Turning economic threat into opportunity

Updated on Dec 01, 2011 02:27 PM IST

Having travelled rather extensively this year, I have had the unique opportunity to see the global economy shift, halt, swelter and shine at different times and at different places with personal memories to bookmark.

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Hindustan Times | ByVineet Nayar

Having travelled rather extensively this year, I have had the unique opportunity to see the global economy shift, halt, swelter and shine at different times and at different places with personal memories to bookmark.

I saw it "shift" in Dalian, China where during World Economic Forum's (WEF) Annual Meeting of the New Champions, the emerging market flexed its new-found might. I saw it "halt" at WEF Davos, where the big boys, made speeches filled with bromides and no action agenda. I saw it "sweat" in the Nordics as I addressed a large business forum, where many prominent leaders sounded worried and in search of direction. And finally I see it "shine with hope" right here in India.

Every time I land in Delhi, I am welcomed by people bustling with energy, BPO cabs ferrying youngsters, young executives in airport lounges feverishly making presentation for some of the biggest corporations and roads dotted with cars and dhabas.

If you take a rather simplistic view of every economy being the sum of the efforts and attitude of each working person, then our nation is indeed a beacon of hope in this foggy climate.

It's also good news for the world at large. As journalist Fareed Zakaria puts it, "Getting growth in India right is more important than getting it right in China". The Indian economic model, as messy and inefficient as it is, is replicable while China's is not.

With so much riding on our shoulders, it's time we as a nation band together, put all our ingenuity and passion together to close the gap at the approaching bend.

Let me explain. During the recent Indian F1 Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton explained that the Indian track was very interesting because it had many curves which allow you to overtake. When you are racing straight, the ability to overtake is limited but whenever a bend comes in, good race track drivers get very interested.

I believe, the current global uncertainties may also be the biggest opportunity we have ever seen, because it's a curve, a bend.

And if we tweak our strategies correctly we would be able to convert this threat into a massive opportunity.

Secondly, we need to bring innovation to the centre stage of our organisations. And the easiest way to tap this innovation is to structure your organisation and put employees as the source point. Remember, whether you are in manufacturing or services business, the guy who makes it all happen is the employee, the guy closest to the customer is your employee, the guy who most often sees the problems first is the frontline employee.

Employees need to be part of the solution, not the problem. Are we giving youngsters enough opportunities? Do we trust them enough with leadership responsibilities?

Thirdly, we as leaders need to decide the architecture of transformation of our businesses. Without a fundamental internal transformation it will be tough to see opportunity in threat. But how? Start with creating dissatisfaction with the current state without which we cannot expect the company to start thinking about change. Then create a vision of tomorrow which is so compelling that people will jump out of their beds and want to achieve that vision.

Lastly, we need a big dose of optimism. In my experience, global uncertainties and recessions are bad news, but can also be looked upon as an opportunity.

A prominent European economist I once met said that though the world is busy calling out the BRIC, the LatAm, and 'Chindia' as the saviours of the 'new world', "but for me it's only India. If you as ask an average Indian to chose between Yes and No, he will choose Yes, as Indians are instinctively optimistic. If you ask him to choose between You or Us, he will chose Us, partly to do with the social fabric of living in families. And if you ask him to chose between Now or Tomorrow, he will go with NOW, because he fears that the opportunity might not even exist till tomorrow. If you combine this YES+US+NOW what you have is an unbeatable formula". How simple and yet how definitive - a relevant lesson, from Bombay to Beijing.

If only we could replace the synonym of risk from recession and replace it with rejuvenation and opportunity, we would perhaps be looking for the accelerator and not the brakes. I may not have all the answers --- actually I may have got it all wrong. But I am convinced that we need to loosen up and speed on…we are approaching a bend.

Vineet Nayar is vice chairman & CEO, HCL Technologies.

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