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Business Forum Focuses on India’s Emerging Markets

May 2003
Business Forum Focuses on India’s Emerging Markets

?It is said that India-US trade is as flat as the chapatti. But that?s not true. All chapattis are not necessarily flat. At least the ones I eat, the phulkas, are not flat. They are round and they bloat up.? That was the Hon. Ajay Malhotra, Minister of Commerce from the Embassy of India, Washington D.C. talking at the 9th annual Georgia Tech Global Business Forum. The forum this year was titled, ?India?s Emerging Markets: Opportunities and Strategies for U.S. Firms.?

The Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) in association with Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (GIACC) organized the special one-day forum on India?s emerging markets on April 9th at the Georgia Centers for Advanced Telecommunications Technology (GCATT). The event drew more than hundred business professionals from the telecommunication, information technology (IT), and biotechnology (BT) industry sectors for an interesting and enlightening discussion on the Indian trade industry regarding issues such as the ?new economy? sectors, offshore sourcing, and new business approaches among others.

The doors opened at half past eight in the morning and the panel discussions lasted till five in the evening. The Hon. Ajai Malhotra kicked off the morning session with a keynote address on the ?Indo-U.S. Economic and Commercial Relations in the Twenty First Century.?

In his speech he cited a rewarding coincidence on November 12th in the year 2000 when Bill Gates of Microsoft, the Forbes richest man in the United States, and Azim Premji of Wipro, the Forbes richest man in India, both announced investments of $400 million and $26 million respectively in each other?s countries. ?If you have trust in each other?s countries,? he said, ?you don?t need to look beyond.?

The morning keynote address was followed by panel discussions which comprised of speeches by distinguished speakers such as John Endicott, Director, Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy, Georgia Tech; John Dunning, Emeritus Professor of International Business, Rutgers University, New Jersey; Arvind Phatak, Carnell Professor of Strategic Management, and Associate Dean, Fox School of Business, Philadelphia; Abraham George, Chairman, eMedexOnline LLC, New Jersey; Hon. S.R.Tayal, Consul General of India, Houston, Texas; Linda Droker, Director, Office of South Asia and Oceania, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, DC; Vinod Keni, President and CEO, Aquarian Group LLC, Atlanta and John Gornall, Jr., Attorney, Arnall Golden Gregory LLC, Atlanta.

The highlight of the day, however, was the luncheon keynote address by Sam Pitroda, Chairman, World Tel Communication, London. The first founding chairman of the Telecom Commission of the Government of India and adviser to the Prime minister of India on technology missions, Sam Pitroda, lauded the development of India in the last 55 years from a country that hardly produced anything to a country that had undergone the green revolution (for food products), white revolution (for dairy products), television revolution and now the IT revolution.

He said that while the IT success stories give a great deal of confidence, we needed to use the technology to solve India?s major problems. ?We should never forget that only 2% of the Indian population lives in the information age. India has three economies. The business class economy that has access to luxury cars, internet, cell phones, computers and air travel is not the majority. The reforms and technology barely reach the 18% who live in the ?bicycle economy? and rarely benefit the alarming 80% who live in the ?bullock cart economy?,? he asserted.

Answering questions of eager attendees, Pitroda affirmed that ?e-governance,? including ?e-commerce? and ?e-health? was the only way to control the brain drain of computer professionals from India to other countries.

He further emphasized the education of women to building a stronger India. On the current women?s literacy campaign he said, ?Unfortunately, our entertainment is not educational and our education is not entertaining.?

The afternoon session of the forum began with the address of Ani Agnihotri, Chair, GIACC on the Biotech sector in India. Quoting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, he said that IT stands for ?India Tomorrow? and BT for ?Bharat Tomorrow.? ?The commitment of the Government of India is evident by the fact that the budgetary allocations to this sector have increased over the decades from a mere $80 million to $600 million,? he affirmed.

Following Ani Agnihotri, Saby Mitra, Professor of Information Technology Management at the Dupree College of Management, gave a stimulating presentation on IT offshore outsourcing in India. His presentation served to re-emphasize the statement made by Pitroda during his address. ?I often tell my wife that when you call Cathy for your Sears card you are probably talking to Kanta from India.?

Other speakers in the afternoon session were Ilan Alon, Professor, Crummer Graduate Business School, Orlando and George Lancaster, Managing Director, International Business Development, AmericasMart.

The second half of the afternoon session focused on the real-life success stories of firms having operations in India. Amongst the experiences discussed were those of The Coco-Cola Company, American Megatrend Inc., NIIT-USA, and Manhattan Associates.

The success stories were reminding of the contrasts in India. In fact, this contrast was most clearly demonstrated by Arvind Phatak, Associate Dean, International Business Programs, Fox School of Business, Philadelphia, in the morning session, when he cited the example of the women with yellow hats.

?Part of the construction work force that built high-tech, high-rise buildings, these women would earlier use only a piece of cloth to support the rubble over their heads. Today, however, they use yellow hats with a flat surface. Though an indication of India moving forward, the reality is that in spite of getting into the high-tech era, India remains poor.?

At the end of the day, during the Consul?s general reception, Vinita Bali, Vice President, Corporate Strategy, The Coca-Cola Company commented on the success of the event: ?The forum exhibits a great initiative on part of the GIACC and Georgia Tech. The various discussions have demonstrated and highlighted opportunities for collaboration between India and the United States.?

?A very informative forum,? confirmed Shankar Subramonian, President American Megatrend Inc. Indu Sharma of IIIrd Millennium Inc. claimed that the forum was ?one of the best? she had attended. ?It was extremely illuminating because one got to hear the views of different people from different backgrounds. You could see both the advantages and disadvantages of trading in India.?

While realistically assessing the drawbacks of the Indian trade industry, the forum served to dispel many misconceptions about India. It sought to strengthen Indo-U.S. trade relations. As Sam Pitroda poignantly noted, ?India and the United States have a lot to trade with each other. The United States can offer India its work culture, work ethics and professionalism while India can offer romantic business opportunities to the U.S.?

In concurrence, Ani Agnihotri of GIACC said, ?The forum, which took nearly a year and a half to plan and execute, has put India and GIACC on center stage. It is about time the Indian community and organizations focus on India?s positives rather than the negatives.? As Linda Droker from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, DC rightly observed, ?India is about potential but that potential is far from being tapped.?

Well, gauging the mood in Consul?s general reception, it could be said that the heavy downpour on April 9th had definitely not dampened the spirits of the professionals in the GCATT building.

- Deepa Agarwal

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