Category Archives: Business

‘To Hell in High Heels’ by Helena Frith Powell

heelsThe book blurb gave all indications of a chick lit story, the cover picture even more so. In the rush to grab as many books as I could on the last day of the epic 80% off sale at Reliance Time-Out a few months back, I failed to notice that the heroin’s name was the same as that of the author. Not that I am complaining. It took a few pages before it dawned that this is a true story – of Helena’s research to find a cure for the wrinkle on her forehead , the thin lips, small chest, a microscopically large tummy, limp hair and what not.

Her journey starts from the perfectly round, full and pert bottom of her hairdresser. The first stop is at the world renowned Clinique La Prairie in Switzerland, supposedly the best and naturally one of the costliest anti ageing clinics in the world. An experiemnt in 1931 to save the life of a patient who was suffering from the after effects of a thyroid removal surgeries led Dr. Paul Niehans, the fouder of the clinic into some more research on cell therapy. A successful treatment on similar lines for Pope Pius XII in 1953, firmly established the clinic as one of the pioneers and leaders in ‘ cell regenaration’ therapy. And the main ingedient in the ‘CLP Cell Extract’, a revitalising agent the clinic is most famous for? Hold your breath – the liver of unborn lambs. Are you wondering how on earth they extract it? Simple, kill the mother when the foetus is almost fully grown. Yes, the clinic has its own sheep farm as well.

In the course of her research, Helena meets a yogi Frenchman, gets herself treated at  the spa in The Ritz Paris (whose clientele boasts of Liz Hurley, Sharon Stone and Jodi Foster),  visits the small village of Limone in northern Italy where the people have a genetic abnormality that causes them to live longer, spends a relaxing week of stress releievng treatments at ‘Golden Eye’, Ian Fleming’s old house on the Jamaican Coast, gets younger and younger in New York, meets some typical LA women and even spends a few mornings in Laughter on Laguna Beach.

The book provides an overwhelming amount of data on the deep ocean that the search for eternal youth is. When you remember that she has covered only a small part of this business, and that too the legitimate side, your eyes and mouth might open wide  at the billions that women and more increasingly men spend in search for an elixir of life. What did not really surprise me was something that most of us alerady know in our heart of hearts. Acording to one of well known doctors in this business,

“What cream you use doesn’t really make a difference, the main thing is that you moisturize.”

And you thought, the higher the cost, better the product? Here is one for you,

“the only difference between, for example, Nivea and La Prairie is in the packaging. They are even made in the same laboratory. Just like Lancome and L’Oreal.”

Intesesting, isn’t it?

Helena’s experience is an example of how one gets pulled into this maze from which one may never come out. You start with a basic spa treatment, the ‘consultant’ there talks you into that ‘wonderful’ treatment that can oh so subtly change the look of the tiny wrinkle at the corner of your eyes, then another one tells you about the miraculous tummy tuck that can be done during your lunch hour and you get sucked into the cess pool. There is no end, and that is the brilliance of this business. No treatment promises permanent results. You do a lip filling, it needs to be refilled every 3 months, you get a botox done, that has to be redone every 6-9 months, you get a hair infusion, that has to be redone every 6 months, it goes on and on. Once you get into a new look, it is  as if you can never be your old self again.

Her narration of the ‘lollipop’ girls with anoerxic figures that are so disproportinately thin as compared to the seemingly large heads, restuarnts with faces that are all lips and the 1661 women – who looks 16 from behind and 61 from the front – are hilarious at first, and patehtically sad once you actually start thinking about it. It is as of you have enetered a mass production factory that churns out women of the same size and features and all of them endowed with luscious hair. By the way, your loved one may never run his fingers lovingly through your tressses anymore, it is all glue in there.

The most ironic fact is what almost each of these specialists recommend for a permanent change – good diet, no sugars, lots of water and sun screen, exercise, stress free life and minimizing enviornmental factors. Now, you tell me who is  having the last laugh all the way to their Swiss banks.

The author quotes the palstic surgeon Mr. Ghengis in Fay Weldon’s ‘The Life and Loves of a She Devil’  and this one sentences summarizes it all,

“I can stop you looking old, but you will be old”

Verdict – I would still categorize this as a chick lit, a very interesting one at that.

3.5 /5

‘The Google Guys’ by Richard L. Brandt

googleNext to the air that we breathe, if we take anything for granted today, it has to be Google, at least to a lay person  like me. It has become the single destination for anything that we need, in fact, the name itself has become a verb. You want any information, just google it.

‘The Google Guys’ , originally published as ‘Inside Larry & Sergey’s Brain’ gives more than a glimpse into who the two brilliant young guys are and how they think. Written in a simple, straightforward style, it gives insights into how the organization came into being, what makes its founders tick, their people, their vision, the key people who support them and most importantly their vision  and the seemingly improbable things that you could expect from them in future .

The book starts with an analogy of the world’s first great library – the Great Library of Alexandria that was created by Ptolemy I, the childhood friend of Alexander the Great. The similarities are uncanny and aptly presented in the first few chapters. The author introduces you to a typical employee of Google and you no longer wonder why the organization seem to be at the forefront of any new age thought that you could think of. Alan Eustace, the senior VP of engineering and lead person on engineering hiring puts it very clearly,

“The key element we’re trying to find is smart people, productive people, people with a slight disdain for the impossible, people who have good leadership shills who we find interesting. We try to avoid people that have incredibly large egos that are inconsistent with their abilities or are not good at working in teams.”

In a world that was dominated by Yahoo and Microsoft, if one wonders how Google outsmarted them all, the answer is simple – to keep things simple for the end user – the most basic and important principle that organizations tend to forget as they grow. They are almost fanatical about simplicity , whether it is the look of the home page or the ads that run there. That brings us to another area where Google clearly scored over others. their own advertising spend.

“We’ve resisted the temptation to have big advertising campaigns,” Sergey said in 2000. “I’m not sure it is the right thing to do. I am concerned about long-term profitability.”

Instead, they knew their target audience, met them in person and showed them what they could do. The instinct sure did pay off in the long run. In further chapters, Brandt narrates the story of the infamous IPO where Larry and Sergey almost botched it up because of their apparent apathy towards the so called norms. The controversial entry into China that seemed to go against their much heralded policy on censoring is also dealt with in detail.

The chapter that I loved the most is ‘The Ruthless Librarians’ that talks at length about their attempt to digitize all the books that are available somewhere in the world today. The stories bring out the passion that the duo has towards preserving something that is so priceless.

The last three chapters takes you through Google’s plans for Cloud, Android and the like. Some of the information may seem outdated, but it is interesting, nevertheless. Reading through the last chapter you are left thinking whether there is nothing that these brilliant guys have not thought about. Their future plans include among others, renewable sources of power, eco friendly cars, a trip to Mars and the like.

The ever threatening question of privacy and the potential risk of one entity having this humongous information in their hands is referred to throughout the book. As the author says, most of the controversies are about what could happen and not what has happened.

The author says rightly,

There’s one thing that’s certain: they are going to be breaking rules, pissing people off, and trying to make the world a better place for decades to come. Love them or despise them, everyone must contend with them. They are having greater impacts on the business world and on people’s lifestyles than any other business executives in the world.

World’s information and energy controlled by a corporate behemoth, it sure is a scary prospect. Countries would lose significance, Google could easily be taking up the place of erstwhile United States , the Big Brother or even the Patriarch of the Universe. At the same time, the control wielded by the duo in practically all the decisions including even recruitment of key resources, leaves us with the billion dollar question , what after Larry and Sergey?

Almost serendipitous, this news came out yesterday as I finished reading the book

Verdict – An absolute must read for anyone who  Googles 🙂