He loves teaching but finds satisfaction in doing business. Naushad Forbes, the new President of Confederation of Indian Industry for 2016-17 & Co-Chairman, Forbes Marshall, spoke to M Rajendran of Express, and opened up his mind and heart for India to achieve higher rate of growth and also laid out the future plan for CII. Excerpts:
What is your leadership mantra?
I would never ask anyone to do something that I would find it uncomfortable doing myself. It is important to provide some direction to your team, but that direction cannot be just my bright idea. It has to be that, which everyone collectively subscribes to and believes in it. Arguments are welcome, that form the inputs to that collective idea to achieve the ultimate. Involve all those people who are going to be crucial in the implementation of that strategy.
Who inspires you?
My father and mother. Both have a different take on a topic, but they somehow would converge. Father in particular, who find time for everything and everyone in the middle of his busy business schedule. He always conveyed message by what he did rather than what he said. He taught me, each person matters. Then my brother, he thinks everyone is good. And my professor Jim Adams who taught me creativity, he had a view that one has to think through before embarking on even a small idea. Another professor Alex Inkleses, who had theory, based on many companies including a few from India, that, if you had a problem with one institution, you do not fix it, but start a new one.
You surely do not want to start a new CII?
No (laughs loudly), you need to reform something that is broken, CII is in a rude health. It is a powerful organisation because of its spread on the ground--66 cities across the country with offices in nine countries. It is in a rude health because of a committed and knowledgeable secretariat. The challenge for me is to contribute best of my ability and for that I am going to support all the good things that are happening, initiated by my predecessors. Then to decide how to go beyond that.
How do you plan to do that?
The thought I have is, we should be moving in the industry with adequate focus. Help in enhancing the technical capability, higher education, it certainly does not mean only technical education but in liberal arts and social sciences, currently there is a huge gap. We have very few world class institution in India in terms of the work done in the field of liberal arts and social sciences. A few private institutes have started work on these areas and we all should help promote such efforts.
In technical areas, IITs and IIMs have done a tremendous work. The pace of coordination between industry and educational institutions has been slow?
What we have done in Western region can be replicated. We have productised the interactions between the industry and academia. We are focussing on scaling the quality of education, for example internship for students, can we productise sabbaticals for the faculty members in the industry, guest lectures, involving industry in the curriculum, in governing board. Such effort will make the interaction more powerful and productive for both.
But why not industry bodies start their own institutes ?
We are working on those line and the first CII University is being planned in Andhra Pradesh. The land has been allocated to us to set up the University, which will offer full services with subjects in social sciences and humanities.
You are a busy person. How do you relax?
I read and listen to music.
What are you reading currently?
I am reading the latest book by Mihir Sharma—Restart. The last chance for the Indian Economy.
What do you listen?
Mainly western classical. I find it very relaxing. No such favourite when I was young and used to be widespread in my selection, but as I grew older it has become narrower.
You have been Professor at Stanford. What is your message for youth?
Do what you love. I used to teach one term a year and people used to ask me, which I enjoy more, teach or the working in the industry back home. I still say teaching. But I recognised that if I never ever went back to Stanford and if Stanford had not heard of, it would not be any worse an University. So I feel that I made much more of a difference here and that’s what gave me satisfaction. So each person has to decide where they can make a difference. Pick an area where you can really contribute, then you will not only do it well but will also enjoy it.
As CII President you seem to be confident that 8% GDP is possible? Why?
As an economy, India should grow at 7-8 per cent in any case. That will get us where we want to be. It means we will include many more people in the growth process. The focus should be on primary education and skill development from nutrition and hygiene perspective. If we can worry about school education, about providing quality skills, that can add significant productivity gains to the economy for a very little cost. This will take us to the growth and then we would require a policy directive. I am not arguing against the need for safety nets, you need those as part of a civilised nation. But, the right way to grow is through private initiative, private enterprise and the freeing and fostering of the entrepreneurial spirit on a widespread way.