India Ready for the Big Leap Forward – Lord Karan Bilimoria

Lord Karan Bilimoria, CBE DL, Chairman, Cobra Beer addressing AIMA's Diamond Jubilee National Management Convention

Lord Karan Bilimoria, CBE DL, Chairman, Cobra Beer addressing AIMA’s Diamond Jubilee National Management Convention

Lord Karan Bilimoria, CBE DL, Chairman, Cobra Beer Partnership speaking about taking India to the greater heights, at AIMA’s Diamond Jubilee National Management Convention. Read Excerpts from his speech 

Congratulations to AIMA on your Diamond Jubilee, I’ve just come down from London via Dehradun. My mother lives in Dehradun, 81 years old, and I went to see her. And I met with the commanding officer of the Second fifth Gurkha Rifles frontier force, my father’s battalion, which he commanded in the liberation of Bangladesh. Dehradun is where I first got to know Sunil Munjal, it was my father who introduced me to Sunil when they were both members of the board of the Doon School. And he said to me, you must meet this impressive young man, he’s really good. My father was a very good judge of character, and I’m now so proud that this impressive young man is a very good friend of mine, he’s now chairman of the board of Doon School.

When I went to study in the UK, at the age of 19, I remember my father said, Son you’re going to the UK, hopefully, you will come back to India. But you may go and work somewhere else in the world, wherever you are in the world, integrate with the community that you’re living into the best of your ability but never ever forget your roots. And I’m speaking to you as a son of India because you can leave India, but India never leaves you. And I can’t stay away from my motherland for more than a few months before I get homesick. I always believe that before you look forward you have to look back. And history is very important. And I was a child born in Hyderabad, my father in the army, I went to 7 different schools.

The India that I was brought up in until the age of 19 was a country that had no respect in the world economy, it was a loser economy, a closed country, an insular country, an inward-looking country. India wasn’t working. As a consumer we were starved of choice, our family car was a triumph herald, 1950s model, then we got an ambassador 1950s model, and the other choice was a fiat, 1950s model in the 70s and 80s. But in the words of MLK, I had a dream, and I dreamed that India would open up and that one day India would liberalize and one day the greatness of this country would be unleashed on the world. And that one day started in 1991, but that was a long time ago, and then I look back to when I went to the UK is the early 1980s. The UK, this biggest empire the world had ever known, was a loser country. It was called the sick man of Europe, it was an economy going nowhere, it was down and out. It did not hold any respect, and I saw in front of my eyes the transformation of the UK. The UK that I went to, Entrepreneurship was looked down on, Second-hand car salesman, not for good people to do. The UK that I went to, I was told by my family and friends, if you stay on and work in the UK you will never get to the top because as a foreigner there would be a glass ceiling for you. And I’m ashamed to say they were right, 30 years ago. I trained with E&Y when I certified as a CA, there was one Indian partner, and they said he was a partner because his wife was English. Today that glass ceiling in the UK has been well and truly shattered, today anyone can get anywhere in the UK regardless of race, religion, or background. Today the UK is an aspirational country, in Ireland, an Indian has become Prime Minister, it’s not long before the UK has an Indian as PM.

What is it that led to the UK’s transformation? I think leadership has a great deal to do with it. Leadership in the form of one person, Margaret Thatcher. Like her or not, she was a strong leader, she had a vision, and she had the confidence to encourage entrepreneurship and open up the UK economy. Today, thanks to what she started, earlier in the city of London your opportunities of career enhancement was pretty limited if you weren’t from the right school, family, and background. It was a closed old boy shop. When she opened it up with a big bang in 1986, the city of London and the UK opened up, and now they are one of the most open economies in the world. London is the number one financial center in the world. Today the UK, a country that had an empire with only 1% of the world’s population, is still one of the 10 largest economies of the world, is still a global power, still has a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, G7, G8, G20, until recently top table of Europe, but we’ll talk about that later. The tiny country came second in the Olympics with 1% of the world’s population. Best in culture, media, entertainment, advanced engineering, aerospace, has the two top universities in the world; I’m proud of what the UK has done and is capable of. It all started, thanks to the leadership. Another aspect of the UK that has helped it to get where it is, is the sense of justice and fairness. To this day, the number one arbitration center in the world, where people will go to get a fair trial, is the UK and London. The only time I’ve ever been to court, I took on a big bank. I studied Law in Cambridge when you did a case study that involved a Bank the lecture would say that even before we start this case the bank always wins. We beat the bank, we won. And I saw justice in action at close quarters in the UK, and I think that sense of justice, free speech in the UK, absolutely free speech, a vibrant press, and democracy. And yet I compare the democracy in the UK with the democracy here. In the last elections I actually went, although I’m not entitled to vote over here, I went to see the elections in action. I went through the different checks as though I was a voter and saw how electronic voting takes place. Recently I said in the parliament in the UK that we still use a pencil and paper in the UK for voting. We need to learn from and catch up with India.

So here we are, the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. 70th anniversary of the famous speech, you know why it was made at midnight, 14th was made to be more auspicious than the 15th, the 15th was the decided day, so Jawaharlal Nehru made the speech at midnight, and we are midnight’s children, as Salman Rushdie said. What has the journey been in those 70 years? Where he had and he laid down that vision for India over its future. Have we achieved that vision? And although the liberalization started in 1991 it only really begun in 2002. These things take time, and then it took off in 2002, and I remember when I was appointed the UK chair of the Indo-British partnership and then which became the UK India business counsel. And at that time, there was a BJP government. Mr. Vajpayee was the PM and India’s growth was rocketing. India shining, do you remember that? What happened after that? They were voted out, why? Because people in the rural areas felt they were being left out, people felt it was not an inclusive growth, so the lessons of growth and the lessons of taking off are, it’s very easy when you are taking off to get overconfident. And I studied at the Harvard business school, and I remember they were teaching us you’ve got to be confident, but not arrogant. You’ve got to be ambitious, but humble. That I think is the lesson that has been learned.

And the leadership in India I believe, the leadership of many big organizations, big bureaucratic organizations, is a leadership where the fear of pain is greater than the pleasure of gain. Put in another way, do you play not to lose? Or do you play to win? And I think now, India is playing to win under Narendra Modi. I think Narendra Modi is India’s answer to Margaret Thatcher, and I think what she did that has made Britain what it is today, Narendra Modi has set us on that path. He’s got great initiatives, Swachh Bharat, but the reality, ideas are one thing, what about the reality. I’m sorry you drive around the towns of India, that cleanliness is not visible to me. But the idea is there, the intention is there. And I think one’s got to stick with it. In Nehru’s great speech, he quoted Mahatma Gandhi wanting to wipe every tear from every eye. Have we done that? India sent Mars missions at a fraction of the cost of NASA, India’s got a space programme that launched 10 satellites in one go and broke a world record, but there are still 300 million people living on less than a dollar a day and there is abject poverty in this country. The challenges are huge. And yet, we’re growing at 7% a year, but are we creating enough jobs? And this is where I go to looking at the essence of it all. Are we going to get there, how we’re going to get there, how fast are we going to get there? And you look at human rights; I’m a Zoroastrian Parsi, part of one of the smallest communities in the world. Do you know there are only 59,000 Parsis in India out of 1.25 billion people? And I’m proud to say anywhere I go if I say I’m a Parsi, people are happy that you’re a Parsi. And when Narayan Murthy, the first time I met him when he was a co-chair of the Indo-British partnership and I was the UK chair, he said, I love the Parsi community, I’ve never met a bad Parsi. And it meant a lot to me, and we forget this ancient religion was a religion of the Persian Empire. I said the British Empire was the biggest in the world, well yes, but the Persian Empire in the 6th century BC was the biggest in the world, 45% of humanity was under that empire. And Cyrus the Great then had Cyrus’ cylinder as the first document of Human Rights, giving the rights to his subjects, and in the UK in 2015 we just celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta which is seen as the modern foundation of Human rights.

So democracy to me is a human right. Health is a human right. And I was just hosting some senior Indian civil servants in parliament last week, and one of them is very senior in the health in India. And you know what India’s health budget is? It is tiny! In total if you add the central and state budget, it’s probably about 40 billion pounds. In the UK for just 65 million people we have a health budget of 120 billion pounds. And the NHS is still not perfect, and that’s overall 9% GDP spending in the private and public in the UK. In America, 17-18% of spending is on health. Just imagine if India had a sensible, high spending on health, how much better the state of the citizens of India would be. Looking ahead to the future, that’s got to be a priority. Education. I’m proud my university Cambridge and I chair the Cambridge Business School were number 5 in the year in the world now, Cambridge University and Oxford are number 1 and 2 in the world right now. I’m sorry, I’m being humbitious, I’m boasting, but I’m proud of it. But there is not one Indian university in the top 200 in the world. It’s American and British universities that are by far the best. China is starting to get lots of universities. One of the reasons is I think, although the IITs have produced some of the brightest people in the world, we need to open up our higher education if only foreign universities were allowed to open up in India, which they are not allowed to at the moment. Wow, what a difference that will make. And there are many universities waiting in the wings to open up in India that would help India and help India’s growth path.

The next point is entrepreneurship, the govt. can do so much for entrepreneurship. GST is there now, demonetization, whether it worked or not, the intention was good. To get rid of corruption. The Aadhar, giving people that financial inclusion more than anything else. And as Kennedy said, it all boils down to this expectation even in Britain, where 40% of our GDP is govt. spending, and it’s all about what can the govt. do for me. As Kennedy said, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. And if you have citizens that have that attitude, and govt is then a catalyst and creates the environment, that’s what makes a real difference. And then, before I conclude, crises, this has been a bumpy road. This growth story is going to be a very bumpy road, it’s not going to be smooth sailing, already India’s people, because of its free press and because of its democracy, and people are saying Oh is this growth story going to happen, are enough jobs being created, is this 7% going to carry on. And I’ve learned in my business, I’ve nearly lost it 3 times, and each of those 3 crises is very different, but 3 things saw me through each time. And those 3 things were exactly the same, and one was having a strong brand. And India is a very strong brand. Second is having the help and support of my family and my team, and wow the talent of India’s people is there. And the third is integrity. It is better to fail to do the right thing than to succeed doing the wrong thing. So India, with its deep history, Nalanda University, we have a brewery in Bihar. At the moment it’s closed because of the prohibition, it’s temporary. Nalanda University was closing down when Oxford and Cambridge were starting. Emperor Ashoka, who united India, what an empire that was, thousands of years ago. And I think that shows that when India is United, India is strong. I always marvel at how the British ruled this country with a very small number of people, and one of the simple reasons for that was that India was fragmented, India was not united. Today, India is united. Today we have seen the awards from different cities and different states around India. And as a marketer sense we have multiple identities, so for me, I’m a Parsi, I’m British, I’m an Asian and Britain, but I’m Indian. And every Indian from every corner of India is an Indian first. And finally, I think to achieve this vision of entrepreneurship, of education, of health, India has to be bold. The Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo, his motto was ‘Fortune Favors the Brave, Fortune Favours the Bold’. And to succeed as an entrepreneur, there is only one word that sets apart success for entrepreneurs, and that is the word guts. You got to have the guts to do it in the first place, but more importantly, you’ve got to have the guts to stick with it when others would give up. And India cannot give up on this journey. And it will succeed in spite of all its challenges.

One of the proudest things I’ve done in my 11 years in the House of Lords in parliament in the UK was to be on the committee that put up the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in parliament square. One of our challenges, by the way, was to keep it as far away from Winston Churchill as possible, and every time I drive around parliament square, I see people in front of Mahatma Gandhi statue because Mahatma Gandhi was not just for India he was for the world. And my favorite saying of Mahatma Gandhi, if I may paraphrase it, sums it all up, India’s going to make it. We’re going to make it because we believe in India and because our beliefs become our thoughts, our thoughts become our words, our words become our habits, our habits form our character. And our character determines our destiny.

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