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A billion hearts beating for success

Though pitfalls remain, our culture of entrepreneurship and adaptability is driving the Indian growth story

delhi Updated: Nov 15, 2010 01:40 IST
Vineet Nayar

Author and former journalist Steve Hamm recalls in a recent blog post that the North American CEO of a European information technology services company was walking around the show floor of IT firm SAP’s annual user conference in Orlando, US last year and checking in at the various booths. It struck him that the experience at each of the IT outsourcers’ booths was essentially the same, no matter if it was IBM, HP, EDS, Capgemini or any of the Indian players. The branding, the array of service offerings, the quality of the people manning the booths — it was similar.

Immediately afterwards, the CEO sent an email to his company's leaders across the globe, essentially noting that the Indians had arrived at parity: “Don’t underestimate these guys (Indian IT employees). They’re not just in the back office anymore. In the midst of this down, they’re becoming like mature Western-style players — the messaging, content and style. They’re just like the other global players.”

Of course, we didn't really need a western executive to tell us that Indians or India has arrived or — as US President Barack Obama put it during his recent India visit — “India is not emerging, India has already emerged.”

Every day as we wake up and read the newspapers, the story of India’s rising clout and global success becomes more evident — whether it is the buying of iconic auto brands like Jaguar by the Tatas or the many acquisitions by India's fast growing IT companies.

India Inc. has truly gone global. It is in this context that we need to understand the opportunities and pitfalls ahead for an increasingly globalising India.

Let’s get done with the bad news first. We are acutely aware of the fact that we need to address pitfalls such as corruption and inadequacies in infrastructure and education. No surprises there. Our success in the future will be determined by our ability to successfully manage these levers.

The prospects ahead are rosy, however. Our talent is widely envied (Microsoft founder Bill Gates once famously remarked that he finds Indian and Chinese as the smartest brains in the world!), our products and services are second to none and more importantly our mindset, I believe, is our biggest differentiator.

Let me explain this with an experience. The chief information officer of a large European group, which was outsourcing for the first time to India, called in with a strange concern. “The (Indian) team does not like saying ‘no’,” he told me. “If they can just tell me it cannot be done, we can do better planning and expectation management here.” I asked if the “no” issue had caused any setbacks. “Not really,” he replied. “Usually they have been able to engineer some or the other solution. But what if one day they can’t?”

I assured him that we have managed engagements as large as theirs for many years and such issues have never caused tangible harm to any client anywhere. But that night, I mulled over the depth and symbolism of this conversation. I realised with a strange anxiety that my friend there was ready to trade lack of innovation with the safety of the known!

I guess the western business mindset has been so used to prosperity and comfort that it has perhaps forgotten the hunger, passion and desperation that is required to be the very best. We Indians have that in abundance, on the contrary. As writer-journalist Thomas Friedman recently noted in a column in The New York Times, “France already discovered that a 35-hour workweek was impossible in a world where Indian engineers were trying to work a 35-hour day.” Unlike China, which is directed by the state, India’s growth story is fuelled by the energy of 45 million entrepreneurs and a billion individual hearts aspiring for a fistful of success.

Another unique feature of our mindset is our ability to manage through ambiguity. When we focus on our objectives, we have an exceptional focus that enables us to become oblivious to the obstacles along the way.

Take the example of a young Indian who sets out to go to the ATM on his motorcycle to withdraw some money, every day. As he starts his motorcycle there is a probability that it won’t start. He then drives through traffic to get to his destination. There is a chance that his motorcycle will hit a pothole on the way and get punctured. He reaches the ATM. There is a likelihood that the ATM might not be working. Despite all the odds and ambiguities, he manages to withdraw the money every day. Yet, all the negative probabilities do not pass his mind as he focuses on his objective of withdrawing the money from the ATM.

Our biggest threat, however, is also a matter of mindset — our inability to think beyond parochial confines, the virtual barriers in our minds based on region, caste or religion.

As we build on the past, while staying focused on the future, we have to bank on our culture of entrepreneurship and adaptability, rather than getting trapped in straitjacketed dogmas.

There are ample instances in our own history of the miraculous results achieved when we set our minds to it, irrespective of how formidable the goal seemed at first. The glass of milk our children reach out for each morning is a reminder of the white revolution achieved by Amul and Mother Dairy, a unique network based on the entrepreneurial drive of our farmers. The dabbawalas (lunch-box carriers) of Mumbai, the women behind Lijjat Papad, the craftsmen of Dastkar, each of them is a living embodiment of this spirit.

So, as the world analyses our prospects and pitfalls from an external perspective, I believe that our future lies in the mindsets of a billion people, driven by a romance for tomorrow.

(Vineet Nayar is the vice chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies) Vox Pop