Hyderabad: As a former armament technician in the Swedish military, Håkan Bushke, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of aerospace and defence company Saab AB, had hands-on experience with most of the arms Saab makes today. Bushke, 48, assumed office in September last year after working for more than 20 years in energy—he was CEO and president of the world’s largest investor-owned energy company, E.ON AG, and chairman of the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant, one of the three active nuclear power stations in Sweden—transport and logistics, and the beverages industries.
Despite Saab’s Gripen multi-role fighter not being shortlisted for India’s Rs 42,000 crore combat aircraft order, Bushke is unperturbed. “...that’s life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And that’s the way it should be,” he said in a recent telephonic interview from Sweden. Edited excerpts:
You have talked about focusing on select markets and growing your core businesses. Which are the markets you are looking at and how big is the opportunity that you see?
First of all, we feel that we have to be able to contribute something when we enter a market. We are offering technology transfer and we are also offering a very strong industrial package. For example, we see a huge potential in developing countries like India, other countries in Asia, in Brazil; we are already present heavily in South Africa... This is our main focus area. Then our home market, of course, is always very important—Sweden. Keep in mind we have just 20% of our order book in our home market; the rest is outside. But Sweden is always important.
Missing out: Bushke says Saab is not going to complain about not being selected for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft order
So, where does India figure in your plans? And how big is the Indian opportunity?
I can see that we have a perfect fit with India. We are a small country with extremely high technology. We need partners and we also know that India has a need for and is searching for a partner when it comes to technology. Together, with the skilled people within India, I think that is important to highlight, and that’s why we have opened up an R&D (research and development) centre in Hyderabad; we have a strong belief in Indian engineers and workforce. Together with that and the need that India has, over time, I believe, it could be the biggest market for Saab.
Traditionally, India has been sourcing weapons from countries such as Russia and sometimes the US. How do you plan to tap into this market?
At Saab, according to the restrictions from the Swedish government, we are not allowed to sell material to Russia, China and others. So those big growing markets are excluded for us. There are restrictions from a Swedish national security perspective when it comes to where we can offer our products... We are partnering with the Indian business society. For example, we have deep cooperation with the Mahindras. We have cooperation with Bhel (Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd). We have cooperation with Pipavav (Shipyard Ltd.)... We partner together. We are not just selling a product and then leaving. We believe, as we have done it in Sweden, that cooperation with the business society and building a future is the right way of moving forward in India.
So, was the elimination in medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal a setback to your plans in India?
Well, as you know, in the MMRCA, we were not selected. Let’s see. We have other possibilities in India when it comes to many of our activities... We are not people going around being angry, not being involved in certain products. Still, we have a very strong belief in the Indian process when it comes to MMRCA and we are not going to complain. And that’s life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And that’s the way it should be.
Which are the other possible areas you are planning to explore in India?
We have probably, after the American defence industry, the broadest portfolio—everything from radar to remote submarines to remote aeroplanes to civil aircraft to patrol vessels to everything. Basically, where there is a need for the Indian nation, we will like to offer and give our solutions. You name it, we have it.
Are you also planning to engage Indian officials and politicians as you go forward? Lobby actively with them?
Bear in mind that Saab was founded from the Swedish parliament in 1937. We have a deep respect for a nation’s sovereignty. Of course, we are talking to our customers, but we do not at all have any view on the politics that India is running. Not at all. And I would like to underline that. We are an independent choice. Buying from Sweden and Saab means that we are coming with good products. We are not coming with a set of political action that is connected to the products. So, we are there to serve, not there to change.
During the inauguration of the Saab India Technology Centre recently, you spoke about “investing” in India and “providing technological and knowledge” support. Is it a part of your strategy to strengthen your brand in the Indian market?
...We believe that, with technology transfer together with the skilled people in India, we can create a good base for the Indian market, but also for the rest of the world. We, of course, see India as a good market, but we see it also as a good platform together with the Indian industry and the Indian nation to develop exports industry from India.
Are you looking at similar tie-ups with other Indian companies on the lines of the one you had recently with Mahindra Satyam?
We have cooperation with others. But basically, the R&D partners are, we have now chosen, the Mahindras. We have an excellent cooperation with them, very straightforward and good cooperation. They are very skilled, fast-moving people and (have an) international mindset. We also have an excellent relationship with others, but for the R&D activities, we have chosen the Mahindras.
What sort of cooperation will there be with the Mahindras? will you be helping them with their aviation plans?
We are working together. They are helping us and we are helping them. We have, for example, a cooperation in command and control already. We have in IT (information technology) where they do IT support for Saab. And there are areas as well where we can see possibilities. But we also like to deliver on the things that we have started with. So, before we look to build the next things, we’d like to deliver on the things we have promised. I think that’s the main idea.