Harvard Business School’s first annual India Business Conference, organized by the South Asian Business Association (“SABA”) and Co-Chaired by Class of 2004 students Manoj Dengla (OJ) and Apu Sengupta (OB), proved to be an outstanding success as the organizers accommodated more than 720 attendees – a record attendance at a first time conference. The attendees were an even mix of Indians and Americans, with many students having traveled across the country to attend the event.
The event had over 40 speakers of Indian origin, representing top organizations, Fortune 500 companies and think-tanks in the U.S. and India. It was the first time that the school’s South Asian Business Association organized an India focused conference. Given the recent positive press on India relating to its powerful economy, the event was particularly well-timed and welcomed by all who attended.
The conference’s three keynote speakers included Rajat Gupta, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Co. Inc.; Naina Lal Kidwai, Managing Director and Vice Chairman, HSBC Securities and Capital Markets India Private Ltd.; and Pramod Haque, Managing Partner of Norwest Venture Partners. Over 700 attendees filled Burden Auditorium for both the afternoon and evening keynote speakers.
Some of the other speakers and panelists included Montek Singh Ahluwalia, former Finance Secretary of India; Vikram Gandhi, Managing Director of Morgan Stanley Inc.; Raman Roy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Wipro Spectramind; Sabeer Bhatia, Founder of Hotmail Corp.; Arup Gupta, president of Tata Consultancy Services, Americas and Mahesh Bhupathi, Wimbledon and U.S. Open Men’s Doubles champion.
The nine panels addressed business process outsourcing, venture capital, opportunities in South Asia, the future of organized retail in India as well as the future of India as an emerging super-power. Panel sessions such as the business process outsourcing and opportunities in South Asia drew huge crowds and offered standing room only.
“I will not fund a company that that has not figured out a way to outsource or if they don’t know if they will outsource,” said Pramod Haque, Managing Partner of venture capital firm Norwest Venture Partners and one of the keynote speakers. Haque said that while his firm did not fund business-process outsourcing firms, it was important that startup organizations make use of outsourcing to increase competitive advantage.
Norwest has more than $1.8 billion in venture capital and has funded over 350 companies since inception. People Soft Inc., Cast Iron Systems, Veraz Networks, Tivoli and Forte are some of the companies that have received funding from Norwest.
Discussions of India’s strong GDP growth and the resurgence of its capital markets also attracted large audiences and sparked debate.
HSBC Securities’ Kidwai said the boom in the Indian capital markets had increased opportunities for investment. Within India, a reduction in interest rates had helped reduce the cost of borrowing, spurring investment. Kidwai added that she and HSBC believed that the Indian capital market’s resurgence in 2003 (+75%) was highly sustainable, spurred by tremendous pockets of under-valued stocks and long-term spending on infrastructure. Coupled with India’s 2003 GDP growth of 8%+ and a strongly appreciating currency, India’s star was on the rise, she claimed.
A panel on opportunities for South Asians addressed how South Asians can create new businesses in India by making use of their education and experiences in the West and their understanding of South Asian markets and capabilities.
Another panel discussed how India is emerging as a good research and development center for drug companies. “Every pharmaceutical is looking to India or is focused on growing in India; if you don’t do this, you will miss the boat,” said Mak Jawedkar, chief financial officer of Novartis Pharma AG. Jawedkar was addressing a session on the Indian pharmaceutical and biotech industry in India.
The organized retail sector is also gathering momentum in India, said Kishore Biyani, managing director and CEO of Pantaloon Retail India Ltd. Pantaloon has 32 stores in 15 Indian cities. Biyani addressed a panel on the future of organized retail in India.
Indian cities will see a surge in shopping malls, said Neel Raheja, executive director of Shoppers’ Stop. Shopper’s Stop was one of the first to brand a retail shopping mall in India. Today the chain has 14 stores, and plans to add a further 25 stores by 2005, said Raheja.
For the attendees, the event was both satisfying and overwhelming. “I am very happy with the way the event went. I decided to go because I thought it was a good opportunity to meet other Indians who are interested in business,” said Mahesh Kumar, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, who attended the conference. “And because it was organized by Harvard Business School, I was sure of that there would be good speakers and the standard would be high,” added Kumar. “Speakers like Naina Lal Kidwai, and tennis player
Mahesh Bhupathi, particularly interested me.”
As the day wound to an end, the organizers reflected on a creditable achievement. The first India Business Conference had distinguished itself via the quality of its speakers, the pertinence of their message, the enthusiasm of the attendees and the flawless execution of the event that brought together CEOs, politicians, jurists and other business leaders. Set to become an annual event, the India Business Conference is likely to become of ever greater relevance to the HBS student body in the future as India’s development continues.