Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Pride in nationality – A speech for my daughter

October 3, 2010

Pride is an emotion that relates to an overwhelming sense of personal glory and achievement. But if I had secured my nationality by birth – something in which I neither had any choice nor a conscious role to play, should I be feeling proud or is it just my good fortune? Guess it’s the latter. So for the time being, I shall just stop at being grateful to my parents for that ovarian lottery I got. I shall save my pride for that future moment in my life, when I truly feel I’ve done my bit to advance the cause of my motherland, in whatever little way I possibly could. To me, that should bring a sense of glory and personal achievement and that, I guess will make me feel proud to be an Indian.

So what’s that big future moment that I’m talking of…?

I shall get off the block with my sense of awareness. How well do I know my country, its people, their inadequacies and insecurities..? When I think of my country, honestly my direct perception is limited to the few people around my home, my school and a few places I’ve visited in the past. The rest of my knowledge about our country is from what I’ve gleaned from a profit obsessed media (for which everything is `breaking news’) or what I’ve inferred from reports by someone else. And then I also need to look inwards and size up my natural strengths and recognize my limitations. Identify domains where I can be of good use, to bring about a “real” difference to as many as I could within a finite time frame.

The great deeds done by our great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rani Lakshmi Bhai and so many others have given us a great history. But it’s the future that we have to be concerned with. I gather, our primary responsibility is to address the futuristic issues of how to live in an integrated world, a global village that overlooks all geographic boundaries and cultural inhibitions. We must preserve our culture by all means, but not to the extent of getting fanatical about it and refusing to acknowledge the benefits of adopting the proven best practices from others.

So I look across the world. I feel sad as we still find place amongst the countries of the “Third World”. I realize my big moment is around the corner, only if we could move up a few notches quickly and get listing under the “First World”… How did the first world countries get there…? Reasons are not far to seek. They had the right mix of individual enterprise, backed by government support, propelled by enormous political will. Of the three, Individual enterprise is something that is within our control. I take stock and look up our population data. India, has a population exceeding 1.1 billion, of which 60% are below 40 years. Stacked against most other countries where an ageing population constitutes the majority, we clearly enjoy a demographic dividend. It presents a perfect foil for us to demonstrate our individual enterprise and leverage the relative economic boom that we are currently witnessing, especially at a time when the most other developed nations are struggling to get rid of the adverse effect of the recent meltdown.

I am hopeful. The ball is rolling. CEOs of some of the Fortune-500 companies already are Indians. Indra Nooyi of Pepsico, Vikram Pandit of Citigroup, Shantanu Narayan of Adobe Systems, Lakshmi Mittal of Arcelor-Mittal, Ramani Iyer of Harford Financial to name a few. I can see the effect rubbing off on our enterprising young minds as many IIT and IIM graduates are starting up ventures on their own, brushing aside seven figure salaries offered by top global corporations. Now what remains is the government support to their initiatives like the Israelis do and get it propelled by political will. If that happens while I am still around, I shall be happiest to stand corrected and say “I am not just lucky to be Indian, I sure am proud about it.”

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Dr.Y.V.Reddy, the man who insulated Indian financial system

December 20, 2008

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It was George Bernard Shaw who said “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future”.

 

A child can ask a question that many wise men cannot answer. Similarly few could explain why great leaders err on the side of caution even as there seemed little to worry.  They are even blamed for missing out on great opportunities. These worries epitomised the rudimentary yet sagely wisdom (that most realized only in hindsight, after he was gone) that underscored the era of Dr.Y.V.Reddy as the Governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI), India’s central bank.  Dr.Reddy during his tenure as the Guv was criticized for being too stringent with his policies that sucked out liquidity from the system even as the economy was growing at a scorching 9 percent plus.  Yet when credit crisis struck global finance, India remained relatively secure thanks to his early braking mechanism.

 

NYT correspondent Joe Nocera captures many a banker’s opinion in his column “Talking BusinessHow India Avoided a Crisis”. 

Dr.Reddy post his term is now being lauded by one and all for India’s relative resilience in the face of global liquidity crisis.  The man deserves kudos for not letting Indian banks sin excessively.  By seeing the real estate bubble early, he made regulations more stringent by increasing the CRR and risk weightage for realty loans.  He banned bank loans for buying land and allowed them to lend only for financing construction costs.  He never allowed securitizations and credit derivatives to gain prominence and setting up off-balance sheet vehicles that hide debt.  Thus the Indian banks never could slice and dice debt and palm them off to unsuspecting buyers that fueled the mortgage crisis in the US.  The banks were forced to hold on to the loans they made to customers until maturity.  It meant banks made sure the loans got paid back since that was their only way to ensure liquidity.

When he saw huge foreign fund inflows into India, Reddy feared inflation and he duly pushed interest rates up to more than 20 percent, which of course dampened the housing frenzy. He increased risk weightings on commercial buildings and shopping mall construction, doubling the amount of capital banks were required to hold in reserve in case things went awry. He made banks put aside extra capital for every loan they made. In effect, Mr. Reddy was creating liquidity even before there was a global liquidity crisis.

India’s bankers were naturally furious, just as American bankers would have been if Mr. Greenspan had been more active. Their regulator was holding them back, constraining their growth! They felt Reddy was being too harsh, excessively paranoid and cutting things to the bone. For a while they felt if Indian bankers were missing out on something, but now they know they missed out only on the toxicity.

As Luis Miranda, who runs a private equity firm devoted to developing India’s infrastructure, put it: “We kept wondering if they had figured out something that we were too dense to figure out. It looked like they were smart and we were stupid.”   Joe Nocera rounds it off  as he says “Instead, India was the smart one, and we were the stupid ones.”

Dr.Reddy has indeed acted responsibly for our future.  No words to thank him.  Perhaps he realized wisdom is never on the menu.  But he ended up owning the restaurant !!!

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Envy us – that’s all they can do

November 30, 2008

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So, the siege of the Taj had ended. Big relief. Oh, really?  What’s up next? 

 

Happy endings are stories that haven’t finished yet. A few brave cops had risked their lives, some have lost it too – as usual.  Now the political blame game will begin. Bitching the intelligence network, Center blaming the State and vice versa. With passage of time, intensity dies down and it’s no longer news.  Until the terrorists strike somewhere else and manage to hog the limelight. I refrain from sending out my heart or condolences or even sympathizing with those that fell to terrorist bullets. They are the lucky ones in that they escaped the after grief.  Watching it on TV and not being able to fight those bastards made me feel like a eunuch.  Is it an overwhelming sense of idealism preceding experience? Will cynicism follow?  I’ll figure that out later.  No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.  So right now let me rest with the comfort of opinion without the grumpiness of thought.  

 

I see a much stronger India – democratically, economically and socially – emerging from the trauma.  Let our hideous neighbors burn with envy. When they are not busy printing counterfeit currency or slipping  terrorists into India, that’s all they know to do…

Elitism parading as virtue

January 13, 2008

Ratan Tata unveiling the Nano

That’s Ratan Tata towering over Rs.1 lakh car ($2,500 ) – the Nano – launched yesterday, when the whole world sat up and took notice.  Amidst the ooh’s and ah’s, there were quite a bit of `how could Tata do this’ gripes from the burgeoisie.  Even as management guru C.K.Prahlad marveled at Indian engineering feat and called it a leap into future, the neo-elites were soon to forecast clogging of roads, parking nightmares, pollution etc., etc. Here’s Swaminathan Aiyar giving it back.

“Sanctimonious greens call the Nano disastrous because of its affordability— millions more will now clog roads and consume more fossil fuel. This is elitism parading as virtue. Elite greens own cars, but cannot stand the poorer masses becoming mobile, since the consequent congestion will eat into the time of the elite!”

I would rather this family switch to Nano soon and be safe. They get ported on this Rs.45k ($1,125) motor cycle, just because that guy in the saddle finds a small car costing not less than $7,000 way too expensive.

So, what would you call those who bemoan the Nano…?  Neo-Elitists or Pseudo activists..?  If Nano would cause traffic problem, it’s because the roads are narrow.  Go, widen them.  Add on flyovers.  But don’t halt the Nano.  It offers many a happy family a comfortable, safe ride.  And for people like me, enormous peace of mind when we see them inside the Nano, even as I am held up in a traffic snarl for a few more minutes with Nanos all around… I am ok with that !

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Like hell, it’s chutzpah…

January 11, 2008

Celebration of Indian innovation and enterprise can’t get better than this.

The Economist –

“RATAN TATA, chairman of the Tata group of companies, has a cerebral and cordial manner. But the so-called “one-lakh car”, which Tata Motors unveiled in Delhi to a rapt public on Thursday January 10th, is a product of impatience and chutzpah. Instead of waiting for the great swell of prosperity in India and elsewhere to create millions of customers for his company’s products, Mr Tata has decided to wade out—further than any one has gone before—to bring a car to them.”

I would drink to that..

What ails Indian Startups…

November 2, 2007

I often hear startup entrepreneurs ranting about VCs not funding their idea.  They point to Silicon Valley ecosystem and say the VCs out there took large bets on young upstarts and that’s how they got a Google, Amazon or Apple (alternatively their founders Larry/Sergie, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs in that order).

They also go on liberally about how Startups in India are done for money and not for passion (I am yet to see someone settling for “Nirvana” and not prosperity – anywhere in the world), Media is poor, dearth for good teams, VCs bet only on sure things and how they have no reality perspective etc…

Does that mean startups have no future in India? I say, look to the past.  You’ll get all the insights.

Imagine the India before the VCs came trooping in. There were entrepreneurs around even then. No, I am not referring to the famed Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis – I think of the millions of kiranawallas (local shop owners, general stores, sweet shops, caterers, informal event managers) that qualified far better as startups and never griped about lack of an outside investor to fund their ideas !  Several of them made it, quite a few of them may have bitten dust too.  They all had ideas, no teams, no investors – but they stood out by betting the farm (or whatever in its place), started small, settled for a street side shack (where they also slept in), kept shops open from 9.00 am to 11.00 p.m and the whole family ran errands.  One thing that never probably crossed their minds had been valuations, and all the illusions and assumptions that come with it. They just worried about stocking up enough to serve the customers the next day. Period. 

While it’s good to expect VCs to get a reality perspective, startup entrepreneurs too can do some introspection and figure out a way how not to imagine being a Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs and start thinking like a Harishbhai, Chandulal or a Kesavan nair – even as you work on something like a Google, Amazon or Oracle.  Having the right local values, (we have it by the ton) is important – if you want to make it.

So, let’s talk of `localisation’ of startup minds – for a change.  If not, just shut up and stop being livid.  I for one think, this is the best of times for Indian entrepreneurs. We never had it so good. If you can’t make it now, you’re never gonna make it. Argue with me at your own risk….

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The India magic

October 16, 2007

At a time when the Indian market is agog to know what a ‘world-class’ Vodafone (previously Hutch India) will bring to the Indian mobile phone market, Vodafone is bringing back Hutch India’s world-class practices to Europe. “I’m putting plane loads of managers on flights to India, and I’m telling them ‘go get me the secret of their low-cost business model.’ When we did the deal, we only thought about what we would bring to the business; now we find there’s so much more we can learn from them,” says Mr Arun Sarin, CEO, Vodafone.

Read more on what Sarin thinks Europe can gain from India here 

No wonder top Indian talent refuses to latch on to overseas postings, leaving only the deadwood to settle down abroad, silently suffering all kinds of racial profiling at the airports and treated like pests and vermin at work.  End of the day, they earn in currencies that’s not even worth the paper they are printed on as are the health of those economies. After all, only the dumbest will leave this blessed land where Chanakya that wrote Arthasasthra was born… 

I’ve always imagined, for an Indian living abroad, it’s like doing time feeding off a breakfast menu that announces the arrival of horribly sick someone – milk and cereals / bread and eggs /croissants / strawberries and cream / fish and chips (all horrible combos) when you have here gastronomic delights like steaming Idlis, lip-smacking chutney(s) and delicious sambar followed by filter coffee for breakfast….!!!!  

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Damsels [not exactly] in distress, they rule

September 26, 2007

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Indra Nooyi, the Chennai, India born CEO of  Pepsico , points out that young Indians are virtually global citizens.

Nooyi, chosen as the fourth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine, admitted that the different roles she has to play leaves her a bit confused at times.

“The other day, my 14-year-old daughter, who lives in the same building, sent me an e-mail asking for an hour’s appointment with me. The confusion (about the roles she is supposed to play) and the worries over whether I am doing justice, make me tear my head. You want to be a mother, at the same time you have to take care of your career also,” Nooyi says.

Can’t agree more. Twenty-five years after women first started pouring into the labor force–and trying to be more like men in every way, from wearing power suits to picking up golf clubs– research has shown that men ought to be the ones doing more of the imitating. In fact, after years of analyzing what makes leaders most effective and figuring out who’s got the Right Stuff, management gurus now know how to boost the odds of getting a great executive: Hire a female.

“(When it comes to my priority list) I am a mother first, then a CEO and then a wife,” Nooyi reportedly said while participating in a discussion on “Women and Global Leadership” organised at the Yale Club of New York city as part of the ongoing Incredible India @60 celebrations.

Pretty cool, that is Ms.Nooyi… Keep it up !

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It’s just the beginning

September 22, 2007

Young middle-class Indians are the happiest people of all and much more satisfied with all aspects of their lives compared to other nationalities, according to a new global survey by Swedish research and consulting firm Kairos Future. The priorities of Indian youth — work, good career and a position with high status, are reflected in their values such as endurance and entrepreneurship.

“Indian youth are also strikingly more optimistic about its future and also about the future of society. The general picture in other countries is that young people tend to be personal optimists but societal pessimists,” according to Kairos Future Group CEO and founder Mats Lindgren. “Indians are focused on their careers and are much more status-oriented than youth in Europe,”  he adds. 

While I say cheers to that, it got me a bit worried too. If that happiness signals contention, I’d rather they be unhappy. We are nowhere near the level of self development that we are capable of achieving with our potential.  Still if young India is content and happy, then I think it is not quite awake to its opportunities and true potential. We could be ignorant, but we can’t afford to be naïve.  My exposure to the developed world and its youth tells me that young India has miles to go.  Be it in its outlook towards life, politics, sense of achievement and creative disruption, we have a lot to learn from others. Young India will have to push (and pull) itself harder and stretch its aspiration levels. There’s no reason to feel comfortable and lax. We’ve got to clean up a lot of mess and in that we’ve an uphill task.  We’ve to educate ourselves about a lot other things than just academics and uplift our poor masses into the mainstream. The hardest task is in presenting the yoke of our population as our strength, a potent, rich market that doesn’t under-consume. If we could achieve that, it will attract large global enterprise to our hinterlands and will create jobs by thousands.  Remember, best way to get rich is by helping others get richer.

We should learn systems approach and intense work culture from Japanese, execution skills from Chinese, attention to detail from Germans, Entrepreneurship and innovation culture from Americans. These are but a few that I’ve had the first hand feel of, but I’m sure there could be other virtues from elsewhere that I may not be exposed.  But please don’t get tempted to absorb the decadent culture of teenage binge drinking, drugs and other bad habits that destroy the health and character of many a youngster in places like England and Italy. That also explains diminishing presence of these once great nations in the rank list of global achievers.  While I think of Lenovo, Google, VMware, SAP and closer home Educomp, Financial Technologies and Suzlon, I can’t think of a single billion $ company that sprouted in the last decade from the UK and Italy. 

So be smart and pick your cherries.  Avoid the rot.  Never rest easy, not for a second.   All the very best.

Reality perspective

August 15, 2007

Namaste. Today is August 15 – India’s independence day.  Iconic images of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel flash across.  I salute those leaders for what they have achieved 60 years back.  Vande Mataram.

We have come a long way since then on the economic front, thanks to the path of reforms espoused by successive governments since 1991.  I wouldn’t blame Nehru’s mixed economic policies and principles of non-alignment that we followed earlier since it suited us well during the times of cold war.  Education, poverty and healthcare are areas where there’s still a lot of work to be done. But transformation of a nation with 1.1b people, 270m below poverty line, ain’t easy.  With a sixth of humanity living within its borders, the nation is more linguistically diverse than Europe, a continent. But, apart from a few hiccups along the way, it remains one of the most stable and unified societies in all of Asia. I shall raise a toast to that, any day. 

Western tourists and Non Resident Indians complain about the poor infrastructure that India has and grumble at the relentless hype that goes on about India and China.  You can’t blame them because the image they carry is of a land on the threshold of change, presenting a model of a resurgent future, entirely self-built after years of colonial repression and that’s got to look like something incredible. Yet when they land in Delhi or Mumbai, the first things that hit them are the clumsy and unhygienic airports, unhelpful staff, primeval cabs and a few scheming cabbies. Is this the changed nation – that was once known for its lot of snake charmers, naked saints and rickshaw pullers – they wonder. At that moment, the bill boards of leading private airlines, Kingfisher and Jet Airways – between them having ordered more than 150 airplanes from Boeing and Airbus – that rise above the clutter of shanties below remind them something – “don’t be fooled, here everything co-exists”.

That sums it up. No city in India is ever going to look like a London or New York.  It’ll just be a prosperous Indian city, with a lot more confident people living in luxurious apartment blocks that exist side by side with the shanties of its poor millions struggling to make ends meet. 

May be a decade later, if this blog post survives the frost of time, let’s do a reality check. I’d love to stand corrected.  Jai Hind !