INDIA … INCREDIBLE INDIA

I just spent 2 days in Bangalore at SAP Labs India delivering a series of management workshops and some lectures to different groups of staff. It is about 7 years since I was last there and the changes are staggering.

Since I first visited India in 1997, I have always argued that India would explode onto the world, even more than China, and was involved in the set-up of the LABS in Bangalore in 1998 when I was CEO SAP Asia Pacific. I had no doubt that China would succeed, primarily as the world’s low cost factory, but I believed that India would succeed because of the enormity of its intellectual capital.
China encourages education but not intellect, as that creates dissidents. India on the other hand was always a country of dissidents … currently over 1 billion of them.

When we set up SAP Labs in Whitefield, Bangalore in 1998 we leased the top 3 floors of a new building which sat alone proudly in fields that stretched for miles. Today that same building is dwarfed by its neighbours and the whole area is built up with corporate campuses (mainly technology companies) and those that service them. The growth is mind boggling, and it’s not just the global hi tech companies. Home grown TCS alone will add 90,000 people in India in 2011. That is not much less than the total number of people employed globally full time in IT when I wrote my first piece of elementary code in 1965 on an Eliot 803 in machine code.

Now SAP Labs stretches across a campus of 21 acres and multiple facilities with almost 4000 staff and has had to expand into neighbouring rented buildings to handle their growth.

What has always impressed me about India is that the people have an unshakeable belief in the future of their country no matter what obstacles they have to overcome, and younger Indians have built their own belief in their personal future on top of this, based on an understanding that it is totally up to them to drive this future. I compare this with the general cynicism in France where I live, where everyone blames their personal state of affairs on external factors and thus expects the Government to take responsibility for each individual citizen’s life opportunities. This Indian attitude to life has even strengthened in the last 14 years since I first encountered it. In 1997 most young Indians had a strong desire to move to the US, as this was seen as the land of opportunity. Today young Indians I meet would love an overseas assignment somewhere interesting and different, and where they can learn and build their skill set and experiences, but have no real burning desire to move away from India in the long term.

I don’t blame them.

Whilst there is still a giant chasm between those at the high end of the social structure and those at the bottom, the chasm is being slowly but inexorably filled in, and I have met many young Indians from poor backgrounds who through the opportunity for education have managed to cross this divide.

India also still needs a concerted effort to drive out corruption at all levels, but I believe that the desire and momentum are there to address this, even though I am sure that it will not be a quick fix.

This is a country where each generation still has a belief that their responsibility is to improve the lot of those that follow them. This was always the dream of the “new world” when millions emigrated from war ravaged Europe in the late 40s and 50s to build better lives for their families in places like the US, Canada, Australia and NZ, with the promise of reward for hard work and unlimited opportunities to better ones lot.
It was for these reasons that my family emigrated to Australia from France in 1951, and we did find a land of opportunity and an explosive energy and certainty about the possibility of building a great future for all, and it has becomea reality there.
In this respect, India feels the same to me today as Australia did 60 years ago and I have no doubt that they too will succeed in many incredible ways.

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11 Responses to INDIA … INCREDIBLE INDIA

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention INDIA … INCREDIBLE INDIA « Les Hayman's Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. Frank says:

    An interesting and positive view. I guess my view is a little more reserved, I feel Indians don’t value staff as people, and the caste system is still strong, and I have seen less capable people promoted because they are from the correct caste. There were interesting stories and lessons learnt from the recent Commonwealth games, buildings incomplete, falling down, poor quality, the games launched only because sheer numbers could be sent in to patch things. My experience with outsourcing to India, is it takes 10 times the number of meetings and 10 times the number of people to deliver, so 4000 people do the work of 400. But they are educated, at times brilliant. A force to be recognised but caste, lack of people respect and corruption are current constraints, but changing, MS Dohni is now captain of the cricket team, the first of his caste I believe.

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Frank,
      I feel the incredible thing about india is how far they have come in just the last decade. We need to understand that in IT, as one example, we have had more than 50 years to create an IT industry and a culture to support it, whilst India has had about a quarter of that. It therefore makes little sense to believe that they will have the same level of maturity that we do in the west … the same with management as a profession.
      Give them another decade, and I doubt that we will see the same gap.
      At this stage India is still largely a cheaper “bums on seats” culture, but I believe that it will change quickly to greater maturity and quality over the coming decade or so.
      Les

  3. nickie hamilton says:

    Hi Les
    I love to hear opinions like these that have a positive bent. Listening to mainstream media quells all hope it is so pessimistic.
    Apparently India has a lot more younger people than China due to China’s one child policy .I believe this would make them a more dynamic nation becuase we tend to get more resistant to change as we age. Also being a democracy gives them more freedom for expression.
    Perhaps if corruption can be stifled the focus of China being the next economic giant will be shifted to the south.
    Regards Scott

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Scott,
      i agree that having a generation of educated, smart, energetic, hard-working young people fighting for change is what will propel India over the coming decade.
      Les

  4. Elie O'Han says:

    Les

    My god!! You’ve shaved off your moustache!!! 🙂

    Cheers
    Elie

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Elie,
      As you get older it’s important to get rid of grey growths that can catch food … not very elegant to have bits of breakfast hanging around all day. 🙂
      Les

  5. Sowmya says:

    Hi Les,
    Awesome article on India and Indians. Thanks for the belief you have towards us. We young Indians definitely will make radical changes. The basic secret is that Indians are hard-workers and hard-workers can sustain easily. We also believe that we would shake US in some decades for sure ;-). During 2010, Obama was flustered and said no outsourcing business to India anymore. However, they cannot do that.

    Yes, corruption is the major thing we need to eradicate completely. Trust me all youngsters are working towards this. In fact, in Swiss bank their are major money is accounted by Indians they say. Quite sad!

    I’m really overwhelmed after reading your article.

    Thanks again
    Sowmya

  6. Alexey Shlykov says:

    Hi Les,

    A fascinating report on your trip to Bangalore… While at SAP Canada, I was always wondering who are the guys behind the ABAP and Java lines in my projects – now I know. I also liked the warmth and respect you feel towards the people of India. In fact it reminded me of Greg Roberts’ novel ‘Shantaram’ that became my personal favorite last year.

    All the best,
    Alexey

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