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Archive for April, 2012

Shikha Sharma, MD CEO Axis Bank

Shikha Sharma, MD CEO Axis Bank

Shikha Sharma is the Managing Director & CEO of Axis Bank since 2009. Axis Bank is amongst the three major private sector banks which commenced business in 1994 as a consequence of the liberalization and reform of the financial sector. Previously, she was the Managing Director & founder CEO of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company. She has done her B.A. (Hons.) in Economics, and completed her Masters of Business Administration from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in 1980. She has a Post Graduate Diploma in Software Technology, from the National Centre for Software Technology, Mumbai.

India@Kellogg spoke to Ms.Sharma about her views on the Indian banking sector and the strategic priorities for Axis bank.

Q. Ms. Sharma, thank you so much for agreeing to speak to us. Since you took over as CEO, what have been your key priorities?

In the three years I have been here, I have found Axis Bank to be a strong and vibrant organisation with some great strengths, particularly in retail liabilities and corporate banking. The Bank also has a culture which fosters and encourages dignity and respect for all individuals and is very welcoming of outsiders. The key priorities for me have been to build and diversify the Bank’s product portfolio, enhance the capabilities in risk management and HR and overall build an institutional, scalable platform commensurate with the scale that the Bank has gained in the recent years.

Q. Looking ahead, which business lines do you see aggressive growth in the banking sector in?

We are really excited about the India story, notwithstanding all the headwinds and challenges we are reading about these days. We remain positive on the structural growth story of India in the medium-to-long term, and hence all aspects of banking will continue to see growth. Given the evolution of banking, clearly mortgages, auto finance and consumer loans, which are underpenetrated will see rapid growth. We also believe that mobile banking will enable India to leapfrog the typical evolution of payments infrastructure from cash to cheques to cards. This arena is conducive to some innovative, path-breaking banking models going forward. On the other hand, corporate India will continue to seek opportunities for growth both in India and overseas, be it in infrastructure or other sectors.

Q. Increasing urbanization and rising spending power continue to drive intense competition in the retail banking space. How do you see Axis Bank successfully competing and differentiating itself in this arena?

The Bank has a sweet spot in the mass/mass affluent segment and is known for high levels of customer engagement and loyalty in its branches. We believe that this is a sustainable differentiator for us going forward. Of course, we will have to ensure that we have competitive products, innovative delivery models, responsive turnaround times, etc.

Q. How do you view the role of technology and innovation in banking? Are there any specific investments that Axis Bank is making in this direction?

Technology has typically been in the background as far as banking is concerned, but that is fast-changing. Today’s consumer is embracing technology very quickly, with significant repercussions on customer segmentation, product design and delivery and indeed the analytical backbone on which banks can design their offerings. We believe that a lot of innovation will happen around these areas. We are investing in building our analytical capabilities and of course in continuing to scale up our technology architecture so as to make it more robust and flexible at the same time.

Q. Could you share a bit about the opportunity and challenges you see in Rural Banking?

The rural opportunity needs a nuanced understanding – today agriculture accounts for less than half of the rural GDP. The rural ecosystem is therefore a lot about services and small industries in addition to the agricultural ecosystem. The current opportunity is centred around consumption and micro-credit, which has not been the domain of traditional banking models. We are in the process of designing and running some pilots to test the waters in this space and will be guided by the results of these pilots before we take the next steps.

Q. In the past couple of years, there have been a number of new banks and NBFC’s. Could you share your thoughts on the room for more banks in India and their challenges?

At the end of the day, banking is a business of trust and unless new entrants already enjoy the confidence of customers in their existing businesses, they will need to build the trust over several years. This is likely to be their greatest challenge. Having said that, some of the players who may be present in other lines of business (e.g. NBFCs), could certainly bring their own business models to the banking space, and to that extent, they will challenge existing players, and the customer will benefit from this.

Q. Finally, what is your vision for where you want to take Axis Bank in the years to come?

A couple of years ago, the entire senior management team developed a vision for the Bank which essentially says that over the next 3-5 years, we would like to deliver consistent, profitable growth at a premium to the industry, with a diversified business model. We would like to ensure maximum share of wallet of our customers, but want this to be driven by customer insight and consistently superior customer service.

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Mr. Mihir Mankad is an established television anchor for reputed Indian TV channels such as NDTV, Zee and the national broadcaster Doordarshan (DD). The unique aspect of his television career is that he has been a top anchor in both the business and sports genres, hosting some of the most viewed events in the country such as the Olympics and Cricket World Cup. Prior to television, Mihir’s career spanned both the privMihir Mankadate and nonprofit sectors, as a well-renowned strategy consultant (McKinsey India, Bain US) and as a leader in the development and nonprofit space (Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative for children in India, and The Janet Pomeroy Center for the Disabled in San Francisco). His diverse career is mirrored by the diversity of his interests, which include sport, travel, media, and Latin and Ballroom dance.

Please tell us about your early career and experience in the US.

Following in my family’s footsteps (where 3 generations had represented the country in sports), and inspired by my own mother (the first Indian woman at Wimbledon), I was driven by a desire to make a mark in the tennis world during the first phase of my life. An early dream was fulfilled when I received a scholarship to attend Stanford University, and made the legendary tennis team. Winning the NCAA team Championships my freshman year was a highlight, but being part of the top ranked team, with the nation’s top juniors hand selected by the coach, meant that my playing time and starting position would be limited as a walk-on.  Soon I came to the tough realization that professional tennis may not work out, also due to finances (it actually takes a fortune to transition into a top 200 ranking, where life becomes sustainable). So I decided to focus on a more traditional career upon graduation from college.

Getting into management consulting and living in California (both in LA and San Francisco) was a good transition into the “real” world. My Kellogg experience was significant, rejuvenating, and enabling, and was marked by intellectual growth across disciplines (especially nonprofit management), and extracurricular highlights of leading the Consulting and Ballroom Dance Clubs (called “Movers and Shakers” then). Kellogg also enabled my top job choices, with offers from the San Francisco offices of BCG and Bain.  Post a couple of years at Bain, I did some soul-searching and decided to look for an opportunity in either a social cause or media and entertainment (including sports) – two distinct but consistent passions of mine.

After completing a 10-week strategic planning assignment for the Recreation Center for the Handicapped (RCH) in San Francisco, the board liked the work and created a new position for me. I signed on to a full time leadership position to implement my plan, at a fraction of my previous salary. After 2 exhilarating and challenging years, marked my marketing learned at Kellogg to raise funds, and strategic planning learned in consulting to create real change across functional areas at a 50 year-old nonprofit that had never seen PowerPoint before, my visa status in the US ran out. Given I had to live out of the country for a year to gain another 6 years of work status, I decided to move back to India, where the economy was seeing unprecedented growth and change.

My one-year plan turned into 8, with some tremendous experiences spanning both media and development.

It is very unconventional to see a B-School student in media and entertainment. How did you get into media? Is that something that you were thinking about doing?

It was always at the back of my mind. In that sense, I was quite an untraditional MBA. Moreover, I felt that moving to India would allow me flexibility to explore, as I would not be tied to a visa status from a conventional employer. After working or consulting on the business side of media at McKinsey, Saregama (India’s largest music label) and Rajshri Media (a video content aggregation startup), I received my first break as a sports anchor with Zee Sports, anchoring the daily show Sports Planet (similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter).

It actually took 3 years of waiting and knocking on doors to finally get that first break, after which things took off nicely. My family’s and my own sports background helped, but it was mainly a consistent persistence, including “elevator pitching” that eventually led to this unconventional career change.

Can you share your TV anchoring experience with I@K?

After my initial experience with sports news, I was selected to live anchor for the official broadcast of three of the most viewed television events in Indian history – the 2008 Olympics, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the 2011 Cricket World Cup, with daily viewership crossing 40 million. Out of these, the 2008 Olympics experience was particularly significant to me.  Just 5 days before the start of this event, I lost my father. But I knew that he would have been proud to see me host this event. Keeping the sadness inside while facing the nation each day for 6-8 hours with a smile, I immersed myself in the 30 sports, 300 events, and 11,000 athletes, and the news, records, facts and trivia around them. This hard work also paid off, as I subsequently got invited to host virtually every major multisport live broadcast since, and also got a job from the CNN of India – NDTV.

Can you share your experience as a Business anchor?

At NDTV, I was actually asked to serve as a prime time business news anchor, and ended up hosting over 300 bulletins and shows. Interestingly, the 10 pm Nasdaq Live show involved interviewing a live guest in New York on US markets each night, typically a renowned CEO, market expert, or economist, and I found myself having to keep updated on both the Indian and US economies. My Kellogg MBA and especially Finance courses came to good use, and I extensively researched and analyzed financial markets, corporate strategies and macroeconomic policies to prepare for my shows. Outside of news, I particularly enjoyed features, including anchoring the well received Boss’ Day Out show, for which I spent a day with some of the nation’s leading CEO’s.

What is your accomplishment on the nonprofit side?

My television career was coming along well when one day I suddenly received a call from a former Bain colleague who had just moved to India and saw me on TV.  He eventually convinced me to change paths again for an incredibly impactful and time-bound opportunity to lead The Clinton Foundation’s Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in India, with a focus on children with HIV/AIDS, during the critical last two years of the program’s funding in India. With the world’s third largest infected population in our country, I was fortunate to become a part of a brilliant global machinery that was literally saving or prolonging the lives of thousands of children, many orphans, via life-saving ART medication and innovative nutrition and psychosocial support programs. The experience was also an outstanding leadership opportunity, as it involved managing a staff of 60, fostering relationships with 200 partner NGOs, and gaining credibility with key government officials. I travelled throughout the country, meeting partners and beneficiaries (children, caretakers, “high-risk groups”) to keenly understand issues and new solutions first-hand. Outside of our specific mandate, I was also able to contribute significantly to the new IEC (Information, Education & Communication) policy of our latest National AIDS Control Plan (NACP-IV), with specific media interventions for increasing awareness and lowering stigma. Given the global financial crises, our overseas funders eventually ended their support for India after the agreed 5-year term, and after successfully transitioning most of our interventions to the government, I returned back to TV anchoring.

What are the current projects you are working on?

I have just received a Presidential scholarship to attend the mid-career Mason Fellows program in Public Administration at Harvard University’s (Kennedy School), and will be leaving shortly for this enabling, one-year program, which starts in the summer.

Over the past few months, in addition to anchoring, I have also served as a guest lecturer at four major universities in Delhi, on an innovative and interactive “practical life skills” module that touches on business essentials, public speaking and elevator pitching, and have found this experience very rewarding.

How did Kellogg help you in the thinking process throughout your career? Is there anything you would have done differently if you got a chance to go back to your Kellogg experience?

Kellogg to me was more about the people experiences than the theory (much of which can be learned on the job).  It instilled a confidence in dealing with diversity. I also felt that it was a “fair” institution, with rewards matching effort. A subtle thing that I may change if I could go back is to find the same hunger and humility in my second year as I had in my first. When things worked out well in my first year, I felt I may have developed a bit of overconfidence, and taken my foot off the pedal at times. I would also recommend more OB/MORS classes, given the people oriented nature of most jobs today and the occasional politics that all of us inevitably run into.

What is your advice for readers reading this article?

That it’s okay to be more of a journeyman than a destination person. New and unconventional opportunities are constantly being created, and are there for the taking. Let your MBA give you options, not limit you. Of course there is value in focus, and our typical Type A personalities will lean this way. But my life has also worked out just fine.

Also, a significant pay cut is often a deal breaker for many MBA’s interested in exploring. But take it, at least once or twice, and see where it leads you.  Yes, things may have been easier for me being single and globally mobile, and managing a family may be more complex and challenging. But find a way. As a friend nicely put it, “If you’re not having fun, it’s probably not worth doing anyways…”

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For the first time at Kellogg, more than a dozen Kellogg professors across departments, had a chance to go on the Global Immersion in Management (GIM) trip that is normally only conducted for students. In December 2012, Kellogg Faculty travelled to India and spent 10 days visiting businesses across the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

 India@Kellogg spoke to Professor Sunil Chopra who co-led the trip with Professor Jan Van Mieghem about his impressions following the trip. Sunil Chopra is the IBM Distinguished Professor of Operations Management. He was also Interim Dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University from 2009-2010. From 2006 – 2009, he served as Senior Associate Dean: Curriculum and Teaching. He became a faculty member of the school in 1989. Previously he was an Assistant Professor at the Stern School of Business Administration at New York University. He has a PhD in Operations Research from SUNY Stony Brook.

 Could you start by telling us about the trip – it seems like it shared many characteristics with the student GIM trips? What was it like being a student again?

The trip was modeled on student GIM trips with classroom teaching and field trips. The idea for the faculty trip originated from a colleague of mine, Jan Van Mieghem. A lot of the growth that we will see in the future will be from emerging economies, including India. Jan, who had not yet been to India, approached me with the idea of designing a trip for Kellogg Faculty as it was a unique opportunity to learn first-hand about a country that will significantly impact growth in the world economy. I was particularly excited with the thought of getting colleagues who have not had direct exposure to India, go on this trip.

I have arranged GIM trips in the past and have found that they work best when clear objectives are set at the outset and delivered upon the completion of the trip. In the fall term before the trip, we had 6 weeks of classes to prepare for the trip. The first 3 weeks featured a mix of internal and external speakers, while the last 3 weeks was spent with the faculty making in-depth presentations on companies. These preparatory classed helped us start at a high level of abstraction, so that when we arrived at the companies in India we didn’t have to start from scratch.

What was your personal highlight of the trip?

 One of my favorite events was organized at the startup, Mast Kalandar, in Bangalore and was organized by Kellogg alum Neill Brownstein, who co-founded Footprint Ventures. At an event called, “Dancing with the Entrepreneurs”, three startups presented their business ideas to a panel featuring some of the Kellogg faculty members. Through this visit, I felt that the faculty really got a sense of the fundamental differences between doing business in India and in the US. One example is the retail industry – while smaller business ventures may not stand high chances of succeeding within a US context due to cost disadvantages, the same cannot quite be said for India. The question is whether India should bypass big box stores given that major US chains, such as Blockbuster and Best Buy, are struggling. In India, one can ask whether the Internet can be used in conjunction with the smaller retail stores to create a different business model that works within the local context.

 What do you think were among the major “aha-moments” for the professors on the trip?

One such aha-moment occurred during our visit to Abbott India. For instance in one area of their business, Abbott was facing 300 competitors. With such intense competition, companies really need to constantly focus on how best to compete and stay profitable.

Another great opportunity of the trip was the exposure that faculty got to top Indian management. It helped us get a sense of how Indian executives operate and lead and the tools they make use of in order to be successful. For instance, we observed how Rajiv Verma, CEO of HT Media, made use of many of the academic concepts that we know from Kellogg, yet applied them in a way that was very specific to the India environment

It was also interesting to contrast the road to success of Pepsi and Godrej. While Pepsi took 15 years to become successful, Godrej became successful almost immediately. Because of this rapid growth in the Indian market, Godrej often faces questions when expanding abroad – simply because the international growth rates are unable to match the domestic growth. The Godrej CEO described how the company’s decision to go multinational was driven by one of their core competencies: The ability to tackle complexity in a highly non-structural environment. Hence, Godrej plans to enter market such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where they have a competitive advantage given their ability to deal with complexity.

Finally, it was interesting to see an example of a very process-oriented Indian business such as Infosys in Bangalore. Until 20 years ago, where one could argues that Indian business was very relationship-based, it is clear that managing internal business processes has become key.

 Any plans to have a faculty trip to other countries?

 Yes, absolutely – China and Brazil, and other BRIC countries are obvious places for us to plan the next faculty GIM trip.

Kellogg has great emphasis on preparing students to be global business leaders. What was the personal learning for you from the GIM trip?

 From one perspective, our faculty is already very global and through their backgrounds they are able to bring in international perspectives into classroom teaching. Until this trip, I have not had many chances to interact deeply with colleagues from other academic departments at Kellogg. During our company visits, it was interesting to see how cross-functional the questions were. It really allowed me to understand the issues these companies were facing from different angels and gave me a new perspective on Indian business.

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India@Kellogg recently had a chance to speak to Rajesh Radhakrishnan, KSM ’99 about his diverse career that has spanned multiple continents and functional areas. Mr Radhakrishnan currently heads Corporate Strategy at Larsen Toubro and takes us through a candid description of his career while offering his thoughts on how the academic experience and social ties at Kellogg has supported his career growth.

Mr. Radhakrishnan has a B. Tech from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management. He currently resides in Mumbai with his wife, Maria, and their two children.

Your career path has taken you through many different industries and locations – can you talk about how Kellogg impacted those career choices?

I can honestly say that Kellogg changed my life professionally by opening doors that I could not have accessed as easily otherwise.  Kellogg opened the door to a career in strategy consulting with a firm like Deloitte, and exposed me to options in banking, hi-tech, and consumer products; Kellogg opened my eyes & mind in a manner that tangibly changed how I presented myself and was perceived by employers, colleagues and corporations.

Several professors shaped my thinking; as did the network (nay family) of Kellogg classmates, alumni, professors, and administrative staff.  The Kellogg network has been a family to whom I have reached back for counsel and guidance; and to which I have been happily duty-bound to give back in a similar manner.

To provide an example of my lack of exposure pre-Kellogg, I recall listening to Hank Paulson, then CEO of Goldman Sachs, speak during my first month at Kellogg and asking myself – “what/ who is Goldman?”  “what do they do in investment banking”, and asking Mr Paulson a few basic (read dumb!) questions that may have embarrassed some of my more sophisticated classmates.

The Kellogg  network and family of students, professors and alumni has been a source of support and influence on me since the days I joined my first cohort group on orientation in September  of ’97, on a KOA  to Alaska (KOA ~Kellogg Outdoors Adventure, an outwards bound orientation program for the incoming class).  Academically, Professors like Dan Spulber, Dave Besanko, and Dan Diermier shaped my thinking  in economics and strategy those days.  As I reflect on my experiences in the last 5-10 years in senior management,  I think of the classes in OB, Power & Politics with Professors Medvec and Ocasio.

Access and interaction with “the Kellogg family” – Professors Bala, Ocasio, Jain, Besanko, Spulber and Deans Wilson, Brasfield-Langowitsch, and Jacobs and others, for 13 years on a continuing basis is a point of gratitude and satisfaction for me.  Talking about the network from Kellogg, I am grateful for the time I spent hanging around the atrium and at Friday TGs, working with a large cross-section of people through club-GMA and social-sports activities.  This emphasis on “relationships as they happen” is something that shapes significantly my organizational philosophy today on the need for informal relationships.

Last, but hardly the least, how Kellogg influenced me – I met my wife, Maria Welborne (MBA-MEM ’99), in the first month at Kellogg at a BMA barbecue-intro for the incoming class.  We got married a month after graduation.  We now have two daughters, and as all husbands will attest I continue to learn that I need to practice “yes dear, you are right, I will try harder!” – An important lesson for managing upward in all organizations!

You have also worn many hats as far as your functional experience goes – ranging from Supply Chain Management, to Marketing to Corporate Strategy and Business Development. Some choose to be experts in a functional field, while others switch between functions to get a more holistic business training. You seem to have done the latter – was this deliberate / coincidental? Which route do you think best supports career success?

Pursuing diverse experiences and a path towards general managerial skills was fairly consistent with my personality and gifts. Coming out of Kellogg, consulting was a natural choice for me.  Strategy & operations consulting opened doors to diverse functions and diverse organizations.  Some of the doors I went through were chosen in a deliberate manner; and honestly, in some instances, I was simply dealing with life as it unfolded – it is hard to engineer everything in life!  During the 13 years I have been out of business school, there have been two recessions and a few personal-life-factors.  I did not choose to be laid off in the global recession, 6 months after being promoted with fanfare and recognition; or plan to be on the wrong side of the management tracks after a boardroom battle and takeover.  And sometimes the choices in our work are driven by family priorities.  My wife, Maria, made a bold choice to devote seven years to be a mother to our two daughters, stepping off a highly promising career path that would have surely taken her to a VP-GM responsibility for a $500M business at Eaton Corporation.  My own next move may not be about skills development or career progression, but may be driven off the family’s desire to return to the US after living in India close to 3 years.  We make a few planned choices and, sometimes, deal with the cards we are dealt.  Confidence in one’s skills and an enthusiasm for learning and new experiences helped me find balance with the adversity and ambiguity I experienced.

Let me return to the theme in your question about whether one gains from functional diversification vs. staying focused on a function.  I would say YES!  You need both to be a general manager  – one needs depth in one of 3 disciplines:  selling the widget, making the widget, or managing the money; AND one needs to have a collective appreciation for all three areas, what drives the people who work for you, and several other disciplines that streamline the flow of value to the customer and that of money to the company.

At Kellogg, in consulting and in some exceptional organizations where I served, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with and learn from some very bright people.   I see the value of analytics, consulting frameworks, DCF valuations,  and structured power point communications to boards, but also reflect on how important the relationships in the organization are to be effective and how important it is to spend time with customers and to “feel” the pulses of the marketplace directly.  The strategy and BD roles at the side of 3-4 CEOs (Mr. Naik of L&T, Mr. Herrick of Tecumseh, Mr Jayaram of Elgi, and M/s Hogan-Schrock of Pentair) have given me an appreciation for how gray decision zones are and how lonely the role of the ultimate decision-maker can be.

Please tell us about your current role at L&T. L&T is one of the most trusted brands in India and has in recent years received several accolades for being a great place to work. What do you attribute this success to?

I head corporate strategy at L&T.  50-60% of my time goes to strategic planning and coordination across 15 independent businesses spanning nearly 65 different operations (we are going through a mid-term review of the strategic plan in view of the change of economic conditions in India in ’12, vis-à-vis ’10).

This is an interesting time to be in the strategy role because of the visibility across an organization during a time of transformation to meet the needs of global competition in its domestic markets and aspiration to expand outside India.  These are exciting times at the organization because L&T is in a front-&-center role in India being built – whether it be infrastructure, like airports, roads, bridges, ports, metro rail, power plants,  heavy engineering equipment, or defense.  Personally, there is a lot of learning on the do’s and don’ts of management from working with Mr. AM Naik and the senior leadership team around him.

Understanding the challenges in our power and infrastructure businesses has given me a new appreciation for the complexity of doing business in India, and competitive behavior by managing government(s) and the non-market environment.  Observing executives like Mr. Naik cut through the core issues in a business review is a lot like watching Michael Jordan or Roger Federer practicing their craft – the best thing for you to do is appreciate the opportunity and take notes .  L&T has diverse businesses, providing a simultaneous large and small company experience; and diversity in management styles.

In my personal opinion L&T’s success has to do with three things – an overall growth story of India; L&T being good on the fundamentals,  a technically sound company in a technical sector with 50,000 capable people; and a strong, family-style culture with stability in leadership.  In a country where quality standards were not always high, and corners are often cut for a series of expediency-factors whether it be lack of process or corruption, L&T has spent 75 years building a high-quality organization staffed with engineers from the best universities in India and an attention to doing things well and right (may be some credit to the northern European culture that the founders M/s Larsen and Toubro instilled).  Finally, I believe continuity and stability in the senior management has been significant in L&T’s growth from 7000 Cr in 1999 to 60000 Cr ($12B) in 2012.

You are a member of two strong networks – the IIT community as well as the Kellogg community. How do you think the IIT versus the Kellogg experience has contributed to your career growth?

The IIT and Kellogg networks have been invaluable to me at two levels: first, they have contributed to nearly thirty deep and strong friendships that have lasted ten to twenty five years; second, it is (practically) everywhere I wanted to be – like the tagline for Visa.

Like Kellogg – the common factor for me in the networks is great people and the good fortune to have developed a large number of relationships.  Many of us build lasting relationships in our high school and undergrad years.  My days at IIT Bombay were a formative phase in my life and I grew much in confidence, capabilities and exposure.  Some of my closest friends today date back to the days on IITB campus; and I gained several more from the other campuses during a phase in 2002-06 when I served in alumni association responsibilities with the pan-IIT organization.

I attach value to the emotional well being from belonging to a good social and professional family (or network).  It is not about being able to do business deals or gaining something monetary or transactional.  It is like Friday evenings with your extended family or at a club with old friends – some shared experiences, some shared values, a principle of giving and taking, …   (or as the title song in the sitcom Cheers goes – “sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name …” )

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