India Inc Should Quit Carping

Updated: Nov 27 2002, 05:30am hrs
The World Economic Forum has an annual ritual in India, which provides an opportunity to look at the countrys globalisation scorecard. Usually, policy makers from the government and key decision makers from industry attend this annual event to discuss progress on the elusive reform process. While managers from the government attempt to highlight the tremendous changes brought about in the system to facilitate the countrys integration into the global village, the captains of industry lament over the inadequacy of the actions of the government.

However, this year, the situation is different. The government has decided to keep away from this cathartic event. The Prime Minister, finance minister and others of similar status have kept away. The government is represented by its second rung. As a result, the show this year is completely dominated by the captains of industry. Expectedly, they have taken an aggressive stand vis-a-vis the governments inadequate action in regard to second generation reforms.

The leading icon of Indian business, Mr Narayana Murthy of Infosys, has exhorted the government to act as if there is no tomorrow. A bold and a brave statement indeed. However, I would have expected a different approach in this years summit. Industry could have used this government-free summit to discuss issues which are in control of industry and pertain to globalisation.

Globalisation has meant different things to different people. The discourse on globalisation in India, particularly for Indian businesses, has centred on foreign direct investment (FDI) and conditions conducive to it. Accordingly, the reform process has been addressing issues which would make India a preferred destination for foreign investment. FDI-centric understanding of globalisation is too narrow, if not completely off the mark. Although there are many definitions for and meanings of globalisation, for our purpose it would mean treating the world as a potential domain for operations and activities, and source of knowledge. It is essential for Indian corporates and their leaders to internalise this meaning. In other words, Indian companies will have to perceive the world as a single large market and look at their practices and performance in this perspective. To dismiss global management and business practices as irrelevant could be contradictory to such a view of globalisation.

An important aspect of globalisation that Indian corporates have not explored is project exports. It is possible to build on domestic experience of large-scale projects in sectors like power and petrochemicals. Many developing countries require projects to be set up in various sectors where India has reasonable experience. But this experience is available with more than one company. Hence, it will require a consortium approach to sell projects to international buyers. Similarly, Indian experience in setting up and managing viable mid-scale plants in sectors like the auto sector can also be exported to similar low volume markets.

In the service sector too, apart from the much talked about infotech initiatives, a significant demand exists for export of knowledge and management skill in the financial services in various African and some Asian countries. Indian banking experience can be usefully employed in many of these countries. Private sector giants such as Telco, Bajaj Auto, Hero Honda and public sector giants such as National Thermal Power Corporation, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd and State Bank of India are obvious candidates for making aggressive forays in this direction.

Indian organisations need to learn to look at global opportunity in its eye. This will require these organisations to incorporate global perspectives into their actions and strategies. I find this missing in most Indian corporations. Somehow there is a fear about thinking globally. This is evident in the aversion to creating global scale plants with world class manufacturing practices, a point brought out clearly by the recently published National Manufacturing Survey done by two faculty members of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

Indian industry needs to explore these possibilities and set an agenda in this direction for itself instead of waiting for an apparently non-responsive government to lead the way. There are many actions which the industry can take without government help. This year, the India Economic Summit offered such an opportunity to industry as the government kept away. Unfortunately, industry has been unable to keep away the government from its mindset. A globalised mindset needs to see beyond constraints.

The writer is a management consultant based in Mumbai