Sep 12, 2008

India - Arun Sarin calls for 'inclusive India'

LONDON: Arun Sarin, in his first public engagement after quitting as CEO of mobile phone giant Vodafone July 29, offered words of advice for India on Wednesday, saying it had to take "everybody on board" in order to seal its place in the economic top table over the next 20 years. "India has a good future as long as we are mindful that we are bringing everybody on board, that there are reasonable regulatory policies, and that capital, management and ideas continue to flourish for the next 20 years the way they have in the last five years," he said. Sarin, who is credited with turning around the fortunes of Vodafone with an aggressive emerging markets strategy during his five years as CEO, was speaking at a panel discussion on India alongside another Indian corporate sector luminary, former McKinsey CEO Rajat Gupta. At the event, called to celebrate the Hyderabad-based Indian Business School's success in being placed on the Financial Times list of the world's best business schools, Sarin backed Gupta's call for building an "inclusive economy" in India. "I'm sitting amongst the best and the privileged," Sarin told a large audience of London-based IBS alumni at the Indian High Commission. "But we have to remember we have a population of 1.1 billion and we have to take everybody along. I think that is the challenge India has." Sarin said when he took Vodafone into the Indian market 18 months ago, the company set up a $10-million endowment to help those people who "could afford to have a degree but didn't have either the language skills, or the confidence or the proper management skills to perform in the global economy". "What we are talking about here is pretty serious stuff. The fundamental issue is of infrastructure across every sector. It doesn't matter if it's education or roads or power or telephony - India needs better infrastructure to lock in growth at seven, eight or nine percent for the next 20 years," he said. "The past five years have been good, the 15 to 20-year journey has been okay. But it's really about India performing at this level for the next 20 years. "You're going to need capital, you're going to need [skilled] people and managers and you're going to need ideas. And I think India needs all of those three things in large volumes. "More and more companies, more and more people, more and more organisations need to bring capital, management and ideas to India to help India ride on for the next 20 years." Sarin also had a word of caution for macro-managers of the Indian economy: that India could not completely insulate itself from the global downturn. He said although India, China and other fast-growing emerging economies had managed to post 100 to 150 basis points of growth, "we are connected globally, so there is no concept of complete decoupling, although marginally you can decouple for a period of time".

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