Archive for December, 2014

The Global Economy in December

The end of November saw Brent falling to a 4-year low after OPEC members, in their last meeting for the year, declared they will maintain production despite falling prices. Oil price volatility continued into December with Brent falling below $60 per barrel. Brent crude currently stands at $61.58 at the time of writing; a new 5-year low.

December came with two of the most anticipated monetary policy meetings of two global economic giants: European Central Bank and US Federal Reserve. However, the ECB disappointed markets pushing much expected monetary stimulus decision to next year, while keeping rates on hold and downgrading the growth outlook of the region. The US Federal Reserve, on the other hand, changed the language of its forward guidance as expected, replacing its pledge to keep borrowing costs near zero for a “considerable time” with a pledge to be “patient” on the timing of the first interest rate hike.

In Asia India’s Central Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan also held interest rates for the 5th consecutive meeting, while signaling possible rate cuts early next year. The month was further highlighted by severe currency and stock market volatility. Russia, the biggest victim of such volatility, saw its currency falling the most in 16 years after a 650bps rise in interest rates, (its biggest hike since 1998) failed to provide support for the ruble. Indonesian rupiah also plummeted to a 16-year low weighed by local dollar demand and foreign fund outflows. Concerns on Ukraine grew further after the IMF found a shortfall of $15 billion in Ukraine’s bailout package and added to worries that this gap may not be filled amid slow global growth. Such instability seen in emerging markets has spurred fears of a crisis similar to what was seen in 1998.

Throughout the month sharp movements were seen in global equity markets, particularly in Greece, China and Dubai. Greek stock market fell by 12.78%, the most since 1987, after the announcement that Greece’s presidential elections were being advanced to December 17th. The first of three rounds of voting ended inconclusive, as the government’s candidate failed to garner the required amount of votes. China’s stock market also fell by its highest amount since 2009 after authorities attempted to reduce growing risks from debt in its financial system. Dubai’s stock market was the next to fall due to vulnerabilities that it faced from falling oil prices.

The stability of Japan’s economy was further questioned after rating agency Moody’s downgraded Japan’s credit rating to A1 from Aa3. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a comfortable majority, securing his position as Prime Minister once again at snap elections held during the month.

Self-Managing: WITH GREAT FREEDOM COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY

Frontier is largely a self-managing organization, we avoid having a rigid hierarchy and are constantly evolving as organizational needs change. As we have discovered since the inception of our firm however, self-management is sometimes hard to implement among the Sri Lankan workforce. Because culturally, we are used to an organization that subscribes to the metaphor of a machine; with set processes, operating procedures and predictable motions and hierarchies. This is one reason why we are so notoriously picky with who we recruit.

Self-management is not entirely a new phenomenon, earliest examples of it date back to the 1950s. With the world changing and the creative destruction of the internet working its way into every aspect of our lives though, the movement for self-management is growing. Even today in Sri Lanka, more and more firms are adopting policies that provide more flexibility, independence and organizational environments that ‘millennials’ can thrive within.

At the core of it though, what is self-management? As Frederic Laloux writes “Self-Management is not a startling new invention by any means. It is the way life has operated in the world for billions of years, bringing forth creatures and ecosystems so magnificent and complex we can hardly comprehend them. Self-organization is the life force of the world, thriving on the edge of chaos with just enough order to funnel its energy, but not so much as to slow down adaptation and learning.”

Self-management means change; the way the organization functions will constantly shift and adapt to the forces it confronts and unleashes. Everything occurs on a need basis, including remuneration and leadership. As Chris Rufer, founder of Morning Star, says “Clouds form and then go away because atmospheric conditions, temperatures, and humidity cause molecules of water to either condense or vaporize. Organizations should be the same; structures need to appear and disappear based on the forces that are acting in the organization. When people are free to act, they’re able to sense those forces and act in ways that fit best with reality”.

At Frontier we try to be as organic as possible. We only meet when we really have to, and the moment we spot anything unnecessary in what we do, we get rid of it. Everyone has a seat at the table, but we usually find that different team members are more influential when it comes to certain subjects than others, in this sense the concept of ‘power’ within Frontier is also organic and fluid. To quote Rufer again “on any issue some colleagues will have a bigger say than others will, depending on their expertise and willingness to help. These are hierarchies of influence, not position, and they’re built from the bottom up. At Morning Star one accumulates authority by demonstrating expertise, helping peers, and adding value. Stop doing those things, and your influence wanes—as will your pay”.

For self-management to really work within an organization the people that are a part of it also have to be expert self-managers. They have to be dynamic, proactive and ambitious if the organization as a whole is to thrive. They must each be driven to expand the organization’s goals and objectives within their respective scopes of work. Self-management offers a lot of leeway and independence to those that participate within the system, but with great freedom also comes great responsibility, and finding people who can thrive within the environment we create is thus a key for us.

We suggest you read the whole of Laloux’s excellent article on the concept of self-management, which examines some key misperceptions about self-management as well. We’ve inserted some of our favorite excerpts below.

“What often puzzles us at first about self-managing organizations is that they are not structured along the control-minded hierarchical templates of Newtonian science. They are complex, participatory, interconnected, interdependent, and continually evolving systems, like ecosystems in nature. Form follows need. Roles are picked up, discarded, and exchanged fluidly. Power is distributed. Decisions are made at the point of origin. Innovations can spring up from all quarters. Meetings are held when they are needed. Temporary task forces are created spontaneously and quickly disbanded again.”

On power within self-management structures

“Power is not viewed as a zero-sum game, where the power I have is necessarily power taken away from you. Instead, if we acknowledge that we are all interconnected, the more powerful you are, the more powerful I can become. The more powerfully you advance the organization’s purpose, the more opportunities will open up for me to make contributions of my own.”

Self-managers aren’t born, but made. Like anything, it too has a learning curve.

“For people experiencing Self-Management for the first time, the ride can be bittersweet at first. With freedom comes responsibility: you can no longer throw problems, harsh decisions, or difficult calls up the hierarchy and let your bosses take care of it. You can’t take refuge in blame, apathy, or resentfulness. Everybody needs to grow up and take full responsibility for their thoughts and actions―a steep learning curve for many”

FRONTIER NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH: GOOD EATING IN COLOMBO 5 #1

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With the area around our office changing, what used to be a rather sad lack of variety of options for dining out is changing along with it. Several restaurants and eateries have opened up in the area in the past few months, and being responsible corporate citizens working here, we thought it our societal duty to go out and review them. The Frontier team loves food, and decided to take out some of its annual budget to fund food reviews as opposed to say, organizing a team cricket match. The results of our escapades can be found below.

Moon River

In contrast to its outside appearance, the restaurant itself was quite bright and vibrant. The menu was quite extensive catering predominantly to Chinese tourists and had authentic Chinese dishes. However it was quite noisy for weekday at lunchtime so, not the most suitable place to have a business meeting or relaxed meal. Plus, the desserts were quite the generic fruit salad and ice cream, leaving us no choice there.

To start off, we ordered a small portion of sweet corn with crab soup (Rs. 498), which arrived very fast and very hot. The waiter served each of us a bowl full – yes, a small portion is more than enough for 3 people. The soup was full of corn and was very filling.

Before we were done, our waiter turned up with the main dishes – a large portion of Hot butter cuttlefish (Rs. 898), and small portions of Seafood fried rice(Rs. 428) and Malaysian styled Fried Noodles(Rs. 598). The Seafood rice wasn’t exceptional (below par) but the hot butter cuttlefish covered up for it. One cannot have too much of hot butter cuttlefish. The Fried noodles were the star of all the dishes, being very saucy and spicy. Each dish was sufficient for about 3-4 people, which made the whole meal quite reasonable from a cost point of view.

For drinks we only ordered a Watermelon juice (Rs. 298) and water, which cost just a little bit less than the juice (Rs. 150). The watermelon juice was really thick and rich.

The service was quick and friendly, despite the number of customers dining in (and we are pretty sure we heard one of the Sri Lankan waiters speaking in Mandarin). However, the tables are placed quite close to each other which make it a bit cluttered.

The bill came to Rs. 3,651/- for 3 people but we had enough leftover to serve another 2. Overall, it would definitely be a place we would like to go again for a quick meal and ideal if you want to try out authentic Chinese dishes. Quite impressive bill with 22% comes as Taxes & Service charge. Other than that the prices are okay.

Plus, they gave us each Rs.100 discount vouchers – maybe a watermelon juice next time?

 

Kami Maki

Kami Maki is a small Japanese restaurant adjacent to Jawatte Road, whose exterior attempts to give the impression of a small cozy cottage with wooden tables and bunks placed outside. However, given the small amount of space inside, it may not be the best place to go to hang out with a big group of people, or have a conversation of a private nature.

The menu has quite an extensive and interesting list of Japanese food including the traditional Sushi, Sashimi and Nigiri. It also offers different types of Soup, salads and beverages. Since we have tried Sushi before, we decided to try something different at Kami Maki. So, we settled for Japanese fried rice, Teriyaki chicken rice burger and chicken Donburi (Japanese rice bowl) and a glass of Amberalla Juice.

The Ambarella juice (Rs.350) was fresh and not too sweet, and came with a straw in an old jam bottle, which, while it would have garnered stares of disapproval from our mothers, went well with the mixture of decadence and modernity that characterizes the place’s decor and feel. The Chicken Donburi (Rs.590) tasted wholesome with the boiled rice and sweet chicken blending well with the assorted vegetables and seasoning.

The Japanese Fried Rice was not like the usual fried rice we’re familiar with. It was offered in a bowl and there were rice that might be enough for two people. It was bit oily but overall the fried rice was tasty and good.

By the time we finished the main course; all three of us were quite full and didn’t have much space for desert. But, since the dessert menu was quite appealing we decided to take one portion of Tempura Fried Chocolate Cake with chocolate sauce (Rs. 450 with ice cream) back to office to have later.

The crispy fired cake served with chocolate ice cream was quite scrumptious. Everyone in office loved it. Definitely something we would try again later!

 

Hazari’s

Hazari’s is a cosy little eatery specializing in Arabic cuisine. With a rather homely ambiance, the lighting, while bright, is well augmented with the natural light streaming through the large windows they have in place of solid walls and goes well with the Arabian music playing in the background.

A few of us have ordered their shawarmas and their wraps before, which weren’t that filling and though they weren’t the best in Colombo, they were definitely tasty. This time we decided to order the “Hummus with Chicken”, followed by a “Gourmet Arabica Pizza”. Unfortunately, we were left waiting quite a while, but we figured that was only natural, given that we had ordered the pizza.

The Hummus with Chicken was the first to arrive served with a few slices of Arabic bread, it was hardly enough for one person. The Hummus served as a dip in which the chicken was mixed. It tasted rather bland and was, overall, rather disappointing and failed to complement the chicken.

The Gourmet Arabica Pizza, in sharp contrast to the Hummus, was well spiced and generously topped with meat, condiments and a thin layer of cheese – all placed on a thin crust pizza. All in all, it was very enjoyable and very easily secured its position as one of their signature dishes.

To complement the food, we ordered a mint lime soda, a mint fresh tea and an ice yoghurt shake. Living up to the many good things we had heard about their mint products, the mint lime soda was easily the best drink on the table, while the mint fresh tea came up short and was quite disappointing. The ice yoghurt was good, though very filling and not the best choice to go for after a heavy main dish.

Finally, we capped our order with a strawberry and cheese desert, stuffed in bread. It was not too sweet and tasted different to the deserts we are used to, specifically since the bread seemed to drown out the taste of the chocolate, dominating the dish, like eating chocolate sauce on soft pita bread. Though we think it could have been better with some thinner bread.

All in all, Hazari’s is a nice place to share a meal with some friends. Its service may be a little slow, but their portions are generous (except for the Hummus with Chicken!)

 

 

Domenico

The first of our party to enter the place was welcomed by the Chef himself. The ambiance is quite understated with the gregarious Italian chef and the clay oven adding to the atmosphere

We ordered a half&half pan pizza. One half comprised of Tandoori cuttle fish and the other butter chicken. We were quite satisfied with the size of the pizza, big enough to feed three medium rate eaters :). The pizza crust was really thin and well done. The butter chicken was not too great with no prominent flavours apart from the capsicum. The tandoori cuttle fish was better with the mozzarella cheese blending well with the cuttlefish on a thin crust. On hindsight we would have been better off ordering traditional toppings given that it’s an Italian chef whose forte may not be Indian flavours.

Tharini has good things to say about their four cheese pizza which she tried during her vegetarian/cheese pizza phase. It had a liberal amount of the different types of cheese with a just a hint of oil, so the taste was essentially of the cheese and a very thin base to compliment it. An ideal option for vegetarians and by far one of the best of its kind available here.

Next we tried their Bruschetta which was decent but we won’t be ordering it again. It felt like it was soaked in olive oil giving a very rich oily texture. The real taste of it was lost.

Despite being a “pizza” place the best part of our whole meal were the desserts. On the recommendation by the waiter we tried the Chocolate mousse which was wonderful with a rich and creamy texture. We also tried the Chocolate Tiramisu, quite different from the standard Tiramisu, it was more of a coffee infused sponge cake with a chocolate ganache, and however it was quite satisfying.

Located within walking distance (on a less humid, breezy day) from the Frontier office, it’s a quick and easy place to hit for a bite to eat.

We’re a little rusty putting our skills to work into analysing restaurants for a change, but we’re determined to improve! Of course, this means doing more food reviews to perfect the art. Yay!