hour later with the revised claim. Now it still was 1097.37. “How’s the total claim still the same? Where’s the Stetson?” asked the manager. “Precisely”, said Bertie. “Now, find the Stetson!”.

Expense reports are always “interesting”. They often hide more than they show. In some distant past, I was signing off on a small 2-man remote office’s monthly running expenses, when suddenly the electricity charges seemed rather high; in fact, as high as our much bigger office. On investigations, it came out. My staff in the remote office, were actually living there; the beds were hidden under the sofas and tables during the day. The AC bills gave the game away.

Then, there was the advice given by my senior colleague, specifically assigned the task of house-training me in my first job. “Your daily auto-bill, should be enough to pay for your daily packet of cigarettes. Remember, from here to Janpath is always between Rs 15 to 17.”

Different companies have different policies. In one, we scrupulously followed, “the junior-most pays”; useful when the gang goes out for a drink and the boss signs off the expenses, especially if he is among the ones drinking. But, most MNCs follow: “the senior-most pays”, which is designed to curb exactly such practices!

Then, there is the matter of entitlements. A soft drink major, had a very simple travel policy for their salesmen: “just pick the most expensive hotel to stay in”. This was of course very useful 🙂 , especially seeing that the only hotels that the sales guys were able to find in the interiors where they were traveling for 20 days in a month anyway, were unikely to have even clean bed-sheets, forget star ratings! I am also reminded of the time when my one-time employer implemented draconian limits on the amount we could spend on food per day while traveling but forgot to do so on the type of hotels. So, we were stuck staying in 5-stars where the price of breakfast was more than our entitlement for the day.

But, what if you were not traveling? Were there ways of getting your company to spend on your nourishment? Well offsite meetings (what the BJP calls Chintan Baithaks) were a godsend. The purpose was the same; after a particularly bad quarter, the senior managers: guys who screwed up, got paid to unwind in some nice resort (at least a 5-star hotel even if in the same city). And, I had a boss in a different city who was constantly monitoring outstation visitors who he could take out to lunch!

In more liberal times, it was permitted to take a colleague from another department out for lunch and legitimately claim “business lunch”. I do not know how much business got done, but, many romances have blossomed thus, subsidised by the company. Also, I wonder, now that we are thriftier (and wiser?), can I still claim “business lunch” if I am on a conference call while having my lunch, all alone?

Education: random musings

I ranted about the state of Indian education sometime back and that attracted some irate comments. Let me add some observations, not in any particular order. These are all seemingly unrelated but, they all point to a systemic malaise.

My daughter tells me that in her 7th standard class, cheating is wide-spread in all class-tests. This, in a so-called premier “public-school” of Delhi.

I interviewed a prospective applicant for a position in a company I am starting. Impressive resume’; BE in Mechanical Engineering and MBA from a leading management institute in Pune, specialised in “Operations”. When asked to name his favourite subject in school, he could not name any. I asked if it was Maths, since he had done engineering and then gone on to specialise in “Ops” for his MBA. It was not. He had a specialisation in “Ops” after a degree in Mechanical Engineering but he had never heard of the “Traveling Salesman’s Problem”. He had carefully cherry-picked only “quali” courses in his MBA final year and still managed a “Ops” specialization.

Now comes the shocking expose’ in The Australian, reported in the HT again of the more than 200 PhD degrees awarded in some Australian university to Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students. All of the newly minted PhDs allegedly plagiarized their thesis.

Kaushik Basu, in “Graduating to a real soft power” in HT today talks about the yawning gap in our higher education in both quality and quantity:
“India’s higher education system is floundering. We are doing badly in terms of both quality and quantity. Indian universities and institutes have all but vanished from serious international rankings. The percentage of Indians aged 18 to 23 years, enrolled in colleges and universities (the ‘gross enrollment ratio’) is 11. China, which trailed India till recently, now has a gross enrollment ratio of 22 per cent. For developed nations the average figure is 66 per cent. If India is to retain global competitiveness, it needs to expand its higher education sector massively — arguably by one or two hundred per cent — and also raise the quality of education.”

I wish Mr. Sibal reads Mr. Basu’s article. This is not something that can be done in 100 days, or even 5 years. But, a start has to be made. If India has to compete with developed countries or China, our human capital has to cope. In quality and quantity.

A cousin of mine, on his first visit to Beijing, wrote today, thus:  (quoted verbatim from email) “Perhaps Beijing is what Delhi might look like in about 10 years. Sign boards are all english and chinese. Communication is all english. This is in so far as we Indians think we are ahead of the chinese in terms of our hold on an international language. (emphasis mine) I think that advantage has all but disappeared with the new generation of chinese workers.
Here’s the scary bit. On my last visit to Beijing (about three years back), I would not have definitely written such an email. My hypothetical, if then, email would have been all about how tough it was to get anything done in English in China.

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