René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Back to Normal after the FIFA World Championship

Over and out, with Spain being the new Football World Champion 2010. Well deserved, especially for playing the most efficient football of all teams whereas the usual 1:0 victories didn’t really reflect their true dominance during the matches. Spain threw “my” German team out and prevailed over Holland in the finals whose only creativity consisted in systematically employing systematic (brutal) tactical fouls. Therefore congratulations to this proud, fair and technically supreme Spanish championship-heroes.

For me, it have been awesome 4 weeks juggling work, travel and watching football. It’s sort of only every 4 years that I get drawn into TV so much, but it was definitely worth it. Interesting, also staying both in India, Germany and actually Spain during the tournament and experiencing the different spirits in these countries.

In my observation, Indians have become bigger aficionados of football this time than in 2006. Speaking to random people, even my gentle Bangalore-neighbours in their 60s and 70s, they confessed how they were spending long nights in front of TV when the matches – due to the time shift – started right at midnight.

At the same time, on the other side in Germany, a healthy patriotism has become the norm which was unheard of before the Championship 2006 in our own land. Four years ago showing German flags was still being discussed, in parts controversially, but no longer this year. Good.

Moreover, this young, ethnically diverse and highly committed team of the German national team won the hearts of all in Germany and of many abroad. How often did I hear something sympathetic like “I am watching all the matches and Germany is playing so well that they deserve the championship!” Although history turned out differently, still very kind to hear.

I also take pride in the performance of our team which in its composition should be seen as a blueprint to where Germany with its multiple challenges should be heading to: Targeted immigration with “no creed, no caste, only merit” (to borrow the karma of India’s IT-champion Infosys) combined with a strong emphasis with affirmative integration. If our German government was run like our national football team, Germany would be as good as Singapore  (I’m aware that this is not desirable for everyone, for me it clearly is.)

Anyway, it also means from today on back to normal: no more long nights in front of TV, no more beer, chips and other junk food. Instead lean nutrition and lots of training as I have to get fit for a mountain tour beginning of August.

FIFA World Championship 2010 in South Africa will be well remembered.

 

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

Horasis and its founder Frank-Jürgen Richter are really coming to ever new heights with its format of “Global X Business Meeting”. Take “X” as a placeholder for China, India, Russia and soon Arab, too. The concept is brilliant: Create a platform for political and economic leaders for a specific country, let them fly out of their cocoon for 2 days in a completely different continent and blend them with political and economic leaders from the host country. For the recent Global Russia Business Meeting that host country was Slovenia (in Ljubljana), last for last year’s Global India Business Meeting it was Germany (Munich) and for this year it was Spain in its magnificent capital of Madrid. (All pictures of the event here on this set.)

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

This year’s top participants from India were the Union Minister of Commerce, Anand Sharma, who spoke about his country’s resilience to weather the storm of the global economic crisis, aspiring to a double digit GDP-growth and acknowledging the requirement build stronger ties to Europe. As a reference to his hosts Mr. Sharma mentioned in particular Spain whose trade volume with India ranks only 43.

Anand Sharma, India Minister of Commerce

From the Spanish side, the Crown Prince Felipe gave himself the honour to speak. As someone who has rather reservations to monarchy, I was honestly surprised not to see some smug royal retard, but a highly educated, soft-spoken and down-to-earth guy who is very well able to play his constitutional and social role in such a setting very well.

Felipe, Prince of Asturias, Spanish Crown Prince

I had the pleasure to moderate panel on a topic which is personally very dear to me: Innovation. In particular “Driving the Future: India’s Technology Pioneers – India’s IT and other technology firms are emerging as global players in their own right. What areas are they pioneering in and how do they compete in world markets?” The participants had a lot to share from their experience:

  • Dinesh Dhamija, former Founder and CEO of ebookers.com, now Founder and Chairman, Copper Beech Group, United Kingdom
  • Sachin Dev Duggal, Chairman, Nivio, India
  • Naeem Ghauri, Co-Founder, NetSol Technologies, Pakistan & United Kingdom
  • Clas Neumann, President, SAP Labs India, Germany
  • Jeff Heenan Jalil, Head – Wipro Technologies, Europe, Wipro, India
  • Glenn Proellochs, Chief Executive Officer, Travelpaper.com, Switzerland
  • Sudhir Sethi, Chairman, IDG Ventures India Advisors India
  • Sudhakar Shenoy, Chairman, IMC, USA

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

This format of a so called “board room dialogue” in an intimate setting allows for a true conversation among the panellists where the “audience” blends seamlessly in. Three main conclusions on innovation that I’d to summarize here:

  • IT-Innovation in India has multiple dimensions. It’s not just about the classic Western understanding of filing a patent for some say cutting edge laser-thing. It’s often process innovation: Just think of the 1 million resumés (!) that Infosys is getting every year to fill 12,000 positions, you need to handle that somehow. Or business innovation with a particular focus on the price point, see for example the world-class rate of 0.5 US-Cent per minute on Indian mobile operators.

  • Bigger organisations like SAP or Wipro can only innovate of their culture embodies constant change whereby their organizational frameworks act like a stable meta-layer for innovation.

  • India is not good at everything, should and often does recognize both its strengths and weaknesses. For instance anything around User Interface can be done with a company in the Silicon Valley much better. The conclusion here: In times where you can assemble easily global sourcing chains, also from the Indian perspective applies: Do what you can do best and outsource the rest :-)

After all the inspiring discussions over the day, we headed off for a cocktail reception to the beautiful Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez where Mr. Peacock was greeting us with his evergreen mating-show.

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

Last but not least, thanks a lot to Frank for once again putting such an awesome Horasis-event together.

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

 

Vijay Mallya coming Home: Greeted like a God

Thursday evening in Bangalore, I was heading out to have some good Teppanyaki-dinner in Bangalore’s Shiro-restaurant. The place is actually located within “UB City”, the latest luxury shopping mall built by Beer Baron Vijay Mallya who happens to have his private residence in Bangalore just by the side of it. Practical, isn’t it.

Arriving at the mall, there was a big crown right in front of Mr. Mallya’s house, everything was prepared for some solemn welcome when a few minutes later the motorcade arrived. What followed was the loudest detonation of firecrackers starting from the leading Mercedes of Mr. Mallya directly to the entrance of his house – which at the other side leads to a fuel station (see my video):

When Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant billionaire who recently entered into Formula 1 with his Force India, stepped out of his limousine, he was greeted with flowers, a cap like a maharajah and several scarves. After waving graciously into the crowd around, he and his entourage disappeared into his private residence to continue the party surrounded by fire spitting into the air and fireworks this time cracking up into the air. This was by far the most over-the-top scene I have seen in my entire life. Mr. Mallya must be running a whole department in his company to organize his cult of personality.

The reason for the spectacle, as we found out, was that Mr. Mallya had been re-elected to parliament, to be more precise to the Rajya Sabha, India’s Upper House and the Council of States.

To the regular observer, this didn’t just look like a politician is celebrating his election, it rather seemed that a god had given himself the honour to step down to us mere mortals. Somehow I remembered my Latin lessons in school. A winning commander in Rome who had his triumphant march through the city was given company by a slave who went behind repeatedly saying: “Memento moriendum esse!” (=Remember you must die!)

I saw the commander, but I didn’t see the slave.

 

Global Russia Business Meeting: Stronger Integration

It’s been the second event from Horasis (“The Global Visions Company”) that I attended, this time the Global Russia Business Meeting in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana. As usual, the organizer Frank-Jürgen Richter was able to bring an amazing high-calibre crowd together. This platform provided a perfect global context in which Russia’s opportunities and challenges could appropriately be discussed.

Besides, me being half-Croatian, I passed through the ring-road of Ljubljana many times, but never found the time to have a look at the City itself. So this event gave me a good opportunity to make up for it and found the home-town of 280,000 inhabitants picturesque and lovely, exuding still some charm of the former Austrian K&K-monarchy from a time when it carried the name “Laibach”. (All the pictures here on this Flick-set.)

Walk through Ljubljana

The event itself began with a reception, a “virtual ribbon cutting” (there was none :-) …

Global Russia Business Meeting: Inauguration

… , followed by a gala-dinner in the Union Hotel where among others the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Borut Pahur, spoke about Slovenia’s current challenges in the crisis, it’s firm integration in the European Union (yes, including its financial help for Greece, too) and naturally its relationship with Russia.

Global Russia Business Meeting: Prime Minister Borut Pahor

The conference itself was held the next day in Brdo Casle near Kranj which boasts the historic memories of the first encounter between then US-president George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in 2001.

Global Russia Business Meeting: Conference

The day started with a welcome address by the Slovenia Head of State, Danilo Türk, a former law professor and moreover accomplished top-diplomat which one could easily tell by his intelligent and rhetorically polished 20-minutes speech in English without the help of a single piece of paper.

Global Russia Business Meeting: Slovenian President Dr Danilo Türk

The president set the stage for the issues which we discussed throughout the day:

  • Russia has has come out of the crisis significantly better than the EU, with growth rates again in the range of 5 % compared to some 3 % in the Euro-zone.
  • Europe and Russia should actively strive for a closer integration on the levels:
    • Free trade: Russia is still to join the Word Trade Organization (WTO), yet easier flow of goods should be facilitated
    • Security: Building a joint defense-architecture both for nuclear and conventional weapons
    • Visa: Easing the mutual access to visa or even letting go with the visa-regime altogether and deal with misuse on a robust case-by-case basis
  • Russia’s strength being the energy-supplier for the rest of Europe is also its curse as the country’s welfare depends too much on the oil-price, whereas its economy lacks diversification into other sectors.
  • The country is sitting on a demographic bomb with an even faster falling population that in western Europe. The programme for a women to receive EUR 8,000 from the state for the second child is not really bearing fruit.
  • Lack of talent seems to be the biggest issue for companies. High unemployment, especially among young people, on the other hand is calling for a more effective education system which is supposed to teach modern management methods. So far corporate governance overall is stuck in archaic-hierarchic command & control-structures.
  • Bureaucracy and extremely rigid labour laws are severe impediments for much needed flexibility.
  • Summary: In spite of all the challenges, Europe and Russia should move closer together. Given the current state of the EU this is no longer an act of mercy. Rather, Europe should understand that it might even need Russia more than Russia needs Europe.

I was invited to speak on a panel about “Which strategies work best when trying to
break into foreign markets” and was sort of taking the perspective of the “I” in BRIC – which stands for the block of emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

So far Russia’s foreign direct investment (FDI) has understandably been directed more towards its own strategic industries in energy and natural resources, predominantly Europe. India as a target for e.g. company acquisitions hasn’t been to much on the radar. But if Russia takes its quest for more diversification seriously, India would definitely become an opportunity. Either as an attractive market for consumers which has to be addressed in quite a segmented way or of part of an integrated global process chain capitalizing on its vast talent pool at relatively low cost.

With plenty of remarks about the current state of the world economy the mood was almost something of fatalistic. “After the banking crisis we believed to be out of the worst; but now we have Greece and the ash-spitting volcano. Things have somehow become unpredictable”, said Cvetka Selšek, Chief Executive Officer from SKB (Slovenia). Or from another participant: “Everybody in the room listen: Be afraid of China. They know how to fix problems.” Or: “The western countries are the debtors, whereas the BRIC-countries are the creditors.” So much for the new world order.

My view of the current crisis of the Euro, the European Union as an institution and the highly indebted west in general is relatively sober. We should finally leave our old notions behind that every investment in Europe or the U.S. is a AAA-gold-nugget whereas the same into an emerging markets is systematically exposed to higher risk. Until recently I would have seconded this little insight: We are living in a world with lots of capital and no opportunities (west) and no capital and plenty of opportunities (emerging markets). However, looking at the growth dynamics of BRIC, today it’s more: Those combine capital with opportunities.

The west, by contrast, has successfully managed to get stuck in the worst intersection of this matrix.

 

Please re-send E-Mails from Today

I believed I was smart and should fiddle around with the name server-settings of my level360.com-domain. This happened today around 10.30 am India Standard Time (7 am CET). What I did not take into consideration: It also affected all my e-mails to my mail address under @level360.com

Actually throughout the day I thought: “Wow, great, this is really a quiet day where I can get a few things done without e-mail distraction.” An hour ago it dawned on me that this was not normal at all and that there must be connection with my playfulness on these name-servers. (The tricky thing, though, was that all mails I sent out went out perfectly. So there was no indication for me that something was not working.)

Anyway. The problem is resolved, and things are back to normal. A few mails are drizzling in, but I am not safe to say that this will happen to all of them.

Therefore if you have sent me an e-mail today, kindly re-send it.

Sorry also for this communication-mishap.

 

Incredible India: Weekend Walk through Bangalore

For any walk through India, it’s never wrong to carry a camera. Take it for granted that there is always something rewarding for first the eye, then for the lens – and hence for eternity.

Here just around the corner, I ran into two guys with two big bamboos (the visible ones ;-) who are preying through town to shake some ripe mangos down whose time has come.

Mango Pluckers hunting through Bangalore

A little later, four guys from the public telephone operator BSNL at a switchboard on Brigade Road doing some wiring, installing and checking. Please note the in India commonly prevalent high “labour intensity” for any task …

Fixing telephone Lines

Then a snapshop for the foodies, went to a restaurant to have my beloved Dal Fry for luch, where this lady is responsible for making the chapatis. No doubt that she possesses the physical strength to do quite a bit of them.

Chapattis in the Making

Last but not least, two boys in the street, one pushing the other.

Mobility for the Young

Wonder what they will become when they grow up. Extrapolating this scene into the future: The one pushing in the back a pilot, and the one sitting in front a Maharadsha :-)

 

Indredible India – Carbon Neutral Schoolbus

One of these drive-by moments when you try to be as fast as possible with your camera. Yesterday in Delhi, we were approaching this one from the back with three happy kids in their school uniforms in the back …

Delhi Schoolbus

… and three happy kids in the front.

Delhi Schoolbus

Chapeau to the driver for pedalling in 40 degrees of heat these six cute little chicken home into their nest.

 

Amazing India – Impressions from the Airports

Even after 6 years of living in India, the subcontinent is full of surprises every day. Just one week of being here, countless of heartwarming, witty and inspiring stories. Starting in the here and now: I am sitting on a “laptop station” after security of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi and blogging this post away. Really amazing where India has gotten with such a world class airport, working stations including free high-speed wireless internet (try to get that on a German airport).

Delhi Airport

It’s been quite a busy travelling week, so last Friday I have been at Cochin Airport where this instance caught my eye. In contrast to western economics where capital EXCHANGES labour for the sake of saving cost, the success formula in India seems to be capital PLUS labour.

Machine & Man at Kochin Airport

In a congenial combination of man & machine the concept works like this: A customer steps forward to the apparatus and selects an item. The guy in the yellow T-Shirts takes his money and shovels it into the machine, the magazine drops down, the guy picks it up and hand it to the customer. Variation B: For bigger items, that’s even more hilarious, the guy collects the money, opens the door, grabs the article and hands it out. So basically as a customer you get the feeling that modern technology is still grounded by good old human service.

Some Indian ads are just involuntarily funny, I really wonder what rode the heavily metrosexual art director of coming up with this copy. It’s supposed to promote the speed of transfer as well breadth of shopping opportunities at Bangalore Airport.

Bangalore Airport Advertisement

Well, if I was that girl, I also wished that rather the teddybear be my father and not that guy with the gay moustache with the glossy lipstick beneath LOL

 

Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya: Mission Accomplished

After two months of fine-tuning and observation a fresh update: Things are advancing well in Vatsalya, the computers are in use, technology is working and the girls are happy :-) Moreover, from April onwards the training will be enhanced to five times a week by two teachers so that our joint efforts will reap the maximum benefit. These teachers will be paid for long-term by another sponsor, Larsen & Toubro, which Vatsalya was able to attract. Therefore I feel safe to say that by now we can declare the project for the goals we have defined successfully accomplished.

As mentioned in the last update from January, we invested EUR 220 into a new roof for the school patio which has been built and is giving shade to the little children during their school hours from the almost perpendicular sun of South India. Here is the official “Thank You-letter” from the organization:

Recognition Letter Vatsalya Roof

Needless to say that I will regularly come by to Vatsalya and assist wherever I can. Thank you once again for your generous support so that we we were jointly able to make this worthwhile project happen.

 

St. Moritz: From the Bottom to the Heights

It has almost become a sort of tradition that I spend my birthday in St. Moritz, so 2010 was on again. The reputation of St. Moritz travels faster than the speed of light, and after being there a few times by now, I’d like to shed some of that light from my experience what to expect, where to go and what to do. (All the pics are here on this Flickr-set, by the way.)

First of all, the skiing slopes are the most awesome I have ever seen, it feels like driving down a 12-lane Autobahn on snow. And so is the view.

Skiing on Corviglia in St. Moritz

The area covered by the lift-pass is huge and there is something for every level of difficulty – I will usually stick to the “red slopes” with my average skiing abilities. In terms of what to expect for foodies up there when skiing, this is what I can share:

  • El Paradiso is a platform for plain vanity, even by St. Moritz standards. The owner, his staff and the guests mutually reassure each other how great they find themselves. The waiters are cover-magazine-beauties, the food is poor, the prices astronomic and the attitude fucked up. Once you step in, it is all about that artificially inflated show if you have reserved and how long you would have the table before the next service. Once you order the bill and intend to pay by credit card, you get told that this incurs a surcharge of 3 %. This place has seen me for the last time.
  • Poor on a completely different level is the otherwise lovely looking hut of Lej de la Peche. The entire service is completely disorganised, waiters don’t show up at all or if, they forget half of what you ordered. It takes finally 45 minutes to get some pasta. Just bad.
  • Skiing on Corviglia in St. Moritz

  • Really good, by contrast, is Salastrains where one would also see non skiers hanging out in the sun-chairs who have come from the bottom by car or walking. Food is decent, prices reasonable and the waiter keep in midst of the hectic lunchtime their happy spirit.
  • Lunch at Salastrains

    Down in the Dorf (=village) of St. Moritz there is plenty to do and see. During the last three weekends, there is a major happening taking place: The White Turf – the only horse-race in the world on snow, to be more precise, on snow which has been layered on top of the frozen lake.

    White Turf in St. Moritz

    Opposite above the lake stands majestically the characteristic hotel Badrutt’s Palace, one of the architectural symbols of St. Moritz.

    Badrutt's Palace in St. Moritz

    The Bellini in the night bar costs 25 Swiss Francs, but it is a worthwhile investment for people spotting. Unlike El Paradiso, the setting is immaculate, and expect the unexpected: Women on botox, men in blue blazers with golden buttons or, as this, time a group of rich teenage kids most likely from the prestigious and adjacent boarding school of Zuoz having a night out. One couldn’t say that they were behaving badly, but at some point one could tell that they were  spoilt brats who got shovelled everything up their arses by their wealthy parents. 16-year old girls in ultra-short mini-skirts and designer bags – as I learned – priced at 3,000 Euro, is devoid of any envy a bit over the top to establish a proper moral compass for life.

    One of my consistent favourites for an aperitif is the cosy bar of the Kempinski hotel with a modern fireplace in the middle surrounded by glass.

    Kempinski Hotel St. Moritz

    The service runs like a Swiss clockwork and embodies style, too. At the rate occasion that I order a bottle of champagne, as I did for my birthday, the waiter would put on their white champagne-gloves to serve the bubbly happiness.

    Other places to recommend for food:

    • Chesa Veglia is a sort of classic with an exquisite restaurant as well as a pizzeria. The selection of wines is abundant. Expect to run into folks like Claudia Schiffer as I did two years ago. Prices-wise rather at the upper scale.
    • The Veltinerkeller does a bit more of the rough stuff. A very recommendable highlight are the Pizzocheri (a pasta). Service is super-efficient, almost such, that one tends to tell the waiters to slow down the pace a bit.
    • One of my personal highlights is the simple Swiss restaurant Engiadina right at the central square of St. Moritz village. When entering the place, the smell of melted cheese will crawl up your nose, and that’s exactly its speciality: cheese fondue. If I had a wish how to die, it would be drowning in cheese fondue.
    • Birthday Action

      Along with some open white wine and a good cherry schnapps for digestion afterwards, there is nothing more the culinary heart can desire.

    Last but not least, the greatest discovery in St. Moritz which is still considered something as a secret tip and stands right at the parking of the Signalbahn: La Baracca. Founded some six years ago, it was targeted at ski teachers and other working staff as a place where they could have a decent meal without the high price tab of St. Moritz on it. However, by now the place has evolved into a potpourri of people from all walks of life. Dresscode is whatever, music nicely chosen, the decoration set with personal love to the smallest detail and the food exceptionally good.

    Dinner at "La Baracca"

    There is a changing menu every evening with, say, ten dishes to choose from. But those are done really, really well. Somehow this place reminded me of “Soul Kitchen“, a restaurant of a similar type which is currently the name and subject of a successful German movie.

    St. Moritz has lots of stuff to offer from the bottom to the heights – in every sense of the word – but keeps on calling to come back for more.

     

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