Author's Note : To my mind Indians are inherently entrepreneurial. However, lack of confidence in their ability to compete internationally has held back Indian business. Compounded of course by the high cost of inputs due to structural imbalances.

Dec 31

Posted in: Geopolitics Posted by: P S Billimoria

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THE NEW BREED

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Not too long ago, Indian industry was dominated by a handful of powerful business families. Although most family managed groups hired professional managers, the family’s “style” of doing business would cast a gloomy shadow over corporate fortunes. Very often, despite professionalism among the ranks when it came to the crunch, the archetypal pot-bellied “sethji”, would call the shots.

The implications of family managed culture excite comment, which shall be profoundly mentioned in these columns another day, Currently however, suffice to say, that at the end of the seventies, it would have seemed to the casual surveyor of Indian industry, that industrialists are those who are born in the right family. And then, without prior warning, there emerged, a new breed of entrepreneurs – the whizz-kids of Indian business. These were either the technocrats, or simply honest – to- goodness small businessmen, who hit pay dirt, through a combination of luck and the spirit of free enterprise. Suddenly, these men with no lineal backing, but with stout hearts and nothing to lose, were ranking in the profits and hogging the lime light. Men like Dhirubhai Ambani became instant celebrities.

In retrospect, what did these men achieve and what are the secrets of their success? To my mind, these entrepreneurs proved a few things to a lot of people. First and most important of all, they proved that IT CAN BE DONE. We now know, that it is possible for a village bumpkin to make it big. We also know that it can be done INSPITE OF all problems. Until recently, most businessman would blame the Government for their woes. If their product was inferior, it was because the Government would not allow them to import new technology. If the business did not expand, it was because of excessive controls and red tape. Though these problems are genuine, the difference is that the new breed of entrepreneurs stopped complaining and learnt how to overcome these problems.

And how was this achieved? Quite simply by the spirit of free enterprise and the will to succeed which is born out of it. For instance, the makers of ‘Nirma’ did not complaint that the Government was permitting multinational Hindustan Lever to make detergents. Instead, it simply went ahead and competed with Lever’s ‘Surf’. The results are there for all to see. In the ultimate analysis, it is the consumer who benefits which is the basic and sound logic of a Laisse’z faire system.

Hence, to my mind, the greatest contribution of the new breed of entrepreneurs has been the rejuvenation of the spirit of free enterprise. Their success can be gauged from the fact that as we enter the next decade, most of the gargantuan family empires have dismantled their holdings and split up into smaller units which are learner and able to compete effectively in a professional environment. And so, it is not difficult to envisage excitement and challenge on the economic front.

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