Dear Sir Martin,
I happened to read an interview of yours in the press last Friday.
There were some nice observations about India. However, your statement about India seeming to lack self confidence, in my humble opinion, is an overly simplistic generalisation and an incorrect one. You mustn’t take our businessmen’s deliberate and cautious ways or their concern about our country for a lack of self confidence.
As a foreigner with large business interests here, you have a right to your opinion on the business psychology of India. Since I am a small yet home grown entrepreneur, who belongs to the same (well, similar) industry as you, I would insist I have a closer and perhaps a more accurate perspective of the same.
In case you haven’t observed, most Indian businessmen are inherently quiet and low key. We aren’t usually extravagant in our show of confidence. Our humble, quiet and peaceful ways may seem diffident, but that’s just the visage. It’s just the way we are, and have been. Historically, we never did have to conquer or acquire to display our confidence.
Deep beneath the worry lines, we are constantly thinking ingenious thoughts. Hidden behind every concern on our face is an opportunity we are hoping for in our minds. And what might look like depression to European or American eyes is often the anticipation and preparation for the worst. That’s how we have historically grown incredibly robust businesses from scratch in one of the world’s most competitive markets.
So, when you make a blanket statement on our self confidence, Sir, I can’t decide whether you were indulging your naïve side by taking India at face value; or perhaps basing your view only on the people you met for a potential acquisition during your visit. While I wouldn’t comment on the latter, face value, I am afraid, isn’t an accurate barometer in India - certainly not to understand our business psychology.
A few other global business leaders seem to have met a very different and self-confident India during their visits here.
Bill Gates, while touring India spoke about a confident, self-sufficient nation, taking large strides in development and overall growth. Patricia Hewitt Chairperson, UK-India Business Council was impressed by the young leadership in India. And Stephen Bird CEO, Asia Pacific Citigroup spoke about how Indian champions are becoming global champions. How many of these fantastic Indian companies - Tata, Reliance, Vedanta, Infosys, Wipro have a global mindset and perspective.
Our business environment has never been more confident than now. We have one of the largest talent pools. Our Government spending is going up. Our healthcare system is improving. Our education is getting richer. Literacy is sky-rocketing in rural areas. Our infrastructure is reinventing itself. Our policies are evolving. Poverty reduction doubled over the last few years. Youth empowerment is on the rise. Manufacturers are gearing to meet the zooming demand. Staffing levels in manufacturing companies have increased. Our country is going to run out of phone numbers by next year. The looming inflation has not buried any excitement of the consumers or marketers. Gold purchase went up 30 per cent this year during Diwali, despite being priced at an all time high.
I am sure you are well aware of all of these things. My guess is that Indians and Indian businessmen are aware of all of this too. It’s just that they may not believe in shouting about good times in store from the rooftops.
While I have enormous respect for what you have done globally, may I request you not to misinterpret the cautious and deliberate approach of India and Indian businessmen as lack of self-confidence?
It is this approach that makes our nation’s economy strong and our foundation solid. It is what makes India a safe place to do business in. It is what makes our country’s growth story a long one. And it is exactly what makes you bullish about India.
(Sajan Raj Kurup is founder and creative chairman, Creativeland Asia. This article appeared in the issue of Campaign India magazine dated 30 November.)