The countdown begins.. for the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games

Have to say that the official countdown to the Commonwealth Games has gotten off to a fantastic start. Her Majesty, The Queen passed the baton onto the Indian President yesterday at Buckingham Palace, which was billed as a ‘first’ in the Games’ history as the baton had never been passed from one Head of State to another.

Actually, what was expected to be a damp squib of an event turned out to be a great show, with the forecourt of the Palace (on the “right” side of the famous gates that we peer through to take a look at the Palace) being used as a venue that accomodated the hoi poloi of Indian society and officals from the Commonwealth.

For me it was quite surreal to see kathak, bharatnatyam and other forms of Indian dance traditions alongside tabla, and sitar players in such a majestic environment. To top if off, when the Royal party arrived, the ceremonial troupe first played the Indian National Anthem – which seemed strange but another sign of India arriving – followed by ‘God Save the Queen’ – which we’ve sung on the terraces of our football stadia, but it truly felt odd humming ‘God Save Our Glorious Queen’ to the Queen!

The organisers had brought to the stage a phenomenal cast of sports stars that included Kapil Dev, Abhinav Bindra, Sania Mirza and the Flying Sikh – who ran for India many moons ago. On the British side, Dame Kelly Holmes, Lord Coe, Monty Panesar all lead the charge. They all took the baton out of the Palace and ran around the Victoria Memorial a few times and posed for video and photos – quite funnily at one point Kapil Dev had to hold Seb Coe back from overtaking Sania Mirza, who’s turn it was to carry the baton.

All in all a great enjoyable event and the British team’s given it all their weight. Let’s hope Suresh Kalmadi gets that Delhi needs to be ready for the games in a year’s time!

India Inc: what next

Just a quick update to let you know that I received the proofs of the book – it’s quite strange to see it all come together.

Sale date is less than 6 weeks away! Tons to get on with.

Luckily, I video’d the interviews, they’re being edited and will appear on youtube. There’s also some talk of shooting a trailer that drives traffic to the book site; – what d’ya think? Good idea?

The launch events are also coming together. Shall provide a progress report next week.

Musings about the President’s visit

Attended a dinner event organised by the Indian High Commission in which the President was unveiled to an audience largely comprising leading members of the Indian diaspora.

Having watched the politicking from afar when she was nominated by Sonia Gandhi for this post, I arrived at the venue as a cynic of the Indian system, but quite uncharacteristcally left impressed, and almost inspired.

Impressed  – for the simple reason that she kept her speech to the point and brief. More importantly she demonstrated her intelligence by avoiding a trap that was set for her – with all the bigwigs at this bash, she chose her words carefully and decided not to single out a leading Peer of the Lords, which is par for the course –  not even Lord Paul (a die-hard Congress supporter) – or even any of the MPs who attended, but she focused on the man of the moment – Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan – the genius who was awarded the Nobel in Chemistry this year.

Inspired – because I think the President understood that her’s was a ceremonial role. Yes, we know that she can impose President’s rule, but she came across as a genteel and warm lady. Whether India deserves such a figure or someone like APJ Abdul Kalam is a matter for them, but from the dragoness I was expecting as a result of adverse media coverage, I have to say, she carried herself well.

Anyway, enough of my musings. Heavy day tomorrow (Thursday) – the Commonwealth Games handover at Buckingham Palace, followed by the UKIBC Summit and then the dinner. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that its as good as last years. Shall report back tomorrow 🙂

Succession planning in Indian companies – the TCS way

In an interview I conducted for my forthcoming book on Indian entrepreneurs going global. I asked Mr Ramadorai, when he was the CEO of India’s largest IT firm – TCS, as to who he thought would succeed him, what became quite clear from his and those I asked this question to, was that a pattern was emerging within the boardrooms of Indian companies.

Two issues emerge – (a) whether in their succession planning, they’d consider external candidates and (b) whether they’d consider non-Indian candidates.

On the first issue, it seems clear to me that Indian firms prefer recruiting for top jobs from within their organisation. In the TCS example, Ramadorai’s successor – Chandra has long been seen as the heir apparant. In other similar situations, take Infosys as another example where the baton has been passed from Murthy, Nilekani and now to Krish Gopalakrishnan.

With respects to having a non-Indian at the helm, there aren’t many examples but the two obvious ones that come to mind concern Brian Tempest’s appointment at Ranbaxy, where after a brief stint, he was shifted by Malvinder Singh to a more supportive role, and the other being Alan Rosling, who Ratan Tata appointed to coordinate strategy at Bombay House, the TATA HQ in India. I recollect the look of horror on other industry veterans, when Rosling was appointed and had to represent TATA in global industry platforms.

The other notable example is that of Suzlon, which made the conscious decision to move their HQ to Europe and in tandem appointed a non-Indian as CEO, who has recently moved on, one suspects due to the move back to India for their global HQ.

India has a long way to go in its journey to become a economic super-power, and I believe that a healthy debate has begun in the boardrooms of these companies on issues such as this. In my view, I don’t think we’re too far off from seeing an external, non-Indian heading up a major Indian conglomerate.

Gazing into my crystal ball – I reckon the mother of all succession headaches surrounds Ratan Tata. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tata Sons opted for a (a) external person (b) of non-Indian origin (despite the prominence provided to Naval Tata as heir apparant as a result of his surname),  after Ratan Tata.

Watch this space…

Climate Change & India

I attended a briefing organised by the London School of Economics (LSE) with Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Interngovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Director General of TERI that was hosted by Lord Stern, who authored the Stern Review for the British Government.

What I found quite refreshing was the admission by Pachauri about India’s failure to communicate what it’s doing viz climate change & global warming. As a comms professional who’s actually seen some of the great work being done all over India, I can’t comprehend why the Indian Government don’t invest more in projecting what the world needs to know about India.

As an example, he showed a video clip for a civil society campaign that his institute have spearheaded called ‘light a billion lives’ that seeks to promote the use of solar lamps as a means of bringing light into 400million Indian homes. I was astounded to learn that 1.6bn people live in darkness, of which approx 25% live in India.

Dr Pachauri didn’t strike me as someone who sucks up to Indian politico’s but I was astounded to hear from him about how Rajiv Gandhi was one of the first political leaders to understand the challenge caused by global warming and his subsequent desire to establish a ‘planet protection fund’, which each country would channel 0.1% of its GDP into to tackle climate change. He went as far as  suggesting that had Rajiv Gandhi not be assasinated, then perhaps India would be leading the international debate.

Moving on to what India is doing, here are some examples:

  1. As a country with finite resources, and a large underclass – India recycles like no other country. You need to visit India to understand the manner in which discarded items that one refers to as waste, provides a livelihood for others. You can truly see innovation at the grass-roots.
  2. On forests, it seems that India’s been cutting down it’s forests, but in actuality, several Indian states have increased forest cover. Public vigilence has also increased and you can often find groups demonstrating against any evil designs by multinationals or such organisations in rural locations.
  3. Gujarat & Rajasthan are leading the way in harnessing private sector participation in creating wind farms, solar parks etc.

From a macro-policy perspective, the following was offered by Dr Pachauri as examples of what the Indian Government needs to do:

  • Improve public transportation infrastructure. (I’m not sure as to what Dr P would make of Ratan Tata’s dream of increasing car usage by selling his micro car – the Nano).
  • Like the UK, perhaps introduce ONE department that oversees all aspects of climate change policy. At present, policy areas are fragmented as several government departments coordinate policies specificaly for their particular interest.
  • Encourage private sector involvement that would result in commerical sense being injected into discussions, the aim being that some of these ideas become commercially viable – and therefore ripe for investment.

The other speakers at the briefing were: Ms. Minouche Shafik, Permanent Secretary (Private Sector & Infrastructure) at the World Bank; Urjit Patel, President of Business Development at Reliance Industries; Naina Lal Kidwai, Head of India for HSBC.

In his conclusion, Pachauri emphasised “the need to end confrontation between developed and developing nations; and called for a need for more partnerships and further innovation to meet the challenge of providing sustainable livelihoods” – no wonder he won a Nobel!.

With people like Tulsi Tanti and Baba Kalyani who’re running large businesses promoting wind and solar energy, I’m surprised that this debate hasn’t really sparked a discussion with India’s CEOs in the same way as their English counterparts have been engaged in. It’s one of the areas I cover in my forthcoming book on Indian entrepreneurs going global.