Monday, November 17, 2008

Over the Rhine – Pratham Indo-German Business Forum in Dusselfdorf

Pratham e.V., the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce, the Indian government and London Business School co-sponsored the 3rd Indo-German Business Forum in Dusseldorf last week. This was the most fun I've had since joining LBS. A large LBS contingent flew to Dusseldorf the evening before. I for one flew into Amsterdam Schipol with my buddy Krish, and I assure you that the choice was made owing to discount airfares, not due to the presence of certain coffee shops that sell certain brownies. Driving from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf was a blast though. If there is one thing fantastic about driving through the North Rhine Westphalia hinterland after dark, its' going 200 kmph on an autobahn.

Dusselfdorf is really beautiful – almost like an upscale and cleaner version of Boston. Our HQ was at LBS'er Gaurav Mehta's home, and following a large Indian dinner, we stayed up well past midnight hammering out last minute event details. Gaurav has been our event champion – the man hasn't slept for more than 4 hours a day for the last 3 months - manning the phones, and sorting out speakers, sponsorship and event logistics.

The rest of the evening turned out to be quite eventful. We had checked into a Bed & Breakfast, with an attached stablehouse and rumor has it that a few of the horses were Arabians. After turning in around 2 AM, the fire alarm inexplicably went off. As it turns out someone (Anni who shall stay unnamed) took a scalding hot shower and the steam set off the alarm, which brought us all out in our PJs. We didn't know how to turn off the alarm unit, the property manager lived offsite and when we called the local fire brigade, they asked us if there really was a fire, to which we responded "We don't know, but the alarm is going off." This was followed by a curt response in German "If you can't see a fire, we're not coming."

Would you want this pretty thing to be served medium rare?

If not, register your protest with the Dusseldorf Fire Department!

So much for the Dusseldorf fire brigade! The place could have potentially turned into a horse barbeque and they wouldn't have cared. Eventually the red-haired (dyed) property manager tore into the B&B courtyard in her BMW (you wouldn't expect her to drive a Kia would you?) wearing only a purple bathrobe and no slippers, and she switched off the fire alarm with a key which was sitting in a closet next to main fire alarm unit. She chided us for taking hot showers and suggested opening the windows to the rather nippy elements before taking any future showers. Apparently in Germany, one is supposed to know such things before stepping into a shower, stupid! Go figure!

The next day started bright and early at 5:30 AM and we were at the venue by 7 setting up for the event. The theme of the forum was innovation with a focus on the energy, automotive and technology sectors. For more on innovation read "Game Changing Strategies" by LBS Strategy Professor Constantinos Markides. The Indian ambassador to Germany inaugurated the event following which there were several keynote speakers and panels. The most interesting talks were by Walter Bender from the MIT Media Lab, Amit Mehra from Reuter's Market Light and Madhav Chavan, the founder of Pratham.

Later that day we had a private tete-a-tete with Madhav Chavan where we chatted about Pratham's origins, what drives him personally and what we could do to help further the organization's future impact on primary education in India. The man is a legend and this was the high point of the entire event for me. Times like these inspire me!

All in all, the event was a tremendous success and we celebrated at Meerbar, a seafood restaurant on the banks of the Rhine, following which we stumbled to the local bars singing silly songs and staying out till 2 AM. Those of us who had early morning flights decided that the best strategy was staying up with a bottle of Jack for company. Really bad idea!

Missed and cancelled flights notwithstanding, I made it back to London in time to shower, change and head to a friend's graduation party in Soho. Three days, three cities, one conference and one fire alarm later it was time to get back to a report on the economics of the British beer market and start prepping for my French and Corporate Finance midterms - leveraged betas and French verbs are not kind masters.


kate said...

Sounds amazing. Did you know you're living my dream? You are.

N.A.S. said...

funny you say that, sometimes I live my dream too....other times I'd rather spend my Saturday mornings eating loads of Swedish crepes with lingonsylt preserve... and perhaps doing gympa to ABBA or Ace of Base...