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:
http://www.redhotcurry.com/entertainment/books/launches/india-inc.htm

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary’s also uploaded some photos and videos, which can be accessed here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/sets/72157623260177684/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBZpdlIyjiM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt2LqWb1scA

Houston, we have lift off…

So, here we are. The big day’s arrived and it’s put in perspective the efforts of the past three years to research and write this book.

Coincidentally, the Financial Times has also carried a balanced review of the book, of which the best quote that summarises the rationale with which I started this endeavour, is:

“The interviewees chosen in India Inc. represent an interesting cross-section of today’s Indian business leaders, beyond the largest industrialists. It will be welcomed by many readers in a country that has a voracious appetite for business books, particularly biographical accounts of how a successful entrepreneur or businessperson overcame the country’s notorious red tape and poor infrastructure to make millions.”

“For readers who want a light introduction to these personalities, India Inc provides an easy read with occasional vignettes.”

Shall write about the launch event tomorrow…

Tell Google, India NOT China is the future

Google should shift its focus to India, where a free press exists and is encouraged – unlike China, which censors almost everything, and uses it’s heavy hand in dictating terms, with the “national interest” in mind.

With a middle class the size of the entire US population – armed with disposable income; with a fundamental belief in democracy and the rule of law; with a free and critical press – most businesses would be better off in the longer term looking at India, rather than targeting short-sighted revenues in the “people’s republic”.

Despite it’s obvious failings and comparative slower growth rate (6.5%!), I could go on & on to offer my view on why India is a much better suited place for Google, but I’m interested in what you think. Do you think India is a better bet than China?

Let your comments flow…

A few years ago, a wordsmith conjured up the following phrase which encapsulate, at least for me, why Google ought to shift its focus: ‘India: the fastest growing, free market democracy”. Case closed, as far as I’m concerned.

Goodbye to Bajaj Scooters

One of my fondest memories of visiting India as a child, was that of jumping on my cousin’s Bajaj scooter and going for a spin. That scooter was his pride & joy, just as much as the fridge freezer was my aunt’s – both items spoke volumes in their neighbourhood about their social status… just as owning a Chelsea tractor or a private education does in mine today.

Given the near iconic status of the scooter in India, I was surprised to learn that Bajaj are going to stop manufacturing it. You can read all about it here, as there’s been acres of coverage in India about this decision: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSBOM32109320091210

Apart from getting nostalgic about the demise of the scooter, what I wanted to comment about, more than anything else, was the manner in which one of India’s most prominent firms is handling this. In one corner is Rahul Bajaj, Chairman & father of the Chief Executive, Rajiv Bajaj who disagree with the decision to stop making scooters.

Bajaj Snr is an outspoken guy who enjoys roughing people up. He’s known for lashing out by speaking his mind but I didn’t think he would dish out the same treatment to his own son on prime-time TV. Rajiv Bajaj came across very impressive and said all the right things, whereas his father looked exactly the opposite.

The take home for me from this episode is as follows:

1. With India’s increasing affluence, consumer tastes are shifting… resulting in people wanting better products and services, like motorbikes instead of scooters. Just as Bajaj exits an important product line, others do exist and will take the opportunity to innovate.

2. What Rajiv Bajaj is saying is that he can’t add any more to this business, with profits declining, he believes the greater opportunity lies in motorcycles. He added that the day he figures out how he can add value to an overcrowded market sector he’ll re-enter the scooters sector.

3. We often hear about owner / promoter types of businesses being wedded to their original concept, here we see the future – a family firm that is in disagreement but decides that logic trumps emotion. Also, that the governance and leadership in India’s firms isn’t as bad as what others believe. Rahul Bajaj should be congratulated for playing the role of Chairman to the tee by questioning whether this decision benefits its shareholders.

Whether he needs to do so in such a public manner is a matter for debate. I, for one, may miss my cousin’s Bajaj scooter but you can’t really fault the firm for the decision its arrived at. All in all, for me it demonstrates how mature and responsible Bajaj is as a company.

Leave a comment to share your thoughts on what the hallmarks of a progressive company should be.

Marketing & promotion of India Inc

So, had some good news with the promotion of the book. HSBC Private Bank has agreed to be the global sponsor for the launch events – so they’ll invite me to speak to their clients in New York, London, and Mumbai. Yesterday, as I said in my tweet – the US – India Business Council agreed to host events in NYC, Washington DC, Chicago, LA, Bay Area – am very thankful to them for the offer.

All the PR seems to be focused on book reviews – Management Today, Real Business Magazine and other magazines have agreed. However, I was advised that even if they weren’t the best reviews, it would do the book no harm (fingers crossed).

For the events, we’re having some banners printed – which I’d like your feedback on. My wife & I disagreed about the design of the banner – so I thought I’d illicit your opinion on the attached.

Let me know which you think? You’ll (at least I hope) guess which one I prefer 🙂

Click on these below and leave a comment in the box below

Narayana Murthy walks the talk

In a world where CEOs and business leaders have come under immense scrutiny, and where their ethical behaviour and ability to walk the talk ranks as highly as their ability to deliver shareholder value, I found it absolutely refreshing to attend a briefing held by an Indian NGO called Akshaya Patra (http://www.akshayapatra.org)  which had invited Narayana Murthy, Founder & Chairman of Infosys, to speak about why he supports them.

If there’s a business leader in the world who symbolises integrity and transparancy, the award should surely go this this tech titan.

It’s easy to see him through the lense of entrepreneurship, after all he founded what is today, one of India’s most international and prestigious firms’. His story is the stuff of legend and there’s no need to repeat it here, but you can read about him in my forthcoming book (http:://www.indiaincthebook.com).

What he captured in his speech tonight floored an audience comprising some very prominent people. Akshaya Patra runs a mid-day meals programme in India. Since 2000 they have grown from providing meals to five schools in Bangalore to feeding 1.2million kids over 7 states through leveraging the use of technology and understanding best practices and other management techniques to scale up their NGO.

Murthy narrated a life experience, which I cover in the first chapter of the book from a different angle, about when in 1974 he decided to return to India from France, he went without food and water for over 4 days after being locked up in Yugoslavia / Bulgaria for speaking to a girl on a train (!), which made him realise the injustices and inequalities of life. Having experienced starvation himself, he offered to the august audience that was gathered today that they should dig deep to support Akshaya Patra’s ambitions of delivering mid-day meals to 5 million malnourished kids by 2015.

What astounded me was the simple maths. One meal costs a mere Rs5.52, so to feed one child for a year, the cost is no more than £8 per year!

With Murthy backing them, they have my support.

Going back to how I started, its par for the course for large companies to have corporate social responsibilty programmes that support such NGOs, but Infosys isn’t a run-of -the-mill type of company, and what shone through once again is that Murthy isn’t an ordinary guy.

To end with he said it beautifully, he explained that rather than a fat bank balance, the ability to illicit a smile on the face of child is a better measure of success.

“You can have a comfortable night’s sleep knowing that you’ve helped another child sleep better”

TATA Corus Job Losses – is this the Indian way?

In my book I comment on how in the run up to their acquisition of Corus, the TATA’s faced an absolute grilling from several quarters regarding their ambitions for the steelmaker, which today has announced job lay-offs for 1,700 staff in Teeside. Naturally, the unions were worried about the intentions of a firm that they’d probably never heard of. Sensing their discomfort, the firm put in place a programme of briefings in which their iconic CEO – Ratan Tata actually went and met with groups of people, including Parliamentarians, from the regions that Corus employed people.

At one such briefing, he made the point, which was well taken, that Indian firms don’t have it in their DNA to be vultures or become asset strippers. He looked them in the eye and said that not only were they buying Corus for sound strategic reasons but that he assured them that Corus would create more jobs, as he intended to take the firm forward. Sadly, not even he had predicted the global downturn and the circumstances behind this decision need to be presented so that no one jumps to any other conclusion than that the TATA’s tried everything to minimise losses, such as:

  • My sources tell me that the decision has been pending for over 8 months, and that the number of losses is smaller than what could’ve been the case.
  • The long term strategic partners, who pulled out, will be taken to court for failing to stick to their original commitments.
  • And finally, that there’s been an ongoing dialogue about the situation with all stakeholders for some time, so this comes as no surprise.

My reason for writing this blog is not to defend TATA, but to highlight that I wrote my book as a result of realising that the western markets need to know more about Indian firms who are increasingly making acquisitions in Europe & America, as a result of their improved understanding of thes histories and cultures of such people and firms, I hope they’ll be better armed to combat the negative headlines that often lead the news agenda as a result of my book India Inc. How India’s Top Ten Entrepreneurs are Winning Globally.

Does Uncle Sam get India?

Manmohan Singh should breathe a little easier now. In the run up to the visit, I can imagine that his blood pressure would be higher than normal for the simple reason that Obama has been busy cosying up to the Chinese and he’s also been lavishing Pakistan with a lot of attention – both states who have a fraught history with India.

I say that he must be breathing a little easier because Obama rolled out the red carpet for his first state visit, and said all the right things on the big subjects that define the current relationship.

In a TV interview, I was asked about the state of the US – India relationship, and rather than focus on the icy nature of historical bilateral ties, I decided to emphasise that the US and India don’t really have the luxury of avoiding each other, any more. The truth is that in the interdependent global economy we live in, US & India need each other to prosper.

Take the attraction for the US:

  • India’s middle class (approx 300m) is the size of the entire US population. This presents American companies with a larger market.
  • India’s demographic profile is a massive advantage. With nearly 40% of its population under the age of 30, you can imagine the opportunites that are thrown up for American service lead companies.

For India, the US has always been a major market, so it came as no surprise when I interviewed the ten entrepreneurs for my book (http://www.indiaincthebook.com), that the US formed the centre-point for their global expansion. Take for example:

  • There are more drugs from Indian pharma companies on US supermarket shelves than in India
  • That Mahindra & Mahindra has stolen market share from native American firms selling tractors to their own farmers
  • That, on average, Indian IT firms earn nearly two-thirds of their revenues in India
  • That Bharat Forge supplies components for 2 our of every 3 trucks in the US

However, what I’ve found is that the bilateral relationship in increasingly defined by the US – India Nuclear Agreement that was signed in 2008. With the market being valued at $150 BILLION(!) and American firms like GE and Westinghouse in pole position, they seem ( surprise, surprise)  eager for India to push on with its nuclear programme.

In its pursuit for energy independence, this visit gives Manmohan Singh and equally, Barack Obama something to smile about. It’s safe to say that Uncle Sam gets India.