Wednesday, August 26, 2009

'An attractive boss is distracting'

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 27, 2009,

Advice: Earn juniors’ respect, so that your looks cease to matter so much

For many movie buffs, the “real” favourite line in the 1992 Oscar-nominated movie, A Few Good Men, is not Jack Nicholson’s words in the final courtroom climax, but the one at the very start, when he makes this nasty and lewd remark at Tom Cruise about the latter working for a pretty boss (Demi Moore). Unprintable as it may be, it turns out that Nicholson was right — having an attractive boss of the opposite sex can be a challenge, workwise.

A recent study of nearly 2,000 British executives showed that working for a pretty or handsome boss has more pitfalls than one may expect. This study, commissioned by, Britain’s leading recruitment scoring website, found that nearly half of men (47 per cent ) maintain that an attractive female boss would distract them too much, resulting in lower productivity and higher testosterone levels! And, 53 per cent of women who work for an attractive male boss claim they would be far too intimidated, getting flustered during one-on-ones, blushing when he catches their gaze and controlling their giggling when he’s around.

Despite being a small-sample study, covering 1,886 people, the conclusion is this: for majority of British, the more attractive the boss, the lower the productivity. offers some advice: for women, avoidance is key, whereas for men, this is a chance to show off their intelligence, dress to impress and woo their boss in meetings.

Grouping people based on sex will not help either. When asked how they would feel working for an attractive boss of the same sex, 86 per cent of men admitted they would feel threatened and 61 per cent of women admit they would feel jealous of their attractive female manager. Only 11 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women say an attractive boss of the same sex would not affect them or their productivity in the slightest.

Commenting on the findings, Lisette Howlett, founder of said, “Regardless of someone’s appearance, within the workplace their job title is the only label they should hold. Clearly, someone’s appearance should be just as irrelevant as their age, gender or race. This survey demonstrates, however, that the extent to which someone feels comfortable with their manager impacts on their ability to do their jobs. All managers — super attractive or not — need to establish effective professional relationships with their people. They need to think about their leadership style and impact and develop this, so that it works across the board — this includes how they dress, how they mix with their teams, how they project their authority.”

“Managers need to deal sensitively with this issue, as with any other issue where something is getting in the way of a productive and effective workplace. It can, however, be more difficult, since the manager themselves is the ‘cause’, so to speak. It also raises the very real issue that managers need to maintain a sensible distance between themselves and their staff. It is fine to sometimes relax and have fun but it must never be forgotten that unless the management/staff relationship is kept professional, there will be problems at some point in the working relationship. If managers earn the respect of their people, then at some point their looks will cease to be so relevant.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Commonwealth Games 2010 to be revenue-neutral

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 21, 2009

Despite setting an ambitious target of generating revenues in excess of Rs 900 crore, the organisers of the ‘Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi’ expect the event to be “revenue neutral”, meaning all that is earned through TV rights and other commercial deals will be spent on the game.

Addressing the media in London, members of the organising committee of the 2010 Games said the total revenues expected from this game would be twice as much as what was generated by the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.

T S Darbari, joint director general of the organising committee said that the total cost of the games would, however, be known only when all associated projects including road and rail infrastructure were completed before the game, to be held between October 3 and October 14, 2010.

“The build-up to the Games are handled by several agencies, both at the Centre and Delhi, including the Metro rail. It would take time to collate all costs and can be done only when they are all completed,” Darbari said on the sidelines of the press conference. TV rights worth Rs 240 crore has already been sold more than a year ahead of the event, he said.

Despite doubts raised in the media, the organisers said they were confident of completing most construction work by December 2009 and reach full preparedness in terms of venues by March 2010, at least seven months ahead of the event.

While half the venues are new, the remaining half will be refurbishments of what was already built in the past, including those before the 1982 Asian Games.

The 2010 Commonwealth Games is expected to be the biggest international sporting event to be hosted by India since the 1982 Delhi Asian Games. The success of the Commonwealth Games would be the first step towards India’s bid for hosting the 2020 Olympics.

Suresh Kalmadi, Member of Parliament and chairman of the organising committee, said that in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 and later in Kabul in February this year, extra precautions have been taken to ensure that the Delhi Games were not marred by any security threats.

“Security guards have been posted at the event venues right from the construction stage. The Commonwealth Games Federation has also employed a security consulting firm to monitor the development on a regular basis,” Kalmadi said.

A month ahead of Games, security agencies from all 71 participating countries will be taken on a tour of the venues and briefed on the arrangements.

Earlier this month, the English badminton team cited specific terror threats before withdrawing its participation from the World Badminton Championships, held in Hyderabad.

Corus to reopen South Wales plant to meet demand

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 21, 2009

Tata Steel-owned Corus Group plans to reopen its Llanwern hot-rolled strip plant in South Wales temporarily to meet fresh demand.

This 3-million-tonne annual capacity plant was mothballed in January this year, resulting in 528 job losses.

However, according to sources, the temporary re-opening of the plant next month will not result in any reinstatement of lost jobs.

Instead, the company plans to deploy workers from its existing plants to run this plant on a temporary basis. In January 2009, when the plant was closed, it was left with 850 workers after the job losses.

“This is not a full-fledged steel plant and it can be started and closed based on demand,” an industry source said. This plant in Llanwern near Newport is one of Corus’ two plants in the region, the other being in Port Talbot. Even the temporary reopening of the plant is not expected to see it achieve its full capacity of 3 million tonnes in production.

“The plant may be opened (next month) for a couple of weeks and closed again and opened again, based on demand,” said the source.

Though unions have welcomed this temporary reopening of the plant, they have sought a meeting with the plant managers to understand the long-term implication of this development.

Corus’ Teesside Cast Products plant in the North East too was threatened with a possible mothballing in May this year, when a four-member buyer group withdrew from a 10-year contract, halfway through.

However, this plant is expected to be kept running till at least September this year after some fresh orders were secured.

Though the mandatory 90-day consultation period with the union was completed in August, the plant has been kept operational.

Meanwhile, Corus is pursuing legal recourse to enforce the contract that was signed by a four-member consortium to buy nearly 80 per cent of this plant’s output till 2014.

The consortium of four buyers who withdrew from the 10-year buying contract are Marcegaglia of Italy, Dongkuk of South Korea, the Swiss-headquartered Duferco and Alvory of Uruguay.

The decision to stop buying steel from the Teesside plant was taken due to a fall in the global prices of steel.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

UK's Migration Advisory Committee takes protectionist view

London, 19 August

Bordering on a protectionist approach, UK's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) today recommended that the earnings thresholds for gaining points (for obtaining work permit) should be raised, and jobs should be advertised within the UK for longer before it can be offered to migrants.

The MAC is a non-statutory and advisory non-departmental public body that advises the Government on where migration can fill skills gaps within the United Kingdom economy. The MAC today placed its latest recommendation with the Home Office on how the latter can deal with the inflow skilled migrant workers into the UK from outside the EU.

The MAC in its recommendations today also said that the arrangements for intra-company transfers should be strengthened and strong monitoring and enforcement of Tier 2 is also required.

Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, Professor David Metcalf said, “In our first analysis of the PBS (point based system), the committee thinks that Tier 2 is working well, but our advice to the Government is that the labour market could be helped by requiring higher standards from skilled workers outside of the EU before we allow them to work in the UK. We believe that selective immigration that favours skilled workers, as the PBS does, is vital to ensure that the UK continues to be a good place to do business or invest. However, it is important that British workers are not displaced. We have therefore made a number of recommendations which will help to avoid undercutting and any disincentives to raise the skills of UK workers.”

The recommendations that clearly favours stronger support from local employers to favour UK citizens, comes at a time when unemployment numbers have climbed to all time high level of 2.5 million and the country is heading towards a general election mid next year.

Non-official sources here said that an estimated 69,000 people from India have come to the UK on work permits in 2008 and around 50,000 have come so far from India till date in 2009. This data could not be validated with the UK Home Office.

Can this man rescue JLR?

Profile of RAVI KANT, vice chairman, Tata Motors//Chairman Jaguar Land Rover

S Kalyana Ramanathan / August 17, 2009, 0:52 IST

It is a fad amongst successful executives to plan an early retirement so that they can go angling or write a book. Ravi Kant’s case is slightly different. He turned 65 a couple of months ago and stepped down from the post of managing director of Tata Motors — India’s largest automobile company — to become its non-executive vice-chairman. Still, he is unlikely to get the time to fish for trout in mountain streams or pen his memoirs. Kant has taken on what could possibly be the biggest challenge of his illustrious career — turning around Jaguar Land Rover. He has promised to turn around Tata Motors’ most-debated acquisition in about two years from now.

Given that JLR was profitable until the first half of 2008, it might seem a bit of a stretch to call its turnaround a daunting challenge. But then the time frame Kant has promised surely makes it harder than what it seems. JLR CEO David Smith, in a recent interview to

Business Standard, did not share Kant’s optimism. Smith’s doubts are not about JLR’s capabilities but have more to do with the state of the global economy. For the first time, after fifteen long months, the car industry in the United Kingdom posted growth in retail sales last month. But during this period, JLR sales continued to slip. One cannot look for a clearer sign that consumers are still not ready to splurge on luxury and premium cars.

JLR was not served to Tata Motors on a silver platter. The acquisition was sealed after nearly ten months of negotiation with Ford Motor Company. The price at $2.3 billion (Rs 11,000 crore in today’s value) was not cheap either. JLR insiders now tell that even though it was Tata Motors’ Chairman Ratan Tata’s vision to buy JLR, it was Kant who, from an executive standpoint (as the company’s managing director), chased it to the finishing line and brought home two of the world’s most luxurious automobile brands.

Kant had done similar work before. He played a key role in expanding Tata Motors’ global footprint — the acquisition of Daewoo Commercial Vehicles in South Korea and Spanish bus and coach body manufacturer Hispano Carrocera. Tata Motors executives say that Kant has his turnaround strategy ready which will begin to unfold in the next few months. Of course, they are unwilling to share details.

He has already made the right moves, though. In 2008, as Tata Motors moved closer to bagging JLR, one the earliest milestones the team from India achieved was to convince the unions in the UK that they meant business. Union leaders play a proactive and constructive role in the UK and, therefore, management takes them very seriously. Tata Motors used this to its advantage. Even before Ford’s board could decide to sell JLR to Tata, the unions backed the Indian group. Kant met with workers at all the four locations of JLR in the UK. He went one step further. A team of union leaders from the UK visited India and met with their counterparts in Tata Motors. Des Quinn, the lead negotiator for the unions, now recollects how the unions from the beginning were convinced JLR would be safe in Tata’s hands, something he couldn’t say about other suitors for JLR.

Kant’s rise in the Tata Group was swift. He came to Tata Motors in 2000 when he was 57. Starting as the head of commercial vehicles division of Tata Motors, he became the managing director in 2005 — around the same time that the Tata Nano had begun to take shape. Prior to this, his stint in the group was with Titan Industries. Apart from this, a good part of his career was spent with LML, Philips, Hawkins Cookers and Kinetic Engineering. Kant hit the limelight when he made LML a force in the scooter market which had for long been the monopoly of Bajaj Auto. He brought a new product line, spruced up the dealerships and revved up the advertising. Now, of course, the company has gone into oblivion.

History tells us that car makers around the world have had to toil for decades to put their luxury brands on the world map. Toyota’s Lexus, BMW and Daimler’s Mercedes have invested obscene amounts of money building quality, reliability and brand value. Tata Motors, which is one of the youngest car markers in the world today, took a short cut to this elite world of luxury cars. Now it is time to see if Kant can help it hold on to the marquee brands. Even a seasoned car maker like Ford could not hold on to these two mega-brands for long — it had bought Jaguar in 1989 and Land Rover in 2000. Kant has his task cut out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

JLR gets funding without UK government aid

S Kalyana Ramanathan, London/August 12

Fraught four-month-long negotiation between Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and the UK government over a loan guarantee ended in an anti-climax today, with the Mumbai-headquartered automobile maker announcing that it has secured loans from commercial banks and would not need any support from the UK government.

Even though neither Tata Motors nor JLR specified how much it raised, it is understood that this could be in the vicinity of £175 million (Rs 1,400 crore).

Today's announcement comes a day after JLR said it had successfully secured a financing facility of up to £75 million (Rs 600 crore) for Land Rover's working capital needs from Burdale Financial Ltd, a member of the Bank of Ireland Group.

Tata Motors and JLR also expect a long-term loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) of £340 million (Rs 2,700 crore) to be successfully secured in the coming weeks through "appropriate commercial arrangements".

"With the positive trend in the external environment in financial markets and improvement in general liquidity, these arrangements have been and are expected to be concluded without necessitating guarantees from the UK government, for which discussions had been ongoing for some time," said a statement from Tata Motors.

Tata Motors bought JLR from Ford Motor Company for $2.3 billion in mid-2008 and had funded this through $3 billion worth of debt.

For now, neither Tata Motors nor JLR are willing to share the source of this £175 million that has been secured. However, market sources said commercial banks both in India and the UK have agreed to lend money to JLR on commercial terms.

JLR's CEO David Smith said, "It is a positive sign for our business that we have been able to attract sufficient funding for our short-term needs through normal commercial means. This has always been our desired route and it clearly demonstrates recognition of the inherent strength in our business and faith in our future business plans."

Welcoming today's development, UK's Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said, "The fact that the banks and commercial capital markets are meeting JLR's funding is a clear sign of confidence in the company, its products and the automotive sector."

Tata Motors has been involved in tough negotiations with Mandelson to secure the UK government's support without any condition that might seemingly interfere with its day-to-day operations. Last month JLR reiterated its stand that it would not offer a board berth to the UK government in return for a loan guarantee.

The issue of securing a guarantee from the UK government came to an end today after Tata Motors' Chairman Ratan Tata wrote to Mandelson informing him that the company had secured loans without the UK government's aid.

Industry analysts, however, expressed disappointment at the fact that while JLR's competitors in France and Germany managed to get their respective government's support, iconic British brands had failed to get the UK government's support.

Monday, August 10, 2009

JLR ties up three-year financing for inventory

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 11, 2009

Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) said yesterday it had successfully secured a financing facility of up to £75 million (Rs 600 crore) with Burdale Financial Ltd, a member of the Bank of Ireland Group.

The package consists of a three-year committed facility to finance Land Rover’s parts and accessories’ inventories and receivables in the UK and the US. It does not form part of JLR’s applications to the UK government’s Automotive Assistance Programme, about which discussions continue, the company said in a media statement.

Said Ken Gregor, CFO: “Jaguar Land Rover is pleased to have concluded this facility, which is an important element of our working capital financing arrangements.”

This is an important element of JLR’s working capital financing to cover the key Land Rover parts and accessories’ inventories and receivables part of our business, which has a high cash requirement, to function properly.

The company continues to negotiate with the UK government for securing a guarantee on a £340 million loan from the European Investment Bank, which was approved by the Luxembourg-based bank in April. According to recent reports in the media, most conditions have been sorted between JLR and the UK government and the government guarantee could be secured soon.

JLR is also negotiating for loans from Indian banks like Bank of Baroda, the status of which is yet to be announced officially by the company.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pressure mounts on Vedanta Resources

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London August 05, 2009

UK-based metals major Vedanta Resources came under more pressure as it was revealed today that one of its group companies, Balco, is a supplier of refined aluminum to the Indian defence sector. This information is now being used by human rights campaigners to urge investors like the Church of England to divest from Vedanta Resources to keep in line with the church’s policy of not investing in companies that are involved in any way in armament production.

Vedanta Resources was already under immense pressure from human rights and environmental groups to abandon its plans to mine at the Niyamgiri mountains in Orissa for bauxite (to extract aluminium). The dig site is considered a sacred ground by the local Dongria Kondh community and has attracted support from conservationists from across the world.

Now The Guardian has reported that a group company, Balco, is a supplier of refined aluminium to the Indian nuclear programme, which comes as a direct conflict to the investment policies of religious bodies like the Church of England.

Meredith Alexander, head of trade and corporates at ActionAid and who was quoted in this report, said: “Vedanta’s commitment to sustainable development becomes ever more laughable. The news that Vedanta provides raw materials for weapons systems is outrageous. This is just another reason why investors should take a hard look at their holdings in Vedanta. The Church of England, for example, state that they will not invest in defence companies. Vedanta’s involvement in missile production surely makes their investment even more controversial.”

An unnamed Vedanta spokesperson was quoted in the report as defending the company by stating that his company was not involved in making weapons but supplying basic raw material, which can be used by many industries and not just the armament industry.

Last week, following protests by activists outside the venue where Vedanta held the annual general meeting of its shareholders, the Church of England agreed to review its investment in the company, which to date is valued at £2.5 million. The church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) is now planning to meet the management of Vedanta to assess its status and to see if its investment contradicts its stated policies.

Apart from the armament business, the church also refrains from any investment in businesses that are involved in pornography, tobacco or breweries (alcohol). The EIAG is not expected to meet the Vedanta management before September this year. Balco came to be owned by Sterlite Industries in 2001 (which is in turn owned by Vedanta Resources) and supplies aluminium alloys for India’s key missile programmes, including the Agni, Prithvi and the Akaash.