It’s meant to be a casual meeting, preferably over a drink, but Scott Bayman is a busy man—this meeting happened in the last week of May, just around three weeks before his departure from India—and his calendar is booked. So, his handlers have scheduled our meeting at GE India’s corporate headquarters in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi. In deference to the tone of the forthcoming conversation, or maybe because it is a Friday, Bayman is dressed in a red T-shirt and light brown trousers. He is also wearing casual brown shoes.
Scott Bayman came to India 14 years ago as head of GE India. He left the country on 19 June after retiring as head of GE India and handing over charge to Tejpreet Chopra (whom he calls TP).
The number 14 has another relevance for Bayman, who says the three obsessions of his life are, in no particular order, work, family and golf: In his years here, his golf handicap has deteriorated from six to 14 (he plays at the Delhi Golf Club in South Delhi, but really likes the ITC Classic course beyond Gurgaon). That’s because unlike some chief executive officers (CEOs), bankers and venture capitalists who are content to wait, watch, and perfect their swing while the market gets ready, he worried away—at customers and potential customers, partners, the government, and even head office.
Like his CEO Jeff Immelt, and countless other American CEOs, Bayman usually drinks Diet Coke while at long meetings. Our meeting is scheduled for an hour but, maybe because of the time of the morning, he chooses to drink coffee. Like always—I have met him several times over the past decade—Bayman is full of restless energy that manifests itself in his rapid staccato-style of speaking. He is small-built, trim, doesn’t look anywhere close to his 60 years and wears his hair a little long (it has just the suspicion of a mullet in it). That’s pretty much the way he looked when he arrived in India with great hopes of this market.
The 1990s was the decade when multinationals discovered India. Several lost themselves in the process, and many exited India or downscaled their India plans. GE’s initial experience was similar to that of some of these companies. It came in expecting a huge market waiting to be tapped. It came in with a slogan that said something like $2B by 2K (companies were big on slogans in the 1990s), a reference to reaching $2 billion (Rs8,200 crore) in revenue by 2000.
The company realized very soon that it had made a mistake (“but we are a big company,” says Bayman, “and can afford to take some swings” ). In the case of appliances, a business where GE had a venture in association with Godrej, and a business close to Bayman’s heart because he was an appliances man (just like Immelt is a medical equipment man), Bayman says “the company completely misjudged the importance of a brand and how much it would cost to grow one in India.” It’s one of the few things he wishes he had done differently—with the benefit of hindsight.
There were other problems, too. The Indian power sector was highly regulated. The aviation industry was small by global standards and had, apart from the two state-owned airlines, only one other player of note, Jet Airways. The financial services sector was still in its infancy.
The story of how GE converted adversity into opportunity has been chronicled extensively enough. It was partially the necessity to justify the existence of the Indian operation and partly smart thinking that drove GE into really kick-starting the Indian business process outsourcing industry with GE Capital International Services (GECIS; now Genpact). Encouraged by the response, GE did a GECIS with almost every one of its businesses. Its transportation division had engineers in Bangalore designing next generation locomotives up to the solid modelling stage. The local unit of its medical devices business was the only place in the world where the company made a certain kind of scanner with a C-arm (simply because it was shaped like a C).
Jack Welch, then the CEO of the company, visited India in 2000. At a lunch thrown by GE, his table was shared by DLF’s K.P. Singh. It wasn’t the Indian market that Welch talked about, though; most of his speech was on India as a resource base. It was in the course of this visit that Welch made a visit to Bangalore to inaugurate the John F. Welch Research Centre.
Singh was GE’s and Bayman’s adviser in India. “A lot of credit for what we did in the early years must go to KP,” says Bayman.
Singh was a good friend of Paolo Fresco, the head of GE International, the global arm of GE. He convinced Fresco that India was the place to be; a team from GE came down and Singh organized meetings for it with several politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats. And Fresco convinced Welch that the company needed to be in India. Welch agreed at once, says Bayman—“Jack has great instincts.”
For 10 years, the only really big thing GE could talk about as far as India was concerned was the back-office operation. Bayman says the waiting taught him a lot about patience. And about India. For, along the way, as a supplier to Dabhol Power Company, GE got caught in the controversy surrounding the project—one that arose from the high tariffs the company had extracted from the Maharashtra government. “It was pretty good negotiating by Enron (Dabhol’s parent) with the government” that got it those rates, says Bayman. GE did get the money it had invested in Dabhol back— something that Bayman admits might not have happened in other markets—and didn’t lose the opportunity to launch an India fund with the amount as corpus.
Around the same time (this was late 2005), the company finally discovered India.
The aviation boom in the country helped—GE Commercial Aviation Services (GECAS) is the world’s largest fleet-owner as far as planes are concerned; it leases them out to airlines. Bayman says the market started looking up in 2003-04 and that things actually started changing in early 2005.
In May 2005, when Immelt came to India, Bayman and his team promised him that they would make GE India a $3 billion-in-revenues company by 2008. Later, they changed the target to $3 billion by 2008 and $5-$8 billion by 2010. “We’re pretty close to $3 billion in 2007 and $8 billion (by 2010) looks solid—that’s how fast things change here,” says Bayman.
Fourteen years is longer than Bayman has spent in any one city and he says his wife “would stay here forever”. But India has taken some getting used to, he admits. Everything moves slower here, he says. “Waiting it out is more frustrating than it is hard,” he adds.
GE isn’t known for its waiting skills as a company—it is filled with Type A people (even in India, and Bayman says that this is because you “sort of tend to hire yourself”) who want to go out and get the job done. But Welch was a big advocate of globalization—using components, people and expertise from various parts of the company’s operations to build and deliver products and services. And Immelt, who set up the medical devices business in the country, had been here several times in the 1990s and “knew India better than Jack”, according to Bayman. “He knew how difficult the market was.”
It’s not so difficult now, and Bayman sees GE India really growing into a very large company between 2010 and 2015, with new opportunities in businesses such as energy. But Bayman says his successor will still have to sweat the small stuff: “Keep a focus on customers; stay engaged; keep the spotlight on India globally—it is (still) not an easy place to come to; keep the team energized; and keep up the enormous goodwill we have built with the community and government.”
Bayman says he leaves India after having made many good friends, including Naresh Trehan, in whose Medicity project GE is an investor, Bharti Enterprises’ Sunil Mittal, Jubilant Organosys’ Hari Bhartia, K.P. Singh, and BILT’s Gautam Thapar. He says everyone he has met here has been very warm—“people open up their hearts and homes”.
India—Bayman’s first impression of the country was one night in 1993, when he landed at Mumbai airport, and saw people sleeping on the pavement outside—has made him more aware of different beliefs, says Bayman. And more aware of poverty. “It’s not in your face in the US; here, it is not easy to move around without seeing it.”
Bayman now joins Stonebridge International, a consulting firm, and hopes to help companies draft their India strategies. When I first came here, “Indian companies were intimidated by multinationals,” says Bayman. “Today, they are multinationals themselves.”
Name: Scott Bayman
Education: MBA, Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, MIT, Massachusetts; BS degree in business administration from University of Florida.
Work Profile: GE India (1993-2007); various positions in GE’s appliances business (1987-93); director, United Technologies; Consultant, Booz, Allen & Hamilton.
Interests: “Really like to play golf.”