World Economic Forum – India derailed.

Such is the faith of people in India that problems, challenges, opportunities, and any successes are often attributed to a divine force – the almighty. I remember a raging argument with my mother when I was a child, in which she basically justified her in-action by citing the same – “if it’s meant to be…”, which I’ve always seen as a cop-out as she avoided taking responsibility for an action.

Well, the reason I mention this is that having participated in the World Economic Forum’s India Summit in Mumbai earlier this week, India’s political & business leadership reminded me of the raging argument between my mother and me. Just that in this case, India’s much celebrated captains of industry became my mum for two days.

The problem is that everyone now recognises that the challenges India faces are possibly too big to overcome. The shine has truly come off. The penny’s dropped and they don’t know what to do. So they’re happy just to bumble on and see what happens (if it’s meant to be…)

Such was the elation of the mid 2000’s, that she was pleased to have been invited to the G20, and other international platforms, it seems that they’ve forgotten that if they desire global recognition, they need to offer solutions that fix problems.

Take, for example, the construction industry which itself will see an investment of a trillion dollars over the next ten years, but where are the skilled tradesman? In a similar fashion, take any profession and you arrive at the same problem.

India’s much talked of demographic dividend stands to turn into the exact opposite if practical solutions are not found. It’s far too easy to say that the private sector needs to play a role by harnessing the opportunity. India’s government needs to follow through by creating a favourable policy environment, else… the risks to her growth are simply too significant to consider.

I’m quite a positive guy, but this Summit knocked the stuffing out of me.

Corruption, a bloated bureaucracy, a ego, all stand in the path of progress. That’s what the India Summit confirmed in my mind.

Let’s not forget they fought for us

Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistani cricketer turned politician – Imran Khan – captured my attention today, maybe, for the first time. Perhaps, it was to do with where I was stood whilst reading my Twitter timeline, which included her musings. Let me explain. Her tweets read:

“Helping my boy with his GCSE choices- Sciences (Biology, physics, chemistry) are obligatory. History and geography are not.”

“Ofsted found that England is the only country in Europe where children can stop studying history at the age of 13. #harrumph”

“Last year more than 100 state schools did not enter a single candidate for GCSE history.”

I was reading this whilst stood in the spring sun at the top of Constitution Hill, near Buckingham Palace, where the Commonwealth Memorial Gates were erected nine years ago to pay tribute to the sacrifices of volunteer soldiers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and other Commonwealth countries.

Having lived in London for many years, I had walked and driven past these Memorial Gates many times, but never once had I stopped to take a closer look. Baroness Flather, who worked tirelessly in making sure this memorial was erected explained:

“It took over fifty years after World War Two ended to build a lasting memorial to honour the five million men and women from the Commonwealth nations who volunteered as part of the British Empire in both world wars.

As someone who’s clear about his identity being British, a sense of sadness swept across my face when I heard the Gurkha bugler play the Last Post whilst reading Jemima Khan’s tweets on the uptake of the History GCSE.

I’d like my kids to learn, along with the oft-narrated stories about the Great Wars to learn about the sacrifices made by my ancestors, without which we may not be enjoying the lives we lead today, which leads to the larger point that if children don’t understand any history, how can they comprehend the world?

Please make a point of visiting the Memorial Gates on your next visit to London. You can find out more here: http://www.mgtrust.org/

Delhi’s Commonwealth Games – Will it be “alright on the night?”

Having just visited Beijing, I’m astounded with what they achieved as a result of the Olympics. In the same breath, I’m equally astounded with the manner in which the Indian Government has handled the preparations for the Commonwealth Games, which are due to open in the first week of October.

There’s been public outrage in Delhi with politicians being accused of corrupt practices, bad administration, and ultimately with squandering the great image it’s built up globally on the back of her economic prowess.

I’m told that Delhi still resembles a construction site, with massive traffic problems, and air pollution that’d make you want to be elsewhere, no surprise that some of the world’s biggest athletes, like Usain Bolt, have decided to stay away.

Indians are trying to salvage the situation, but I fear the damage has already been done. Suresh Kalmadi, the main organizer is reported to have said that “it’ll be alright on the night”. But really, is this the attitude to take when you’ve used hundreds of millions to deliver an event that we’ll most probably want to forget. Wouldn’t it have been better just to commit the money to tackling poverty, which blights India so badly?

If you look at this politically, cast your minds to the building of our Millennium Dome, in which Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson came under major criticism for what as described as a ‘white elephant’. Despite the monetary figure being so much lesser than what’s being spent on these Games in Delhi, they nearly lost their jobs.

If political conventions straddled continents, I’m sure Manmohan Singh’s head would ultimately roll, but as we’re taking about India, I can’t think of a more appropriate phrase than that devised by her tourism department for promote India – the Commonwealth Games are taking definitely taking place in“Incredible India’.

Strategists shape the future at WEF Summer Davos in China

Given his advocacy of a flat world, it came as no surprise when Tom Friedman was asked to moderate a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos event in China, deliberating what forces may shape our futures.

The assembled panel included Otto Scharmer who teaches at MIT, Kai-Fu Lee, a Chinese entrepreneur, and Dov Siedman, an American CEO – it needs to be said that whilst I hadn’t heard of the latter two, they stole the show as far as I was concerned.

Kai-Fu’s remarks on innovation were clever, but must have gone down like a lead balloon in China. After learning more about the guy, it comes as no surprise that he may have used the platform to score a political point with the Chinese authorities. Since the event, I learnt of his influence in China as a result of his previous roles as Microsoft and Google in China. His following on Twitter clearly shows he’s hot property.

He put forward a view that the next decade or so would be characterized by micro innovation – where entrepreneurs build on other peoples ideas, launch imperfect products, which they quickly refine and add value to. He explained that a Google or Apple come around once in a generation, and in all likelihoods regardless of the hype surrounding China’s emergence, the likelihood of successful innovative products coming from the mainland were almost non-existent.

To raised eyebrows and a growing sense of dismay, he spoke about the deficiencies of the Chinese education system, which he said didn’t allow for ‘out of the box’ thinking, thus holding back breakthroughs and progress that China so craves. Of course, he explained as a result of his own American education, he saw that America was better placed to deliver the next BIG discovery – thi in particular would have hit the nationalist nerve in China.

What he said made absolute sense, but to say it on home-turf in such an open manner must have been part of some plan in his head. Whatever game he’s playing (if any), I’m sure he’s likely to emerge victorious regardless of the type of reaction he received from the assembled Chinese media fraternity in the room that afternoon.

On the other hand, what Dov Siedman said chimed with everyone. He specializes in advising companies on ethics, and one his comments left an indelible mark on me.

He explained that in today’s world, whilst we’re able to exercise our judgment about what’s right or wrong, the clarity that a corporation needs to find should centre on how they’ll scale, not the company, but the values that we cherish the most. By doing so, the probabilities of building a sustainable and successful organization would, he suggests, increase dramatically.

By putting thought leaders like, Friedman, Kai-Fu and Siedman in the mix for a concluding session at a meeting like this, I believe that a strong signal has been transmitted by the WEF, marking a departure from one in which, not bankers, but genuine strategists were able to articulate their visions for what the future holds for us.

The book tour begins…

The last few weeks have been quite thrilling, as there’s been a lot of activity that’s definitely contributed to the book being noticed and being talked about. For example, the UKs International Trade Minister referenced the book in an article that he penned for the Economic Times of India. Also, www.indiaincthebook.com received a phenomenal number of unique hits as a result of a flyer being emailed by the Marketing team of HCL Technologies to their entire workforce, which I’m grateful for.

I embark on my book tour tomorrow, and have been asked to speak at the following places:

22nd Feb – Reliance TimeOut store in Gurgaon, India
23rd Feb – British Council, New Delhi, India
24th Feb – HSBC Private Bank, Mumbai, India
25th Feb – Confederation of Indian Industry, Mumbai, India & Narsee Monjee Institute of Management, Mumbai, India
26th Feb – Gujarat Electronics & Software Industry Association, Ahmedabad, India
1st March – Aventis Business School / New York State University & SP Jain School of Management, Singapore

There’s also quite a few interviews arranged, such as with Hindustan Times, Financial Express and IBN Live.

As is par for the course, I’m sure the diary will change on a daily basis, as pre-planning things in India remains a huge challenge!

Please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to track what I’m doing over this tour.

I’m quite excited. Let’s hope it goes well.

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 🙂

India season cometh (again)

Its been a few years, but I can, for the first time in ages, say that I may actually enjoy August!

Traditionally, August and December were two points at which we could do all the things that needed doing at work, but in the last few years this distinction blurred as there was so much going on. It seems to be much quieter this time around, perhaps they’re too busy organising themselves for the autumnal months ahead of us – which looks busy.

I thought I’d write a post as to what’s going on in London viz. India in September & October, as this’ll probably save some time in conversation. Please feel free to add to this list:

Lord Davies, International Trade Minister, leads a business delegation to India this September. He’ll visit Delhi, Mumbai, and Nagpur from 14th – 18th September.

Officials from The Indian Ministry of Finance & SEBI visit London on a study tour of regulatory and monetary policy.

The Corporation of London hosts its India Advisory Council meeting on 1st October, which Naina Kidwai and other leading CEOs from Mumbai visit. There’s an event with CNBC also.

The Lord Mayor of London leads a City delegation to India from 19th – 24th October. The Lord Mayor represents the interests of the financial services sector of the UK.

The Indian President visits the UK on her first state visit here. You can be assured of several events around this. I believe that her visit will also be used to mark the countdown to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

The UK India Business Council will organise their annual conference and dinner on 29th October. Was a blockbuster last year, you’d better buy tickets early if you want to secure a seat.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for UK – India Trade & Investment Relations will host a dinner symposium on how British companies can participate in building India’s roads, ports and other infrastructure. I’m lead to believe that an Indian Minister will deliver the keynote address. Event takes place in conjunction with the Commonwealth Business Council on 2nd November.

Just as well I’ve been down to the gym building up my stamina. At least, I’ll be able to enjoy the merriment around Diwali this time. Can’t wait to attend all those charity fund-raisers in town 😉