Day 66: Tryst with valuation, lessons from a flutist, and resolving the imposter syndrome

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What is the worth of this airline?

One of the projects that were due this semester was the valuation of an India public-listed firm of our choice. We decided to go with the airline industry, one which we understood better than others due to the cases and the general interest we had. Our airline of choice was SpiceJet, a low-cost carrier (LCC) with mostly domestic-focused operations. This airline scripted a remarkable return after being on the brink of shutting down just four years ago. The steep drop in the crude oil price may have had something to with that. Now that I’m thinking about this, I’d like to understand their turn around story.

This was the first full-fledged valuation I was doing. We had been working on this for a week, on and off, but it was only a couple of nights back that we sat down to get it done. It took the whole night. As we completed the presentation and the tear sheet, my phone showed 6:30 AM.

There was some drama during the night. My teammate lost his unsaved tear sheet work as Microsoft Word crashed on him. We couldn’t do anything about it, he just had to start over. I could not be of any help, as I was working on the presentation. But that situation demanded something. And so, I narrated the story of a celebrated flutist in India:

This flautist was a young man pursing his flute and playing for film composers during his late teen years. He had a collection of flutes, nothing fancy but he treasured it. He lost his whole collection to a fire at the studio. He was devastated. He felt he couldn’t go on and that would be end of his flautist career.

But on the counsel of his mother, he bought himself some flutes and got back to work. After that incident, he started collecting the best flutes from India and abroad. Earlier he had a collection of local flutes and post that tragedy, he has the best collection of flutes in the world. The tragedy instead of being a setback was a catalyst to expand his vision and dreams.

We faced several challenges during valuation. The underlying problem was we didn’t know how to incorporate the elements in the financial projections. While we understood most of the factors that impacted the revenues of the airline, it was too many that we didn’t know how to proceed.

We completed the valuation: arrived at a value that was almost double the valuation we found in the new articles. The target stock price was three times higher than the current market price. But this did not worry us.

What was worried us was this: We couldn’t do it as methodically as we thought we would. We were not able to streamline the influencing factors to come up with a convincing model. We will continue to work on this and make it better. I’m getting fond of valuation, but there is a long way to go before I raise my competency.

.  .  . 

Ever heard of the imposter syndrome? I had read about it in a School of Life article. Today, I was reading a HBR article on ‘How Consultant’s Project Expertise and Learn at the Same Time.’  The central point was dealing with the ‘learning-credibility tension.’

This is not just for consultants, but anyone who faces the situation of learning and proving yourselves every day. I know this feeling too well; there is not a day that goes by without feeling this tension at a b-school. We learn new things every day, and work with a variety of people. I feel the constant need to appear knowledgeable and credible even when I’m equally clueless about the nature of our assignment or the topic. I handled it in my way, but it was not conscious. Until today, I did not have a name to put to it.

Having conducted studies with sizeable number of management consultants, the author of the article proposes three tactics to handle this tension:

  1. Crafting Relevance – Quickly collect nuggets of information about the subject at hand either through research or from past experiences of people and present it. The people on the other side will at least appreciate that you’ve done your homework well, and be encouraged to share information.
  2. Crafting Resonance – Relay the insights you’ve gained from the internal people back to them to gain their confidence. Pick-up the jargons, expressions, insights from the insiders and weave into your conversation.
  3. Crafting Substance – Create knowledge with whatever information you have. For consultants and b-schoolers, this would be manufacturing powerpoint figures. It might help to have a personal library of frameworks and templates. Lay out whatever you’ve got in a clear logical manner.

This leads us to the feeling of the imposter syndrome. The point is to reframe feeling imposter syndrome to managing ‘learning-credibility tension,’ a skill that is valuable.

Check out this video on Imposter Syndrom by The School of Life: The Imposter Syndrome

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Tampopo: Consulting Lessons from a Japanese Food Film

Being an ardent film-watcher, I cherish an opportunity to amalgamate films and management. Tampopo, a film around food, is among my favorite films. This article is an attempt to study the Japanese film, Tampopo (1985) by Juzo Itami, as an illustrative example of effective results-oriented consulting engagement.

Introduction

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Client: Lai Lai Noodle Shop and its owner Tampopo

The film is centered around the turning around of a struggling noodle restaurant, Lai Lai Ramen Shop, run by a young widow, Tampopo. Goro, a milk truck driver, who happens to visit Tampopo’s restaurant, agrees to help improve her ramen shop. Over the next few weeks time, Goro helps Tampopo in turning around her ramen restaurant with the help of a few of his associates. The ideal consultants here are Goro, the vagabond milk-driver, and his associates; the client is Tampopo, who wants to be a ‘real’ noodle cook.

.  .  . 

1. Following a Structured Problem-solving Approach

“Noodles are synergetic things. Every step must be perfectly built.”

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The perfect bowl of ramen

Through the film, Goro and his associates, along with Tampopo, focus on every single aspect of making good ramen and the objective of becoming the best ramen shop in town.

Here’s the MECE (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive) tree for turning around Tampopo’s ramen shop:

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Turning around Tampopo’s Ramen Shop: MECE Issue Tree

.  .  . 

2. Possess Expertise in the Domain

Right from the star, we see that Goro has a good knowledge of all things related to ramen – eating, cooking, ramen shops. As Goro drives his truck through the stormy night, his assistant reads aloud a segment from a novel which describes the right way to eat ramen:

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Soup first or noodles first?

“First, observe the whole bowl. Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas.”

“Concentrate on the three pork slices.. First caress the surface with the chopstick tips…..”

“Finally, start eating, the noodles first. Oh, at this time…while slurping the noodles, look at the pork..”

Within a few moments of entering Tampopo’s ramen shop, Goro senses that there is a problem with ramen:

“How could he sip the soup? It’s supposed to be boiling hot.”

The next morning, Goro gives some free advice to Tampopo on studying the customer’s face as he waits for his ramen:

“Now, look at the customer while he’s not looking. Is he in a hurry? Is he hungry? Is he a new customer? Is he drunk? Is he a customer you want?”

Later, Goro also gives tips on pork slices, “Three 3 mm slices are the best.”

Goro knew a lot of ramen shops around the town where they could observe the good and the bad practices.  He also had a network of people with experience in ramen-making whom he pulled in to work on Tampopo’s ramen shop.

.  .  . 

3. Competitor Analysis and Benchmarking

Goro and Tampopo visit a number of ramen shops in the town to sample the ramen and also to understand the best and poor practices in noodle-making, kitchen operations, broth-making, customer service, and restaurant ambiance.

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Visits to ramen shops in the town

Kitchen Operations and restaurant ambiance

“This place is not so great. Too much wasted motion. And they talk too much. Only their “welcome” has clout. See? They can’t remember who ordered what.”

Goro and Tampopo visit two ramen shops with opposite characteristics. In one, the chefs made a lot of non-value adding movement and there was a ruckus in the shop, not a place for one who wants to have ramen in peace. In the other, the movement of the chefs was precise and coordinated. There was a calming silence in the shop.

Soup

“It’s the soup that animates the noodles.”

After trying soups at different ramen shops, Tampopo finally finds the best one. When the ramen chef did not agree to divulge his recipe, she takes an alternate route by paying the next door shop and peeping into the kitchen of the ramen shop.

Noodles

“When you make noodles, you must have a precise recipe. An exact combination of different flours, kneadings, everything. To make noodles this smooth, they must do an extra rolling. They probably let the dough sit before they roll it. But the key question is exactly how long.”

Tampopo tactfully teases out the noodle making technique – the number of hours the dough is let to sit and the number of rolls – from a chef at a place that made one of the best noodles in town.

Customer Service

“Plain noodles. No bean sprouts.”

“With dumplings.”

“Shinachiku noodles, please.”

“I want fatty pork in mine.”

Goro takes Tampopo to a ramen shop at the subway station. As a train arrived, the customers arrived at a high frequency to the ramen shop that it is challenging to keep track of the orders. But the chef there remembers exactly who orders what and when.

.  .  . 

4. Strong Consultant-Client Relationship

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Shared vision and collaboration

“So, how are my noodles?”

“They’ve got sincerity, but they lack guts, they’re–Frankly, they’re bad.”

Throughout, there is an openness in the communication between Tampopo and Goro. Initially, when Tampopo asks how her noodles were, Goro gives an honest reply.

Tampopo is open to criticism and change; she considers every suggestion of Goro. Goro, on the other hand, is empathetic to his client, and fully devoted to transforming Tampopo’s ramen shop.

.  .  . 

5. A high-quality and a driven team with complementary skill-set

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Goro and his associates
  1. Goro – The vagabond truck driver who leads the mission and brings people together to makeover Tampopo’s ramen shop. He personally trains Tampopo, builds her confidence, and also takes to visit other ramen shops to learn the best practices.
  2. Master – A hobo and a friend of Goro. He was a doctor and ran a noodle business earlier for fun before his business partner stole his business and his practice. He is given the responsibility for the soup.
  3. Shohei – Personal chef to a rich old man whose life was saved by Goro. Shohei has developed a great skill in making noodles. The old man lends Shohei to Goro as a token of appreciation for saving his life. Shohei is to take care of the noodles.
  4. Pisken – An interior decorator, he was Tampopo’s childhood friend and has a crush on Tampopo. Goro and he had a face-off earlier but then make up for it later. He is given the responsibility of the making over the kitchen space and the interiors of the ramen shop.
  5. Gun – Goro’s assistant, he is responsible for the ambiance of Tampopo’s shop along with Goro.

.  .  . 

6. They did not just give advice, they executed it

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Tampopo’s shop with a long queue

Neither Goro nor the team stopped with giving advice. They were committed to making an impact on the bottom-line of Tampopo’s ramen shop.

They helped Tampopo to implement the ideas they suggested. Goro personally trains Tampopo on physical strength and quickening her ladling operations. The Master teaches her tricks in cutting onions and gives her recipes for the soup.

By the end of the film, we don’t see them submitting a report to Tampopo, rather we see a revamped ramen shop which is brimming with customers. It is only now that the team bids goodbye to Tampopo.

.  .  . 

Epilogue

According to my strategic consulting professor, consulting is about taking the client from an undesirable current state to a desired future state. Understanding the problem, taking a structured approach to the problem, developing a strong client relationship, and helping the client achieve the desired results are aspects of a good consulting engagement. Tampopo’s main narrative is illustrative of this process.

 .  .  . 

Watch the Film: Tampopo (1985)

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If you liked reading about this film, consider watching the film in its entirety. This film is among the most revealing films on the physical, emotional, psychological, social and the sexual aspects of food in human life. There’ll at least be a handful of sequences that’ll be etched in your memory forever.

Tampopo (1985) at IMDb

Readings

The articles below may help you gain insights and develop a keener interest in the film:

  1. Tampopo by Roger Ebert
  2. Deep Focus: Tampopo by Micheal Sragow – A Film Comment Essay
  3. Tampopo: Ramen for the People by Willy Blackmore – A Criterion essay on Tampopo

Day 27: An evening with entrepreneurs, crepe bandages, and a bike ride

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The vision of an entrepreneur

An unpretentious, home-like entrance led us to the production area of the new fledgling start-up that seeks to become a strong brand in consumer medical products.

I was here with a colleague from my batch. We were here at the invitation of N, one of the two working partners, whom I’ve known from my summer internship days. Into my second year of b-school, I was looking for consulting projects where I could apply the skills I’ve gained over the past year and strive to get close to my professional mission of helping businesses add value to society.

Past the entrance, there were a couple of rooms just being constructed, which will support the packaging operations and also serve as a mini-warehouse. A bright lit room of concrete, four or five machines, rolls of cotton and elastic, and cross-webs of threads.

N gave us an overview of the crepe bandage production process, from the cotton raw material to rolling into smaller and then twisting two threads together to increase support and elasticity, and then rolling into larger rolls and then finally, feeding the cotton roll and the elastic roll along with the characteristic bandage brick colored roll. On the other side came long bandages. They felt soft and firm that I wanted to roll them on my arms.

We sat in the small air-conditioned office of the partners, began a long conversation over Sprite in styrofoam cups and a huge pack of Lay’s. N gave us the newly designed brochure for their brand. I instantly took a liking to the brand name. The brochure was as good as any I’d seen. They were into the production of crepe bandages now, but they had plans to move into other products like knee supports, back supports, respiratory masks and many others. N then briefed us on this market opportunity for these products. A few minutes later, S, N’s partner, and friend, joined us.

On to the problems the firm faced. The moodiness of labour productivity, vagaries of electricity, and cut-throat price competition from firms that don’t play by the rules (bribes, free electricity, don’t pay their labour well). We also spoke about the opportunities we have in packaging, tier II cities. The conversation traversed to Indian medical tourism, Make in India, India’s retaliation to Trump’s moves, brand loyalty in medical products, influencers.

It was close to 8 PM, it time to head back to our campus.

I had one final question for the partners: “What do they seek to achieve in the next two to three years?”

“Grow revenues by 300%.”

We went around to see the new construction going on. It was dark outside and we moved to our vehicle. As we shook hands and left the place, it was the aspiration of these two young men that stayed with me.

.  .  .

N’s firm was near Rohtak city, which was 20 kilometers away from our campus. I rode pillion on my friend’s bike through the hinterland of Haryana. Twilight, cool breeze, no tall buildings that stifle your imagination for as far as you can see, green farms on both sides, hefty trees, the farm people finishing their work for the day. I’m not really a bike person, but this is a ride I’ll remember for long. After a tough week, this was great.

.  .  .

It’s always important to end a day well. Tonight I made a mess of it.