Mumbai, still fresh in our hearts

It seems just yesterday when the horrific attacks in Mumbai were beamed into our homes, for that reason to find that we’re a year on comes as a major wake-up call.

In London, just like last year, a number of candle vigils have taken place and more are planned tomorrow, which isn’t really suprising due to the presence of a large diaspora community – who have families and friends in India. Just today, I was reminded that a few people from the UK were actually trapped in the Taj & Oberoi hotels, all which reinforces the global relevance of such mind-numbing acts of violence and insanity.

In preparation for a TV interview, I uncovered the following nuggets, which I thought would be of interest:

  • That the Indian Government has boosted expenditure on national security by 50%. Establishing a new National Investigation Agency to focus on the terrorism threat and increasing Mumbai’s police force by 1,000 to 43,000.
  • The Mumbai attacks also underscored the need for India’s intelligence agencies to work more effectively with foreign counterparts. This was highlighted on Manmohan Singh’s recently concluded US state visit, where Obama announced closer cooperation on counter-terrorism.

Contrary to popular perception, Mumbai’s muslims refused burial rights to the terrorists who were shot, and by doing so sending a clear signal that terrorism has no religion and that this so called, global jihad is nothing but a line spun once too often and thus giving credibility to those who’ve been lobbing grenades across the line of control and showering Indian soldiers with bullets since the mid-90s.

I pay my respects and offer my solidarity to India.

Is Noel Tata down & out of the running?

Not so long ago, the view from Bombay House – especially amongst those who’d been with the TATA group for any length of time – was that the company needed a Tata at the helm after Ratan Tata retires, they’d almost suggest that this is what makes their company so special, and it was such talk that inflated Noel Tata’s hopes of one day succeeding his mega successful relative.

For this reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if Noel was miffed at reading Ratan Tata’s interview in the WSJ today, in which the iconic CEO makes it clear that the company has initiated a global search for the hot seat, and further to this, he’d prefer someone in his 40s – which effectively disqualifies his half-brother from the race.

Ratan Tata makes some great points, such as 65% of its revenues are booked outside India, making them truly a global winner, and that increasingly, their employee base is diverse and international – take for example, the UK where they employ almost 50,000 people – which in turn suggests that the firm requires a top calibre professional CEO with tons of commercial experience who can build on Ratan Tata’s success.

With the TATA’s the key thing to remember is that they, ultimately, always do what’s right. Handing such a treasure to someone just because they happened to be related simply won’t wash in today’s age. That’s why I used to be surprised when old hands at Bombay House use to suggest that Noel had a chance at being No1.

But, as all TATA commentators will tell you, Noel’s strength is simply that he has an influence in what happens through his father in law’s shareholding in the firm. Pallonji Shapoorji Mistry, after all, is no ordinary man – he owns a 18% stake in the juggernaut that generates a revenue over $70bn. So, for this reason, and as much as I’d like a meritocracy to drive this decision, it may be the case that Noel is down today, but you’re warned not to count him out.

You can read the full article here:

3 hours for 3 minutes – update on India Inc

As a result of so many of us sitting on our PCs all day long, use of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, LinkedIn seem to be popular to build communities of people interested in your views, which in my case is the subject matter of my book – Indian entrepreneurship and business.

Well, this week has been quite intensive as I met with the publisher and the PR team to talk about what lies ahead. I’m delighted that a few large organisations have invited me to talk to them and their clients / members about the book in January, here in the UK. My publisher thinks that there may be some interest in the book in Singapore, so we’re looking at the possibility of including a visit there when I undertake the promotional tour to India. May even do Dubai en-route.

Of course, had some good news that a couple of speaking engagements may take place in New York in April. Will look at visiting DC,  Harvard, Kellogg, and Silicon Valley on that tour. Should we look at other places also?

I forgot to mention that Youtube is also increasingly being used to promote books, so we shot a promo trailer in Canary Wharf last week, which will appear on Youtube soon. I couldn’t believe it took us three hours to film content for three minutes!

Let me know if you have any great ideas for the promotion of the book.

The book site – goes live this week. Quite excited. Let’s hope you like it 🙂

Wipro sells soaps and perfumes…

Having read the following piece ( I was reminded that many of the firms that we see in the top rankings of India’s business pages actually started life as something totally different.

Understanding their evolution helps, at least in my opinion, to understand the Indian business landscape a lot better.

There are some notable examples:

For example, as the article states, Wipro actually started off as a consumer goods firm that sold cooking oil and soap to Indians, it was only in 1980 that Azim Premji had his eureka moment and decided to change tack and add an IT business to his group. Subsequently – as we all know – that’s what Wipro’s become known for, but it still stands true that Wipro has a thriving consumer goods business, also.

The other is KV Kamath, who turned a boring development finance agency into a juggernaut in the banking sector. Whilst this doesn’t doesn’t seem to be a major divergence today, in those days it was a huge leap he had to take to make the transition.

My final example is that of Sunil Mittal’s Bharti group, which today is best known for its mobile phone business, but I have no doubt that in a decade or so, we’ll be wondering how he made the leap from telecoms czar to retail guru, with thousands of supermarkets scattered all over India, selling groceries, vegetables and all kinds of stuff that the discerning Indian shopper wishes to buy. Let’s not forget he’s done this before, after all he had a successful venture selling bicycle parts in the 70s and then electricity generators in the 80s.

Of course, we could go into the TATA story just as well, but the point of writing this piece was simply to highlight the fact that these companies have incredible histories, which if you read into and factor into your dealings, makes doing business with them a lot more meaningful.

Do Indian businesses really support sport?

I’m a big fan of all things related to sports, so it comes as no surprise when I say that the UK India Business Council put together a fantastic line-up of sports personalities at their gala dinner last week, which took place at the Royal Courts of Justice and should be congratulated. In attendance were Dame Kelly Holmes, Monty Panesar, Kapil Dev, and the guy who brought the IPL to the world – Lalit Modi.

Earlier in the day, I’d had the privilege to attend the baton relay that had been organised by Buckingham Palace to mark the start of the journey for the Commonwealth Baton, which will end up in Delhi next year. So, with athletics and sport running through my head that day, the cynic in me wondered whether Indian business actually supports sport – beyond Cricket.

We know of examples like Lakshmi Mittal supporting tennis stars, Vijay Mallya, TCS and ICICI being involved in Formula 1, but does support for athletics and other lesser publicised sports really run through the veins of India’s business leaders? In the UK, we have clear examples of corporate money from Aviva supporting athletics, is there an equivalent in India? Will the Commonwealth Games change this?

It was Dame Kelly who made the point most eloquently to me when she said that the benefits of supporting kids from the grassroots are huge. Without this investment, as a society we’re poorer for the simple reason that sports personalities have long been considered the best role models for future generations to emulate.

It’d be great to learn as to whether Indian businesses are opening up to supporting grass-roots sports. If you have a view, let me know.