IMF Chief Resigns After Sex Attack Charges: Down the Greasy Pole!

And one more bites the dust. Last week as per Financial Times Rajaratnam was convicted of charges related to insider trading fuelling speculations on what would happen to ex McKinsey head Rajat Gupta. What intrigues me is why these men who after painstakingly building their careers and making all the right moves on the corporate chess board, come sliding down the slippery pole just when it is time to hang their cap after a stellar career.

The Managing Director of IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now faces charges of committing a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and sexual abuse, all of which he has denied so far. Like in all such cases and America has witnessed several of them, there could be two sides to the story.

Power corrupts and can corrupt absolutely! People who reach the top have a sense of brazenness and are deluded by the notion that they are invincible. I see an analogy here to CS Lewis’s Trilemma from a recent article by Ash Benington on Rajat Gupta. Lewis the author and Oxford Don who wrote the children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was also a devout Christian. According to Lewis since Jesus said he was the Son of God, there were only three possibilities: He was either Lord, Lunatic, or a Liar. People who reach the Olympian heights of corporate and social life forget that they are humans and start behaving like “Sons of God”. Their behaviour falls into one of the three categories to be able to commit crimes as astonishingly brazen; a behavior that can only be described as Lunatic or that which is morally impaired.

A walk down Strauss- Kahn’s success trail also shows that he has been dogged by scandals He did err a couple of times despite his celebrated contributions.

In 1999, as France’s finance minister Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign the post amid a fraud scandal in which he was accused of charging for consulting work he never did while working as a corporate lawyer. He was cleared of wrongdoing and won re-election to Parliament.

In 2008 he was embroiled in controversy over accusations that he had had a relationship with one of his subordinates, Piroska Nagy, senior official in the IMF’s Africa Department. The IMF hired a law firm to launch an investigation. Ms. Nagy left the fund and joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He was cleared of harassment, favoritism and abuse of power following an inquiry – and kept his job, though he later apologized for an ‘error of judgement’.

Strauss-Kahn, who was rejected by the French Socialists as their presidential candidate in 2006, gained international recognition as France’s finance minister from 1997-99.

He is credited with preparing France for the adoption of the euro by reducing its deficit and persuading then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to sign up to an EU pact of fiscal prudence.

A former economics professor, Strauss-Kahn joined the Socialist party in 1976 and was elected to parliament in 1986 from the Val-d’Oise district, north of Paris.He went on to become mayor of Sarcelles, a working-class immigrant suburb of Paris.

A former French finance minister and member of the Socialist Party who served in Parliament, Strauss-Kahn was considered a potential challenger to French President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s election. It is not very unlikely that Strauss-Kahn was in a position where he didn’t please everybody and that this could be an attempt to taint his reputation.

The plot thickens with allegations by writer Tristane Banon that he attempted to rape her in 2002. Some say there is something not right about this case: this is not a usual sexual misdemeanor, this is aggravated rape that the IMF ex Chief has been charged of. Is it likely that a man so intelligent and in such a position would risk family, career and future?

Polls released in France on Wednesday showed that 57% of respondents thought the Socialist politician was definitely or probably the victim of a plot. How likely is it that a man who has been acclaimed as a muscular advocate for aiding Greece, Ireland and Portugal as they fought to avoid insolvency, jump on a 32-year female house-keeper in a Manhattan penthouse suite? If this is true then this Son of God has definitely demonstrated Lunatic behavior. The result is here to see – a sharp slide from a 3000 USD suite to a cell at New York’s Rider Island. Or is this Strauss Kahn’s Spaghetti Karma? (Read the article Spaghetti Karma at by Alok Kejriwal).

After all few have climbed the greasy pole without having soiled themselves with some grease. This one was just a little too slippery tarnishing the institution of the IMF.

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What makes Apple the most valuable brand on the planet?

It is something I could have betted and won money on when I saw people queuing outside the Apple Store on the night before a new shipment of iPads arrived at the Hong Kong Plaza Apple store in Shanghai. Apple has had retail presence for less than a year on this road. When I see all those people tuned into those white i- Phones in any airport, train or even bus stand I could have confirmed – Apple is the most valuable brand on earth.

The latest ‘BrandZ’ study by global brands agency Millward Brown places Apple at the top, pushing last year’s top dog Google to No.2 spot. Brand experts may claim that the launch of the iPad was the key factor in Apple’s stunning rise up the table with an 84 per cent rise in its estimated value. In third place until last year, it now holds a clear lead at 153.3bn $. I would however debate the reason why Apple got here from a No 29 position just 4 years ago when it launched its iPhone. If you ask a 7 year old why he likes Apple he will tell you it’s “cool”. The launch of the iPhone and iPad cemented Apple’s reputation of being cutting edge and cool, a personality its loyal followers across the world assume with the purchase of an Apple product.

The one factor that could have possibly determined the success of Apple is its consistency thanks to its integrated approach. Apple has espoused consistency in design whether in its Mac, iPod, iPhone or iPad. But with design came consistency in service with the opening of its stand alone stores. Today the cult has a Mecca to visit, experience and hang out in the cities where Apple has opened its stores. Symbolism and value based marketing seems to succeed in today’s “I” world more than ever and the success of Apple reaffirms this formula. If you compare luxury brand Louis Vuitton which sits at No 24 in the rankings this year one can see some similarities in the approach to retail – complete control of every aspect of the supply chain, from manufacturing to management of retail stores. Like Louis Vuitton, Apple controls its stand-alone mausoleums – its larger than life steel and grey retail stores in order to provide a superlative customer experience which keeps browsers and buyers coming back for more of the Apple experience -an experience that they have never really wanted but discover through their journey with Apple. Apple has also never listened to the customer but rather has defined where the customer needs to go. It has truly been the change that Apple has passionately wanted to see in the world.

Can other brands blindly emulate the Apple formula? I believe not. Companies need to define their own clear and simple raison d’être. That should drive the actions and decisions of every employee, from the C-suite down. Many could argue Apple’s success lies in its innovation culture.The bad news for anyone looking to foster a design or innovation-driven culture within an enterprise that doesn’t at heart “get” it is that in Apple, design and innovation (is better and not just new products) are acknowledged and embraced as core values by every employee. Just having identity manuals reinforcing points of philosophy won’t gain traction. Like in Apple these values need to be institutionalized. In other words, unless the commitment to innovation or design is authentic and internalized, rather than the short-term strategy to cater to a hot trend, it will be next to impossible to build a true, innovation-led culture (and emulate Apple’s success.)

The other aspect that cannot be ignored is Apple’s approach to talent acquisition – the people who translate the culture of consistency and passion to a superlative customer experience. It is common knowledge that Apple scouts for only the best talent and some recruitments take as long as 2 years to materialize. The People, Passion and Profit cult model is what seems to work for Apple in building unparalleled loyalty and profits today. And it is the cult that makes Apple the most powerful brand on the planet.

As an aside it is interesting to see how emerging market companies are breaking through in increasing numbers in the rankings. China Mobile, the biggest telecoms firm in China, is now the ninth most valuable brand, worth $57.3bn, and, the Chinese equivalent of Google, has risen to $22.5bn thanks to Google’s exit from the country. Given that it took Apple a little over 4 years to get to No 1 we could speculate that it may not be long before a Chinese brand marches to the No 1 position?

Bite into an Apple if you can!

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Do Peasants drive the luxury industry?

There are volumes written about the luxury industry these days. It is amusing how an industry where an average Luxe brand posts worldwide revenue of less than 10 Apple stores gets so much attention! Perhaps because so many of them are run by Poets!? Poets, who have successfully managed to push the luxury industry to become one of the most aspirational and most followed in recent times. It is this insight that a recent Wall Street Journal blog uncovers.

According to the blog Professor Charles de Brabant, a China luxury expert and Human Resource Consultant, believes that luxury companies are best run by peasants(mainly Europeans apparently) with a little help from poets and craftsmen. Please see

The common perception however is that the industry is built by Poets. You don’t expect peasants to be dressed in their Pradas and Guccis, holding a glass of Dom Perignon at a trendy Members – only club with a group of socialites (READ influencers). It’s a lot of work my dear (like my PR once said) and not one for the toiling peasant!

One look at the CEOs who run the most successful luxury brands would prove that they are all MBAs from reputed management institutes who somewhere along their careers picked up the fine art of crafting poetry and made a habit of it. If you attend any of the 30 and more luxury conferences that are held in any part of the world this month,none of the speakers (largely CEOS and brand executives) will talk business. They will talk about their brand heritage, innovation and creativity of their marketing campaigns and the mausoleums of luxury the Peter Marinos are building – not once will you hear of the challenges they face in running their businesses or breaking even their P & L’s.

I believe that luxury brands (depending on the brands and their culture) need to choose when and where they need the peasants, their craftsmen and their poets.This decision would also depend on the maturity of the markets that the brands operate in. Emerging markets where the industry is in a nascent stage may require the poets to educate the customer about the brand’s heritage, weave the magic and create aspiration. The wining and dining poets are supported by the toiling peasants to manage the customer experience at the moment of truth in the stores – to run the stores, train the teams, replenish the inventory and manage the selling ceremony. Fast growing and mature markets are more poet driven where the brands require creative and innovative ways to stimulate and keep the excitement around the peasant run smooth operations. In most emerging markets there arrives a stage of growth when local peasants are replaced by European poets (luxury canvas being the prerogative of the French and Northern Italians). One quick look at China’s luxury canvas and we see more European General Managers and country managers with the exception of a very few. In markets like India, Vietnam the reverse is true as the market continues struggling through the first stage of the growth cycle – the local managers (read peasants) running from city to city trying to sell that one bag that could make the business seem more meaningful.

Perhaps some brands choose to work with the quick turnaround hero managers or peasants and don’t believe in the value that poets could bring to creating the magic around luxury brands. Their approach is a quick fix of their bottom line and hence don’t feature in the top 15 world’s most valuable luxury brands. They might not because it takes a fine balance of peasants, craftsmen and poets to build a brand whether in luxury , FMCG or technology. Although each has a valuable role to play, it is the poets who eventually add lustre to the brand.

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