India—Land of a Billion Entrepreneurs looks at the long legacy of entrepreneurial endeavour in India and argues for a holistic educational system that can change mindsets and offer entrepreneurship as a career option. Author Upendra Kachru, the first CEO of Maruti Udyog Ltd (now Maruti Suzuki India Ltd), demonstrates the innovative acumen of Indians, irrespective of social status or education, through examples from the many businesses mushrooming across the country. Edited excerpts from an email interview:
How can India’s current educational system be modified to accommodate entrepreneurship?
At the high-school level you need to tell students the value and beauty of business and how to go about it. You need to change the value system where “job” is the predominant focus. Just as history, geography, mathematics are taught as subjects, you need to add another subject on entrepreneurship.
Planning for the future: Value-based entrepreneurship has to prevail in the long run in countries such as India.
You also need courses at the college level, and professional courses in entrepreneurship at the postgraduate level. However, the most important of these are the college-level courses where students have to learn how they can put their ideas on paper, how they can get funds and other resources, and matters that are important in starting a business.
What sets Indian entrepreneurs apart from their counterparts in other countries?
Indian businesses are generally tradition-oriented. Decisions are made in the family context. This is witnessed by the dominant role of business families in India.
Indian entrepreneurs find it easier to start a business because, even if the family is not in business, it provides support that lowers start-up costs and risks substantially. Generally, Indians are better businessmen because they are more logical and rational and amenable to advice than their Western counterparts, who are highly individualistic.
Do you think Indian entrepreneurs are susceptible to the dynastic syndrome? What are its pros and cons?
There is nothing wrong with the dynastic syndrome in business. Our entire social system was built on this. Families provided the training, the learning and the means to follow their traditional professions. Ultimately, the way of doing things builds in the genes itself, the ability to see opportunities improves, you get free mentoring and handholding too. Overall this is very good, though it does put a first-generation entrepreneur at some disadvantage.
This becomes bad only when there is a nexus between business dynasties and the power structure. Through their connections they can make life difficult for a start-up. Though there is no proof that such a nexus exists, the suspicion that this may be so is often high.
Does Indian entrepreneurial practice leave room for ethics? Can we use the words entrepreneur, ethical and Indian in the same sentence?
Indian entrepreneurs operate both in India and internationally. In these two contexts they are totally different animals. In the Indian context it may be true that entrepreneur, ethical and Indian do not give a positive image; however, at the global level this is not true; the image is positive, and growing more so every day.
India—Land of a Billion Entrepreneurs: By Upendra Kachru, Pearson, 258 pages, Rs 399.
Are women entrepreneurs markedly different in their approach to business?
Yes! Women are better decision makers; they measure risks more logically than men. Men lose out due to their egos and their overenthusiasm.
The difference is more apparent in the lower economic strata; in the higher strata this is generally hidden or ignored. The success of the microfinance model is based on women entrepreneurs. The recovery rate of over 99% of (Bangladesh’s) Grameen Bank shows that the women are very successful. In general, statistics show that only 40% of start-up businesses are successful. Perhaps this is the proof needed.
What leads you to recommend entrepreneurship as a career option?
It provides another option for career growth, especially since it can change the mentality of a job being the most important thing in life. More importantly, it gives confidence to the individual. There are no limits to what he or she can earn and how fast he or she can grow. It helps in nation building; ultimately, it is through entrepreneurship that the country can grow and compete effectively with others.
Do you see entrepreneurs shifting to the services industry from traditional manufacturing-based businesses?
Entrepreneurship, in essence, starts with the identification of opportunities. As the needs of people become greater, services provide more opportunities for entrepreneurship. This is because traditional manufacturing-based businesses are limited by flexibility, which is not the case with services. Another reason why traditional manufacturing-based businesses have less of a future is because India has a huge population of growing middle-class professionals in the services segment, who are competing on value rather than on cost. Value-based entrepreneurship has to prevail in the long run in economies that are fast moving towards becoming developed economies.
Are there any specifically Indian obstacles that an entrepreneur faces in our country—political, social or others?
We have a long way to go to provide a reasonably good infrastructure for new entrepreneurs. This also has to be taken in the context of India’s population and the number of young people the country has. Because of this many people do not know how to dream, and they limit themselves in life to mundane jobs.
I believe, if you have a dream, you have a plan; if you have a plan you have hope; if you have hope, success cannot be far away. That is the vision for the future that I have.