A day with Baba Kalyani – India’s Mr Manufacturing

I was quite privileged to have had Baba Kalyani fly into London, especially, to attend a press event, and then to an exclusive event that HSBC hosted for me to mark the launch of my book this evening. For your reference, Mr Kalyani’s claim to fame is that his firm (Bharat Forge) supply components to almost every singly vehicle in North America & Europe! In my book, I refer to him as ‘India’s Mr Manufacturing’.

At the press event, we had a number of journalists from a variety of sectors – sectoral press, newswires, Indian, Chinese, and French journalists etc who grilled him on big picture issues ranging from global warming & climate change, the financial slow-down, India Vs China, what to expect from Davos this year etc.

What struck me was his statement that, despite the scaremongering, the UK presented the best opportunity for manufacturing firms in Europe (and not Germany). I’m used to listening to political spin about these kinda things – we’ve recently had Lord Mandelson waxing lyrical about global manufacturing, but I believe it matters when leading players like Mr Kalyani say it.

At the evening event, which was an exclusive event with “society” figures, the focus shifted from macro issues to his personal story. I wanted to offer the audience the opportunity to ask questions to Mr Kalyani. I felt this was important because when I used to return to London and narrate what I had learnt through my interviews with the entrepreneurs to my friends, they’d chip in by saying “I wish I could ask him / them a question” – so the event allowed them exactly that.

All in all, I’m delighted to say, today was a success.

You can take a look at some of the photos here:

Thank you

As long as I remember, I’ve always been a fan of books. Over time, the range of books that I’ve bought has expanded to include all types of subjects and genres, resulting in an eclectic mix being crammed on my book-shelf at home. I’ve impulsively bought books in markets; in airports on my business travels; and on the net when I’ve managed to write a list of things to order on-line.

So, when I turned 30, I wrote a list of things that I wanted to achieve, but, as with new year’s resolutions, never imagined that I would actually make any headway on any of these.

My list included jumping out of a plane (a skydive), earning my first million, solving third world debt, flying to the moon, and writing a book. So, achieving two of the above with five years to go before I make another list – on my 40th, is – at least in my view, not bad going.

The launch event, last Thursday, was a major milestone in my life. On a personal level, it feels great to have my name on a book, and look forward to seeing it in places that I normally shop. It kinda felt strange to be at the launch event – professionally my firm organises these for others, so it was weird to be the centre of attention at my own! On a professional basis, it’s gratifying to be able to contribute to such an important subject and feel that the book will lead to bigger and better things for me and my firm.

At the event, it seemed that everyone kept on asking me the same two questions – ‘what gave you the idea?’ and ‘what does it feel like?’, and my wife laughingly told me that lots of people kept on approaching her to ask whether ‘she was proud of me’.
My reason for writing the book was quite simply that I believed that with all the talk of India’s emergence on the world stage, a wider audience needed to become familiar with the trailblazers that were making it happen. Yes, it would’ve been great to have the obvious names like Ratan Tata and the Ambani brothers, but it would be doing the subject a disservice to ride on their shoulders as many others have.

From the outset, I was quite clear that mine wasn’t going to be an investigative book, it was meant to be an introduction to a set of role models emanating out of India that will one day, be referred to – along with, some of the biggest entrepreneurial icons that the West seems to love. I’ve always been puzzled as to how a guy like Narayana Murthy, who founded Infosys by borrowing Rs 10,000 from his wife, has gone on to build a firm that employs people all around the globe and earns over 50% of its revenues from the US, but is still largely unknown.

Or a Baba Kalyani, whose firm manufactures components for every single vehicle in the US & Europe. Or take Subhash Chandra, who apart from Zee TV, owns a firm called Essel who manufactures over 30% of the world’s toothpaste tubes! Despite their global reach and success, how comes no one, apart from hard-nosed business journalists & professional India watchers, know anything about them?

With formalities being conducted by Stephen Pound MP, who as everyone expected, was on absolute form that evening, delivered his trademark, side-splitting, remarks, to the annoyance of the next speaker, who would inevitably find it hard to follow such a performance.

So, for this reason, I was totally taken aback with the expert commentary provided by Dixit Joshi, MD of Asian & European Equities at Barclays Capital, who explained that the world needs to understand the thinking taking place in India’s boardrooms in order to address some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Having taken the temperature of the room, I decided to put the speech that I’d crafted to one side and speak ex-tempore on my reasons for undertaking the mammoth task of writing a business book, in an age when the rules were being re-written as a result of the global recession and credit crisis. Importantly, I remembered to thank a few people who’d made the event happen. I took the opportunity to thank my wife, as without her support and love, I wouldn’t have been able to see this project to completion.

I had a great night. I felt humbled by the massive turnout. I was touched with the words that were spoken about me, the book, my firm, and my family.

At the end of the night, I struggled to articulate my emotions, and hence have take a few days to write this post, but the over-arching message remains the same – ‘thanks’.

You can read a write-up of the event, take a look at the pics, and watch footage of the speeches here:

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary’s also uploaded some photos and videos, which can be accessed here:

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.

India Inc: …

I’ve got a small dilemma that I need your help in resolving. You may be aware that for the last two years or so, I’ve been writing a book on the emergence of Indian companies in international markets, and have profiled ten Indian CEOs / entrepreneurs / promoters such as Narayana Murthy, Baba Kalyani, Subhash Chandra, Malvinder Singh, Kishore Lulla etc. who have lead the charge to globalise their firms.

Well, I’ve now finished writing the book and can now focus on the presentational aspects of the project, of which, the most important being (at least for today) the title of the book. My original choice was: ‘India Inc: How India’s Top Ten Business Leaders are Winning Globally’. However, as a result of the economic downturn, is this title appropriate, given that the world has been turned on it’s head as a result of the banking crisis and subsequent global recession?

It would seem a little to extravagant to use the original title in the environment we’re currently in.

For this reason, I’m searching for something appropriate as a subtitle to ‘India Inc: xyz…’. Or is ‘India Inc.’ substantial enough?

Your ideas are welcome.