Ritu Jha –
John Chambers, Chairman of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) has been honored with the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award conferred by the Government of India, in 2019.
Known as a leading figure in technology and a speaker and mentor, he has also been a great advocate of India in international fora.
Chambers joined Cisco in 1991 and oversaw its growth from a $70 million company to a net worth of $1.2 billion when he became CEO in 1995. When he stepped down as CEO, Cisco was a $47 billion behemoth.
In an interview with indica, after being honored with the Padma Bhushan, Chambers who is a big backer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, spoke about his faith that India’s growth trajectory and Modi’s governance are going in the right direction to ensure sustained economic growth. He acknowledged the challenges but felt it was important to stay focused on long-term goals. As he put it, “I believe India has the potential to not only become a true player on the global stage but to also be seen as one of the leading startup nations of the world.”
Here are excerpts from the interview.
Congratulations on being honored with the Padma Bhushan. How important is this for you? Why?
I am extremely honored to have received this award from the government of India. I have always been a big believer in the country, and I have loved watching India grow from a slow follower to a fast innovator in recent years. Even more, I have had the opportunity to watch this change happen up close, visiting India often and meeting with business leaders and others, like Prime Minister Modi. In my opinion, the future is extremely bright for India and I will continue betting big on the country this year and beyond.
What are your priorities as chairman of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, especially with regards to India?
As chairman of USISPF, I work closely with business and government leaders in both countries to create meaningful opportunities that have the power to change the lives of citizens. We are committed to creating the most powerful strategic partnership between the US and India [possible] by encouraging the business and government sectors to come together in new ways. It’s been great to watch USISPF grow since our launch in 2017 – our member base has grown to approximately 250, the team has grown to more than 20 people, and we’ve held hundreds of events in both countries to spur greater collaboration between the two countries.
People say you are a huge supporter of Prime Minister Modi. What is your assessment of how he runs the country?
I think Prime Minister Modi and his government are taking the right steps to boost economic growth in India by prioritizing the “Digital India” plans and making India a startup nation in general. The country is promoting innovation and entrepreneurism because those are the drivers of innovation, jobs and economic growth in the Digital Age. I am confident in Prime Minister Modi and would even go as far to say that he is one of today’s best global leaders He is certainly in the top three in my book.
You are the founder of JC2 Ventures. Have you invested in India? How do you find India’s startup ecosystem compared to those in other countries?
Yes, I have two startups based in India – Uniphore and Lucideus.
Uniphore is transforming the entire consumer service experience with their patented speech technology (specifically voice analytics, assistants and biometrics). Their technology uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to build transformational conversational solutions for businesses. Uniphore’s CEO, Umesh Sachdev, recently moved to Silicon Valley to focus on the expansion of their U.S. business, which is really exciting.
The other startup from India in the JC2 portfolio is Lucideus. They are at the forefront of cybersecurity with a platform that integrates the existing technology stack of an enterprise with real-time cyber risk assessments at a macro-level across the organization, which can be broken down into micro-level scoring individually for each asset. They have an extremely smart CEO in Saket Modi, who is not afraid to dream big and move ahead of market transitions. These two startups are headed for great things in the future.
To answer your second question, the other country I would compare India to in terms of their startup ecosystem would be France. I think both President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Modi are setting aggressive startup agendas because they both understand the need to become a startup nation. The US, for example, does not have a plan at the government-level to foster startups and entrepreneurship, and startups will be what drives economies forward in the future. France has created and invested in initiatives, like La French Tech, Station F, and the French Tech Visa, that will continue to propel them forward in the future, similar to the long-term government plans in India.
India is up eight spots in the global IP Index, to become 36th out of 50 nations – but other reports talk of challenges ahead as well. What is your take on this?
It’s also worth mentioning that India has also risen five places to become the 58th most competitive economy on the World Economic Forum’s Index. It’s the most improved G-20 economy, thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s policies that put digital first, such as in Digital India, which ensures that the government’s services are made available to citizens electronically by improved online infrastructure and increased Internet connectivity, among other things.
I think Prime Minister Modi has laid the foundation for the next 25 years, and while there are always challenges when leaders are trying to make real change, what’s important to stay focused on are the long-term goals. The country has done a good job of this and if they continue staying focused on the long-term, I believe India has the potential to not only become a true player on the global stage but to also be seen as one of the leading Startup Nations of the world.
What can India do to further the ease of doing business in the country? And with both the countries arguing over tariff issues, how challenging does this become?
As I mentioned before, staying focused on the long-term goals are key. India has to continue cutting down the red tape for startups, so more companies and investors alike look to India as a place to invest in, which will lead to more unicorns, IPOs, and, ultimately, jobs created. We can specifically do this by providing tax incentives to startups, protecting and expediting patents, and encouraging female entrepreneurship.
On the question about tariffs, I have always believed that all countries need to work on building relationships that are a win-win on both sides. I believe the US-India partnership has the potential to be the most strategic in the world and I also feel confident that those ties will continue to grow stronger as our business and government sectors continue to work closely together. I think the US-India strategic partnership is one that will eventually serve as a model for the rest of the world.
What would you say are the barriers to India’s growth, as well as the barriers to lowering the unemployment rate?
I wholeheartedly believe that startups will be the core driver of economic growth, GDP growth, and jobs in the future, so that is where India needs to stay focused. On a scale of one to 10, I would give the Indian government a nine in terms of improvement in creating the right environment for startups, but we need to do it again over the next three years to maintain the success we have seen up until now.
With the general elections coming up in India, how can the corporate sector assuage their anxieties about the future?
Anxiety is an emotion, and I have always said leaders have to deal with emotion by looking at the facts. The facts are that India is going in the right direction in terms of fostering entrepreneurship and making it easier to do business in the country. We already talked about the increase in standing on the Ease of Doing Business Report and the World Economic Forum Index, and I think looking at the action that has continued through Prime Minister Modi’s policies with startups is very positive.