Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Indian Billionaire Club

The results are out. The game’s gotten hotter. The Forbes Billionaires list 2008 boasts a substantial Indian presence. India is shining.

Of course, such lists and statistics are no more than an overview of the stock market on the day that the list was composed. However, the sizeable number of Indians that dominate the top slots on the coveted index indicates something much more profound.

India is shining for a reason.

Few other countries in South East Asia, barring China, are producing globally competitive companies the way India is. In fact, the region is almost conspicuous for its failure to do so. Their enterprises are not serving much further than the home country. This works to India’s advantage, with its location among sluggish neighbours enhancing the value of its business successes.

Apart from China’s Lenovo and Singapore’s Singapore Airlines, there aren’t too many internationally-recognised business houses to compete with India’s global players of Tata Steel, Ranbaxy and Wipro, with the exception of real-estate giant, DLF, which is wholly national. Investors prefer putting their money in the Indian market, which offers so many more options.

India has turned into a giant ‘wealth creating creature’, with its productivity increasing rapidly. Owing to its huge managerial talent pool, it has developed into a ‘growing economy’ – an alive, intensely competitive system that is acutely sensitive to prices and functions on the principle of providing maximum value to its customers.

But this hasn’t happened overnight.

It takes more than being large for a company to make it ‘big’ in an international arena. According to Economist, it either needs to build a brand that is valued world over, develop innovative technology or exercise an admired business method. Indian businesses dealing on foreign shores seem to have at least one of these concepts down pat. Take Wipro, for example. The International Association of Outsourcing Professionals ranks it the highest Indian IT provider and it enjoys a 300-plus clientele, across US, UK and Japan and 50 of the Fortune 500 companies. Forrester Research has also termed its offshore model ‘unique among the larger players in the security consulting space’.

A stark difference between Indian undertakings and several big companies of other countries is that much of their financial support doesn’t extend too far beyond their own friends and family. This causes them to remain under archaic, mediocre managements that are generally controlled by patriarchal owners. The scene in India is ironically different, despite us being a country that has roots in similar professional structures. Tata Sons maintains a minority stake in Tata Steel, leaving daily operations to be handled by managers. Even if administration remains within the family, in most cases shareholders can breathe easy knowing that Cornell-educated Ratan Tata, Stanford-educated Azim Premji and Wharton-educated Aditya Mittal are qualified to manage their massive investments.

Indians are now heading major multinationals – Vikram Pandit at Citibank, Indra Nooyi at Pepsico and Shantanu Narayen at Adobe Systems. Indians are also acquiring foreign companies – Arcelor-Mittal, Corus taken over by Tata and Vijay Mallya’s all-cash acquisition of scotch whisky maker, Whyte & Mackay.
All of the above has contributed to the revamping of the Indian economy, making it a destination that the world is quickly sitting up and taking notice of.

Bharti Telecoms, headed by Sunil Mittal (4th richest Indian and featured on this year’s Forbes list), has recently launched a calling card in US, aimed at NRIs. It offers competitive rates for those calling India from US, compared to other telecom service providers. This ability of Indian companies to identify specific needs in alien markets, clubbed with the added advantage of a huge Indian population spread across the globe, will ensure that they continue to excel overseas. The Ambani brothers, the Mittals and the Tatas will laugh all the way to the bank for several more years and the Indian billionaire club will only swell. Now that’s pretty swell.

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