OPPORTUNITY NO. 1: INDIA IS A BEACON IN A GLOBAL ECONOMY WITH STAGNANT GROWTH
The global economy has been challenged in the recent past by a rapidly aging population, a deflationary environment, and depressed oil prices. Growth has been hard to come by, with rates only marginally improving in early 2017. The long-revered principles of globalization are facing a crisis of faith as nationalistic sentiments take center stage, as evidenced by the U.S. presidential election and Brexit in 2016. As investors and managers search for the Holy Grail of growth, India — with its 6% to 7% per annum GDP growth — is a beacon in this rather gloomy global economy.
As India assumes the mantle of fastest-growing major economy in the world (moving past China post-demonetization), it is expected to be a major driver of global growth. India is today the fifth-largest economy in the world in nominal terms and the third-largest on a purchasing power parity-adjusted basis. India’s rich demographic dividend, with the world’s largest working population, a large and growing domestic market, expected productivity improvements, and a government-funded infrastructure investment drive position the country to grow in excess of 7% per annum over the next decade. Unlike the export-driven growth model of East and Southeast Asia, the bulk of India’s growth is going to come from its own burgeoning domestic market, insulating the economy — to some degree — from worrying global trends like anti-globalization and nationalism.
On the flip side, the single biggest drag on growth in India is abysmally low investment levels, both public and private. The stressed balance sheets of India Inc. and the bad loan problems faced by Indian banks have put a straitjacket on the private sector to deploy capital. Long-term capital is, therefore, essential for the investment cycle to pick up. I believe PE firms like the one I am going to work for should be in the vanguard of this effort to improve long-term investment, especially in manufacturing and infrastructure.
OPPORTUNITY NO. 2: THE CURRENT POLITICAL DISPENSATION INSPIRES CONFIDENCE
Markets and business can thrive only in the presence of a strong, supportive government and effective regulation. I have never been more confident in the effectiveness of government in India than I am today. I believe the biggest success of the government to date is not in reforms or governance, but in the confidence it has inspired among the youth of the nation. The current regime has often been criticized for focusing on form over substance. But the intangible benefits of form should not be overlooked. By running successful marketing campaigns around snazzy initiatives like “Make in India” and “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” (Clean India Movement), promoting a sense of national pride, and undertaking bold moves like demonetization, the government has been successful in (a) motivating a generation of young Indians to work hard and contribute to the national cause and (b) inspiring confidence in domestic and global companies alike.
I believe the government has been able to back up the form with real substance in the form of progressive reforms, better governance, higher transparency, and a rigorous focus on improving the business climate in India. The highlight of the first three years of the National Democratic Alliance government has certainly been the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax to create the single largest market in the world, while the opening up of sectors like insurance, real estate, and defense have provided the appetite for investment. While the botched execution of demonetization cost India dearly in terms of short-term growth and caused endless hassles to its people, the long-term benefits of pushing hundreds of millions of Indians into the digital economy are astounding. However, the government has significant ground to cover in land and labor reforms, solving India’s ballooning bad loan problem and building world-class infrastructure.
AGENCY: AS AN INDIAN, I BELIEVE I CAN HAVE THE MOST IMPACT IN INDIA
History has thrown up several exceptional luminaries who have been able to change people’s lives globally. While global impact is a great end-state to aspire toward, I want to start by targeting smaller communities. I have spent all my life — with the exception of two years at Harvard Business School — in India. I believe, given my background, networks, and cultural context, that I can perform the best to my capabilities and have the most impact within India.
We can always descend to displacing and diffusing responsibility and expect someone else to transform the country. “Why should I leave my cushy job in Silicon Valley and start a company in India? Someone else will do it.” In response, I ask, “If not you, then who?” One can also come up with reasons to delay a move back to India, but I strongly endorse the idea that the best time is now.
Let me be honest in saying that my motivations are not purely selfless or altruistic. I concur that along with potential impact on society, my chances of personal success are also enhanced if I work in India, making it a win-win proposition.
THE INDIAN DREAM
I have been immensely lucky in the educational and professional opportunities I’ve received. I couldn’t have been better positioned to pay it forward than I am today. And I choose to start paying it forward to the communities I grew up in, the institutions that shaped me, the people who contributed to my success, and the country that spent hard-earned taxpayers’ money to pave the path I have taken. These contributions should not be taken for granted.
I actively post on social media about India and the Indian government, mostly its positive attributes. While this could be perceived by some as bordering on firebrand nationalism, frankly it comes from a place of gratitude and love for the nation. I consider myself lucky to have gotten the opportunity to start a career trajectory in India from which I can have significant impact. I hope I can contribute to India’s growth as a stronger, more equal nation while flourishing as a professional and individual. I aspire to help transform India into a country where ordinary citizens can dream to make a difference, where meritocracy trumps caste and religion, and where people can cross social class lines through hard work and determination. I long for the creation of the Indian Dream.
Aravind Krishnan graduated from the Harvard Business School this year as a Baker Scholar in the top 5% of his class. He works in private equity for the Blacksone Group.