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Rediff.com  » Business » India is brimming with leadership at all levels: Nilekani

India is brimming with leadership at all levels: Nilekani

Last updated on: January 20, 2009 12:00 IST

Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani's first book, has made waves for the informed discussion it has initiated on the future of this great nation.

In Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century, the IIT-Bombay alumnus discusses how independent India's early policies, despite its good intentions and astonishing idealism, stifled growth and weakened democracy. He examines ideas that are in the throes of change, and, finally deals with the clash of ideas 'between people who see reforms as empowering and those who see them as exclusionary.'

In an hour-long chat on January 20, Nandan Nilekani spoke to our readers.

Nandan Nilekani says, Hi, Nandan here. Good morning, and great to be on Rediff Chat with you guys.


sashi asked, Hello sir what is Indian IT future in current situation.
Nandan Nilekani answers,  at 2009-01-20 08:40:41The current scenario is certainly the most challenging that the IT industry has seen since its inception. The global slowdown is affecting almost every industry, and it is inevitable that it has an impact on the growth prospects of the Indian IT industry. However the Indian industry has built up a tremendous brand name and reputation over the last 30 years and it will definitely hold its own and do really well once the recovery starts.
indu asked, hi sir, As the CEO of such a successful running company Infosys don't you think Infosys has bigger role to play in this emerging India except from providing employement to a huge number of people you employ...
Nandan Nilekani answers, Infosys certainly has played a bigger role in India today. It is an example of successful first generation entrepreneurship, very high corporate standards and ethics and has contributed to building India's global brand. With FINACLE which is operating in 70 per cent of India's banks, we have made a big contribution to the modernisation of the banking sector. We are also deeply involved in many public policy issues like skill development, urban reforms, etc. With my new book Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century, I have tried to outline an agenda for action for India as it leverages the demographic dividend.
rohit asked, hello sir does indian IT sector have a good future after datyam fiasco??
Nandan Nilekani answers, The Satyam incident has definitely been a setback for corporate India and also a black eye in our efforts to build Brand India on the back of its entrepreneurs. However this is an isolated incident and should not be seen as a pattern. We fully support the new board as they set things right and also expect that the government and regulators will take speedy action to get to the bottom of this scam. This incident will hopefully galvanize our corporate sector and industry to set new standards of corporate governance, transparency and accountability.
Bala asked, When will the top IT companies get into product development, R&D (not as service but as an investment), Patents, Intellectual property coming out of a Top Indian IT company.
Nandan Nilekani answers, Bala, this is definitely already happening. Today for example in banking software the top three products in the world are of Indian origin: Infosys, TCS and I-Flex [now part of Oracle). Similarly, I know of many plans in many Indian companies to develop IP based solutions, business platforms, software as a service, etc. This is part of the continuous evolution of the Indian IT industry.
siva asked, Hello, When small countries like korea,austria and other european countries are able to develop somuch and in India we have so much to develop and and so much needs to be done why there is so much unemployment?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Siva, I agree with you that dealing with the challenge of providing employment for India's youth is our number one challenge. If we do not do that, our demographic dividend may well become a demographic disaster. This will require a lot of reforms in our education, infrastructure, labor market and other areas. Do have a look at my book, Imagining India, which has spelt this out in greater detail than I can get into in a forum of this kind.
RAJ SINGH asked, Hi Nandan, People say what satyam has done is a regular practice by other companies too. Only they got caught. Your comments?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Raj, check my response on Satyam earlier in this chat; as I pointed out, it is an isolated incident, and has led or will lead to tightening of corporate practices.
rcd asked, please let us know the measures taken by infosys to conserve/save cash in case the world recession goes beyond 2009.
Nandan Nilekani answers, The current economic crisis and the liquidity crunch has clearly shown the importance of having cash on the balance sheet and a business that generates free cash flow. Do look at our disclosures after our Q3 results which give full details of our approach on this matter. On the broader theme of recession, it is clear that India is not decoupled from the rest of the world. It is also clear that a lot of the eight-nine per cent growth of the last four to five years was induced by the bubble economy. As our growth rate slows down, India needs to address back to basics reforms in education, health, infrastructure, single markets etc to really make sure we have sustainable growth for several decades.
Infyguy asked, Hi Nandan, I just finished reading your book Imagning India. I wanted to know how these ideas are being implemented in Infosys
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Infyguy: Many of the ideas in my book really apply to a country and what we need to do to leverage our demographic dividend. However, our experience in Infosys of investing in human capital, education, infrastructure and job creation have helped me to crystallize my thoughts, which are reflected in the book. In some sense, my Infosys experience has been a microcosm for how I believe India can truly take advantage of its unique opportunity and meet its tryst with destiny.
IITPowai asked, Dear Sir, I congratulate you on a wonderful book. I want to know the secret of your energy and optimism. Kindly give some pointers which could be useful for anyone of us
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear fellow IIT-ian: My optimism comes from the belief that as a country, we have a chance in a millenium to make a difference and take India into the first tier of global nations. Therefore, I would like to spend my time working on such issues that will advance the national cause. I generally believe it is better to be optimistic and try to solve problems than to be pessimistic and just complain. Also I believe in being less busy and more effective, and focussing on a few large themes and making sure that they happen. And the energy you speak off probably comes from the fact that I like what I do and enjoy every minute of it.
Saurav asked, In your book, you speak very optimistically of demographic dividend. You really mean BPL families with 100% growth rate are going to provide us that? I thought, d.d. can only come from Middle class families or the elite who are as a matter of fact baring touching the replacement level
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Saurav: To really reap the demographic dividend, we have to make sure all our young people have access to education, health, roads to take them to school and work, power to study at night, jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship. This will dramatically expand the middle class and create the force for social change. The fact of the matter is that the middle class and elite in India have often seceeded from their responsibilities and they need to become more involved in the governance and improvement of the country.
Orly asked, Hello sir, in the current market scenario my take is that India has still not felt majority of the jitters. What I would like to ask you is, since most of the developed world has been already affected, is it that it is going to take time to trickle down to the rest of the world or will things improve in the current year? What is your take on this?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Orly: While India has certainly been affected by the global economic crisis in some ways, it is also best placed to recover from it faster than many other countries. It has much less dependence on exports than many of our other Asian neighbors. It has a large domestic consumer market. The fact is that if we can implement a few things in improving our infrastructure, education and agriculture, we can see a boost in both productivity and demand, which can kick start the economy. I am confident that if we do all the right things, India can get back on a trajectory of sustained growth.
Naras asked, Hello Nandan Nilekani Good morning!!!Congratulations on your beyond life laurels and thanks for time . 1.Now you being part of building one of the greatest empires in IT industry whats your next step -venture in creating more success to you and to India 2.When to you expect the IT industry wud again see the boom like before?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Naras, hi, I think rather than seeing a boom, we must focus on creating steady, sustainable growth which can create jobs, enhance incomes, and improve quality of life. I think in the long run, that focus on sustainability will serve us in good stead rather than participating in volatile boom-bust cycles.
idris asked, what do u think about the praise that was showered upon narendra modi during vibrant gujarat? this guy means bussiness for sure which is good for india but what bout the path that he has tread on, should we forget that
Nandan Nilekani answers, I do believe that every Indian has a choice in expressing who they want as a leader. At the same time, the final choice of leadership must be done through a mass democratic process.
Prashant asked, Mr. Nilekani, Why do you think ethics in corporate India are so bad? Its not only Satyam but now we hear Wipro was trying to Bribe WORLD BANK!!!! Who knows what we will hear about Infosys later! Once our corruption was confined to India, now we are trying to Outsource it abroad. Why do you think We have become so selfish with no regard to any ethics!!!
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Prashant: I believe by and large, there has been a big improvement in corporate governance standards in India in the last few years. Also, corporate malfeasance is not an Indian monopoly. In the last few years we have seen many examples of corporate fraud like Madoff in the US, Parmalat in Italy, Ahold in the Netherlands, Conrad Black, etc. I think we have to continue to make all efforts that we maintain the highest standards of corporate governance and ethical behavior, so that corporate India can be a key part of the global brand of India.
msr asked, How IT and outsorcing get affected by Mr.Obama as president ?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear msr: It is certainly the case that in an atmosphere of lowered growth and job loss there will be certain cries for protectionism. At the same time, I believe that outsourcing is a win-win proposition that makes companies competitive and creates jobs. I am confident that there will be no impact.
Sarita asked, In India we have created different lobbies, like IAS lobby, IIM lobby and also IIT lobby. These lobbies gives preference to their own guys. After reading your book I feel you are also part of the same cultur. This is a bit disappointing. Don't you think so?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Sarita: nothing could be further from the truth. My book is all about providing access to every Indian, no matter what his or her background is. Unless we provide equal opportunity to every young child in India, we will not be able to leverage our demographic dividend. I would urge you to read the book again carefully. Madhu: I am not here to promote my book. But the book is a distillation of my thoughts, and as you notice, many of the questions are being based on it. So...
Nirmal asked, Hello Sir, Why in India there is lack of leadership? Are we not creating strong leadership? Even in Infy, if 10,000 people know about NRN, only 5000 people know about you, only 1000 people know about Kris (Current CEO) ? Please correct me, if i am wrong?
Nandan Nilekani answers, India is brimming with leadership at all levels. In my travels, I have come across many people, entrepreneurs, politicians, beauracts, NGO activists etc who are all taking charge and making a difference. It is in fact these can-do individuals who are responsible for the energy and vitality that you see in India today. I think instead of waiting for leaders, each of us can resolve to be a leader in his or her own right, in whatever area we chose to do.
vaidy asked, nandan i really appreciate the work that the infosys foundation has done in the field of rural health and upliftment, and basic education.Can we do a google or an exxon mobil by initiating a movement that aims to solve the energy crisis? according to tom friedman and many other emminent thinkers, energy technology is where the next boom is going to happen.is infosys ready?
Nandan Nilekani answers, India is a wonderful opportunity to create a low carbon economy. We do not have a huge legacy infrastructure on power, and can easily build a new pattern of energy which uses renewables, smart grids, etc. Please read the chapters on energy and environment in my book, as well as a report I have done on IT in the power structure which you will find on the Infosys website.
amitav asked, Hello Sir: Even in world recession time you people are manageing ur organization very good.how do you mangage it & what is ur future goal ?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Amitav: It is important that we build companies and institutions to last, and which can handle both good times and bad times. We should use the slowdown in the global economy to make our organizations more efficient and competitive, and wait for the day when the global economy takes a turn for the better. I think building a sustainable corporation should be the goal of all management teams.
vipul27 asked, Hi Nandan, in these difficult times, when big businesses are falling apart or not willing to invest more on IT related services. What strategy IT industry must follow to survive? Should the focus move to woo smaller clients and rework on focus on high margins? some correction is needed on margins and client profile?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Vipul: In these challenging times, there are many things that companies can do. Internally, they have to focus on efficiency, productivity, doing more with less and streamlining operations. Externally, they have to identify new markets, new products and services and rework their value propositions to make them even more compelling. it is also a time to make investments in new business models that will reap results in the long run. The best companies always use downturns to retool themselves and come out stronger when markets start looking up.
srinivasbk asked, Will india becomes a developed nation within 2020?
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Srinivas: I don't know by which exact year India will become a developmed nation, but we can definitely get their in our lifetimes. However, this will require enormous focus, dedication and strategic thinking. We must be willing to take hard decisions and do the fundamental reforms that will provide access to every young India to do better in their lives. We have once in a millenium strategic opportunity which we should not lose.
devansh asked,  Dear Sir, my only question is why guys like you, with such a deep understanding and passion about Indian culture, are reluctant to join politics? Why cant we have a political party actually started by educated people rather than cursing others who are busy dividing the country for their own benefits? People say that young generation should enter into politics; I am a ME graduate from IISc and i know many my friends, some from IIT, who are ready to join politics but then we need support and guidance from people like you. Surely you dont think someone will leave his good life just to work with and try to educate goons.
Nandan Nilekani answers, Dear Devansh: As I have been saying on several occasions, I have no plans to join politics. However, I do want to be an agent of change in India's transformation and fortunately, I have had many opportunities to contribute through my role in NATIONAL URBAN RENEWAL, National Knowledge Commission, Skills Mission etc. I believe that is equally a way to make a difference.
Nandan Nilekani says, Dear folks, thank you very much for a lively and entertaining chat. I am also very grateful to Rediff for giving me an opportunity to interact with their millions of loyal readers. I'll be back some time soon. As you know, I have many commitments, so I cannot continue this conversation at this time. Bye for now, and all the best in whatever you do. Happy New Year.