Peter Coates, on the podium here at NASSCOM, is deputy director of finance at the Department of Health.
Peter Coates, on the podium here at NASSCOM, is deputy director of finance at the Department of Health.
I was a couple of minutes late getting to the session yesterday morning on global corporate social responsibility with the keynote speech from Professor Amartya Sen.
It was absolutely packed, with standing room only at the back. However, I was able to spot several CEOs from leading global IT firms – it’s encouraging that they see this as a valuable use of their time.
Professor Sen didn’t hold back and certainly packed some punches. There is clearly a long road to travel before the impact of the many CSR projects supported by the global IT industry really gain some traction. He was very clear about how the IT industry can bring most value. It holds intellectual and financial resources, but also demonstrates initiative which is critical to making things happen.
Professor Sen himself champions many initiatives which improve global communities – and he often brings a different approach. He recognised that we rely on newspapers for our information and has been involved in the set up of a charitable foundation that looks at the role of the media in CSR. Rather than just reporting on disasters, he wanted to encourage the press to highlight the day-to-day difficulties. The charity placed journalists in rural areas around India and they fed back to the large publishers whose willingness to carry this news has had an impact on the journey to solving it.
I bumped into Simon Caulkin, Management Editor of The Observer, yesterday afternoon. He is also on his first trip to NASSCOM. He arrived into Mumbai this morning from a trip to Hyderabad, where he had visited some of the amazing CSR projects going on around the country - this time on the theme of education.
CSR is seen as an exceptionally important issue by companies around the world, and some of these India based projects seem to be leading the way. I'm really looking forward to to hearing from Prof Amartya Sen, Economist and Nobel Laureate, at the session on global CSR today...
The buzz at NASSCOM 2007 is exemplified by the number of top tier press circulating at this event. As well as the Indian nationals and leading trade press, I've met with journalists from the International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, The Times, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, Reuters, BusinessWeek Magazine and The Observer. When you step into the media centre, the place is bursting with journalists, and the computer terminals are busy with the sound of filing copy.
Alistair Cox has been a popular press choice so keep an eye out for Xansa coverage...
Deepak Malhotra from the Harvard Business School, was a great speaker. He had the audience's full attention from his first statement when he said that he started getting very interested in ‘Negotiating to win from a position of weakness’ around 18 months ago, which was coincidentally the time that he got married.
Typical of all good teachers, he engaged the audience with great examples and anecdotes.
He started with the example of the US President Roosevelt's campaign where the campaign manager had just printed 3 million brochures and included in it a picture of the president. The campaign team then realised that they did not have the copyright to the picture and could get sued for $1 per copy. That made the damage $ 3million (around $60million in today's money). They obviously had a number of options including going back to the photographer for permission but then would have to probably negotiate to pay a lower amount.
Guess what the campaign manager did? He sent a telegram to the photographer saying - "Opportunity for some free publicity, how much would you be willing to pay" and got the reply - not more than $250. Ignore the ethics of the approach, but look at the creativity and the presence of mind to come out of a tough and financially damaging position of weakness.
From then on, it was a great classroom session with three take away points with examples (was not quick enough to capture all the examples – apologies – I wish I knew shorthand!)
1. Approach your position by understanding the value you bring to the other side, and negotiate from the point of weakness of the other side. Essentially, negotiate from a distinct value proposition
2. If you can't leverage your strength, leverage your weakness
3. Change the game
He concluded by saying that all of these work well in a corporate, business environment, but that it doesn't work at home!
After all the speakers have left the stage it’s time head away and relax. Well yes and no... NASSCOM is as much about the networking value it brings as for the high quality speakers and informative debates. So it wasn’t until 9pm that the Xansa team managed to even leave the stand, there was so much interest in who we are, what we do, or how we’ve changed.
The message that we’re now 5,000 strong in India really has been a talking point by many who have known Xansa for some time and see this as a milestone. Alistair’s earlier talk, and especially his responses to questions, were the cause of a number of people to drop by the stand. One came with an offer of another speaking assignment in March. (I’m on 10% commission for that, Alistair.)
But the night is only getting started even at 9pm. The chefs are waiting to cook to order the excellent Indian and Thai cuisine. And what would Indian networking be without a free bar. I met up with some old contacts, like Nick Ashby, an Investor from Malaysia who comes every year to seek out new targets.
He told me an amusing story about when HSBC had just changed their name and found there was a rival in KL with a remarkably similar logo. Not a rival bank: this HSBC was a restaurant called Hot and Spicy Bengali Cuisine. After refusing to budge on the name, the bank’s employees seemed to have taken the restaurant to heart and can be found there most evenings.
Later on I chatted to Som Mittal, a past chairman of NASSCOM, who is SVP of HP in Asia Pacific. Som is one of the key people at the heart of the Indian software industry and it was a treat to listen to his views on the philosophical points brought out so eloquently by Nobel laureate, Amartha Sen, noting the importance of giving back to the community and keeping a sense of proportion. We’ll hear more on this theme on Friday.
That was it, time to sleep ready for another day.
Well, as I write this it is technically day two as it’s just touched midnight, or 6.30pm UK time. I learnt a great trick this evening for an yone who’s struggled to convert India time to UK time - if you turn your watch upside down you’ll get the answer. Try it. Of course this does only apply in the Winter months before (is it before or after?) daylight savings. And doesn’t translate to digital. If Steve’s reading this, I started at 8am, so I’ve achieved my double shift targets already.
The conference kicked off with a session sponsored by International Business Wales (IBW). This is the new name for the Welsh Development Agency as Martyn Jenkins and Andrew Davis were telling me the evening before. Anyone who has travelled British Airways over the past years can hardly fail to notice the WDA/IBW’s advertising on the in-flight entertainment. They have been sponsors of NASSCOM for every year while I have been attending; indeed I had met Martyn and Andrew the previous year. They adopt a similar approach across Asia and have been extremely successful in attracting inward investment from countries, especially around Asia, into Wales.
It was a high-quality panel that tackled the question: Fuelling Indo-EU Trade & Investments: Build or Buy Challenges. There were a couple of Indian companies and a couple from Europe. Bernard Bourigeaud, the Chairman of French firm Atos Origin, commented that the UK was more advanced in outsourcing than the rest of Europe. The Netherlands followed. Germany and France, he believed, were now in the awareness building phase, while he said Spain and Italy felt they already offered a low cost sourcing option for the rest of Europe.
He cautioned that, in an offshoring relationship, both sides needed time to learn to know each other better. This, he concluded for Atos Origin, meant that while acquisitions would not be out of the question, he wanted to grow his Indian operation organically – so Build not Buy.
On being asked about the attitudes held by French businesses to offshoring, Bernard noted that some of the Government-sponsored firms are under real pressure to reduce their cost base, and he concluded will have to go to India because low-cost French-speaking countries, outside of France, simply do not have the capacity for the demand.
Read his latest report on the Bangalore Tigers blog on how he 'shook things up' on the topic of The Changing Rules of Global Competition... It's good reading.
Here's Steve on the podium at NASSCOM
A lot of it was common sense (but then it is quite uncommon) but made great listening! Patrick Snowball, Group Executive Director of Aviva had a five-point takeaway on what good leadership has to do. He made the team central to leadership by quoting Isaac Newton: “If I have seen beyond others, it's because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
His five-point takeaway:
1. Absolute clarity of vision and goal
2. Make sure point number one is easily understood
3. Lead by example. Be a leader who says 'come on' and not 'go'
4. Be flexible. Tell people 'what to do' and not ' how to do it'
5. Demand teamwork and celebrate collective success
He concluded by saying – listen, assess, consult and then execution has to be ruthless and focused.
It made a good checklist – especially rule number four. I have to fully agree with him, otherwise all you are doing is everyone else's job and probably will end up making a mess of it.
Accenture COO Steve J. Rohleder focused on qualities of leaders. He said leaders need to be voracious lifelong learners, open to new ideas and adapt; they must be interactive, engaging – essentially good listeners; they need to have self knowledge ie know themselves.
Lakshmi Narayan brought in the challenges of managing a workforce in India and also how leadership can be affected by the pressures of the stock market for a listed company.
My disappointment with the session was that all discussions were around hierarchical leadership at the executive and senior management level. There was an assumption that leaders were only at the top. Leaders, I believe, exist, nay, need to exist, at all levels within the organisation.
The way we are structured necessitates this. Rob Goffee, in his book 'Why should anyone be led by you' (recommended reading) articulates this through the examples of team leaders, shift supervisors, etc.
I fully agree with Goffee and believe leadership is all pervasive and needs to be embedded in the fabric of organisations across levels. What else is succession planning all about? How else can we ensure that troops on the ground are the acorns that grow into oaks?
Despite all that having read through Goffee's book and Execution: The discipline of getting things done by Ram Charan & Larry Bossidy (more recommended reading), it was good to see that the examples in the books and the leaders on the panel had common themes.
Organisations talk about developing and grooming people, the pool from which leaders emerge. This is a serious investment they can ill afford to ignore!
Before the opening session concluded, it was a very touching gesture by NASSCOM to recognise the efforts of two people - Sunil Mehta and Arun Kumar - who contributed to both NASSCOM and the Indian IT industry. Their widows were awarded with plaques.
Had to bring a tear to your eye. It did to mine.
India’s central statistics office has chosen today to release news of an 18-year high in Indian GDP growth. As if the atmosphere here needed any more buzz! Here’s an excerpt from the Reuters coverage:
“India's economy is expected to grow 9.2 percent in the financial year ending in March, which would be its fastest growth rate in 18 years, driven largely by services and manufacturing, the government said on Wednesday.
In its first official growth estimate for 2006/07, the central statistics office said manufacturing output growth was estimated at 11.3 percent compared with 9.1 percent a year ago.
The economic growth estimate was higher than a Reuters poll of 10 analysts who forecast growth of 8.6 percent and was above the Reserve bank of India's forecast of 8.5-9.0 percent.”
Read the full story here.
The keynote speech at the inauguration session of NASSCOM was provided by Prof. Amartya Sen, a well known economist and a Nobel Prize winner.
He spoke on the topic of what IT companies could do more of to help the Indian Society. The Indian IT industry is a child of globalisation but it is somewhat of a problem child as well because it is seen as taking away people's jobs in the West and also not doing enough to the Indian Society at large. It is on this topic that Mr. Sen spoke at length.
Mr. Sen has a wonderful sense of humour and he opened the session commenting that, when he
had received the invite, he did wonder why NASSCOM was inviting an economist and perhaps there had been a case of mistaken identity!
He did share a couple of anecdotes that threw the audience into laughter. He impressed on us that the IT industry should be obligated to the Indian society because, if not for the focus on technical education after Independence and also the liberalisation of 1991, the IT industry would not be where it is now.
He added that the 'literacy for all' programme still has a long way to go in India compared to other countries and that should be an area of focus.
My key take away from this session is that the IT industry and, more importantly employees in this sector, should contribute more to the betterment of society in India in whatever way they can.
The complete text of Prof. Sen's speech should be made available to us in the next couple of days and as soon as we get it, we will load it into this blog.