The Future of India . . .

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.

I gave a 3-hour workshop last week to a group of senior and middle managers in Pune, India. The talk was on leadership, corporate culture and its impact on performance. My remarks were well received and we had an engaged level of interaction throughout, especially from the CFO! During the Q&A at the end I was asked a very thought-provoking question and one that is probably on the minds of many of the well-educated in India.  It went something like this:

India is an emerging and vibrant nation. What do you think of India’s chances  to become a dominant force in the global economy?

A really great question. In fact all the questions were thoughtful and, like this one, difficult to answer. Here is my reply and I am writing this blog because I believe these thoughts are appropriate for many countries today, not just the emerging ones.

My first reply was that India is already a dominant force in the global economy!  Witness the hundreds of thousands of calls routed daily to call centers in India and the fact that India pretty much created the call center and software outsourcing industry.  Even hundreds of thousands of US tax returns are prepared in India.  And if someone took the time to do the research they would probably find that a sizeable percentage of executives in CEO, CTO, CIO and senior CXO positions around the globe are from India.

Additionally, India has an excellent chance to become a world leader because of a national culture that values and respects the importance of education. Also a plus is that in its own way India is a democracy where people have a voice in their own destiny. And currently the Indian people are highly optimistic about the future and there is a positive feeling of “can do”  in the air. For example I recently met two  senior technology consultants who had been working in the  US for the past ten years but have recently moved back to India for greater business opportunity. There was a time when people came to the US for opportunity. Now they are going to India and China and Brazil.

There are lots of other positive reasons why India has the foundation to become a global economic force. But I also talked about the barriers that exist within India that could keep them from realizing their potential as a nation.

First is the lack of infrastructure.  To move goods, people, energy and information in an efficient and speedy manner requires good infrastructure.  And from my view India’s infrastructure is a mess.  Trucks are old and continuously breaking down, roads are full of potholes and in disrepair, even the newer “motorways”.  Within cities traffic moves at a snail’s pace and intersections look like tangled spaghetti.

And what concerns me is that Indians have come to accept it as “the way it is” rather than using their skills and intelligence to solve the problem.  And for such a country of high-tech skills and engineering talent the communications infrastructure within India is ancient.  And power availability is patchy at best.  During my week in Pune I experienced a dozen power failures.  Productivity and economic growth travels on the back of infrastructure as much as it does on education.

Second is a gross disregard for the environment.  As I move around India, especially in the larger towns and cities, I am struck by the mountains of trash piled along roads, in vacant lots, in the gutters, along walkways.  I am not talking about the type of litter that upsets us in England or the US, I am talking about trash: food trash, heaps of plastic bags and cartons, tires, rusted bicycles, half-full drums of used motor oil, . . .   And the well-educated, upwardly mobile Indians don’t seem to notice, they just pick their way around it.

And the rivers are more like sewers than the cool ribbons of pleasure and beauty they could be.  Pune calls itself the Oxford of India with its many universities and its river winding through the city.  But it’s not really a river, more like a winding sewer. I find this odd in a country where many rivers are considered sacred!

I remember when the Thames River was highly polluted and now it’s clean enough for migrating salmon.  It is possible to restore rivers, if there is the will.  To look at all the advertising on Indian TV about “green” products, organic this and that and then to see the mountains of trash everywhere is very disconcerting.  You can’t become an economic force for good if your country is buried under a mountain of refuse!

Third is tolerance for corruption within government at all levels:  I don’t know enough about Indian politics and government but from what I learned from my hosts, and my driver during the week, corruption is rampant at all levels of national, state and local government.  To gain access to public office is to have suddenly won the lottery in terms of bribes, off-the-books income and perks.  When the focus of elected officials is on what can I gain rather than on what service can I give, there is little hope for real global advancement.  Unfortunately the US, in my estimation, has been seduced by the “dark side” of public office to a point where decisions “in the national good” are almost non-existent.

Poverty:  And last on my list of “opportunities disguised as challenges” is the large majority of the Indian population that still exists at the edge of extreme poverty and without much hope for education.  A recent article on the UN’s annual Millennium Development Report, which tracks long-term goals, shows India’s poverty rate is expected to fall to 22% by 2015 from 51% in 1990. (Poverty rate is measured by assessing the number of people who live below $1.25 a day, a threshold set by the World Bank. I wonder what the % would be if you moved that up to $2.00 per day!).

India’s performance, when it comes to eradicating poverty it is still lagging behind China and other countries in East Asia, which have seen the sharpest reductions in poverty, with China’s poverty rate projected to fall below 5 % by 2015!  Clearly, India needs to focus more attention on eradicating poverty and turning its massive population into a global economic powerhouse.

Summary:  As a definite non-expert and as an outsider looking in, these are my thoughts about the future of India.  All in all I am a great fan of India, mostly because of its strong belief and value in education.  Education is definitely a foundation that can solve most any problem.  But the future lies squarely in the hands of India itself.

I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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