A Book Review: Bullshit Quotient

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Ranjeev Dubey’s recently published book “Bullshit Quotient” (I am literary correct, and haven’t resorted to swearing on my blog) pulls the wool from the eyes. The lines in the introduction pages are – “Absurdly, in our cultural fabric, spotting the little lie is a skill called wisdom; spotting the big one is a sin called cynicism”. Hopeful idealists, who believe the world will become a better place to live, will be disillusioned and disheartened reading this book. The jaded cynics will find it provocative, amusing and ruthless. If you are willing to get your rose-tinted glasses peeled off, then read this book.

Ranjeev, an attorney by profession, wrote this diatribe on Indian corporate, legal and social world to call a spade a spade. It is rare in India, that an author chooses brutal honesty over the delicate footwork of political correctness and diplomacy. Below are my three main takeaways from the book.

1.      The Cost of Economic Growth

Fittingly, Ranjeev has narrated the excessive cost of industrialization paid by economically backward and tribal communities (Adivasis) of India. Government on the pretext of acquiring land for development, irrigation etc. has made millions homeless. Without farming land and an education, these poor people have become slum dwellers in cities, and do menial tasks to make a meagre living. Those outraged by the injustice meted out to them, have joined Naxalite groups and terrorist organizations. Their anger has led them to a path of self-destruction, as after a couple of years they are either shot down in a police encounter or spend their life in prison. The urban class is completely apathetic to their plight,  as they are focused on catering to their latest self-indulgence.

Nearly one-third of Indians live below poverty line, and India cannot become a powerful nation unless these poor people start earning  a reasonable standard of living. Two big ones are required to change the situation. The anarchic land acquisition act needs to modified to give a fair price to land owners. Political will has to be strong to re-locate the displaced people.

2.      Dependence of Independent Directors

Ranjeev has raised the same question as I did before – Are the independent directors really independent. Ranjeev’s strong opinion  is – “In truth, independent directors are wall flowers, perching uneasily on the tenuous board seat, good to topple any time the promoter choses. They can’t protect themselves, leave alone the small shareholder”.

Aptly described; the independent directors appointment and continuance is dependent on the good will of the promoters.  They are not in a position to take a strong stance, as they will be labelled troublesome and jeopardize other appointments. Even well-reputed industrialists sitting on other company boards restrain from rocking the boat. In the elite club, no one wishes to spoil the business equations. Hence, it is just a mirage that independent directors are the bastions of corporate governance and will defend small investor interests.

3.      Auditor Role in Fraud

Objection, my lord; here, I beg to differ. Ranjeev has rightly pointed out auditors primarily responsibility is not to detect frauds. Auditors cannot be held responsible if a fraud remains undetected. But there are two statements, where my readers will have to defend the auditor’s reputation. Below are the extracts:

“It is not the auditor’s job to get into the details of books, records and documents. It follows that the auditor’s only job is to take a leisurely glance at the papers of the company puts before the auditor while daintily picking the sumptuous kebabs over the working lunch at the company’s office.” The lunch dig is true, it happens in India but auditors have to bury their noses in the books of accounts of the company.

The second one is more disparaging –

“He does not understand the company or its business, does not understand the environment in which the company operates and does not understand what is going on in it. His job is to look at the books and create more papers. Auditing is about reconciling paper trails, not truths.” Whoa, if an auditor hasn’t got his fundamentals right, then most probably he is delivering this poor quality work. Auditors need to figure out how to break these negative stereotype images and get appreciated for the value they offer.

Closing Thoughts

As we are given a choice between being an optimistic idealist and pessimistic cynic, I choose the former. Idealists are happy, cynics’ worldview is miserable. Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the atrocities, injustices and differences in our world. An idealist is better equipped to bring about a change, when the plans are grounded in reality. If reality stinks, we have to acknowledge and accept it before we devise a strategy for change.

This book describes the smelly portions of our society, which we want to close our eyes, ears and nose to. Besides it, the book has amusing wordplay. Here is line I liked – “Of all the bibulous ballyhoo that emerges from the loquacious lips of corporate kookaburras, the weirdest is the idea that the business of a company is delivery of value to its customers.”

Win the Book – Enter the Competition

Share your opinion here. If you agree or disagree with Ranjeev, come forward. You can win. Ranjeev will select the best comment and the book will be yours. Ranjeev has also offered to give a response to your comments. His response and the best comment will be posted on 17 October. Mind you, you will get a good defense; he is an attorney by profession.

You can visit Ranjeev’s website at www.ranjeevdubey.com

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9 comments on “A Book Review: Bullshit Quotient

  1. Well I agree that the issues highlighted are important and burning, but just highlighting issues and not suggesting a mechanism is not a value add. Nothing is perfect, we have to make it better everytime we feel that a issue is at hand. There are gaps in current process, which can not be filled in a days time. There are political, bureaucratic angles to it. SEBI is probably the best agency in the world (my opinion) but I think they are also under pressure when it comes to taking a hard policy decisions.

  2. This Comment is from Joanne, I am posting on her behalf. The competition is open to all.

    Joanne McNamara, CPMA, CPC, CMA-AAMA • I perused the brief review, and although I am not in India, I definately agree that in America, the present problems are not being addressed. Does that mean that the “written – recorded” law is deficient? No, I don’t think it is. The words are there….but, your reference to “debate” is the key. Our government was formed with the intent to ensure the citizens had rights, we were to govern with freedom, for the people. We cannot, and will not ever achieve a voice as long as the two party dominent system is in place. Second question, procedures now are created by giving a little, getting a little, and laws are passed with a scale, which must continue to go up and down to make an average equal between the two parties. Third, standards? What standards? Who defines the standards? Both backed by large corporate greed, its just the lobbiests that are different, democrates and republicans disagree in front of our eyes, but we all know, they like that they have almost a complete 50-50 chance. Then there is the Senate and House, full of little greedy republicans or democrats. They are the experts at chosing their vote by whichever lobbiest has the best offer. Finally, compliance and accountability. I have been in the health care field, government, private and as a teacher. I now focus on compliance in my specific area. It is difficult to find two people who agree on what actual constitutes “compliance”. Well, as a certified medical auditor, I read the FR everyday, (I know sad, but true….I actually find it facinating)a. I do believe the standards of the OIG, HHS and agencies, FDA, DOJ are in black and white, but so many laws are intertwined, it is not a task many enjoy. Small practices often have no audit trail. Accountability is ensuring that you understand and carry out the actions of the law, with ethical and morale actions. So, the laws are there, the government is in the hands of those who thrive on power, irregardless of having the right to vote, that doesn’t even matter, because it is an eletr vote.
    So, in summary, yes, I do think the laws, standards (impossible for interpretation to many) exists, the written requirements are their for corporate, by no, I absolutely do not believe corporate America is even close to complaint and they are not accountable.

  3. “Of all the bibulous ballyhoo that emerges from the loquacious lips of corporate kookaburras, the weirdest is the idea that the business of a company is delivery of value to its customers.”WRONG(Agree with RD) !! The business of the company is to deliver value to the stakeholders/shareholders. Everything else is incidental. All the stuff about delivering value to customers is BULLSHIT. For the simple reason, each customer will have a value system based on his experience. I am not on the side of the corporates, but just like Rajneev, I am seeing the reality !!

  4. I agree with Mr. Dubey. As a cynical private investigator I have found that the bigger the lie, regardless of the circumstances, simply means that there are more person involved. Such events to not take place in a vacuum. That is why when any large entity fails; corporate, government, non-profit, etc., we commonly find an entire cadre of complicit individuals was involved…

  5. Rajeev is predominantly correct in his perceptions (one or two minor judgment calls can perhaps be ignored). The issue is that the concept of sustainability, which in turn is connected with the whole idea of governance & ethics, has not yet taken roots among Indian commercial organizations which are less than, say, 50 years old (or maybe older. Commercial organization sometimes fail to realize (or take the ostrich approach to the fact) that they don’t exist in a vacuum, but within an ecosystem where the (mostly competing) interests of companies, customers, employees, regulators, environment and the larger society are required to be optimized. This was the stated (though in a different way) objective of the concept of Trusteeship, which sadly has gone out of the window gradually after Indian independence.

    Now, ‘true’ corporate governance is ingrained only in organizations like the house of Tatas, where it’s been part of their ethos since more than a century perhaps, even being incorporated in their sustained training efforts like the Tata Academy curriculum. For other (esp. noveau riche) organizations, it’s more a question of (a) looking good, to maintain a decent corporate ‘standing’ (and get some awards for corporate governance et al, which is sometimes part of a quid pro quo) and/or (b) doing the minimum required by ‘important stakeholders’ (read: those who hold the pursestrings, for instance bulge bracket investors, who may have their own individualized concepts of governance, quite ‘flexible’ depending on circumstances and commercial interests).

    Towards this, most organizations would do only the absolute minimum required by laws and regulations (and inter-corporate or lender arrangements). Thus, expecting adoption of anything beyond the minimum on a ‘voluntary’ basis is like chasing a mirage. Indian entrepreneurs are always wont to find a ‘jugaad’ to comply with applicable laws and regulations strictly in word, while disregarding (or, for some, actively subverting) the spirit. This is quite evident from so called ‘compliance with the whole plethora of regulations and additional ‘guidelines’ on things ranging from Corporate Governance to Internal Audit to Risk Management.

  6. ” Absurdly, in our cultural fabric, spotting a small lie is a skill called wisdom; spotting a big one is a sin called cynicism. ” Ranjeev has hit the nail on its head.Openly discussed opinions shape the course of history, and modern India is decidedly indecisive.’wisdom’ is looked upon by the majority as another useless ideal with only sporadic utility;’cynicism’ is an established evil.The consequent indecision and inaction is aptly captured in kebab munching auditors.To add to the misery, a nation in need of an inspiring dream, is fed the empty corporate drivel.An incisive outlook, that cuts through the veil of bullshit(something the SC did not do in the vodafone case),is need of the hour.The inventive wordplay and precision of the prose makes this book an inevitable read.

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