Smart Branding: Campus ambassadorship

Smart companies realize brand building must happen beyond TV screens and bulletin boards. Campuses offer a unique low cost platform to reach out to prospective customer, engage & build communities, elicit early feedback on the products and services and create a band of ambassadors to influence markets. IT majors use campus programs not only to create a pool of talented & trained individuals, but also support innovations and build credibility for their products. Establishing a centre of excellence through CSR is a nice way for companies to create campus influence marketing. Involving faculty for external seminars or creating industry chair is another way in which companies extend campus led branding to influence their markets. While faculty led influencer marketing may no be feasible for all companies, campus ambassadorship is a potent and highly effective tool. Brand ambassadors are volunteers selected by the company to represent their products and service on the campus. The brand ambassador helps in promoting the product and services by informing, creating brand identity and brand velocity. This is an age old concept which was practiced by Red Bull and Anheuser Busch back in the day and is getting a revival because companies like Google, Microsoft and other startups use this to expand their brand presence. Tinder introduced this concept among college students through the hosting of events and parties where people met and socialized and that was shot this program up to stardom.
So, how does a Campus Ambassadorship program work? In general the program consists of 4 steps i.e. Identifying – Evaluation- Designation- Execution. Companies comb the campus to identify individuals who can represent their brand and carry the association nonchalantly to inform and influence others. Like a job interview, companies realize there are certain characteristics that make for a best campus ambassadorship. Students going abroad, or students with all round performance or ones applying abroad with strong academics but no social or voluntary work best. Persons who had formerly stood for the elections in the campus but lost out will also be a good candidate as he/she will have a sizeable influence on others.
Prospective students are contacted through E-mail, asked to fill out a form and share a video. Prospects are asked to do a presentation of various events happening all around the college and identify how the brand could associate with these events and what could be achieved. The candidate selected need not be the most academically adept, but if they have a good network in and around the campus, they can become influencer and go on to represent the brand for a long time. To kick start a community, companies can offer sign up bonus. The campus ambassadors regularly inform campus audience using e-mails to SMS to even plain brochures. Food courts and canteens are high eyeball areas and ambassadors take special care to set up signing booths or standees. Many companies prefer to have at least 2 Ambassadors per campus. Running brand ambassadorship at multiple colleges from same region and communicating the best performing team can create the required sense of competition. Companies can also gamify the complete process through rewards and awards. Effective campus ambassadorship programs require smart execution on three fronts: resources & rituals, linkages and institutionalization. Companies have to invest in sufficient resources to spread the word and hold the intensity across multiple semesters. Rituals are key to sustain continuity, deepen adoption and reinforce brand identity.
In our assessment, a major weakness of ambassadorship program is that companies often ignore the continuous training and evaluation required to sustain the efforts. Training is required beyond induction, especially how to handle objections from other groups, how to workaround administrative limitations, etc. Companies also lack a broad framework for review and recognition. Smart companies invest in monthly review of the work carried out by ambassadors.
In our assessment campus ambassadorship works for all companies, big and small. It works best when communities of interest need to be created to support consumption. Campus ambassadorship is a low cost approach to marketing. It is an effective program not just for your campaigns, but is a great platform for discovering latent needs.

Vijay Krishna J and Sai Ram Ganapathy

Digital transformation of God’s Abode

Temples, churches and mosques are places where faithful and seekers congregate to see, witness, experience or participate in religious and spiritual experiences. Some throng to quench their spiritual thirst, some to marvel at the colossal architecture and beautiful carvings, some to seek their wishes and some as an errand. Right from early civilization, they have functioned as a solace cistern, as rich cultural platforms creating novel dance and music formats, community ports involved in birth, marriage and many more stages. These structures form the foundations on which the faith rests strongly and they witness sea of humankind passing through them. Blue Mosque is visited by five million people annually, while Tirupathi temple receives about 203 Million people. It is not that only these large temples draw the crowd, even smaller ones witness sizeable participation from locals and visitors. India with 205 religious auspicious days a year, and more than 69,000 temples and many churches, mosques and synagogue is a happening place. Many of these smaller institutions face challenges on grants, support and upkeep. Some function under government bureaucracy, therefore their upkeep and running is a tough affair. Some temples are family managed, or by the villagers themselves and face a problem of continuity. Migration, regional expansions, industrialization and rampant resource exploitation has robbed many of their lands and means of sustenance. Religious institutions of all hues can benefit from digital technologies in three primary areas: Devotee management, donations and infrastructure management.
Devotee management involves advance reservations for seva’s, crowd management, on the spot tickets, distribution of Prasad and others. Faithful steward, WorshipTrac, FlockBase, Minebiz, Kshetrasuvidham, Kshetra, Mohid, Emaze are some of the software available to deliver devotee management and administration workflows. Platforms like onlineprasad or e-Prasad deliver temple Prasad directly to devotees. Devotee management includes not just on premise experience, but ones that caters to off premise engagement too. Due to migration, physical challenges and other constraints many a men and women may not be able to a treat themselves with a rich spiritual and cultural experience. AR/VR experiences can help people to cherish these moments without actually being at the place. Grand scale events such as Mahamastabhisheka of Gomateshwara or ISKCON Chowpatty have successfully worked with Kalpnik to provide an immersive virtual experience to all those devotees and tourists. A smartphone to scan the QR code, s simple 2G connection and a 3D spectacle was what was required to relish the happenings. Brainseed Factory’s Mecca3D delivers a rich virtual tour of Mecca, Haram the world’s largest mosque and Islamic history. Millions of faithful who can’t visit Mecca due to distance, cost, and physical challenges benefit from these virtual experiences. Startups like Spirituallygood are bringing an integrated platform of advance reservations, social media and member devotee experience on to a common page. With this the devotee can book in advance, share the photos and experiences on both temple’s page and her personal page, can send an invite to friends and donate for a particular puja or a cause like feeding widows or cattle. Devotee and tourist help create more information about the deity and place, increase awareness and followers to the temple. Heritage temples endowed with parchment paper or Talapathra scripts realize they need to digitally archive these to preserve the valuable information, but also help many consume the same in the form of e-books.
Donations are key source of all major religious institutions. Donations are required to maintain structures, deck the statues and halls, pay for the staff and priests and conduct elaborate events on special days. Using digital technologies, religious institutions can obtain tighter alignment between sources of funds (individuals, corporates, institutions and government), increase reach and deepen engagement of volunteers and donors. What most temples and mosques need is donations of kind, support for say restoring a gopuram or a minaret. Procuring these skills may be difficult for temples and government run temples may use locally available contractor who has no knowledge of the agama Shastra’s or the age old building techniques. Donation of time and efforts is where digital technologies may play significant role. Any person volunteering for a temple may find information about various temples that requires volunteers and she can select and participate for a particular activity at a particular temple of choice. These platforms thus allow not just Arpitha sea’s but also precious support required to run the mammoth activities of a Bramhotsavam or a Baisakhi langar. These platforms also facilitate an individual devotee post about a particular program, say revival of an old structure or an abandoned temple and request for support. These platforms provide not just an opportunity to take part in activities of interest, but actually own and drive an initiative. The platforms thus help increase the reach of temple and personalized involvement at the same time. . Startups are also exploring AI tools for recommendation about Pooja, auspicious times to conduct/visit temples according to ones’s horoscope, and suggestions on appropriate donations.
Temple administration and infrastructure management is another area where digital technologies can play a big role. Booking of accommodation, managing shops and establishment owned by temple, administration of transport and human resources, and prasadam management is where digital technologies can drive efficiency and effectiveness of the operations. Inventory management, ticketing systems, transport management, contract and rent management are areas where software from companies like SAP, Quest informatics, Synergize, Shivam software, Sopanam and many others offer point solutions that may be used by temples. Key to digital transformation is to create an integrated system, not point solutions as pursued by now. IT administration is a major issue and most temples do not have sufficiently qualified manpower to manage it. Digital transformation must be therefore all pervasive, devotee centric, efficiency driven project. Digitization must help religious institutions realize better devotee engagement, higher margins for their merchandize, increase reach beyond physical arena by using webinars, campaigns.
Board administrators need systems that allow visibility of allocation to priority areas, shared responsibilities and outcomes. Boards also need systems to manage their overheads, what % of the donations spent on HR & other areas and what % of the funds used for effective development of the institutions itself. Digital transformation must therefore connect not just CRM, Inventory management (rooms, marriage halls, shops, and commodities), social media and payment gateway, but also financial system-of-record. Digital transformation does not just mean automation and elimination of manual roles, especially of those that are prescribed in ancient texts. It is more about preserving and enshrining the rituals as prescribed in scripts by self-sustained institutions. Digital transformation is also engaging believers, devotees and tourists. Digital transformation must facilitate higher donor/volunteer involvement, deeper cultural immersion and revival of these institutions. Boards and administrators must embrace digital technologies to provide better spiritual and devotional experiences.
Dr TR Madan Mohan

Business Model Innovations in SMB: roles Boards play

Across world, as Small and medium business (SMB) grapple with cheaper imports, raising costs of doing business, and slowing down of customer confidence, their boards get worried about growth and profitability.  Many SMB Boards businesses realize they have been prisoners of their past. Their business model and its components (including sales, marketing and organization) that served them well in the past have not kept pace with current environment.  Board have a significant role in redefining the business model of the company, directing and supporting the required changes to build a strong future.

1.    Foreseeing newer “friction”

SMB Boards are not only to meet the regulatory and corporate governance requirements they are also custodians of the company’s growth. Since the executive management is involved in execution, Board has a major role in looking ahead of emergent market and technology conditions, and identify where “friction” exists and how their company can benefit. They also have a role in preparing the executive management and owners to see the trends in horizon and preparing them for exploration and commitment.

2. Recasting to address “emergent friction”

In many SMB, executive management is often engulfed with day to day working and may not have a visibility or understanding of how to repackage a service or rewire a product with some alliances. Board can initiate discussions on productization of services, bundling of experiences and unbundling of groups. Business model innovation is an evolutionary model, happens in multiple stages. To start with, Boards must seek “leverage points” around existing capabilities and resources to address “friction spaces” in the market. Boards may realize moving away from manufacturing to trade and services highly profitable and executable business model innovation. In some cases the boards may find morphing from a product manufacturer to a “service marketplace offering after-sales for many producer” better business model to pursue.

3. Exteding the engagement model

As industries evolve, business relationships evolve from multiple vendors to strategic partners. With evolution of industry, Clients would like to reduce the total transaction cost of managing multiple vendors and prefer to engage one partner. What this means is that SMB has to evolve from a vendor relationship to partner management mode. Boards have to support executive management in knitting together deeper engagement models that can be more of the “managed form”, including BOT, BOOT and others.

4. Engaging and exploiting ecosystem

Often SME fail in deriving competitive advantage from ecosystem players including academia, industry associations, government bodies and standard setting organizations.  Board have a critical role to play as the gatekeepers and enablers in initiating programs on external linkages. Ecosystem play can be for fine tuning existing services, or acquiring certifications or standards or even access to key technology or access to restricted markets. Country of origin effects, technology credibility, fund raising challenges, or market access dissipates with appropriate use of ecosystem for business model innovation. Boards may play a major role in scripting the engagement, defining boundaries, revenue sharing and market signaling approaches.

5. Talent and expansion

What we have observed is talent (both internal and external) is a key for business model innovation. Internal leadership is required to relieve the senior executive management pursue newer models, and ensuring BAU runs with improved profits to sustain innovation is key.  Boards play a key role in identifying and suggesting alternate platforms and approaches to hire and grow talent.

6. Prioritize and risk management

Corporate risk management is a major charter for Board.  While it can’t be involved in actual day-to-day risk management, Board plays a crucial role by its oversight and foresight role. Board must evaluate the comprehensiveness of the risk management policies and procedures adopted associated with the business model innovation. Boards must ensure the business model innovation has a nice balance between growth and profitability, financial and risk. In some cases, for related business model boards set a max limit of 20% of the net profits as a seed investment to prove the concept and viability. Boards must seek clarity on outputs and outcomes from the business model innovations.

Given limited executive management bandwidth, Boards do have a stellar role to play in the business model innovation charter of the small and medium business (SMB).  Some Boards, have even nominated an independent director to drive these changes along with senior executive management team so that legitimate expansion and de-risk options can be pursued. In some cases, Boards have approved a skunk team, shielded from day to day work, to explore newer business models and rewire their business. Whatever the approach used, Boards have a role to play in supporting and directing business model innovations while assuring the investors and stakeholders a profitable, sustainable and de-risked business.

Dr TR Madan Mohan and D Balasubramaniam

Riding the Podcasting Wave

Of late many marketers are realizing good audio can be equally effective as a great picture or video. Companies in B2B and B2C markets are using podcasts to engage customers using good old Radio chat format or just plain talk. Podcasting, simple put is audio records that can be accessed from anywhere. Podcasts can be around a product or service offered, talk about company’s culture or credibility building with case studies and experience sharing. Marriott Hotels, Shopify, IBM, GE and many more have successfully used podcasts as a means to reach out to prospective customers and differentiate their offerings.  Podcasts are a great means to reach out to customer who may be more aural in their learning orientation. Podcasts are also useful vehicles to build communities of consumption for fashion, hosiery, education and advisory sectors.

Podcasts can come in many avatars. Most common ones are solo, co-hosted, interview, documentary, and round table format. Solo Podcasts have only one narrator who anchors the podcast. Keeping the narration peppy, interesting and experience or insight led are keys to successful solo podcasts. Co- hosted is the most widely used format wherein host(s) and guest go over a particular topic. $100 MBA, with its tongue in cheek banter, is a classic example for a co-hosted podcast. Co-hosted can be successfully used to position the experience of your company, its capabilities, share client stories or product innovations. Interview format typically has a senior executive interviewed by a host(s) and couple of specialists pouring ideas over a cup.  Marriott Hotel’s “Behind the Design” is a classy and successful podcast where the hosts interview a variety of people, talk about various issues and contextualize the experience around hospitality. Interview formats work best when the objective is more about reach than substance. It also works best for user-driven content generation campaigns. Roundtable format is a large size replica of interview format, best suited to showcase multiple perspectives around a product or service or a topic. Documentary type podcast is usually used to trace the historical roots and expansions of a company or a product.

Whichever format is used, some common rules make a podcast sail above the rest. Some companies use an external artiste with a baritone voice for professional speaking, often to address company of origin effects. Others play authenticity as a card showcasing their senior executives presenting their products and services.  A strong story telling experience with nuanced voice modulation and little theatricals work wonders. The general length of the podcast depends on the topic, but on an average it should range anywhere between 2 to 10 minutes. A Podcast will generally require more than a $50 USB Microphone and hosting plans that cost less than a sandwich. The Title, content and the length of a Podcast too are important factors to consider when you look at the type of listeners you are targeting. While scripting a podcast, ensure you have a great mix of emotions: humor; drama, and mystery. Chisel words carefully for effect, especially the closure. The Podcast can be hosted on popular platforms including: SoundCloud, followed by Podbean, BuzzSprout, Lisbyn, etc. Each have their own advantages and you can choose the one which best suits your needs. Podcasting platforms also come with analytics that can help you get finer insights. The content creators can now track more granular information including device level, city level and time of consumption.

Although Podcast won’t go viral like the images or the video, it surely can generate a sizeable number of downloads. To increase the virility of podcast companies may employ following strategies. Put a picture or a video with the Podcast. Example, Adam Carolla uploaded American images and videos so that Americans could beat the Brit. Secondly, put write SEO worthy content around your podcast. Titles play the deciding factor when a person wants to listen to a Podcast, so it is necessary to have a title that brings about interest in the topic being narrated. Distribution plays a major role in success of your podcast. ITunes has about a billion podcast subscriptions it would be a wise move to host your podcast as many people would end up seeing your content and this is a chance to get your content to go viral. Use other social media like Pinterest and LinkedIn to increase the reach and interest in your podcasts. Cross promotion with other Podcasters is also another way to draw traffic to your podcast. Finally, working with influencers, mostly paid is an approach that could be used to increase number of listeners. Sites like “” lists the Influencers who could be actively engaged for this purpose. We can only brag and drum about our content for a certain while, and likes and feedbacks may not be helping you much. Succotosh, The Timbre and other sites offer 3rd party review of your podcast and fine tune your overall content and its packaging.

Podcast is an affordable and simple medium that works best for companies which do not have major investments into visual mediums. Combining Podcasts with other social media assets enables a company to pursue a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Vijay Krishna J, Junior Consultant (Marketing)

Identifying an emergent online influencer

Social media has is ubiquitous. It is not only influencing how we consume information, but also what we purchase online. Amongst the many hooks brand have in reaching out and influencing our purchase, Influencers are emerging as key players. They not only help narrow search towards a brand, but influence its purchase and advocacy of its consumption. Influencers are key trust enabler online. A Nielsen study shows that 99% of people trust peer recommendations over direct advertisement in online. Surprisingly, these influencers need not be successful Formula 1 racers or Movie celebrities. Segments such as Young adults and Teens seem to more dispose to influencers rather than celebrities. These are men and women who the online community can relate to. Their pole opinions, informed pokes, encouraging likes and re-tweets and acidic flares draws eyeballs and friends and foes in equal measure. Influencers come in many forms. Some may bring their credibility as industry watchers, experienced geeks or some just being the gate keepers or conscientious conscious baiters. Loads of their online actions that build on latent commonality and explicit posturing makes them unique and relatable to other online consumers.

Working with influencers can be costly proposition for brands. Identifying and continuous engagement with influencers requires investments and efforts to realize the benefits. Influencer aggregate sites like Tribe prove effective for large brands that wish to hire an influencer or growth hacker.  Growing brands can pursue an organic approach to influencer marketing. Smarter companies pursue a smarter strategy of catching larvae early before it transform to a beautiful butterfly. They gain a larger traction and higher return on investment on influencer marketing by creating a portfolio of “emergent stars” rather than “shining stars”. Investing in emergent influencers is a cost effective solution.

So how do you choose an emerging influencer?.  It is somewhat similar to how VC’s bet on startups and Horseplayers betting on the thoroughbred. Three common rules rule the game. First, check their online actions and sprints. Details of actions such as likes, poke, flares and comments serve as a useful DNA print of the likely influencer. Tools such as Buzzsumo, Social sprout and LinkedIn can be used to identify emergent influencers based on re-tweets, action ability, comments, likes and flares an individual can gather and create. A certain Facebook brand has around 2,500 likes on its page, but its engagement is very high. This person can become an Influencer even though he/she has less than 10,000 likes. Through this we can concur that anybody with a potential can become an Influencer.

Influencer identification based on metric alone has its shortcomings. Check for the background, their online persona, their grunts and groans, and huzzah and hoorays. Evaluate whether there is a fit with your brand and its personality. what is alignment with their values and your brand promise.  Check for the type of content, its originality, and  how his/her comments are perceived by the people. If his comments are aligned with the audience or do they bring about “online rage”.

Next is their scalability, will they be limited to an industry or a micro-group or have potential to be relevant across different segments. Remember both micro-influencers and global influencers have a role to play in your social media strategy. People with a penchant to engage with broader meaningful topics that cut across geography, race, religion, interest and consumption have a high potential to scale across segments. Smarter companies distribute their investments on multiple emergent influencers to de-risk their investments and maximize influencer ROI.  Select across sports, across regions, industries. Ensure industries with high market potential and addressable market get preference in investments.

Finally, how malleable the Influencer will be open to working with your brand. A budding influencer can embrace many roles. She could use different approaches to help peddle your brand. She could span a whole range of content influence strategy, right from basic inform approach to referential, comparison and endorsement types. The latter show a higher disposition to align and embracement around your brand and hence the influencer moves beyond inform stage to influence to advocacy.  Define appropriate win-win gains to quickly traverse a likely influencer move from on-the sides information provider to an insider. Brands get value from Influence based Marketing activities over a considerable amount of time. Unlike a brand advocate the market planning horizon is long term oriented. An inflexible yet high potential emergent influencer may not be as valuable as a malleable co-partner.

Vijay Krishna J

Revive = Restructure + Rebuild

In a VUCA world, it is not uncommon to see many companies tumbling down the aisle. Mismanagement, poor decision making, commoditization, radical market changes, leadership exits, founder’s demise or even a maverick competitor can make a sure step company loose its steps. Reviving near death companies not only needs restructuring but simultaneous rebuilding efforts.  In our experience of working with companies across verticals we find management may pursue common interim strategies to revive the company.

Firstly, revival plans have to be more directional and dynamic, rather than grandiose. Board and the CEO must have a broad 6 quarter plan, but ensure your planning windows are smaller just 3 quarter rolling plans, and feedback is continuously used to quickly respond to market cues.  View 20,000 square feet but eye what is happening on ground simultaneously.  Assess the product lines, identify core one to invest and drop the “me-too” products. Identify what minimum variants are required to cover the market and limit the variety. Better ensure about 70% of parts and processes are common to gain from procurement and production economics. Identify approaches to become asset light including facility sharing, outsourcing, partial-sell off.  Evaluate options to tap overseas markets including acquiring bankrupt or going out of businesses to gain access to key markets and newer models. Define partner ecosystem that can help increase market reach, and product improvements on a success fee model than investment model. Evaluate methods to shorten supply chains so that they could be served faster and with quality products. Assess methods to lower freight costs including assembly at site options and associated changes that may be required across the company.

On the finance front, conserve cash and invest in quick cash generation activities that may not need any investment (services and spares), cut unproductive capex and cost. Develop a cash management system and forecasting system to manage short term liquidity and efficiently manage working capital. Implement cost reduction and operational efficiency improvement activities. Discover the money your companies is leaving from post sales service and parts on table. Invest in a small team to sell services and spares. Work on your existing customer base and devise campaigns to upsell mandated parts and services. Integrate your post sales process, ensure parts and services are monetized effectively, first call responses are high and customer feedback on services has a positive impact on sales. Identify methods to reduce inventory including parts substitution, supersession or sale.

Identify process bottlenecks and operational inefficiencies. Devise simple systems to improve quality and response.   Investing in customer relations to build relationship capital, but also defend your territories from your competitors. Shed away from centralized hierarchical decision making to flatter organization and an empowered sales team that not only covers the market, but also scans the flourish of ideas and friction at the customer end.  Focus on doing more for less on sales front. Pursue a G5 customer strategy, largest five customers who offer multiple revenue monetization opportunities. Reorganize regional and product specific sales teams. Cross train, consolidate and upgrade sales skills.

Prune marketing costs and direct low cost social media and community branding efforts that help in dampening the negative vibes associated with the products and company. Build a simple reporting system that help in addressing how various units are delivering to mission, whether they are getting the maximum impact they from their expenditures and how effectively they are utilizing their budgets. Discard monthly or bi-weekly published reports and review, instead resort to open oral discussions on subsequent days or weekly that keep information flowing where it needs to go and cutting down the time on review prep work.


Team reconstruction is the heart of rebuilding the company. On the leadership front, what is needed is a firm hand with a gentle approach. Be focussed, direction obsessed without being overbearing. Soliciting perspective and opinions is welcome, but it must not paralyze decision making. A quick turnaround requires associates who can take challenges, unlearn, learn and re-learn skills. Team reconstruction is the heart of rebuilding the company. To succeed in turnaround, you need associates who believe the rewiring and can commit the requisite efforts. Ensure rumour wagons are derailed, communicate why things did not work earlier and how things are going to be different now. A tough call, but one required is to sidestep or ease out Smart Alec ‘s who can’t own and drive a team. Re-invigorate the team and ensure you have got the right people in the room to make things work.  Focus on achieving short term results that will have positive impact.  These small wins are essential to rebuilding the company. Rebuild the team by anticipating associates fears, anxieties and expectations. Avoid focus only on sales and numbers, invest enough to rebuild morale. Restructure with re-motivation.

Dr TR Madan Mohan and D Balasubramaniam

From furrows: Independent directors in unlisted private limited companies

Most companies in India are promoter-controlled and promoter-managed. Private limited companies are the most prevalent form of formation. Often the promoter and family constitute the board. In this kind of a set up the largest shareholder also holds management reigns and agency problems that arise in investor led companies does not arise. However, as these companies expand, promoter led companies realize a need for formalization of board not so much from regulatory requirements, but more so develop a mechanism to mitigate self-serving interests and bounded rationality problems.  Management realize while there is no shortage of advice on how to run their companies there is a need to seek our professional, unbiased and consistent inputs to improve the way of doing business.  On boarding independent directors is seen as a first step in improving corporate governance in these companies.  Industry knowledge, prior board experience and networks that can open doors is what unlisted companies seek in their independent directors. The expectation of unlisted companies is apart from the code of conduct laid down under the Schedule IV of the Companies Act, 2013, is that an independent director would:

  • Support board for promoting success of the company
  • Engage deeply in developing and sharpening the business goals, strategy and implementation plans
  • Critically review company’s progress towards the set objectives and revise directions wherever necessary
  • Financial and non-financial process are compliant and fair

From our experience of working with unlisted companies the key contribution of independent director apart from what is listed above is in three areas. Firstly, unleashing the leverage points of the company so it can realize its true value with incumbent resources and capabilities and realign growth plans. Independent director must contribute to redesigning of the strategy, how solid are the products and services, threat of commoditization, revenue streams and new offering.  While strategy on products and services front is the easiest, the challenging part is the articulation and execution of strategy to wean away promoter or management from execution to strategy.  In our limited experience, we see two kinds of dilemmas here. It is not that promoters are unwilling to let go, it is just identification and transition to an outside senior management does not always end up as expected. In some cases it is simply the core rigidity and NIH syndrome, especially in partner led companies. Business development and enhancement is another area unlisted companies seek help from Independent directors. Companies expect independent directors get actively engaged in business development by making right introductions to prospective clients. Connecting to the ecosystem of vendors, OEMs, government agencies, labs and professionals is another area independent director contributes for business expansion. Independent director plays a key role in reviews. An independent director must scrutinize the performance and risks of the business. Other than financial information, Compliance, controls and systems are key areas to review.  Independent director must advice in simplification of reporting (say from an aggregated cost head such as Salary & admin costs to broken down independent cost heads) so that efficient controls can be brought it.  Profitability, de-risk and sustainability form the fulcrum of reviews for independent directors.  Independent directors must evaluate the business model, areas to improve including automation, non-linear options, outsourcing, productization of services and new revenue streams that could be realized by unbundling services and products.  Prodding on reducing people side cost is another area that independent directors can drive innovative hiring and engagement programs. Questioning the dependencies and exploring options to de-risk the company from market, customers and technologies is an area independent directors must contribute. G8 or G10 strategy to focus on few top customers may be a good strategy from reducing cost of sales, it may not be a great approach from scaling up an innovation. Independent directors must help identify standardization of services, scaling up of an offering from a group of customers to market or even help productize. Ability to visualize scale and connecting the dots are key characteristics Independent directors must hone. Independent directors must also prod the company in evaluating the dependence on key people or limited management bandwidth. Independent director also has a key role in dispensing with status quo, i.e., sustainability. By constantly asking for extending the reach and newer offerings, they must prod the company towards recognizing newer friction areas and associated revenue monetization opportunities.  Key to fulfilling the role of independent director in unlisted companies is to consciously remaining in independent zone and prioritizing the change process. Independent directors must share their apprehensions and views freely and be open to receive feedback that helps them to refine their views. Finally, independent directors must learn to stay away from Pal syndrome, staying on the surface and yet unconnected with roles and internal conflicts.

D Balasubramaniam and Dr TR Madan Mohan