Forbes editor scouts land of karma capitalism
As urchins tapped on his car window at a street signal in Worli, he immediately recognised that the copies of David Vise and Mark Malseed's The Google Story they were selling were pirated.
"By the sheer numbers of the book everywhere, it seemed to me the Bible of a new India," Tim Ferguson, Editor of Forbes Asia, said later, sipping earl grey at Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba.
The hardnosed New York-based journalist in charge of one of the world's best-known business magazines then walked his thoughts down an unusual course, linking India's spiritual and cultural context to its newfound economic brawn.
"I remember what my American private-equity investor friend thought was India's underlying strength. He called it 'karma capitalism'," said Ferguson.
According to the 51-year-old Californian, serenity and calmness, as against a culture that is antagonistic or neurotic, can be a big advantage in business.
"Indians probably realise that the inner soul and the temporal world the soul must occupy may not be at conflict. You can be good to your soul and be the producer of financial wealth at the same time," he said, adding: "We in the US are struggling with the same issue, and there are concerns that America has become too materialistic."
To India's list of advantages, he added democracy. "Checks and balances in a democracy prevent the worst excesses."
He rated Infosys man Nandan Nilekani as one of most interesting person he had met in Indian business. "He represents the vibrancy of Indian business with his customer friendliness, calm, and sense of humour," he recalled.
According to the ex-Wall Street Journal political commentator, the biggest story in India right now was the "extraordinary confidence of major and entrepreneurial businesses". He said India's growth story was likely to last at least two or three decades. And while the China model was moving more rapidly, it was "much more susceptible to major interruptions in growth".
Ferguson believes the alliance to watch in the future would be Japan and India. "A powerful China will inspire peripheral countries to come together. Also, Japan and India perhaps share a long-term interest with the West the way China does not," he said.
The two technology nations also seemed to perfectly complement each other: Japan's hardware strength and India's software edge were a potent set.
He denied that Forbes' selling point was greed. "Greed is a loaded term. We measure wealth, but we don't idolise wealth for wealth's sake," he said.
Forbes started significantly covering India 10 years ago with the production of the billionaires issue, but has only now ramped it up to match "what the economic activity here merits".
"We've developed a pretty good grasp of who the movers and shakers of the economy here are. We are also following closely the investments coming from the US in terms of venture capital, private equity and major companies investing here," he said.
And to think Mumbai Customs allowed his homework to go undeclared.