Aravind Krishnan wrote recently in Poets&Quants about what he learned in earning an MBA from Harvard Business School. Here he writes about what he’ll do with the degree.
When I informed people that I would be moving to India after my MBA from Harvard Business School, reactions varied from happiness to surprise to sympathy. A few of my well-wishers were simply disappointed that I was not taking up a high-paying job in the land of opportunity and dreams, the United States of America. This is my reasoning behind my decision to forego the American dream to build my career in India. I will limit this story to professional reasons, even though several personal reasons strongly influenced the decision.
I believe this is the most opportune time to launch a career in India and I believe I possess the most agency to make a difference in India than any other place in the world.
I recently paid a brief visit to the dilapidated manufacturing facility in the picture above. The facility, overgrown with shrubbery and resembling a metallic graveyard, was once the toast of the town. Within these ruins lie the reasons for my decision to make a difference in India.
I hail from Kerala, the southernmost state in India. Apart from its pristine natural beauty, coconut trees, and beautiful beaches, Kerala is known as one of the last standing bastions of socialism.
I grew up in a family dedicated to safeguarding the environment. My parents built a company, Travancore Sulphates Limited (TSL), which was a pioneer in pollution abatement technology. Unfortunately, TSL failed within a decade, crippling my family financially, impoverishing a hundred employees and their families, and leaving many customers bereft of cost-effective effluent treatment. A diagnosis of TSL’s failure reveals the usual suspects: a hostile government, a corrupt bureaucracy, and lack of growth capital. This was an era when any form of equity funding, like venture capital or private equity, were alien concepts, businesses instead relying solely on debt as a source of external funding.
The image of a company being smothered out of life by an antagonistic political system and inefficient labor and financial markets left an indelible mark in my childhood, and, over time, shaped the purpose of my life.
PURPOSE NO. 1: I WANT TO HELP BUSINESS FLOURISH IN INDIA
My early initiation to the harsh realities of doing business in India could have had two effects on me: get tired of the system and escape to a better market, or stay home and try to change the system from the ground up. I chose the latter. While it is improbable that a few individuals can transform the political system or reform labor markets in such a huge and diverse country, it is possible for individuals like me to help build robust financial markets. And that is where I have decided to focus my efforts, at least during the initial years of my career.
I will be a private equity investor doing growth equity and buyout deals across industries in India. I hope to be a facilitator for infusing much-needed equity capital to fund prudent growth, while helping businesses establish more robust management systems and processes and improving corporate governance, thereby providing Indian companies the same resources that TSL didn’t have access to 25 years ago.
What Indian businesses need is not dumb money, but active investors who can not only provide capital but also be agents of transformation across key functions. Private equity as a business model relies on improving the underlying health of the business, and this can be leveraged to create world-class companies in India. An investor’s role doesn’t end with building better-run companies, but often creating entire industries, supply chains, and markets.
PURPOSE NO. 2: I WANT TO LEVERAGE BUSINESS TO SOLVE INDIA’S GRAVEST PROBLEMS
One of my biggest takeaways from Harvard Business School is the capacity of private enterprise to solve the most serious problems faced by the world today — poverty, malnutrition, disease. NGOs and charities can bring to light many of these issues, but only companies that seek profits can have sustained impact at scale. I believe being an investor endows me with the agency to help build companies and create industries that can focus on solving many of the problems India faces today, especially in agriculture, food security, healthcare, and financial inclusion. My personal dream is to influence the creation of agriculture supply chains and technology-enabled healthcare delivery with the power of smart capital.
On the other end of the spectrum, private equity can also help revive struggling companies hurt by challenging macroeconomic conditions. Interestingly, the non-performing assets/loans problem that has afflicted the banking sector in India today can only be solved through fresh capital infusion, where the PE industry can play a leading role.
While I don’t have grandiose visions of being able to solve any of these problems on my own, I hope to be a catalyst in bringing about necessary changes.