Tatas chief Chandrasekaran says India better placed than ever to succeed

iNDICA News Bureau-

In March 2022, the Hoover Institution launched a program focusing on ‘Strengthening U.S.-India Relations: India’s Opportunities in the 2020s’, featuring a speaker series exploring various ideas.

The second speaker panel in the series was conducted May 17 and featured a dialogue between two august speakers — Condoleezza Rice and N Chandrasekaran.

The event saw a wide-ranging conversation about India’s potential in the next decade as a pivotal actor in advancing global security and prosperity.

Condoleezza Rice is best known for her service as U.S. National Security Advisor (2001-02) and, later, as the 66th U.S. Secretary of State (2005-09) during the presidency of George W Bush. She is director of the Hoover Institution and founding partner of Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC, an international strategic consulting firm.

Natarajan Chandrasekaran, a former chief executive of Tata Consultancy Services, is now chairman of the board at Tata Sons, the holding company and promoter of all Tata Group companies. He also chairs the boards of several group companies like Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata Power, Air India, Tata Chemicals, Tata Consumer Products, Indian Hotels and TCS.

The discussion began with an informal question that provided an invaluable lesson. Asked how training for the marathon had affected his mindset, Chandrasekaran said, “It teaches me to focus on the training. For a four-hour run you take 400 hours of training, so you learn the importance of preparation and of being physically fit to make a success of yourself by being able to perform.”

In his capacity as head of the Tata Group, Chandrasekaran knows better than most the requirements for performing at a high level.

Of the Tata Group itself, Chandrasekaran was quick to point to its orientation. “Societal impact is deeply ingrained in the ethos of the group,” the chairman said. “Our founder said that what comes from the people should go multiple times into people.” That mindset permeates the entire organization.

The group itself has incredible breadth, with employees working with “not only different industries but also different industrial leaders – we have the key operatives, value chains and basic structure of all industries involved with the group”.

At the moment, the organization has “a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for companies and for India with the transitions into digital economy, sustainable energy, renewable energy, AI, etc”. So, he said, his job “is to have an aspirational agenda, get the right talent and build the right strategy to see this through”.

Even as TCS has grown from a small company with revenues of about U.S. $7 million in 1986, when Chandrasekaran joined as a graduate engineer, to a behemoth with revenues of U.S. $25 billion and market capitalization of over $200 billion, the country, too, has changed. “India has undergone massive transformation from what it was at the time of Independence,” Chandrasekaran said. “India’s technology growth in particular has given us some serious brand power – largest technology power in the world.”

He admitted that the country is still grappling with critical problems, “particularly regarding jobs and access for most of the country”. But given that he is the author of a book outlining how technology can help address India’s inequality issues, it was no surprise when he said, “All India’s problems will be solved by technology.”

Asked what India must do to make sure it is able to make the most of the current global economic and geopolitical environment, he said that unlike on such occasions before, there is actual potential for the current efforts to succeed.

Chandrasekaran sees “a really aspirational consumer class and business class, a policy framework that has been built over the past five years that has enormous potential, and a global demand that India succeed in its effort”. He believes this combination makes the current efforts of the government very likely to succeed.

However, he also said “we need to address skills, we need to address SMEs, we need to address the declining participation of women in the work force and we need to address execution across government and the private sector” to make sure the country reaches its growth potential.

Asked by a member of the audience how the Indian diaspora could contribute to resurgence, economic development and energy transition in India, he said the Tata Group had started attracting some top talent from abroad.

He said the opportunity to create something on a big scale in India attracts members of the diaspora, and Indian companies need to reach out more and bring some of the emigrated talent back.

“What we need is leadership,” he said, “and Indian companies and governments must invest in research.” He considers India’s lack of major research institutions an enormous weakness in promoting vision, innovation and leadership amongst the workforce.

Chandrasekaran said Indian companies must learn to integrate these skills from U.S. corporations, and in cases like these, Indians who have been primarily based abroad could provide an invaluable perspective.

Regarding India’s partnership with the U.S., he said, “The trust level and partnership between India and the U.S. has developed very significantly in the last 15 years… we used to talk about ‘natural allies’, but there was a trust deficit.”

Of course, it will take time to resolve all existing issues, as “every country operates from the position of where they are and not from the position of where they wish they were”, but if resolved, he said, “the opportunity is just enormous. If we can bring all the talent to bear, then we can really build something special.”

The Hoover Institution at Stanford University is a public policy think tank promoting the principles of individual, economic and political freedom.